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.

https://open.spotify.com/user/125679352/playlist/5fWLfnaArfXxWctFdzJ2zC

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Grace Madigan

Album Review: This Old Dog from Mac Demarco

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Easy going Mac Demarco has dropped his fourth album, This Old Dog. This follows his 2015 album Another One and shows his continued growth as an artist. Demarco is known for his laid-back demeanor, wanting to interact with fans directly, whether through his Official Fan Club or at shows. He’s given out his New York home address on the final track of Another One offering his fans a cup of coffee if they stop by. Since this, he moved to California at an undisclosed address and started working on his newest release. If you’re unfamiliar, you can get a better sense of his attitude through his music videos or social media posts.

This Old Dog doesn’t deviate much from Demarco’s easy, breezy sound found in his previous two albums, but displays a level of growth in songwriting and production. His lyrics are less cluttered than before and grapple with much more complex and adult themes, the largest being Demarco’s relationship with a largely absent father. He laments that he’s turning into his father on the first track “My Old Man”, closing the album with “Watching Him Fade Away” where Demarco says of his father’s illness: “the thought of him no longer being around/ well sure it would be sad but not really different”. It’s heart wrenching to hear about losing something that was never quite there and a stark contrast to previous songs such as “Ode to Viceroy”, an ode to Demarco’s favorite cigarettes.

Maybe it’s his shift towards these more adult themes that makes this album feel different from the previous ones. The sound hasn’t changed that much, although Demarco’s favored an acoustic guitar heavily this time around. This album also sounds more polished, more studio produced than previous demo-like moments from Salad Days or 2.  He’s still the laid-back singer-songwriter but his sound is starting to explore a selection of other genres and influences. “A Wolf Who Wears Sheeps Clothes” feels folky with a harmonica and acoustic guitar while “One More Love Song” immediately after is funkier with heavier bass. However, he manages to do all of this and still sound like Mac Demarco.

This album makes for easy listening in true Demarco fashion. While it personally isn’t my favorite work from him, it still has great moments and is still a strong album.

Stream This Old Dog here and catch Demarco at The Moore Theatre September 10th or 11th.

Best Tracks: “My Old Man”, “Still Beating”, “One More Love Song”

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Jessica Gloe

I Swear I’m Good at This: the Debut Album from Diet Cig

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My fascination with Diet Cig started when I saw them open for The Front Bottoms and Brick + Mortar last year. At that time, they had one 5-song EP and two singles. Almost exactly one year later, they dropped their first full length album, I Swear I’m Good at This. Frontwoman Alex Luciano keeps it real with her audience and her unbridled honesty makes her lyrics so much more relatable. The opener of the album, “Sixteen”, details cringey moments of dating someone with the same name. Luciano addresses many relationship struggles and problems commonly encountered as one enters adulthood, or at least tries to. 

Among the sweet melodies and talk of relationships are discussions of heavier topics such as gender roles and consent. On “Maid Of The Mist”, Luciano spits out “I am bigger than the outside shell of my body and if you touch it without asking then you’ll be sorry”. Luciano may refer to relationships and seemingly mundane topics, but she remains feminist pop-punk and empowered. “Tummy Ache” and “Link in Bio” is where some of this feminist frustration boils over. 

Overall, Diet Cig nails combining a young innocence with ferocity and empowerment. They blend elements and themes together in a bubbly, dancy pop. I Swear I’m Good at This is an amazing debut album and I’m excited to see where they go from here.

You can listen to I Swear I’m Good at This here.

Diet Cig will be stopping by Seattle on April 28th at Barboza. If you’re able to attend, I highly recommend. The energy present in their music is multiplied by 10 at their live shows. Luciano jumps, kicks, and is an amazing ball of energy. She’ll make you dance even if you’re unfamiliar with their music. You can grab tickets for that show here. 

~Jessica Gloe

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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

Album Review: Dirty Projectors

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Dirty Projectors began a while ago as the solo project of frontman David Longstreth, before finding success as a full band with their blend of experimental yet accessible indie pop on albums Bitte Orca and Swing Lo Magellan. However, a new self-titled album finds Dirty Projectors returning to its solo roots under Longstreth. 

Dirty Projectors marks a change in style with its R&B inspired sound. Although I always appreciate artists trying new genres and changing up their music, some of these attempts work better than others. While there are many great moments on this album, a lot of it just does not seem to work so well; not totally unsuccessful, but lacking. 

