Reviewed: Arcade Fire at The Greek Theatre

originally published on

Last Thursday's Greek Theatre show marked the first of three final appearances by Arcade Fire before the band takes an extended hiatus in preparation for their next record, and the send-off was highlighted by a playthrough of their first album Funeral in its entirety. Emerging onstage in formal wear and a Funeral-esque patch of artwork illuminated behind them, the group opened with "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" as small specks of "snow" started to fall from high above the crowd. The album turned 14 this year and although Win Butler conceded that the band wasn't the "sentimental type," they felt the need to share the occasion with fans. Despite this being a continuation of their Everything Now tour, the cover-to-cover playthrough couldn't have come at a more fitting time and seemed to really underscore just how much Arcade Fire has evolved from a fledgling indie-rock outfit with a penchant for unpolished baroque compositions.

There's an element of erratic discord that runs through Funeral that sees the band at its most strikingly honest and vulnerable. From Regine Chassagne's piercing howls and French side-steps to the often overlapping medley's of strings, guitars, and warped sonics that buzz and grind themselves against the older Butler's melancholic howls. An album at its core about death and the reeling schism it creates in its aftermath, Funeral unleashes all that dissonance and heartache in a rapturously cathartic manner. Live, Butler and company played it like it was 2004 and the emotion that had inspired it was still raw enough to hear. "Neighborhood #4 (Kettles)" cut deep, with Butler's murmurs etching some woeful but nameless sentiment onto the hearts of the crowd; while the wild passions of "Wake Up" and "Rebellion (Lies)" were, as always, the enigmatic moment of release for many in the crowd. There's a moment that just unhinges you, all the existential weight of whatever you're carrying that you buckle under before realizing it has been obliterated; whether it's in Will Butler's inane stumbling-drumming or Richard Reed Perry's pounding into a massive bass drum, the moment is concussive in its liberation. And then it's weightless; emptied in the night sky in the wordless echo of some chorus, roared away by the hundreds of other people around you while Butler and company stand onstage pointing their microphones outward, wild-eyed and sweating, imploring in earnest to not stop.

The show could've ended right there, but it didn't. Arcade Fire returned after leaving the stage for a few moments to open the second half of their set with the elusive grooves of "Reflektor." With Butler on the edge of the stage and Chassagne now appearing with two dancers across from him in the crowd, the two dueted from across a sea of phone screens gleaming brightly against a shower of sparkles offered by the large disco ball hanging above. The next few songs catered to the band's more electronic endeavors, ripping through the heavy riffs of "Creature Comfort"--a song that features a particularly gutting line about Funeral--and Chassagne's ghostly performance of "Electric Blue."

But the crescendo to their finale belonged to Neon Bible and The Suburbs, two albums that have emerged from their decades-old birth as more relevant than ever in terms of social and political commentary. "Intervention" and "The Suburbs" mirror the current old-world nostalgia for some long-lost notion of "American greatness" in an all too sobering manner, with Butler even changing one of the lines in the latter song to reflect that: "When all of the walls we built in 2018 finally fall." While "My Body is a Cage" continued the reminder that came with Funeral that Arcade Fire's prowess doesn't come from catchy guitar-hooks or sheer rock-bombast but from the visceral melding of lyric and sound.

Yet, with "Wake Up" long gone, there was really only one way they were going to end their set; and as the intro to "Everything Now" began, the band stepped forward once more to let the crowd sing in its melody a few "na-na-na's" as phone lights lit the venue you up like daylight. When the confetti finally exploded from the side of the stage and those opening piano lines thundered to life, the goosebumps returned for the hundredth time that night. Screams of approval came with another line change--"Every inch of space in your head / Is filled up with the things Trump's said"--cementing once more the antithesis of everything the group's music represented. There's an affirmation of life and love strung throughout the band's discography, one that never seems to allow itself to be wiped out completely by whatever fear and hate swirl around it. And these sentiments were never more alive than they were last night.

Reviewed: Courtney Barnett at The Greek Theatre

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There's a moment at the end of, "Avant Gardener," a sleek monologue hitched to the back of a drowsily giddy guitar melody by Australian singer/songwriter Courtney Barnett, that never fails to thumb its way under the skin and tweak the heartstrings. "I’m not that good at breathing in," Barnett wails tiredly into your ear. The line drops absurdly, almost comically, like an anvil from the sky onto your chest. After all, what more fundamental, effortless, and infinitely essential thing could someone be poor at than the act of breathing? It always manages to catch me by surprise in the form of a knot in my throat--but it doesn't exactly come out of nowhere. "Avant Gardener" is bathed in a melancholia that Barnett lets drip, at times in a bitter amusement, throughout her song. She lets it soak everything from the warbling melody to the clever tongue-work it requires to let words like "emphysemin" and "psuedoefedryn" roll glumly out of her mouth--before wringing it all out in that final echoed line.

Barnett obviously has a knack for taking the mundane of Monday morning gardening turned ambulance-ride and transforming it into something touching. "Avant Gardener" was the song that launched her into the early limelight before the release of her debut Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, and it was also one the three songs she chose to open with Friday night at the Greek Theatre. Touring now for her sophomore record Tell Me How You Really Feel, Barnett continues to find reasons to shred and wail in that woozy croon of hers.

