nyc

Sunflares EP

One good thing about playing in a one-man shoegaze band is that you always know whose shoes you’re gazing at. And for a style of music that’s the aural equivalent of cocooning, this sense of isolation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. On Sunflares EP, which you guessed it, is the coming-out EP by Sunflares, a project said to be inspired by the isolation of quarantine (wait, better make that the “staying in EP”) the alone time appears to have paid dividends.

And the same goes for listening to the EP for those of us under our fifth or sixth lockdown. When lines like “Are you out there?” and “I wanna know your secrets” emerge from the layers of fuzz and flange they sound eerily familiar as they’re questions I’ve been asking myself after sitting at home for the whole night, drinking an entire case of Bud Light that was planned to last for the rest of the week or longer, but at least existential crises keep things interesting. Shoegazer, know thyself.

Sunflares’ opening track “Numb” kicks things off with some nice Lush-like swirly guitars, but any trace of Sweetness and Light is quickly interrupted when the song shifts into Superblast mode with distortion turned up to 13, but with a cool little Cure-like melody over the top and some satisfying tom-tom fills, before settling into the first verse with this enterprise’s Kevin Shields fully engaged and phaser pedals set to stun, all ready to swoop in and take out the Ringo Deathstarr. And here’s a couple music videos for those two very subtle Lush references I made because I’m always looking for a good excuse to post Lush videos.

In other words, Mr. Sunflare hits the major signposts you’d hope to hear on a 2021 shoegaze album (or shoegaze EP let’s not be pedantic here) with satisfying walls of sound and layers of effects-laden guitar smeared across this EP like strawberries and cream. But at the same time there’s some enticing twists and things are mixed up nicely overall, between and within the four tracks on offer, with shifting tempos and textures and heavy-devy parts and dreamy ambient parts. And finally here’s a video for the even more artfully subtle Cure reference contained in this paragraph. (Jason Lee)

   

Navy Blue "Song of Sage: Post Panic!"

Depending on your existing knowledge of skate culture, streetwear, and Frank Ocean minutia you may or may not know Navy Blue by the name of Sage Elsesser. Under his birth name he achieved teenage/early adulthood renown as a professional skateboarder sponsored by such obscure niche brands as Supreme and Converse before branching out into modeling, sneaker design, and art direction, then going on to appear on Frank Ocean’s Blonde and collaborate musically with his roomie Earl Sweatshirt, which makes sense given their shared taste for blunted beats and razor-sharp lyrics and laid back but tongue twisting flows. Today Elsesser draws more than occasional comparisons to legends like Dilla (RIP) and Doom (RIP) which is enough to make the rest of us reassess our five-year plans.

On Song of Sage: Post Panic!, his second full-length released under Navy Blue, the moniker is linked (“I been feeling Navy Blue just like my father’s cigarettes," referring to a now-obscure brand of British cigarettes) in one single turn of phrase to familial heritage and chemical addiction and struggles with depression which just happen to be a few of the recurring themes on the album. Across eighteen tracks of introspective, incantatory raps and equally incantatory, trance-inducing production, Song of Sage bridges the gap between the blues and hip hop with its emotional power and musical aesthetics. It would be interesting to test the theory but I bet open-minded fans of old-school Hill Country blues artists (see Mississippi Fred McDowell, Junior Kimbrough, Rosa Lee Hill, R.L. Burnside) would get into this album intuitively given their overlap in mesmerizing grooves and plaintive vocals and heady vibes.

Tracks on the album like “Tired", “Post Panic!” and “Self Harm,” with their unsparing accounts of trauma and its PTSD-inflicted aftermath, act as mental health mic checks (in high demand these days) but by the final track the light at the end of the toll tunnel shines on our guide with hard-won “tears of joy / my pain fixed.” Further musical solace is provided throughout Song of Sage, which some Internet heads have deemed the best produced album of 2020, with production duties shared by Animoss, Bori, Nicholas Craven, Evidence, Jacob Rochester, Alexander Spit, Chuck Strangers, and Roper Williams, alongside five tracks produced by Navy Blue himself.

Throughout the album Navy Blue has seemingly no fear when it comes to exposing open-wounded vulnerability like on “Moment Hung” where he dives straight into the troubling ambiguity of its title vacillating between states of grace, resignation, rage, and pacification just in its opening bars--“I’m moving graciously through all the nonsense / I was complacent when this shit was toxic / fuck all these racists they getting their tops split / your lucky day ‘cause I’m not with it / never fazed by a white critic [that's me, admittedly] crucial / most this shit not unusual”--going on to lament the by-now-tragically-routine dehumanization of bodycam/cell phone public lynchings that “televise the demise” of “our fathers, our aunties and uncles.”

Despite this painful subject matter, the Ryosuke Tanzawa directed music video for the song features Mr. Blue taking his adorable pooch for a walk down a snow-covered Brooklyn block and across a neighborhood park while massaging the doggie’s ears, and listeners' ears, with a melodious flow backed by a buttery Natalie Cole-sampled track produced by Jacob Rochester. Taken together the music, lyrics, and video are a beautifully executed example of the centuries-old tradition of signifyin(g) where familiar one-to-one associations and seemingly incompatible impulses are mashed up and subverted and inverted, using the language of the oppressor as a means of subverting the language of white supremacy itself. In other words, it’s complicated, just like real life.

