Category Archives: FEATURES

tricot: The New Math

Japan’s tricot explore new dimensions of American math rock

As Japan’s tricot expand their profile westward—a recent licensing deal brings their third album, 3, from the Bakuretsu label to the U.K’.s Big Scary Monsters imprint as well as San Diego’s Topshelf Records—an intriguing chicken-or-egg story surrounds the Kyoto trio. The group’s sound appears indebted to the nonlinear angularity of Don Caballero, Battles and Tera Melos, albeit with a playfully poppy edge. But as the ladies collectively explain via translator in an email, they’d never heard of those bands—let alone the math-rock subgenre—until after they starting writing and playing music along those lines.

“As for the math-rock scene, [those bands] use their head and make smart, cool songs. But we are making songs a little more sensual without thinking too much. So, I don’t know if calling us math rock is suitable, but it is not uncomfortable.”

When asked about the genesis of the tricot sound, they reply, “It came across unexpectedly when we met. Our music is often called post-rock and math rock, but none of us are particularly familiar with those genres. Our songs are born naturally. Originally, we were influenced by Japanese pop music, rock and funk from overseas. Since tricot became categorized as math rock and post-rock, we started listening to math rock and post-rock.”

After finding their moniker in a French dictionary and undergoing some initial growing pains in finding an accepting audience (“When we started the band, we often thought, ‘Why don’t people understand our cool sound and style?’”), the band has learned to live with the fact it creates a challenging sound and its own inherent limitations, including not having a full-time drummer and recording its second album, 2015’s A N D, with five different people behind the kit. This, however, hasn’t stopped them from embarking upon a glut of overseas touring, with a return to Europe this summer/fall.

“What particularly impressed us about shows abroad is that the audience reaction is very straightforward,” they say. “In Japan, audiences are shy, do not express emotion and tend to keep in step with surroundings.”

Kevin Stewart-Panko

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

Peter Perrett: Get Back Up

The Only Ones’ Peter Perrett emerges from the London underground

It’s an unusual claim to fame. But at 65, artsy English bohemian Peter Perrett proudly notes that he’s never held down a serious straight job.

“Well, once I did—I was a messenger boy, on foot in London—but I got sacked after three hours,” he chuckles impishly.

The early-’70s experience taught him a valuable financial lesson. He was paid seven shillings an hour for a sum total of 21, but after deducting bus fare and insurance expenses, it cost him nearly two shillings to punch the corporate clock that day.

“So that put me off proper jobs really early in life,” he says. “And luckily, I’ve managed to survive without ever having to do one.”

Therein lies the colorful tale that’s made Perrett one of the last true rock stars, an authentic, idiosyncratic misanthrope who stared deep into the abyss and occasionally tumbled into it. Through three brilliant late-’70s/early-’80s albums with his ex-outfit the Only Ones and now a decadence-celebrating new solo record, How The West Was Won (Domino), Perrett has lived to tell his own harrowing story. For employment, he started dealing hashish, then cocaine, in the London drug underworld. By 1975, he’d gotten hooked on heroin, then crack. After he and his wife of 48 years both contracted debilitating cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, he finally got clean in 2008. He gave up smoking joints and cigarettes in 2011. Gradually, his health returned.

Thanks to a UK Vodafone commercial featuring an early Only Ones hit “Another Girl, Another Planet,” the group attempted a comeback in 2007. But Perrett weighed roughly 90 pounds and was so scrawny he could barely sing a note. That’s why his inimitable conversational rasp (think Templeton the rat from Charlotte’s Web if he were Cockney and could croon) is mixed loud on West.

“I worked hard to get my voice back in shape, and I really wanted to showcase it,” says Perrett. “Because the one thing that differentiates certain artists is when their personality really comes across in their songs.”

Perrett’s other key attribute is his self-deprecating gallows wit. It’s there in sardonic spades on West. The opening title track is a subtly sneering putdown of mindless American pop culture, with “Sweet Jane”-ish vibrato guitar played by Perrett’s son, Jamie (with his other son, Peter Jr., on serpentine bass). Against this gently gothic backdrop, he murmurs odes to his missus (“Sweet Endeavour,” “Man Of Extremes”) and employs a famous lab test as a metaphor for his own carnality on “Something In My Brain”: “Just like the experiment with the rat/He could choose food or he could choose crack/Well, the rat he starved to death/But I didn’t die—at least not yet/I’m still just about capable/Of one last defiant breath.”

