Thursday, July 27, 2017

RRR (Interview): Two new albums from Racehorses Are Resources

Take your eyes off my thoughts / Get yo' lips off my brain...

I've seen this band live only a handful of times, and I was uniquely baffled in a fresh way, each time. They don't manifest in person upon a stage in a traditional venue as often as other bands around Detroit, and its been comparably rare, these days, to see new music from Racehorses Are Resources, but lo & behold...

Two new albums were released yesterday by the Detroit trio of stylistic shapeshifters. (Check em out via bandcamp, or just stay on this page and continue streaming a few choice samples).

Racehorses Are Resources are comprised of Chris Peters, Michael Lapp, Nick Cicchetti, and Quelle Chris.

RRR: Cicchetti, Lapp, Peters, Nick Speed

But back to being baffled. Anytime you catch this syndicate of sonic experimentalists, either on stage or on recordings, you feel as though you are witness to new aural inventions, in real time. Like you're on the factory floor as the three mad wizards lightning something together. It's this beat-driven, bass-haunted, improvisational scatter of sax and synthetic-sounding guitars with other myriad unidentifiable noises notched together into either some atmospheric dissonant conniptions, or some uncanny harmony of cerebral tonal swoons. It's acid-jazz meets house music, rumbled to hip-hop and ascribing to some nightmarish krautrock-kick. You could drift away. Or you could stumble over the tremors....

"I've only been in the band for about a year 'n' a half, now," said Lapp, "and during that time, the approach to songwriting, from what I've experienced, is anything goes; no rules & avoid overthinking!"

"Mike is correct," said Peters. "The root inspiration is  total spontaneity. We keep ideas around that make us a little uncomfy. I like to leave a large margin for error. When we are recording with Zach Shipps or at Nick Speed's we never plan ahead and we never discuss things. The idea is to arrive at the guitar sound and then go. Rhythm is where it all starts. Get a groove going, whether it be tight or smeary, and then go!"

Peters said that Racehorses Are Recources is really whatever he wants it to be. That could mean a 25-minute piece of guitar racket, a collaboration with John Sinclair over the poems of Jim Gustafson, or maybe a piece of a China Idol contestant from Bhutan. Peters vision does means surplus space, where boundaries fall away. The idea is for collaboration, improvisation, and spontaneity, above all.

"Some songs are more conventional in structure," Peters said, "ya know..., a verse-chorus-verse-chorus deal, others ignore that kind of thing entirely. Look, this isn't a new approach. It is very liberating though."

What I responded to, when seeing Peters and Cicchetti a couple years prior, and then somewhat recently with Lapp on board, was the wildness. The controlled wildness. It wasn't falling apart or discordant, but it wound its way through a song like a mobius strip coiling its way into a new circle every 16 measures, or so... The splash of sounds, textures reminiscent of hip-hop, or darkwave, or even experimental indie-rock, pulled me in... But then they'd always take it some place else.

"I think we've all been in other bands that have been so focused on writing the best songs for audiences and labels," said Lapp, "rather than what we want to experience as artists. The whole process,before, was to have those songs perfected and head into the studio with limited time to get the right takes, but that's something that I don't think any of us in RRR care to do with this project. We go into the studio for eight hours or more, once or twice a month, with not one lick of music written, and do complete off the wall improvisation, all of it live in the room together. After a take, we listen to it once, or sometimes not at all, and keep moving forward."

"(Lapp) is correct. And this goes for vocals too," said Peters, "at least for (Cicchetti) and (Speed). I think Cicchetti's best stuff comes when he completely improvises the vocal melodies and lyrics. Most of the songs with his vocals are done that way and very often they sound pre-composed...but they are not. And Speed's vocals on 2038 is just off his head, and i love it. Quelle Chris, on the other hand, works out the songs he produces a bit differently; he'll come into the studio, listen to the spontaneous vomit we barf out as we do it, takes home the tapes and then sends me songs that blow our minds."

Peters resume includes a substantial tenure with The Electric Six (during one of my favorite eras, particularly Switzerland0. Nick Speed is an esteemed hip-hop producer who's worked with 50 Cent, Talib Kweli and many more. Quelle Chris, meanwhile, is a stellar emcee, part of the last decade's wave of vibrant splicers like Open Mike Eagle, or Danny Brown. Cicchetti, among other past/current bands, was the guitarist/vocalist in Millions of Brazilians. Lapp, finally, along with previous tenures in adventurous outfits like like the noise-experimentalist Characteristics and, his first Detroit group, Ivy League Crew; he's also well-known as the operator of Detroit performance space Tires. 

And Peters said they feel like they're really introducing this band to people, properly, for the first time with these two new albums. They've done a few EPs in the past and plan on performing more live inventions in the near future.

And I should add that during my interview process, Peters insisted on responding only after Lapp. This proved to get heated when I asked about the most difficult aspects or experiences were when it came to the recording process.

