Starlight Girls’ “Teenage Crime” deftly combines emotional urgency with a languid pace and melancholic undertones. Angsty guitar work bursting over a minimalistic keyboard melody washing underneath Christina Bernard’s focused vocals tracing the ebb and flow of mood give the song an unconventional rhythm. Without overcomplicating the soundscape the band uses a wide-ranging and expressive dynamic in the percussion and low end that syncs with the other elements of the song operating in their own dynamics and unifies it all toward a goal of making a song that feels expansive, contemplative and emotionally vibrant. It’s a bit like if Air and modern, noisy, psychedelic band collaborated to create a song that is cool yet fiery that washes the nervous energy in your brain away. Listen to “Teenage Crime” on Soundcloud, connect with Starlight Girls at the links below and look out for the band’s new EP Entitled which was released on June 9, 2020 and available on the group’s Bandcamp page.
“Mummycore” band I, Doris returns with a song and video called “Wonderwomen,” which is a DIY live action comic book treatment everyday challenges women all over the world face. You know, the mundane tasks that too often aren’t expected to be fulfilled by men like getting the kids to school after keeping after them to get all the little things done like basic hygiene and homework, then putting up with heaps of nonsense from power tripping bosses who are essentially useless middle management types who would crack under the pressure they put upon others. But if you’re a woman you’ve been conditioned to take on the blame for maybe not taking on all this work and completing it in some imaginary perfect fashion. I, Doris say a big p’shaw to that and not internalize a narrative of failure because “You’re doing fine.” That the band performs the song in a sort of camp, new wave punk version of the theme song to the American TV series Wonder Woman that ran from 1975-1979 and starring Lynda Carter is just a fantastically irreverent bonus. That the members of the band appear in the video as women who could be someone you run into walking down the street, in the school, in your crap job that everyone hates, at the grocery store or anywhere but wearing super hero costumes really turns the idea of women needing to give themselves more of a hassle or accept such from anyone else than necessary on its head. So many things in life don’t require your full attention and effort and this song is about cutting yourself a break for not giving it your all with everything all the time because that’s the path to self-destruction. If that messaging isn’t a form of radical feminism that anyone can get behind, it’s difficult to say what is.
Pulsing low end rumble pushes Buggie’s song “Westend” along as Gretchen King almost reads the story of the current dissolution of the world order as we knew it and the desperate attempts to save it. Whether that be with “corporate saviors” or clinging to the utterly discredited neoliberal order with its distractions in entertainment, social media and dead end jobs held out as our only options as a way to perpetuate an economic model that hasn’t been sustainable in even the most powerful countries for four decades. Buggie points out that it seems like the last legs of resisting the inevitable. The almost industrial percussion wedded with King’s pondering but cautionary vocals convey the hard reality before us but inject it with a hint of whimsical flavor as if to suggest that maybe this end of things as we know it is a positive because it’s already been crashing in on itself since the turn of the century and maybe we’re already ready for something new even if it seems scary. Fans of Holly Herndon and Hiro Kone will greatly appreciate the production and soundscaping and the conceptual nature as well as the social critique of the song. Listen to “Westend” on Soundcloud, watch a short clip of the stop motion music video on Instagram and connect with Buggie at the links provided.
“Stigande luft” (Ascending Air) is the first track from Jäverling ◇ von Euler’s upcoming album Musik för trädgårdar (Music for gardens). It draws us in by establishing a percussive tone as a beat as shimmering splashes of synth come in and the melody and textural elements blossom into a dynamic soundscape of interweaving rhythms and melody. It’s like a fusion of New Age jazz and ambient composition. Though having a bit of the vibe of an after hours techno lounge, the overall effect uplifts the mood with the sense of illumination and energy. Rickard Jäverling and Henrik von Euler have worked together on previous albums as the ambient duo Dödens Dal and this newer collaborative material emphasizes a synthesis of the organic and electronic. Listen to “Stigande luft” on Spotify and look for the project’s new album out on the Flora & Fauna imprint.