“Once I started exercising and doing all the things I should have done throughout my life, I started playing guitar and writing songs again,” says Perrett, who already has a much darker disc ready to record. “And then I rediscovered the passion that I had for music again. So now I’ve actually got things to live for, and it’s a great feeling.”

Tom Lanham

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

Flashback Friday: Minneapolis, The Rise And Fall Of The ’80s Scene

One of our favorite cover stories: Hüsker Dü, the Replacements and the ’80s Minneapolis scene. Read it here.

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

Showtime Goma: Conspiracy Theory

Showtime Goma brings together a community of collaborators

Jen Goma is a creative fireball. Over the past few years, she’s been singing, writing lyrics and composing music for A Sunny Day In Glasgow, Roman á Clef and several other outfits. At the same time, she was working with Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier on Smiley Face, her debut as Showtime Goma.

“I like collaborating with other people, but I do a lot of work by myself,” says Goma. “For my album I did the cover art, made all the videos and did my own hair and makeup. I was also the guitar tech, sang all the vocal parts, played the keyboards and guitars and created the drum loops.”

The music covers a lot of ground. “What’s A Fight Look Like” suggests a psychedelic surf-guitar romp; “How R U?” is a skewed love song that juxtaposes Goma’s dreamy vocals with distorted guitars and asymmetrical percussion textures; and “Big Disaster” sounds like a pop hit, with a solid backbeat supporting Goma’s enthusiastic vocal.

While the album has her name on it, Goma doesn’t want to take sole credit for the finished product. Collaborators included Ben Daniels and Ryan Newmyer from A Sunny Day In Glasgow and percussionist/multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily, as well as Saunier. The songs were assembled from files exchanged via email during intense days in Goma’s and Saunier’s homes layering drum parts and found sounds, and recording Goma’s extraordinary vocals.

“There’s lot of stuff that goes into making a record that’s not the sound,” says Goma. “Like, who bought the chips that one day, so there was happiness in the room. It’s hard to explain what everyone contributed in terms of enthusiasm, ideas, snacks, energy, plugins, music and lyrics. If I had done it alone, it would sound completely different.”

j. poet

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

Elf Power: The Art Of Aging Well

Elf Power’s Twitching In Time deals with the inevitable

The real surprise on Elf Power’s new album Twitching In Time (Orange Twin) is “Watery Shreds,” on which co-founder/multi-instrumentalist Laura Carter brought in a completed piano piece and suggested adding big fuzz guitars, leaving singer/guitarist Andrew Rieger free to simply write lyrics. It’s a first in the many years of collaboration between the two, and it’s an instant classic that also illustrates how roles and relationships can change.

Thematically, that makes a lot of sense, as aging, ending and renewal inform all of the songs on the latest release by the Athens, Ga., band. Over 23 years and 13 albums, Elf Power has built a solid reputation both in its own right and via efforts with Vic Chesnutt, as well as Elephant 6 cohorts Olivia Tremor Control and Neutral Milk Hotel. Like 2014’s Sunlight On The Moon, the new album combines home recording with studio tracks.

“Home recording has always been an important part of our process in that it allows for more time for experimentation with different ideas,” says Rieger. “The album is stripped down. There aren’t a ton of overdubs that we’re going to be struggling to reproduce.”

There are repeated images of gray rain, washing away of evidence, eyes, hands clutching, clawing and destroying, and the sun—the appearance of which isn’t necessarily a nurturing thing. But that doesn’t mean Twitching In Time is a dirgey bummer only for late nights; it features plenty of rocking and a beautiful sense of acceptance.

“I definitely intended to repeat some of the imagery across the songs, as I feel it gives the album and the songs a cohesion,” says Rieger. “I was more focused on examining how one’s perception of time changes as you get older, rather than fears or dread related to getting older. Our hands and eyes are our main ways of interacting with the world, so I think they just naturally work their way into the lyrics. And I like the duality of the sun as life-giver and sustainer, as well as being the agent that breaks down and dissolves things when they’ve lived through their cycle.”

