Ivan & Alyosha Album Review: It’s All Just Pretend

Photo Credit: Ivan & Alyosha

If their first album was already a mix between a west coast and southern feel, Ivan & Alyosha’s newest album, Its All Just Pretend, synthesized those themes in a more expressed, driven and full manner. The album retains the band’s lyrically uplifting nature and musically soothing and flowing nature, but delivers it in perhaps a more expressed, confident, and uplifting manner. Lead singer Tim Wilson’s soulful and yearning voice is harnessed in a clearer, more up front manner, commanding the attention of the listener from the first song of the album. The rest of band plays with increased vigor, even during slower songs such as “Tears in Your Eyes” and “Drifting Away,” delivering a more cohesive and substantive record. The album definitively speaks to the growth that the band has undergone, being I&A’s now second full-length album. While the album does have an air of reminiscing and reflection, it seems to have a positive drive to it, emitting a mature, hopeful sound to it.

The album begins with “Something is Wrong,” a steady tune, that synthesizes Wilson’s sustaining vocals with a driving accompaniment of bass, guitar, and drums. The song then melts quietly and slowly into one of the most driving songs of the album, “Bury Me Deep” delivering pounding drums and bass and concise and catchy vocals. The band then grooves straight into “All This Wandering Around” which retains the energy of “Bury Me Deep” with Wilson belting out vocals throughout the song, in perfect pace with the rest of band. The title track of the album, “It’s All Just Pretend” takes on a more reminiscent, somber tone, with soft guitar and percussion and Wilson’s deliberate and calm vocals in the beginning, intertwined and accented by electric guitar riffs and steady drums. The song speaks of bittersweet reflection and contemplation, ending with the guitar anthem fading away in the background.  

Skip ahead a few tracks an “Oh This Love” will have you swaying and dancing its beat, energy, and persistent lyrics, bordering between a sad and happy love song. A few tracks later, “Modern Man” injects high powered energy into the album with distorted guitar, driving drums, and filtered vocals. The song emanates a driven and independent response to some of the slower songs from the album, showcasing yet another feature of Wilson’s singing repertoire. “Let Me Go East” brings the listener back into the world of rock’n’roll, sounding like a 21st century revamping of some of Chuck Berry’s and Jerry Lee Lewis’s tunes from the 50’s, with (some) elements of 90s punk bands like Social Distortion. The song drips with opportunity and youth, speaking to its title to let (whomever) go east. The album closes out with the soft and sweet “Don’t Lose Your Love,” a contemplative, charming, and reflective song that despite its wistful sound, ends the album on a slow, but hopeful note. 

Seattle’s Ivan & Alyosha brought out yet another astounding and wonderful full length album that gave the listener plenty to hear and a nice pallet to ponder their own thoughts on. The album can be interpreted many different ways, with its sound driven and full, but many times deliberate and reflective. The album solidifies the band’s west coast/southern fusion in a delightfully complex and robust manner. This album is perfect for any summer day, providing something not only to move one’s body to, but one’s mind as well. 

The band is on its summer tour for this album right now, and will be making a stop in DC this Friday, May 29th to perform at U Street Music Hall. Don’t miss it! If you’re interested, you can buy tickets here.

5/11: Matt and Kim @ 930

Photo by Matt and Kim

The 930 Club was packed beyond belief with people and anticipation. When Matt and Kim came on stage, a roar like no other came over the entire crowd, balcony and pit alike. The Brooklyn hailing duo was beaming and ready for a crazy show. Not 1 minute into their set, Kim, notorious for being one of the most energetic, pumped up performers in pop today, jumped on top of the bass drum of her drum set and started dancing and hitting her sticks against the frame of the drum. 

Matt and Kim went right into it, playing with a blazing energy and stage presence, dancing, asking the audience to dance and give it “100 percent” tonight. The duo was beyond pumped to be playing two sold out shows in a row at the 930 club, which they referred to as “world famous.” The band connected and fed off the audience in a way I have not seen before, and with raging success. I came in expecting to see an indie-pop duo play some music and possibly dance a bit, and was instead hit in the face with one of the most energetic, pumped up dance parties I’ve been to. Mid-way through the set, Kim stood back on the bass drum (she did this probably 20 times throughout the show) announcing to the crowd “fuck a sing-a-long, I need to see some mother-fucking crowd surfers here tonight!” And as if on-queue, the crowd surfing began and did not end until the very last song of the show.

