We spilled pixel after pixel in 2015 singing the praises of Sufjan Stevens’ masterful, heartbreaking album Carrie & Lowell, which ultimately was our No. 3 Best Album of 2015 (behind Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly and EL VY’s Return to the Moon–no where is that list, it’s around here somewhere?). In the meantime we’ve been waiting anxiously for 2016’s musical Niagara Falls to start spilling, to no avail (whither Radiohead, Feist, etc.?). We surmise everyone’s busy getting ready for the Grammys to pass (ahem) this weekend.
So we were thrilled yesterday when Stevens gave us a musical reason to live by releasing the well-captured video below of his band (Ben Lanz, Casey Foubert, Dawn Landes, and James McAlister) performing the album’s sterling title track in Charleston last November. The video evokes fond memories of Stevens’ 2015 tour and the perfectly embellished/enhanced arrangements and performances of Carrie & Lowell’s songs (not to mention super reads of some older songs). Check it out below.
Speaking of tours, Stevens will continue his Carrie & Lowell caravan in Australia/New Zealand beginning on Feb. 22nd (see list below the video) before returning to perform at Coachella, among other festivals (tickets can be found HERE).
Monday 22 February – State Theatre, Sydney
Friday 26 February – Hamer Hall, Melbourne (sold out)
Saturday 27 February – Hamer Hall, Melbourne
Sunday 28 February – Hamer Hall, Melbourne (just added)
Monday 29 February – Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide
Wednesday 2 March – Red Hill Auditorium, Perth
Friday 4 March – Qpac Concert Hall, Brisbane
Sunday 6 March – New Zealand Festival, Wellington
Tuesday 8 March – The Civic, Auckland
The controversial, but uncontroversally-talented Amanda Palmer has collaborated with Jherek Bischoff to release a heartfelt, string-laden EP homage to the late, great(est) David Bowie. The EP, entitled Strung Out In Heaven: A Bowie String Quartet Tribute, consists of six covers Bowie’s songs and features contributions from Anna Calvi, John Cameron Mitchell, and author Neil Gaiman (Palmer’s husband), among others. It was released today via Bandcamp for $1 and you can check it out and buy it (proceeds to good causes) at bottom. Our favorite Bowie song and cover from the EP is Ashes to Ashes, which you can listen to immediately below followed by Palmer’s explique for the EP.
About the EP and recording, Palmer writes:
“We found out he’d died – by text from Neil’s daughter – at 3 a.m. in Santa Fe. We were visiting family, to introduce them to the newborn lying in bed beside us. A tiny fleshy reminder that Bowie, like our other friends, mentors and heroes who’ve been consumed by cancer in the past few months, was just…passing through. The baby is Ash. Dust to dust. Funk to Funky. I was talking on the phone to Jherek the next day talking about our arrangement for “machete”, the song we’d just tracked in LA. Bowie meant so much to both of us, growing up. and i knew that if we didn’t do this NOW, we’d say it was a good idea and then find a million reasons not to get around to it. We gave ourselves a deadline of two weeks. We made it. Jherek put the petal to the metal, arranged a song a day, recorded his A-list string quartet in L.A. in 3.5 hours, then I spent two straight days in the studio doing vocals. It was the longest time yet i’d been away from the baby. My mom took care of him one day, a babysitter the next, and Neil took the night shifts. I’m back at work. It feels right. We’re really, really, really proud of what we made, even though we cranked it out in a short time. Music is the binding agent of our mundane lives. It cements the moments in which we wash the dishes, type the resumes, go to the funerals, have the babies. The stronger the agent, the tougher the memory, and Bowie was NASA-grade epoxy to a sprawling span of freaked-out kids over three generations. He bonded us to our weird selves. We can be us. He said. Just for one day. It didn’t hit me until a week later, in the studio, why this was such a fitting project. We were immersing ourselves in Bowieland, living in the songs, super-glueing up some fresh wounds. Not just “knowing” the songs, but feeling the physical chords under our sad fingers, excavating the deeper architecture of the songwriting (especially with a tune as bizarre as “Blackstar” (which we realized was constructed like a sonic Russian nesting doll). Bowie worked on music up to the end to give us a parting gift. So this is how we, as musicians, mourn: keeping Bowie constantly in our ears and brains. The man, the artist, exits. But the music, the glue; it stays. It never stops binding us together.