"Most difficult?" said Lapp. "What we were going to order for lunch. (Peters) is a bitch with food."

"(Lapp) is incorrect. I don't know what he's talking about here. Oh, my dietary restrictions? Yeah, I guess I can make ordering food difficult... So, once again, (Lapp) is correct."

I followed that up by asking what they found most fulfilling about making these two new albums with Shipps, Speed, and Quelle Chris.

"The freedom of discovery," said Lapp. "And exploration in sound and rhythms. I left every time feeling extremely happy, truly therapeutic."

"(Lapp) is correct," assured Peters. "Groove and my guitar are at the root of all of this stuff. Nick Speed and Quelle Chris deliver on the gritty and raw drum track end of things, and Mike delivers on the kit. It is a perfect heaven for me. I often play guitar more like a bass, which i think comes from my love for EpMd and the Gap Band. I just look to lock in with whatever scuzzy time keeping these guys throw at me."

Peters has coordinated several great collaborations and he has more in the works. Lapp said that bringing in diverse artists helps them stretch the boundaries of RRR and their own capabilities of what they can do in a studio/beyond...

I asked about the energy in the songs, the flow of aggressive to chill...of bombastic, to cerebral.

"The first track I ever laid down with RRR was 'Agatha,'" said Lapp. "It started by saying, 'Let's do something weird...,' and I think I just gave a quick four-count click in and: boom. That was all done in one take. If I remember correctly, Chris said 'Let's do a punk thing like the punk I am...!" And I just started riding those toms and snare... In the middle of that, I was like, 'Wait, wait, I don't want to keep this driving on the same pattern...,' so I just literally changed up my patterns, but kept the same tempo randomly. And that electronic noise thing was a toy (Cicchetti) brought in to play that he'd never used before, but it was playing in my ear the whole time. It was annoying as fuck, but I figured that since nobody can do wrong in this band that it was perfect...."

"But," Lapp concluded, "to answer your question, I don't think there was a conscious decision of having much meaning either romantically or politically behind any of these tracks. unless "Clip On Ties" is some sort of political slang, then i don't think so..."

Peters said that "'Agatha' is a piece that we haven't released yet, another great collab...! I cannot explain why so much of the stuff is so aggressive and intense. We are not planning any of this out very much, so we get what we get....and so does anybody who decides to take a listen!"

Peters concluded... "Mike claims that I claim to be a punk. I have no idea what the hell he's talking about there. i was six years old in 1977. I am not a punk, nor was i a punk. however, i do like me some punk."

For more info, updates, and music, check out RRR on Facebook.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Deadbeat Beat's When I Talk To You vinyl release (Interview)

Alex and Maria were hip before me and they were probably hip before you.

I say this, but they'll still clarify to me, after suggesting that, that they certainly weren't considered "cool" in the hallways of their high school in Grosse Pointe. Still, this sibling-like friend duo have been playing music together for almost 15 years now, and they were, by Alex's account, already a couple o' "been-around's" amid the local music scene before they were even old enough to drink.

Deadbeat Beat

"We actually weren't cool in high school," Maria says.
And then Alex follows up immediately to reiterate it, just with altered wording but with deeper drama in his delivery: "In our high school, we were not cool!"
And Maria clarifies: "It was not cool..."
And she trails off, but the suggestion, the 'it' in her response, referred to being as ardently enthusiastic about local music, or about music in general, as they were at the age of 15.

What I'm trying to do is get to the point where Alex Glendenning and Maria Nuccilli tell me about how they met garage-pop guru Matthew Smith, who would become an early champion of their post-high-school band The Decks, and then later engineer/mix/produce their first full length as Deadbeat Beat....

...But they're pretty sure that that goes back to 2004, when Alex and DBB's bassist Zak Frieling were front and center at the Motor City Rocks festival, hosted outdoors behind the Magic Stick, to see groups like Outrageous Cherry (led by Smith), as well as the Dirtbombs, Detroit Cobras, Witches, Sights, The Go, Human Eye and just about every other local face on the turn-of-the-century's Mt Rushmore of garage-rock.

"When we recorded (When I Talk To You) with Matt Smith, he said it sounded like Wire mixed with Jan & Dean," said Alex. "Like, Wire musically, but with Jan & Dean fronting it... But I had this weird obsession with Jan & Dean at the time we recorded it..." (2010)

This song, "Body Shakes," not only glows with that Wire-meets-Jan/Dean vibe that Smith referenced, but it is demonstrative of DBB's knack for the sweet and the bitter. A lot of their songs let in this effervescent pop-sunshine that backlights darker hues splashed by the reverb-heavy guitar, rustling drums and disarmingly contemplative, even darkly existential lyrics. Glendenning's vocals may weave and surf like the saccharine melodic spreads of Jan & Dean, and Nuccilli's drums might recall the propulsive pipelines of The Ventures, but there's a lot of compelling tension and poetic angst pinballed into what would otherwise be some sweet summertime pop slides.

