Sub Pop

Shabazz Palaces “The Don Of Diamond Dreams” (Sub Pop)

2020-05-07T20:40:27+00:00May 7th, 2020|

Cruise the city in a night ship, dressed to kill in the Seville. Float down waterfalls and fountains, reclined on some pimp shit. The time zone ghost returns to paint a picture that echoes through infinity. The sun is put to rest, the soliloquy is killer bee. A diamond purpose lying beneath the surface. Nothing is ever what it seems, but forever is the theme. It’s time. Shabazz Palaces are back with yet another classic of divine mathematics design. More dazzling Afrofuturist sutras to illuminate distant constellations with sacred abstractions. Enter The Don of Diamond Dreams, raw and uncut, but glowing with 10,000 karat shine.

In his unstinting drive to reimagine hip-hop, Butler remains one of the preeminent visionaries of the last quarter-century. His first album with Digable Planets, Reachin (A New Refutation of Time and Space, nodded at Miles Davis in the first half of its title, but 27 years later, he has become one of the most vaunted inheritors of the trumpet deity’s rarefied legacy — still innovating as he enters his fourth decade as a working musician — splintering, rebuilding, and expanding the possibilities of sound. He has collaborated with like-minded visionaries Flying Lotus and Thundercat, Battles and Animal Collective. While all-timers like Radiohead and Lauryn Hill have invited him to join them on tour.

It remains impossible to accurately describe a Shabazz Palaces album without lapsing into cosmic tropes. Yet sometimes clichés are stand-ins for eternal truths. Therein, The Don of Diamond Dreams embodies a futuristic manifestation of ancient myth, full of robotic vocoder and warped auto-tune, Funkadelic refracted into different dimensions, weird portals and warm nocturnal joy rides alongside the coast (a reflection of it being mixed near the beach in California). The synthesizers are alien but the drums speak a universal language. It is hip-hop, dub, jazz, R&B, soul, funk, African, experimental, and occasionally even pop. But over the course of five albums, Shabazz Palaces have conceived the fluid boundaries of their own one-band genre.

Even though the construction of the album is meticulous, it’s a startling masterpiece of improvisation and instinct. It’s both cerebral and automatic, with Butler jotting down phrases and ideas in his phone and eventually shaping them into amorphous abstract expressionist canvasses. If anything, their latest illustrates Butler’s gift for being a conduit of sounds and experience. It’s partially shaped by his own reflection on being a parent and watching his son, Jazz, become internationally renowned as the artist, Lil Tracy. If you listen closely, you can hear the interplay between father and son, as Butler does what is impossible for most veteran artists: he absorbs the sounds of today’s youth, but filters it through his own fractured lens, spitting back convex poems with wild cadences, freestyling with the wisdom of age and the frenetic passion of someone still trying to show and prove. It’s confident and suffused with the thing that defines almost all great art: the willingness to risk attempting something new.

In some respects, it’s difficult to consider the possibility that this might be the best Shabazz Palaces album yet. Very few musicians have ever peaked in their fifth decade on earth, but whoever said they were actually from earth? It’s wrong to say that Shabazz Palaces have gone beyond the looking glass. This time they’ve shattered it entirely and created a brilliant new universe in each one of the shards.

Shabazz Palaces The Don of Diamond Dreams will be available April 17th, 2020 worldwide on Sub Pop. The 10-track album includes the highlights “Fast Learner (ft. Purple Tape Nate),” “Chocolate Souffle,” “Bad Bitch Walking (ft. Stas THEE Boss), and “Thanking The Girls.” It also features contributions from singer/keyboardist Darrius Willrich, Percussionist Carlos Niño, Knife Knights collaborator OCnotes, Saxophonist Carlos Overall, and bassist Evan Flory-Barnes.

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Moaning “Uneasy Laughter” (Sub Pop)

2020-03-20T19:48:25+00:00March 19th, 2020|

What happens when an abrasive rock trio trades guitars for synths, cranks up the beats and leans into the everyday anxieties of simply being a functioning human in the 21st century? The answer is Uneasy Laughter, the sensational second Sub Pop release from Los Angeles-based Moaning.

Vocalist/guitarist Sean Solomon, bassist/keyboardist Pascal Stevenson and drummer Andrew MacKelvie have been friends and co-conspirators amid the fertile L.A. DIY scene for more than a decade. They are also immersed in other creative pursuits — Solomon is a noted illustrator, art director and animator, while Stevenson and MacKelvie have played or worked behind the boards with acts such as Cherry Glazerr, Sasami and Surf Curse. On Uneasy Laughter, they’ve tackled challenges both personal and universal the only way they know how: by talking about how they’re feeling and channeling those emotions directly into their music.

“We’ve known each other forever and we’re really comfortable trying to express where we’re at. A lot of bands aren’t so close,” says MacKelvie. Adds Solomon, who celebrated a year of sobriety during the Uneasy Laughter sessions, “Men are conditioned not to be vulnerable or admit they’re wrong. But I wanted to talk openly about my feelings and mistakes I’ve made.”

Moaning’s 2018’s self-titled Sub Pop debut featured songs mostly written in practice or brought in already complete by individual band members. It garnered acclaim from Pitchfork, Stereogum and Los Angeles Times, who observed, “Moaning craft anxious music for an increasingly nervous local scene.” But Uneasy Laughter is a collaborative breakthrough which significantly brightens Moaning’s once claustrophobic sound, again abetted by producer/engineer Alex Newport (At The Drive-In, Bloc Party, Melvins). The trio points to first single “Ego,” which features a costume-heavy video directed by Ambar Navarro, as an embodiment of this evolution.

Solomon admits Uneasy Laughter could have gone in quite another direction had he not gotten sober and educated himself on such core subjects as gender and mental health. “I did a lot of reading in the tour van — authors like bell hooks, Mark Fisher, and Alain de Botton, all really inspired me. I don’t want to be the person who influences young people to go get high and become cliche tragic artists,” he says. “What I’d rather convey to people is that they’re not alone in what they think and how they feel. ‘Ego’ specifically and the album overall is about those themes — letting go of your bullshit so you can help other people and be present.”