 

Along these same lines of colliding impulses and emotions, it’s no mistake that the crossroads is the storied origin of the blues, as in the famous Mississippi crossroads where Robert Johnson made his famous Faustian bargain, serves as a stand-in for all the deals with the devil made in the nation's history and bringing us to our current state of affairs. On Song of Sage Navy Blue deals with all kinds of crossroads especially those moving across space and time. For example take the opening track “Dreams Of A Distant Journey” with a hook evoking the tangled roots of uprooted peoples, linked to the Yoruban veneration of sacred points of intersection as preserved in Afro-Caribbean religious traditions

I got a fam in Santiago, I got a fam in Tennessee
Child of Ogun his spirit walk amongst the trees
Proper dearest came from Nashville, it’s Choctaw in me
It’s Choctaw in me

Moving from spatial crossroads to temporal crossroads on “1491,” the legacy of Christopher Columbus’s so-called discovery of the Americas is traced forward to its echoes in the present--a crossroads reaching across centuries that's yet to be transcended. But in the meantime and in these mean times, at least we have music like Navy Blue's as a way to transcend and to acknowledge all those who are simultaneously bleeding. 

 

   

2020 Year In Review: Fiona Silver

Forgive me, dear reader, for I am still willfully stuck in "2020 Year In Review" mode and refuse to believe that 2021 has even begun yet. Not without reason obviously. So let's agree to decree the past week as the messy afterbirth of 2020 and now officially move on to the actual start of 2021 if nobody minds. And let's pray we're not dealing with evil twin years because a conjoined 2020/2021 would no doubt make those creepy twins from the Overlook Hotel look like nothing more than adorable "cousins...identical cousins." And on that note we recommend you listen to "2020," a song released by Fiona Silver near the end of the year, to help us usher it out the door and into oblivion: 

Fittingly for its subject, the song is a blooze-rockin' gutbucket punch to the gut but just think what it's doing for your abs. Fiona's lyrics liken the year just past...whoops I mean about to pass...to a petty thief (maybe a slumlord too judging by imagery in the video) and then to a leather daddy who likes to play rough. It all builds to a frenetic guitar solo and a sound collage of news reports laying out some of the lowlights of the year before thankfully wrapping up with a final rousing chorus.

Speaking of all things fit for a masochist, back in the halcyon days of January 2020 Ms. Silver released what turned out to be an oracular track for January of this year called "Violence" whose lyrics describe abuse and its aftermath ("My sweet Lord, you bring me down / swinging low sweet chariot of sound / violence, I hit the ground [...] will you come and dig me out / six feet under no voice left to shout / pushing daisies I'm home sweet home") but this song comes swaddled in a funky uptown arrangement with a strong Daptone vibe which creates quite the interesting juxtaposition. Check out the live rendition below with full-on horn section and wah-wah pedal in full effect.  

"Violence" could soon also be found on Fiona's Hostage of Love EP released on Valentine's Day appropriately enough. These five songs are plenty enough for our guitarist-songwriter-chanteuse to show off her range--the slow burning title track being one example and the mid-tempo groover "Hot Tears" being another. Now, this may be wishful thinking and at the risk of jinxing it, here's hoping 2021 shows us some of its range soon by getting as far the f*** away from 2020 as humanly and humanely possible. (Jason Lee)

   

New Myths "Bad Connection" new music video

DURING THESE TIMES when most of us are feeling more than a little disconnected, New Myths' “Bad Connection” hits some kind of sweet and sour spot. And while virus as metaphor does feel a little on the nose--alongside mentions of being “frozen in time” and “folded inside”--I can attest to the fact that although New Myths put out the song (just barely) post-pandemic it was written and performed well before any hint of what was to come existed. Anyways a slightly closer listen to the lyrics, and a viewing of the video, reveals the song to be more likely about the foibles of mass media and modern tools of communication and disturbed mental states. But what's crucial on another level is how it throbs with a nervous energy and a forward momentum that’s sorely needed--I remember seeing them live a couple times in the beforetimes and when drummer Rosie Slater belted out her banshee wail on the song's hook while still rocking out behind the kit it was pretty damn energizing--so consider this single a shot in the arm.

Because the people demand it: here in one convoluted, name-dropping sentence is how I’d sum up New Myths. Neon-hued both visually and sonically, this power trio’s combination of intense electro-rock sonics, pop savvy, punkish energy, glam theatricality, and occasional gothy moodiness is something like the lovechild of Shirley Manson and Marilyn Manson who’s now all grown up and going to her first orgy with a guest list that includes the Hanson brothers circa “MmmBop” and the full cast of the Josie and the Pussycats movie during which a DJ is slated to spin tracks by Republica, Elastica, and Veruca Saltica to set the proper mood. (If there's any major label reps out there looking to hire a professional blurb writer just slide on into the Deli’s DMs and I’ll hit you back.)