 "When I was writing these songs," Glendenning said, "I was going through a lot of changes in my personal life. And... one of those changes was that I was trying to write a new batch of material that, maybe cuz we were starting to be billed more with out-of-town punk acts touring in at that point, that I thought we needed to write shorter and faster songs! And I didn't feel like we were being pushed toward punk, I was like: yeah! I was almost trying to pander (to the punk side)."

"That was more the kind of music that we listened to..." said Nuccilli.

"But it didn't end up sounding like a lot of those records, though..." Glendenning follows up.

But a song like "The Kids At My School" is a perfect example, here.

Glendenning was going through a lot of change in his life at this point and you can hear that poignant pulling towards a hoped-for catharsis with that song's lyrics of self-deprecation, social anxiety, and even some coldly scuffed cynicism. It feels like an excellent fist-through-a-window kind of song, where preconceptions about him can be shattered... And, that's perfect for punk. But it's still pop...!

"Yeah, I'd say we're a pop band," Glendenning said. "That's what I tell people when they ask about our band."

"And early on, we weren't too focused on really getting a record out," Nuccilli said, recalling the band's first full year together, with bassist Josh Gillis.

"And I was always just concerned with the songs!" said Glendenning.

"So," said Frieling, who joined in early 2015, "when I came in there was this whole back-log of songs where they had just been writing so much, so we had to catch up before we wrote any new stuff."

After the band recorded When I Talk To You's follow up, (Only Time Will Tell,), they went on a year-plus hiatus. And Glendenning said it was "nice to have that break..."

"Yeah, because at that point we were coming out of a time where we'd put a lot of pressure on ourselves," said Nuccilli. "Before (Gillis) moved down to Nashville, we had to get into the studio and basically book time so that we could record everything that we played live, everything that we had, that hadn't been laid down yet."

"And we really squeezed it dry," said Glendenning. "It was a tense time! (At this point in the DBB story, musician/artist Neal Laperriere was on bass). "And after that, I started writing songs that I would describe as more... sprawling....longer, jammier, writing in alternate tunings."

But here we are, this weekend, with Gillis releasing When I Talk To You on vinyl (Glad Fact Records), where it became about finally closing that door on this period of the band's musical creations. Over seven years, notable evolution has occurred, and they've gone from surf-punk to something more jangly and melodic. Nevertheless, they wanted these songs to get one last formal celebration.

"I think we always carried ourselves with more anxiety back then," said Nuccilli looking back. "In terms of being a band now...? I mean, I don't get anxious about stuff anymore. I think at this point we know how to do it all a little better, or even a lot better than before,..!"

"...And that just comes from the wisdom of half a lifetime..." And as she finishes this, Nuccilli looks at Glendenning and they share a laugh...

That's half of a lifetime of already being hip to the benefits of being obsessed with quirky/awkward/fun/fast music. They got into the scene early. Their ears were wide open. Their hearts got full and they found their way, however gracefully or gracelessly, through their socially tumultuous twenties, to now... Now, only time will tell........

show info

The band is currently tying things up for their next album! Expect twice as much melody and mellifluous textures. The group ticks off likely influencers of the next record, like Heavenly, The Bats, a lotta stuff from Australia-pop bands on the Flying Nun label...and also some Krautrock from CAN and La Düsseldorf... So we'll see where that goes. Stay tuned, sometime by the end of the year, if not right into 2018! 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Festival Les Escales

Festival Les Escales kicks off Friday and no one who reads this blog regularly is likely going to attend because it's always the way over in Saint-Nazaire, France, on the coast of the Bay of Biscay. 

But this weekend-long festival regularly has an embedded feature where the signature musicians and styles of a certain city from around the world come under their focus. 

This year, while the headliners include the Pixies, Milky Chance, and others, it is DETROIT that's being highlighted, with performances by newer wave of inventive R&B, rock, electro & hip-hop stylists like Duane the Jet Black Eel, Tunde Olaniran, Passalacqua, Queen Kwong and Flint Eastwood, along with legends and pioneers in other realms like soul and techno, like Martha Reeves, Derrick May, and many more. 

poster art by Ellen Rutt

"The focus (on Detroit music) was already in place when I was invited," said Duane Gholston, who just left for France today. So, before he left, I wanted to just get his take on the big weekend ahead, and how this puts a lot of local talent into a global spotlight.

"(Reps/Coordinators of Festival Les Escales) approved me in January of this year when they visited Detroit and were basically recruiting acts. They liked my music videos; particularly "When The Eel Accepts Your Invitation.""

Gholston is a unique artist in that he has purposefully changed styles three times (if not more) over the last six years, even donning new monikers/personas and presentations. "The 80's and early 90's Detroit techno stuff was definitely influential on my music back when I was performing as The Brand New Dog," said Duane. But beyond that, the bigger shadows cast by iconic Detroit sounds such as Motown, or even proto-punk and garage-rock haven't ever directly influenced his own music - because it is, by design, adaptable or changeable.