“We want to be part of a community,” he adds. “I wrote online about being sober for a year, and I had kids from all over writing and asking for advice. One of them said, ‘For the first time I can remember, I didn’t drink last night.’ I thought, for once, maybe we did something besides sell a record. That’s a win. That’s incredibly exciting.”

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Wolf Parade “Thin Mind Loser” (Sub Pop)

2020-01-23T21:27:41+00:00January 23rd, 2020|

Wolf Parade – Dan Boeckner, Spencer Krug, and Arlen Thompson – will release Thin Mind, the group’s fifth album for Sub Pop, on January 24th, 2020. The 10-track record was recorded by John Goodmanson at Risque Disque on Vancouver Island, BC, mixed by Goodmanson at Bogroll Studios in Seattle, WA, and mastered by Noah Mintz at Lacquer Channel Mastering in Toronto, ON.

Thin Mind has sci-fi, post-apocalyptic and dystopian narratives interwoven throughout. These themes emerged while working at Risque Disque, which Boeckner jokingly describes as a Dutchman’s failed utopia, a problematic structure with a post-apocalyptic vibe: the studio is housed in a stone barn hand-built by the Dutchman in the middle of the woods, using local materials and based on his memory of a building he loved growing up in the Netherlands. Thin Mind finds the core members of Wolf Parade working as a trio, as they did on past albums Apologies to the Queen Mary and At Mount Zoomer, with songwriting duties evenly split between singers Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug. The album includes the singles “Forest Green,” “Julia, Take Your Man Home,” and “Against the Day,” the latter of which features a rare, co-vocal performance from Boeckner and Krug.

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Omni “Networker” (Sub Pop)

2019-11-08T04:43:41+00:00November 8th, 2019|

Enter Networker, the new album by Omni and first with indie giant Sub Pop Records. Their sound is still defined by sparse drums, locked-in bass, blistering guitar, and nonchalant, yet assured vocals, but from the first notes of “Sincerely Yours” you’ll immediately notice that Networker sounds much cleaner and more “HI-FI” than their prior two albums, Deluxe (2016) and Multi-task (2017). The departure in fidelity suits the new record and allows the listener to enjoy the nuances of their meticulous arrangements. Don’t worry, the riffs of Gang of Four and Wire are still present, but the production is more lush and the harmony is even more expansive. Despite nods to the sounds of the ’70s and ’80s what comes through is a record fully rooted in the here and now. Thematically, this is apparent on the title track “Networker” taking a candid snapshot of the “digital you” aspect of life in the age of the internet. The otherwise fun romp “Skeleton Key” also acknowledges the “direct message and obsessive” side of social media with lines like “if you don’t like what you see, the pretty face on the screen, scroll on by…”

Networker was written half between tours and half during recording sessions. The band, Philip Frobos on bass/vocals and Frankie Broyles on guitars/drums/keys, returned with longtime collaborator Nathaniel Higgins to the studio in South Georgia where they also recorded Multi-task and most recent single “Delicacy.” In this case, the “studio” is a cabin near Vienna, GA (pronounced Vye-anna) that was built by Frankie Broyles’ great-grandparents in the 1940s. The band completed four sessions between November 2018 and April 2019. Omni hit their stride in the cabin with songs such as “Moat,” which cruises along at a nice mid-tempo clip with sounds that are maybe piano or maybe the “behind the bridge” strings of a Jaguar a la Sonic Youth or This Heat. “Blunt Force” provides a nice contrast to some of the more upbeat cuts, getting jazzy with it’s less traditional arrangement and psychedelic outro.

Overall, Networker is simultaneously fun, catchy, and contains some truly impressive musicianship. This combo is especially hard to pull off as bands that are great players often don’t have great or memorable songs. Omni and Nathaniel Higgins have done a stellar job of reigning in their diverse influences into a cohesive record by curating their sounds into a tight package that leaves you just on the cusp of understanding where the band is coming from, while still feeling like you’re hearing something totally fresh. While their earlier records had more of a “post-punk” sound, Networker is an amalgamation of the best sounds of the ’70s and ’80s, all arranged with (mostly) guitars, bass, and drums for our contemporary age, and it really works! There are hooks everywhere, vocal and instrumental, that will leave you humming along, even during the first listen. As Philip Frobos says in “Present Tense,” “guess who’s on my mind right now?” Well, Omni’s on mine and will be on yours soon.

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Clipping “There Existed An Addiction To Blood” (Sub Pop)

2019-10-11T03:17:12+00:00October 11th, 2019|

The science-fiction visionary Octavia Butler once declared that “there is nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns.” The aphorism could apply to any art form where the basic contours are fixed, but the appetite for innovation remains infinite. Enter Clipping, flash fiction genre masters in a hip-hop world firmly rooted in memoir. If first person confessionals historically reign, the mid-city Los Angeles trio of rapper Daveed Diggs and producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes have spent the last half-decade terraforming their own patch of soil, replete with conceptual labyrinths and industrial chaos. They have conjured a mutant emanation of the future, built at odd angles atop the hallowed foundation of the past.

Their third album for Sub Pop, There Existed an Addiction to Blood, finds them interpreting another rap splinter sect through their singular lens. This is clipping’s transmutation of horrorcore, a purposefully absurdist and creatively significant sub-genre that flourished in the mid-90s. If some of its most notable pioneers included Brotha Lynch Hung and Gravediggaz, it also encompasses seminal works from the Geto Boys, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, and the near-entirety of classic Memphis cassette tape rap.