“Keep Your Name” makes the new stylistic turn of this album immediately clear, with it’s distinctive distorted vocals a bit jarring on first listen. The track comes across a bit as a failed experiment, with the vocal changes (including a pitch shifted sample from their last album in the background) proving to be more irritating than anything. The lyrics feel pretty harsh, with lines such as “I don’t think I ever loved you” and “What I want from art is truth, what you want is fame.”

“Up in Hudson” has some great instrumentation, yet it is brought down by rather awkward, unsubtle lyrics that feel out of place, including “And we both had girl and boyfriends blowing us up SMS” and “Now I’m listening to Kanye on the Taconic Parkway, riding fast/And you’re out in Echo Park, blasting 2pac, drinking a fifth for my ass.” The chorus, however, is probably one of the high points of the album, and the strong outro to the song helps save it despite these earlier flaws. 

The remainder of the album is similarly inconsistent. While there are still great moments to be found, such as the refrain of “Little Bubble”, or the nice backing vocals from Dawn Richard on “Cool Your Heart”, other songs, such as “Work Together” just feel more annoying than anything else, with the overused effects detracting from the overall quality of the song. Some of the middle stretch of the album blends together a bit, with some less remarkable tracks. Although a bit disappointing in comparison to previous Dirty Projectors albums, it is by no means a bad album, with many strong moments on it despite some issues.

Website / Twitter

-Noah Prince

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Artist Rediscovery: Sir Sly

Check THIS to start listening while you read

             Anyone
remember the song “Gold”? You know, released in 2013 – popular over the summer
that next year? No, well, unfortunately not many people I’ve talked to seem to
remember it. Clicking this might jog your memory, if
you’ve heard it before at least. The song was off the album You Haunt Me by Sir Sly, and it was a magnificent album. Sir Sly focuses on an
ambient, electronic “chill” pop sound mixed with some interesting vocals. The
band is a three-piece formed in California just back in 2012, so relatively new
to the music scene. You Haunt Me is
their debut, with 12 tracks, was released in 2014. I’ve been patiently awaiting
the release of a second album; but, it’s been three years and all I’ve gotten
is one single, “Expectations”, in 2016 and nothing since. I figure maybe if
they get more support they’ll be more apt to release some new music, so here’s
an artist rediscovery of Sir Sly.

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             If you’ve
heard Sir Sly, it because you found them through their most popular song,
“Gold”, which admittedly is a pretty sick track. A lot of the tracks on You Haunt Me feel very much like “Gold”,
with a sort of accusatory lyrical composition and an ambient electronic feel.
It’s the sort of music you listen to on a cloudy day (so pretty much everyday
here..). Like any angsty new band, the songs focus mainly on the destructive
end of a relationship, and the hindsight that comes with it. From tracks that
focus on self-doubt like ”Leave You, to tracks that blame the other person,
like “Found You Out”, we journey through every part of a relationship as it
ends. This album has it all; from fast paced and anger filled, to melancholy
and down-tempo.

             Sir Sly
takes advantage of metaphor, and employs the technique liberally throughout all
their songs. It kicks ass when coupled with the atmospheric feel of the whole
album. Not only that, but the unique twinge of the vocals completes the
electronic undertones that accent most of the tracks. Beyond the base
metaphors, the lyrics feel destructive and precise, they hit right where they’re
meant to – this band certainly is country but they know how to pull your
heartstrings. I’ve found that they express a lot of things about love that you
won’t find very often in music; the subtle doubts. Sir Sly doesn’t necessarily
focus on huge, glaring, problems that are visible on the surface of a relationship.
Rather, their music emphasizes things like pride or disloyalty (or other
personality traits) that leak into a relationship and poison it. Here are some
of my favorite lyrics:

“A taker and a giver / Oh I made you shiver
/ Couldn’t I deliver?”                    (Found You Out)

“I believed in you and then you feel apart/ You broke my trust, broke
my heart” (Nowhere/Bloodlines, Pt. I)

“I’ll be the bigger man while you act like you’re innocent / No matter
where you go, your lies will follow you” (Found You Out)

“I don’t owe you a single thing, not a God damn thing” (Gold)

If you don’t listen to Sir Sly then you really should. If you’re
ever feeling angry, sad, or just sorta existing, Sir Sly is the band for you.
They are fairly difficult to characterize, but they are similar to The Neighbourhood,
a slowed down David Guetta, or maybe more of a Bad Suns type vibe. As far as
where to start listening, I recommend “Found You Out”, “Inferno”, and “You Haunt Me”.
Thanks for the read! See you next week.