Speaking of all things neon-hued, New Myths released their music video for “Bad Connection” last month and true to form it’s pure adrenaline. I mean, sure, maybe you’ll never get to see Christopher Nolan’s Tenet in a movie theater. But this video contains enough video-within-a-video high concept moolah shots in the span of five minutes to fully scratch your meta movie itch. In a clip directed by prolific music video director and underground filmmaker Dylan Mars Greenberg (her filmography includes 2016’s Werewolf Bitches from Outer Space starring Janeane Garofalo) the trio of Brit, Marina, and Rosie take on roles ranging from a ‘40s Andrew Sisters style singing group (makes sense given how they can rock those three-part harmonies) to an ‘80s Pat Benetar type band to a Beastie Boys "Alive" homage all in convincing and rapid fire form.

The vid also features a substantial cameo appearance from Tish and Snooky, the legendary sisters on the scene who were active in NYC glam and punk circles in the 1970s. Tish and Snooky aka the Bellomo Sisters took on backing vocal duties in a Blondie-adjacent band and co-formed their own group known as the Sic F*cks (standout track: “Chop Up Your Mother”) and right around the same time in ‘77 they opened the first punk rock fashion store in the country, on St. Mark’s Place, called Manic Panic. And if that name sounds familiar you’re not mistaken because out of the store came the Manic Panic assortment of hair dyes that blew up big time and helped turn many once-average local mall rats into insta punk rockers and new wavers (and goth-ers and ravers) in the ‘80s/‘90s/2000s which is what DIY is all about after all. Power to the Peroxided People.

So suffice to say, New Myths cover a lot of ground in their "Bad Connection" music video. Now if only they’d made some references to the Roaring Twenties and dressed up as flappers it’d be the complete package but I suppose it can wait until the next video. Just so happens I’ve got a side hustle as a music video consultant so maybe have your people call my people... (Jason Lee)

photo credit: Andrew Segreti

 

   

2020 Year In Review: Woods

Jam (noun): a sweet, sticky edible substance made of fruit and sugar, boiled to a thick gelatinous consistency that’s yielding and spreadable

Jam (verb): to push, shove, squeeze or otherwise manipulate an object into a constrained space, often implied to be aggressively or even forcibly realized

Contained in this little three-letter word are at least six or seven distinct meanings according to this thing once referred to as a dictionary (it’s like a papery blog). And while we’re talking semiotics it’s interesting to note how the two definitions above are on opposite ends of the spectrum in some ways: yielding vs. forceful, sweet vs. aggressive. 

Another meaning of jam: “An extended, semi-unstructured musical passage, or entire musical work, in which synchronized, partially improvised interactions between musicians are of key importance--often with the objective of achieving a concentrated, intensified, and/or ecstatic state of perception among both musicians and listeners. The formal properties of the jam (aka “jammers”) tend to revolve around an optimal balance between repetition and variation; and on the macro level, a continuous ebbing and flowing in terms of tempo, dynamics, and/or texture before ultimately reaching a climactic release, with the notable exception of “mellow jams” or “droney jams” where such macro-level formal developments are de-emphasized or not sought at all.”

The long-running bands Woods are masters jammers (but not a “jam band,” you won’t find too many patchouli-besotted noodle dancers at their shows). And in their jamming they capture all the dictionary meanings of jam described above--playing music that’s alternately and sometimes at once both sweet and aggressive, ethereal and ferocious, disciplined and sprawling. 


Besides their proclivity for jamming Woods are master songwriters as well with a musical palette stretching from pastoral folk rock to driving alt-pop to resplendent psychedelic rock. If you need proof of any of this I’d recommend spending New Year’s Eve and Day listening to their eleven albums (the latest being Strange To Explain released earlier this year) plus the compilation released out in October called Reflections Vol. 1 (Bumble Bee Crown King) that brings together rare and unreleased recordings made between 2009 and 2013. One standout on the latter is an early demo of “Bend Beyond” that’s a good deal more jammy than the version on the Bent Beyond album (2012). And below you can hear how they stretched out the song even more when they played it live. 

Strange To Explain is a fitting epithet for the year that just passed, featuring songs that act as a gentle balm for dreamers (“Where Do You Go When You Dream?”) and insomniacs (“Just To Fall Asleep”) alike. Here is an album that puts the “vibey” back in vibraphone and the “mellow” back in Mellotron, both instruments featured heavily on the album.

The writing of Strange To Explain overlapped with the band’s Purple Mountains project, a collaboration with Silver Jews’ frontman David Berman. The reclusive songwriter and genius poet came out of a decade-long retirement from music to record the album with Woods. Sadly, after a life-long struggle with depression, Berman committed suicide in 2019 just weeks before a widely-anticipated Purple Mountains tour.


And so as we say good-bye and good riddance to 2020 let’s pay tribute to those we lost and those among us who feel lost. And give thanks for the transcendence granted by the music that we love--whatever it may be--more important than ever this past year. Personally I’ll be riding it out with “Weekend Wind,” the mellow jammer that closes Strange To Explain. (Jason Lee)