Coming Soon: New PJ Harvey Album “The Hope Six Demolition Project”–Watch Official Video for New Song “The Wheel”
At long last PJ Harvey has announced the Spring release of her next album, The Hope Six Demolition Project. The new album is her first release since the tremulous Let England Shake, which was our No. 7 Best Album of 2011 (amidst very tough competition that year). The Hope Six Demolition Project will be released on April 15th and was apparently inspired by Harvey and Murphy’s visits to Kosovo, Afghanistan and Washington D.C.
Harvey has now released the first video from the album for the song The Wheel. Harvey again has partnered on the video with Seamus Murphy (a photographer and videographer who made the impressive 12 Short Films for Let England Shake who has covered turmoil in Afghanistan and Kosovo).
About The Wheel and the video, Murphy says: “The song ‘The Wheel’ has the journey to Kosovo at its center [Harvey and Murphy traveled there together in 2011]. Who is to say what else has influenced and informed its creation? The sight of a revolving fairground wheel in Fushe Kosove/Kosovo Polje near the capital Pristina is the concrete reference point for the title. It was a passing observation of a commonplace image, one of many that day. … Was that sight alone the inspiration for the song? Without being told the stories of people who had suffered during the war, without visiting villages abandoned through ethnic cleansing and cycles of vengeance, without experiencing the different perceptions of people with shared histories, could the song have been written? The idea of cycles, wheels and repetition once again being all too apparent and necessary to make.”
The affecting video combines scenes from Harvey’s/Murphy’s trip in 2011, Harvey’s album preparation in London and another trip to Kosovo in 2015, when the refugee crisis was making headlines. As usual with Harvey, we love everything about the new song, which bodes incredibly well for The Hope Six Demolition Project.
Photo: Joey Kneiser
Much-revered Americana singer-songwriter John Moreland appeared on Colbert’s Late Show last night and performed an older song entitled Break My Heart Sweetly. Moreland’s second album, High on Tulsa Heat, appeared on many Best Albums of 2015 lists. Moreland is also known for his gripping live performances and, judging by the performance below, we couldn’t agree more. Moreland will soon head out on tour (you can check out his tour dates HERE) and will play both San Luis Obispo (tickets HERE) and the Troubadour in LA at the end of this month, followed by appearances at SXSW and Bonnaroo.
“Pocketful of Skittles” by Alteronce Gumby
At the fab Todos Santos Musical Festival last weekend, Drive-By Truckers were (as always) phenomenal and one of the highlights of each night. A highlight from their set each night was a brand new, unreleased song written by Patterson Hood entitled What It Means. Hood wrote the song in the wake of the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and entirely too many African-Americans. Watch Hood give the backstory of the song and perform it solo, and then check out Drive-By Truckers performing the song at Todos Santos (apologies for the missed start). Hood is singing truths that need to be sung over and over, and we need to work harder to figure out what it all means. And deal. In the meantime, we’ve got What It Means on constant repeat at Chez Lefort and can’t get enough. We trust the song will appear on the next Drive-By Truckers album. We can’t wait.
What It Means
He was running down the street when he was shot dead in his tracks
About the only thing agreed upon is he ain’t coming back.
There won’t be any trial so the air it won’t be cleared
There’s just two sides calling names out of anger out of fear.
If you say it wasn’t racial when they shot him in the back
well I guess that means that you ain’t black,
it means that you ain’t black
I mean Barack Obama won
and you can choose where to eat
but you don’t see too many white kids
lying bleeding on the street
In some town in Missouri but it could be anywhere
it could be right here on Ruth Street,
in fact it’s happened here
and it’s happened where you’re sitting,
wherever that might be
and it happened again last weekend and it will happen again next week
and when they turned him over,
they were surprised there was no gun
I mean he must have stolen something,
or else why would he have run
and they’ll spin it for the anchors on the television screen
so we can shrug and let it happen
without asking what it means
What it means?
Then I guess there was protesting
and some looting in some stores
and someone was reminded
that they ain’t called colored folks no more
I mean we try to be politically correct when we call names
but what’s the point of post-racial
when the old prejudice remains
and that guy who killed that kid
down in Florida standing ground
is free to beat up on his girlfriend
and wave his brand new gun around
while some kid is dead and buried and laying in the ground
with a pocket full of Skittles
What it means?
Astrophysics at our fingertips
we’re standing at the summit
and some kid with a joystick lands a rocket on a comet
We’re living in an age where limitations are forgotten
the outer edges can move and dazzle us but at the core there’s something rotten
And we’re running through a darkness
of prejudice and fear
we trust science just as long as it
tells us what we want to hear
we want our truths all fair and balanced
as long as our notions lie within it
There’s no sunlight in our assholes
and our heads are stuck up in it
and our heroes may be rapists
who watch us while we dream
but don’t look to me for answers
cuz I don’t know what it means
What it means?
