And In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow is Natalie Mering of Weyes Blood’s second album in the trilogy that may well become a generational trinity. Its monumental predecessor, Titanic Rising,saw Mering beg and plead for some stable ground beneath her feet. With her cries answered only by the feedback of despondent tides, Mering swam through shipwrecks and salvaged memories just to look at the corrosion that had spread all over her desires. On In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow, Mering can no longer indulge in the past, and the future is no refuge either. The second act of this apocalyptic trilogy is birthed as Mering clings onto a romantic desperation to guide the way through a moonless night.
String arrangements reminiscent of “A Lot’s Gonna Change” give rise to a stairway of piano notes on the intro track. Mering’s glowing voice shines light as we approach. As if reaching her hand out through the music, she sets the scene for Hearts Aglow with a bittersweet reminder that every one of us gets lost in the current. Her golden chants proclaim “It’s Not Just me, It’s Everybody” repeatedly, celebrating a revelation that she no longer needs to muzzle the voice of her pain. “Children of the Empire” throws the listener into a music hall located in the eye of a hurricane. She taps into the beauty of baroque instrumentation – I can feel the aliveness of each instrument. Pianos, harpsichords, and bells jump around on top of the “oooh’s” and “aaahs” in the background. Even a xylophone comes in to do his always-pleasant dance (Yes I will anthropomorphize an instrument, this is the Weyes Blood baroque effect). She laments the blood on the hands of herself and other “children” of a globalized era: the time when it is near-impossible to avoid burning oil extracted through invasions and single-use plastics that will never decay. Mering acknowledges that we will pay for our sins while gazing into this cosmic clutter. However, she reminds us that we “don’t have time to be afraid.” This party at the end of our heyday is soundtracked with grim coloring: “They say the worst is done, but I think it’s only just begun.” She continues to frolic beneath nihilistic rain on “Hearts Aglow,” crooning lines like “The whole world is crumbling; Oh, baby, let’s dance in the sand.” During these moments of bliss, the apocalypse is merely a blip on Mering’s radar.
The psychedelic folk tale, “Grapevine,” is a post-breakup rumination centered around Southern California’s Interstate 5. The soft hums of her guitar mystify the highway – she mythologizes the landscape as a path where one can curve around curves until they’ve escaped the relentless drone of time. It all leads to the nauseating realization that she and a past lover are now “just two cars passing by on the grapevine.” The song and the memory drive us off to become one with a dark blue horizon. In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow treats earthly forms as a foothill to wander up until we’ve entered the romanticized territory of mythos and fables. Mering’s voice can carry the listener away to these spaces, sweeping them up to fly to a world drenched in moonlit mystique. She’s got vocal prowess dripping with so much beauty that it could compel tears from a thirteen-year-old football player who has been conditioned to think that boys shouldn’t cry.
The escape that Weyes Blood seeks on the “Grapevine” has her sunk to her knees on “God Turn me Into a Flower.” She prays to morph into some embodiment of serenity – to be grounded and rooted. Birds chirp and Mother Nature communicates through synths similar to a language explored in Mort Garson’s Plantasia. Slowly, nature’s sounds take over and what’s human falls away, leaving in its wake buds that bloom to reach for the sun. The flowery ego-death that Mering prays for is a desire that can’t last. Resurrection fueled by blind hope arrives on “Hearts Aglow,” an endearing moment in which Mering shoots through the smog above to reach an unclogged sky. As she drifts in and out of white clouds, her voice is followed by harmonies of the heavens; Phil Spector’s ghostly fingerprints can be seen on the Walls of Sound that come from behind.
Mering uses instrumental segments such as “And in the Darkness” and “In Holy Flux” as globs of gravity to pull the listener even deeper into the tide of the album. Sandwiched – a bit awkwardly – between these two is the carbonated “Twin Flame.” Psychedelic drum patterns flow up beneath to pop like bubbles in your ears. I’d like to hear more of this weird style from Mering, the song makes me feel stranded in the cold and lightless Aphotic zone of the ocean. Hearts Aglow is bookended with “A Given Thing,” slowing things down Tori Amos style. A solid knot on the tracklist, but it doesn’t tie the project up as tight as she did on Titanic’s “Picture Me Better.” Most Hearts Aglow songs are just a bit less strong than their sequential counterparts on Titanic Rising, but this album leaves a golden wake behind regardless of any memory bias.
The most remarkable musical trilogies are often forged in great wildfires, whether those troubles are societal or personal: Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy, The Cure’s “Gothic” Series, Dylan’s 14-Month Trilogy. With a cocktail of microplastics and Teflon in our bodies and half a decade left on the Climate Clock, we continue to walk, even if our legs are fueled only by the foolish passion of our hearts. If earth ever goes gradient, this album and trilogy will be a picturesque elegy of the world as a car going downhill in neutral gear.