Elf Power took its time getting around to making and releasing the album (it’s been nearly four years since Sunlight On The Moon, a significant change from the every-other-year model the band has followed), and that’s reflected in the performances, arrangements and voices used to convey the songs. The classic Elf Power psych-pop sound appears—a sort of Eno fuzz—but even that’s fortified, built on a foundation of previous work while reflecting the chemistry of the current band.

There are plenty of surprises, too—from “Watery Shreds” and the alt-country of “The Cat Trapped In The Wall” to the channeled early-Stipe vocals during “In A Room.” Twitching In Time marries maturity to possibility. It would appear that, creatively, Elf Power has this aging thing figured out.

Marc Tissenbaum

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

Omar Souleyman: Syria’s Business

Omar Souleyman sends a techno love letter home

Syrian vocalist and crossover electronica performer Omar Souleyman may not be the most accomplished singer on the world music/techno festival circuit. Certainly, he’s caught flak from some among the world-music culturati in his home country who suggest his style is lowbrow, his technique unsophisticated, even crude. You know who else wasn’t a great vocalist? Joe Strummer. Listen to “Ya Boul Habari,” the first track from To Syria, With Love, pay attention to Souleyman’s vocal timbre, and you’ll hear the similarity—a throaty, raspy, front-of-the-mask delivery that seems to wrap around the melody while retaining a striking timbric distance from it, a kind of sweet-and-sour combination that goes a long way toward roughing the edges of Souleyman’s synth-heavy techno.

Understand that we’re talking tone here, not content. But you also get the feeling that a no-frills guy like Strummer would have appreciated Souleyman most unironically. Souleyman used to be a day laborer until his late 20s, when he began singing semi-professionally at weddings in and around his home village of Tell Tamer in northeastern Syria, near the borders of both Turkey and Iraq. Souleyman doesn’t care much for the notion of borders, though—national or aesthetic. His own musical style draws from conventional, even traditional, Middle Eastern melodic patterns, sequenced and filtered through a variety of keyboard and drum effects and informed by a blend of national and cultural influences: Kurdish and Turkish, Christian and Arabic, techno and folk. Or maybe even that bare description is a gloss on borders, where Souleyman genuinely sees none at all.

“My music is very traditional,” he insists via translator. “I carry the tradition of many generations of this music from my region. To you, maybe that is a blend of forms, but to me, this is just how (the music) is. Our music has developed this way, and we keep with it.”

Even the technical advances of the modern era, according to Souleyman, have been adopted with an eye toward keeping the lines of descent intact: “Live instruments that might have been used before are now all inside of electronic keyboards.”

Like any soul singer—and make no mistake, within his idiom, that’s precisely what he is—Souleyman works within a focused range of topical matter: Love and domestic concerns make up the bulk of his lyrical output. But as the title of the new record suggests, the impetus for the music on this album derives specifically from the heartbreaking state of affairs in contemporary Syria under Bashar al-Assad and the ongoing civil war that has damaged and displaced countless Syrians since the Arab Spring of 2011. In that regard, To Syria, With Love, out on DJ/production wunderkind Diplo’s Mad Decent label, is an unabashed, unapologetic love letter to both his home country (Souleyman currently resides in Turkey) and his countrypeople.

“It is my offering, and my gift to my people—wherever they are in the world, whether displaced somewhere or in Syria, and to all, without any exception,” he says. “The album is not too complicated; there are two songs where I sang, first of all, of my pain at seeing how we look for our homeland hopelessly for six years. We miss our way of being at home, and being away and not knowing when we will return is also painful.”

Is the album intended as a statement on contemporary Syria? A comment? A tonic?

“I think it might be all three,” says Souleyman. “I often wonder how it is that we in the Middle East have to live through so many troubles and conflicts, and always fear for our lives and the future, whereas I always travel to see people in the Western world and others living in peace and harmony. How and whom music reaches is very random. I do not know if music can reach people (especially well) who are in despair. Depends on its message.”

