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Alt Pop





The Silk War explores dialectical materialism on debut LP

You gotta give it up for a band that lives up to their name right out of the gate (no knock on Brian Wilson but he was more into backyard sandboxes than actual beaches and sadly the one “real Beach Boy” in the group drowned—choose those band names wisely kids) and so you gotta give it up for The Silk War, a band that even on their debut album (Come Evening) have already got the whole “dialectical opposites” thing down cold.

Because “silk” and “war” are two things you don’t expect to go together (which is basically true of "war" and anything nice like silk or doilies or Swiss watches) but here is a musical collective that dives fully into their moniker with abandon and not in the obvious sense of depicting “bedroom conflicts” aka "silk wars" to which the real Silk War would say hold my martini (quoting directly from their frontperson: “Heartbreaks don’t really do it for me. Not like a lot of people who think that, you know, I need that and now I’m a poet. If someone doesn’t wanna fuck me anymore, it’s not bad.”) because over the course of 11 songs they delve again and again into the Freudian construct of Eros and Thanatos and some of the forms these two core conflicting-yet-codependent drives can take and translate them into toe-tapping orch pop and dark indie rock songs that combine dread and desire in equal measure.

And maybe right about now you’re thinking “here we go with the overreach” but rest assured everything written here is based on direct empirical evidence because not long ago I met up with Silk War’s singer/lyricist/acoustic guitarist and co-songwriter Alexandra Blair (the other co-songwriter in question is guitarist/producer James “Jimmy” Mullen) for a chat and she verified the broad contours of my theory and described how her songwriting is galvanized by a “circadian rhythm” of revelry and despair—with the sense of transcendence of a proper S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night on the town soon followed by S-U-N-D-A-Y Morning Coming Down doldrums so there’s your Eros and Thanatos interplay right there no matter the actual days of the week, not to mention the closely related notion of creative destruction or destructive creativity whichever you prefer.

And here in our conversation Ms. Blair references the Orson Welles “cuckoo clock” speech from the Third Man which is highly apropos—not to mention her mentions of Bukowski, Nabokov and Sartre at other points and her love of literature in general—so be forewarned there’s a reading list involved if you wanna fully get onto the Silk War Wavelength.

[[Before going any further I should mention any quote here from Alexandra that is sans quotation marks is paraphrased on my part because I used a voice memo app to record our talk and of course it picked up all kinds of ambient noise and nearby conversations, and using a transcription app didn’t help much either because it had me replying to the statement above with “Cool madness better. Right. Chickens, crazy” and while I wish I’d said that it seems unlikely because I wasn’t that many beers in yet. Still, I’d like to think Alexandra really did say “The vicious alliterates, but also like the tender Fucking drama” at some point and yes the phone app capitalized “Fucking” for some reason because why not.]]

Come Evening opens with “Little Souls” which sets the stage for the dialectical musical materialism (!) to come, a song that's by turns somber and stirring, Apollonian and Dionysian. Fading in on some dour church organ tones, soon a faraway phoning-it-in voice informs us “our barbaric ritual can begin” (finally!) before a quick reverse-fade suddenly snaps us out of our reverie and we’re thrust into a new musical texture with a driving rhythm section and crisp acoustic guitar work and melodic electric lead, but never losing the downward spiral organ chords with Alexandra declaiming, “There’s a dark wet side of things / crystallized in perfumes / masqueraded with rings” which right away lays out the stakes of shape-shifting "dark wet" primal desires and fears (the perfume here may be crystallized, but soon it’ll be dispersed into the ether again) that make our narrator want to be swept away but at the same time wary of getting a little too swept up in this twilight world where we’re all “forgetting our need to sleep” and “breaking windows for the beauty of it” and there’s your creative destruction right there.

In “Little Souls” we also get our first exposure to another dialectical relationship in a singing style that alternates between half-sung-half-spoken “recitative” at one extreme and more melodic “aria” sections on the other extreme (especially when it comes to the hooks). And yeah I realize recitative/aria are terms from opera, but it’s not a total stretch given that A. is well versed with these terms as a formally trained singer because she majored in Vocal Performance at NYU after moving here from Chicago.

And oh yeah “Little Souls” includes one of my favorite images from the record which doubles as a fashion tip (“I’ll paint my nails black to cover up / all that New York dirt”) which also supports A.’s contention that this is a true New York City record and which also supports my contention of Eros/Thanatos lying at the heart of Come Evening. Because really any truly great city like NYC should be hellbent on killing you (Thanatos) but if it doesn’t kill you it’ll make you fall in love with it (Eros) not despite of it’s murderous intent but (perversely, you pervert!) because of it. Or as A. puts it: “Have you ever biked through Bushwick? You get dirt in your eyes! It’s disgusting. You have to wear sunglasses. You have to be able to withstand it. And at the same time absorb it, and love it. And fucking hate it. By becoming yourself and wearing [inaudible] with whatever you feel on the outside and creating something out of [inaudible]” and well you get the idea despite the omissions. (for those with too much time on their hands: if you wanna read up on the Marxist dialectics of modern urban living and New York City specifically then I'd highly recommend Marshall Berman's All That Is Solid Melts Into Air which is still entertaining and enlightening nearly 40 years after its initial publication...)

