07/16/15 11:57am
07/16/2015 11:57 AM |


No one who moved to Brooklyn after 2000 has a legitimate claim to getting in on the ground floor of anything. Still, in 2002, the degree to which New York City’s music scene was still carried out across the river from here is maybe difficult for more recent transplants to picture. Upon my arrival here that year, a club called Northsix lived where the Music Hall of Williamsburg now sits, and acts rolled through there often. Quiet corners supported tiny folk music hangouts like the now-dead Zebulon and the still-living Pete’s Candy Store. (Pete’s picked the corner that would stay quieter longer, it turned out.) Union Pool wasn’t set up for live music, yet; The Knitting Factory still took up three floors in Manhattan. The pool of regulars who could support something as relatively specific as the metal shows playing nightly at Saint Vitus was still years and years away. The stray DIY show in a decrepit loft space was a welcome surprise but hardly an expectation.


In 2002, the candy-colored, new wave, coke-fantasia that was Williamsburg’s electroclash nightclub Luxx was the nightspot of note. It only lasted a couple of years before switching into the just-closed punk dive Trash Bar, which will now become a Smoothie King or some such corporate enclave, probably. People who may claim the current environment is filled with pretentious kids playing dress up really have no idea of the level of skinny-tied commitment Williamsburg once commanded. (I expect it to pop up as a throwaway gag as soon as early 2000s Brooklyn becomes the setting for a prestige cable drama.) It was alternately terrible and amazing, and deeply memorable either way. But even then it felt somewhat disposable, something that’d be outgrown if it wasn’t shut down. I don’t think anyone there thought that stuff could, or should, last forever.

Since then the story of live music in Brooklyn has been one of almost continual growth. Though individual spots have come and gone, we’ve steadily amassed more clubs, more bands, and more variety of everything, including more options for how to consume music. The biggest single disruption of that otherwise steady climb happened last year, which had the most funereal feel of any I can remember in Brooklyn’s post-millennium music scene. As was exhaustively documented, debated, and fretted over, VICE’s multi-million dollar headquarters expansion ate a bunch of Williamsburg’s music venues, permanently closing 285 Kent, Death by Audio, and Glasslands, leading many to mourn the idea that this city could nurture art in a genuine way. And the irony of a media empire built on hip culture, bulldozing weird, cherished spots with investment capital money was too richly symbolic to feel anything other than blatantly gross.


But now, just a year removed from that much-lamented reaping, it’s clear that farther off places like Palisades, Silent Barn, Alphaville, and Aviv have continued the spirit that those rooms used to nurture, and have done it more or less seamlessly. Going to shows out there is to be surrounded by people whose whole idea of music and culture in Brooklyn is now being formed with those spots at their center. There’s more precedent now to suggest that if, or even when, those places close, they’ll be replaced too, and quickly. If it happens to be in Queens or deep Harlem or under the roller coaster on Coney Island, the feel inside those sweaty rooms of the future will probably be the same. So containing the rise and fall of Brooklyn’s music culture to the past decade or so (or even just to Brooklyn) feels counterfactual, and even kind of arrogant: “If our thing gets blown up, there may never be another thing!” Not likely. In fact, there are more places to see music now than there were when the L started printing, more stylistic diversity in the sorts of stuff being made, and more people just itching to make it. If the prohibitive expense of living in 2015 Brooklyn hasn’t killed the primal urge for expression yet, a further, truly apocalyptic annihilation just over the horizon seems pretty unlikely.

It’s true that the city doesn’t care about us as much as we care about it. It won’t make a preserved historical site out of the particular room where you saw your new favorite band, or the place where you got gloriously drunk and did something romantic, or flat-out stupid. Our own personal histories are marked with spots that no one else can visit, where crowds no longer gather. And that’s sort of great. But while those things are important to us, and while they make our identities and our memories dependent on the city, the city isn’t reliant on us—it won’t click on our pained farewell essays. And that’s sort of great too. If you spend enough years here and the main truth you’re out to prove is “everything dies,” you’ll be given ample evidence to back that up. But you’ve missed the overwhelming, sorta scary, yet ultimately reassuring idea that everything is reborn too.