EL VY’s album Return to the Moon was our Favorite Album of 2015, and would have been No. 1 on our Best Albums of 2015 list (where’d that list go, it was here just a minute ago?). Blame it on Kendrick Lamar. While Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly was the best, most-important album of 2015, Return to the Moon was easily our favorite, most-listened-to album of 2015. The variety and depth in the album’s songs is astonishing, thanks in no small part to the teeming musical mind of Brent Knopf. The songs range from Joy Division-like post-punk tracks to National-esque ballads, with everything in between. And all feature Matt Berninger’s alternately hilarious and devastating lyrics that limn life well, but all-the-while permitting/encouraging the listener to sing the words into their own lives. Like the best lyrics always do.
EL VY was also fantastic live, as witnessed by us at the Troubadour in LA. Below on their Tiny Desk Concert we get a great three-song sampling of the core of EL VY’s songs, with just Knopf’s expressive piano-playing and Berninger’s unadorned vocals and lyrics. It’s a powerful combination. We hope that time will permit these two to collaborate again in the not-too-distant future.
Watch Justin Vernon (Bon Iver, Volcano Choir), the Dessner Twins (The National) and Colin Stetson Cover Sharon Van Etten’s “Love More” for MusicNOW Festival
To kick off the promotion of this March’s MusicNOW festival (3/18-20) in Cincinnati, the festival has released its video below of MusicNOW founder Bryce Dessner, his brother Aaron, Justin Vernon and Colin Stetson in 2010 performing Sharon Van Etten’s uber-evocative Love More (from her self-described debut album Epic, which we glowingly wrote about in 2010 HERE).
As MusicNOW says about the performance: “Colin [Stetson], Rob Moose and CJ Camerieri would go on to become core members of the Bon Iver live band which recorded 2011’s self-titled album that later won a Grammy for Best New Artist. Aaron [Dessner] would go on to produce Van Etten’s 2012 breakout release Tramp. Aaron & Vernon launched a larger, but still intimate Eaux Claires Festival in Wisconsin in 2015, inspired largely by the example of Cincinnati’s MusicNOW.”
This year’s MusicNOW will feature a bit more classical music, including the world premiere of Bryce Dessner’s full orchestra version of his piece Aheym, and the U.S. premiere of his piece Réponse Lutoslawski, both performed by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. The lineup will also include the Kronos Quartet, Punch Brothers, Sam Amidon, Julia Wolfe, Luluc, and more.
Check out the video below. Beauty right there.
The song is one of the many highlights on MusicNow’s MusicNOW: 10 Years, a 17-track live compilation that you can purchase HERE.
The fifth annual Todos Santos Music Festival culminated last weekend in southern Baja, and thankfully we were there to witness this feel-good rock-fest in all its glory. TSMF is the post-REM philanthropic project of Peter Buck (and his wife, Chloe Johnson) that was begun by the couple to help support local charities/efforts in their new-home beach community of Todos Santos. This year’s TSMF raised money for the Palapa Society. Run over the course of two weekends (1/14-16 and 1-21-23), the TSMF format is to shuffle the lineup each of the three nights of the respective weekends, and have the spotlighted bands supported by a revolving door of spectacular supporters and cross-pollinators from other bands (see below).
We unfortunately missed the first weekend of TSMF, which featured (for the first time) Jeff Tweedy (Wilco). With the assistance of Wilco’s Pat Sansone and John Stirrat (separately performing as The Autumn Defense), Buck and a host of other TSFM luminaries, Tweedy managed to play 44 different songs (no repeaters*) over the three nights of TSMF’s first weekend. Tweedy’s sets naturally included Wilco, Uncle Tupelo, Golden Smog and solo songs, but also homages to the late, great David Bowie (All The Young Dudes) and covers of Neil Young (Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere) and Bob Dylan (Simple Twist of Fate). The first weekend also featured, among others, the Old 97’s, Mark Eitzel and a host of Buck’s hand-picked supporting friends (the multi-talented lads John Paul Jones (you may have heard, Led Zeppelin), Josh Kantor, Kev’n Kinney (Drivin’ N Cryin’), Scott McCaughey (Minus 5, Baseball Project), Mike Mills (REM), Chuck Prophet (Green on Red), Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate, Baseball Project) and Joseph Arthur, and lasses Linda Pitmon (Baseball Project, Minus 5), Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney) and Chloe Johnson (with the Jayhawks). In short, the line-ups’ bands are supported by a ridiculousness of rock riches.