There's the fiery "I'm Not Your Mother, I'm Not Your Bitch," where she let her voice crack unabashedly as it crashed against sizzling hammer-ons and head-through-the-wall percussiveness. And songs like "Charity" and "Crippling Self Doubt and a General Lack of Self Confidence" owed themselves fully to Barnett and company's spry buzz of guitar-bass exchanges. But in truth, Barnett found a moment on nearly all of her songs to stagger around onstage, swinging her long legs as she ripped into her guitar before standing up-right and bending backward, pointing the neck of her instrument into the sky as tussles of brown hair whipped around her face.

That hot-blooded passion wrestled often with Barnett's innate pensiveness, never fully subduing it but instead invigorating it into a deeper sentimentality. The blisteringly hot-licks of "History Eraser," a romantic odyssey of some of Barnett's best imagisms, tapped into this mixture in a delirious fashion. And crowd favorite "Elevator Operator" similarly propelled itself on a heady combination of existential angst and a foot-stomping medley, one Barnett encapsulated rather brilliantly in another one of her one-liners: "I'm not suicidal, just idling insignificantly."

But for all her tempestuous, fingerstyle guitar-playing it was the dually humorous and poignant lyricism of her songs that seemed to weigh heavy on the crowd throughout and long after her performance. Just like with "Avant Gardener," it's not just the cutting final word that carried the bulk of Barnett's emotional pressure, but the little narratives she zigzagged a path for along the way. Tucked into the sublime textures of bluesy, folk-inclined pieces like "Small Poppies," or the shrieking guitar lines and howls of "Pedestrian at Best," were moments of such vivid emotionality that was voraciously relatable. Barnett's mind ambles purposefully, overwhelmed by visions of suicidal seals, Irish wolf-hounds with French baguettes on their neck, and a particularly tender line in the sweetly depressing illustrations in "Depreston" of a hand-rail in the shower.

But that mostly introspective style has thrust itself outward with Tell Me How You Really Feel, which has seen Barnett tackle her newfound exposure with questions of self-confidence and honesty in her songwriting. Sure, she clearly has had no problem transitioning from the guarded intimacy of clubs to venues like the Greek Theatre, but it's also easy to see Barnett's quiet presence between songs onstage as an almost bashful shyness. It's not that she's uncomfortable, but it's obvious that she's not there to bask in the stage-lights for any longer than it takes to sing her songs--that's the reason, of course, why she's there. And while that kind of reluctance accentuates her authenticity, it's also revealed a burgeoning confidence. Barnett, after all, has plenty to be proud of; besides being a breakthrough singer/songwriter, she has also founded her own record label in the form of Milk Records and cultivated a successful side-project with Kurt Vile.

Two albums in and the Melbourne singer remains at peak form, while onstage she polishes the humdrum of life with a bit of conversational spit-shine and riff-heavy elbow grease. She might not be coming out swinging with Tell Me How You Really Feel, but the inwardly directed passiveness of her first album seems to have been traded in for a refreshingly bold self-assurance. Case in point in her dealing with critics. "I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup / And spit out better words than you," Barnett sings, recounting an internet commenter's critique of her music on "Nameless, Faceless." Between  sharp commentaries on the stark contrasts between the gendered-concerns of men (getting laughed at by women), and women (being killed in the park), she offers her reply: "But you didn't."

Reviewed: Pearl Charles - "All the Boys"

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Echoing all the veins of pop-rock that call to mind iconoclasts like Fleetwood Mac and their contemporary counterparts in Jenny Lewis and The Preatures, within the first thirty seconds of her new single, "All the Boys," singer/songwriter Pearl Charles immediately establishes herself as a whirlwind of boldly spirited originality. With a voice that cuts cooly through her shimmering melodies, Charles' dreaminess leaves you helplessly entranced in a dizzy allure while percussion gallops and hot guitar licks add sharp bursts of color to her jangle-filled rock world. Comparisons abound in the song's guitar-driven warbles and riffs and the bouncy elasticity of its rhythms (at the risk of beating a dead horse, Mac's "Everywhere" comes to mind melodically and lyrically), yet there's an astute freshness with which Charles juggles the song's dreamy, sleek-pop sexiness and bubbly melancholy that is almost sobering. She leaps and bounds with every silver croon but also remains grounded, caught in a tender heartache that is as self-conscious of the impending tragedy as it is of the sparkling, disco ball of a medley it seems to rally against.

It's not uncommon for artists to draw creatively from eras of music long past but it is rare for one to synthesize that love and fascination with something so ardently authentic. A peek into her previous efforts reveals her running obsession with everything from 60's garage and psychedelia and 70's country rock to 80's soft rock and country disco; influences and tastes that mold songs like "Night Tides" and "Sleepless Dreamer" into the genre-transcendent pieces that they are. If there is one artist you do not miss this year, it needs to be Pearl Charles.