Ingrained impermanence is culturally healthy, if not personally flattering. And there’s still a minor, undeniable thrill to leaving your footprints in the sand, then standing back to watch the ocean erase them.

07/01/15 9:14am
07/01/2015 9:14 AM |


Sleater Kinney “Price Tag”
The iconic rock warriors wouldn’t have descended from Mt. Olympia without planning a strong first strike. The leadoff track from Sleater-Kinney’s comeback record keeps double-jumping to new levels of intensity. Janet Weiss’ precise drum blasts—like controlled explosions used to trigger ski-slope
avalanches—provide their perpetual spark.

Colleen Green “Deeper Than Love”
An unexpectedly vivid concept album about twenty-something ennui, Colleen Green’s I Want to Grow Up is deeply funny and totally fucked up. Its neurotic peak is this slinky kraut-pop epic, which departs from her usual hooky alt-rock to let conflicting fears of loneliness and intimacy dance a dead-eyed tango.

Rabit “Bloody Eye”
The metal shard landscape and ray-gun zips that make up this Texan version of British “grime” production suggest a laser tag duel that’s a little too real. (Its startling gun shot percussion is the sound of at least one player who isn’t playing.) This is experimental electronic music at it’s most
physically jarring.

Prurient “Greenpoint”
The Brooklyn neighborhood, home to bougie gift shops and boiled pierogi, is recast as an existential nightmare by Dominick Fernow’s long-running noise project Prurient. It starts with unexpected acoustic strumming, dangling something pretty for the coming dread to swallow whole. The drone builds slow behind Fernow’s sober narration of an alcoholic in ruin. It’s not rage-red but ice-cold; a poison frost freezing a flower from its roots.

Blanck Mass “Dead Format”
Ben Power’s other band, Fuck Buttons, are too often adrift in their own psychedelic fantasmagoria to make dance-floor fillers as straight as this solo jam. And even this is just a hair more propulsive than it is creepy. “Doom rave” is on the rise! (more…)

06/17/15 9:45am
06/17/2015 9:45 AM |


Upon hearing Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” Brian Eno famously guessed that the single would “change club music for the next 15 years.” That bit of fortune-telling, recounted countless times since spoken in 1977, ended up being an understatement. Electronically produced dance music hadn’t even sniffed its cultural peak by 1992. It’s since become youth culture, major festival fodder, and blockbuster mainstream entertainment on a scale that Eno wouldn’t have claimed on his fourth lager. Club walls can no longer confine it. And now, Summer’s iconic producer, Giorgio Moroder, returns as an elder statesman to a pop culture he had a strong hand in shaping. (more…)

06/04/15 10:20am
06/04/2015 10:20 AM |


Northside Festival might now have multiple components to it, but music is how it all started, and music is still the center around which the whole festival orbits. What we’re trying to say is: Massive public concerts in the bustling heart of Williamsburg have quite the gravitational pull. And with three outdoor stages, featuring more shows and artists than any previous year, Northside 2015 is bigger and more spectacular than ever before. Here’s a rundown of the 2015 schedule’s marquee events:

The Inlet @ 50 Kent


Friday, June 12th
Neko Case, Rhye, Majical Cloudz

Neko Case got her start playing drums in Vancouver punk bands in the mid-80s, then discovered she could sing. In the decades since, she’s secured a place in the singer-songwriter firmament with her magical realist lyrics and brassy vocals, which she often lends to Canadian indie rock mainstays The New Pornographers. Her sixth studio album, 2013’s Grammy-nominated The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, is both her strangest and most autobiographical, laying bare her struggles with depression. Case is joined by LA’s R&B crooners Rhye, whose vocals are so sultry and Sade-like most critics mistook them for women upon their debut (they’re actually two men), and Montreal electronic indie-pop duo Majical Cloudz.