EricWaggoner

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

Cool Moon: True North

How a hike to a Canadian glacier brought Cool Moon’s Andrea Lisi back to the sur

New Year’s Eve, 2014: Andrea Lisi is driving in the Canadian Rockies with her sister Anna and their spouses. The destination is Columbia Icefield, just off Alberta Highway 93 in Jasper National Park. Timing is crucial—they want to reach the Athabasca Glacier while there’s still daylight—and it very much works out in their favor. When their car pulls off the Icefields Parkway, the frigid wind is low enough that Andrea and Anna comfortably make the 20-minute hike across the field and touch the glacier.

“Our husbands stayed in the car and watched,” Lisi laughs as she remembers that day. “But it was one of the most exciting things I’d ever done. It was one of those moments: ‘What if there’s an avalanche up here and we die?’ It’s so cold and isolated. But so beautiful.”

A photo snapped by her husband, Jay Littleton, appears on the wraparound cover of Postparty Depression (Exotic Fever), the debut LP from Lisi’s band Cool Moon. The feelings of that field, on that day, resonated with this set of songs—feelings of introversion, self-doubt and psychic isolation. But also the feeling of being totally OK with it all.

Cool Moon is Lisi’s second go as a musician. In the early aughts, she was the songwriter, guitarist and vocalist at the front of Washington, D.C. trio Del Cielo. Drawing equally on power pop and riot grrrl, that band released two albums before parting ways in early 2006 on the heels of their terrific Lovitt Records release Us Vs. Them. Lisi played briefly in Arlington, Va., band the Bickersons before going back to grad school at West Virginia University to pursue a master’s in geology, a project that pretty much took her out of the music game.

“I was working full time, going to school,” she recalls. “I would still write music, but I didn’t have a lot of spare time.”

She would see friends’ bands perform and realize how much she missed it. The song “Standing” on Postparty Depression details those feelings: “Every time it seems as good as done/I know the worst I’ve felt was the best I ever was.”

After graduating, Lisi moved to Houston to take a job as a clastic stratigrapher, deriving information about geological changes through close reading of sedimentary evidence. One of her first nights in town, she caught a gig by Football, Etc. and chatted up the band after the show; turns out frontwoman Mercy Harper was a big Del Cielo fan. The two hit it off and Harper helped Lisi back into music, playing in an early incarnation of Cool Moon, then connecting her with her current bandmates Anthony Schillaci (drums) and Marshall Graves (bass). The songs they write are big and bold, with crunchy guitars and soaring vocal melodies recalling Sugar-era Bob Mould as much as Mary Lou Lord.

Beneath the hooks, Lisi is lyrically candid about feelings of insecurity and helplessness, whether due to the toxic political climate (“Election”) or personal struggles with anxiety (“Solitary Confinement”). Which is why the ice field resonated so much with her.

“It’s just something I’ve always had—feeling the need to do really well and then feeling like I’m not doing things well enough,” says Lisi. “But also kind of knowing I’ll be all right. As I get older, I feel a little more isolated but also more comfortable.”

John Vettese

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

Waxahatchee: Blowing Up

Waxahatchee gets extremely loud and incredibly close

It’s 9 a.m. in Texas, and Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield is on the phone, bright and cheery after a gig opening for the New Pornographers.

“I’m at my freshest and most mentally clear in the morning—it’s definitely not rock ‘n’ roll,” she says, explaining her request for the early chat about her band’s new album, Out In The Storm (Merge), which definitely is rock ’n’ roll.

Out In The Storm, the fourth Waxahatchee LP, is another step forward for Crutchfield. It’s her first record working with a producer from outside the band’s tight circle, as well as her first using her full touring group as its core. It also contains her hardest, loudest songs since her days in scrappy punk band P.S. Eliot.

Crutchfield began Waxahatchee as a solo bedroom-recording project while in P.S. Eliot, the Birmingham, Ala.-based band with her twin sister Allison. After P.S. Eliot split in 2011, the sisters moved to Philadelphia, where Waxahatchee became Katie’s main project. The live group solidified for the long touring cycle supporting 2015’s acclaimed Ivy Tripp: Ashley Arnwine on drums, Katherine Simonetti on bass and Allison on keys, backing vocals and guitars. Joining on lead guitar for Out In The Storm is Katie Harkin, who played guitar and keyboards for the Sleater-Kinney reunion tour.

