Album Review- LOVETAP!

Courtesy of Pop-Break

 

  It’s been a long road for Smallpools leading up to the release of their first full-length album. Their first single, “Dreaming,” from their self-titled EP in 2013 was a smash hit, charting as high as #23 on the Alternative Songs list, and appearing in video games like FIFA 2014. The song led to the quartet touring with and opening for some big name acts, such as Grouplove, MS MR, Walk the Moon, and Neon Trees. On each one of their tours, they would play their four-song EP, and then a taste of what would eventually turn into LOVETAP! promising that a new album was on the way.

With many of the songs on the album having been out for over a year, the true shining moments come in the form of new material from the band. Songs like “American Love,” the first track off the album, “Lovetap!” the moniker of the LP, and “What’s That A Picture Of?” serve as fun and dancy alt-pop hits. The group stays true to their own original Californian sound, while also exploring sounds and riffs that come from other alternative and pop inspirations. The song, “9 to 5,” for instance, sounds very much like a track that could come from the likes of Vampire Weekend.

The album flows together in a concise 45-minute ride, leaving the listener dancing and wanting more. It’s an exciting time for Smallpools, and LOVETAP! serves as a strong debut for a group that should be around for years to come.

Preview: sweetlife 2015 ft. local favorites The Walking Sticks

Courtesy of Sweetlife Music Festival

Springtime is here, and with that abundant sunshine comes news of all the warm-weather festival lineups many of us have been anxiously awaiting. One festival in particular that has a place in the hearts of many DMV locals is sweetlife festival, which has gathered many local and big name artists in the same place as the area’s most enthusiastic music fans since 2010. The highlights from this year’s lineup, which is spanning two days, include Kendrick Lamar, Calvin Harris, The Weeknd, Charlie XCX, and many others spanning a wide range of genres.

Sweetlife festival has been a source of anticipation each year by music lovers in the DMV, and the success of the festival each year has allowed for its rapid growth. The idea for sweetlife germinated in the brains of sweetgreen founders Nicolas Jammet, Nathaniel Ru, and Jonathan Neman only 5 years ago. They’ve also enjoyed rapid success of their fast-casual restaurant chain, which is focused on sustainably serving tasty and healthy food, in many US cities. As their business expanded, so did their thinking on what they were capable of accomplishing. The 500-person crowd in 2010 listening to a handful of local indie artists in a Dupont Cirlce the parking lot was a fruitful accomplishment. Yet this pales in what the trio, and their company, are accomplishing this May at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland.

While this year’s festival features many big names currently on the Billboard chart, the spirit of local bands who helped get this festival off the ground have not been forgotten. One of these groups, The Walking Sticks, have been showing off their trademark dream-pop sound throughout DC for the past two years. The band is entering new territory by playing this year’s sweetlife festival, but as anyone who has seen them perform knows, it is something they are well equipped for. After releasing their newest EP, “Pop Dreams,” this past November, it is clear that the band’s momentum has only been speeding up. The soothing, passionate vocals delivered by Chelsea Lee over the melodic guitar and synthesizer played by twins Max and Spencer Ernst promises to be a magical experience on the sweetlife stage. Watch their new music video for “You Got What You Wanted” here, and look out for them at the sweetlife festival, May 30th & 31st at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland.

3/15: MILO GREENE, WARDELL @ THE ROCK AND ROLL HOTEL

Opening the show for Milo Greene was Wardell, a five piece band hailing from Los Angeles. The band went right into it, enthusiastically jamming away. They had an air of grooviness and carefreeness, at home on the stage, connecting with the crowd as soon as the first note was played. The lead vocalist, Sasha, seemed to hit every note on the scale, with an impressive range. Each song seemed to have its own unique feel, yet flowed seamlessly into the next. This band made for a marvelous beginning to the concert, and had the crowd cheering and dancing less than halfway through the set. 