Saturday, June 13th
Best Coast, Built to Spill, Alvvays, Bully

Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno secure their status as the Golden State’s surf-pop-punk mascots with their new album, California Nights. It’s a little less sun-drenched than previous jangle-pop releases like “Crazy for You”—there’s thicker fuzz on Cosentino’s distinct vocals. 90s indie giants Built to Spill will play Untethered Moon, their first album in six years and the most universally praised since 1999’s classic Keep it Like a Secret. They’re joined by Toronto indie-pop quintet Alvvays, whose eponymous Chad van Gaalen-produced debut topped college charts last year with its goldtoned guitars and frontwoman Molly Rankin’s wry, self-deprecating lyrics, and Nashville grunge-rockers Bully, playing songs off their upcoming debut album Feels Like.


Sunday, June 14th
Run the Jewels, Sleigh Bells, Vince Staples

Veteran duo El-P and Killer Mike have had a hell of a year. They topped 2014 critics’ lists with their pummeling second record, Run the Jewels 2, and toured the world on an extended victory lap. Amid a flurry of social unrest, Mike became a voice of reason in the national media. They’ve even got their growing audience anxiously awaiting a remix record made out of cat noises. Now, Run The Jewels return to El-P’s home turf, Brooklyn, to burn Northside 2015 down at our closing-night rager! They’ll be joined by party-starting duo Sleigh Bells, who’ll bring their own giddy mash-up of metal riffs and bubblegum hooks, and young rapper Vince Staples, a one-time Odd Future brat who’s matured into one of the most acclaimed young voices in rap.


McCarren Park


Thursday, June 11th

After the break up of late-80s indie-pop greats Galaxie 500, singer/songwriter Dean Wareham formed Luna. Their decade-long run of graceful rock records proved even more perfect. The assured Luna lineup of the early 00s will be reunited here—Sean Eden, Lee Wall, Wareham, and his wife and longtime artistic collaborator Britta Phillips. This free show in the summer sun will be their first New York City performance in over ten years.


Friday, June 12th
The Very Best, HEEMS

UK-based beatmaker Johan Karlberg and Malawian-born, London-based vocalist Esau Mwamwaya, whom you likely first heard featured on M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes,” make up eminently danceable Afro-pop duo The Very Best. Their latest album, Makes a King, is less club-ready but more nuanced than previous releases, with guest spots by Malawian choirs and Vampire Weekend’s Chris Baio. Queens-raised rapper HEEMS, formerly of hip-hop wiseass trio Das Racist, performs his recent debut solo album Eat Pray Thug.


Saturday, June 12th
Against Me!, Special Guests

After 2014’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues, a powerful release following lead singer Laura Jane Grace’s coming out as a trans woman, Florida anarcho-punks Against Me! are as battle-ready as ever. They’re leading the charge in the trans-rights movement with anthems like “True Trans Soul Rebel,” which Grace recently performed with Miley Cyrus for the pop star’s new foundation benefiting homeless LGBTQ youth.


UOLive @ Williamsburg Walks


Saturday, June 13th and Sunday, June 14th
Bedford Avenue, a main artery of Brooklyn’s cultural pulse, will once again become Northside’s third outdoor stage on both weekend afternoons this year. In collaboration with Williamsburg Walks and thanks to our partners at Urban Outfitters, the neighborhood will delight to free performances from a varied lineup of up-and-coming performers. The street will see sets from stylish electronic duo Light Asylum, local psych-rockers Sunflower Bean, adorably twee-pop group Eskimeaux, otherworldly experimental singer GABI, and a few more too exciting to yet reveal!


Northside Music: A Day-by-Day Guide

With well over 400 bands booked every year, the festival presents too much music for any one person to experience in full. An informed plan is fairly crucial to choosing your own adventure. As a leg-up for both badge-holding venue hoppers and picky single show-goers, we’ve gone through the schedule day by day to underline a few of the line-up’s most notable inclusions.


