Tune-Yards’ Musical and Political Journey

In the beginning…

I first met Tune-Yards (tUnE-yArDs) in May 2014. I was in Bend, Oregon seeing one of my all-time favorite bands, The National. Because there isn’t much to do in Bend, I showed up at the outdoor amphitheater hours before they opened the gates. The venue was located along the banks of the Deschutes River and the Oregon May weather couldn’t have provided a better evening for an outdoor concert. I was about the 10th person in line which led to me standing front row dead-center.

When Merrill Garbus of opening act Tune-Yards took the stage, I fell in love. Flamboyantly dressed, with an asymmetrical haircut, and paint on her face, she was so unapologetically herself that it was hard not to. Her music matched her quirky style with such uniqueness that I had never heard the likes of. On stage, she played with a loop-pedal, a ukulele, and various percussion instruments. Rounding out the band was bassist Nate Brenner, back-up singers, and another percussionist.

Hailing from New England, Tune-Yards’ music is characterized as Art-Pop, Alternative-Dance, or Lo-Fi Indie. I still remember hearing songs such as “Gangsta”, “Bizness”, and “Water Fountain” for the first time. I have now heard them hundreds of times and they’re still awesome.

The music continues

On January 19th, 2018, Tune-Yards released their fourth album I can feel you creep into my private life. While I was slightly disappointed with this album, compared to their earlier work including W H O K I L L (2011), there are still several songs that capture my attention. Opening track “Heart Attack” is solid and starts the album off strong.

Lyrically this album is very political. Garbus explores what it means to be a white woman in our society, primarily the privileges she experiences because of her race. In recent years, she has engrossed herself in an anti-racist curriculum attending workshops and joining activist groups including Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ). She seems to experience a tremendous amount of white guilt which is evident through the lyrics.

In the song “Coast to Coast”, Garbus sings, “the seeds are sown in small acts of violence… we let freedom ring, but whose freedom?” In “ABC 123” the theme continues, “I want so badly to be liked…I ask myself, ‘What should I do?’ but all I know is white centrality.” Of the song “Colonizer”, Garbus said, “I cringed all the way through making that song…I cried a lot too…I heard my voice speaking to a friend about this experience that I had in Kenya. A lot of people think that I’m making fun of another white woman in ‘Colonizer.’ No. This is me.” She sings, “I comb my white woman’s hair with a comb made especially, generally for me…I smell the blood in my voice.”

What white people listen to

In our society, essentially every music genre was pioneered by black Americans or influenced by music of the same roots. Some white musicians choose to completely ignore this as they sweep over fellow musicians collecting paychecks and Grammies. Other bands, like Tune-Yards, use their platform to highlight problems in society. While dance music might not be the greatest platform for these issues, it is what white people listen to.

Tune-Yards will be coming to Salt Lake on April 25th. They are playing live at the Depot with guest Brightest Diamond. The show is 21 and up and doors open at 7. Years after first hearing them, I am excited to re-experience Tune-Yards. This time headlining and performing in my home-state.



Dancing the Night Away with Passion Pit

Every so often I need a night of dancing, pressed against 1000 sweaty bodies, screaming lyrics into the air. You can imagine my excitement when I heard Passion Pit was playing at The Depot. I was in for a such a night and a memorable one at that.

Opening band Courtship did little to entice me. As soon as they took the stage I leaned over to a friend and whispered, “I’m probably not going to like this band.” I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but it was just so tempting. Hailing from Hollywood, they were the embodiment of LA hipsters. 4 good-looking boys played unoriginal indie-pop, dressed in designer clothes made to look like they came from a thrift store.

The music was pompously poppy and portrayed the sense that everything is happy and magical. Songs seemed to lack depth and complexity. The crowd went crazy as they covered “Hey Ya” by Outkast. The guitarist, who was essentially a glorified hype man, told a story about seeing Passion Pit years ago and how it was a dream come true to open for them just one year after forming a band. Dreams aside, I couldn’t wait for them to finish their set and Passion Pit to take the stage.