<3 Zach Krieger

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Father John Misty Drops Single, and Film, and Announcement of New Album

Father John Misty,
a.k.a. Josh Tillman released not only a new single this month, but a 25-minute
film to accompany it. “Pure Comedy” is the first song off his upcoming album of
the same name, slated for release April 7 of this year. This is his first
release since I Love You, Honeybear
from February 2015. It appears that the same ironic, satirical lyrics that
appeared on Honeybear aren’t leaving
any time soon. “Pure Comedy” is reminiscent of “Bored in the USA” from Honeybear, which utilized a laugh track
to drive home the satire. If you haven’t picked up on the irony Tillman
masterfully employs, “Pure Comedy” gives another example of the satirical
Father John Misty. In the accompanying black and white film, also titled Pure Comedy, Tillman teases additional
songs off his upcoming album. The video is bizarre, eclectic, and extremely
surreal. For sneak peeks at new material and to see a joyous Tillman directing
a church choir, it’s worth the lengthy 25-minute timestamp. The new single
features Tillman’s crooning vocals and melancholy piano, so while titled “Pure
Comedy”, it’s made clear that Tillman isn’t laughing. You can listen to the new
single here.

-Jessica Gloe

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Slowdive new single: “Star Roving”

Legendary 90s shoegaze band Slowdive has returned with their first new music since 1995’s Pygmalion. Although the group reformed in 2014 for some live performances, they have not released any new tracks until now. 

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I’ll admit, whenever an older band releases new music after long periods of inactivity, I’m usually not expecting much, but Slowdive has such a strong track record of excellent music that I was cautiously optimistic when I heard they had been in the studio. 

“Star Roving” does not disappoint. While their last album had a more minimalist, ambient vibe to it, their newest track recalls the sound of their earlier releases with layers of fuzzy-sounding guitar and distorted vocals. The music in some places sounds reminiscent of the band’s old contemporaries Ride or Chapterhouse, although I was reminded on first listen of the more upbeat Yo La Tengo tracks. I had worried that any new music they put out would sound uninspired or derivative, as can sometimes happen with band reunions, but “Star Roving” shows the band hasn’t lost their songwriting abilities. Hopefully the quality of this track is reflective of any future music Slowdive may put out. 

Find Slowdive here: 

Twitter / Website

-Noah Prince

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New Music Update: Pop Punkers Aim to Strike Gold

New music output is a fickle thing.  There’s new music being released all over the world all the time, even now; however, sometimes there seems to a be a huge burst or lull in output.  One of the most reliable of these boom/bust cycles is the early fall rise, and the subsequent December-January comedown.  Artists release music in the early fall, anticipating an end-of-year list bump in sales or a possible Grammy nod, and then the music world generally calms down for a while, recharging itself.  

The first month of 2016 saw a decent crop, however: Rihanna’s ANTI, Anderson .Paak’s Malibu, and of course Blackstar all came out in the year’s first month.  This year is yet very young, and yet we’ve already had some very high-profile releases in the indie world.  The returns of The xx, The Flaming Lips, Run the Jewels, and even Dropkick Murphys have set 2017 off with a plethora of new tunes to try and wrap our brains around.  And in the upcoming weeks, we’ll see a flood of new albums to sink our teeth into, seemingly from every genre under the sun.  It’s a good time to be a music fan.

Some of the biggest names in music appear poised to release new projects this year, many of them under the ever-widening umbrella of the “indie” scene: Arcade Fire, Spoon, and The Shins have announced albums, and released accompanying singles as well.  Tool have been hinting at something for a while (a long, long while) while.  The Orwells have a new single.  King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard is putting out another goddamn album.  Gorillaz are coming back!  And in the near future, some very exciting releases should be expected.  Here’s a few of my most anticipated:

Cherry Glazerr, Apocalipstick: Los Angeles-based weirdo rockers Cherry Glazerr haven’t released a full album in just over three years, and they seem hellbent on following up their debut record, 2014′s Haxel Princess, with something huge.  Collaborating with some big-name producers (Joe Chiccarelli of The Strokes’ Angles and Carlos de la Garza of M83’s Junk), the band is looking to expand their sound and audience on Apocalipstick.  Preceding singles include the riffy, groovy “Told You I’d Be With the Guys”, which promises a rock record that could be among the year’s best.  Apocalipstick is out January 20 on Secretly Canadian.