Thursday, June 11th


Femi Kuti & The Positive Force
The son of world-music icon Fela Kuti was a member of his father’s legendary band from a very young age. His recent collaborations with high-profile hip-hop and rock groups has continued Afrobeat’s crossover into the pop mainstream. He’ll appear with The Positive Force, a seasoned backing ensemble he’s led since the late 1980s.
Brooklyn Bowl, 61 Wythe Avenue


Bulletproof Stockings
You should know going in that men are barred from attending shows by these devout Hasidic alt-rockers. Taking an ancient principle from The Torah and embracing it as a method for modern empowerment, this Crown Heights group thrives on the specific energy of women performing music exclusively for women.
Bar Matchless, 557 Manhattan Avenue

Lower Dens
Baltimore quintet Lower Dens leave behind cerebral, experimental art rock in favor of gauzy retropop with their latest album, Escape from Evil, which showcases lead singer Jana Hunter’s silky, androgynous vocals and stripped-bare emotions.
Music Hall of Williamsburg, 66 N. 6th Street


Jacco Gardner
26-year-old Dutch multi-instrumentalist Jacco Gardner’s baroque pop recalls the eccentric storytelling of 60s psychedelia (think Brian Wilson and Syd Barrett): His 2013 debut, Cabinet of Curiosities, is heavy on mellotrons and harpsichords, samples of laughing babies, and song titles like “The One-Eyed King,” like a soundtrack to a dark fairy tale.
Rough Trade NYC, 64 N. 9th Street

Ed Schrader’s Music Beat
Comedian/writer/musician Ed Schrader’s caveman grunt-shrieks and floor tom pummels plus Devin Rice’s menacing bass guitar make up this Baltimore punk duo, reminiscent of Frank Black and 90s noise rock weirdos Killdozer.
Palisades, 906 Broadway

Friday, June 12th

Spider Bags
Chapel Hill road warriors Spider Bags have spent four records expressing their queasy, paranoid feelings with punchy garage rock. Last year’s Frozen Letter took the customary sick riffs and sour wit of earlier work and stretched them out to a psychedelic sprawl.
Music Hall of Williamsburg, 66 N. 6th Street


Alden Penner & Michael Cera
The semi-reclusive and kind of angel-voiced Penner, formerly of beloved Canadian indie-pop band The Unicorns, teamed up with Arrested Development star and lo-fi folkie on the down-lo, Michael Cera, to record a concept EP about Canadians living on Mars. Live, the whimsy will be nigh unstoppable.
The Knitting Factory, 361 Metropolitan Avenue

Ryan Hemsworth
The DJ, remixer, beat-maker, and solo performer from Nova Scotia blurs lines between hazy hip-hop instrumentals, smooth R&B, mellowed-out synth pop hooks, and half-remembered video game themes. Unbound by genre, Hemsworth stays faithful to a daydream of his own design.
Palisades, 906 Broadway


Ex Hex
Led by undersung multi-instrumentalist Mary Timony (Helium, Autoclave, Wild Flag), Washington, D.C.-based trio Ex Hex released their debut album Rips last year, full of fierce and fast garage-pop anthems. Timony’s vocals are melodic and energetic over screaming guitar licks, less sullen and talk-singy than in previous projects.
Music Hall of Williamsburg, 66 N. 6th Street


The Holydrug Couple
Chilean psych-rockers The Holydrug Couple, made up of members Ives Sepúlveda and Manu Parra, are as spaced-out and dreamy as their name suggests. (Actually, they have a song called “Dreamy,” off their last album, Moonlust). They’re also playing Friday and Saturday at Baby’s All Right.
Alphaville, 140 Wilson Avenue