This show was unlike most shows I have been to in that the duo did not rely on their musical talent to guide the show (although they are undoubtedly musically talented). The two youthful and passionate musicians used their energy and hype to create an incredibly intense show with Matt remarking towards the end that the crowd went past 100 percent and made it to 150. The duo was far from perfect, and it didn’t seem to bother them or anyone in the venue. Matt had 2 fingers taped together which he had broken in an earlier show. He assured everyone he could still do everything he needed to make it a legendary show, adding that “being perfect is fucking boring.” If the show’s musical performance wasn’t perfect, the show’s physical performance and energy made far up for it until the very end. Throughout the show, they would play little intermissions where they would play short renditions of “Up in Here,” “Just a Friend,” and more. Many many many hundreds of balloons were thrown into the audience, only adding to the massive dance party aesthetic. 

Towards the end of the show, Matt said that “We know its hot in here…but we’re about to make it much hotter,” unveiling a parachute which was draped across the first 50 feet of the pit overtop of the audience, and then promptly asked those underneath to go absolutely crazy. After this, Matt asked everyone in the pit to scrunch together, raise their hands up flat, and make a dance floor of sorts for Kim to stand on. Miraculously, the “handfloor” worked, with Kim dancing literally on top of the crowd, and making it back to the stage unharmed. (I dont know if she could even be harmed, I swear she’s made of steel). The band rocked the house with performances of songs off their newest album, New Glow, and of course, the song that perhaps started it all for them, “Daylight.” 

This show was indeed legendary; Matt and Kim are not a show to miss out on. They lead and pump up a crowd like no other band in the indie-pop scene, and give you every single bang for your buck. 

5/6: HOLYCHILD @ 930 Club

When HOLYCHILD took the stage, the 930 club was almost filled, all in anticipation for Passion Pit, and clapped avidly when HOLYCHILD, led by vocalist Liz Nistico and producer and multi-instrumentalist Louie Diller, came on stage. The band’s instruments sported lots of flair and streamers and 3 members were sporting a Hawaiian shirt. Without a bassist or guitarist, HOLYCHILD indeed was different than most bands. 

Their sound, defined by them as ‘Brat Pop’, was an upbeat mix between catchy vocals and driving percussion over synthesizers and keyboards, that had many people in the audience dancing and cheering to the music as soon as the set started. There is no doubt that many had not experienced a band as interesting or different as HOLYCHILD in previous shows they’d been to. Nistico danced with absolute energy across the stage in harmony with her singing, never resting in one place too long. Multiple times, Nistico went into the crowd, singing from various locations of the 930 club, including the floor of the pit and on top of the bar.

The band as a whole delivered an incredibly energetic performance, full of life and youth, engaging with the audience relatively well. After giving an incredibly energizing opening set, HOLYCHILD bowed together before taking their leave of the stage, grinning from ear to ear. The young and lively band thrived at the 930 club, feeding off the energy of the crowd while generating its own as well. 

I had a chance to interview Louie and Liz after the show, you can listen here. 

5/7: STU LARSEN AND NATSUKI KURAI @ U STREET MUSIC HALL

In a half filled, dimly lit U Street Music Hall, Australian Stu Larsen andIMG_6223 Japanese Natsuki Kurai came on stage to a small but cheery crowd. Stu has been on the road for the last 5 years, having driven some 8,000 miles in the last 3 weeks of touring with Natsuki. He met Natsuki at a concert in Japan, and now they’ve toured across the United States together. The tour started in Japan on April 12th, and ended in Atlanta on May 10th. With Stu on the guitar and vocals, and Natsuki playing harmonica, the two played an incredible set together. Their sound flowed throughout the room, blending between Stu’s earthy and captivating voice, and Natsuki’s explosive and cascading harmonica riffs. The performance felt incredibly intimate throughout the set, with Stu asking the audience to sing the chorus of a few songs, and at one point bringing the opener, Matt Sanders and a few friends on stage to sing a song together.

IIMG_6183IMG_6198f Stu wasn’t enchanting enough on his own, Natsuki blew it away for everyone in the crowd. Stu and Natsuki were perhaps at their best when they played “This Train” a song from Stu’s 2011 album, Ryeford. Amidst Stu’s vocals and driving guitar, Natsuki went crazy with the harmonica playing mind bending riffs. Most of all, the show felt natural and intimate. Perhaps it was the nature of the venue, but I think it was mostly from the warm atmosphere created by Stu and Natsuki. The duo played music from all of Larsen’s albums, mostly playing from his most recent album, Vagabond, which was released in 2014. The show was all in all a wonderful, heartwarming experience, like a conversation with old friends and new.