Reviewed: Jen Cloher at The Echo

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Playing to a packed crowd at The Echo on Tuesday night, Australian singer/songwriter Jen Cloher had a night of many firsts. The show itself was the first of her first ever headlining tour in the US and as such, it was her first time playing with both a full band and sharing the stage with her wife Courtney Barnett in the states. As one of the co-runners of Milk! Records with Barnett, Cloher at 44-years-old has spent her life and career as a musician trying to break through (and as a label runner help other artists do the same) the barrier that exists between Australia and the rest of the world, a sentiment brought to life in her song "Great Australian Bite." Far from bashful about discussing the hardships or even how close she's come to the brink of giving up, Cloher radiates a rare perseverance informed by years of creating music in and for what she loosely describes as a small corner of the world.

Backed by her band, which included the slick chops and a few hot guitar solos by Barnett, Cloher and company gave the crowd all the face-melting riffs and hoarsely howled vindications they needed to believe that this tour would result in the last few crumblings of that proverbial wall. With all the unbridled charisma of a true rocker, Cloher's songs bite as much as they entertain, intermingling virulent shredding with an underbelly of melodic caresses. She can be wailing into the microphone against wave after wave of crass guitars, then one song later her pacifying, dead-pan words of sly wisdom are being delivered via the simple elegance of a rolling percussion beat. It'd be wrong to compare Cloher and Barnett for the sake of calling them the same; similarities exist and if you're a fan of one you'll no doubt eat up the other. But while Cloher shares with Barnett a sometimes similar inflection and a love of the everyday mundane things for their secret wonders, the former tends to wander around the very fringes of both ends of the genre spectrum she exists on.

Playing songs from her most recent release, a self-titled album that marks as her fourth full-length and tenth since she first started, Cloher operates in a duality of bitingly sarcastic-cynicism and hopeful intention. Her folk tendencies cut clear and true in songs like "Forgot Myself" and "Regional Echo," allowing the intimately personal to grow and fledge into something delightfully universal. Live, Cloher sings both songs with a knowing assertion, her sharp inflection giving her words an emphatic shove of confidence into the limelight. Then she switchfoot's to the searing but sincere, "Shoegazers," dishing out suave fuck you's to critics and brash advice to would be artists against singed guitar walls; or, "Strong Woman," a jumpy and rollicking song that had the crowd dancing and swinging their heads as Cloher gave them her rock manifesto on her identity as a woman, musician, and Australian trying to get her music heard.

In a night filled with firsts for the singer/songwriter, the essential revelation seemed to involve establishing that identity, something Cloher and essentially every other musician have wrestled to mold and assert in their music, and then sending it out into the world. With an entire tour laid out in front of her, it's pretty damn clear by the way she and her band ripped apart The Echo that the US has just been gifted another in a growing list of Aussie talents we no longer have an excuse to fall asleep on.

Go to a show, let Cloher get in your face and strum, hum, shred, and shriek. You won't regret it.

Reviewed: King Krule - "Czech One" music video

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King Krule, the multi-genre juggling stage name of UK artist Archy Marshall, has shared his first new single since 2013 today with the deeply atmospheric, lounge-jazz piece, "Czech One." Paired with a noir-esque music video filmed on what feels like 80's home-video tapes, the song sees Marshall wandering amongst strangers--from dimly lit red-eye flights to sprawling city streets--as he waxes existential-like on the past, present, and future. A slow-burner that elongates itself along the velvet, baritone sighs of Marshall, "Czech One," zig-zags around twinkling ivory keys, waning saxes, and distant guitar plucks as his meditations on life and love take him around the globe.

The minimalist and almost improvisational nature of the song places the songwriting in the spotlight--or rather the soft glow of candlelight--like a lone singer tucked into the smokey-shrouded confines of a bar with leather cushioned seats and half-sipped martinis. Close your eyes and you might even see Marshall swaying center stage, the rest of the band in pitted darkness and revealed only with brief illuminations as their tones appear throughout the song. Wrapped around that sleepy melancholy is an almost modernist suffocation on the angsts surrounding his existence, which hinges on a very tangible focal point--a girl. In a very "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"-sense, insecurities keep Marshall paralyzed in his romantic pursuits and really any personal connection, a sentiment that takes flight quite literally in the music video as he becomes a passenger to his life, lost in his introspections.

"Where tiny men have been absorbed for questioning the sky / To when and where the stars were formed, that glance upon this night / Lightyears to sit upon and paint us as we lie / And to think it’s us she’s wasted on, can’t even look her in the eye," he sings rather sadly and ironically, musing on the grandiose of human existence, which in turn makes him feel so small to her, whereas his own self-absorption is the true hinderance. Whimsically poetic, Marshall is as transfixing as ever and we are happy to once again be lost in the tangle of his rich murmurs.

Interviewed: David Le’aupepe of Gang of Youths

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Every few years it seems, Australia manages to churn out another solid indie band or artist that manages to make headlines with a stunning debut--so it's understandable if you're having trouble keeping up. However, it would be criminal to continue overlooking one such act that made its damn-near flawless debut in 2015 with The Positions, a gift from the aptly named and soulfully riotous group Gang of Youths. Comprised of a tightly knit group of five close friends and led by the songwriting prowess of David Le’aupepe, the band executes its impassioned songs with a strenuous balancing of poetically dense lyricism and equally complex sonics. Mincing no words and giving listeners a voraciously intimate encounter with his own struggles and demons--of which Le’aupepe is admirably open about--the band mingles bittersweet hopes with crushing realities, while also refusing to engage in any cultural glorification or romanticizing of such griefs.