Beach Fossils
Brooklyn’s Beach Fossils are known for energetic live shows that bring their atmospheric lo-fi tracks to a fever pitch, something that sets them apart from other lackadaisical janglers like Wavves and DIIV (a spin-off project of former member Cole Smith).
Rough Trade NYC, 64 N. 9th Street


Frankie Cosmos
Frankie Cosmos is the stage name of 21-year-old Greta Kline (daughter of actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates), whose pared-down dream-pop ballads, off last year’s debut Zentropy, fall just short of twee. Kline, who studied poetry and writes wry, clever lyrics, also plays bass in the band Porches.
Rough Trade NYC, 64 N. 9th Street


Saturday, June 13th


Lightly melodic but swaggering tough, this Manchester rock band is a growing force. Ready to apply a few tricks they picked up supporting Sleater-Kinney’s British tour, singer/guitarist Faith Holgate and her locked-in gang will perform material from their brand new record, Wild Nights, for the first time in front of a U.S. audience.
Rough Trade NYC, 64 N. 9th Street


DJ Premier (w/ full live band)
As one-half of Gang Starr, and producer for a who’s who of megastars including Jay-Z, Kanye West, D’Angelo, Nas, and the Notorious B.I.G., DJ Premier’s legacy is secure. He’s an artist who helped define the sound of American hip-hop. With live drums, bass, and horn arrangements, that sound will come to life like never before.
Brooklyn Bowl, 61 Wythe Avenue

Pusha T
As one half of gritty rap duo Clipse and into his formidable career as a solo MC, Pusha T has been one of hip-hop’s most captivating street-level storytellers, bringing real menace to morally gray depictions of life in and around the drug trade. (This date of House of Vans’ free summer show schedule overlaps with Northside. Limited entry is available to badge holders.)
House of Vans, 25 Franklin Street


Viet Cong
The self-titled debut from this Calgary band has been the breakout indie-rock record of 2015 so far. The group (featuring members of the tragically cut-short band Women) is a juggernaut of sharp angles and mordant humor. Their songs are bleak but romantic, facing the uselessness of existence with fists balled and tongues in cheek.
Music Hall of Williamsburg, 66 N. 6th Street (Saturday and Sunday)


Girl Band
These Irish punks, actually made up of all lads despite their chosen name, set absurd lyrics to a relentless almost militaristic beat. Like The Fall and Liars before them, they whip their non-sequiturs into a frenzy, prolonging the second just before the cult members might start speaking in tongues.
Music Hall of Williamsburg, 66 N. 6th Street (Saturday and Sunday)


Blonde Redhead
Now twenty years into a formidable career in experimental rock, and experienced enough to have come from an era when NYC’s best music still existed primarily in downtown Manhattan, Blonde Redhead continue on. They’ve deliberately changed their moves with each release, veering from sparkling dream pop to dissonant noise and back again.
Warsaw, 261 Driggs Avenue


Bits of hip-hop, dub, IDM, techno, and ambient all filter through the work of Brooklyn producer Zachary Saginaw, but gently warped like light coming up through a swimming pool. Each successive album he’s put out through influential Michigan label Ghostly International has been more colorful, expressive, and melodic than
the last.
The Knitting Factory, 361 Metropolitan Avenue


Sunday, June 14th


The Sun Ra Arkestra
Taking up the enormous legacy of late jazz genius Sun Ra, his cosmic Arkestra continues on. Now led by maestro Marshall Allen, a 91-year-old living legend of the saxophone in his own right, this free-floating crew of seasoned pros in sequined robes tour the globe aiming for outer space.
Rough Trade NYC, 64 N. 9th Street

With futuristic beats and frank, queer subject matter, this Brooklyn rapper is moving the genre forward on multiple fronts. But to pin Le1f’s appeal on long-overdue representation alone is laughable, given the skill and fire he brings. Last year’s Hey EP was his most polished yet, and he’s poised for an even bigger breakout.
Brooklyn Bowl, 61 Wythe Avenue


Performing continuously for the last 35 years, these London-based headbangers are the longest-running all-female band in the world. Beginning their career as close comrades of Motörhead, Girlschool has outlasted every stylistic blip heavy metal’s ever gone through and continued their riffing on the other side.
St. Vitus, 1120 Manhattan Avenue


The Northside “Fringe Festival”

This year’s programming stretches further than ever before, both in sound and neighborhood geography. Adventurous listeners should make it a point to seek out these shows, bringing the schedule’s oddest and most exciting artists to some of the borough’s most vital contemporary venues.