I had a chance to interview Stu before the show, and talk to him about his musical journey and his travels. You can listen to the recording here.

Photos by Anour Esa

4/30: The Wombats @ 930 Club

 

“Hello Washington, my sweet babies.”

These were the first words uttered by The Wombats lead vocalist, Matthew “Murph” Murphy at the 930 Club here in DC. These weren’t his last, as the band hailing from Liverpool played 90 minutes of joy-filled, energetic music, full of youthful lyrics sung by Murph and the majority of the audience.

The Wombats had an energy and persona on stage that could only come from playing for more than 12 years together as a band. Each member of the trio laughed, joked, and smiled their way through their set, feeding off one another’s energy. Bassist Tord Overland perhaps gave the most energetic performance, dancing bombastically across seemingly every part of the stage that night, and once even falling over during their number “Greek Tragedy,” as drummer Dan Haggis described: “ass over tit.” But Overland got back up and the band played on, albeit a bit giggly. Throughout the entire performance, the band led a hilarious chant of “Grossman,” their nickname for their tour manager, Simon Fuller, highlighting the hallmark playful nature of The Wombats. (We’re simply going to assume that Wombats are playful marsupials based on how friendly Murph, Dan, and Tord were.)

When we spoke to Murph in our interview prior to the show, he said he was thrilled to be on another US and Canada tour, this tour so far having “been the best US tour we’ve done,” with an increased North American following and The Wombats’ first sold out show in DC. The show at 930 was definitely a testament to this, as nearly everyone sang along to each song, reacting with shouts of joy to each song in the set. The Wombat’s opened with their first release from their newest album, “Your Body Is A Weapon,” following it up with the older “Jump Into The Fog” and an energetic drum transition into one of their originals, “Moving to New York.” The band played songs from every one of their albums, including numerous ones from their recently released Glitterbug. Though the album was released only 17 days prior to the show, the audience had no difficulty in picking out each song and singing and dancing along. While the most recent album had more electronic elements, the live performance of both new and older songs blew the crowd away with an incredible driving energy that never died down, even during their slowest numbers. The band’s performance of their whimsical classic, “Little Miss Pipedream” was even better than the original album version, with Dan playing the keyboard, bass drum, and harmonica, at one point simultaneously, and had the crowd swaying and chanting along to the peculiar lyrics, giving the crowd a bit of a rest from the mostly upbeat set. The band closed out their encore with their hit single from their first album, “Let’s Dance to Joy Division” igniting the crowd in a wild and ecstatic fervor, every single person dancing and jumping up and down to the music.

The Wombats delivered a truly memorable performance on Thursday night’s show at the 930 club, giving every part of the audience what they wanted, delivering each song with a festive and gleeful stroke, and enjoying themselves heavily as they went.

 

 

Yours Truly,

Anour Esa & Julie Hansen

 

Photo Credit: Meghan Montgomery and Anour Esa

The Magic Whip: An Even More “Universal” Blur

Nostalgic Britpop fans have long been tormented by rumors of an unlikely Oasis reunion. It seems as though every few months either Liam or Noel tweets something that gets picked up by someone like Mirror as a sign of a pending revival for the band that cocained and temper-tantrumed their way out of existence in 2009. The other half of the so called “Battle of Britpop,” Blur, however, has given these nostalgic fans a big reason to rejoice with the April 27th release of The Magic Whip. Read the rest of this entry

The Wombats’ “Glitterbug” – The Third Iteration of a Techno Journey


If The Wombats realized in 2011’s “The Modern Glitch” that they were techno fans, then with their new album “Glitterbug” they have fully embraced the electronic pop first introduced to their catchy UK pop rock sound four years ago. Though a far departure from the drum-driven pop rock of their 2007 international debut album “Tales of Love, Loss, & Desperation” (their technical debut album “Girls Boys & Marsupials” was originally released only in Japan) and certainly not as innovative as “The Modern Glitch,” it is still a fun album that is sure to be a hit among fans of other 80s inspired bands, like the more refined Bleachers or fellow countrymen The 1975.

