All Posts By Lilly Milman

Venues of America: Brooklyn Spotlight

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Muchmore’s NYC
Located at: 2 Havemeyer St.
Upcoming event: Bonsai Trees/Actually, I’m A Ghost/Common Sage/Power Funeral, August 26
Perfect for: Keeping it low-key and making plans on the spur of the moment

Muchmore’s NYC / Photo credit: Serry Park

The beauty of Muchmore’s is the intimacy that the venue is able to cultivate, combined with a consistently killer line-up of talent seven days a week. The venue prides itself on bringing in entirely original talent (it does not allow cover songs to be played at any shows) and on working with bands to produce the best show possible. The use of the venue is free, other than a sound-tech cost, and bands are able to set the price of their shows and keep all of revenue. If you’re into catching a show on the smaller side, grabbing a drink — picking from a wide selection of coffees, drafts, and wines — or even doing your laundry on their coin-op machines, then hop on the L train and spend a night at Muchmore’s. You’ll probably make a few friends and you’re your new favorite band along the way, too.

Baby’s All Right

Located at: 146 Broadway
Upcoming event: Slow Hollows, September 21
Perfect for: Sipping a drink at the bar before seeing your favorite up-and-coming band

Baby’s All Right / Photo credit: Brooklyn Magazine

Baby’s All Right is the coolest venue that you might not have heard of. Home to countless album releases shows for local bands, the venue is a staple spot for artists who are on the brink of catching their big break. However, this comes with a price. You have to be prepared to buy tickets in advance because shows tend to sell out at Baby’s, for good reason. But fear not: if you end up at the venue and can’t snag a spot in the back room for the show, there’s still plenty to do. The bar is open every night until 4 am, and dinner is served daily until 11 pm. Baby’s even hosts brunch every weekend from 11 am to 4 pm.

Knitting Factory

Located at: 361 Metropolitan Ave.
Upcoming event: Comedy Night every Sunday
Perfect for: Seeing unique talent in a very established performance space

Knitting Factory BK / Photo credit: Steve Pisano

Founded by Michael Dorf in the late ‘80s, the Knitting Factory has history running through its veins. Since opening, the space has transformed from a fledgling DIY spot to one of the most popular venues in town with shows happening on a daily basis. Knitting Factory Brooklyn is also home to a weekly comedy night, which was originally started by Hannibal Buress himself. Now hosted by Will Miles, Clark Jones, and Kenny Deforest, the weekly comedy show is a highlight in the New York scene, providing a space for super-stars and up-and-comers to meet for a few laughs.

Brooklyn Bazaar

Located at: 150 Greenpoint Ave.
Upcoming event: Moose Blood, September 18
Perfect for: Grabbing a delicious bite to eat before catching an all-ages show

Brooklyn Bazaar / Photo credit: Mike Cicchetti

The Brooklyn Bazaar is one of the best restaurant and venue combinations around. What the menu lacks in length, it makes up for in quality — especially when it comes to its famous fried chicken family dinner, which is a must for anyone new to the spot. After you’re done eating, head over to the ball room where you can see a slew of local talent on a spacious and beautifully decorated stage. What’s even better is that you can bring the whole family, as most of the shows are all-ages. Between the fun and retro décor, the great food, and the chance to see an awesome show, the Brooklyn Bazaar has everything you need for a fun night in the city.

This article originally appeared in the Aug/Sept issue of Cliché Magazine.

 

Read more Music Articles on ClicheMag.com.
Venues of America: Brooklyn Spotlight: Featured image courtesy of Steve Pisano

A Definitive Timeline of Death Cab for Cutie

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The indie rock legends Death Cab for Cutie have been through it as a band, constantly rebuilding and reimagining their music in order to create relevant rock that still resonates with a core fanbase while also attracting newcomers. In anticipation of Thank You for Coming, the band’s first album to be released without founding member Chris Walla, we have created a definitive timeline of Death Cab for Cutie’s career — including everything from the origin of the name to the countless Grammy nominations.

October, 1967

The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band release their debut album Gorilla, featuring a sardonic track called “Death Cab for Cutie” penned by Neil Innes and Vivian Stanshall. Innes claims that the track’s title came from an American pulp fiction crime magazine, but the phrase was also seen in Richard Hoggart’s The Uses of Literacy (1957), which analyzed popular culture in the U.K.

Mid-1990s

Frontman Benjamin Gibbard and founding member Chris Walla meet at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. Their life-long musical relationship begins in their dorm rooms as they begin writing and recording together.

1994

Although Death Cab for Cutie had yet to officially be created, future members of the band begin playing in local venues with Seattle indie band This Busy Monster — formed by Christopher Possanza, Josh Rosenfeld, Jason Avinger, and Barrett Wilke. This Busy Monster later created the label Barsuk Records in 1994 as a way of releasing their own music, and would soon sign Death Cab.

1995

Seattle-based band The Revolutionary Hydra release their self-titled debut album. The group would go on to become friends of founders Gibbard and Chris Walla. After starting their own small indie label, Elsinor Records, the Hydra crew would go on to help the indie rockers release their debut cassette.

Photo Credit: Peter Ellenby

1996

The Bellingham, Washington band Shed is founded by Arman Bohn, Gibbard, and future Death Cab bassist Nick Harmer. Later in the year, Gibbard left the band and was replaced by another future Death Cab member: Jason McGerr. A year later, the band had changed its name to Eureka Farm and Harmer was replaced by Chuck Keller.

May–July, 1997

The seed is planted for what would become Death Cab for Cutie as founders Chris Walla and Benjamin Gibbard decide to record a demo together, which would later become the debut release You Can Play These Songs With Chords. At the time, Gibbard had been playing guitar in the Bellingham band Pinwheel. The demo was released only on cassette at the time, and led to Gibbard recruiting a full band. They recorded the demo in the studio built by Walla in Seattle, The Hall of Justice. Around the same time, they were signed to Barsuk Records by their friends This Busy Monster.

February 25, 1998

Death Cab for Cutie plays its first ever live show at Seattle’s Crocodile Café alongside Harvey Danger. Almost a decade later, Gibbard would return to play a surprise show at the venue and explain that it was their most memorable show. According to a review of this return by The Stranger, the first gig at the Crocodile “convinced them that they were a real band.”

August 18, 1998

The band releases their studio debut, Something About Airplanes on Barsuk Records. By now, Nathan Good has been added on the bass guitar and Walla was taking on the task of producing. The album includes the track “The Face That Launched 1000 Shits,” which is a cover of the original song by label-founders Revolutionary Hydra.

1998–1999

The indie music scene begins praising Death Cab following their first official album release. The band plays a set at the 1999 iteration of the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, alongside artists like Tom Waits, Built To Spill, Spoon, and The Flaming Lips. They are eventually introduced to their longtime manager Jordan Kurland, who had attempted to see them at SXSW after hearing the buzz. Although he did not make it to the show, he later met them while touring with another client. The same year, the band began recording their next album.

March 21, 2000

Death Cab for Cutie’s first-ever concept album, We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes, is released with no singles. Once again produced by Walla and recorded in The Hall of Justice, the album showed a band playing through growing pains. Good had unexpectedly left the band during the recording process, and Gibbard was filling in on drums. Gibbard plays the drums on all tracks, except for on the Good-featuring “The Employment Pages” and “Company Calls Epilogue.” Despite the difficulties, the album still received positive reviews. About a week after its release, Pitchfork granted the album a score of 7.5.

October 24, 2000

The Forbidden Love EP is released, featuring the newly-joined Michael Schorr on drums. Two of the tracks are alternate takes on songs originally released on their previous album.

 

October 9, 2001

The third studio album, The Photo Album, is released on Barsuk and on the London-based label Fierce Panda. The album’s three singles – “A Movie Script Ending,” “I Was a Kaleidoscope,” and “We Laugh Indoors” – all charted on the U.K. Singles Chart for the first time.

October 31, 2001

Amidst a wave of success, Walla and Gibbard begin feeling the pressure and duking it out. In a 2005 interview with A.V. Club, the two revealed that they had an explosive fight following a show at the Ottobar in Baltimore. Walla said, “We were as bad to one another in that car ride as I believe that we’ve probably ever been to anybody. Certainly I was. That was one of my darkest moments.” According to Gibbard, a comment about the show turned into “a you-know-what-I’ve-always-thought-of-you fight among all of us, in the van on the way to a hotel. All those thoughts that go through your head in your darkest periods when you’re assessing your relationship with somebody—all of that came out.”

February 19, 2002

The limited edition tracks from The Photo Album are re-released as The Stability EP, which includes a Bjork cover (“All Is Full of Love”) as well as a version of a song (“Stability”) that would later appear on Plans. Michael Schorr also appears on a Death Cab release for the final time.

2002–2003

Michael Schorr leaves the band, and members cited “creative differences.” Shed/Eureka Farm alum Jason McGerr takes his place.