When Passion Pit front man Michael Angelakos stepped into the light I knew we were in for a show. He has a tremendous amount of swag in his shirt and tie, casually undone and untucked. He is confident and relaxed with the crowd that is looking to unwind themselves. Eager anticipation sweeps over the audience as they wait for the music to begin. Passion Pit jumps into “I’ll Be Alright” and the crowd erupts. They know every word and boogie with the music.

Passion Pit is currently touring following the 2017 release of their fourth studio album Tremendous Sea of Love. Formed in 2007, the indietronica band from Cambridge, Massachusetts has known moderate success. Manners (2009) and Gossamer (2012) performed well both critically and commercially. While their most recent albums have been less well received, Passion Pit continues to make their mark in the electropop world.

The crowd helped carry the concert and made it special. Due to Angelakos’ singing style, the vocals are fairly quiet. The voices of 1000 others singing along amplify the music and fill the room. Their love and help is appreciated and expressed by Angelakos. He jokes that his voice was never that strong, but the always energetic crowds of Salt Lake do the work for him. Passion Pit played the hits for around 70 minutes, including, “Sleepyhead”, “Carried Away”, and “Lifted Up (1985)”. After a brief exit and chanting from the crowd, Passion Pit returned to the stage to play “Talk a Walk”, the cherry on top of the sundae.

Passion Pit put on a marvelous concert. Michael Angelakos was entertaining and got the crowd involved. The dance-heavy show didn’t drag on and tire out the fans. The sound quality at The Depot is always top-notch. At the end of the day there is nothing better than live music, especially when it’s as good as Passion Pit.

Octopus Project at Urban Lounge

Monday Night. In Utah, typically reserved for families, board games, and green Jell-O. For some they are better occupied listening to live music at Urban Lounge, Salt Lake City. Of course, I’ll choose the latter. Not too many people left their nieces and nephews on Jan 22 when The Octopus Project came to town. When I first walked in there were only about 10 other people, exactly the way I like it.

Intimate shows are the way to go. Small venues with the stage right in front of your face. No metal barriers dividing musicians and the audience.  This is how music should be played/watched. There are too many ultra-artists playing in those mega-domes and super-stadiums. And some guy payed $200 for him and his daughter to sit in section 317 row J. Anyway, enough with my rant. Back to the important stuff.

The first band was SLC natives Indigo Plateau. With two guitars, bass, drums, and vocals they have a pretty classic dream-pop/alt-rock sound. And they sound pretty good. Both guitarists use a variety of effects during song interludes creating a nice atmosphere. Their music doesn’t blow me away with originality but an altogether strong sound. They were a good opener, playing for about 30 minutes.

The second act was New Fumes from Dallas, TX. A single musician graced the stage. A guitar hung around their neck and was surrounded by a variety of electronic gismos and gadgets creating the rest of the music. The music was wildly experimental. The vocals were incomprehensible and drowned out by the sheer noise. You’d often loose sense of tempo and rhythm. It was on the verge of being something truly original and cool but wasn’t quite there.

Headlining the show was Octopus Project. I first heard about them through a friend just a few weeks prior. I looked them up on Spotify and really liked what I heard. They are an experimental neo-psychedelic band from Austin, TX with a noteworthy sound. On stage, they are incredibly talented. The four musicians move around from instrument to instrument, each playing multiple throughout their hour-long set. Three of them provide lead vocals on at least one song, but much of their music is instrumental. They seem to have a strong connection as a band and play off each other immaculately.

Octopus Project put it all into their performance. Band-member Josh Lambert opened the show saying, “I know it’s cold and it’s a Monday but let’s have a fucking awesome time together.”  And that we did. The crowd had grown considerably but was still sporadic. Nevertheless, people danced, whooped, and hollered. Yvonne Lambert played an electronic instrument called a Theremin, which is played without physical contact. All-in-all it was a delightful show with excellent music.