The album starts out slow with “Emoticons,” a relatable tune for anyone who has dated during the 21st century, however it is a little too mellow as an opening track, especially when compared to “Tales of Girls, Boys, & Marsupials”/”Kill The Director” and “Perfect Disease” from their last two full-lengths. The second track, “Give Me A Try,” would have been a much more compelling opener, especially since it evokes their previous work “Girls/Fast Cars” (I’m on the look out for a mash-up from my musically inclined friends on the internet, so if you’re into remixing hit me up). My personal favorite song, and another track which I think would have been an excellent opener as it sounds new but still catchy, is third track “Greek Tragedy,” which is reminiscent of “1996” but with a darker, heavier twist (check out the music video if you haven’t already, especially if you’ve ever seen “Skins”). It also features harmonizing, which is part of the reason why I originally fell in love with The Wombats’ sound so many years ago (and not just because I have a huge crush on drummer Dan Haggis, but really, I’ll be at your show next week so hit me up).

“Be Your Shadow” sounds like a Genesis remake (I would love for an “Invisible Touch”/”Be Your Shadow” remix as well please, so someone should make it happen), which is funny because this 80s style is pretty hallmark of Bleachers who also have a song called “Shadow.” This new vogue is compounded by the next track, “Headspace,” which sounds like something right out of “The Breakfast Club” soundtrack. “This Is Not A Party” should be on everyone’s summer party playlist – unless you’re friends are like mine and they prefer rap, in which case it’s time for new friends (jk guys, ily). “Isabel” sounds like a throwback to “Little Miss Pipedream” but with no drums. Seriously guys, where are the drums?

Of course then there’s “Your Body Is A Weapon” which you all should be familiar with by now. I’ve listened to it so many times at this point it no longer sounds as catchy and hip as when I first heard it, but that is more telling of my own listening habits than the quality of the song. “The English Summer” sounds super reminiscent of “My First Wedding” and is finally a nice throwback with some quality drums. Though they aren’t amazing, it’s still not a drum machine and it makes me happy. “Pink Lemonade” will make you feel like your love life is uncomplicated, which is why you should download it regardless. Really, I mean it’s a great song that will most likely make you feel great about yourself, and is fun to listen to, along with sounding like something straight from Smallpools but with a British accent.

“Curveballs” is just a great song that has some real drums (again nothing too new but you can hear an actual drum kit at times) that sounds eighties inspired without being as dated as “Headspace” and “Be Your Shadow.” It’s got harmonies and a sexy beat and reminds me a lot of Walk The Moon, so I think The Wombats may gain some new fans thanks to this number.

“Sex and Question Marks,” the penultimate track, is probably the most iconic of The Wombats sound. It’s got some fun drumstick work going on in the background with a bit of harmonizing and this guitar riff thrown between verses that may remind listeners of The Red Hot Chili Peppers. It also would have been a great opening track especially with the line “What happened to us?” vocalizing what listeners are thinking about The Wombats’ evolved sound. The deluxe album awkwardly ends it with “Flowerbomb.” It’s a decent, if boring track but the beat doesn’t create a great musical journey with the rest of the album.

For the most part the drums have seriously taken a back seat and in most numbers could, and probably are, replaced by a drum machine, which is a serious shame (again, I swear, it’s not just because I have a massive crush on Dan). The musical style feels like a continuation of a trend, but with bands like The 1975, Bleachers, Walk The Moon, and Smallpools, who all do electronic, retro pop rock much more eloquently, The Wombats may get lost in the indie music scene. It’s a great album for fans of those bands who may have not appreciated The Wombats’ previous work, but I don’t think it can really compete with its contemporaries.

All in all, it’s a good album because The Wombats are a good band, but it isn’t as catchy or impressively drum-y as their first album and it certainly doesn’t make me feel as much as “The Modern Glitch,” which was filled with as much artistic angst as “Tales of Love, Loss, & Desperation” was filled with awkwardly bubbly clever lyrics. Really though, the album is pretty solid – maybe a little too electronic-y with not enough REAL drums or innovative drumlines, but it’s fun and it’s summery and I’m excited because I know they’ll be able to put on a great show with these new songs.

TL;DR “Glitterbug” is a solid summer album for fans of The Wombats as well as Walk The Moon, Smallpools, Bleachers, and The 1975. Must listen tracks include “Greek Tragedy,” “Your Body Is A Weapon,” “English Summer,” and “Curveballs.” Check them out at the 9:30 club on April 30th (that is if you already have tickets, the show is sold out!)

The Districts @ Rock & Roll Hotel

 

Photo Credit: Caitlin Mccan

 

Rock & Roll Hotel is a venue that needs no introduction to those in the DMV. Hosting an eclectic mix of concerts and dance sessions as well as having a more traditional bar for the casual night crawler, it pretty much has something for everyone. On Friday the 27th, it played host to the four piece indie-americana group The Districts. Read the rest of this entry

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.

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