The most subversive and experimental rap has often presented itself as an “alternative” to conventional sounds, but Clipping respectfully warp them into new constellations. There Existed an Addiction to Blood absorbs the hyper-violent horror tropes of the Murder Dog era, but re-imagines them in a new light: still darkly-tinted and somber, but in a weirder and more vivid hue. If traditional horrorcore was akin to Blacula, the hugely popular blaxploitation flick from the early 70s, Clipping’s latest is analogous to Ganja & Hess, the blood-sipping 1973 cult classic regarded as an unsung landmark of black independent cinema, whose score the band samples on “Blood of the Fang.”

Clipping’s last album, the 2016 afro-futurist dystopian space opus Splendor & Misery was recently named one of Pitchfork’s Best Industrial Albums of All-Time. Commissioned for an episode of “This American Life,” their 2017 single “The Deep” became the inspiration for a novel of the same name, written by Rivers Solomon and published by Saga Press. But it’s their latest masterwork that embodies what the band had been building towards — a work that finds them without peer. This is experimental hip-hop built to bang in a post-apocalyptic club bursting with radiation. It’s horror-core that soaks up past blood and replants it into a different organism, undead but dangerously alive. It is a new sun, blindingly bright and built to burn your retinas.

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Marika Hackman “Any Human Friend” (Sub Pop)

2019-08-16T03:41:51+00:00August 16th, 2019|

“hand solo,” “blow,” “conventional ride”—these are just a few of the cheeky offerings off Any Human Friend, the new album from rock provocateur Marika Hackman. “This whole record is me diving into myself and peeling back the skin further and further, exposing myself in quite a big way. It can be quite sexual,” Hackman says. “It’s blunt, but not offensive. It’s mischievous.” There’s also depth to her carnal knowledge: Any Human Friend is ultimately about how, as she puts it, “We all have this lightness and darkness in us.”

Hackman lifted the album’s title from a documentary about four-year-olds interacting with dementia patients in senior homes. At one point, two little girls confer about their experience there, with one musing on how it’s great to make “any human friend,” whether old or young. “When she said that it really touched a nerve in me,” says the London-based musician. “It’s that childlike view where we really accept people, are comfortable with their differences.”

Such introspection has earned Hackman her name. Her folkie 2015 debut, We Slept at Last, was heralded for being nuanced and atmospheric. She really found her footing with her last release, I’m Not Your Man—which earned raves from The Guardian, Stereogum, and Pitchfork—and its sybaritic, swaggering hit “Boyfriend,” which boasts of seducing away a straight guy’s girlfriend. “Her tactile lyrics keep the songs melodically strong and full of surprises,” remarked Pitchfork. We’ll say!

Hackman bookends Any Human Friend with some of her most unexpected musical turns. The first song she wrote, “the one” (technically its second track), is “probably the poppiest song I’ve ever written,” she says. “It’s about that weird feeling of starting the process again from scratch.” To that end, it features a riot grrrl Greek chorus hurling such insults at her as, “You’re such an attention whore!” The title track closes out the album and explores how, “when we’re interacting with people, it’s like holding a mirror up to yourself.” It’s a weightless coda that’s jazz-like in its layering of rhythmic sounds as if you’re leisurely sorting through Hackman’s headspace.

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Shannon Lay “August” (Sub Pop)

2019-08-16T03:41:50+00:00August 16th, 2019|

There is an entire sub-genre of poetry devoted to rivers and their persistent, meditative flow. Emily Dickinson’s “My River Runs to Thee” compares them to the cycle of life, while Alfred Tennyson’s “The Brook” deems them eternal and Kathleen Raine’s “The River” muses on the dream-state they evoke. For transcendent folk-pop artist Shannon Lay, the river is all of the above: It’s the metaphor driving her latest album, the exquisitely uplifting August (Sub Pop Records, out August, 23rd)—which doubles as an aural baptism renewing her purpose for making music. “I always picture music as this river. Everyone’s throwing things into this river, it’s a place you can go to and feed off of that energy,” she says, “and feel nourished by the fact that so many people are feeling what you’re feeling. It’s this beautiful exchange.”

The album’s name, August, refers to the month in 2017 when Lay quit her day job and fully gave herself over to music. This was her liberation as an artist, and the album is devoted to paying that forward to her listeners. “It’s a thank you to the universe,” says the L.A. artist. The title track is a mystical, folk-psych expression that builds into a gentle gallop. “Open the doors that you cannot,” she sings with a feathery lightness. Notes Lay: “Everyone is capable of so much, but we have a tendency to stand in our own way.” The steady movement of the song captures the rapids of a river. “I was thinking about creating something with momentum,” she continues. “I started out with just the guitar and Laena Geronimo came in and added that gorgeous drone and when Nick Murray put his drum touch in there it was exactly what I never knew it would be.”

Lay may be the most chilled-out artist you’ll ever meet. Despite fronting her tranquil solo act and being a guitarist/singer in the indie-rock band Feels, she never pressures herself to overachieve. (Even though she regularly does—in a glowing review, Pitchfork anointed her last album, Living Water “captivating.”) “I learned to not beat myself up if I’m not writing all the time,” she says. “Music really does come in these waves of inspiration.” During the album’s graceful finale, “The Dream,” Lay addresses embracing uncertainty. “I’ve always felt like a lucky person, life is a dream and it is yours to manipulate. Create the world you want to live in, create your own reality, create your path. We have so much more control that we could ever imagine.”

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Sleepyhead “Lala Lala” (Sub Pop)

2019-08-16T03:41:48+00:00August 16th, 2019|

Recorded in a basement over the course of five days during a typically-inhospitable Midwestern winter, Sleepyhead is an auspicious—if, at the time, criminally overlooked—debut effort from the young songwriter Lillie West and her then-lineup of supporting players (Abby Black on drums and Karl Bernasconi on bass).