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Photo by Anour Esa

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Photo by Anour Esa

Fast forward 40 minutes, and it is 9:17 pm in a room full of anxious fans waiting for Milo Greene to take the stage. The lights dimmed, cloaking all but a glowing Milo Greene banner behind a wide array of instruments. When the 5 piece band hailing from LA stepped on stage, the entire venue erupted in excited applause. As soon as the music began, the crowd was swaying happily to the flow of the music. With 4 lead vocalists, there was an ending evolution of the sound throughout the show. The sound that filled the venue had a smoky, organic, flowing quality to it; the type that would leave a smile on your lips, and your cheeks flushed. There were at least 20 different instruments on stage, the tools of the artists who occupied it, and were never stationary. One instrument after the other was continually passed along to different members of the band, played with unfaltering skill.

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Photo by Anour Esa

This was the last show of Milo Greene’s month long tour, and it is safe to say you could feel the passion and importance of this show in the band’s performance. The crowd knew every word to every song, and in more than one song, sang the chorus unaided, and cheerily. The set list was a wonderful mix between new and old, from both their new album, Control, and their first self titled album, Milo Greene. Although the crowd has less than 2 months to learn the contours of the newest album, it seemed as if the album was a fond memory of many. Bringing back memories for most was an impeccable cover of Phil Collins’ “Take Me Home.” Throughout the show there were hoots of excitement and joy at the music that was being played, and I personally couldn’t keep a smile off my face the entire night.

After finishing the show, the band hung out and manned their own merchandise table, signing every single thing handed to them, from set lists, to tickets, to T-shirts, to LP’s, to posters. This was a legendary concert, by a soon-to-be if not already legendary band, with a crowd that was as happy as could be.

Young Summer at U Street Music Hall, Feb. 20th

Credit: Rachel Couch

Credit: Rachel Couch

On the day a century-old record was smashed for coldest day at 5F in Washington, D.C., I thought everyone would be bundled up and avoiding social interactions that could risk any heat loss. So imagine my surprise when I finally made it to U Street Music Hall, saw the nonexistent line outside, and then went downstairs to, hello, a well-filled room, which set the precedent for the hometown show of all three groups.

Pleasure Curses: The first of two openers for Young Summer, the DC/VA duo first came to my attention after being featured as a BYT “Come Early For… Openers You Must See” artist, and I agree! Jahn Alexander Teetsov and Evan Maxwell Grice produce a sound that’s infectious and addicting, figuratively heating up U Street. Check them out on Facebook HERE.

Ploy: Hailing from Maryland, Gil Wojcik and Justin Victoria kept the crowd engaged and swaying throughout their set. What began as a trickle of people entering the crowd during Pleasure Curses now became a steady flow of visibly excited people who were happy to be at the mercy of U Street’s notorious(ly good) sound system. Gil’s vocals ranged from a soaring chorus to growled verses that set the crowd grooving to my personal favorite, “Sunset Love.” Justin worked the beats flawlessly, with an exotic mix of chimes, keys, and bass intoxicating the crowd like a well-mixed drink.

During the final song, Gil went into a falsetto and dancing in place, which the crowd reciprocated with even funkier dance moves and cheers. Ploy kept the vibes light and primed the listeners with its peace-love-and-sunshine music for Young Summer’s bittersweet, end of summer-y music. Find out more on their Facebook HERE.

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Can you get more summertime than a new song every Monday in July?

The crowd teasingly cheered as they waited for Young Summer and her band to come on stage. In the lull, people turned to each other and gushed about the two previous sets under the disco balls and red lanterns adorning U Street Music Hall. The people closer to the stage seemed to all know each other and enthusiastically chatted about how they knew the performing artists, not to name drop but for sincere support (to me at least). It was surreal to be surrounded by so many of the bands’ closest supporters and to see the energy of a home crowd.

Young Summer: Bobbie Allen and her band came on stage, and the crowd really began to pack it in! People jostled to get a good view of the stage and as I looked back, I realized the venue was the most packed I’ve seen U Street for a non-DJ act. She opens with a few crowd favorites, like “Fever Dreams” and “Taken,” that focused the attention on her singing range as both tracks were vocal-heavy.