Music is often inspiring and can teach us important life lessons. But sometimes it doesn’t have a deeper meaning. Sometimes it’s just meant to be enjoyed. Seeing Octopus Project was a chance to simply enjoy some live music.

Holiday Musical Adventures

During the holidays, I found myself in a very strange place, Portland, Oregon. As a music junkie, of course I was gonna check out the local music scene. There is no better way to get to know a place than to listen to its music and I had to make the most of my mere two nights in the city. The first night I wandered downtown into the Ash Street Saloon.

Ash Street Saloon is a landmark in Portland. Located just around the corner from the famous Voodoo Doughnuts, the dirty rock bar features nightly live music. Locals go here to grab some pub food, a microbrew, and to listen to Portland’s common people become rockstars. December 27th, 2017 was dubbed the Farewell to Indie Rock because unfortunately, Ash Street Saloon will close in 2018.

According to the Portland Mercury, “commercial real estate agents have already begun showing the property to potential new tenants.” The owner has no plans to open a second or similar venue, “which means it’s time to celebrate Ash Street for what it has always been since it first opened its doors on Halloween 1994: a readily accessible venue for live music, specializing in local, loud, and low-cover shows, often spotlighting bands before they break through on the scene.”

I felt like an outsider as bands that had been playing here for years graced the stage one last time. That night featured sets from King Ghidora, J. Graves, Another Neighbor Disappeared, The Hoons, The Bible Belts, Pink Tornado, and Aux.78. There was nothing too special about the venue, but the poorly lit room with overbearing music didn’t try to be anything it wasn’t. It simply was what it was.

Night Two started with a red headed flannel wearing Lyft driver picking me up in a blue Prius, but when in Rome right? We ventured to what is acknowledged as one of the top music venues in Portland, Mississippi Studios. Inside the intimate room attached to Bar Bar, it’s all about the music. Built, owned, run, and for musicians, they provide a comfortable setting for local musicians to showcase a variety of new and innovative music.

The room was absolutely beautiful. The floors are semi-carpeted with rugs. The red painted walls suspend wooden guitars surrounded by angel wings. Purple lights shine down on decorative drums that line the balcony.

The first band was Volcanic Pinnacles. They are only a drummer and a sax player, yet produce sound that is so complex and intriguing besides using such little instrumentation. The perpetual pounding of the drums keep rhythm, while the smooth sax plays with effects pedals looping, distorting, and morphing the sound. Their music is some kind of post jazz psych rock and is fantastic. They stole the show at the beginning of the night.

Long Hallways was the second instrumentalist band of the night. The 5 musicians formed a mini-orchestra with drums, trumpet, synthesizers, a bass, guitar, xylophone, flute, cello, and a euphonium. They play post indie rock and display a comfortable familiarity on stage. Therefore, between songs you can hear them talking with each other. The bass player casually raised a finger to the crowd to indicate “last song”.

The final band was Mercury Tree. A simple 3-piece band that played indie rock with a twist. They had modified a guitar and bass dividing the octave into seventeen notes, five more than the standard twelve used in Western music. The lead singer’s microphone was programmed with heavy effects. Tempo variation within songs and strange titles such as “Hedgehogs are the Emperors of Space” and “Jazz Hands of Doom” added to their uniqueness.

However, as the rollercoaster of a year that was 2017 came to an end, these nights exploring the Portland music scene were exactly what I needed. It helped me unwind after the stresses of the year and reminded me of a few things. Primarily, that the world is constantly changing. Local hideouts are getting shut down and replaced with big businesses. Music is evolving and growing as technology improves. Change can be frightening but can lead to positive transformation. May 2018 bring innovation, personal expression, and new music to help get us through.