Having never before attended TSMF, our intro couldn’t have been any better. We came over a rise in the desert on Thursday afternoon and dropped in to the patchwork beach community along the Baja coast and shortly thereafter walked into the hosting Hotel California to find the fantastic Lefort-fave Chuck Prophet sound-checking with Kev’n Kinney. Beauty to our ears.
As the show kicked off that night, we first caught the unannounced Baseball Project (McCaughey, Wynn, Pitmon as supported by Mike Mills and Buck) singing their winsome odes to baseball’s wallopers and weirdos (lots of ’em Atlanta Braves). Next up was the most pleasant surprise of the festival for us: Kev’n Kinney. While we were aware of Kinney’s much-lauded band Drivin’ N Cryin’, we had lost track of Kinney (who has gone on to release critically-acclaimed albums, both solo and with Golden Palominos). The much-loved Kinney would be joined throughout the festival by various stalwart supporters (Prophet, Mills, Buck, Pitmon, Jayhawks’ fiddler, etc.) during his sets, but it was his songwriting (Trail of Seasons and A Good Country Mile in particular) and emotive delivery that carried the nights. Kinney started off a tad tinny vocally, but gathered strength throughout the first night’s set and especially vocally, winning over the crowd with his anthem Straight to Hell and closing out his set with an emphatically long-held high note. Next up was Joseph Arthur, one of our faves, who was a bit off his game this night but still enjoyable.
Arthur was followed by one of the best live performers extant, Chuck Prophet. Though without his Mission Express and Stephanie Finch, Prophet nonetheless gave his usual superb and crowd-pleasing set featuring songs Wish Me Luck, You Did! (backed by Kinney), The Museum of Broken Dreams, and Willie Mays Is Up At Bat (with its euphoria-inducing crowd-singalong). The Jayhawks were up next and gave one of the best sets of the night, aided and abetted by Gary Louris’s sinewy vocals, dexterous playing by the band and the harmonies of members and guests. As to the latter, the always-grinning Mike Mills was the MVP of Thursday night, jumping up on stage throughout the night to add bass and jubilantly-emphatic vocals to the various sets, but especially during the Jayhawks’ performance and during their closing homage to David Bowie via his Starman. The Starman had to have been smiling down on the uplifting performance.
Not to be outdone, the Drive-By Truckers were up next. The DBTs never fail to impress and especially this evening. Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley traded off on crowd-favorite songs (Lookout Mountain, Three Dimes Down and Sink Hole stood out, as usual) and new songs and won us over completely with their never-say-die rocking and big-hearted ways. Admirably assisted by their other outstanding band members, Hood and Cooley play with unbridled verve, and Hood simply has one of the biggest souls in the business. Hood introduced an apropos new song (What It Means[?]) confronting racial injustice in America and throughout the night interacted empathically with the crowd, regaling with stories and repartee (“you folks should build a wall around this beautiful place to keep Donald Trump and his ilk out!“). They closed out their set with a rousing version of Bowie’s Heroes as sung (appropriately) by Hood.
First-time TSMF participants, Death Cab for Cutie, closed out the night with a mesmerizing set of new and old songs that showcased the strength of their songwriting (old and new) but also their new-found, post-Walla energy, with newcomers Dave Depper (guitar) and Zac Rae (keys) adding immensely to the one of the best rhythm sections in rock ‘n roll, Nick Harmer and Jason McGerr. And of course Ben Gibbard seized the festival’s proximity to California to lambaste Californians in song (Grapevine Fires, among them). All in good fun, Ben, all in good fun. DCFC would add their own “obscure” Bowie cover, Valentine’s Day. While DCFC would close out the first night with aplomb, their best was still to come (their sound not being completely dialed in the first night).
The second night of TSMF at the Hotel California was (thankfully) more of the same (re-ordered, as is its wont), and with the addition of The Minus 5. One of the best, albeit-too-brief, sets on Friday was put on by Chuck Prophet who opened and had his ardent followers (and new fans) fully-engaged and singing/laughing along to his every word. You never fail to walk away from a Prophet-able performance fully-entertained. Next up were The Minus 5 and friends who gave a raving set that started off slowly with a cover of Glenn Frey’s/Jackson Browne’s Take It Easy (thankfully the first and last Eagles-related material of TSMF), but accelerated from there. They capped off their set with riveting, careening performances of Medicine Show and Days of Wine and Roses (the latter in tribute to revered Rolling Stone writer-in-attendance David Fricke). Kev’n Kinney then regaled with another sterling set featuring his memorable songs Summertime Days and the evocative A Good Country Mile. On the latter we noticed plenty of tear-streaked faces in the crowd, and then Kinney himself got a bit misty and glass-eyed, which made the moment that much more affecting (and after which Kinney received a large bear-hug from Mike Mills). It’s moments like these that shed true light on the humans up on stage giving their songs and audience their all, and it was heartily appreciated. Afterwards, Mills and Peter Buck assisted Joseph Arthur on his short set, which closed strongly.