“Mountains” is a bit of a new direction for Irish ambient artist Emiji. It still features well crafted, melodic drifts, drones as ethereal wind blowing through the track and a sense of a spiritual journey in sound. With Heart Singing providing non-verbal vocals that trail off into echoes that dissolve into the rest of the soundscape there is an even stronger sense of grounding in tangible emotions and a sense of wonder. With the slowly ascending arc of piano that runs through the song it suggests being at the heights of the title and looking across the landscape and its tranquil grandeur when the sun is beginning to come up, peeking through rainclouds or slowly going past the horizon toward night. The second piano figure toward the end of the song changes the tone slightly to give the ethereal song a hopeful flavor. The effect of the vocals with the organic instrumentation and electronic drones is reminiscent of the better New Age music of the 80s and 90s without the pretentious baggage attendant with some of that musical milieu. Listen to “Mountains” on YouTube and connect with Emiji at the links provided. “Mountains” is the first song from Emiji’s new LP My Journeys due out in 2020.
When Janet Weiss, longtime drummer of Sleater-Kinney, said she was leaving the band and partly due to creative differences on the band’s 2019 album The Center Won’t Hold, it came as a shock to most fans. I had seen Sleater-Kinney the first time in October 1998 at The Fox Theatre in Boulder and Weiss was a standout performer among impressive turns by Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker. Having then found out about the band through Brownstein’s insightful commentary on her influences in Roni Sarig’s book The Secret History of Rock I was not let down when I decided to see if it was possible to see Sleater-Kinney in Colorado. Picking up Call the Doctor and then most recent album Dig Me Out felt revelatory like this band was saying things that needed to be said at a time when not a lot of that was in the public discourse. I also saw Weiss perform in other bands over the years. In Quasi basically I was awestruck by her raw power and versatility and how her style seemed different in that band as well as when she was a drummer in Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks.
Before Sleater-Kinney split that first time I’d seen the bands four times and bring along noteworthy artists on the tours the way independent bands used to and sometimes still do. Bands like Ailer’s Set, The Gossip and The Quails. I was in retrospect impressed with how the band brought on Rainbow Sugar and The Pauline Heresy to open at The Fox as Rainbow Sugar became one of my bands at that time and so did Pauline Heresy when Yoon Park and Claudine Rousseau formed the post-punk band Sin Desires Marie with Germaine Baca of Rainbow Sugar. Going to see them always seemed inspirational and transformational. Their records seeming to be exactly what I wanted to hear when they came out. When Sleater-Kinney broke up in 2006 it felt like the beginning of the end of an era of music.
Then the reunion happened and following the release of No Cities to Love in 2015 it was obvious the trio was back into the swing of things and the band’s show at the Ogden Theatre with Lizzo as the opening act was fantastic. When Sleater-Kinney returned for Riot Fest in 2016 I felt I had seen a lot more music during the interim and braving an injury I decided to stick around to see them, though feeling for some reason I’d seen the band several times already and knew what they were about. I don’t know what I was expecting but it felt like the band was having fun and rediscovering their power even more as a live band and keeping the vibe casual but electric. It hit me as refreshing and as though somehow the band was tapped into some general mood a lot of people were in with culture and politics. It was a bracing reminder that this band still had something to offer someone like me who has seen and heard so much and didn’t even want to be at a festival given aforementioned injury. It’s easy to get jaded especially when you’re not feeling well. Yet Sleater-Kinney made it seem worth it even if only to catch the band’s set (I also saw Danny Brown, Vince Staples and Ween before going home, all also worthwhile).
So what would a post-Janet Weiss Sleater-Kinney look and sound like live? The album The Center Won’t Hold certainly showcased a band that was evolving in a direction that maybe many fans didn’t appreciate. But it also contained some of the band’s best songs to date and let us know that the band felt the need to do something different and not get stuck in a rut. Weiss has publicly said why she left the band and one can hardly blame her given her reasons. There’s no replacing someone like Janet Weiss whose unique and powerful style uplifts all of her projects. But for this tour Angie Boylan of Aye Nako and Freezing Cold stepped in and more than ably performed songs that would have to be challenging for most other drummers to play. So much so that it felt like Brownstein and Tucker were able to relax and project a sense of joy and solidarity. Katie Harkin and Toko Yasuda helped fill out the instrumentation especially on keyboards so bring that deeply atmospheric sensibility of The Center Won’t Hold.
The set with the current touring lineup felt like a sustained spark of hope in a bleak time in America. Once again, to me, Sleater-Kinney was singing about the things people need to hear, about which many of us are thinking. They also brought to bear insight into the insecurities and psychological trauma that seems to be striking our lives with increasing regularity whether economically, our social lives, the death of friends whether you’re young or old through illness, murder or suicide. The songs on the new record also addressed issues of isolation, being able to look forward when world events seem so paralyzing with a sense that everything is broken and beyond our ability to repair or redeem. The songs don’t try to sugar coat or to say that everything will be okay. But it also isn’t a set of nihilistic songs as that mindset is its own form of despair obsession. The show felt like the band sharing with us a sense that we’re going to need each other in a real and vulnerable way if we have any hope of getting through this period without throwing up our hands and letting the fascists and their cronies take over the world and dictate what’s left of the future of the human race if their program prevails.