Album Review: Polygondwanaland by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

One problem that I have with the music industry is how commercialized it has become. Concert prices are going up and band tees are 50 bucks a pop. Meanwhile, record companies are making billions and artists are losing creative control.

Some bands, like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, are combatting this epidemic. The Australian psychedelic rock band released their 12th studio album and 4th this year, Polygondwanaland, on November 17, 2017. The marvel of this record is it is 100 percent free.  On the band’s website, they say this album is “free to download and if you wish, free to make copies.” They have put up a link to the mp3 files and the CD and vinyl masters. King Gizzard says, “we do not own this record. You do. Go forth, share, enjoy.”

Polygondwanaland is a made-up word referencing multiple different things. Gondwana was 1 of 2 supercontinents that formed Pangea. It consisted of Antarctica, South America, Africa, Australia, the Arabian Peninsula and the Indian subcontinent. Polygon might reference their album Nonagon Infinity which pictures a polygon with 9 sides. Many of their albums exist inside the same interconnected universe and reference each other. Polygondwanaland uses polyrhythms, uncommon time signatures, and takes you on a journey to a mysterious land.

“Crumbling Castle” is the 10-minute opener. Several of their other albums, including I’m in Your Mind Fuzz (2014) and Murder of the Universe (2017), depict castles in the artwork. Descending guitar and vocals alternate between playing in unison and stagnated with complex polyrhythms. Guitar and flute solos take you up and away as they begin to enter the new world of Polygondwanaland. The lyrics are dark and gloomy. Stu Mackenzie sings, “we wait for our death… our extinction.” This is a heavy epic opening that sets the tone for the rest of the album.

“Polygondwanaland” begins with groovy drums and bass. They talk about climate change and how it will create a new world. They sing, “Snow melts… it will get hot.” Perhaps polygondwanaland is the new world that will be formed after the climate settles down. Mackenzie hopefully sings, “we’re gonna get there.”

Each song transitions seamlessly between one another. They tell a single story and build off each other. Spoken words by Leah Senior narrate the story and propel the album forward. Synth interludes give the impression of time traveling. Relentless drums drive us into “Deserted Dunes Welcome Weary Feet” where we learn that polygondwanaland is full of dinosaurs.

A theme of this album is gods and devils and the battle between good and evil. “Loyalty” is about a god whose people revolt against him. He chooses to make an example and show his wrath until he gets his loyalty. “Horology” takes you “to the ninth circle of hell”. They sing about a demon creature the walks across the land with death.

The last 3 songs touch on the theme of tetrachromacy, which is having 4 distinct cone cells in the eye. This condition is seen in many birds, fish, and other animals. Humans only have 3, which is why we see 3 primary colors. Millennia ago, all mammals were tetrachromats but it has been genetically phased out over time.

“Tetrachromacy” introduces this idea of a fourth color that humans have ever seen. They become curious about this color and “lust to see the invisible”. “Searching…” is the mysterious transition. Mackenzie sings, “Doctor please… I want to see the world differently.” The surgery is successful. They can now see “The Fourth Color” and it has granted them god-like powers. They can “see through walls… your terror… [and] the future.”

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard has delivered another stellar album with Polygondwanaland. The use of strange rhythms and time signatures creates a unique sound and music that is anything but boring. The albums complexity and connectedness transports you into a new world as all good psychedelic albums should. Free music is a futuristic idea and one that I can get behind. King Gizzard has promised another album this year, so all we can do is eagerly await as they explore new musical ideas.

What’s On My Playlist? #3

There are certain songs that you can never get enough of. We listen to them over and over till we have every minor detail memorized. These are a couple of my favorite songs that I have been listening to recently.

“I Need A Forest Fire” by James Blake, Bon Iver

“I Need A Forest Fire” was released in May of last year on James Blake’s album The Colour in Anything. Blake teams up with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver on this heart-wrencher. Their similar music styles yet distinct voices mix perfectly providing an interesting texture. A loop-pedal, electric drums, and a synth are all these musicians need as they plead for a forest fire, a restart.

