The Orwells – Terrible Human Beings

The Orwells are at it again with their third release almost three years after the well-received Disgraceland. However, with this new record comes a new set of challenges for the group: not only are they in competition with their earlier releases, but also, the question of how long rock and roll records are going to keep getting attention. In some views, The Orwells are our today’s Strokes: five dudes making rock and roll; claimed to be saviors of the genre; youthful, spirited, sexy; etc. But it’s the contrast between the two bands and their respective eras that bring up the obstacles of reality this new record faces: the Strokes got to be in a world where MTV still gave a shit about music; the Orwells get to hope that a portion of one of their songs play while VH1 transitions between episodes of “America’s Next Top Model;” the Strokes got to release records when people were still buying them; the Orwells get to have their pennies snubbed by Apple Music and Spotify; the Strokes were able to inspire a generation of kids to pick up a guitar; the Orwells might be some of the last of those kids. However, their situation isn’t all dismal. They are still able to tour as a group and they do have an unprecedented ability to make old rock and roll tropes seem alive and well.

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“They Put a Body In the Bayou” came out late last year and made promise the band was going to make another good delivery. Batting off the record it sets a high standard that are quickly followed up by “Fry” and “Creature,” two tracks that demonstrate the sassy yet relatable demeanor that has become loved of the band. “Buddy,” also an early single, probably comes out of the record as the best looking track. It’s quick, under a minute-thirty and is about one-night-stands, which has always been a favorite of rock and roll. “Hippie Soldier” and “Heavy Head” keep the record moving at solid rates with tormented guitars laments of “the easy way out” until it arrives at “Body Reprise,” a minute-fifteen ambient track full of hollow “ooooohs” with a vacant drum beat that I’m sure Brian Eno could at least nod at.

Wrapping up the record, “Ring Pop” and “Last Call” bring on a noise level that calls across to pond and time to those 1970s pub rock bands like Duck Deluxe and Dr. Feelgood who were as indifferent to the last call as the Orwells are to diminishing record sales. “Double Feature,” clocking at a surprising 7:18 for the band, brings on a perspective of questioning life choices and what chance a man has “from the wrong side of the tracks.” After few verses and choruses, the band dive into an instrumental break with guitar technical that surfaces images of what Television was doing years ago and introduces more howling vocals similar to what was going on in “Body Reprise.”

By the end, though, this record turns out to be a solid release, but, however, nothing more significant than that. It’s an album defined by the rock and roll tropes it lives up to. Nothing is out of place, wrong or a short step from the Orwells, it’s just very familiar. Without a newer cause or figurative idea of what rock and roll could be, it comes out as another record. Thirty years ago if this had been released it would have gotten a fair amount of attention and deserved it. Though, if it were released a hundred years from now no one would probably know it. Terrible Human Beings is a good record, but, however, because of the times and with all of the other noise out there, it’s just not that exciting.

Interview with Sunsleeper

Following the release of their new EP, Stay the Same, I had the pleasure of sitting down with local emo/rock band, Sunsleeper, to discuss their music, background, and plans for the future.

I met up with Sunsleeper at Kilby Court for their December 17th show. After the band finished up with their soundcheck, we all headed into the green room where I was introduced to the members of the band: Jeff (Guitar and Vocals), Scott (Drums), Eli (Bass), and Thys (Guitar and Backup Vocals).

We started off the conversation by discussing the history of the band and how Sunsleeper formed into what it is today. Jeff began by explaining that before Sunsleeper, all of the members were in various bands around Salt Lake and met up with one another through mutual friends. Strangely enough, before the band had even formed, Scott and Jeff had ended up standing next to each other at a concert without any knowledge that one day they’d be in a band together.

Before the interview, however, I was able to listen to a little bit of their soundcheck and noticed them playing a song from the band, Brand New, an emo/rock band from New York. I then asked the band what some of their musical influences were.

“100% Brand New… Brand New is my biggest influence, [they’re] the reason I started playing music in the first place…,” Jeff explained.