The Jayhawks again gave the crowd a superb performance of their well-wrought old and new songs. Death Cab for Cutie then gave the performance of the night, if not the entire festival. DCFC seemed to be on a mission to impress (both the audience and their fellow musicians). Mission accomplished! DCFC were en fuego from note one, putting out a rhythmic, walloping wall-of-sound (which was perfect this night) that propelled their songs to such great heights. Only on the heart-wrenching Black Sun did the band back off the beat and let emotion take its toll. They were quickly back to blasting business and wowed to the end with their chemistry and drive. Drive-By Truckers closed with yet another electrifying set, the highlight of which was Hood’s World of Hurt on which he encouraged the crowd to fully appreciate the full moon above and how great it is to be alive. The DBT’s ended the night with a scorching finale on which they gave their all and gradually left the stage, one-by-one until it was over. It was indeed great to be alive.
The final night of TSMF is always held in the Todos Santos Town Square for free so that all of the citizenry (and, apparently, others from Cabo San Lucas and elsewhere) can join in the music enjoyment. It was another impressive night of music, with Prophet’s opening set again being a highlight. Steve Wynn’s set was also enthralling, with Prophet and all the Minus 5 members and others slamming on Dream Syndicate’s Medicine Show and closing with a powerful, rocking take on Wynn’s Amphetamine. Other highlights of the last night included Drive-By Truckers’ (with Prophet, Buck, others) set-closing cover of Jim Carroll’s season-perfect People Who Died, and two REM covers ((Don’t Go Back To) Rockville by Steve Wynn and crew, with Mike Mills taking a capable turn as Michael Stipe, and our own REM-favorite, Fall On Me, by DCFC). La Santa Cecilia (with the assistance of John Paul Jones) also added setting-perfect musical color and accent to the evening. It was an entertaining closing night to a truly memorable music festival, and we can’t wait to return.
*Other artists should take note and follow suit–you’ve all got a treasure trove of material, so don’t sell yourselves short by playing the same songs all three nights! Just sayin’.
To get a feel for TSMF, check out the fan videos below, and go HERE to the TSMF Facebook page to see more video vignettes.
Mike Mills, Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey, Steve Wynn, Linda Pitmon, and Patterson Hood performing REM’s (Don’t Go Back To) Rockville:
Drive-By Truckers, John Paul Jones, Chuck Prophet, and Scott McCaughey performing People Who Died:
By: Gary Kenny
A lot of very interesting, very talented young female artists have burst into our awareness during the last year (Julien Baker, Miya Folick, Hop Along, Eskimeaux, etc.). The latest is Alaska Reid, fronting the trio Alyeska (“It’s a band man”) with Ben Spear on drums and Enzo Scardapane on bass and guitar. Last Saturday at the Bootleg Theater, Alyeska delivered a riveting and thoroughly enjoyable ten-song set, pulling from their 2014 EP, other/current singles, and four new songs (or at least songs we haven’t heard before–see setlist below).
Reid’s sultry vocals ride on airy guitar, with Spear and Scardapane complementing her well. Building on a melodic base, Alyeska’s songs lull you into an almost dream-state before cranking matters up several notches. And crank it up they do, but even more so live than on the recordings. Switching guitars on nearly every tune, and even throwing in some effective slide-guitar flourishes, Reid moves effortlessly from gentle picking to muscular strumming, and all within the atmospheric context of her unique and compelling style. And oh, that voice!
Reid announced that in March she and the band are traveling to New York to record an album with revered John Agnello, the producer of their current singles (not to mention Hop Along and a host of others). This is good news for fans of good music. The music business is notoriously fickle, but you’d be well-advised to see Alyeska up close and personal in a small venue while you still have the chance. You won’t be disappointed.
Lose My Place
Untitled New Song
OK, maybe it’s just us and our inability to move beyond the loss of David Bowie, but check out below the new song, Cool Out, from the talented Matthew E. White (assisted by his gifted pal Natalie Prass on vocals). Produced by DJ Harrison and pro-producer White, the song strikes us as somewhat Bowie-esque (albeit with a far more chill vocal than Bowie would likely have provided), circa Ashes to Ashes. Regardless, it’s a cool new song. Check it out below.
You can purchase the song HERE.