Unlike 2018’s critically-acclaimed The Lamb, Sleepyhead is a rawer, more punked-up album with fewer lyrical metaphors obfuscating it’s intimate, direct emotionality. Committed to tape in an urgent outburst of creative energy, the self-produced record eschews overdubs and takes unfussy aim at the listener’s ears, heart, and the lump in their throat.

Album standout “Fuck With Your Friends” was a breakthrough moment for West—it was the first song she ever wrote, one that tumbled out of her fully-formed, setting her on the path that’s led to her recent successes. Its also emblematic of Sleepyhead’s confessionalism and fearless forthrightness: “I drink more than I want to ‘cause it makes you easier to talk to / And what you’re saying is boring,” West sings.

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Metz “Automat” (Sub Pop)

2019-07-18T23:15:07+00:00July 18th, 2019|

METZ, our own widely-adored and delightfully noisy 3-piece punk band from Toronto (ON, CANADA), have been laying waste to stages around the globe for over 10 years. During that tumultuous chunk of time METZ, comprised of Alex Edkins, Hayden Menzies, and Chris Slorach, have cemented their reputation as one of the planet’s most exhilarating live acts and trusted providers of bombastic outsider rock.

Along the way, they’ve earned enthusiastic support from The New Yorker, Mojo, NPR, The New York Times, KEXP, The Guardian, Pitchfork, Stereogum, NME, The AV Club, Q, Uncut, Exclaim, DIY and a whole bunch of others . Referring to the trio’s tireless tour regime and unquenchable thirst to bring their music to the people, John Reis (Hot Snakes, RFTC, Drive Like Jehu) once said, “your ambition is really unflattering, chill out.” They did not listen. Instead, their love of the road and passion to create uncompromising and challenging music remains unwavering and has only grown over time.  Their recorded output to date, a cornucopia of pop-inflected noise punk and damaged fuzz anthems, includes 3 critically-acclaimed LPs with Sub Pop, as well as a plethora of limited-edition releases, collaborations, covers, and rarities.

Which brings us to Automat… Automat is a collection of METZ non-album singles, B-sides, and rarities dating back to 2009, available on LP for the first time, and including the band’s long out-of-print early (pre-Sub Pop) recordings. And Automat is a chronological trip through the lesser known material of METZ.

Included here are the band’s first three 7” singles, recorded 2009-2010 and originally released by We Are Busy Bodies Records; a demo version of “Wet Blanket,” the explosive single from 2012’s METZ; two tracks from the limited-edition bonus single that accompanied preorders of METZ; “Can’t Understand,” originally released in 2013 by [adult swim]; and both tracks from the band’s 2015 single on Three One G.

Consumers of the vinyl format of Automat will be rewarded with a bonus single that includes three additional tracks: a cover of Sparklehorse’s “Pig,” from a very limited 2012 Record Store Day split single originally released by Toronto’s Sonic Boom record shop; “I’m a Bug,” a cover of The Urinals’ art-punk classic, originally released on YouTube (not an actual record label) in 2014; and METZ’s previously unreleased rendition of Gary Numan’s “M.E.” All tracks on Automat have been lovingly remastered for maximum soundiness by Matthew Barnhart at Chicago Mastering Service.

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Preservation Hall Jazz Band “So It Is” (Sub Pop)

2019-07-18T23:15:07+00:00July 18th, 2019|

PHJB marches that tradition forward once again on So It Is, the septet’s second release featuring all-new original music. The album redefines what New Orleans music means in 2017 by tapping into a sonic continuum that stretches back to the city’s Afro-Cuban roots, through its common ancestry with the Afrobeat of Fela Kuti and the Fire Music of Pharoah Sanders and John Coltrane, and forward to cutting-edge artists with whom the PHJB have shared festival stages from Coachella to Newport, including legends like Stevie Wonder, Elvis Costello and the Grateful Dead and modern giants like My Morning Jacket, Arcade Fire and the Black Keys.

So It Is finds the classic PHJB sound invigorated by a number of fresh influences, not least among them the band’s 2015 life-changing trip to Cuba. A visit to the island, so integral to the evolution of jazz and New Orleans culture in general, had long been in the works when President Obama’s diplomatic opening suddenly allowed for a more extensive journey than had originally seemed possible.

“When the restrictions were lifted,” says bandleader/composer/bassist Ben Jaffe, “It was no longer just about going down there and playing a concert. We were able to explore a bit more, which profoundly impacted the band not just musically but personally. In Cuba, all of a sudden we were face to face with our musical counterparts. There’s been a connection between Cuba and New Orleans since day one – we’re family. A gigantic light bulb went off and we realized that New Orleans music is not just a thing by itself; it’s part of something much bigger. It was almost like having a religious epiphany.”

Producer David Sitek, a founder of art rock innovators TV on the Radio who has helmed projects by Kelis, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Santigold among others, offered both a keen modern perspective and a profound respect for the band’s storied history. Upon arriving in New Orleans to meet with the band, Sitek recalls he and Jaffe accidentally stumbling into one of the city’s famed second-line parades. “I was struck by the visceral energy of the live music all around, this spontaneous joy, everything so immediate,” he says. “I knew I had to make sure that feeling came out of the studio. It needed to be alive. It needed to sound dangerous.”

For those wary that a band with the rich history of the PHJB is tackling new material, Jaffe is quick to point out that Preservation Hall – which his parents, Allan and Sandra Jaffe, founded in 1961 – was never meant to be a museum. At its beginnings it broke racial boundaries to present the living legends of New Orleans music, living links to the origins of jazz. Today, with a band whose ages range nearly 60 years, the mission remains the same: to pass on the traditions while continually revitalizing it with new blood and fresh ideas.

“I see it as something that’s necessary for the evolution and survival of New Orleans music,” Jaffe says. “Interpreting the repertoire that’s been around for a hundred years is one thing, but the challenge is to keep that repertoire and those traditions alive while at the same time being honest about who you are as a musician, allowing all of your musical influences to be reflected in what you create.”