Cloud Nothings, Life Without Sound: Cloud Nothings have a lot to live up to with this project.  The band rode the swell of support for 2012’s Attack on Memory and 2014’s Here and Nowhere Else through the departure of lead guitarist Joe Boyer, a collaborative album with Wavves, and a grueling tour schedule.  But now they have to follow up two of the best lo-fi punk records of the decade, and we hope they can follow through on the promise of their two preceding records.  Though lead single “Modern Act” disappointed me a little bit, follow-up “Internal World” brought much more to the table.  This album, according to frontman Dylan Baldi, is supposed to be a bit more vocally interesting and less dark than Here and Nowhere Else, and I’m optimistic about where this focus will take the band.  Life Without Sound is out on January 27 on Carpark Records.

Japandroids, Near to the Wild Heart of Life: Japandroids have been putting out some of the most life-affirming, shout-along music in recent memory, which really makes you wonder: can there really only be two of them?  The guitar-and-drums duo get such huge sound out of their instruments that it seems hard to believe.  Their most recent release was 2013’s Celebration Rock, a critically acclaimed release that included standout track “The House that Heaven Built”, and since then the black-clad rockers have undoubtedly been looking for a way to adequately follow up a triumph like that.  Near to the Wild Heart of Life has to be damn good.  The album’s first single is the title track, which comes out of nowhere, hitting you with a thick wall of drums and pure energy.  It bodes well for a band whose MO has always been: “Hit ‘em fast, hit ‘em hard.”  Near to the Wild Heart of Life is out on January 27 on ANTI-.

The Menzingers, After the Party: The Menzingers are a band that remind me of the do-or-die emotion of high school, and that’s not just because I got a little too into them in my sophomore year.  The Philadelphia-based quartet can be counted on for some killer hooks and some incredibly interesting lyrics to boot.  2012’s On the Impossible Past is, in my very humble opinion, completely flawless; it’s a masterwork the whole way through, an emotional call to a time that we’ve either forgotten or never had in the first place.  2014’s Rented World was a bit more flawed, but it had some notable standouts: opener “I Don’t Want to be an Asshole Anymore”, for all its long-windedness, is one of the best things they’ve ever done, and follow-up “Bad Things” is hardly a slouch.  Their latest record is preceded by singles that range from decent (“Bad Catholics”) to exceptional (“Lookers”), and I look forward to hearing singers Greg Barnett and Tom May bleeding their hearts out all over the damn thing.  After the Party is out February 3 on Epitaph.

Dirty Projectors, Dirty Projectors: Ah, Dirty Projectors.  The perfect bridge between Arcade Fire’s accessible anthems to Animal Collective’s unrelenting madness, this band has always occupied a weird place in the indie world: they’re not the weirdos AnCo are, but they’re not exactly a band to show your friend whose closest brush with the indie scene was when he accidentally walked by Sufjan Stevens’ set at Coachella this year.  They’ve always been really good, but never have they fully scraped their way into mainstream consciousness.  The closest they’ve come was 2012’s Swing Lo Magellan, an album that shivers and shakes but never falls down, and their new self-titled release hopes to deliver further on the promise of that record.  If this record has anything near half as good as “About to Die” on it, you can catch me listening to it day and night.  Dirty Projectors is out February 24 on Domino Records.

-John Morse

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Artist Profile: American Wrestlers

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American Wrestlers is a relatively new band, having formed in Missouri in 2014. The band began as the solo act of Gary McClure, originally from Scotland, and a member of the British indie band Working For a Nuclear Free City. He initially released the band’s first album, self-titled American Wrestlers, for free on Bandcamp. After the band began gaining popularity on the internet, American Wrestlers was re-released by Fat Possum Records in 2015. Following this, McClure assembled a full band, with Bridgette Imperial on keyboard, Josh Van Hoorebeke on drums, and Ian Reitz on bass. They have a new album out, Goodbye Terrible Youth, just recently released on November 4th. 

American Wrestlers’ music employs a classic indie rock sound that should be familiar to any fans of the genre. While their debut had a more lo-fi sound, as is typical of home recordings, with fuzzy, distorted guitar, their new album has a cleaner, bigger sound, with jangly guitars and catchy riffs. The band’s newer songs are faster and louder than those on American Wrestlers, as the band’s sound evolves, yet they retain the same quality songwriting that drew attention to them in the beginning. As their first album as a full band, Goodbye Terrible Youth shows a lot of promise, and hopefully marks the beginning of a strong career.  

Recommended for fans of: Working For a Nuclear Free City, Yuck

Key tracks: “There’s No One Crying Over Me Either,” “Real People,” ”Give Up,” “I Can Do No Wrong”

Soundcloud / Bandcamp / Twitter

-Noah Prince

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