September 16, 2003

The CW’s hit show The O.C., famous for bringing Death Cab’s music to a mainstream audience, features “A Movie Script Ending” in the inaugural season’s seventh episode, “The Escape.” Adam Brody’s character Seth Cohen is constantly cited as a fan of the band during the course of the show, and the relationship between Death Cab for Cutie’s music and The O.C. forever changed how television interacted with indie rock.

October 7, 2003

Transatlanticism is released and is hailed as one of the band’s best albums. It receives an aggregate score of 85/100 on Metacritic based on critic reviews, and charts at No. 97 on the Billboard 200. Singles from the album went on to appear in The O.C., Six Feet Under, CSI: Miami,Californication, The Wedding Crashers, Easy A, and Mean Creek.

November 14, 2004

Following the widespread success of Transatlanticism, Death Cab for Cutie signs with their first major label: Atlantic Records. In the deal, it is agreed that Barsuk will retain the rights to the band’s catalog up until that point, as well as to the upcoming John Byrd EP. Barsuk will also be able to release future albums on vinyl in the U.S.

Spring 2004

While on their North American tour, Death Cab for Cutie records a number of live shows, which one day will find their home on The John Byrd EP and on the DVD Drive Well, Sleep Carefully – On the Road with Death Cab for Cutie.

July 27, 2004

Only available on iTunes, the four-track Studio X Sessions EP is released. The EP consists of new versions of all previously released tracks.

March 1, 2005

The John Byrd EP, which is named after the 2004 tour’s sound engineer, is released on Barsuk. The limited edition seven-track EP will be the last project the band will release on their longtime indie label.

July 26, 2005

The tour film Drive Well, Sleep Carefully is released on DVD. The 127-minute long movie was filmed and directed by Justin Mitchell during the Transatlanticism tour using a 16mm film camera. It was first premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival a month prior.

August 30, 2005

The release of Plans, their fifth studio album, is also Death Cab’s major-label debut. The album included singles “Soul Meets Body,” “Crooked Teeth,” and “I Will Follow You into the Dark” – all of which continue to be among the band’s most popular songs. The album peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 chart. This is also the first album to be created outside of the Pacific Northwest, as it was recorded at Long View Farm in North Brookfield, Massachusetts.

January 14, 2006

The mainstream success continues to pour in, as the band makes its debut on Saturday Night Live with a performance of “Crooked Teeth.”

February 8, 2006

Death Cab for Cutie makes its debut at the Grammys, with Plans receiving nominations for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals and Best Alternative Music Album.

April 11, 2006

The video album Directions: The Plans Video Album is released via Atlantic Records/Warner Music Group. After proposals were sent in from all over the world, 12 finalists were given the opportunity to each create a video corresponding to a track on Plans.

Early 2008

Both Plans and Transatlanticism are certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

May 13, 2008

The band releases their highest performing album to date: Narrow Stairs. The Chris Walla produced sixth studio album peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart during the first week of its release, and produced the Grammy nominated single “I Will Possess Your Heart.” The album was also nominated for Best Alternative Music Album.

February 8, 2009

Although they did not win a Grammy in either category, Death Cab makes waves by wearing blue ribbons in protest against auto-tune. In an article posted the day after the event, SPIN reported Gibbard saying, “We just want to raise awareness while we’re here and try to bring back the blue note… The note that’s not so perfectly in pitch and just gives the recording some soul and some kind of real character. It’s how people really sing.”

April 14, 2009

The Open Door EP is released, including tracks recorded during the same time as Narrow Stairs. The EP peaks at No. 30 on the Billboard 200, and is later nominated for the Best Alternative Music Album category at the Grammys.

February, 2010

The Lonely Forest, hailing from Seattle, is the first band to sign onto Chris Walla’s label Trans- Records – an imprint of Atlantic Records.

April 5, 2011

Following the release of single “You Are A Tourist” in late March, Death Cab makes history by recording the first ever live, scripted, one-take music video. Directed by Tim Nackashi, the video was shot on multiple cameras and was not edited as it was streamed live online.  

May 31, 2011

The band’s least guitar-centric album, Codes and Keys, is released, debuting at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart. Recorded in eight different studios across the West Coast and Canada, it is a step away from what the band is used to. It is also the first album not mixed by Walla – while Walla remained the producer, Alan Moulder took over mixing. Once again, album was later nominated for the Best Alternative Music Album category at the Grammys.

October 16, 2011

A track entitled “Meet Me on the Equinox” by Death Cab is played during the end credits of the blockbuster hit The Twilight Saga: New Moon and is included in the official soundtrack.

2012

Death Cab for Cutie took on a rigorous touring schedule, playing internationally as well as in the U.S. Over the course of the year, they toured with Codes and Keys collaborators the Magik*Magik Orchestra, headlined the first Bunbury Music Festival in Cincinnati, Ohio, and completed a festival circuit in Europe.

October 11, 2013

It is reported that the band has begun recording their next studio album with the producer Rich Costey (rather than Chris Walla,) and it is later confirmed on the band’s Instagram page.

October 29, 2013

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the band’s most beloved work, a remastered edition of Transatlanticism is released including demo versions of every track.

April 14, 2014

The band’s first and only full-length live album, entitled Live 2012, is released by Death Cab for Cutie on Record Store Day. It is only available as a vinyl release and included live recordings of tour dates with Magik*Magik Orchestra.

August 13, 2014

Fans are surprised when Chris Walla announces he is performing for the last time ever with Death Cab that night at the Rifflandia Music Festival in British Columbia, Canada. However, he confirms at a later date that he was involved completely with the recording of Kintsugi. There are no hard feelings between the members as a result of Walla’s departure, following his 17 years spent with the band.

January 20, 2015

Paying homage to their first ever show, Death Cab returns to the Crocodile Café – but this time without Chris Walla. He is replaced by Dave Depper and Zac Rae, who both continue to perform with the band.

March 31, 2015

Kintsugi, named after the Japanese artformin which broken pottery is fixed, is released. An apt name for the band’s eighth studio album and final Chris Walla collaboration, Kintsugi is received well critically and nominated for Best Rock Album.

October 16, 2015

Chris Walla releases his solo album Tape Loops on his own label

October 10, 2016

Dave Depper and Zac Rae both are credited with contributing to Death Cab’s standalone single “Million Dollar Loan,” which is a part of an anti-Trump protest project spearheaded by writer Dave Eggers.

November 17, 2017

In a similar fashion to the Kintsugi announcement, an Instagram post reveals that the band is back in the studio working on their ninth album together.

June 12, 2018

Both the title (Thank You For Today) and the lead single (“Gold Rush”) for the upcoming album are released, as well as the date. The ninth studio album by Death Cab for Cutie, which will not feature Chris Walla at all for the first time, will be available on August 17, 2018.

 

 

 

This article originally appeared in the Aug/Sept issue of Cliché Magazine.

Read more Music Articles on ClicheMag.com.
A Definitive Timeline of Death Cab for Cutie: Featured image courtesy of Barsuk Records, Photo Credit: Chris Rhoads

Sitting Down With Drax Project, Camila Cabello’s Tour Opener

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There must be something in the water in New Zealand. So, it’s a good thing young bands like Drax Project are thirsty for success. The indie-pop quartet only released their first EP, entitled NOON, only dropped last month and the band has already completed a sold out European tour circuit opening up for Camila Capello. Cliché sat down with the band recently to talk origin stories, influences, and fellow New Zealander Lorde. Read the full interview below and stream NOON now.

Could you walk me through how you met and started making music together?

We all met at music school in Wellington. The band started as a busking duo, with Shaan (sax) and Matt (drums) playing instrumental versions of top 40 songs on the streets. Sam joined on bass and we started getting asked to play in small clubs around the city. After doing this for about a year we decided to try and write some of our own music! Ben joined on guitar and the rest is history!

Where does the name ‘Drax Project’ come from? 

When we were busking as a duo, people wanted to upload videos of us and were asking for our name so we came up with something quickly. Drums + Sax = Drax. Somehow, it stuck.

What music did you grow up listening to, and how has that affected the music that Drax Project makes?

The 4 of us have grown up playing and listening to totally different music. Shaan started learning jazz from a young age, where as Sam was playing in metal bands all through high school. We all play an equal part in the writing process and feel like our individual tastes make for music that is a little different and unique.

Drax Project is such a young group. How does it feel to be so successful so quickly?

It doesn’t feel like an overnight success or anything because we’ve been a band for a while now and have played a tonne of gigs over the last couple of years. We feel very lucky to be able to do what we do but we’re only scratching the surface right now!

New Zealand hasn’t always been known for creating internationally-known music acts, but this seems to be changing in recent years. Why do you think people are starting to pay more attention to NZ acts?

In this day and age, it doesn’t really matter where you come from because the whole world is super connected. We live in a time where it’s easy to have your music available for the world to hear. Thanks Internet!