Their songs are chock full of personal anecdotes, with Le’aupepe giving little glimpses into his own life and emotions that are somehow dually personal as they are universal. It's also hard not to notice that nearly every second of their longer than average songs--with the exception of a few instrumental crescendos--is filled with the frontman's singing. He just doesn't stop, and frankly, you won't want him to.

"I'm not exactly a soft-spoken, reserved person, I'm pretty fucking loquacious--on a good day," Le’aupepe says with a laugh. "On a bad [day] I'm downright fucking yappy."

For Le’aupepe, his lyrics are one-half of the lifeblood of Gang of Youths existence--which sounds like maybe a redundant thing to point out, until you actually listen to his lyrics, which to his and the band's credit, are actually quite intelligible for all their guitar riffs and thundering percussion. Then once you're done listening and singing along, go look them up, seriously, it's the kind of literary snippets you might dive into in an English course. It'd require an essay to dive into all the nuances here, but songs like "Magnolia," "Poison Drum," and "The Diving Bell," emit a beauty through Le’aupepe's choice words alone. And of course, it doesn't just happen by accident--in fact, the effort is quite strenuous at times.

"It's a struggle for me to get anything out because I'm sort of in this period of my life where I'm starting to care a lot more about what people think about my work, and that can be distracting and hard. But I always have to temper it with a sense of authenticity to myself, authenticity to the kind of shit I want to make, and the kind of thing I want to leave behind on the earth when I die," Le’aupepe explained. "What I think is most authentic to me is I want to write lyrics that are meaningful to me, potentially meaningful to others, and sound beautiful. When I read a book I'm looking for beautiful writing that speaks to me in some way, even if it's simple and minimalist or dense and verbose. I just want to speak to people in a way that's life-affirming."

In many ways, according to Le’aupepe, sub-par lyricism has found its way into our entertainment, and he refuses to contribute to the degradation of an art form he is so passionate about. Acknowledging that sounds "harsh," as he puts it, he also genuinely believes that for people who aren't interested in lyrics, there's melody and music to keep them entertained, while for people who are, there are "themes, concepts, complexity, and density" for them as well. But even so, for the former, Gang of Youths has more than a few hot licks, catchy hooks, and gorgeous soundscapes to keep even the most casual of listeners caught by their ear.

One of the first things you'll realize as you listen to The Positions for the first time is that the song's opener, "Vital Signs," is a seven-minute journey that entreats you to everything. It's a veritable journey of emotional release that's unraveled simultaneously through Le’aupepe's lyrics and the band's various melody changes--like some high-strung drama in four acts, their songs change and evolve alongside their themes. Like his lyrics, Le’aupepe and company have deep running ambitions and expectations for the very notes they play. As someone who was once apart of the hardcore punk scene in Australia, Le’aupepe refered back to how such bands managed to communicate a wide range of emotions and all these sides of humanity, using solely a two to three minute hardcore punk song as a conduit.

"I can respect that and I think that's really admirable, we've just chosen not to do that. We've decided that we want different moods and different sides of our musicality to come through in order to embody the vast scope of human experience," Le’aupepe says of the way they arrange their songs. "The songs on our records need to reflect the vast array and litany of human emotions and experiences. We need to reflect all the sides of humanity, not just the ones that rock super hard. I want to reflect the emotional environment I was in when I wrote a particular song, what the song was about, through the sonics."

WithThe Positions now aged two years and now on the road for an exhausting bout of touring that sees Gang of Youths traversing the most of North America in the span of two weeks, Gang of Youths have returned with two new singles. "Atlas Drowned" and "Let Me Down Easy," the band's introduction to the tumultuous nature of the past year--politically, socially, culturally, take your pick--are as poignant as they are ruthless. Between obvious references to the rise of polarizing and divisive movements, as well as an allusion to last year's Paris terrorist attacks, Le’aupepe and company avoid getting into the messy specifics of political alignment and instead aim for its larger implication for the individual, the people listening to their songs, and the soul.

Shouting, spitting, cussing, and foaming at the mouth, Le’aupepe tackles a philosophy of irrational self-interest that has stricken our society in "Atlas Shrugged," its title a well-prepared pile-driver rather than a subtle dig at Ayn Rand's novel and monument to rational egoism "Atlas Shrugged." It's rare to see any artist in any genre so willfully name drop the likes of Rand and Nietzsche in the explanation of a song, but that's exactly what Le’aupepe did in an Instagram post when the song was released--but more so than the broad, overarching themes and philosophies that inspired it is the band's ability to make it not only digestible, but so potently personal.

With all this accentuated energy going on behind the scenes and in the studio, for a band whose unapologetic zeal for life roars through effortlessly in their baroque-rock anthems--it's perhaps understandable that their live shows are absolutely insane. Personally, I've only seen Gang of Youths once in the Constellation Room in Santa Ana. The room was decently filled and my defining memory is of Le’aupepe dancing on the bar counter (the man shakes his hips and howls like the most on-key demon in existence) and jumping into the crowd to dance and twirl fans. They were one of the top five acts I've ever seen live and it'd honestly be a disservice to your very soul to not see them on their current U.S. tour.