The next two songs on Come Evening keep riding the dialectical rails with “Barcelona” being about a man who sabotages his present by confusing it with his past (and probably a half dreamt-up past at that) and again the beginning sounds like you’re waking up from a dream before launching into a catchy piano-driven baroque-pop number with a video shot inside a Brooklyn church interspersed with shots of Alexandra walking into the sea all Kate Chopin like (and oh yeah I should have mentioned the music video for “Little Souls” is modeled on Maya Deren's 1944 short film At Land for all you aspiring cineaste avant-garde types). And then the next song “The Blue Hour” (as befits its title) explores the liminal state between night and day, sleep and waking, dreams and reality, where they’re all not so easy to distinguish and you think to yourself, “I’ve been awake for a long time / I’ll sort it out.” 

And then and then (in no particular order) there’s the deceptively upbeat dance-pop of “Slender Slander” which deals with gun violence; and “Lark Mirror” which uses a bird hunter's decoy mechanism as a metaphor for delusion but in string-swelling, spine-tingling form especially when it gets to the line about “not wasting my youth on you”; “New York (You’re My Religion)” has a nice glam-pop swing to it and the title’s pretty self-explanatory, while the stately closing waltz of “Sylvia” is less self-explantory but now you know it’s about Sylvia Plath; “Agoria Phobia” opens with a slinky, stop-start groove that most bands would not hesitate to build an entire song around. But Silk War are good about not repeating themselves, or at least only repeating themselves with variation, and this song completely changes after about a minute never to return to the intro part again.

And then and then “Second Age” opens up with a Joy Division beat and some doomy chords but ends almost six minutes later sounding like the song is soaring to the heaven even though the lyrics stay sick throughout; “Velvet” uses the veil as a metaphor for imperfections both hidden and exposed (those dialectics again!) while the penultimate “My Familiar” represents the demonic doppelgänger of its title with an epic eight-minute arrangement that starts with a witchy mystical sounding opening section and then makes it way through a whole serious of ebbs and flows before arriving at some Pink Floyd-worthy ethereal keyboard arpeggiating and psychedelic guitar wailing before ebbing and cresting one last time with a triumphant declaration of autonomy. 

And did I mention this song comes off impressively live? Because when the Silk War appear in person they really amps up the Dionysian side of things with Alexandra stalking the stage (and the audience!) like a test-tube fusion of Siouxsie Sioux and Stevie Nicks and Wendy O. Williams's DNA but with the band holding down the Apollonian side of things with ornate musical arrangements precisely rendered as seen in the video above I took of them at the recent Come Evening album release party. And no the sound quality’s not perfect because this was recorded on a phone but it turned out a hell of a lot better than the interview and should give you enough incentive to see them live which like a waking dream you can never quite recapture afterward but you know it was damn near perfect when it happened. —Jason Lee

photo by John Burgundy, Berlin Under A, 08.26.21

 





Indulge on a Fresh Glass of Disco Lemonade

Kitty Coen’s debut EP, “Disco Lemonade'' is officially out for the world to savor.

With every release leading up to this EP, the variety of different sounds and influences on display has continued to grow. Now that she has a more full body of work for people to explore, her artistic toolshed of skills and songwriting abilities appears larger than ever before. The 7-song slate proves that Kitty is here to stay for the long haul. Every song is unique in its own way, necessitating many listens, while also being straightforward and simple enough for the listener to easily absorb the magic of each song.

 

The album begins with my personal favorite, “Holy.” This track starts off being reminiscent of 90’s alt-rock, slowly building into a disco-ish beat that nearly guarantees a trip to the dance floor. Next is “Dark Soul,” the song that started it all for Kitty. In just three minutes, Kitty is able to blend pop, psychedelia, and electro sounds, showing that she’s far from being a one trick pony. “Lost in California” is driven by a groovy beat and features some more psychedelic vibes. Uncoindentally, the lyrics are inspired by a psychedelic experience, and Kitty’s ability to perfectly pair the instrumentation with the song-meaning is certainly uncanny.

 The EP transitions into the upbeat, latin infused title track, “Disco Lemonade.” Simply put, the song oozes sensuality and it also showcases Kitty’s ability to craft catchy, alluring vocal melodies. The next two songs, “Fade” and “Wave Side,” consist of hypnotic instrumentation with hints of dream-pop, and Kitty’s signature, Mazzy Star-esque vocal delivery. “Wave Side” in particular cultivates an atmosphere of floating through space, while also exhibiting some jaw-dropping vocals as the song progresses. Lastly, the EP concludes with a folky, acoustic driven track called “That’s Alright.” Yet again, she shows another side of her musicality, with influences of Fleetwood Mac and Bob Dylan shining through to create a 60’s/70’s soft-rock type of vibe.