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Preservation Hall Jazz Band “That’s It” (Sub Pop)

2019-07-18T23:15:07+00:00July 18th, 2019|

At a moment when musical streams are crossing with unprecedented frequency, it’s crucial to remember that throughout its history, New Orleans has been the point at which sounds and cultures from around the world converge, mingle, and resurface, transformed by the Crescent City’s inimitable spirit and joie de vivre. Nowhere is that idea more vividly embodied than in the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, which has held the torch of New Orleans music aloft for more than 50 years, all the while carrying it enthusiastically forward as a reminder that the history they were founded to preserve is a vibrantly living history.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s That’s It! (2013) is an eclectic album that draws on the collective experience of players nurtured in the New Orleans tradition but determined to build something fresh and exciting on that foundation. It marks an important milestone in PHJB Creative Director Ben Jaffe’s crusade to carry forward the Hall’s original mission while making it relevant to today’s audiences.” For his part, co-producer Jim James (My Morning Jacket) is convinced that the PHJB has a future as vibrant as its past: “The music will speak forever,” he says. “Will people stop listening to Beethoven? Will people stop listening to Bob Dylan? Will people stop listening to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band?”

So It Is (2017) finds the classic Preservation Hall Jazz Band sound invigorated by a number of fresh influences, not least among them the band’s 2015 life-changing trip to Cuba. A visit to the island, so integral to the evolution of jazz and New Orleans culture in general, had long been in the works when President Obama’s diplomatic opening suddenly allowed for a more extensive journey than had originally seemed possible. Producer David Sitek, a founder of art rock innovators TV on the Radio who has helmed projects by Kelis, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Santigold among others, offered both a keen modern perspective and a profound respect for the band’s storied history.

Both albums are now back in print on vinyl and CD via Sub Pop, which signed Preservation Hall Jazz Band in 2018, and will soon be releasing new music by the band.

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Kyle Craft “Showboat Honey” (Sub Pop)

2019-07-18T23:14:46+00:00July 18th, 2019|

There is this curious equilibrium to existence: In order to create balance, the universe must giveth, and the universe must taketh. Kyle Craft, along with his now solidified backing band dubbed Showboat Honey, know this all too well. And this is why their self-titled album, the contemplative yet restless Showboat Honey (Sub Pop Records, July 12th, 2019) reflects that sturm und drang. “This is basically an album centered around bad luck and good fortune hitting at the same time,” Craft explains “Then, out of nowhere, I find love. Everything went to shit except that. I guess that’s how life works.”

The sticky-sweet title of the album is lifted from the brightly choral “Buzzkill Caterwaul” (“Once you were the showboat honey/ But your ship sailed out”). “I wanted to make something that sounded like a raucous collision of Leon Russell and Patti Smith,” he says, “But ‘Buzzkill Caterwaul’ was the only tune that ended up showcasing that vision.”

Though aesthetics veer from song to song, Showboat Honey’s steadfast formula remains the same. Drummer Haven Mutlz holds down the machine with a ’60s/’70s fast-molasses groove that locks in with the slinky rolling bass of Billy Slater. When Kevin Clark isn’t bouncing across the piano, his mellotron strings swell in and out of frame. Jack of all trades Ben Steinmetz’s organ parts well up from the deep of the songs, while lead guitarist Jeremy Kale’s solos rip through them like electricity. On top of it all, sits the tongue-in-cheek phantasmagoria created by Craft’s lyrics.

After years of touring, two LPs with Sub Pop Records, and solidifying the band, he’s since grown into a prodigious songwriter, to say the least. The band recorded Showboat Honey—co-produced by Craft, Clark, and Slater—at their own Moonbase Studios in Portland over 2018. “We approached this record differently for sure,” Craft says. “I’d make a demo, and after putting the songs together, shoot it to the band for ideas.” Tracks such as “Broken Mirror Pose” ended up being highly collaborative, while others settled into Craft’s original vision. “Deathwish Blue,” for instance, was tracked in a similar fashion to his solo debut, Dolls of Highland, with Craft tracking every instrument by himself.

Kyle and the members of Showboat Honey worked at such a feverish wine-fueled pace that they actually ended up with two completely different albums. But at the end of the day, they decided to combine the two into what is now Showboat Honey, a moonstruck rock ’n’ roll record teeming with reckless abandon.

“We thought we had the album done at one point. But at the last minute, I was like, ‘Shit, this isn’t the album. This isn’t it,’” Kyle says. “It was just a gut feeling. I’m glad for that because I feel like I ended up writing some of the best songs I’ve ever written.”

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Weyes Blood “Titanic Rising” (Sub Pop)

2019-04-05T03:00:48+00:00April 5th, 2019|

The phantom zone, the parallax, the upside down—there is a rich cultural history of exploring in-between places. Through her latest, Titanic Rising, Weyes Blood (a.k.a. Natalie Mering) has, too, designed her own universe to soulfully navigate life’s mysteries. Maneuvering through a space-time continuum, she intriguingly plays the role of melodic, sometimes melancholic, anthropologist.

Tellingly, Mering classifies Titanic Rising as the Kinks meet WWII or Bob Seger meets Enya. The latter captures the album’s willful expansiveness (“You can tell there’s not a guy pulling the strings in Enya’s studio,” she notes, admiringly). The former relays her imperative to connect with listeners. “The clarity of Bob Seger is unmistakable. I’m a big fan of conversational songwriting,” she adds. “I just try to do that in a way that uses abstract imagery as well.”

Titanic Rising, written and recorded during the first half of 2018, is the culmination of three albums and years of touring: stronger chops and ballsier decisions. It’s an achievement in transcendent vocals and levitating arrangements—one she could reach only by flying under the radar for so many years. “I used to want to belong,” says the L.A. based musician. “I realized I had to forge my own path. Nobody was going to do that for me. That was liberating. I became a Joan of Arc solo musician.”