"Every show we attack in the same way--I mean it comes from our attitude towards life, attacking life with a sense of ferocity and engagement. It doesn't matter how big the fucking room is, it doesn't matter how many people are in there when you believe in the power of an artform its unifying and emancipatory power you can't help but be excited," a serious and passionate Le’aupepe explains. "Everybody in this band desires to be the very best at what we do."

Reviewed: Japanese Breakfast - "Road Head" music video

originally published on

Japanese Breakfast, the sleek art-pop project by Michelle Zauner, has unveiled the music video for "Road Head," the latest release from her upcoming sophomore attempt, Soft Sounds From Another Planet. Continuing her quasi-surrealistic exploration of romance and personal identity, the album's recent singles promise an expansion of her affectionate transmissions into the cosmos, drawing inspiration on everything from science fiction and outer space to the Mars One Project. As the follow-up to her debut Psychopomp, it would've been more than fine had Zauner returned with the same formulas of brash, lo-fi bedroom rock--but her new ambitions find her new sonics sleeker and her songwriting just as cutting.

In the new video for "Road Head," Zauner spends some time in the driver's seat of a beat-up, red muscle car with a companion that looks like Frank Anderson--the giant rabbit from Donnie Darko. The video itself is another feather in Zauner's cap as a phenomenal director, cutting back-and-forth from bemusing scenes like the one in which the duo lie in bed as Zauner makes faces at the camera, to its more introspective long takes of her taking drags from her cigarette on the hood of the car and the the inevitable bloody ending. The song itself is about someone who once told Zauner that she wasn't cut-out for a music career--a laughable sentiment, we know, but she takes on the doubt with an obvious air of melancholy. This isn't a song about sticking the finger to people who don't believe in you, rather, as Zauner elongates her signature bemoaning wails lazily over a purposeful drum beat and the twinkle of guitars and synths, the somber nature of the film only intensifies. Eventually, it all goes south and like a scene straight out of Twin Peaks Zauner shoots the alien-rabbit-thing with an old rifle and drags his/her body into the woods, the final shot a close-up of her blood-splattered white sweater and a smirk.

It's all quite gruesome and eerie, but not without Zauner's obvious penchant for the darkly comedic. As always, Zauner veils big truths in sensual intimacy--or in this case, a lack thereof. Sometimes it comes in the form of hurtful doubts mistaken as helpful truths by people who pretend to know what's best for us, and sometimes it's in the detached receiving of road head on a turnpike exit. We'll leave the interpretations up to fans--but we guess sometimes you have to lure your personal manifestations of uncertainty down an unmarked road and murder them?

Interviewed: The Marías

originally published on

Imagine walking into a 70s bar-lounge and sitting in a velvet booth, the air thick with a perfumed nostalgia and smokey intimacy, your head in a spin from the sultry voices and feverishly groovy notes being elicited from the small stage in front of you. Now close your eyes and press play on "I Don't Know You," the debut track from the LA-based band The Marías--let it transport you to someplace where sensuality and ecstasy drip from the lips of those around you. Comprised and led by couple María and Josh Conway, The Marías have no qualms about making music that is a sultry, midnight rendezvous of their many tastes, which include jazz, funk, psychedelia, and lounge. With only one song out but their debut EP titled Superclean Vol. I staged for release in the fall, the only real morsel one can get of the band right now is from the members themselves or those who've caught them live. Viewers have described their sound to everything from having sex in the 70s to pouring cream into coffee, alone these might seem like arbitrary comparisons--but then you hit play on "I Don't Know You" again, and it all just oozes out like a fever dream.

Of course, a band that's led by two lovers is bound to overflow with sensuous sentiments and The Marías essentially began with Conway and María's relationship. María had just reluctantly left the Atlanta music scene behind and moved to LA, she was playing a solo acoustic set at the Kibitz Room where Conway was running sound. After the show, he came up to her to tell her he really liked her voice and had a studio he wanted to record her in.

"It’s really great to have a studio to use as a pickup line," Conway says with a laugh. "But regardless of my immediate attraction to her, I really did enjoy her songs and especially her voice and wanted to record her songs. So really, it was a win-win for me…unless of course, she said no."

María obviously didn't say no. With María on vocals and Conway on drums, the duo decided to flesh out their sound by adding some of their closest friends and fellow musicians into the mix. New Orleans-native and self-taught blues pianist Eddie Friedlander sits in on keys, LA-bred Jesse "tones-that-can-melt-steel" Perlman on guitar, and Canadian-born and Berklee-trained bassist Carter Lee. With such a close-knit group passing their varying musical appetites onto one another, The Marías sound is a veritable melting pot of bubbling influences that range from D'Angelo and Radiohead to Erykah Badu and Little Dragon.

As a couple recording music together, and especially as a group of friends, María emphasizes the need to mediate their individual ideas with one another in order to create something even better. The couple record mostly everything from their Hollywood Hills home--which María describes as simply magical, while Conway jokes that whenever they write or record, they're both always naked.

"No, not really," he chuckles. "But there have definitely been really special moments in writing and recording where the intimacy we capture in the recording comes completely natural because we feel open and comfortable around each other."