While Sunsleeper is heavily influenced by Brand New, they create a sound that’s unique to them; something that’s genuine and personal. The song “Maple Drive,” especially, is an emotional amalgamation of soft and clean melodies with a gritty chorus and heartfelt lyricism. While listening to their EP, I might’ve shed a tear or two, but I think an album is truly special when it can elicit that much emotion in its listeners.

Apart from their sound, something that truly stood out to me was their album art. The image is a simple flower on top of a light blue background, but the photo is so striking and elegant, and perfectly encompasses the feel of the band. Because album art is such an iconic part of a band’s image, I asked them about their process in choosing the photo. Jeff talked about how one of his close friends Ryan ended up being the photographer for their main album photo:

“He [Ryan] was my best friend growing up… and I randomly went to his company page… and I looked at his header photo…and was like ‘that’s it’…I remember sending it in a group text [to the other band members] and everyone was just like ‘that’s the record cover’… And it’s especially special to me that it was Ryan who took it because he’s basically my brother.”

Lastly, I asked the band if they had any plans for future releases.

“We’re working on some stuff; tentatively want to record sometime next year [2017]. It’s really up in the air, but yeah we probably have 4 or 5 skeletons of songs,” Jeff mentioned.

Thys added: “We are trying to stay as busy as we can, we’ve gotten a lot of traction lately and want to be really action-oriented, so hopefully we can get some music out sooner than later.”

While new music is still in the works, it’s obvious that Sunsleeper is definitely a band to keep an eye out for in the future. If you haven’t heard any of Sunsleeper’s music, take a listen the song “Maple Drive” below and definitely check them out on their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr!

 

 

Editor’s Spotify: Theo Katzman’s Heartbreak Hits

I was listening to my Discovery Playlist on Spotify earlier the week when I found someone I had to talk about, an LA based rocker named Theo Katzman and his album Heartbreak Hits. Katzman’s Soul, Rock, and Jazz influences combine to create a modern rock album that hits all check marks, even a punky picture of the lead man on the cover, and it’s all I’ve been listening to this week.

There’s not a bad track on this album, from top to bottom and front to back it’s solid as a rock. The opening track I Put In The Hard Work where Katzman laments time and energy put into a past romance, gives us something of a teaser. While subject matter, like most songs on this album, isn’t going to give anyone a revelation about break ups, it’s so well done I couldn’t help to groove to it. The guitar heavy intro brought me in as a well composed swinging beat topped off by Katzman lyrics sung with in classic rock falsetto, there was no escape I needed to listen to the whole thing.

Heartbreak Hits isn’t afraid throw a fast ball and switch to a slow song like Break-up together and my 1-bedroom. Katzman’s grooving energetic tone somehow sticks around during these tracks and I still found myself rocking back and forth as he shows a more sensitive touch. These songs are heavily influenced by Katzman’s Jazz upbringing with a strong focus complex melodies and employing full use of the chorus and piano that otherwise take a back seat to guitars and Katzman’s lead vocals for the rest of the album.

Katzman is at his best when he goes loud. In this humble editor-in-chief’s opinion there is no exciting moment on Heartbeak Hits then when Katzman goes full rocker. The guitars whale, the drums burst into a beat straight out of the garage, and Katzman puts all out there the mic. My Heart is Dead, Lost and Found, and As the Romans Do are the type of polished and heart-felt rock songs that we just do not get a lot of these days, and it’s great to hear a student at the Art go town.

Although with all of that said I would be remorse if I didn’t mention the album’s most powerful track. Paine Jane Heroine. I can’t tell if the song is about a girl, Heroin, or some combination of both. But after learning about the Opioid epidemic that faces our country this week I couldn’t help but be moved. The song is sliced somewhere in the middle when it comes to energy, not soft not loud but perfect for painting the picture of drug addiction and its disastrous effects on lives. The sincerity and simplicity that make this album work is on full display and if you are going to listen to one song off this album this is the one.