"There is a song I perform in my (Jet Black Eel) set called 'Starring the Jet Black Eel,' that I wrote and it kinda has a Motown bass line and rhythm to it, though. But, that just makes me realize how much 50's and 60's black music influenced rock n roll." And that's just one way in which Festival Les Escales's focus on Detroit music can start conversations that ponder the past six decades worth of this area's musical legacy and how it's helped shape the current crop of global music.

Carl Craig
Martha Reeves & The Vandellas
Derrick May
Flint Eastwood
Tunde Olaniran
Queen Kwong
& More
Click here for more info

Monday, July 24, 2017

"How Strange Is My Time?" - Final Installment of Dizzy Seas Letters

"Nicosia" is the final song on Chris Bathgate's Dizzy Seas. 
Audra Kubat and I have very comprehensively explored each track, one by one, over letters we shared these past two months.... 

If you haven't listened to this new album, on Quite Scientific, you can start at the beginning, with "Water" 

Here's "Nicosia"

Hello one last time, Audra, 

I find it fitting that "Nicosia's" drums return to the restlessness with the album's first track, "Water" began... Languid, wafting guitars with a new melodic phrase are once again lain beautifully over drums that sound, if nothing else, a bit too caffeinated.

This is a song where Chris is once again not going to be getting any sleep. A strange night. It feels like a cliffhanger... Like I want to talk to the singer, to this voice, in the dawn that's coming hours after these lyrics are sung. The playing of that guitar recalls the emotional resonance of "Northern Country Trail," the way it feels wistful, but resolute at the same time. 

What a trip... What a slow, ponderous trip... So much pondering. Of all the questions he asks in this song, of all the many questions he's asked of himself throughout the whole album, "How strange is my Time?" sticks out to me... I believe that the nighttime is when all anxieties and self-doubts are amplified ten-fold; when the mind, as a metaphysical muscle lugging contemplations, cannot go limp. 

Anyway, this division, of "time," is interesting when we consider that Nicosia, the capital of the Republic of Cyprus, actually has two time zones. (That's a long story for a non-music review). Never the less, Chris has done a lot of traveling, and he's lived in three different time zones (if not more...) How is he spending his time? What is he spending it on? When muses, with curiosity, how strange it is to consider one's own "time," it feels, to me, like he's scrutinizing the 30+ year schedule and divvying-up of moments and hours and energy, of his entire life... 

The sea tides in and out. If it picks you up, it carries you away. If you sail, you're at the whim of the winds. Chris is taking a moment with this album to kill his ego and admit that he doesn't have any control...and that he might not get back to sleep. 
And it makes me consider how rewarding it is, in the end, to spend one's "time" with a record... Spend time exploring each song. 

I can't wait to hear what you take away from this last song, Audra
Thanks so much for exploring this album with me...





I can't help but take the whole of the album into account as I land inevitably on this last song. As you suggest (and I agree), this record plays as a practice in self-discovery, uneasily exposing a fragile ego. Each song bravely digs a little deeper, and with each spin the findings are a little clearer. 

The final song on an album often wraps things up, but this song is an unraveling. There is no comfortable place to sit here, only the splintered consequences of thorough introspection. For me, this song reflects that moment when one is so filled with internal strife that only running down dark streets can bring relief, and even then it is momentary. I have been on these streets and I have cried out these questions. This is Chris' song, but I think we all have played it before. An artist can render a feeling in song or on the page, but it takes their humanity to understand those feelings, to translate them authentically. This song is about the human condition that we all face at some point - we are lost, confused, and alone. 

The guitar line that opens this song quietly yearns. It breaks in and out with hammer-ons that draw you in and leave you on the edges of down turned notes that mute and curl. I wanted to experience this song alone (I felt this immediately as the first few bars past), purely and unaltered by others. The slow swell of pads gave me just enough support to keep listening, for it is taking me down a path that is close to the fray. A knife's blade waiting to cut, always present, has no mercy and it, unlike myself, is fearless. 

But there is someone else. We are not alone. The earthy and lush tones of a new voice comes. It is Samantha Cooper, and she brings the light. Once she is there, she stays. I imagine her offering a hand as the roundness of her timbre wraps around me. When there are no more words, the song begins its slow and steady disintegration. The barking drums syncopate for a few more measures, the swells follow the fading melody of what now feels like a lazy guitar. It's as if this song wants to leave like a gentle breeze. Maybe because the meat of this track is such a hard place to be. I began this song with fear of what it was uncovering for me, and I left this song feeling wholly loved. 

Kind of strange, but songs like this one help us get through things that are tough. It is interesting that this album is called 'Dizzy Seas' for now that I have listened to it thoroughly, I believe that it has worked to steady me.