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Shana Cleveland “Night Of The Worm Moon” (Sub Pop)

2019-04-05T03:00:47+00:00April 5th, 2019|

Shana Cleveland has been beguiling listeners for years in her role as the superlative frontwoman for elastic surf rockers La Luz. Now Cleveland is evolving her sound on the new solo full-length Night of the Worm Moon, a serene album that flows like a warm current while simultaneously wresting open a portal to another dimension.

As much a work of California sci-fi as Octavia Butler’s Parable novels, Night of the Worm Moon incorporates everything from alternate realities to divine celestial bodies. Inspired in part by one of her musical idols, the Afro-futurist visionary Sun Ra (the album’s title is a tip of the hat to his 1970 release Night of the Purple Moon), the record blends pastoral folk with cosmic concerns.

Cleveland dreamt up this premise while living in Los Angeles, a city where–as deftly explored on La Luz’s recent Floating Features–reality and fantasy casually co-exist. One particularly evocative scene laid the groundwork for Night of the Worm Moon’s psychedelic undercurrents. As Cleveland tells it, “Shortly after I moved to Los Angeles I went to a hip hotel to watch a poolside screening of a documentary about a local alien-worshiping cult. Out front celebrities were getting out of the backs of cars and rushing past autograph hounds into some roped-off room where a secret dinner was about to commence. In the lobby a woman was being paid to exist inside a glass box. [Then] a car dressed as a spaceship pulled up in front to release 30 white doves into the sky above Sunset Boulevard.”

Appropriately enough, Night of the Worm Moon was recorded during a rare cosmic occurrence: 2017’s solar eclipse. “We took a break from recording during [the] totality and looked at the sun’s image through a piece of cardboard projecting onto a garbage can,” Cleveland says. “When we came back inside the studio was covered in dozens of tiny crescent suns, refracted from a mirrored disco ball that [engineer Johnny Goss] had hanging in a window.” Abetting Cleveland during the recording process was a familiar gallery of co-conspirators: multi-instrumentalist Will Sprott of Shannon & the Clams, original La Luz bassist Abbey Blackwell, Goss, pedal steel player Olie Eshelman, and Kristian Garrard, who drummed on Cleveland’s previous solo effort (with then-backing band The Sandcastles), 2011’s Oh Man, Cover the Ground.

But whereas that album was internal and contemplative, Night of the Worm Moon occupies a different, vibrant kind of headspace. UFO sightings, insect carcasses, and twilight dimensions are all grist for Cleveland’s restless creativity, and they and other inspirations collide beautifully on the album’s 10 kaleidoscopic tracks–a spacebound transmission from America’s weirdo frontier.

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Orville Peck “Pony” (Sub Pop)

2019-03-22T03:32:39+00:00March 22nd, 2019|

Combining the lulling ambiance of shoegaze with the iconic melodies and vocal prowess of classic American country music, outlaw cowboy, Orville Peck croons about love and loss from the badlands of North America. The resulting sound is entirely his own. He takes the listener down desert highways, through a world where worn out gamblers, road-dogs, and lovesick hustlers drift in and out of his masked gaze. Orville’s debut album, Pony, delivers a diverse collection of stories that sing of heartbreak, revenge and the unrelenting tug of the cowboy ethos. Warm lap steel guitars and echoing drums move through dreamy ballads and sometimes near frantic buzzsaw tunes – all the while paying homage to his country music roots.

Pony’s lead single “Dead of Night” is a torch song about two hustlers traveling through Nevada desert. Their whirlwind romance takes us on a dusty trail of memories – racing down canyon highways, hitchhiking through casino towns and ultimately, ending in tragedy. Orville recalls the adventures of his young love, as he watches the boys silently pass him on the strip, haunted by the happy memories of his past. On the campfire lullaby, “Big Sky,” Orville sings about his past lovers – an aloof biker, an abusive boxer and an overly protective jailor in the Florida Keys – and the inevitable demise of each one, as he leaves them for the wide open, big sky.

Meanwhile “Turn To Hate” finds Orville struggling to keep his resentment from building into hatred. A continuous battle between embracing the strength and freedom of being an outsider, and the inevitable struggle of wanting normalcy and familiarity. It encapsulates Orville’s dilemma as a cowboy. He sings about having to constantly repair situations in his wake, and fighting with himself over his decision making. To stay or go; to cry or not; whether to leave without saying goodbye in order to soften the blow; All the while wishing someone would tell him that they “can’t stay,” and to make the decision for him. And “Buffalo Run” acts as a warning, a song built around the imagery of stampeding buffalo in the badlands of the Northern Plains. It’s one that begins peacefully enough but soon transcends into a kinetic charge that crescendos as the buffalo are headed off the cliffside.

Pony was produced by Orville Peck, recorded and mixed by Jordan Koop at The Noise Floor on Gabriola Island, British Columbia and mastered by Harris Newman at Grey Market Mastering in Montreal, Quebec.

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Iron & Wine “Our Endless Numbered Days” (Sub Pop)

2019-03-22T03:32:39+00:00March 22nd, 2019|

A newly expanded deluxe edition of “Our Endless Numbered Days”. This version will feature eight previously never before heard demos, new artwork, and a 12-page booklet including liner notes from author Amanda Petrusich.

Sam Beam, aka Iron & Wine, released Our Endless Numbered Days, his second album, in March of 2004. It followed his seemingly out of nowhere debut arrival, The Creek Drank the Cradle (2002) which was a quiet word of mouth treasure. Our Endless Numbered Days was recorded in Chicago and was the first in a string of releases to be produced by Brian Deck (Red Red Meat, Modest Mouse, Ugly Casanova, etc.).

The record, which has sold over 556,000 copies, marked many firsts for Beam both professionally and personally and as Petrusich so rightly calls it in her liner notes “Our Endless Numbered Days is a timeless record about the passage of time.”