“I knew that I wanted another layer there,” says Crutchfield. “I felt that I would really love some great leads. And Katie’s so good with layering, at finding the space in the song. As soon as she sat down and started working, immediately I was patting myself on the back. Everything she came up with, I was freaking out.”

To help her produce the album, Crutchfield drafted John Agnello, who’s worked with Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth, the Hold Steady and Philly friend Kurt Vile. Whereas Ivy Tripp opened with a somber keyboard drone, Out In The Storm leaps out of the gate with a blast of guitars that sounds like a declaration of intent. “Never Been Wrong” is a big, rousing rock song with a ’90s crunch to it.

“I kept pushing for a Breeders vibe on the rock songs,” says Agnello. “It’s not obvious. I don’t love when you get hit over the head with a hammer with influences.”

Unless, perhaps, it’s the Breeders’ “Divine Hammer,” a song Agnello suggested as a reference point when the band began recording.

“I knew what I was getting into with John,” says Crutchfield. “I knew his records, and I knew that that’s the sound. So I kind of figured that would happen. That, coupled with having my live band, because when people see us live, that’s been a thing. On the other records, it’s been kind of pulled back; it’s kind of reserved, there’s some space between you and the band. When we play live, it’s a totally different experience than the record, in my opinion. It’s bigger, it’s louder, it’s heavier.”

Those three adjectives characterize Out In The Storm overall, especially glorious, hook-filled single “Silver.” There’s also a hint of P.S. Eliot, which did a reunion tour shortly before the group began working on the Waxahatchee album.

“It was a lot of fast rock ’n’ roll songs in that band,” says Crutchfield. “It brought back memories that made me long for that energy again.”

Although the group does pull back on the acoustic “A Little More,” the resonant “Sparks Fly” and the keys-based “Recite Remorse,” bold electric songs such as “No Quarter” and “Brass Beam” dominate the record. Crutchfield decided to let this album be more focused than past ones.

“The way that I used to approach making records, I wanted to really try to up the ante with the variety,” she says. “I wanted it to be as diverse as possible. I wanted it to play like a Guided By Voices record where you don’t really know what’s going to happen. It’s not all rock songs. There’ll be, like, one two-minute rock song, then there’s a piano ballad, then there’s a super stark solo thing. That used to be higher up on my list of priorities than it was on this new record.”

But just don’t expect Waxahatchee to be a rock band forever.

“I reserve the right to go in a totally opposite direction on the next one if I want to,” says Crutchfield. “But I feel good about it. That’s something that two or three years ago, I would have been like, ‘No, that’s not the kind of record I want to make.’ You evolve, I guess.”

—Steve Klinge

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

Secret Sisters: Long Way Home

On You Don’t Own Me Anymore, the Secret Sisters are doing it for themselves

Laura and Lydia Rogers learned to harmonize in church services back home in Muscle Shoals, Ala. They came from a musical family—their grandfather and grand-uncles had a bluegrass act called the Happy Valley Boys—but neither had seriously considered a career in music until Laura traveled to Nashville for an open audition, where she caught the ear of industry execs and producers. Asked to return for a follow-up, Laura brought Lydia along. Shortly thereafter, the Secret Sisters were on a plane to Los Angeles to record the demos for their 2010 self-titled debut on Universal, produced by T Bone Burnett. Sophomore effort Put Your Needle Down followed in 2014. In the interim they toured with Bob Dylan and recorded with Jack White.

The Secret Sisters moved many reviewers to make direct comparisons to the Everly Brothers, though the Rogers sisters came from a deep country/gospel/folk tradition. Put Your Needle Down, a respectable album on the slick country-revival model, garnered uneven reviews. And then—you saw this coming, of course—the Secret Sisters were dropped by their label.

“On our first and second records, we were very spoiled,” says Lydia.

“We were kind of ungrateful,” adds Laura. “We were entirely too young and too inexperienced to be as jaded as we were.”

As suddenly as they’d been picked up, the Secret Sisters were without a home. But they didn’t stop writing.