I want to thank you, Jeff for sharing this journey. I have grown from these examinations and feel so connected to these songs. I also want to thank Chris. You have created a powerful and heart-opening collection of songs and it has been my honor to talk about them through my own lens.

My best and well wished in all things for you both!

Audra Kubat

Sunday, July 23, 2017

"Interesting Sonic Phenomena" - Matt Smith talks about Deadbeat Beat's 'When I Talk To You'

Matthew Smith said he doesn't often say yes when a band asks him to produce a record...

Zak, Maria and Alex of Deadbeat Beat.
When I Talk To You was recorded in the late summer of 2010 with Matt Smith

But you can hear his engineering work woven into the sonic tides of When I Talk To You, an album written and performed by The Deadbeat Beat that he captured almost seven years ago. That album is coming out on vinyl this weekend, via the Nashville-based label Glad Fact. 

Matthew Smith
photo from ThingPen
"So I agreed to do the record," Smith said, "and pretty quickly, the more I realized the quality of the writing and the kind of interesting sonic phenomena that was going on, I think I quickly strayed into this kind of intense Phil Spector mentality! And, I don't mean that in that there were any firearms drawn, but, it's just that, I got very focused in on trying to go where the songs seemed to be leading us. I definitely got really involved with (Deadbeat Beat)'s music...."

Smith is the founder/leader of Outrageous Cherry, a Detroit institution for psychedelic garage and Brit-pop jangled, atmospheric fevers of fun hooks, propulsive percussion and earworm melodies. His resume also includes The Volebeats, The Witches, THTX and much more, including backing up Nathaniel Mayer! Also, after a long tenure in the legendary Car City Records, I'll trust his sagely ears more than anyone, when it comes to crafting an album.

"When I make a record, like this kind of record, (When I Talk To You), it's important to me that the final product be something I can play next to something like Communication Breakdown by Led Zeppelin, or California Girls by the Beach Boys and have it be able to hold its own. And, I just feel that there's too often a tendency, more in the realms of indie-rock, to just get something down on tape and that that seems to be enough..." But Smith went into kind of a mad-scientist-role for this one....

"I did all the mixes and actually wouldn't let (singer/guitarist Alex Glendenning and drummer/singer Maria Nuccilli) attend them, because I said that it'd be too traumatic for them," (chuckles), "that they'd see me turning all these knobs and mutating the music in different directions and that it'd give them nightmares! But at the end of the day, I felt like I can play this thing next to any of my favorite records!"

When I Talk To You was released on cassette (Gold Tapes) several years prior. The administer of that same label, Zak Frieling, is actually the band's current bassist. Their first real permanent bassist. Then the opportunity came up this year for Josh Gillis, their first bassist, to get that same record out on vinyl through his own label. Glendenning and Nuccilli, as you'll read in a forthcoming interview, really wanted to get this out on vinyl, even as they're already wrapping up another album which will be out sometime in the next year.

"They were from the east side," Smith said, recalling when he first met the longtime musical duo. "I felt that Alex was writing about life in Grosse Pointe the way that Lou Reed wrote about life in New York. And I felt that he was putting it under a microscope in a way that I hadn't heard anyone do before. There was something real going on with those two, in the music; and a real genuine poetic sensibility that combined with the fact that they're just all good players, and this highly developed musical sense. It's really deep. By the time we did this record, they had evolved into something that was very different than what I'd heard in Detroit."

Smith said he's gotten very positive responses from the recording. He said that Jim White, (drummer from The Dirty Three), told him it's the best record Smith has ever done.

Outrageous Cherry, meanwhile, is entering the final stages of its next record. You should keep your ears open for that in the coming year. "If you like that song, 'No God?'" Smith said to me, before our conversation concluded, "then you'll probably really like (the new Outrageous Cherry album)."

Friday, July 21, 2017

Fred Thomas: Sink Like A Symphony

Trigger Warning: Nostalgia Trance
Fred Thomas just put up remastered versions of his solo songs from the last decade. There's plenty to listen to, but I'm musing on particular album, here......

The tangibility of music, music as an experience, something that attains preciousness because it is, in fact, palpable..., is something you'll hear romanticized by the vinyl collectors. But yesterday, Fred Thomas posted all of his at-once-hard-to-find solo albums from the early/mid-2000's onto his bandcamp and it slid me down a nostalgia rabbit hole to the days, yes the college days, when I would be burning two (or maybe three) CD-Rs per week, jam packed with only 19 songs and 74 minutes of music, carefully sequenced, of course, to achieve an uncanny harmony between disparate artists. 

Making a mix CD for someone else or even for myself was more fulfilling than anything I could think of at the time..., I mean some people like buying new wardrobes, or working out, or going to get a new haircut, or hiking, or baking... I just wanted to take songs, smash them together, and sort of give me an excuse to put something fresh in my discman (yes, discman) and then go for a walk with headphones to just get lost for a couple hours. 