Upon its release SPIN called the record a “masterwork” one that is “self-assured, spellbinding, and richly, refreshingly adult.”  Pitchfork, which gave the original album “Best New Music,” had this to say, “An astoundingly progressive record: Beam has successfully transgressed his cultural pigeonhole without sacrificing any of his dusty allure.”

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Green River “Dry As A Bone” (Sub Pop)

2019-02-08T19:24:47+00:00February 8th, 2019|

The story of Seattle’s rise to global rock supremacy in the late ’80s and early ’90s begins with Green River. Made up of Jeff Ament (bass), Mark Arm (guitar/vocals), Bruce Fairweather (guitar), Stone Gossard (guitar), and Alex Shumway (drums), the quintet put out three 12”s and a 7” single during its brief existence. Green River’s influence on Seattle’s music scene spread far and wide thanks to the members’ dispersion into bands including Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, and Love Battery, as well as the punk-glam-sludge-rock songs they left behind.

“By ‘83, ‘84, there was definitely a movement that was happening within hardcore, like Black Flag slowing down for My War,” says Arm. “The Replacements and Butthole Surfers were rearing their heads, and they’re very different bands, but they’re not hardcore—the Replacements are pretty much straight-up rock, and Butthole Surfers were God knows what. Sonic Youth’s Bad Moon Rising was around, and a lot of really interesting post-hardcore things were happening.”

Dry As A Bone was recorded at Jack Endino’s Reciprocal Recording in 1986, and it shows the band in furious form, with Arm’s yowl battling Fairweather and Gossard’s ferocious guitar playing on “This Town” and “Unwind” opening as a slow bluesy grind then jump-starting itself into a hyperactive chase. The deluxe edition includes Green River’s cuts from the crucial Seattle-scene compilation Deep Six, as well as long-lost songs that were recorded to the now-archaic format Betamax.

Green River’s place in American music history is without question, but these recordings paint a more complete picture of the band—and of rock in the mid- to late-’80s, when punk’s faster-and-louder ideals had begun shape-shifting into other ideas.

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Green River “Rehab Doll” (Sub Pop)

2019-02-08T19:24:47+00:00February 8th, 2019|

The story of Seattle’s rise to global rock supremacy in the late ’80s and early ’90s begins with Green River. Made up of Jeff Ament (bass), Mark Arm (guitar/vocals), Bruce Fairweather (guitar), Stone Gossard (guitar), and Alex Shumway (drums), the quintet put out three 12”s and a 7” single during its brief existence. Green River’s influence on Seattle’s music scene spread far and wide thanks to the members’ dispersion into bands including Pearl Jam, Mudhoney,  and Love Battery, as well as the punk-glam-sludge-rock songs they left behind.

“By ‘83, ‘84, there was definitely a movement that was happening within hardcore, like Black Flag slowing down for My War,” says Arm. “The Replacements and Butthole Surfers were rearing their heads, and they’re very different bands, but they’re not hardcore—the Replacements are pretty much straight-up rock, and Butthole Surfers were God knows what. Sonic Youth’s Bad Moon Rising was around, and a lot of really interesting post-hardcore things were happening.”

Rehab Doll, recorded largely at Seattle’s Steve Lawson Studios., bridges the gap between the taut, punky energy of Dry As a Bone and the bigger drums and thicker riffs that were coming to dominate rock in the late ’80s. This new edition of Rehab Doll includes a version of “Swallow My Pride” recorded to 8-track at Endino’s Reciprocal Recording, which features a more accurate depiction of how the band sounded when they played live. “When I listen to these mixes, I think, ‘This is how we actually sounded—this is the kind of energy we had,’” says Shumway.

Green River’s place in American music history is without question, but these recordings paint a more complete picture of the band—and of rock in the mid- to late-’80s, when punk’s faster-and-louder ideals had begun shape-shifting into other ideas.

 

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J Mascis “Elastic Days” (Sub Pop)

2018-11-09T15:48:39+00:00November 9th, 2018|

Elastic Days was recorded at J’s own Bisquiteen studio. Mascis does almost all his own stunts, although Ken Miauri (who also appeared on Tied to a Star) plays keyboards and there are a few guest vocal spots. These include old mates Pall Jenkins (Black Heart Procession), and Mark Mulcahy (Miracle Legion, etc.), as well as the newly added voice of Zoë Randell (Luluc)  among others. But the show is mostly J’s and J’s alone.

Elastic Days brims with great moments. Epic hooks that snare you in surprisingly subtle ways, guitar textures that slide against each other like old lovers, and structures that range from a neo-power-ballad (“Web So Dense”) to jazzily-canted West Coasty post-psych (“Give It Off”) to a track that subliminally recalls the keyboard approach of Scott Thurston-era Stooges (“Drop Me”). The album plays out with a combination of holism and variety that is certain to set many brains ablaze.

J says he’ll be taking this album on the road later in the year. He’ll be playing by himself, but unlike other solo tours he says he’ll be standing up this time. “I used to just sit down and build a little fort around myself – amps, music stands, drinks stands, all that stuff. But I just realized it sounds better if the amps are higher up because I’m so used to playing with stacks. So I’ll stand this time.” I ask if it’s not pretty weird to stand alone on a big stage. “Yeah,” he says. “But it’s weird sitting down too.” Ha. Good point. One needs to be elastic. In all things.