Experimental x Noise
An opening night dive into the strange corners of Brooklyn music at newly active Bushwick focal point, Aviv. Topped by elder psychedelic wanderers Excepter, the show also spotlights White Suns’ screeching drone, the guitar mesmerism of Baby Birds Drink Milk, the shamanic dance fragments of Mezzanine Swimmers, and Lutkie’s blissful clangs and bellows.
6/11 @ Aviv, 496 Morgan Avenue


Pitchfork Presents…
In what’s become a distinguished festival tradition, the dominant taste-making publication will again program both weekend nights at Greenpoint metal club Saint Vitus. Friday night’s bill features raw and personal new work by indie-pop veteran Fred Thomas (ex-Saturday Looks Good to Me), plus dark and romantic L.A. rockers Gun Outfit, songstress-with-heart-on-her-sleeve Mitski, and maker of “QUEER NIHILIST REVOLT MUSIK”, Dreamcrusher. Saturday’s sets veer more sinister still with northwestern doom duo The Bell Witch, punishing Quebequois black metal group Akitsa, brutal noise artist Alberich, and a secret guest who’ll fit right into the void.
6/12-13 @ Saint Vitus, 1120 Manhattan Avenue


Xiu Xiu w/ bottoms & EULA
Jamie Stewart broke new ground in self-destructive goth-pop on Xiu Xiu records that emphasized inner darkness over jet-black outerwear. He’ll perform their songs in his first visit to Bushwick’s DIY scene, joined by abrasive young Brooklyn bands following in his trail—electro-punk drag queens, bottoms, and next wave No Wavers, EULA.
6/13, evening @ Palisades, 906 Broadway


Fathers of Footwork, vol. 1
Freakishly on-point promoters AdHoc bring dance music history to life, uniting pioneers of Chicago’s footwork movement under one Brooklyn roof. “Footwork” is an aggressively sped-up, stacked-beat style that gained popularity in the 1990s as soundtrack to epic underground dance battles. As original innovators of a still-blooming sound, DJ Spinn, RP Boo, Traxman, and more will take some kids to school.
6/13, late night @ Palisades, 906 Broadway


Software Recording Co. Label Showcase
Software was founded in 2011 by Oneohtrix Point Never’s Daniel Lopatin as an electronic and experimental offshoot of local indie imprint Mexican Summer. Their first official Northside showcase features some far-out stuff, including the swooning ambient fuzz of Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, the active synth-scapes of Ryan McRyhew’s Thug Entrancer, and GABI’s singular pop vocals.
6/13 @ Aviv, 496 Morgan Avenue


The great local label, as likely to release a baffling noise tape as some slick bit of left-field disco, will showcase the breadth of their roster with a massive all-day anniversary celebration in a tiny Williamsburg room. Roaring punk duo Yvette and minimal techno producer Malory are just two wildly differing highlights.
6/13 @ Muchmore’s, 2 Havemeyer Street


Delia Gonzalez performs In Remembrance
The DFA Records mainstay switches from the minimal electronic pulses of her collaborations with Gavin Russom to the stately piano composition of her latest solo record, In Remembrance. Composed to accompany film footage of dancers in motion, the music is simple, melancholy and hypnotic. It’ll be the rare modern classical performance on the cozy Greenpoint piano bar’s opulent backroom baby grand.
6/14 @ Manhattan Inn, 632 Manhattan Avenue