Sure, CDs are impersonal, and to millennial eyes--probably silly, and they aren't as majestic as those vinyl artifacts, but they were still utilitarian sonic canteens into which you could fill up a travel-size amount of music... And I say that knowing full-well that I typically spend a couple hours streaming music from online services across various wi-fi's today, but I have to go back to the same old refrain of that excitement-of-accessibility often feeling hollow... like having Google Maps just show you the quickest route to the (formerly)-Lost City of Gold. Everyone's been to that Lost City now, because streaming takes away the seeking...

There is a strange thankfulness that I can't quite place, in having found an album like Sink Like A Symphony, or in having found the solo works of Fred Thomas, in general, in 2006, at a point when I was fragile or self-conscious or full of smaller, simpler wonders.... at a point when I was certain I wasn't cool and even found a lot of solace in the faith of that fact. 

Wondered about how one room feels empty 
And one feels loud with the wonder 
Of how we had all lived in closets 
In backyard lightning 
Then lived alone with many disguises 
Nobody seed you or me as the same person twice.
----"I Built A House

At that point in my youth, I still knew that this would be something worth checking out because it was "the guy from Saturday Looks Good To Me..."
I can't remember whether I found this CD at Encore in Ann Arbor or Flat Black and Circular in Lansing; I just remember the proceeding months where I kept re-placing it into my trusty discman, for campus strolls. 

Sing me the song that you love most 
The words hang like diamonds with music inside them 
Colliding in time with your mouth 
Find me alone 
Walk me home 
Show me a world I’ve not yet known 
----"Wet As A Cloud" 

There is always something about this record and lots of Thomas' songs that feel like impossibly-found secrets slid into the cracks between the bricks of an abandoned home down a country road that the louder city forgot... Some note you found in a shoebox on the top shelf of your closet that's crinkled and full of poetry. Even listening to these songs the first time, they felt, in some supernatural way, like something I'd heard before.... 

And I know I'm going off the cliff here with emotions and flowery nostalgia..., but it's because I feel like he has this way of singing that is endearing in the sense that it feels like you can sense subtle strains of anxiety, or introversion, or a bluntness one reserves for diaries, there is a gutpunch kind of evocation where his voice quavers with this faint, but just barely perceptible, shiver of hesitant-ness, where the chorus is his stomping down over the fear that kept him from saying such a powerful, or vulnerable, or romantic, or ugly, or sweet, or abstract, or sincere thing.... You might not be able to put into words the angst you're feeling as a 22-year-old, Jeff.... But Sink Like A Symphony could... And I wouldn't have spun it the whole way through if it wasn't on a CD that I found.... 

Even if CDs are dead now... They are, right? Fred Thomas' music is alive...right here. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Video Premiere: Jemmi Hazeman's "Nebula"

artwork by Connor Irwin

Single Premiere: Jemmi Hazeman's "Nebula"
Video by Elaine Smith

Over the last year, musician Jeff Yateman has been writing/producing songs for the debut album of his alter-ego, Jemmi Hazeman. Yateman was one-third of the founding membership for post-rock/indie-pop trio Shady Groves, but parted ways amicably back in August of 2016. Before that, local showgoers would have seen him in The Kodaks.

But Jemmi Hazeman's singular voice and aesthetic will be on display with Kozmic Mhaze, which is planned to be released in the early autumn.

This 9-song solo album of synth/guitar-centric space-rock rides along mellowly-danceable rhythms that vary from the more uptempo, to sometimes being a little more detached or atmospheric, but always coiled with catchy choruses from Hazeman's vocals, the intonations of which fuse nicely onto the cooler glides of electro-ish indie-pop arrangements.

The visuals, and keen split-screen editing by Elaine Smith, are dazzling; particularly the spilled/splash of warm-yet-cold colors like soft purples fusing into reddish magentas....

Here's "Nebula" 

"I've always essentially been a solo songwriter," Yateman said. "Even when I wrote songs for Shady Groves or the Kodaks, I basically recorded and wrote all the music myself." On Kozmic Mhaze, Yateman played guitar, bass, drums, keys, sang vocals and produced, mixed and mastered everything.

"Making music in such a non-collaborative way might sound like torture to some, but I kind of like it, for some reason..."

The precursor to Jemmi Hazeman was a solo project he had called Animate Daze, through which he released music but never played a show. "I decided to switch over to Jemmi Hazeman because I wanted a fresh start, in terms of releasing music. Jemmi Hazeman is just an amalgamation of my actual name, with Jimi Hendrix. Kinda came about while being high & jamming with a friend..."

Part of the fresh start includes a full five-piece band for live shows (two guitars, bass, drums & keys). Yateman said he'd played a few shows just with backing tracks for drums, with synths, but it just wasn't as fulfilling. SO.... Stay tuned for more from Jemmi Hazeman, including another new video for the song "Reality Ain't A Friend."