"We just moved here a few months ago, and it’s amazing being able to record in our home," María adds. "If we have a random idea in the shower, we can just walk a few feet and record it. We’re also surrounded by so much nature, light, and overall good vibes."

 A lot of those songs recorded within the walls of their home have been for the yet titled EP that'll be released in the coming months. It's a collection of songs that's been nearly two years in the making, with some of them written before the band was even together. Conway points to one song in particular, "Déjate Llevar," which translates to "let yourself go," was one of the first songs he and María recorded together.

"We recorded probably four versions," Conway says of the song. "The last one we did at Dave Sitek’s (TV on the Radio) studio where Maria was living for a time."

"We’ve gone through numerous versions of all of the songs," María adds. "They started completely different than how you’ll soon hear them. It’s been an evolution--an evolution in our relationship and our overall sound as a result."

The EP is truly a collection of the band's personal experiences, distilled and reconfigured into a collective vision that Conway, as the sole producer, puts together. As a result, the band's studio sound is just as raw, unfiltered, and true to their vision as it can be. Dreamily melodic and hypnotically sensual, there's a timelessness to their sound that spurs a certain wistfulness--like they have one foot in the past, but are continuously wrestling out new ways to evoke the tiniest of intimacies from their music.

While their experience thus far as an LA band has been rather grand, as a transplant from the Atlanta music scene, María gets the sense that there is a lack of community among artists here--undermined perhaps by the sense of competition that's emitted from the strong presence of the entertainment industry.

"There’s definitely some of that sense of community here in LA, especially among those who, like myself, moved from somewhere else and also craves that sense of community," María explains. "But I feel there’s a greater sense of competitiveness and individualistic culture here."

The Marías themselves are a perfect example of that sentiment, of artists from different parts of the country or world collaborating together to create something so blissful to listen to. When they play live that community comes together in the most spectacular of ways, but María warns anyone who goes to their live shows better come prepared to make out.

"When we played at the Fonda Theatre a few nights ago, apparently a lot of people in the crowd were making out. Aside from that, they can expect a tight show," María says. "Each player in the band is a master at their instrument. I’m speaking for all the guys. They’re all incredible. They each bring their own unique perspective to the performance. And together, it creates something really special. Also, ladies, you can expect to see some very good-looking, suave guys up there." 

Interviewed: Kyle Morton of Typhoon

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In the bohemian-style furnished backroom of the Bootleg Theater, Kyle Morton sits on the lavishly decorated cushions of a sofa next to a table lamp that is much too extravagant to just be a table lamp. The only people around are the knowing regular purveyors of the venue who've snuck back for a game of ping-pong, while in the main room and bar area spaces have already begun to run out as the crowds shuffle inside to catch the night's openers. Morton, the lead singer/songwriter of the Oregon indie-rock outfit Typhoon, has more than a few enthusiastic fans waiting for him in the other rooms--both fans of his band and his own budding solo endeavors, which began with the release of his album What Will Destroy You back in September.

Much like Typhoon, and much like his debut album, Morton's virginal appearance at the Bootleg Theater last Tuesday night was a loosely put together experiment that focused on the exploration of his limits as a singer/songwriter. The record of itself, which Morton played a large number of songs from, including a few deep cuts from Typhoon, was a test to see if he could play all the instruments himself, rather than relying on his bandmates to supplement the sounds for him. "If you listen closely there's a couple string parts that are totally hackneyed," he admits with a laugh.

Upon ending a long tour with Typhoon, the band engaged in a much needed break, while Morton used the momentum to funnel his energy into organizing songs he'd written into a brand new album.

"I had these songs that I felt were better sparse and I'd been listening to music that was more stripped down and minimalist. So my aesthetic was kind of leaning that way at the time; what I found was that because it was such a simple and short record, and there's less of an overarching grandiosity to it, that it was really a fun easy record to make," Morton said of the record process. "We did it in like a month, and not even intensively, it was like after work I'd go to my friends house to record and then we'd both mix it--and we did this a few nights a week for a month and then we had a record."

The result was the creation of the at once haunting, if not restlessly melancholic and hopeful world of What Will Destroy You. Unlike Morton's last songwriting creation White Lighter, which was an autobiographical (if somewhat mythologized) disclosure that used solely a first-person narrator, his solo work came about out of a desire to create songs that weren't entirely about himself. On the studio recordings, Morton employs his raw, lilting murmurs, which are at times surrounded by the helter-skelter of instrumentals, and others the droning bleakness of silent stillness. Live, alone onstage and lit by only a few lights and shouldering his guitar, Morton doesn't just channel the vulnerability that comes with folk-acoustics, he embodies the chaotic complexities of emotion and circumstance that twist themselves beneath his skin and his songs. While the themes and movements of Typhoon's ambitious anthems require the presence of all eleven members and explore elaborately underlying motifs, Morton's songs, while just as emotionally compromising, are much more simple in nature.