Heartbreak Hits isn’t a complex album. There’s minimal amounts of production that creates a clean sound. There is no wonky instrumentation to create some weird hook and Katzman barely isn’t flashy in any sort of way, he is just a dude lookin’ to rock. It’s ten solid Pop Rock songs on level that I haven’t heard in while that together create the solidest album I have so far this year, take or leave it, but that it’s what’s on my Spotify.

Young the Giant and that patented Millennial sound

It’s midnight last Saturday and I’m at a friend’s place playing board games when my phone vibrates. At first I don’t give it a second though, between all the useless emails and unimportant Slack messages I get on a daily bases it’s probably something that could wait a few minutes, besides it’s Saturday night. Eventually, In-between rounds I take a casual look at my phone and my mind begins to race. The free tickets for this month were posted and I am late to the party. Most everything has been claimed, but Luckily there was still a ticket left to one of the biggest concerts this month, Young the Giant and through what must have been some form of divine intervention I was able to snag a ticket.

I’m not a big Young the Giant fan and definitely couldn’t name many of their songs outside their hits. However, for me, as with a lot of people my age, Young the Giant helped to create our sound. Young the Giant’s single My Body came out when I was just entering High School and it was like nothing I had ever heard. The spacey guitar, grooving rhythm, and introspective vocals about the soul were so different from everything else at the time. It was a part of the first wave of 2010s indie bands to hit the mainstream. With their hit singles Bands like FUN., Foster the People, and Young the Giant opened the doors to a new sound that has come to reflect a huge segment of this generation. Late night car rides, laughter, heartbreak, and everything happened as their songs played in the background, because of that any of them are worth seeing when they come to town.

At a time where mainstream music was ruled by pop artist like Ke$ha, Rihanna, and 3OH!3 Bands like Young the Giant offered to the masses a completely different sound. Which in a time where most of us still either payed for music or listened to it on the radio was a big deal. Growing up, it seemed like mainstream music had a lot to do with partying and sex. But Young the Giant and their single my Body did something different, something with meat. Their music had slow points, soft points, loud points, and fast points it was dynamic. The lyrics went beyond the crust, diving into intense introspection by conveying layers of emotion. Songs like My Body and Cough Syrup gave the listener more to think about than a song like Ke$ha’s Tic Toc or Like a G6 by Free Wired. They were personal, touching on real life problems and showed that band the created them was not just a group of bad asses but rather just people.

I hear the complaint that all indie music sounds the same few a lot. That they all start with a synthesizer, have similar lyrics, or the same composition and on occasion I even agree. However, the farther we get from that day in 2010 when I first bought Foster the People’s Pumped Up Kicks the more grateful I am that I did. For all of its quirks, condescension, and pomp indie gave me something that I didn’t look for 7 years ago, depth. That’s why I rushed to grab tickets to see Young the Giant this weekend, it gives me a chance to reflect on that and also some amazing musicians live. See you there.

 

 

 

 

You can grab tickets to Young the Giant here: http://www.thecomplexslc.com/event-1258.htm

Moon Duo – Occult Architecture Vol. 1

This first release of the two volumes, which will be catalogued together as the band’s fourth record, takes on the Yin of Chinese philosophy – the Yang to be taken care of in vol. 2. Roughly translating to “the shady side of the hill,” the Yin in vol. 1 is used as a vessel to take on a more grim subject matter, moving through night and dark, bumping into ideas like how vague and black the world can be. This is all according to the duo themselves, Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada. They found themselves in the darkness of a Portland winter at the start of making this record, and having ended in the season of infectious scents that is a northwestern spring, they thought it would only make sense to evolve this record as winter to spring, night to day, dark to light – Yin to Yang.