More info

Monday, July 17, 2017

Tintype Crisis

Audra Kubat and I have written our way through Chris Bathgate's Dizzy Seas, with a one-track-at-a-time review, by-way-of weekly letters...

This song is called Tintype Crisis

Audra, hello!

I find the tone of this guitar to be rather appealing, arching up in that tinny higher register. But something about that riff, it's sort of flexed and grinding like a pencil eraser upon the page of the song, or maybe something more aggressive, like a skateboard's scrape along a cement curb.

There is something purposefully regressive going on, despite how cool I think that guitar sounds! Chris is looking back 12 years to his "quarter life," which is still two years before he started turned the heads of major music sites, blogs and zines with his first few albums. I feel like there's still issues of regret, or even just questioning his past behaviors or the ways in which he viewed the world. His albums have always had this sage-ly sort of big picture worldview, so it's still interesting to me, after the last three albums or so, to have this record turn the lens so specifically inwards, or back upon himself. Unsparingly.

"I guess you're still gonna wheeze some poems on the way back home..." It's this late night rearview mirror stare, a scrutiny he hasn't so publicly given himself. And then challenging himself to say something of substance to "the kids in the fray..." and to say it powerfully.

But it begs the question. Who is "the enemy of the day?" Rather, which day? Is he looking back to the demons he fought...or trying to always be ready for the demons of tomorrow.

They don't have to be demons, I suppose

But still

Eager for your thoughts
with friendship,



Instantly, I'm transported to post-high school, on a day where I drove down highways with Tom Petty blasting, windows down, a cigarette, and no cares. The opening guitar is riff is 'feel good and sets a tone - summer, freedom, exploration...everything is possible.

Yes, again Chris draws you in with the music only to confound you with questions. He tricks you into tapping your foot along to a song that is secretly a practice in uncovering deep disappointments. He traces his fingers over the scrimshawed past, remembering to how it felt to be 'stirred'. He refers to these poems by saying they 'weeze' out. Is it labored, or is he suggesting that they lack full development, like a breath you can't catch.

It strikes me that he is looking back at himself as a young artist who is looking into the future with naive eyes. A driving melody places the listener into the heart a of dreamer hoping to get some kind of deal.

Now, what can he say? What has he learned that he can share?  I think he is speaking of time when he says 'the enemy of day'. The ruin of days is that they slip away. Is this a warning? We're constantly told as kids that one day we'll look back and 50 years will have passed.

The first time I listened to this track, I immediately wanted to hear it again. I wanted to also go back.

Until next time,

Audra Kubat

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Song Premiere: Manuka

The most evocative kinda music always stokes visions and vibes. Certain tones and modulations, perfect notes and curled melodies, they coalesce to conjure an image or a place in my head upon the closing of my eyes, and I can feel, or at least I think I feel..., the temperature of the room shift.

Such is the case with Manuka's new one "Stuck..." And I can't have picked a better image to go with the tiding waves and seafoam splay of the guitars, the breezy rhythms, and the tenderly breathed billowing of the vocals over the pulsing percussion. Just the three of them caught in a candid, fleeting moment at a coastline, as silhouettes against the sun just as that orange orb is getting to descend. It's where the tide hits the sand, where elements merge.

The reverb wrapping around the soundscape of "Stuck" aurally simulates the way that photograph's haziness seems to make the sky an indeterminate blend of gray-ish blues blurring around the sun. Like seminal dreampop pioneers the Coctaeu Twins, or the more paisley psychedelic lullabies of the Velvet Underground, Manuka's lead single off their forthcoming album, Beach Life, is a mood-massage, subtly, evenly building into a geyser of harmonies and guitars looping over tails upon tails of memseric delay effects...

The group is currently wrapping up Beach Life for a release date yet to be determined. But there's also going to be a music video for this song on the horizon.

Meanwhile, check out Manuka here, and follow here.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Wait, Spin, Repeat: New Thoughts on "Old" Albums (+ New Johnny Headband Song)

I was speaking with a musician friend lately about how deflating it can be, in a way, to have so much build-up toward ones album release, to wait, and to work, and to reach out, and to hope, and to wait more...

...Until you can finally share these songs! It's a burst, it's a relief, it's a great kind of nervous energy... A culmination.

And for a week, or maybe less, some reviews pour in over the internet and you can get Likes, Shares, and Retweets... It's all an instantaneous fling and everyone spins it through a couple of times. But then, unfortunately, the harsh reality soon sets in: that life goes on. Or, everyone else's respective lives go on.... And the next week comes, then the next week..., and someone else's album, then another's... Attention scatters.