“Tap Water Drinking” by Lewis Del Mar

Lewis Del Mar is an experimental rock duo from NYC. They combine simple, often single note, acoustic guitar melodies with heavy distortion, electronic beats, and Danny Miller’s spoken word style lyrics. “Tap Water Drinking” is about a sexual relationship between two people. The song starts off innocent and simple but soon grows darker, heavier, and more distorted. This symbolizes how relationships sometimes get out of hand and become destructive.

“Rattlesnake” by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

“Rattlesnake” is the psychedelic rock band’s 8-minute opening song to their album Flying Microtonal Banana. This song and album use modded guitars as they explore the world of microtonal tuning. “Rattlesnake” takes you into the desert where the familiar rattle is lurking around every corner. Don’t get lost because the serpent is always there waiting to strike.

“Carin at the Liquor Store” by The National

Released earlier this year, “Carin at the Liquor Store” is another National song that hits you deep down. The namesake of the song is lead singer Matt Berninger‘s wife, Carin. An elegant piano melody accompanies Berninger singing in his unmistakable baritone, “blame it on me.” By the time the guitar solo comes you’re already in tears. What more can you ask for from music?

“Oceans” by Seafret

It’s been said that all you need is a guitar, 3 chords, and the truth. This indie-folk duo from the U.K. doesn’t use much more than that on their 2016 track “Oceans”. Sounds of crashing waves and dripping water fill the background. Vocalist Jack Sedman sings, “I want you… but it feels like there’s oceans between you and me.” This song tells us that love is complicated and sometimes it doesn’t work how we imagine.

“Dissolve” by Private Island

The indie-rock band from Southern California delivers wonders on this jam. A fantastic guitar melody reals you in, and the passionate vocals seal the deal. The lyrics tell the story of an ending relationship. They sing, “take me back now,” and “when they say your name, they can watch me, watch them, watch me dissolve.”

“Sun in Your Eyes” by Grizzly Bear

“Sun in Your Eyes” is the last song on the psychedelic folk album Shields (2012). The song slowly builds 3 different times with subtle repetition and slight variance. Each time it gets bigger and better. The lyrics, “I’m never coming back”, are repeated multiple times. By the end of the song, you’ll be asking yourself if you can ever go back to who you were before it began.


Arcade Fire live from Las Vegas


Arcade Fire sets the stage big when they perform live. When I saw them in Las Vegas, they had a square stage designed like a boxing ring. The 9 musicians on stage play somewhere between 20 and 30 instruments.  Just 3 weeks after the worst mass-shooting in US history, the Canadian indie-rock band fearlessly took the stage at Mandalay Bay. Lead singer Win Butler offered his condolences to the victims of the horrible attack followed by “f*ck being afraid”.

Arcade Fire neither lacks style nor confidence. In a recent interview with the Chicago Tribune, Butler said, “I feel like we’re one of the best rock bands on Earth now.” The lead singer has also been quoted saying they are one of the best performing bands of all time. Before you dismiss them as crazy, go to one of their shows and then decide.

The squareness of stage meant no front. Arcade Fire was constantly moving around rotating from side to side. They had enough members so that all sides of the stage were always filled. The beauty of this design was it allowed more people to get close to the stage. The constant rotation gave the concertgoers a chance to meet each individual musician, instead of staring at one the entire night.

Opening act Angel Olsen, didn’t have the band members or preparation to fill the stage in the same way. They stuck to one side, and unfortunately my friends and I were on the wrong side. Frustration arose as we could just see their backs. They sounded hollow, as if they weren’t able to fill the entirety of the arena. Had I seen the indie-folk artist in a cozier venue and actually been able to see them, I might have enjoyed the show.