When I think New Zealand, I always think Lorde. It’s impossible not to. How have you been influenced by her?

She’s shown that it is possible to make it to the top and that’s pretty inspiring for us. We also were lucky enough to open for her in Auckland last year which was special because we were fans of hers before we were even a band!

What is it like to support Camila Cabello? How did that collaboration come about, and what’s been a highlight so far?

The tour with Camila was amazing! For us to travel to the other side of the world and play these shows has been a dream come true. Especially seeing some people in the audience singing along to our songs! We aren’t 100% sure how it happened but about 6 months ago we recorded an acoustic version of Camila’s song ‘Havana’ just because we loved the song! We have a feeling she saw it and liked it!

There’s so many paths you could go down after this tour is over. What’s next for Drax Project?

Honestly, we just want to write more music and play more shows! Releasing our EP Noon and being involved in this tour has been both inspiring and motivating for us to the point that we just can’t wait to do more!

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Sitting Down With Drax Project, Camila Cabello’s Tour Opener: Featured image courtesy of Drax Project

Entropy/Enthalpy: The Golden Years of DIY in Philly

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Do-it-yourself (DIY) Garage rock may have started in New York City, but that’s surely not where it’s ending up. In recent years, the hiking prices of rent, the gentrification of artist hotspots, and the prevalence of labels have done all but physically push DIY artists out of the city. The question remains: where are they going?

There isn’t one definitive answer; there are, and have always been, pockets of artist-friendly spaces across the country. But perhaps one shines a bit brighter than all of the others. To insinuate that Philadelphia’s music scene is bursting at the seams because of a decline elsewhere (read: New York) would certainly be an oversimplification. But to say that this is not what’s happening would also, in a way, be false. Through no fault of their own, New York seems to be succumbing into the natural order of things. Order becomes disorder, and vice versa. There’s a basic chemistry happening between these two cities—it’s entropy and enthalpy. Both are necessary for DIY culture to continue.

As artist-run venues like The Silent Barn close their doors in Brooklyn, Philly staples—like First Unitarian Church and PhilaMOCA, among others—are holding their ground. Not only that, but there aren’t enough grouchy neighbors or finicky landlords in the world that could take down the city’s vibrant house show culture.

Matty Klauser—owner of house venue the Tralfamadore, booking manager at Connie’s Ric Rac, co-founder of Paper Scissors Media, and general jack-of-all-DIY-trades—attributes this to a few factors: affordability, access to spaces, police activity, straight-up exhaustion. “I think New York has become too demanding while giving too little to the artists. I don’t think there’s any time to build a community,” they said. “I think that people are so exhausted that the community is hard to build. And then, when you do build a cool DIY space, what’s it gonna last? A year, tops?”

“It was a beautiful time. There was just like this air of circus and fun and who gives a shit.”

Klauser grew up in Brooklyn not too long ago (“I’m thirty-one. I’m not young, I’m not that old,”) and remembers a much different environment. One where “there were weird DIY venues…there were underground places, there were places you could be seventeen and drink.” There was a certain unpredictability—a disorder. “There were weird things to still be found.” Like a Balkan dance club where they “didn’t check IDs and…sixty-two year old Russian women [walked] around serving vodka.” New York didn’t always play the role of the big, bad wolf of the emerging-arts world. For a while, “it was very wonderful. It was a beautiful time. There was just like this air of circus and fun and who gives a shit.”

Now, things have changed—and rather unceremoniously at that. Klauser spoke extensively about licensing laws and the immense burden that inflated rent and gentrification have placed on New York’s once-thriving DIY scene. “What helped support the art scene was the crime, the lack of police presence, was the fact that it was expensive, but it wasn’t unlivable,” they explained, stopping themselves in the early steps of a good rant. “I think when New York started to bounce back really hard in its economics, and the money moved in, and the corporations moved in, and the rents went up, those little places that were doing this suddenly were under the eye of the policies and under the eye of the current licenses.”

Philadelphia, a city filled with spaces that scream venue-potential, appears a haven when compared to the symptoms of the DIY-apocalypse described by Klauser—lack of funds, heightened supervision, noise complaints, monopolization of space. A classical-opera-singer-turned-punk-performer, they moved to the city roughly seven years ago after beginning to feel a bit suffocated by the “buttoned-up,” dog-eat-dog world of classical music—where “your best friend might be singing a role that you’re their understudy, and if they get sick, you succeed, and shit like that.” They noted that, when deciding to move, “one of the things that really caught [their] attention were the arts communities in Philly” and the fact that the city “was very down-to-earth and bare bones.”

Matty Klauser performing at good how are you? fest / Photo courtesy of Eva Dorsey

Matty Klauser performing at good how are you? fest / Photo courtesy of Eva Dorsey

Something important to know about Matty Klauser is that, as a teenager, they used to host a yearly “mini-music fest” for their friends from high school called “Klaus-fest,” using a mixer given to them by their parents at age fifteen. An organizer since birth, they quickly became involved in booking shows at Philly favorites like Kung Fu Necktie, The Fire, and Connie’s Ric Rac—where they are currently a booking manager. So, three years ago—once they moved out of an apartment and into a house—the Tralfamadore was born (using the very same mixer, which still works nearly fifteen years later.) Named after the home planet of Kurt Vonnegut’s fictional alien race, the venue is the logical conclusion to Klauser’s journey as an artist. It marries the order with the organic—carving out a unique space in DIY for hyper-organization, cleanliness, and consistency. And it’s run by someone who understands what it is like to be on both sides of the microphone.

It also serves as one of the primary locations of good how are you? fest, a three-year-old music festival started by the media company/artist collective/record label/unstoppable force Paper Scissors Media—co-founded by Klauser.  The name comes from an inside joke with Secret Nudist Friends bassist Andy Slepman, who “instead of saying ‘hello,’ he would just say ‘good, how are you?’” as a greeting. The phrase caught on with other friends and one night during a show, Klauser recalled how “Andy gets up on the microphone and is like ‘good, how are you?’ And the whole room, like a church, was like “good, how are you?’” The rest is, as you say, history.

A lot of necessary tweaking has happened between then and now (Klauser said “it still kind of blows [their] mind that [they] could make [shows] happen” in the basement of the Tralf,) and the event has grown larger with each installment. This year, it was a three-day long, three-venue affair with performances by over twenty artists—including two of Klauser’s own bands, Blushed and Secret Nudist Friends.

“I think it’s a really good place to be and…I think a lot of people come to visit and I hear a year later, they’re moving.”

One of the main reasons that Paper Scissors Media and good how are you? continue to thrive, according to Klauser, is the need for community. Paper Scissors Media is a reaction to the competitiveness and loneliness Klauser experienced both in New York, specifically, and in classical music in general. They called the collective “the opposite of competitive bullshit,” explaining very passionately that since the life of an artist (“and not just musicians—poets, and performers, and spoken word and performance art”) is typically neither high-paying nor easy, “we need to help each other out so we can survive and don’t go broke trying to find the resources that we need.”

This air of community engulfs Klauser—something that’s noticeable about them even over the phone—as they name-dropped just about everyone who they look up to: their parents, Dan Baggarly of Trash Boy, bandmate Missy Pidgeon, good how are you performer Kat Hamilton, King Pizza Records in Brooklyn, and a slew of others. Basically, if you’ve met Matty Klauser, then consider yourself thanked. And if you’re an artist in the city of Philadelphia, consider yourself lucky.

“I think it’s a really good place to be and…I think a lot of people come to visit and I hear a year later, they’re moving. But who knows? Maybe if that keeps happening it’ll change and it’ll just be New York and we’re all going to run to…another city that isn’t so overpriced and there’s space. Will we just keep doing it? Maybe.” It’s all about the fluctuation; if Philly becomes too regulated, then the DIY artists that have made it their home may have to say goodbye. But if there is no regulation—no Matty Klausers—then the scene runs the risk of falling back into seedy times as it did several years ago, when the abusive behavior of several DIY-leaders was put out into the open.

“Right now is a good moment. I’m not taking it for granted. I know it could change at any moment, but I have a lot of pride in this city and the people in it. I’m very proud to be making music here. I don’t know if I could say the same if I was still living in New York, you know?”

This article originally appeared in the June/July issue of Cliché Magazine. 

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Entropy/Enthalpy: The Golden Years of DIY in Philly: Featured image courtesy of Eva Dorsey

New Music Roundup ft. Lykke Li, Snail Mail, and Kids See Ghosts

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Nothing says new music like a Friday, and this week was no exception. From the fiercely poignant indie rock of 18-year-old Lindsey Jordan, better known as Snail Mail, to the crisp comeback pop of Swedish singer Lykke Li, to the long-awaited collab from Kanye and Kid Cudi, this week we truly saw it all. Keep up with our top picks from this weekend’s releases below with Cliché Magazine’s new music roundup.