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Helio Sequence “Keep Your Eyes Ahead” (Sub Pop)

2018-11-09T15:48:39+00:00November 9th, 2018|

After 3 albums and ten years of touring and recording, The Helio Sequence (Brandon Summers and Benjamin Weikel) have recorded their most dynamic, extraordinary work to date. Keep Your Eyes Ahead marries the Portland duo’s signature layered keyboards and impossibly big guitars with crisp songwriting and a newfound appreciation for minimalism. The finger picking on “Shed Your Love” is backed by exquisite strings and ambient noise, but Brandon’s serene, self-assured delivery remains front and center. While songs from the band’s early releases spanned up to 7 minutes, even the longest, lushest, catchiest track on Keep Your Eyes Ahead (fiery anthem “Hallelujah”) clocks in at 4 and a half minutes, evidence of just how refined their craft has become. Vocals were recorded spontaneously in bedroom closets and living rooms, which may explain the haunting urgency you hear in Brandon’s voice, especially on driving tracks like “Keep Your Eyes Ahead.” The band also took its time on the album. After the bulk of official recording was completed, a listen through all the demos and snippets on Brandon’s hard drive convinced Benjamin there were more gems in the rough (which is how both “Hallelujah” and “Keep Your Eyes Ahead,” as well as the mid-tempo “Back to This” were rediscovered and retooled).

Produced by the band, Keep Your Eyes Ahead confirms in The Helio Sequence an energy and a range that continues to defy narrow categorization. Unapologetic pop and folk meld seamlessly to create songs that are bigger, more epic and polished than anything they’ve ever done. Keep Your Eyes Ahead is the sound of a band and a decade-old partnership that’s been invigorated. And that’s exactly how the songs will make you feel: invigorated.

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Low “Double Negative” (Sub Pop)

2018-09-14T01:27:31+00:00September 14th, 2018|

In 2018, Low will turn twenty-five. Since 1993, Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker—the married couple whose heaven-and-earth harmonies have always held the band’s center—have pioneered a subgenre, shrugged off its strictures, recorded a Christmas classic, become a magnetic onstage force, and emerged as one of music’s most steadfast and vital vehicles for pulling light from our darkest emotional recesses. But Low will not commemorate its first quarter-century with mawkish nostalgia or safe runs through songbook favorites. Instead, in faithfully defiant fashion, Low will release its most brazen, abrasive (and, paradoxically, most empowering) album ever: Double Negative, an unflinching eleven-song quest through snarling static and shattering beats that somehow culminates in the brightest pop song of Low’s career.

To make Double Negative, Low reenlisted B.J. Burton, the quietly energetic and adventurous producer who has made records with James Blake, Sylvan Esso, and The Tallest Man on Earth in recent years while working as one of the go-to figures at Bon Iver’s home studio, April Base.

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Knife Knights “1 Time Mirage” (Sub Pop)

2018-09-14T01:27:31+00:00September 14th, 2018|

Knife Knights were born of the love of mystery. From the start of Shabazz Palaces – the groundbreaking project launched in 2009 by former-Digable Planets leader Ishmael Butler – confidentiality seemed essential: Butler wanted Shabazz Palaces to stand on its own strength, not his outsized reputation, so he adopted a nom de plume for himself. As the project’s network expanded, though, he needed new monikers for his partnerships. Knife Knights is the name he gave to his work with Seattle engineer, producer, songwriter, and film composer Erik Blood, a vital force in the Shabazz Palaces universe. Now, after more than a decade of collaboration and the development of a rich friendship, Butler and Blood have made a proper full-length record together as Knife Knights: 1 Time Mirage, an eleven-track odyssey that finds the pair and a cast of their friends weaving together a singular world of soul and shoegaze, hip-hop and lush noise, bass and bedlam. 1 Time Mirage represents a playground for Butler and Blood, a free space for unfettered exploration, and a radically adventurous start to something much more than a mere production duo or side project.

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Blitzen Trapper “Furr – Deluxe Edition” (Sub Pop)

2018-09-14T01:27:30+00:00September 14th, 2018|

It was on September 23, 2008 that Blitzen Trapper, after putting out three albums on its own label, released its fourth full-length album, Furr, via Sub Pop. At that time, it was a record that captured exactly where the band’s frontman, Eric Earley, found himself, both literally and metaphorically, geographically and existentially. Not that the Portland-based musician actually remembers much about the creation of the record’s 13 intriguing, spellbinding songs. Or, more specifically, what its songs actually mean, either now or then. Instead, Furr, stands as a kind of tribute and elegy to the city that inspired it, but that, a decade later, no longer exists.

“What I was trying to do with those recordings,” explains Earley, “was capture this kind of atmosphere that I was feeling and which pervaded the city at that time. I think I was attempting to capture what Portland was at the time and what it felt like to me. That city is gone now. Old Portland, we call it, but Old Portland has disappeared. But this record gives me the feeling of those times and this city— when it was poor and dumpy and really drug-addled. And it also captures the magic of the outlying rural areas that has slowly changed as well.”

A decade on from the release of Furr, has released five more critically acclaimed and achingly beautiful records. The band hasn’t loosened its ambitions, either. In 2017, the band put together Wild And Reckless a full-production theater event that ran for a month at Portland’s Center Stage theater and which also spawned last year’s full-length of the same name. There are plenty of plans for the future in the works, too. But for now, just for a little while, it’s time to revel in the joy and sorrow of a time and place that no longer exists—except of course, in a few hearts and minds, and in these wonderfully wistful songs.

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Iron and Wine “Weed Garden” (Sub Pop)

2018-08-31T00:03:53+00:00August 31st, 2018|

Iron & Wine follow up their 2018 Grammy-nominated full-length Beast Epic with Weed Garden, a collection of material that began about three years ago. The six-song EP features songs that were part of the writing phase for Beast Epic, but went unfinished. They were part of a larger narrative for principal songwriter Sam Beam, who ran out of time to get them where they needed to be for inclusion on Beast Epic. Weed Garden also includes the fan favorite “Waves of Galveston.”

While on tour in the fall of 2017, the final pieces of material took shape and a sense of urgency prevailed in bringing these characters full circle. To resolution. To completion. In January of 2018, Beam and company hunkered down in Chicago at The Loft recording studio to capture these six songs.  No more, no less.

Weed Garden joins the good company of previous Iron & Wine EP’s – The Sea & the Rhythm, Woman King, In the Reins – and in 2018’s attention-span challenged world that’s not a bad thing.

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