Zola Jesus w/ Blanck Mass & Container
Zola Jesus’ operatic voice and dark, dramatic vision for pop music has made her a rising star. She’ll headline this Northside event with opening acts that nod to her experimental roots. Her set will be preceded by a rare U.S. appearance by Fuck Buttons member Benjamin John Power’s shadow rave solo project, Blanck Mass, and the intensely physical industrial dance beats of rising Rhode Island producer, Container.
6/14 @ Warsaw, 261 Driggs Avenue

05/20/15 11:33am
05/20/2015 11:33 AM |


In early LCD Soundsystem singles, the kids were not alright. They annoyed James Murphy with their inability to dance, hook up, or fall in love properly. All they could do was borrow nostalgia and send out irksome mailers, inviting him to parties he thought were lame. LCD’s whole schtick centered on the viewpoint of an old guy who thought he knew better, who’d heard all the great records when doing so required real effort and was forced to interpret their lessons for the masses since none of these lousy kids could be trusted. It’d be interesting to hear his reaction now to something like Ratchet. The debut album from 20-year-old Las Vegan Shamir Bailey grows like a flower from creative soil he tilled a decade ago. “They say I am a big party machine!,” Shamir tells us, quite plausibly. Murphy’s side-eye might be unavoidable, but “the saddest night out in the U.S.A.” this is not. (more…)

04/22/15 6:23am
04/22/2015 6:23 AM |


With hindsight, Arcade Fire having long-ago begetten a legion of po-faced men in pork-pie hats, the blockbuster victories of mid-00s indie-rock seem unfortunate. For grown 90s teens, the idea of once-modest college rock winning Grammys and topping shrunken Billboard sales charts was briefly validating. But any series of events that leads to songs by The Lumineers or Edward Sharpe being played at the gym requires a touch of regretful reflection. Of peak indie’s best-known artists, Sufjan Stevens, especially lost something in scaling up. His claim to be working on 50 separate albums tailored to the details of each of our united states was a goof taken too seriously by the press, but also a definitive example of personal music strangled by sort of arbitrary ambition. Though the songs from that period were often beautiful, there’s something off-putting in revisiting them now, a certain unintended smugness in the superhuman size of the task Stevens took on. His strengths as a songwriter are intimacy and empathy. Throwing himself into speculative historical fiction undercut them, suggesting that a stroll through a municipal record or Wikipedia page could provide all the inspiration he’d ever need. Leading orchestras in neon wings and crowding the stage with players, his delicacy was trampled underfoot.  (more…)

04/22/15 6:22am


Last year, Drake broke his clearly stated “no new friends” policy by buddying up with iLoveMakonnen. When he remixed and featured on the Atlanta rapper’s loopy weeknight party anthem “Tuesday,” he slingshot the song from beloved Internet oddity to marginal mainstream hit. Gracing a DIY producer with a touch of his regal scepter isn’t unusual for the rap superstar; in fact it’s one of the things Drake’s made his reputation on. But where another protege like The Weeknd shares his oversexed yet depressed vibes and Toronto zip code, Makonnen Sheran is a stranger choice. A psychedelic crooner, possibly on mushrooms, is not the most natural night-club wingman? Bringing an exponentially increased number of ears to something as weird as “Tuesday” without altering its basic form might be the most benevolent thing Drake’s done in his mega-famous imperial phase. But it’s easy to see why it might flatter his ego to pal around with Makonnen, the singer is a reflection of a bunch of things Drake continually assures us he is: a hustler, an outsider, an underdog who clawed his way to fame. (more…)

