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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.


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. 


Photo by Anour Esa


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.


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.

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.

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.

February 12th: PHOX and Field Report @ 930 Club

Field Report, the Milwaukee, WI based indie-folk trio, was formed in 2011 by singer/songwriter Chris Porterfield a few years after his first band, DeYarmond Edison split up. The name, Field Report, is actually an anagram of Porterfield, Chris’s surname. The band released their newest album, Marigolden, back in October of last year, and has been playing much of that album on tour.


Photo Credit: Anour Esa

When Field Report took the stage, the 9:30 club was nicely filled, and ready to hear music be played. With Porterfield on acoustic-electric guitar and lead vocals, Thomas Wincek on Bass, Guitar, backing vocals and midi board, and Shane Leonard on Drums, the music began. The soulful lyrics, paired with methodic layers of slowly moving harmony gave the music an earthy, raw, almost painful feel to it. Later in the show, PHOX lead singer described Porterfield’s music as being “thoughtful” and listening to the music, one could feel the soft intensity to the lyrics. The entire venue seemed to be deep in thought, taking in all that the music of Field Report generated. With soft spoken but strong vocals, an arrangement of percussive instruments, and an ever evolving sound, Field Report satisfied the audience’s yearning for a soothing music performance.

After a seemingly endless intermission between the two sets, PHOX finally came on stage, to a thunder of applause and hoots from eager fans. The Wisconsin band of six hailing from the small town of Baraboo was in DC this past December, where they opened for Indie-Folk group The Head and The Heart. Needless to say, they had no trouble filling the venue, with long time fans, and first time listeners alike. The band had been at NPR’s studios earlier that day, doing their very own tiny desk concert, which when Monica announced at the show, the band received a plethora of applause and cheering.


Photo Credit: Anour Esa

After some small talk, the band went right into it, playing their rolling, warm, and dreamy music that left a gentle smile on your lips. Their tender and very organic sound had the audience swaying and dancing to every song. The band, after playing a few songs normally off the record, switched to all acoustic instruments, and, with the help of a condenser microphone gave us their own tiny desk concert on stage. After a few songs of their wonderful acoustic set, Monica stayed on stage, and sang a solo set playing only her Ukulele. After enchanting the audience with her one of a kind voice, Monica, Matteo, and Jason teamed up and sang an acapella song showing off the wonderful vocal assets of PHOX. The band returned in full to the stage, and instead of playing an encore, they simply told the audience they were cutting to the chase, and going to play all they were going to play, as it was a Thursday night and there was a lot of “drinking or sleeping to be had.” The band closed out with Espeon, dedicated to Monica’s younger sister. With crashing drums, groovy bass, wailing guitar, rolling piano, the occasional flute, and soothing vocals, PHOX rocked the house with Espeon, and called it a night.

The band is headed to Australia for a short tour, ending in a music festival in New Zealand in a few weeks; so if you’re reading this from down under, check PHOX out! All in all, between the raw, earthy sound of Field Report, to the rolling and dreamy sound of PHOX, this was a show well worth seeing.

1/30: San Fermin and White Hinterland @ The Barns at Wolf Trap


San Fermin is an ensemble you have to see to believe. Resembling an orchestral starter-kit, the eight piece traveling band was supported by local string quartet Invoke at the Barns at Wolf Trap on Friday Night. From brass to drums, keyboard to xylophone, guitar to electric violin, the hodgepodge chamber-pop band filled the stage with elaborate arrangements driven by a multitude of instruments. Read the rest of this entry

Shows to Know: San Fermin @ the Barns at Wolf Trap – 1/30


If you cross the beltway for anything, make it for San Fermin at the Barns at Wolf Trap this Friday. Sure, it’s at the end of the orange line in Vienna, Virginia and maybe you have to take a second form of transportation to get from the metro to the theater, but this band is worth it. The brainchild of Ellis Ludwig-Leone, San Fermin is a 22-piece ensemble made up of classically trained musicians playing a mix of chamber pop and classical music. While their touring band is made up of a smaller core of musicians, there is no shortage of instruments nor bold instrumentalists on stage. Read the rest of this entry

What Is An Eternal Banger?

Photo credit: author

Photo credit: author

While surfing the internet chillwaves the other day, I came across a song that somebody posted, which they had labelled as an “eternal banger.” Without giving much immediate thought to what an eternal banger might be, I found myself nodding along, thinking “yup, this is definitely it.” Later on, I began to think about what an eternal banger actually is. The pinnacle of the modern English language, Urban Dictionary, says that a banger is “If a Song is extremly tight or just unbelivably awesome. It is a banger.” Cool. Everyone can recognize when a song is a banger, but what distinguishes a regular banger from an eternal banger?

After contemplating this for a bit, I came to a few conclusions:

    1. Eternal bangers are subjective. In an ideal world, we would all be in agreement on what songs are eternal bangers and what songs aren’t, but alas, this is a very personal thing.
    2. I believe that bangers are inherently of a faster BPM, so to be considered an eternal banger, a song must be rather upbeat. This tends to work in the favor of electronic and dance songs, however, this is not confined to just one genre. See: “Dance, Dance”
    3. Many, but not all, eternal bangers have some sort of sentimental or nostalgic value, tying back into the subjectivity of an eternal banger. For example, “Like A G6” brings me back to my days in high school spent fooling around with my friends during track practice. That song went and will always go hard, and there are people out in the world who may disagree with me. That’s okay! That is all part of the fun of eternal bangers.
    4. While eternal bangers tend to be older songs, it is possible to recognize a current song as one that has the potential to be an eternal banger. A banger with longevity. See: Beyoncé by Beyoncé; anything Nicki Minaj has ever released.
    5. Trust your gut. If you think a song is an eternal banger, then it probably is! Some of the most iconic eternal bangers are eternal for a reason. See: “Now You’re Gone,” “Sandstorm.” 

– Lotanna Obodozie


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