The Center Won’t Hold
Hurry On Home
The Future Is Here
Bury Our Friends
What’s Mine Is Yours
One More Hour
Can I Go On
A New Wave
The Dog/The Body
Italian rapper Dydo’s song “Tacchi & Jordan” is in Italian but one needn’t understand the lyrics to appreciate his artistry. He deftly switches between rapping styles throughout the song with great nuance conveying urgency and contemplation. The beat employs organic and electronic instruments and the production balances an expansive melody with rhythmic texture and vibrant layers of atmosphere. Fans of artists on the Rhymesayers Entertainment imprint will appreciate Dydo’s forceful presentation and mastery of wordplay paired with dynamic music that suggests a reflective quality even as the moment of the song is clearly aimed at moving forward. Listen to “Tacchi & Jordan” on Soundcloud and follow Dydo at the links below.
“EATR” is a song by Swedish band Phogg written from the perspective of a robot named Mofeto driven to misanthropic heights by its anger at the recklessness and wanton destruction humankind has wreaked upon the earth and other living creatures. Sounding like it was recorded in a secret, underground lair constructed from the salvaged fuselage of Mofeto’s would be escape vehicle from humanity’s self-inflicted environmental apocalypse, “EATR” has the quality of an urgent and corrosive, headlong psychedelic thrash to reflect the robot’s uncontrollable outrage at the “hundreds of years” humans have had to tumble the natural world toward becoming an uninhabitable wasteland. Listen to Mofeto’s lament, “EATR,” on Spotify and follow Phogg at the links provided.
Blind The Thin King’s aim is to make music that sounds like something from a lost or extra-terrestrial civilization or found by a far future society with no known cultural connection to our own—to make something for which the social and technological context is unknown. So the project’s latest single “Cloak of Misanthrope” comes across like the discovery of a music storage device that contained the information throughout an optical storage matrix that was found in pieces and through which we’re stimulating the crystalline structure to elicit sounds and we get a fascinating collage of tones, textures and a rhythm not based on anything normal but out of the cadence of seemingly random sonic data. Instead of a Hari Seldon type figure giving us the finest music of the era from the arts equivalent of Foundation, we get something like an even more corrupted, more randomized flow of sounds than the Elvis Presley hologram performance from Blade Runner 2049. It’s supposed to be challenging, it’s maybe even supposed to be off putting but there’s something about this track that keeps you listening, a sonic puzzle that tantalizes because some of the pieces are missing but if you pay close enough attention you will figure out the unifying element. Perhaps the connectors can be found across the Four Hymns LP from which “Cloak of Misanthrope” is taken. But even if not, “Cloak of Misanthrope” has an appeal similar to artifacts of ancient civilizations we don’t fully understand or the electronic transmissions from numbers stations. Yet there is a strange and haunting coherency to the song that is undeniable. Listen on Soundcloud and follow Blind The Thin King further there as well.
Youcancallmeoliver’s mysteriously named track “C+S+M” combines an understated yet urgent melodic arpeggio over textural beats and fluid, but distorted, bass accents. The layers of sound intertwine and evolve as the song progresses with the bass and the most minimal component of the percussion stay consistently voiced, dropping out mid-song for a bit of a high tone interlude and repeating figure like a passage out of a Rabies-period Skinny Puppy song modified and dropped in to add to the slightly haunted quality of the main melody. The whole piece suggests a journey and a transformation like if you could somehow be put through an assembly line process to tweak aspects of your mind and body to gently work out the ailments, injuries and neuroses that may be plaguing you for true deep relaxation to be possible—a complex but non-invasive procedure rediscovered from a past, hitherto unknown advanced civilization. The song also works as the intro music to a high tech spy movie for a sequence suggested in the previous scenario but where the lead figure undergoes a procedure to bring the mind and body in perfect sync for the mission ahead. The 007 franchise has been looking to change the starring role to be played by a woman rather than the men it’s been for around sixty years? This is a song for the opening scenes of that film. Listen to “C+S+M” on Soundcloud and follow youcancallmeoliver at the links below.