 

The Debut:

Lush by Snail Mail

Lindsey Jordan made a name for herself long before the release of her first full-length album, which is pretty indicative of the level of talent to be expected from Lush. Her overwhelmingly well-received first album taps into the melodramatic well of adolescent feelings known to all — her lyrics often cutting open time-worn cliches with her biting sarcasm, while her vocal lilt conveys all the peaks and valleys of serious emotion. Only 38 minutes in length, Lush is a concise and carefully curated work, letting no minute go to waste. Jordan has definitely been one to watch since releasing the Habit EP in 2016, but Lush discounts her from being some sort of one-hit-wunderkind. If she isn’t on your radar already, you better start paying attention, otherwise you risk falling head-first off a very fast bandwagon.

Favorite tracks: “Speaking Terms”; “Golden Dream”

 

The Comeback:

New Music Roundup ft. Lykke Li, Snail Mail & Kids See Ghosts: Featured image courtesy of Snail Mail

so sad so sexy by Lykke Li

It’s been four years since the Swedish alt-pop sensation Lykke Li released an album, but so sad so sexy may just have been worth the wait. The tender release teases trap influences, while staying true to the danceable soul that Li has become known for. Featuring the first collaboration of her solo career with Good For You rapper Aminé, this album is, in many ways, a fresh start for the singer. Since 2014’s I Never Learn, she’s become a mother. When releasing the video for the closing track “Utopia,” she added the caption “Utopia is all my mother ever wanted for me and all I ever want for him,” referencing her son, Dion. She’s also flirted with other endeavors, trying her hand at acting, collaborating with other artists on their projects, and joining supergroup liv. In short, so sad so sexy lives up to its name completely, and shows Lykke Li reinvented, holding her head high.

Favorite tracks: “deep end”; “utopia”

 

The Highly-Anticipated:

New Music Roundup ft. Lykke Li, Snail Mail & Kids See Ghosts: Featured image courtesy of Snail Mail

KIDS SEE GHOSTS by KIDS SEE GHOSTS

Even if the discussion of Kanye West’s politics (specifically, his penchant for certain red hats) was completely tabled, it’d still be safe to say he’s had his highs and lows this summer. His highly-anticipated ye album, while receiving mixed reviews, left fans and critics alike missing the experimentation he’s made his name with. Regardless of whether or not you liked it, it’s hard to argue that he took any risks musically. And then in comes KIDS SEE GHOSTS. This high-energy collaboration with Kid Cudi shows West’s production at its best, while Cudi’s verses hit hard.

Favorite track: “Reborn”

Disclaimer: It’s important to note that this album, like ye, once again interrogates the way in which people separate artists from their art. This album makes it tempting to separate West from his politics, but that is not always the right thing to do. While West has proven he is on his game musically, this in no way justifies any problematic behavior. The choice to separate West from his art, or not, in an increasingly volatile political climate is a decision that can only be made by each individual listener.

 

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New Music Roundup ft. Lykke Li, Snail Mail & Kids See Ghosts: Featured image courtesy of Snail Mail

CHVRCHES Find Their Remedy In ‘Love Is Dead’

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Love Is Dead is the third studio album from the Glasgow-based synth-pop trio CHVRCHES, and the group’s latest project since 2016’s Every Open Eye. It’s also one of their sharpest releases to date. Featuring the refined and glittering production of Grammy award winning Greg Kurstin (whose previous credits include Adele, Sia, and Beck, among many others) on 9 out of 13 tracks — marking the first time CHVRCHES has worked with an outside producer on an album — Love Is Dead is a step in a different, remarkably self-assured direction for a group that has been consistently delivering infectious and wry pop since their 2013 debut, The Bones Of What You Believe.

Despite the fact that the process of creating this album was unlike any other, one constant that any CHVRCHES fan can count on from any track is a catchy chorus. From opening track “Graffiti,” which chronicles a distant but intense young love, to the introspective closer “Wonderland,” Lauren Mayberry’s vocals soar effortlessly and unconditionally. Repetition has always been the trio’s best friend when it comes to writing their memorable and sing-a-long-friendly choruses, and the simple lyrics are always bolstered by lush and electrifying beats. While this has remained true for all their releases, on Love Is Dead they’ve truly found the sweet spot — evidenced by leading single “Get Out,” an arena-ready, certified banger with a chorus made up mostly of just a repetition of the title.

Another first (and highlight) of the album is the unexpected, but completely welcome collaboration with The National’s Matt Berninger, who alternates singing verses with Mayberry on “My Enemy.” Berninger’s signature croon cools down Mayberry’s hyper-intense soprano, blending beautifully into a one-of-a-kind pop anthem.

CHVRCHES Find Their Remedy In ‘Love Is Dead’: Photo courtesy of Headline Planet/Andrew Lipovsky/NBC

CHVRCHES Find Their Remedy In ‘Love Is Dead’: Photo courtesy of Headline Planet/Andrew Lipovsky/NBC

Not to say that Mayberry needs any help on vocals, though. This she has proven time and time again to be unnecessary. On “Graves,” her recitation of the lines “I will stop at nothing” becomes more and more powerful each time, as if they are a prayer she is physically willing into existence. It’s only a few tracks later, on “Really Gone,” that she slips into a breathy falsetto, ushering the listener into an airy and ephemeral world of realization. A world that looks vaguely like a room full of mirrors, reflecting all the insecurities and uncertainties that usually stay hidden. And, to quote Robert Frost, “the best way out is always through.”

From top to bottom, Love Is Dead is one band’s exercise in facing reality and working through it. It’s a solution to the ever-looming question of how to create authentic art that stays true to an artist’s integrity, while also creating something relevant to the cultural climate. In short, it’s a lesson in not selling out. With the lofty production of Kurstin by their side, CHVRCHES have stepped into a new realm of artistry — one that couldn’t have been possible without a proper period of self-reflection, followed by a few creative risks.

 

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CHVRCHES Find Their Remedy In ‘Love Is Dead’: Featured image courtesy of CHVRCHES

‘Tell Me How You Really Feel’: How Courtney Barnett Bears It All & ‘Turns It Into Art’

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Although comparing artists to each other commonly brings up complaints among artists and critics alike (there will never be a new Beatles!) there are certain situations where this side-by-side is unavoidable. Like when Patti Smith invited Australian punk-folk-rocker Courtney Barnett up on stage last April at Melbourne’s Festival Hall. Whether it’s the hair, the fact that Smith is one of Barnett’s favorite artists, or the way both women write with such a sharp wit (one that recognizes its shortcomings, and doesn’t take itself too seriously,) there’s something strikingly similar about these two voices–especially on Barnett’s most recent release, Tell Me How You Really Feel.  

There’s an underlying kinetic energy present on this album–one that drives the tracks through the storm, that relishes in the emotional swells instead of trying to avoid them. In the first verse of the first track, entitled “Hopelessness,” Barnett sets up expectations for the emotional work that this album is going to do: “No one is born to hate / We learn it somewhere along the way / Take your broken heart / Turn it into art / Can’t take it with you.” This track begins with an eerie slow burn, the powerful guitar licks picking up speed before they explode in a beautifully screeching finale—a pattern that can describe the album as a whole. Barnett has become known for strumming with her fingers rather than a pick, a technique she first developed on the acoustic guitar and later translated to her (lefty) electric guitar. Not only does this not hold her back, it seems to actually give her a sort of edge.

“No one is born to hate / We learn it somewhere along the way / Take your broken heart / Turn it into art / Can’t take it with you.”

Lead single “Nameless, Faceless” acts like scar tissue—showing Barnett dissecting her own theme and feeling the full extent of the pain before letting it go. The interaction between the verses (which all end in the repetition of “I’m real sorry / ‘Bout whatever happened to you,”) and the no-holds-barred chorus (“I wanna walk through the park in the dark / Men are scared that women will laugh at them / I wanna walk through the park in the dark / Women are scared that men will kill them”) is a negotiation of her reaction to this learned hate. This moment comes across as particularly Patti-esque, the deadpan critique of gender-power relations evoking memories of Smith’s poetry (think “seventh heaven.”)

After this, the soon-to-be-punk-anthem “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch” snaps into place. It may not even be necessary to discuss how this song relates to Smith, who has been given the title “godmother of punk.”

Courtney Barnett is not a carbon copy of Patti Smith, but she is doing the same legwork. She’s unabashedly intelligent, unafraid of addressing herself and her shortcomings, and fully prepared to go against the conventions that usually relegate singer-songwriters to Adult Top 40 stations and movie soundtracks. Through her lyricism and performances, she is embarking on an important project: carrying Smith’s energy forward to a new generation of listeners, who are eager to listen and learn. At the very least, they are kindred spirits–something I, as a young woman, can’t help but be very thankful for.