“We started to gear up around the summer of 2015,” says Lydia. “It was kind of hard for us to get started, because for a while we weren’t sure if there was going to be a next record. But we’d get together periodically and write about what we were feeling—usually anger and sadness. It was a very tough time. And we couldn’t be too direct, lyrically. Writing about bankruptcy isn’t very poetic.”

Says Laura, “One thing we should be clear about is that when we were on a major label, they weren’t breathing down our necks trying to orchestrate a sound. For the most part, they trusted our instincts and left us alone; it was just that occasionally there are these little pushes in directions where you feel like you’re not in control of what you’re doing. So (making this record) was scary, but what was great was that we were completely free even from that, and we were able to follow our inspiration to guide every part of the process, before anyone who’d ever be monetizing it had even heard it. This record really feels like it represents all of us—bluegrass, folk, country, so many different areas of inspiration.”

“This record,” completed and mixed before the Rogers sisters even took it to market, is You Don’t Own Me Anymore. The cheeky title obliquely recalls the Secret Sisters’ major-label woes—as does much of the lyrical content—but the album as a whole fits into a long tradition of country statements about survival past deep damage. Opening track “Tennessee River Runs Low” imagines a speaking voice emerging from the deep riverbed, a voice that tells a story of endurance, strength and faith in one’s own trajectory.

That leadoff position is fitting, since “Tennessee River Runs Low” was the entry point for the entire LP. Americana singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile, an early booster of the Sisters, invited Laura and Lydia to open a handful of shows in Seattle in 2015. At sound check, they played “Tennessee” while Carlile watched from the audience. By the end of the evening, Carlile was insisting that the Secret Sisters needed a third release. The album would be recorded in Seattle, with a roster of Emerald City musicians contributing. Carlile, along with frequent collaborators Tim and Phil Hanseroth, would produce.

New West, a label often noted for its openness to oddball traditionalists, picked up You Don’t Own Me, which is marked sonically by its pleasing tendency to zig where a traditional country zag would be expected—a French horn on a busted-heart tune, an echo wash on a clean harmony vocal.

“We’re Southern,” says Lydia. “Our tendency is always to put the music in an expected place. But Brandi and the (Hanseroth) twins very wisely suggested that whatever we felt like we should do (musically) was precisely the opposite of what we ought to do. It’s a testimony to how wonderful they were at their role. We were able to pay tribute to our raising, to the music we love, without making easy moves on the arrangements. It was so nice to have everything be able to follow the music, rather than the music having to fit everything else.”

Eric Waggoner

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

Fiona Silver: The Perfect Storm

Behind Fiona Silver’s smile, there’s a full-on shout

Fiona Silver approaches the microphone with a guitar and a shy smile, but when she hits a power chord and starts singing, she has the emotional power to melt the coldest heart. Her wide-open vocals have the crackling electricity of early girl-group rock ’n’ roll with a hint of country twang, the rhythms of surf music and the phrasing of a 1940s jazz singer. On debut album Little Thunder, the production is dark and spooky, with a retro feel that gives the songs an ageless quality.

“I just love that old-time shiiit,” she exclaims. “Something about it pulls at my heartstrings. It’s passionate and dreamy.”

The music on the album is ominous but upbeat, matching the feel of songs that touch on abusive relationships, self-destructive behavior and the visceral joy of revenge.

“I lived through a pretty wide range of experiences while I was writing the songs for this album,” says Silver. “Heartbreak, grief, daydreaming, joy and love are all mixed up, but it’s important to have a balance. Each instrument, including my voice, is just a little part of the whole. The big picture is what matters.” A lifetime New Yorker, Silver focused on making music and performing at an early age.

“I’ve never had a day job, but I’ve done lots of odd jobs on the side, from babysitting to assisting stylists and makeup artists on shoots—all sorts of stuff,” she says. “I played in bands a bit in high school and didn’t go to college. I never regretted that decision, because there’s no degree in rock ’n’ roll. Over the years, my voice has gotten stronger, my lyrics have gotten more to the point, and the music has become more interesting. My ear and sense of music have really developed, because I work with great musicians.”

—j. poet

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed