We the Music: Samantha Crain

My last post was about indie/folk music being so white so this installment of We the Music highlights the brilliant singer-songwriter Samantha Crain who is a member of the Choctaw nation. Her latest album You Had Me At Goodbye came out at the end of March and if you haven’t listened to it you’re going to want to stop what you’re doing and play the whole thing.

Compared to her previous albums Crain’s latest work strays away from the folksy sound she’s been most known for and embraces a more pop sound. The first track “Antiseptic Greeting” makes that clear from the beginning. Crain commented in interviews how she feels more comfortable.

However, songs like “Red Sky, Blue Mountain” and “When the Roses Bloom Again” stand out as call backs to her folk origins. On “Red Sky, Blue Mountain” Crain sings in her native Choctaw language with a simple guitar being the prominent instrument on the track. The song “When the Roses Bloom Again” is the first cover Crain has done for an album and was actually written by Woodie Guthrie.

It’s important not to put a box around artists from minority communities and let where they come from define their work. However, it is important to support these artists in their endeavors so that they may serve as inspiration for others and further diversify whatever field they are in. Recognizing and embracing them as artists or in their work in general is necessary.

Crain singing in her native Choctaw language is significant – even if it wasn’t meant to be a political statement it is almost impossible for it not to be with our history of colonization and oppressing the Indigenous people of North America. The saying of “kill the Indian, save the man” represented the philosophy of the American government towards Indigenous people. It was racist and the policies that resulted created an oppressive system that’s remnants remain today.

By embracing and singing in the Choctaw language, Crain demonstrates to the world that Indigenous voices and culture are still around to be heard. That’s really powerful, especially being a musician whose genre is so white.

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American folk music is interesting in that even though today it’s very white it wasn’t always that way. Its roots stem from variety of influences from Cajun to blues to gospel and music from the various Native American nations. Folk music eventually meshed into protest music during the civil rights movement and eventually Vietnam. But folk music is much more expansive than what we remember it to be and what we think of it as now.

Folk music in general is music that is traditional – passed down from generation to generation within communities. Folk music in America became a genre that got popularized by white males and continues to be dominated by them too. It’s important to remember that American folk music has roots in a multitude of music from different culture which isn’t represented as “folk music” today.

Crain’s music is important in keeping the tradition of folk music alive and acknowledging the roots of the genre. Not everything has to be political but it is important to consider the diversity of artists you listen to. Check out Vagabon, Benjamin Booker, and Hanni El Khatib; all three are artists who are representing different voices in white dominated genres.

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Grace Madigan

We the Music: First Aid Kit

The hip-hop community seems to be releasing an endless array of songs commenting on today’s social and political issues. It has struck me that I have not seen as much politically charged music in the indie/folk scene. What has happened to this genre that used to be at the forefront of hippie culture or maybe a better question is who is making the music?

A New Yorker article describes the history and transition of the indie community becoming so white. Look back to the early days of folk and you’ll see how they took the call and response element straight from songs sung on the plantations by slaves. Then listen to the music of the 60’s and 70’s and you’ll hear the blues influence. There was a lot of borrowing between black and white musicians but it stopped according to the article sometime when hip-hop began to take over the charts. Indie rock became white and hip-hop black.

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The reason for bringing this up is that indie/folk is my favorite genre but if you told me list to my top 10 even 20 artists from that genre they would all be white. It’s an important aspect of music to acknowledge even if you don’t want to.

First Aid Kit is comprised of two sisters Klara and Johanna Soderberg who hail from Sweden. Why I picked to highlight them was because even though they fall in line with the majority of white artists in the indie/folk scene their latest song has a powerful political and social message. The duo’s song is focused on an issue that affects them and half the world’s population, women. 

It’s very easy for anyone to take the safe route and say nothing when an issue arises especially if it’s political. But it is important that those with a voice especially musicians speak out and I think First Aid Kit provides a perfect example of how to do that. 

“You Are the Problem Here” by First Aid Kit is a rock song done by folk group that is striking. If you’ve heard the Swedish duo before and listen to this new song, you’ll notice it is quite different. Departing from their normal harmonies that are delicate and beautiful, there is a raw anger that comes through the song. From the very beginning you know that you’re getting something different. Instead of the normal acoustic an electric guitar gives energy to the song.

The lyrics are simple, even repetitive but that’s the point. Sexual harassment and rape shouldn’t be so complicated. Consent is an easy concept, that’s why there is so much anger. The last line of the song captures the intense rage the sisters have for those who sexually harass women; “And I hope you fucking suffer”. There is no hidden message, no metaphor it’s raw which is what makes this song powerful.

While it is not my favorite track from the talented Swedes it’s one that is important. It’s a track from the indie community that says something. There are many more out there and hopefully many more to come.

Grace Madigan

EP Review: Marty O’Reilly & The Old Soul Orchestra – Preach ‘Em Now!

       I’m going to be honest here and say
that I first found out about Marty O’Reilly & the Old Soul Orchestra only a
short time ago. I first heard the song “Cold Canary Gaslight” and fell in love
with the wonderful and distinct sound that the band produces. Marty O’Reilly’s
smoky voice paired with the delicious blend of jazz, folk, and blues instantly made this band one
of my favorites. They just recently released a new EP, called Preach ‘Em Now! and I have opinions on
it. Here they are:

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        The EP starts off with the track,
“I Heard the Angels”, which is a cover of Reverend Gary Davis’ song. Or at
least, it might be. I’m not sure what the history of the track is, or who the
first to record it was. But anyway, the track opens up with a single guitar,
playing a bluesy riff. It initially sounds like something you’d hear in an old
coffeehouse on open mic night, and I mean that in a good way. The guitar sounds
as smoky and rough as Marty’s voice, and the entire track has an almost lo-fi
tone. The kick drum joins in, then the bass, and the EP takes off. The
introduction of the violin creates a vibrancy, while the distorted guitar keeps
you laid back and slightly depressed, creating what I can only describe as a
dystopian atmosphere. The song truly does sound like the inner turmoil of a man
about to face death. Which is interesting, given it’s actually a worship song.

           The next
song is “Preach ‘Em Now!”, the EP’s title track. It starts off with a blues
rock sound, before delving into a more jazzy vibe. The whole song alternates
between jazz, blues, and blues rock. While this may sound like it would make
for a confusing and annoying song, Marty O’Reilly and the Old Soul Orchestra
makes it work. Towards the end, the song develops into an instrumental showcase
of the violin and the guitar, delighting the ears.

           “Left for
the Wolves”, the third track on the EP, slows the album back down, bringing
back the sad and slow violin and double bass. This song is a lot more jazz
heavy than the previous, with the double bass creating a laid back atmosphere
that pairs well with a fine glass of wine and a fireplace. Then, the violin
comes in periodically, sometimes shouting and sometimes whispering to the
listener, alternating the mood of the song throughout.

           “Shudder”
continues the jazz and double bass theme. However, the upbeat guitar and
bassline take the EP in a new direction: joyful. The violin is still there to
add an unsung frantic tone to the meaning of the song, but isn’t as depressing
as the previous tracks, and wails far less. The change in direction that occurs
with this song is what keeps the EP from going stale and leaving every track
sounding the same. 

           Then, to
end the EP, “Shudder” brings up the rear. Immediately, this song sounds
different. Starting the track with only vocals and a semi-acoustic guitar,
Marty O’Reilly and the Old Soul Orchestra went with a more personal feeling to
the last song on the EP. The lyrics to this song elude me, but the track gives
off a feeling of optimism in the face of opposition. This, along with the
opening track, are my favorites from the EP. 

          I liked Preach ‘Em Now! more than their previous album, mainly due to the dedicated cohesiveness the band stuck to in this instance. No song sounds dissimilar to the previous, yet each is unique and offers its own flavor to the delicious spread that is this EP. Marty O’Reilly and the Old Soul
Orchestra isn’t too well known yet, but they deserve every new listener they
receive. Give ‘em a listen.  

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Niles Kyholm



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AURORA’s Empyrean Essence is More Encouragement Than Despair

While I am delighted over and over again by the discovery of
new artists, I am rarely plunged into an inspiration that alters my outlook
on the world. But such a rare captivation did consume me this week, and
19-year-old Norwegian Aurora Aksnes was responsible. 

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My first exposure to AURORA
was her cover of Oasis’s “Half
the World Away” featured in this year’s poignantly wonderful John Lewis Christmas advert.
(This wildly popular video catapulted AURORA to number 11 on the UK charts, and
helped publicize her European tour.)  

Though
the story in this advert held most of my attention, I couldn’t help but notice
the pure character and exceptional pitch of the singer giving voice to the commercial.
I did a quick search to find the song and artist and blessed YouTube directed
me to her music video “Runaway”. I sincerely hope you have never heard this
song before, because watching it in conjunction with the video yields to
something much more ethereal than experiencing either form in isolation.  

If you’re more interested in melancholy acoustic sounds, she’s
mastered that domain as well, with arresting visuals to match. “Murder Song (5,
4, 3, 2, 1)” is gritty and raw, and its music video featuring black-and-white
butterflies fluttering around a tortured AURORA is mesmerizing.  

Both these delicately desolate videos capture feelings that pertinently
embody the coldest season of the year. I intend to put AURORA on all my wintertime
playlists (including Christmas Carols, because “Half the World Away” decidedly
counts as one now that it’s been in a Christmas commercial.)  

On December 4th AURORA posted a celebratory photo
to her her exclusive fan community, “Warriors and Weirdos”,
with the caption “We’ve finished the record!! Magnus, O.
Martin and me are going out for some sushi. It’s a sushi kind of day today.” (Her charming personality is
an added bonus to the insider access of being a member on this page.) Sadly,
this post doesn’t indicate much about the forthcoming album’s U.S. release date.
But you can keep yourself apprised by following her Twitter, Facebook and aesthetically splendid
Instagram accounts.

If you are hesitant to check out AURORA’s live videos
because of her adolescence and inexperience with the stage, I would urge you to
overcome that reservation. She is both impressive and adorable live, as
evidenced by this set for NPR:

AURORA is as cosmically stunning as the natural phenomenon that
shares her name. She is a vocal and visual wonder whose brilliant (and
self-written) songs simultaneously transport listeners to the majestic vistas
of Norway and the darkest depths of human suffering. But AURORA does not cast
sadness in a troublesome light. She handles it gently and imaginatively, with an
artful acknowledgement of its inevitable impact on our lives. This is why listening
to her music is not a depressing escapism, but a stirring reimagining
of the tumultuous and beautiful privilege it is to be alive.  

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DJ M-Schizzle



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An Undefinable Genre – A Primer on Folk Music

“If it was never new, and never gets old, then it’s a folk
song.”

Nothing describes the folk genre as well as this line,
uttered by Oscar Isaac’s character in the movie Inside
Llewyn Davis
. If you want to start listening to the genre and need a few
recommendations to get you started, you’ve come to the right place. Keep in
mind that this is specifically contemporary folk, which is typically synonymous with
the term folk nowadays. That being said, the genre doesn’t really have a hard and fast definition. In the wise words of the great Louis Armstrong, “All music is folk music. I ain’t never heard a horse sing a song.” So bearing in mind that these aren’t horses singing, here are a few of my
personal picks for contemporary folk songs that I feel best represent the genre in
different ways:

1) Big Bill Broonzy – Black, Brown, and White

The beauty of a folk song is that it often paints
a picture of the time period in which it was written. Many folk songs are about
the problems the songwriter faced or the tensions plaguing society at the time,
creating a feeling of honesty and truth to the songs. They tend to be simple
songs that can be easily passed down, making them timeless. This song, while also along the lines of blues, is a great example of this. It’s a history lesson in song form. The song was written
and performed by Big Bill Broonzy, a pre-World War II Chicago blues singer. His
song “Black, Brown and White” (sometimes called “Get Back”) is about the experiences and hardships of war vets, who were treated preferentially in relation to their skin color. An honest song for an honest problem.

2) Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-Changin’

Another example of the times influencing
the music, Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’” was written in 1964 as
an anthem for societal change. As relevant now as ever, the song exemplifies
the timeless of a genre. While understanding the context of the time helps to
better understand the motivation for writing, you can play this song behind any
advertisement for social movement and it will never sound out of place. 

It
should also be noted that Bob Dylan was largely responsible for the peak of the
American folk revival in the 1960s, forming the genre we (or at least I) know
and love today. Some other artists to listen to from the revival time period
are Dave Van Ronk, Joan Baez, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger. There are more, but these are my favorites, and the ones that you’ll hear more often that not.

3) Joe Pug – Hymn #101

This song is an example of the flipside of songwriting
in the folk genre. A modern song, Joe Pug’s “Hymn #101” is written in a way that leaves it open to interpretation. Joe Pug may have written the song with a personal meaning
behind the lyrics, but they’re just that: personal. The lyrics cause you to relate them to your own experiences, making it a unique song for
everyone. In the simplest sense, it’s about the struggles of a human living
life, and we can all relate to that. 

4) The Barr Brothers – Beggar In The Morning

If the singer-songwriter, one-man-and-a-guitar
style of the other songs isn’t for you, The Barr Brothers’ “Beggar In The
Morning” is a great example of more modern-sounding folk music that uses more
than just a guitar. The tone is both haunting and relaxing, with the lyrics
giving insight into the inner demons of the musician. “She said ‘hello, I’m a
monster, too/What poisons me is what poisons you’” is one of my favorite lyrics
from any song. While a short and simple line, it expresses the joy of finding a
companion that can relate to your inner demons, and therefore, you as a whole. Whether
you interpret the woman in the song to be a real woman or music is up to you. The
song is full of such beautifully-written lyrics, and the rest of The Barr Brothers’ music is
much the same way.

5) Corey Chisel and the Wandering Sons – Home In The
Woods

Did I mention that folk singers like to sing
about the peaceful life of the woods? Because they do. The theme permeates
throughout the genre, especially in Americana and Appalachian folk. It brings
you back to the settlement days when the only thing you had to worry about was
keeping your banjo in-tune and defending your loved ones from bears. Corey
Chisel and the Wandering Sons
’ “Home In The Woods” takes inspiration from this
theme, and is about the yearning one has when disconnected from nature. The
“home in the woods in the back of my mind”, if you will. This is a
fantastically catchy song, and a great introduction to the more banjo-y folk
that you’ll hear more often these days.

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Niles Kyholm



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