 

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‘Tell Me How You Really Feel’: How Courtney Barnett Bears It All & ‘Turns It Into Art’: Featured image courtesy of Courtney Barnett

‘A Sea of Undefinable Stuff’: Sitting Down With Brooklyn’s O Mer

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When I met O Mer—or Omer, something we’ll get more into later—for the first time, he was performing in the back room of Alphaville, a trendy bar in Bushwick that doubles as a venue. The spot has become a fan-favorite among emerging NYC-based acts, hosting eclectic three- or four-band bills on a nearly daily basis. He was the closer of the night, following the notably more indie-rock oriented Secret Crush and No Ice. By the time he began playing, everyone was sweating; it was the middle of July and the back room lacks air conditioning. But, somehow, there was something chilling when he and his band took the stage. The semi-electronic band pulled together soulful and eastern influences to create a performance unlike anything I had ever seen before. He only had a couple of singles out on SoundCloud at the time. When I sat down with him again in anticipation of the upcoming Refugee EP release, we reminisced about that night.

How long has it been since that Alphaville show?”

“That was when I had just started interning, so I think it was May or June.” Actually, I was wrong; it was definitely in July. But the rapidity of time passing was evident, regardless.

“Wow, it’s been a sec,” he laughed.

The passage of time was surely more noticable for him than it was for me; we discussed how I had been away at college, while he had been working on his music amidst record label complications that derailed his progress multiple times. We were still on the topic of Alphaville when he brought up the road bumps: “The album [Refugee] was supposed to be released then; that was the initial plan.”

'A Sea of Undefinable Stuff': Sitting Down With Brooklyn's O Mer: Photo Courtesy of O Mer

‘A Sea of Undefinable Stuff’: Sitting Down With Brooklyn’s O Mer: Photo Courtesy of O Mer

When he began telling me about why the release was postponed so severely, it turned into a story that—unfortunately—many artists know all too well.

“We wanted to release it independently, and we released the first single in February.” He was referencing “Now I’m Alive,” the breakout single that led me to his show in the first place. This is one of the more electronically grounded songs he’s released, making heavy use of looping and vocal distortions to create a mesmerizing and anthemic track with soulful sensibilities. Currently, the single has nearly half a million streams on Spotify.

“The album was supposed to be all out by May. But what happened was that we released that single, and then we were approached by a record label. We signed with them, and they wanted to push it back a little, so they had extra time to re-release that single. And then the release was pushed to August.”

I vaguely remember the mention of an upcoming EP release at Alphaville, but little concrete detail. It seems this show took place right at the peak of this battle between himself and his label. He called the situation “a bummer,” recalling the initial excitement that came with the prospect of major label distribution and the subsequent disappointment that resulted from realizing “they just did a bad job.”

By now, O Mer and his manager, Ron Shpindler of Tron Management, are back to releasing the project independently. But this was not without the loss of an immense amount of time, an unfortunate consequence that I lamented on his behalf. He responded to my sympathizing with surprising positivity, calling it “an experience worth having when you are first starting out.”

“I don’t know why, but it felt like the more zen I got about it, the more I learned about it, and the more comfortable I got being a musician, which is a messed up job to have. It lacks structure, you know. Structure has to come from you.”

'A Sea of Undefinable Stuff': Sitting Down With Brooklyn's O Mer: Photo Courtesy of Ron Shpindler

‘A Sea of Undefinable Stuff’: Sitting Down With Brooklyn’s O Mer: Photo Courtesy of Ron Shpindler

Internal structure seems to an important aspect of who O Mer is as a musician. He’s meticulous about how he comes across as an artist—he produces and perfects all of his own beats—and as a performer. But he’s also bent on sometimes relinquishing this structure at certain key moments, especially when performing. He bounces back and forth.

When I asked him how he came about his stage name, he said plainly, “Well, it’s just my name.” But then, he began elaborating on the space between the letters—the structure of the word.

“It comes from a bunch of different places. First of all, mer is like the ocean in French. And I’m not sure that I’m getting this right, but O in psychoanalysis can mean the undefinable—so a sea of undefinable stuff.” A sea of undefinable stuff. This seems to be an accurate way to describe his art, as every track bounces between rhythms and melodies, manipulating styles to create something unrecognizable to any specific genre. Before I could truly let that sink in, though, he quickly followed up with a second answer—explaining that splitting the syllables also encourages correct pronunciation: “I mostly get called ‘Omar’ or ‘Omir’ or whatever else… I get a lot of ‘Omen’ too. But that’s more what it is. It’s just a pun and I like the way it looks. It’s a way to stay me without being completely myself.”

O in psychoanalysis can mean the undefinable—so a sea of undefinable stuff.”

Like a lot of artists, he is looking for a way to separate the person from the performer: “if you are performing…it doesn’t necessarily feel like it’s you that’s doing it. You kind of—especially when performing—you have to have another personality be the ambassador of whatever it is you did. And that split, I think, is necessary.”

This can be tricky territory to navigate for some, but he’s far from being a method actor. It’s more a matter of shedding one’s own artificialities, rather than adding on new ones. He noticed that, when he is performing, he allows himself to be “a little bit more vulnerable” and “not as aware of [his] physicality.” In his opinion, as a performer, this is essential, “otherwise, you’re just getting in the way of the music. You have to give up the security of your elegance.”

The idea of a split came up time and time again. Besides the obvious split in his name, there are many other points where this idea of an intentionally fractured sense of self becomes crucial to understanding him. His nationality is another relevant example. He moved to Brooklyn nearly six years ago to pursue music, although he was already gaining recognition for being a session guitar player in Tel Aviv. He was very clear in explaining that this move was integral to his reinvention as an artist:

“The goal wasn’t to become what I was in Israel, here… New York was kind of—I should say Brooklyn—was kind of the way to get a clean slate. To be unknown. Israel was so small that I was known. It’s so tiny that I was just ‘the guy that does the thing’ by the time that I was 21, playing guitar with singers.”

It’s no surprise that he chose to come to Brooklyn of all places to find himself as an artist. Combine the excitement of living in the city, which all but defines itself as the mecca of DIY music in the Northeast, with the promise of mainstream success and what you get is a manifestation of a musician’s American Dream. As if on cue, he said one of the main reasons he was excited about coming to New York “was the whole independent scene going on in Brooklyn—Terrible Records, DFA, all that kind of stuff. Those labels. They seemed to be doing something that was really helping art be art, rather than commercial.” I could explain what happened on the label-front again, but then we would just be moving backwards. Besides being the location of some type of “a cliché dream” for catching a ‘big break,’ New York can also be a centrifuge for talent. It separates the impassioned from the passive, without any regard to external forces. O Mer commented that, for him, “mostly what it did is it created an urgency [within himself] to make music. By the nature of life in Israel, where it was a little bit more slow and mundane… New York is just ten times more intense.”

“otherwise, you’re just getting in the way of the music. You have to give up the security of your elegance.”

But living in the city that never sleeps, the home of all dreamers, is overwhelming in more than one way. Anyone that’s ever stopped for a second in the street, and then been immediately bumped into can attest to this fact. That’s what makes it so paradoxical; terrifying and beautiful all at once.

“There’s something to be said about living far away from your home—just that basic parting. You kind of get this strange perspective about who you are that you would not have had otherwise, because you are so out of your depth in a lot of ways. And I think that’s what happens to most people who come to New York. I might be wrong. Even if they come from within the United States. You’re just being thrown into the deep water.”

He’s come a long way since this initial move, hanging up his session guitar in exchange for various electronic instruments. Another split appears, this time between the acoustic and the electronic, but he does not see this one as being as defined as other aspects of his life. He began working with electronic sounds in New York “out of necessity.” That’s essentially the only important difference he sees between the two genres of music; while the ability to perform with a band or in a studio is limited, the possibilities of working alone on a computer are “endless.” But that doesn’t mean he’s ever going to go completely solo, either.

Even though he describes himself as a micromanager when it comes to his sound (“I certainly lead this band,” he told me at one point) he also views the experience of playing with a band as extremely collaborative:

“It’s my project and they just have a lot of room in it, and the place they have in my music, I don’t have in my music. It’s theirs. But it’s my music. So that’s the way it has to be. I have to let them have this wiggle room and go wild, and then I have to kind of massage it into something that I feel makes the song work. That’s the fun of it.”

This quickly shifted into a conversation about the experience of watching a band perform, in general, and how remarkably different this can be from seeing a solo artist. In many ways, this is a difficult opinion to argue against. We both agreed that there is something cosmic about the moment where a band is able to come together—despite all of their split identities—and smile about hitting a note the right way.

“That’s why I perform with a band. Basically, technology-wise, practically every artist can go on tour without a band. A lot of pop artists do that… You perform with a band so that you can have that moment with people, and then let people see it. I think it’s fucking beautiful, to be honest. I get really excited just thinking about it. It’s so worth the economical downside of moving around with a band and just the hardship of it. I think I need that. I need people to constantly criticize what I’m doing, even just with their faces, you know.”