That album that you worked on. Did we become fully acquainted with it? Did we perceive the themes and emotions that you fused onto each lyric or song? Did we forget it too quickly?  Anyway, I told this friend that I'm starting to see an increased worth in waiting to write about an album. Sure, the release is a big deal and one would always want to promote that, but with the speed of social media's updates and shuffled status posts and boosted content and frustrating algorithms, maybe it's worth taking a bit of time to really sit with an album, before we write about it. The biggest Billboard icons release albums at midnight, and by 2 a.m., there are album reviews... I think we can do better.

People walk into the public library where I work and say: "Wow, you host live concerts here? That's SO COOL... How long as that been going on?"   And then you tell them that we've been doing it for seven years or more.... It's just that not everyone's tuned in at the same time. Not everyone has their ears open at the same instant... that instant you drop your album. I think belated reviews keep that tree, that album, from proverbially falling in the woods without anyone to hear whether it makes a sound or not...

Let's draw attention back...  Let's remember what you never forgot... Yesterday's news could be tomorrow's eureka!

Meanwhile, take a band like Johnny Headband. They're slowly releasing an album, track by track, every three months or so. After a year, five songs have trickled out for "Freedom Rock." Here's their latest

Monday, July 10, 2017

Still In My Marrow: "Low Hey" -featuring Tunde Olaniran

The eighth track of Chris Bathgate's recently released album, Dizzy Seas, features a subtle, but breathtaking cameo from singer Tunde Olaniran. This whole album's pretty heavy, but the emotions conveyed just through their vocal delivery, through their intonation, creates what might be the most poignant moment on the record... I never imagined these two artists would ever aurally Venn-diagram their unique voices and talents, but it fits so well....

Listen to the song while you read my letter with Audra Kubat

Hello again Audra,

I hesitate to call this song melancholic, at least in its essence. Instrumentally, tonally, it does feel very wounded. But it isn't like it's collapsing... The opposite, actually....

What I find most interesting about its arrangement is the percussion, the frenetic chitter-chop of those drums, someone is on a snare while another is playing a muted tom, or at least it sounds muffled in this way. The two drums are racing. They feel like they're pulling me.

Chris' lyrical delivery and the opening percussive tap of the first verse lulls me into a position of standing still to do the typical deep contemplations and mind-explorations that this album has urged... But then the chorus, the one word chorus, takes off and the two drums start running together, and I feel like they've got me by the wrist, and are pulling me for those four full measures...

It's not that Chris would ever talk directly about regrets, but I feel so much regret emanating from the ghosts of this song, the relationship portrayed inside of it that is seemingly on life support, if not already expired. When you listen to it again, you can hear the subtlety of "Your 'Hey' is heavy..." And you can hear the person, a lover, saying that. It isn't overt regret. But he's definitely peering into that rearview mirror more than once, wistfully.

But, just as there is a doubling up of drums, there is a partner in vocals who comes, it feels, to Chris' aid, or at least to comfort, or to someone commiserate with a more positive note. The magnificent, multifaceted Tunde Olaniran is the cameo performer here. His soulful, sublime voice flutters beautifully as he puts everything into perspective--questioning, it seems, the use of torturing yourself about the past. Until, finally, that "old anger unravels..." And no matter what, that love, even if it's in exile, is still kept in the singer's bones, close to their heart, ever in their body and in their memory.

But the past, that's what's heavily calling to him: "Hey!"

The past is calling to us all, all the time.
What headspace will we be in, when its call is at its loudest?

Wishing you a pleasant evening, Audra



There are those songs that you write to get through something and there are those that you write to confront. Still others, you write to yourself. Why do we continue to go back? Why does the past have such a hold on us? We are so often assessing ourselves in the rearview mirror. The thickness of the first two verses is staggering. A mind trying to figure itself out. It plays out like a menacing melody on four strings. It's almost tolerable, but the bow on the strings wrenches and twists thoughts.

The single word chorus feels like an exoneration. Like nothing that he says could fill the space in between these heavy stanzas. I suspect this space is critical, for the songwriter and the listener. We need that respite too, for there is not an inch of space to waste in the verses. It is cleverly phrased and strictly edited. Though these lines are beautifully crafted, it takes work from one to truly understand the meaning. It asks of you to summit and go deep, yet allows you to listen passively and just enjoy the husk of the voice and the lull of meditative guitars.

Here Chris teeters on the ledge, but he knows in his heart there is no going back. The 'Hey' can't be light. This new world where love lives in exile can't be simplistic or casual, even as you sigh and wistfully think, maybe it could be different...maybe I could just say hello.

The bridge is fascinating. A second voice (Tunde Olaniran) comes in. I understand it as that voice inside your head. The one that pushes and prods. Sits on your chest until you're breathless and heaving with the question "what if?" Frozen for a moment until the voice turns to reason and reminds you that your true self needs to live and can't be fully happy cadged. I wonder if having this other voice enabled Chris to retreat from the pain this section implicates.

This love, this loss will life inside your fibers. Time marks us and stitches its thread into our beings.

I will leave it here and look forward to the next time!

Audra Kubat