Her spirited dancing helped guide the listener, and in this case, the viewer as well, to experience how she wanted her music to be interpreted. I was especially impressed by her stage presence and crowd engagement because she has shared her past issues with stage fright early on in her career, but her perseverance and dedication to her art are admirable.

She joked with the crowd about ‘That Bad Relationship’ we have all had, and someone shouted back ‘It’s happening right now!’ much to the surprise of everyone. Young Summer takes it in stride and dedicates “Severing Ties” to the breakup going down a few rows from her. The crowd loved it, cheering and clapping encouragement and appreciation as it was definitely one of the more elegiac songs in her repertoire. By now, the set list had taken the crowd on an emotional roller coaster and she ends with a haunting echo. However, the band launches into the opening notes of “Leave Your Love,” which restarts the upswing in mood.

Now well into her set, the rest of her songs focused on her new album, Sirens, with “Waves That Roiled You Under,” “Careless Kids,” and “Striking Distance” providing a mellow yet passionate ending to an incredible show. She loosened up and increasingly interacted with the crowd as her set progressed. She rhythmically swayed to the beat, often tossing her head back and stretching out her arms, as if she was performing with reckless abandon despite the sea of eyes on her. Rounds of energetic cheering and applause rounded out the set and then morphed into chants of ‘Young Summer!’ egging her on to return for an encore. And she does to the great delight of the man in front of me who screeched his love for the encore as the opening notes started.

All in all, an impressively large crowd made the trek on a blustery night to U Street in support of a homegrown show featuring Pleasure Curses, Ploy, and Young Summer. One wouldn’t even know it was a record-setting cold night based on the warm vibes of the performers and attendees.

Credit: Rachel Couch

Credit: Rachel Couch

Tinashe’s Amethyst Mixtape

Amethyst by Tinashe. Credit: Tinashe

Amethyst by Tinashe. Credit: Tinashe

 

Following her success with Aquarius and the remixes spawned from “2 On,” Tinashe released her fourth mixtape, Amethyst, yesterday. It’s an appropriate followup to her February birthday, astrological sign, and birthstone. She enlists a crew of artists, including Ritz Reynolds, Dominic Angelella, and Legacy, whom she all worked with on Aquarius, to craft an overall good mixtape, however it leaves something to be desired. One can only look forward to her next release or tour to satisfy oneself. A track-by-track review follows after the jump.

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Elvis Perkins: I Aubade

Image courtesy of Elvis Perkins
An aubade is a morning love song, a song of hope and joy that the new day brings for both the lover and the beloved. Fitting then that singer-songwriter Elvis Perkins borrows the concept of the aubade for his first album in five years. Recorded in multiple locations across the US, I Aubade ranges from lush psychedelia to scratchy lo-fi. In marked contrast to Perkins’s first two records, which utilized fairly standard rock instrumentation, the album features an expansive sonic pallet, from celeste and nylon string guitar to tabla and dulcimer. Normally shadowy and dark with his Cohenesque musings, Perkins’s lyrics take a more surreal bent here. “Hogus Pogus” is an optimistic tale about a man receiving a pig’s heart in a transplant; “& Eveline” is a Donovan-esque fairly tale with a bit less flower power optimism: (“Once more/ you make it through the night/ on the floor/ the sleeper’s open wide.”) Other experiments are not quite as successful:  (“AM” sounds somewhat like what would happen if someone mashed up Sweetheart of The Rodeo era Byrds with Dixieland jazz and had a despairing Woody Guthrie pen the lyrics), and others are simply impenetrable (the downbeat folk-rock political lullaby “$2″). Not surprisingly, the most pleasant tracks on I Aubade are the simplest, including the flowing nylon string guitar and rumbling synth in the short instrumental ” Accidental Tourist (a white Huyano melody), and Perkins’s weary, pained vocals on the  traveler’s ballad “Wheel In the Morning.” “I Came for Fire” showcases the best elements of the “old and “new” Elvis Perkins, as a simple acoustic blues track is haunted by Perkins’s half-whisper/half-warble. Flutes and synth rush in, creating a typhoon of sound so vast you’d think the devil had just tuned your guitar. “Oh to be somewhere/or be somebody else/Oh to have someone/all to myself.” Perkins croons on “All Today.” Those lines speak to the human heart beating under all of that haze and coded messages. There’s a warmth to these songs that’s less evident in his other work, and might not be readily picked up on a first listen, but becomes more and more apparent as you revisit each track and peel away the layers underneath.