It seems that this is the point where all of the different ends meet—in the music, itself. This is where the contradictions lie—alongside all of the questions, the answers, the personas, the risks, the consequences… you name it. The desire to be the leader meets with the need for external input. The performer collides with the producer, and the splintered selves must finally meet. New York becomes home, but Tel Aviv does not stop being home. The list goes on. But can that come as a surprise to anyone, really?

O Mer described this notion of music performance as the safe space for the self-contradictory—the hyper-malleable—as intentionally inexplicable. He compared it to “[looking] at something, and [letting] your eyes go out of focus” until something “floats up to the surface” and “hits you from this totally unexpected place.” To him, “it’s not concentrating on yourself, being isolated, or feeling everyone else. It’s letting yourself get lost in what is happening.”

“You perform with a band so that you can have that moment with people, and then let people see it. I think it’s fucking beautiful, to be honest. I get really excited just thinking about it.”

This process of getting caught up in the moment is analogous to how O Mer views the term genre, which means little to nothing to him. When I asked if he would ever try to move away from the type of music that he’s been making, he gave me an answer that perfectly fell in line with what I expected from him:

“I’m definitely interested in doing different genres, but for me, what that means is just changing the instruments—changing the tools. I’m not going to write as a different person or try to fit a different genre. I want keep being myself. I just want to maybe try other things.”

He also mentioned that there “there isn’t one artist that [he likes] that doesn’t do it every album.” This ability to transition it seems, for him, is reflective of talent. He brought up Elvis Costello as one example, and then I mentioned Bon Iver. We agreed once again; these artists are great not because they have perfected a sound, but because they do refuse to let the dust settle. Obviously, a conversation regarding chameleon-esque musical genius had a naturally progression towards Kanye West—an artist that O Mer considerations one of his biggest admirations.

We talked about My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy at length and how Kanye operates so unapologetically in his work. He compared him, briefly, to Dostoevsky when talking about art that functions under extreme anticipation:

“I’m drawn to that type of art, generally. The type of art that gets you almost on the verge of exploding, where you’re like I have to know where this is going. Like with music. I think Kanye has that, to be honest. All of his music is a lot of anticipation and a lot of pressure, and then a little bit of release. There something very dramatic about it.”

The Dirty Projectors also came up—Swing Lo Magellan, specifically. O Mer was completely in awe when talking about this work and how “precise and aware of what it’s doing it is, but also free and naturally occurring.”

Ultimately, these are the types of works where all the individual threads meet—in this sea of undefinable stuff—and create large, inseparable tangles. It is at this moment that the whole band smiles. It’s something that cannot be rehearsed, and it’s the reason why artists like O Mer create music.

Stream O Mer’s Refugee EP below, and watch him perform these tracks live at New York City’s Berlin on May 25.

This article originally appeared in the April/May issue of Cliché Magazine.

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‘A Sea of Undefinable Stuff’: Sitting Down With Brooklyn’s O Mer: Featured image courtesy of Gaya Feldheim Schorr

Kississippi Dives Into Pop With ‘Sunset Blush’

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Listening to Sunset Blush by Philadelphia’s indie darling Kississippi—otherwise known as Zoe Reynolds—feels like sitting shotgun in the summer, windows rolled down halfway, a lukewarm breeze passing by your shoulders. It gives the sonic effect of goosebumps. A fairly big step away from 2016’s EP We Have No Future, We’re All Doomed, this release has pulled the project into a much more pop-influenced direction. This move comes across as extremely natural for Reynolds, who is diving into her own sound following the departure of former bandmate Colin James.

Her vocals are more confident than ever, and her songwriting is tender and sharp all at once. She bares it all on the breakout track “Cut Yr Teeth,” with lyrics that tap into the anxiety of realizing someone may not actually be who they appeared to be (“The​​ ​​person​​ ​​you​​ ​​made​​ ​​yourself​​ ​​out​​ ​​to​​ ​​be​ / would​​ ​​feel​​ ​​sorry​​ ​​for​​ ​​what​​ ​​you have​​ ​​done​​ ​​to​​ ​​me​.”) There’s something about the distance created by the use of the second person—that biting “you”—that makes it even more intimate. It’s almost as if she’s having a conversation with the listener, like they’re tapping into something they shouldn’t be. But then, in a way that only she knows how to, Reynolds brings you back into her world mere minutes later on “Red Lights” with one use of the word “we.” One of the sweeter tracks on the album, “Red Lights” is the unmistakably slow burn of a blush you can’t shake, with simple lyrics that say more than words usually can (“Red lights / Kisses on the nose / Hope we hit traffic on the way home.”)

There’s an energy present on this album that we haven’t seen before from Kississippi—partially thanks to anthemic tracks like “Easier To Love” and “Adrift,” which both drip with synths, while retaining an edge. With saccharine harmonies and upbeat, driving guitar parts, both tracks appeal to her new pop sensibilities. They are also undeniable highlights of the album, giving her vocals a chance to soar. Not only does Reynolds avoid the cheesiness that is often symptomatic of indie rock artists experimenting with pop flirtations, but she does so triumphantly. She creates a novel sound, a possibility which is always questioned in our ever-skeptical-of-pop world.

Sunset Blush is rare and remarkable, unearthing a ferocious femininity that has been there all along. It shows a clear progression for the artist, who is (unsurprisingly) seeing well-deserved success in the wake of its release. It’s already surpassing older releases on streaming platforms and showing no signs of slowing down—especially not after her tour with Dashboard Confessional.

 

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Kississippi Dives Into Pop With ‘Sunset Blush’: Featured image courtesy of Kississippi

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Venues of America: An Oral History of The Middle East

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Tucked away on a street corner in crowded Cambridge, Massachusetts is The Middle East—a restaurant-turned-venue that now hosts shows on a nearly daily basis in any of its three rooms. With the recent acquisition of the neighboring building and the construction of the venue Sonia, The Middle East has upped its game once again. A watering hole for the thousands of college students in the area, it is known best for its club nights in the Downstairs venue, hosting three- and four-band bills in the Upstairs, electronic shows at Sonia—and, perhaps most importantly, its reputation for hosting small acts before they make it big. We sat down with a few members of the team—Ned, Alex, Aaron, and Jake—and talked about the shows, the history, and the reason why The Middle East is so important to the music scene in the greater Boston area.

Cliché: Tell me about your first days working at The Middle East. What’s changed since then? What’s stayed the same? What drew you towards the venue to begin with?

Ned, Booking Manager: I’m not going first.

Alex, Upstairs Booking Agent: I started in 2015, doing door and coat check. Around mid-2016, Ned got hired as the booking manager and then he hired me as the upstairs booking agent […] We’ve had a lot of staff that’s changed since then. But, I guess what drew me here was, that I just graduated college—I went to Berklee College of Music—and my old boss at the Berklee Performance Center, his wife was working door here, and she hired me to do door. I was really excited to just work at a music venue, somewhere that live music happens all the time. And I was really interested in concert promotion already, so it worked out well.

We have a lot of different rooms and a lot of different things going on. Getting a hold of all that is overwhelming, but it’s awesome.

Aaron, Sonia Booking Agent: I started as an independent promoter working with Ned about three or four years ago. We had a company together […] I graduated from college and they offered me a job as a talent buyer, and Ned offered me here a job, as well. That was for Sonia, which is the newest venue here, so I’d say that’s definitely the biggest change. When I came on I started in Zuzu, the smaller room, and then Sonia was built. So, I started two Februarys ago and Sonia opened up March. And then another change with that is that we opened without a liquor license, but now we got it in January.

Jake, P.R. & Marketing: Some of the early days are similar to Aaron. I started out working with Ned, five plus years ago. Eventually, I started P.R. and marketing here, about a year ago […] We have a lot of different rooms and a lot of different things going on. Getting a hold of all that is overwhelming, but it’s awesome. Things that drew me towards this is just going to shows as a kid, and to college. Just the opportunity to work at a live music venue is awesome.

Ned: I started throwing shows here in 2004. I had gone to shows here as a kid—I shouldn’t say as a kid, as a teenager, before I started my own—and I was drawn here because of the hip-hop scene. I started off as a hip-hop promoter, so I used to go to shows here as a hip-hop fan. And then after college I started wanting to throw my own shows, and I started throwing my shows here. As a promoter, I gradually got an in-house job working at the club, and now I’m manager 15 years later—14 years later. What’s changed? The music really. Different genres of music. The type of hip-hop that I book now… I mean it’s always changing […] Sonia is a new development that used to be T.T. The Bear’s […] The Middle East bought the building. Then we renovated that room and made a brand new room. So that’s probably the biggest change. The music and then the renovation of the new room.

Venues of America: An Oral History of The Middle East: Image courtesy of Lilly Milman

From left to right: Alex, Lionel (who walked in moments after the interview), Ned, Aaron, Jake / Photo courtesy of Lilly Milman

Do you miss the old music?