04/08/15 10:57am
04/08/2015 10:57 AM |


One of the cooler aspects of alternative rock in the 1990s was its notably better representation for female musicians than previous rock n’ roll eras. Media coverage still tended to be a bit condescending then, thick with “Women Who Rock?!” style novelty pieces. In 2015, the wry, hooky fuzz-bomb style of alt-rock persists, and at this point young women dominate it almost completely. This year has already been thick with superficially similar but subtly varied albums supporting that claim. New Courtney Barnett and Colleen Green records provide charm and crunch in equal measure, while high-profile indie-rock dudes currently seem sequestered in the emotive piano bar of 1970s singer-songwriter roles. (See: Father John Misty, Tobias Jesso, Jr., Sufjan Stevens.) Ivy Tripp, the third record by Brooklyn-via-Philadelphia-via-Alabama band Waxahatchee adds to the mounting mountain of evidence. (more…)

04/08/15 10:56am


At the end of 2014, a limited-run cassette from a small local label cracked this magazine’s top-5 records of the year. That tape was Common Interests Were Not Enough to Keep us Together, a collection of songs from Godmode, the Brooklyn imprint run by producer, musician, and ex-critic Nick Sylvester. Where their earliest releases focused on brooding, bad-natured noise rock, this one let in house, pop, and left-field disco, suddenly announcing Godmode as the most tasteful and varied imprint in the neighborhood. 

American Music is the label’s follow-up  compilation tape. Again it’s filled with un-hyped bands making weird sounds that draw from many eras of pop and experimental music, without leaning too heavily on any single flavor of nostalgia.

A few artists provide repeat highlights. There are two tracks from the wildly under-appreciated locals Courtship Ritual: an old one that reasserts last year’s LP Pith as motel pillow levels of slept on, and a new one that continues to sound like Young Marble Giants as a cabaret act. Then there’s the first new song from local noise duo Yvette since their vicious 2013 record Process. “I Don’t Need Anything From Anybody” smartly resists the shoe-gaze impulse to swallow vocal clarity with guitar fuzz, allowing a song with almost zero empty space to feel weirdly wide-open. It closes on a lovely remix  of “I Know It’s a Good Thing” by Shamir, which cranks up the synth squeals and surrounds his voice with faux-holy ambiance like “Like a Prayer”-era Madonna, making it an elegy for an act who blew up too quick to ever be a label mainstay. (His first album will come out on the bigger XL this spring.) 

There’s killer stuff from bands you’ve never heard of, too. Breeding Program’s “No Time for 69” is an overt electroclash revival that’s appropriately dumb, fun, and trashy. (“I bet computer guys invented 69,” it claims, dubiously.) The disco cuts feel in the moment rather than in quotes, present instead of hiding at a hazy middle distance. House tracks work into their grooves so relentlessly that eventual acid-rave freakouts feel like stress hallucinations from concentrating too hard. When that starts to feel a little formulaic, we get a song like Malory’s “Dah”—so dedicated to minimalism that its increasing intensity comes not from from loosening up but contracting tighter. The dance music is typically very carefully controlled, making brief noise snippets from Excepter, Manikr, and especially Kill Alters so crucial in context. They represent rare, necessary slips into chaos. 

American Music’s varied, but mostly dance-adjacent, sounds closely mirror those that DFA Records made such a huge impact with in the early 2000s, sometimes to the point of distraction.  But the similarities come from overlapping taste and and eclectic philosophy, rather than conscious emulation. It doesn’t resemble the sustained, pill-regulated mood of Johnny Jewel’s After Dark compilations either, structured more like a mixtape made by some clever, moody, more-earnest-than-he-thinks college kid. It top-loads with accessible material, earning credit for the wilder selections that follow. It’s over long, but as a function of its intended format. There’s space to fill, so why not fill it? It’s all pretty great, besides.

03/25/15 8:35am
03/25/2015 8:35 AM |
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Jana Hunter’s career has already contained multitudes. She started playing lo-fi folk “either twelve or like, thirty” years ago, a by-gone time when being a Beck devotee was unimpeachably hip. Since 2010, Hunter’s been fronting Lower Dens, a band who can execute her songwriting on a grand psychedelic scale. On 2012’s Nootropics they were mid-transformation, becoming a sulking krautrock behemoth.