The stage wasn’t the only boxing themed part of Arcade Fire’s performance. As they were entering, an announcer on the overhead speaker stated each musician’s “boxing” record. They walked through the crowd with their pump-up music blaring (“Everything_Now (continued)”), then climbed through the ropes and started into “Everything Now”.

The next hour and a half were awesome. It is pretty obvious when bands love performing. Their passion radiates through the crowd who in turn loves watching them perform. Smiles were visible on the faces of band members Richard Reed Perry and Regine Chassagne. Will Butler is one of the most animated performers I have ever seen. Whether he is banging on a drum or jamming on synth, just watching him will bring you pure joy.

Arcade Fire’s sound doesn’t miss a beat transitioning from recordings to live shows. Balancing that many different musicians and instruments can be difficult but they do it with ease. The music is extremely powerful yet so fine-tuned you can still hear each individual instrument.

The disco balls and strobe lights are programmed beautifully so that the lights portray what the music is playing. There are moments of complete darkness and others when fog is so thick they disappear from view. Light and dark are themes that Arcade Fire loves exploring in their music and they bring that into their live shows.

Their setlist was spread-out across their 5 albums playing at least 3 songs from each. They finish with fan favorite “Wake Up”, and leave the stage with the crowd still singing the chorus. Many concertgoers continued singing as they flooded into the casino. I don’t have the expertise to say if Arcade Fire is one of the greatest performing bands of all time, but it was one of my favorite shows I’ve ever been to.

The Music of Halloween

I love the month of October. Utah is beautiful, you can pull out your old sweaters, and of course Halloween. Aside from the jack-o-lanterns, costumes, and candy, the sounds of this season are amazing. Hearing creaking doors, howling wolfs, or whispering winds can make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Music is the greatest thing to create a mood, and the music inspired by Halloween does just that.

During the ancient Celtic festival Samhain, people would light fires and wear costumes to scare off ghosts. That night they would play dark folk music. These haunting tunes, known as souling songs, are still played in parts of Europe today. Children go out in groups singing these souling song and begging for treats.

Dark classical music is often associated with Halloween for its mysterious overtures and frightening melodies. Johann Sebastian Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony number 5 in C Minor” are iconic songs recognized by many as the first Halloween songs. Dozens of other composers from Rachmaninoff to Vivaldi have taken a crack at capturing the eeriness, suspense, and gloom of this beloved time.

In recent years, horror films and their accompanying scores have been a new way to showcase scary music. Movies live and die by their soundtrack. Good horror films have soundtracks that put you on the edge of your seat and make the film enticing. Films such as Psycho, The Shining, and Saw have powerful musical themes which add to their popularity and success. Other movies like Jaws and Ghostbusters feature songs that have become so popular they stand alone. The Nightmare Before Christmas and A Clockwork Orange are two of my personal favorite horror film soundtracks.

Halloween has also made its way into the rock and pop world over the last few decades. Bobby “Boris” Picket’s “Monster Mash” was released in 1962 and was #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 prior to Halloween of that year. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was listed as the most successful music video by Guinness World Records and is in the Library of Congress. It’s safe to say that people love scary music.

Aside from the two Halloween songs that everyone knows, many other artist have been inspired by the horrors of Halloween. The Cure’s “Lullaby” from the album Disintegration (1980), is a haunting track and the one of the darkest from the gothic-rock band. They sing an ominous tale of the always hungry Spiderman.

David Bowie’s song “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)” features screeching guitars and sharp piercing chimes. Bowie sings of running scared from the horrors of monsters. Other songs inspired by this holiday include The Ramones “Pet Sematary”, Morrissey’s “Ouija Board, Ouija Board”, and Alice Cooper’s “Feed My Frankenstein”.

Although Halloween lacks full length albums, like Christmas, there is a wide variety of music that features themes of fear, fright, and horror. For centuries, this music has been revered by several different cultures. Today it is the music of October, the music of Halloween. It shows how music can create powerful emotions and is one of the reasons why this time is beloved by so many.