Ned: I mean, we still do some of it. […] I miss doing a lot more of the music I like. But that’s just the harsh reality of the business. Music changes and things change, and you don’t necessarily agree with it. But as a promoter, you kind of just have to roll with it.

What have some of your favorite memories been working at the venue? Your worst memories?

Jake: I guess some of the favorite memories I have are doing shows with people we’re fans of. So, for instance, Vince Staples was here and I’m a huge fan of Vince Staples. But also that could go both ways. If you’re a big fan of the artist and you get to meet them and they don’t live up to your expectations, and they are the complete opposite of what you think they would be.

I won’t make you name drop.

Alex: I feel the same way as Jake.

Aaron: Yeah, I do, too.

Ned: Wait, what was the question? What is your favorite memory?

Alex: I bet you have a lot.

Ned: Favorite memory… that’s going to take a second… We’ve had a lot of surprise performances. I think that might be my favorite. We did a show with Scarface, and DMX just randomly showed up. I had done a show with Slaine and Ill Bill, back in the day, and Everlast randomly showed up. Stuff like that is really some of my fondest memories. And the comedy of working here everyday, I really appreciate it. There’s a lot of colorful people. Interactions with all the different colorful people and their personalities are some of my favorite memories. Worst memory… Let’s see…

We could move on, if you want to think about it.

Ned: We’ll have to backtrack to that one. I’m trying to compile 15 years of information, we’ll go back to that.

Venues of America: An Oral History of The Middle East: Image courtesy of Lilly Milman

Photo courtesy of Lilly Milman

What would you describe as the main differences between the Upstairs and Downstairs?

Alex: I mean, it starts with the size of the room, for sure. The Downstairs is 550 capacity and the Upstairs is 185. I feel like something they have in common is that, no matter where you are in the room, you’re close to the stage. And both rooms are intimate enough to stand out from other venues.

Jake: I guess, for the Downstairs, the energy is more contained. It’s a basement, so the vibes just get a little crazier down there. Upstairs is, you know, open.

Ned: They’re both intimate places. They’re both great places to see shows. You can’t really compare them because of the size, so the type of shows that are in there are different […] What’s great about them is they’re a lot of people’s first play in the city, before people get big. We’ve had gigantic artists like Machine Gun Kelly. He’s played the Upstairs. It’s cool to have that memory, of like, I saw him play in front of 200 people. These other great acts have played downstairs. Eminem played downstairs. That’s kind of what makes those rooms greats […] The downstairs in particular because it’s low ceilings and it’s packed and it’s in a basement […] It’s pretty intense if it’s packed. Did we talk about Sonia at all? We should probably talk about Sonia a little bit.

We’ve had gigantic artists like Machine Gun Kelly. He’s played the Upstairs. It’s cool to have that memory, of like, I saw him play in front of 200 people.

Yeah definitely, we can talk about it.

Ned: Let Aaron talk about Sonia.

Aaron: I think Sonia is much different because it’s brand new, it’s very clean, it’s very sterile, almost. You know, like, it hasn’t been beaten up yet, whereas the other rooms have been here for decades. So there’s a huge difference. Sonia has very high ceilings, which is obviously much different than the Downstairs. The sound and the lighting is much more comprehensive. There’s a lot more going on there because it’s designed more for electronic music, so they need more production to keep people more focused—as opposed to live acts that don’t want to be distracted by a bunch of lights. But it actually, capacity wise, fits right in between the Up and Down. So, Up is 2, Sonia is 350, Down is 550. It fits in nicely with the circuit, but it’s a much different room.

Ned: It’s more like a club. We do all things in it, but it’s got more of a club vibe.

Do you guys have a favorite of the venues?

Alex: I personally love the vibe of—like, if we’re talking about sold-out shows—like sold-out Downstairs shows are really just a fun feeling. The room itself definitely, like Jake was saying, kind of contains all the excitement. But there’s just so many things happening in one place.

Ned: Downstairs for me, for sure, because I have so much history there. The best shows I’ve ever thrown are Downstairs. I mean, Upstairs is great, but the Downstairs… that’s my best memories.

Jake: Same, I would choose the Downstairs.

Aaron: Downstairs. Can’t beat it.

Venues of America: An Oral History of The Middle East: Featured image courtesy of Jess Benjamin/Scout Cambridge

Photo courtesy of Jess Benjamin/Scout Cambridge

Do you think having different venues within one building distinguishes the Middle East from other venues? Do you consider them different venues?

Ned: I think it’s pretty awesome that we have that because not a lot of places have that. Nothing in the city that’s like this. We’re kinda like an independent entertainment complex. Actually, that’s what we are. They’re different venues. It’s one building, but it’s different rooms. I consider each room a venue. I don’t think that’s the draw to this place though. The draw is the artists. If the artists are playing here, people are gonna come see the bands. And the location, […] Central Square… Being in a convenient location, and the history here, and all the staff—everyone who works here—that’s what the draw is. And what makes this place unique. The fact that it’s been here for 40 years. It started off as a restaurant and it expanded into this […] There’s nothing like this in the country. I’ve had tour managers that come through here and they’re like “there’s nothing like this.”

What would you say is the mission statement of the venue?

Alex: I feel like I would just say we’re open to everyone. We’re welcome to all kinds of music and all kinds of people.

Ned: We love everybody.

Aaron: Make yourself at home.

Ned: I think that’s really the mission statement. This is a home for artists to come, for patrons to come, listen to great music, eat some good food, and have a great time […] It’s a family business, and that’s what they care about. The owners really care about people and they really love the people, and they love being hospitable.

Alex: I think what really distinguishes us from other venues is that it’s a family-run business. It’s not corporate whatsoever. We’re the only private music venue in the city.

Really?

Ned: Did you say private?

Alex: Not private—independent, sorry.

This is a home for artists to come, for patrons to come, listen to great music, eat some good food, and have a great time

What are some memorable performances you’ve seen here?

Aaron: When I first moved here, I saw Zed’s Dead in the basement. They’re, like, huge, you know—they’re a House of Blues act now. And then, another show after, Feed Me—who’s also another House of Blues act. I saw those shows back-to-back and those were my first two shows in Boston as an adult. It’s what introduced me to dance music, which is now my job.

Alex: Like, the second day I started working here, I saw Thundercat in the downstairs. I just remember not realizing until that exact moment, like, how lucky I was to be working here. And to be around all this stuff. I think that’s something that will stick with me for awhile.

Jake: What sticks out to me is that we did Logic upstairs, like four or five years ago. That was just an awesome show and to see where he’s gone now is, like, insane. That show was a 185 cap.

Ned: I have a few. I mean, Kendrick Lamar. The biggest thing about doing Kendrick Lamar downstairs was that it wasn’t a big deal at all. I mean it was cool, but it wasn’t even a sold out show.

Do you remember how long ago that was?

Ned: Let me look it up. It might still be on TicketWeb…

Alex: I don’t even think I knew that.

Aaron: I didn’t know that.

Ned: 2011.

I just remember not realizing until that exact moment, like, how lucky I was to be working here. And to be around all this stuff.

So that was, like, pretty recent.

Ned: It was before he dropped—it was around like his second album. Before M.A.A.D City. We did that show. It wasn’t, like, a crazy, memorable show, until after the fact. Looking back on it… I mean he did a great job, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t like… It was ahead of its time. But looking back on it, I’d say it’s pretty crazy. Talib Kweli, probably. He had a complete meltdown with the sound man. If we’re talking about one of my worst experiences, that’s one of them.

Wait, can you describe that in more detail?

Ned: Talib Kweli and the sound guy went at it. Onstage. And in the middle of the show. In front of a sold-out crowd. I had to go up on there and break up the argument and the sound guy walked out. Talib, like, walked off the stage. I had to get everybody back on stage. And people were flipping out. Luckily, the show went on. I will say that was a bad experience.

So, you’re not afraid to name drop.

Ned: Nope.

Aaron: I mean that’s pretty out there, everyone knows about that.

Ned: What else was a good show? DJ Premier vs. Pete Rock. For me, as a fan, growing up with those guys… That was a great show. And they’ve never done that before. They both DJed on stage, playing each others music. For a hip hop fan from my era, that was pretty intense […] Something like the early plays, like The Lupe Fiasco playing early in my career, that was big. Wiz Khalifa. Wiz Khalifa and Yelawolf together. That was a show. That was crazy. A$AP Rocky […] That was one of the crazier shows because they were just slam dancing like crazy. I think I answered enough there…

Are there any big changes in store for The Middle East in the near future? Any big plans?

Ned: Like I said, Sonia—that was the biggest change. That was a big change we’re just getting through. That opened a year ago and it didn’t have a liquor license for like… how long?

Alex: 6 months?

Jake: Almost a year.

Aaron: It was April to January.

Ned: End of January. So basically February. So that was a difficult thing because we had a new venue open, Sonia, with no liquor license. And in this business that’s rough.