"I've always really been influenced by the things I read, and sometimes I feel like I'm more influenced by writers than other music, at least for how I approach a record. The title of this record, What Will Destroy You, is reference to an old Apocryphal text in the Bible that says something along the lines of 'If you bring forth, what is within you, what you bring forth will save you; if you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you'" Morton explained. "I came across that--well I wasn't perusing the Apocrypha--I was just reading this book called 'Seven Lies' by an author named James Lasdun, and he wrote in this way that it had this ambivalence. That maybe everything in your life hinges on this one bit, and for me this record was about love, so maybe everything in your life hinges on love; it can pivot in this way that love can totally ruin a person, we've all seen that and experienced it, and it can also be one of the only things that can help you through this strange life."

Morton engages his songwriting, and in turn his audience, in a way that his songs are never too dense or so consumed by their own lofty themes that they lose themselves within them--they even oftentimes follow a very linear form of storytelling that is both easy to follow, with characters that are given an insurmountable level of depth for so short a period you know them. So while songs like "Survivalist Fantasy" rip and gnaw at your bones with its apocalyptic setting and heavy imagery, it deals very humanely with the two lovers living in its aftermath. There's humor, irony, and no small amount of bleak sarcasm; "Water Torture" earned a laugh from the crowd by juxtaposing depression with dry wit with the line "How long have you been gone/And where's those groceries?" That earned a brief explanation to the crowd about the history of Chinese water torture and how it's actually an American creation. "That's about as controversial as the show is going to get tonight guys," Morton lightheartedly told the crowd.

Candid and ever the conversationalist, Morton pushed through his reservations about playing deep cuts of Typhoon songs, but that nervousness was shattered by the crowd, as they had no problem singing Shannon Steele's part for a number of songs and stomped their feet to the rhythm (and Morton had equally no problem tossing in humorous quips mid-song, warning the stomping crowd of impending key changes). The sheer intimacy of Typhoon songs being strummed through and carried on the back of Morton's exceptional songwriting alone was overwhelming in itself, and even the deepest cuts that he pulled from their discography were met with enthused emotionality from the crowd. Morton had a peddle onstage with prerecorded backing music (just very light and simple droning instrumentals), but he eventually even stripped this from the show, preferring to mesmerize with his quick guitar plucks and heart-wrenching warble. It also goes without saying that he has one of the more unique vocal fronts out there right now--listening to him talk you wouldn't even know it--and he counts Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse as a bit of an inspiration for his signature croon.

The only piece of What Will Destroy You that was missing from the performance was the end recordings to "Survivalist Fantasy" and "Perverse Fascination," which were created by Morton to jarringly mesh the themes of the album into a dually surreal and tangible existence.

"It kind of glued together the theme of love being ambivalent. It was from dreams I've actually had that I kind of synthesized into one dream, mixed into a kind of David Lynch style sequence--it's a little bit disturbing and kind of a horror movie setup because he's coming down these stairs and there's someone at the door," Morton explained carefully. "I would have these dreams where my girlfriend, now wife, was replaced by someone else, it was her but someone else was in her body and she was out to get me. And I kind of interpreted that in the record as maybe there's an inherent friction when you start trying to navigate your own self with someone else's self; maybe the best thing about love is being a self-renunciation. When it gets to that point in the dream, which is when he's being attacked by his lover and he finds out that she was actually saving him from the spiders--it's really surreal--but these spiders out of his chest, and so what seemed to be an attack on himself is what sort of released him."

Even without the recordings, which work terribly well in terms of the album's cohesiveness, that anxiety and fearful apprehension germinated momentously within the crowd--the silence during each song was edge-of-your-seat suspense, hanging on every word and sound as it unhinged some familiar but forgotten piece of your consciousness. As far as we're concerned, Morton's Bootleg experiment was an undeniable success. But he also talked briefly concerning the new Typhoon record which is due out this year, and also how the band is entering 2017 with everything that's been going on in the country. According to Morton, the yet untitled record will be dealing heavily with memory, both individual and collective, and how it relates on micro and macrocosmic levels within history.

In terms of the future of Typhoon, Morton said that after the rollicking events of the past year he sat down to talk with Steele to discuss whether or not they should could continue making music, or maybe use it to do something more tangible.

Regardless of politics, to me it’s a scary time. I had a moment where I was like ‘What is making music even worth? Should I be doing something different; something tangibly, that could help matters?’ I was having a conversation with Shannon and we talked about turning this into a charity group and not do music anymore, like should we just start a soup kitchen or something?” Morton said with a laugh that was half humorous, half sadly serious. “But she told me people need music, and one of the beauties about music is it’s outside completely outside of this world at odds with itself, it’s gridlocked, like people in America, and there’s no common ground.”[/perfectpullquote]

One of the main reasons their new album will deal with history is because of the climate right now; to Morton, the "general metaphysics of time [right now] is futureless." As he put it, we are obsessed with the post-apocalypse, but are frighteningly unconcerned with how we got there--and isn't that the most important part, isn't that where we learn how not to go down that path? One thing is for sure, Typhoon won't be splitting up because of the chaos swirling around them--and us; they'll be doing what they've always been doing, trying to strike a familiar chord within the very real, very important pieces of humanity that bring us together.

“Music’s transcendent in a lot of ways, for me it made me realize I don’t want Typhoon to fall apart; this is our community, it’s our own little social experiment to see if we can all coexist in a van together across country,” Morton said. “And I think people need to really hold on right now to these local communities and local feelings of belonging, because that’s how, when things start getting really scary in the next couple of years if it goes that way, you have people you can trust.”