Shows We’re Stoked For: Sweater Beats + Kastle + Manila Killa 3/4

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It’s been a while since I’ve been this excited for a show, especially with a lineup this stacked. Thanks to the awesome people behind Closed Sessions, your Wednesday night plans have just been taken care of.

Sweater Beats is bringing his Sweater Weather tour to DC, alongside Kastle and DC’s very own Manilla Killa. Sweater Beats’ music sounds exactly like what his name might imply: super lush and dreamy beats. He’s remixed everyone from Beyoncé to Flume and Chet Faker to Ciara, and put out ton of his own work and mixes.

Kastle brings us vibey dance tracks, and with collaborations with artists such as JMSN and Jason Burns, you’re not going to be standing still during his set. Finally, Manila Killa rounds out the lineup, with his bright and spaced-out beats and diverse sound.

Seriously, for only $12 a ticket, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Tickets are still available here, and if you’re a GW student you can use our special code CSGWU for a sweet disount. Win win win.

– Lotanna Obodozie

THEESatisfaction: “EarthEE”

Courtesy of Pitchfork

For the half hour that I dedicated to listening to awE naturalE, the debut project by Washington state quasi hip-hop duo Catherine “Cat” Harris-White and Stasia “Stas” Irons, it felt almost impossible for me to wrap my head around the soundscapes presented in the work. I was trying so hard to define and compartmentalize what I was hearing into some genre but I quickly found my attempts to be ineffectual and pointless. Perhaps it was because the sound was foreign to me that I liked the album so much – a fresh combination of sound and voice, production and unorthodox poeticism spread across bizarrely-titled tracks and packaged ever so neatly by peculiarly tribal cover art. A strong reminder that new sounds are always welcome.
EarthEE, the duo’s second studio album under Sub Pop Records sees a reprisal of their trans-genre explorations but with a more developed sound and an almost unbelievable feature lineup. The record traverses the worlds of neo-soul, hip-hop and jazz as they harvest elements from each style and throw them together to produce a melting pot of sounds and feels. It’s not strange that this group first gained widespread attention through their feature on fellow Washingtonians Shabazz Palace’s debut, Black Up – in fact it makes complete sense. The similarities in their approach to making music make it seem like they are each others opposite-gender counterparts bound together by the same creative spirit simply pushing it’s voice through different physical vessels. As a result it seemed totally appropriate (if not completely necessary) that Shabazz appear multiple times throughout the project both as individual features and as a duo.
Throughout this project their message is never obvious – it’s presented through abstract lyricism and mysterious sonic landscapes. Essentially, it is unreasonable to suggest that it will mean the same exact thing to different people, but the theme seems to focus on aspects of nature and the universe. It reflects a unity among all living things and human interactions with the spiritual and natural worlds – a principle that lowkey nods at themes centered on the ethereal and abstract. This is modestly reflected in the artwork, which depicts Cat and Stas as Nubian royalties on a suspended golden throne, their attention only to the stars behind and above them because all human matters are trivial in comparison.
The album’s opener continues much in the same vein with dark pharaoh-esque synths and syncopated percussion lines supporting cryptic poetry verses – evocative of some ancient Egyptian anthem. “Said the bird to the water, may I take a sip,” Stas raps as Cat provides vocal harmonies in the background. They seem to have moved away from the political and human subjects examined in awE naturalE to paint pictures (with sound, of course) of things that aren’t of this world. Aptly named “Prophetic Perfection,” the track sees the duo explore the creation of the world by some entity and the interaction of elements in the natural world before human interference.
The sound is abruptly shifted to downbeat Funkadelic/DamFunk-esque sounds while still maintaining spacey undertones as the second song, “No GMO,” plays. Smooth rhythm synthesizers tucked under a layer of piercing leads hit a point somewhere between sexy and weird, right where Stas and Cris fit perfectly. The groovy deep synth carries forward to the next track that sees a return to themes of natural unity through the usage of unorthodox percussion and modern keyboards. “Planet For Sale” presents a sound reminiscent of a fusion between Pharaoh Sanders’s ancient hymns and R. Kelly’s sensual keys. A unity is created between the old and the new – they become one. “How we destroy a planet when we didn’t plant things,” Stas raps over the infectious reverberating snare as she further emphasizes focus on nature and the natural. Cat follows shortly after with a brief vocal line that sounds beautiful at a distance. Paying attention to what she’s saying, I realize that it’s either so abstract that it’s going way over my head or it just doesn’t make sense (as a follow-up to Stas’s verse, at least).