Pigeonholing themselves in the genre of what they call “repeat-o rock” (their incessant repetition and uncompromising loop of riffs provides a cadence that probably first attributes to punk legends, Suicide) they surface their dark contemplations, batting off with “The Death Set.” Setting the stage for rest of the record’s ambience, the track contains relentless fuzzed out guitar, a beat you can coolly nod your head back and forth to, synths attacking from all directions and soft, yet demented, gospel-like vocals that keep you in tune with the evolution taking place. “Cold Fear” and “Will of the Devil” bring on more of the same allowing the band to flex their commitment and show that if something gets stuck in their heads it won’t be over for at least another five minutes. But it’s when we get to “Creepin” that perspective shifts a bit and listening to it you feel like you could be on some coastal highway zipping along the beach in a convertible. Ironically, given the dark tones and discrepancy of light within the rest of the album, this will probably be the composition that sticks with you come the end of the album. However, I might only think that because we are in the dead of winter and I could really use a beach. “Cross-Town Fade” and “Cult of Moloch” are great tracks that alleviate the bite from a cold breeze; the former surfaces the likely influence of Suicide bringing out old-school drum machines that compliment the playful synthesizers that might sound familiar if you’re into the Brooklyn art project Japanther, and the latter elevates the band to their most tenacious mode demonstrating a duel of two soloing guitars above the atmosphere of drum machines and fuzzed-out-guitars-on-repeat.

Vol. 1 comes to its conclusion, and where it will pivot to the Yang and sunny skies in Vol. 2, in “White Rose.” The track channels in with sound of ambient winds, almost like air moving through an indefinite valley, void of time and consequence, until the beat kicks in and you remember that you’re listening to a song. The song itself moves in and out of its gospel, clashing synths and guitar solos, but never let’s that beat stop. Not for a second. Not until the ambient winds return after 10 minutes and it fades away under the stiff breeze, and you’re once again lost. The winds push through the valley, revealing to your mind that they will come again, like all seasons – winter, spring, summer, fall, winter again – and that life is just a repetition of rotation of earth. Like the beat, the winds fade away and you’re back from void, but with all of this still realized, and it’s the moment this record ends that you understand that a good life isn’t a lack of repetition, but rather, an excess of variation that you can fade in and out of.

Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!

On Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 masterpiece, To Pimp A Butterfly, we heard him calling out to the world, “We want the funk.” It seems like Childish Gambino heard him and indulged his request because Awaken, My Love! is oozing with soul. Donald Glover unveiled this newest project at a three day album-listening event called Pharos in Joshua Tree National Park, CA. This was in September and many fans were prepared for the upcoming release then, only to be disappointed until December when we received another iconic album from a hip hop demigod.

Donald Glover picked up right where he left off on Because The Internet. Towards the end of his 2013 LP, Gambino focuses a little more on his singing and introduces some voice augmentation, which are staples of this new record. If you are a fan of Donald’s rapping, this new album might be a little disappointing for you.

I’ve been a sick boi (fan of Childish Gambino. Girls are called Gambino girls) ever since I heard “Crown on the Ground” in 2009. To give you an idea why, check out KaptainKristian’s video about why Donald Glover is the ultimate modern renaissance man (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OgQ3Hpj-CBU). One of the reasons I’m such a big fan of Donald Glover is that he never seems to shy away from who he is. He is impressively authentic and it’s what draws so many adoring fans to his shows. For much of his career as an entertainer, he has been an oddball: a token character trying to find his way in a world where not a lot of people look like him. It seems like this type of isolation plagued him as a child as well but his art has been a lovely side project in what I’m sure is a very confusing life. Donald Glover has been many things in front of his audiences: Goofy, mature, unfiltered, closed-off, the list could go on. But the one thing that Childish Gambino has always skirted around is his blackness. He has always poked fun at it in his raps and stand-up shows and he was never being disingenuous when he did acknowledge his skin color. He was simply being Donald. But it seems in this latest LP that he is ready to declare his ethnicity to the world. Instead of it being the reason why the kids at school made fun of him or why he is automatically given a pass to rap as an actor, it is the reason for his deep love of life and his fellow humans. He doesn’t even talk about him being black specifically on the album. He just is. And it’s beautiful.

If you like good, energy-filled, touch-your-soul type of music, this album is for you. My dad raised me on funk and soul music so I am definitely a little biased in my opinion of this record. It’s not perfect by any means but damn is it fun to listen to.

Score: 7.6