Reviewed: Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool

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"And in your life, there comes a darkness/This spacecraft blocking out the sky/And there's nowhere to hide," so begins Radiohead's ninth studio album A Moon Shaped Pool, and for the next fifty-two long minutes, Thom Yorke and company endeavor to blot out the sun and encapsulate all existence in the anxious shadow of their psychedelic-folk songs. At this point in their careers, austere experimentalism has become second nature to the quintet--since the textured minimalism of Kid A, that genetically ingrained lean towards ambling, ambient art-rock has made Radiohead (depending on who you're asking) the most celebrated and overrated rock band of the last twenty years. As warped as ever, nearly infinite stretches of orchestra-backed crescendos pulsate throughout the desolate soundscape of A Moon Shaped Pool, leaving Colin and Johnny Greenwood's guitars blissfully naked and hauling the full weight of the album's moody anxieties. Let it be noted that much like the rest of Radiohead’s discography, this is not an album to be played at low volume and find yourself drifting to sleep with. Overflowing with disconcerting shell-shocks of contorted noise and propulsive sonic stimuli, A Moon Shaped Pool should be allowed to blare its virulent narratives through your earphones until it becomes your reality.

Opening with the sharp stabs of col legno and Yorke's dire wails that plead for you to "abandon all reason/avoid all eye contact/do not react/shoot the messengers," the visceral escalation of ear-splitting violins to groaning cellos on "Burn the Witch" is only the prologue to the album's overwhelmingly jittery misery. Strained and tense in its crudely metallic screeches, the song is a despairing echo against the deadly pitfalls of groupthink, one accentuated by the shrill cacophony of its choppy strings and electronic hums. But these horrible panic-attacks give way to haunting fantasies in "Daydreaming," as Yorke strolls sleepily through vaguely poignant lamentations, while distorted shrieks, transcendental piano tumbles, and swelling strings attempt to wrest control of his delusions. Deeply organic in its transitions from bubbly synths to lilting keys, A Moon Shaped Pool's first attempt at ambiance peers sadly through a climax of reversed vocalizations (resembling wheezy snores) and twinkling percussion.

Delving further into Yorke's trippy fantasia you find yourself at "Decks Dark," a bland description when contrasted by the song's murky atmospherics. Between weeping siren calls and the rippling drone of smoky electric guitars, Yorke tiredly paints in the bleakest of tones his hopeless dirge--one made evermore eerie by its supernatural imagery of ominous spaceships and blackened skies.

"Desert Island Disk," another grimly imagist title, shoulders a hefty folk motif with its stuttering acoustic plucks, but Yorke's depression only deepens with every repetitive assertion that "different types of love are possible"; while on the fanatical exhilaration of “Ful Stop,” sweeping percussiveness rolls wearily forward on abandoned dirt roads, as a broiling storm of turbulent electrics gleam and burn like scars of lightning across Yorke’s blanketing howls.

Effervescent keyboards, dulled as if echoed from another world entirely, meet the lavish, beatific movements of gushing strings on “Glass Eyes,” a distressing ballad that drips woefully from Yorke’s crisp intones. Those same strings eventually grow to fill the colossal, cathedral sized anthem that is  “Numbers,” but not before dissolving within angelic, choral harmonies and resurfacing as erratic thrums and piercing whines. “Identikit,” rightfully returns Greenwoods’ mournfully thrilling guitars to the spotlight--blistering and white-hot, the dizzying chords dance blissfully over Yorke’s spookily layered chants.

"Present Tense" sees the beleaguered singer on the cusp of some emotional breakdown, as spools of fingered strings twitter festively around Yorke's frenzied agitation, yanking and jerking his limbs with every delicate riff like some terrible marionette. Dissolving into the abysmal void from which it evidently surfaced, The album's finale dissipates spectacularly on its last two songs, the first coming in one final surge of orchestral harmonies on "Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief." Yorke's broken transmissions garble in through static exhales and magnetized electric guitars burst in the background, until those fantastically menacing strings begin their escalation from soothing moans to hair-raising bewails.

"I'll drown my beliefs/To have your babies/I'll dress like your niece/And wash your swollen feet," so cries a now fragmented and crushed Yorke on "Love Waits," as he whispers them from his sad isolation on some lonely planet, as each unraveling piano key carries further out into space. "Just don't leave/Don't leave," he begs, but love to him is a distant star already out of reach.

Stare into the abyss and Yorke will stare back at you from the darkness--but with every listen his yawps lose their prolific warning and become ever more inviting. For every minute of A Moon Shaped Pool, the wearied frontman is right there whispering into the back of your neck, yowling his jarring melancholia until your hair and soul stand on end. Part B-list horror film, part Aesop’s fairytale, Radiohead appears to implicate a lesson that is somehow either lost in translation or overshadowed by their sonorous extravagance. Even at its most minimal of arrangements, A Moon Shaped Pool retains a complex, almost troubling, intimacy at the cellular level that shines through its loudly arresting orchestral barrages; while Yorke's vocal utterances, as breathlessly despondent and hysterical as ever, remain the most critical in Radiohead’s instrumental arsenal.