What’s most impressive about “Disco Lemonade” is that no two songs sound the same. She effortlessly conveys many emotions and sounds through an entire gauntlet of different genres. This can be risky for some artists, but for Kitty, every song is uniquely her own, and the album as a whole is a fully-formed display of musical synergy. Kitty Coen’s young career is off to a blazing start. And as she continues to hone her craft even more, I think it’s safe to say her best work is still ahead of her, which is saying a lot considering that “Disco Lemonade'' is from top to bottom, a remarkable debut album.

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FRESH CUT: ORNAMENT AND CRIME, "You're A Mess"

photo credit: Lecomoura

 

Just in time for the unofficial end of summer, Poolside producer Alex Kemp and Grizfolk drummer Bill Delia combine as LA-based duo ORNAMENT AND CRIME, and we’ve got the first single from their debut EP, Another Night on The Astral Plane, the laid-back, semi-tropical groove workout “You’re a Mess,” featuring the vocal talents of Virginia Palms.

“You’re a Mess” tumbles from the speakers in a cascade of effortlessly chill bass and drum work, delicate keyboards that seem to evoke the sway of an accordion player at a bistro on the French Riviera, and even the vaguely mystical vibes of a pan flute. All of it combines into a lush, buoyant track, which is only elevated by the mixed male/female unison vocals that sing above it all. As for the lyrics, Bill Delia explains, “Everyone falls for the wrong person once or twice, right? It’s an enjoyable fail, really. This song honors the toxic lovers we all encounter at some point in our lives, the ones we have a blind eye of love for.”

The new EP by ORNAMENT AND CRIME is scheduled for release on October 15th. If the new single is any indication, we could be looking at a belated end to the summer so that this tune has a proper chance to sizzle out of earbuds and speakers across the city. Gabe Hernandez





Reinvention or Reimagination: Sho Humphries Urges Us to "Dream Again"

Before embarking on his next great adventure, Austin ukulele sensation Sho Humphries made sure to bestow his loving local community with a parting gift. Sho’s debut EP Dream Again is a triumph of creativity, an exploration of sound and style from a young musician whose bravery surpasses even his immense talents.

In Sho’s nimble hands, the ukulele is transformed. Empowered. Liberated. He embraces the instrument as something far beyond its simplistic representation in public perception—more than a toy, more than an instrument for beachside celebration and casual singalongs, the ukulele is an embodiment of possibility itself. In Sho’s hands, the ukulele seems infinite, irrepressible. It breathes water and whispers fire and sings of a bright tomorrow.

The growth showcased between earlier releases and this new EP are striking. Sho’s 2017 instrumental album Making Summer Memories flirted with musical expressionism, pushing and pulling at the boundaries of expectation while staying firmly rooted in a larger framework for what ukulele music is and can be. Opening track “It’s Shotime!” is a notable exception, its near-frantic urgency and rock-and-roll aesthetic harbingers of both Sho’s sonic fearlessness and profound, near-brooding pensiveness. The rest of the album tends toward bright and buoyant, though the assertive percussiveness of each strike sometimes seem to belie an underlying (and typically teenage) impatience.

2020 single Love You! was the virtuoso’s first foray into electronic looping, his airy, math rock-y riffs given ample room to breathe and, in turn, breathing life into a lo-fi trend threatening to sedate swaths of the younger generation. The track showcases a young musician at peace with the process of finding peace — more patient, perhaps in love with the simple joy of making music. The chorus is endearingly heartfelt, and all the more powerful for it: “Breathe in, breathe in/Love out, love in.”

 With the Dream Again EP, Sho emerges more confident, more hopeful, that familiar sense of urgency appearing again but tempered now by faith in himself and the future. He is more accomplished than ever on the ukulele itself — every finger-picked run impeccable, every strum irresistible. But the sentiment underlying each song feels more profound, more mature, more complex. What might once have felt like emotional reactions are transformed into careful reflections and reimaginations.

The echoing, atmospheric emptiness of the title track slowly evolves, swelling with elegantly amplified ukulele riffs that complement, rather than overpower, Sho’s stirring baritone (on debut!). Tight songwriting and a deep appreciation for the power of empty space cultivate in a wonderfully distorted crescendo, with Sho’s direct poeticism lending a sense of urgency to Sho’s pleas for the world to “dream again,” to build a better future and to avoid our own mutually assured destruction.

A return to Sho’s sonic roots — hopeful, determined, vibrant — “Rising Hope” builds on that momentum. It is the song of rebirth and reimagination, the sound of grass beginning to grow again as a new sun shines a light on far-off horizons. There is a sadness of sorts underpinning it all, a recognition that new beginnings demand their own sacrifices — what once might have been innocent idealism is tempered by an acceptance of reality that makes Sho’s resolute optimism all the more impactful.

Vision and imagination, determination and dynamism — these are traits we desperately need in our younger generations, who we have collectively burdened with so much responsibility and expectation. Armed with his ukulele and a searching spirit, Sho Humphries is stepping into the world ready to make a change.

 — Adam Wood





Alt Pop

Time: 
08:00
Band name: 
Graffiti Smile
FULL Artist Facebook address (http://...): 
https://www.facebook.com/Graffiti.Smile/
Venue name: 
The Grape Room
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