Its not until the fourth track that the first Shabazz Palaces feature comes in (with the first feature overall being on their second track). The male hip-hop duos anaconda-wielding producer/rapper Ishmael Butler – formerly Butterfly of Digable Planets – comes in hot with a laidback yet serious rap. The style of the music has shifted again with the group experimenting with the hip-hop sounds that are at the roots of their music. The beat sounds like it would belong on a remastered Midnight Marauders. Technically simple yet stylistically flawless, it’s almost mesmerizing and you find yourself getting lost. Time is bent around you as the short 2:30 song just seems to linger in a manner most welcome. The first time Shabazz Palaces show up as a group is during the album’s eponymous track where the members pursue a more cheerful approach as they discuss the beauty of black women, love and sexuality.
Me’shell Ndegeocello’s appearance is delayed past the halfway point of the album. 30 minutes through the listen her presence is felt through a prominent and distinct thump. Her bass is so heavily submerged in phasers that she’s just two strings and a wolf pelt shy of being Thundercat, a sound that compliments the atmospheric synths that weave their way through the vocals above. Yet, her vocal presence is limited and as a result I find myself a little disappointed, wanting for more. Regardless, I take a moment to appreciate how smoothly she’s woven into the formula. It feels like a puzzle piece, or when you have just enough coke in your rum.
During Me’shell’s final feature the song starts to revisit the darker tones explored at the very start of the album. The tone persists through the next two tracks, and is further elucidated with the help of Shabazz Palaces, who make their final appearance on the latter of the two, a track titled “Recognition.” Their role has shifted and they’re heard delivering a rhythmic spoken word verse in unison with their female counterparts. The production is minimal for the first half with the focus being primarily on the vocals as they repeat the same two lines over a sinister low ring. The production kicks in just about halfway through, and it would seem as though Rick Wright was resurrected to lend his keyboard talents on this track. The sharp lead synths are eerily reminiscent of the haunting riffs on Pink Floyd’s mid 70’s classic “Welcome to the Machine,” and do well to create a similar atmosphere. The album is brought to a close much within the same ominous light as when it started as they remind you “its not like I haven’t read [your] story, I read [you].”
With the constant shifts in genre, this album bears a similar burden to that of its predecessor, wherein it’s difficult to maintain some degree of flow. From a creative standpoint, this is fair game and even prevents the work from venturing into the mundane. It does, however, present a challenge for the artist to create seamless transitions between the tracks so they could come together cleanly as one body of work. This is this album’s only downfall as the transitions are almost nonexistent. Had the tracks not presented similar concepts to some extent it would be impossible to call this compilation an “album” in good conscience.
Naturally, some tracks resonated within me far more than others but it was straight up impossible for me to skip over tracks entirely. While there were instances where the music just lacked the lyrical emphasis that Stas and Cat’s style is so heavily predicated on, these occasional shortcomings would be made up with interesting production choices. Aside from the seemingly routine harmonizing, repetition was nonexistent in both the lyrical content and production. Each song brought something new to the experience. Although sometimes confusingly abstract, the combination of all these different contrasting elements, the old and the new, the “normal” and the unconventional, creates a refreshing listening experience. An alluring mist surrounds the duo as one comes to the conclusion that they, like Flying Lotus, or Kendrick Lamar, or Kanye West, have seen a world, or a reality, beyond ours. EarthEE is their attempt to bring their audience these other worlds through sonic media. Whether or not you choose to indulge them in their theories on the metaphysical is up to you.