Why did it take so long?

Ned: Just due process of the city. There was a lot of laws about— The previous owner had it and she had so much time to sell it— We had to wait to go through the due process. That was a really tough experience, but we got through it and now Sonia is up and running. and doing great business, and has great shows. So, there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

 

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Venues of America: An Oral History of The Middle East: Featured image courtesy of Jess Benjamin/Scout Cambridge

Hip-Hop As A Shared Activity: How Collaboration Created America’s New Pop

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The recent rise of the collective in hip-hop has been undeniable. BROCKHAMPTON (technically a boy band, we know,) A$AP Mob, Migos, and Odd Future are just a few of the big names from the past few years. Before that, we had the Wu-Tang Clan, Run-DMC, A Tribe Called Quest, N.W.A., Fugees, and Public Enemy. Even earlier were The Beastie Boys and Salt N Pepa. And this is only scratching the surface.*

The influence of the group in hip-hop can easily be tracked, and has been, but the pervasion of the collective is not the only reason that the genre is inherently collaborative. Nor is it the cause of hip-hop’s surge in popularity and supersession of rock as the most dominant genre of music in America, according to Nielsen’s 2017 year-end report. There’s a reason why the genre has been able to consistently innovate, come out on top, define what’s cool. And the answer lies much deeper, and much further back in history, than success on streaming platforms, like Nielsen’s findings suggest.

Photo courtesy of Dorothy/”Hip-Hop Love Blueprint”

Last year, the UK-based art and design studio Dorothy released its ‘Hip-Hop Love Blueprint,’ a blue and metallic gold screen print that links together “over 700 MCs, DJs, producers, turntablists, musicians, graffiti artists, b-boys and b-girls who […] have been pivotal to the evolution of hip-hop, from pioneers such as DJ Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash to present day chart success stories Kendrick Lamar and Drake, and global superstars Jay-Z and Kanye West.” While the website description stresses the importance of certain groundbreaking artists and events, in order to truly understand the genre, it’s important to begin by paying attention to the links.

Like in any other genre, hip-hop has its stars—the people whose music shaped the future, whose legacy remains so strong that one wrong word about them could lead to physical threats. Dorothy mentioned some, but it would be pointless to go through the whole list. What distinguishes hip-hop from other popular music genres is not the artists themselves, but the way they are constantly working together in order to create the most dynamic art. When was the last time you listened to a rap album without features? Chance’s blockbuster hit Coloring Book only included two songs without features, Drake’s most recent More Life featured British grunge rappers to explore unprecedented sounds for the Toronto-born artist, 2 Chainz’s Pretty Girls Like Trap Music hit hard by including some of the genre’s biggest names (Nicki Minaj, Drake, and Migos are just a few.) Besides a couple of stragglers (notably, J. Cole on his last two albums and Childish Gambino on Awaken, My Love!, among others,) the majority of hip-hop artists have essentially committed to this type of constant collaboration.

The way in which members of the hip-hop community engage with each other is analogous to scientists in a lab, or scholars in a field of research. This is the part where you have to bear with me for a second; all of these examples fall under the category of a shared activity. A shared activity, when loosely explained through Aristotle’s theories, comprises a shared and mutual commitment to a common goal, a mutual understanding of everyone’s individual role in accomplishing this goal, and a mutual agreement for everyone to perform his own individual role within the pursuit of this goal. If the common goal in question is the creation of a chart-topping album—like Flower Boy or No One Ever Really Dies, both of which heavily rely on featuresthen it’s difficult to argue against the fact that each participant checks off the items on this list.

One of the main benefits of a shared activity, especially when it comes to the creation of hip-hop, is the continuous engagement of its participants. If everyone is not only working on their own projects, but also engaging in the projects of others, then there is never a lack of interest or stimulation. Cue the features.

And, of course, the diss tracks. Although it may seem like the point of a good diss track is to stun the subject into silence, they usually—and unsurprisingly—have the opposite effect. Maybe therein lies the purpose. They incite a type of conversation in rap unlike that which exists in any other genre. No one ever truly gets the final word; more often than not, the challenge just sparks the creation of more music. This tradition of call-outs has existed since the early days of rap; the hip-hop rivalry phenomenon has given us hits from artists like The Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac, Drake and Meek Mill, Nicki Minaj and Remy Ma. There were even theories that Kendrick was coming at Big Sean on DAMN. This isn’t to create a false equivalency between serious rivalries and occasional teasing, but there’s a reason why rappers seldom run out of things to say; each artist, at one point or another, becomes responsible for making sure that the conversation doesn’t end.

Another innovation that is unique to hip-hop is the rise of the producer as an artist in and of themself. Yes, bar the DIY scene, basically every artist in every genre needs a producer. But never before have producers held such distinctive roles in the creation of music that performance legends are seeking them out for their input and style. Like Jay-Z on his album 4:44, which arguably became more regarded for the producing feats of No I.D. than the rapping itself. Or everyone and Metro Boomin, who has left a mark as big as it gets on hip-hop; known for being a mainstream hit-machine, he’s collaborated with nearly every big name from Gucci Mane and 21 Savage to Drake and DJ Khaled. His tagline—“if young Metro don’t trust you, I’m gon’ shoot you,” created by Future in a collaboration with Uncle Murda—has infiltrated rap playlists indefinitely, and has kicked off its own cultural phenomenon. Or Mike WiLL Made-It, who was the beat-maker behind both Beyoncé’s “Formation” and Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE.”

Even rappers who lean towards producing their own music, like hip-hop’s biggest workaholic Kanye West, rely on the idea of collaboration in order to create. One of the key features of Kanye’s music is his prolific use of samples—often of relatively unknown artists. Sampling, which is the technique of digitally encoding music or sound and reusing it as part of a composition or recording, is just one more way in which hip-hop artists take advantage of the community-like aspects of music in order to further art. By bringing in voices or sounds that otherwise wouldn’t have been heard by listeners of mainstream rap—like the contemporary classical composer Caroline Shaw, who West collaborated with on tracks “POWER” and “Say You Will”—hip-hop artists are opening up unprecedented avenues for their music.

At this point, you may be asking why this is important. There is an innumerable amount of answers, all dependent on your own experience with hip-hop, but there’s also a common thread that is woven through all of them. Historically, as a genre, hip-hop has not been given the respect it deserves. This isn’t a revolutionary statement in any sense; it’s just a recognition of the symptomatic way we view art that we do not deem to be fine. With rap taking the lead as America’s most popular form of music, it is about time that the contributions which hip-hop and its artists have made to music are acknowledged and celebrated. It is also time that we begin viewing them as more than transient blips in culture, bolstered by teenagers, social media, and streaming services. There have been dozens of articles likening Kanye West to Beethoven or Mozart, but it is important to note that he is not the only artist engaging in intellectual art-creation. He is just one of hundreds in a community of forward-thinkers and risk-takers. Hip-hop may not be a fine art, but that is because it is something much bigger; it is alive and it is growing, and it cannot be contained with four walls and a velvet rope.

*For a more complete timeline of hip-hop, check out ThoughtCo’s “History of Hip-Hop: 1925 to Now”

 

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Hip-Hop As A Shared Activity: How Collaboration Created America’s New Pop: Featured image courtesy of Ashlan Grey/The FADER

Netflix To Release Rap Documentary Series

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It was announced in late January that Netflix is gearing up to release a rap documentary series entitled Rapture. The first season will be eight episodes long, with each episode focusing on the personal and professional life of a famous rapper.

The list of rappers that will be featured in the first season is quite impressive: Nas, Logic, T.I., 2 Chainz, Just Blaze, Rapsody, Dave East, G-Eazy, and A Boogie Wit da Hoodie. The 30-second trailer released by Netflix shows flashing scenes of the rappers, with short narrations from a few explaining the importance of creating rap music.

Nas begins the trailer, explaining, “hip hop is about being truthful. You tell the real story.” Often called one of the best rappers of all time‒by sources like MTV, Billboard, The Source, and more‒Nas is known for his poetic verses that went against rap conventions during his debut in the 90s. Not only is he a regarded as a hip hop legend for his controversial flows, but he also has been continuously praised for his poignant verses about the harsh realities of life for black men in America.

From Nas, the trailer quickly jumps to Logic, whose breakout single “1-800-273-8255” received enormous radio play and media attention in 2017. The single, which is about suicide prevention, was nominated for the Song of the Year and Best Music Video awards at the Grammys. As one of only a few rappers to have opened up about mental health issues, Logic is committed to spreading awareness and prevention methods. “That’s my way to vent, and let other people know that I’ve been there,” he says in a quick sound bite, “and I know what it’s like.”

The rest of the trailer goes on to feature other clips that discuss the value of words, truth, freedom, and power. The show is set to become available for streaming on March 30th.

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Netflix Will Release a Rap Documentary Series: Featured image courtesy of Netflix