Modest Mouse: “The Ground Walks, with Time in A Box”

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia

Erstwhile indie rockers Modest Mouse announced a new album recently, Strangers to Ourselves, and based on the first two singles- (the bring down the world party jam “Lampshades on Fire” and the folk-tinged “Coyotes”), I expected the album to be familiar territory for MM- with a few new sonic flourishes and  an enhanced environmental awareness beneath Isaac Brock’s painfully cryptic lyrics. That what makes “The Ground Walks, with Time in A Box” such a pleasant surprise. The main riff (which sounds like a schizoid mutation of “Float On’s” classic progression filtered through Interpol’s post-punk revivalism), struts and starts as Brock cooly delivers some of his most delightfully misanthropic lyrics to date: (“The world’s an inventor/ we’re the dirtiest thing he’s thought about/ And we really don’t mind”). Florid imagery (“Trees drop colorful fruits/Directly into our mouths”) clashes with impenetrable strings of words (“Eyes vacuum up light/sound gets trapped by the mouth/What to do with the remainder/When the dents, the dents, get hammered out/ Then we’ll travel through time”). Jittery plucked strings and an in-your-face horn section keep the bombast flowing without letting it tip into overindulgence. All seems relatively sane until the chorus, where eerie harmonies slide into Brock’s ghost-like phase shifted vocal. After a couple more choral repetitions and two new verses, the track descends into controlled noise, with the guitar offering blasts of pitch-shifted chords, much like “Dramamine.” After that subsides, the horns threaten to blast off into full on mariachi mode. Synths and percussion take on a sort of wormhole-funk motif as the main riff returns, only to be punctuated by Brock’s warble and closed out with a melange of more percussion, steam pistons, and an electronic bit which sounds as if it’d work well in a remake of 2001: A Space Odyssey. “Our predecessor left this box and something’s clawing around/ I think it really wants out’ snarls Brock in the last verse of the song. What the hell? Let it loose! Modest Mouse are like Pandora’s Box, you never know quite what to expect from them, but one thing’s for sure. It’s going to be a pretty awesome ride.

Sufjan Stevens: “No Shade In The Shadow of The Cross” Review

 Image Courtesy of Sufjan Stevens

In the eleven years since Seven Swans, Sufjan Stevens has worn many hats; from that of a literate, banjo strumming folkie to a cutting-edge man of mystery who sheathes his`introspection in walls of synths. Although I love to see Stevens playing twenty instruments on his records, and even indulging in the occasional 25 minute opus, deep down it’s a relief to see him return to his acoustic roots. On “No Shade In The Shadow of The Cross,” there are no anthemic choruses, orchestral swells, or blasts of noise. Just Stevens’s voice and a classical guitar, which glides along quite nicely as the singer-songwriter muses over his parents: (“like my mother/give wings to a stone”), combines natural imagery with personal reflection: (“I slept on my back/in the shade of the meadowlark/Like a champion, get drunk to get laid”), and occasionally slips in a vague motto: (“Give out to give in”). It’s vintage Stevens, in the mold of “The Dress Looks Nice on You,” but less celebratory and more uncertain. The harmonies are a bit much, and Stevens’s trademark half-whisper makes you wonder if he’s trying too hard to be sincere. Overall though, it works. Restraint isn’t something we’ve seen from Stevens recently. As this song proves, it still looks nice on him.

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