Charlie Burg is a singer, songwriter, and producer who released his first mixtape in 2015 when he was in college. After transferring from Denison University to Michigan State, he finally landed on Syracuse University to study music industry. From there, he released a series of extended plays throughout his time in University. Originally from Michigan, he now resides in Brooklyn NY where he dropped his debut album Infinity Tall (2022). Cinematic and youthful, Charlie Burg seamlessly transports listeners from one point to another with his pastel-shaded, storytelling lyrics. The curiosity and exploration that exists in his music is shown on his album art – which he creates himself. His personable whim showed in his performance at Colorado College, students still fan over his amazing show and charming personality a week later.
M: So Charlie Burg from Detroit Michigan, tell me a little bit about yourself, what is there to know about what has led you to where you are today? Tell me about your childhood and hometown and its influence on your music today.
C: Well, I grew up in a suburb about 20 minutes outside of the city. Detroit has a really rich music history that a lot of people don’t think about. Electronic dance music started in Detroit, techno and hip hop too. J Dilla is a producer that really influenced my production style. I grew up listening to Motown soul records that my dad would play: temptations, algorithm and Marvin Gaye, the classics. I think it just kind of seeps into my blood.
M: What is the first piece of art you remember falling in love with and do you believe it takes shape in your music today?
C: I think one of the first records that really impacted me was “Parachutes” by Coldplay. Their first record was really great and solid all the way through. It taught me vulnerability in songwriting. I can’t remember the name of this painting, but another piece is a Spanish painting by Juan Mero. It has this really profound shade of blue that when I saw that blue, I thought to myself, this is the feeling that I’d like to evoke with my music. And then I made Blue Mosaic which was my first record and I have a tattoo of it.
M: Is blue your favorite color?
C: No my favorite color is actually either orange or forest green.
M: No way, mine is that shade of green and orange too…but what type of orange?
C: I like a burnt orange, something warm and passionate and loud.
M: We’re the same!
M: When did you make your first song and can you talk about its creative process?
C: So art history is a favorite subject of mine. I love art history. And I have a song called Art History Part One which I wrote after I took an art history class. And Art History Part Two exists too. *Proceeds to ask to look at an art history book that someone close by is reading*
M: A lot of your online presence highlights Ralph Waldo Emerson as a major influence to you, can you speak on this and how his wisdom has impacted both your art and personal life?
C: Yeah so it’s funny. In the early days of a music career you will reference one thing and then news outlets will fixate on that thing until you give them another thing to fixate on…I was gifted a Ralph Waldo Emerson collection of essays by my father when I was working on some EPs. There was this line that I read that said “a blood of the violet,” I think that was one of the names of the of the poems. And so I named an EP, One, Violet. And it was just kind of this conceptual drive that felt right to me. But yeah, I haven’t read Ralph Waldo Emerson in like five years so I don’t have much to say about him anymore but at that time, he resonated with me.
M: One, Violet, yes that brings me to my next question. You have a three series album that was released over a three year time span: One, Violet; Two, Moonlight; Three, Fever. Can you talk about these albums and why you decided to part them the way you did?
C: I’m obsessed with trilogies for some reason. It just feels like a very perfect way to tell a story. 1. 2. 3. But when I put out One, Violet, and I’ve never mentioned this in an interview before so you are getting some exclusive content, I did not have a name or a concept for it. About a week before it dropped, I said, Okay, I need a name. I need a name. I have more songs that I want to put out, but they’re not ready so I’m just gonna give myself some sort of framework to release more projects; and so I named it One, Violet. A year later, I had enough songs for two. So I didn’t actually know how many I was doing or what the other ones were called. I basically set myself up for long form concepts. I used those three projects as an opportunity to explore my production. I moved away from the guitar, rock and roll, live in Peter’s attic and I dove into my computer. Those are my computer projects.
C: Yeah, um, gosh. In a span of a few weeks, I got a few songs sent to me by different musicians on Instagram. I realized that a lot of my followers make music themselves so I made a public playlist, where I had people send me their songs over Instagram. I put them in there and just wanted to give people a platform that usually didn’t have a platform. I really enjoy the playlist and listen to all the songs.
M: Your tour is coming to an end at the end of the month, what are your plans for when you get off the road?
C: I am going to hole up in my Brooklyn apartment and not leave New York for months. I was actually thinking of doing a week of silence because I am around people everyday all the time. I heard one of my friends is doing this and I don’t know, I think that’d be really cool. I would just be with my plants that I’m excited to see. My favorite is my monstera that my friend gave me about three years ago.
Rapid Fire Round:
M: Who are some of your inspirations both musically and non musically?
C: Prince, that’s it….non musically Joan Didion.
M: What is a philosophy or quote you live by?
C: Don’t be afraid to say yes to things.
M: What is a new hobby, interest, or skill you have picked up recently?
C: I’d say like… fricken painting. I use acrylics and watercolor.
M: What is your astrological sign?
C: I am a Virgo, I don’t really believe in it but it is a fun thing to talk about.
M: If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
C: Paris, France.
M: What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
C: Mint cookies and cream.
M: What type of sandwich would you be and why?
C: I would be a turkey panini with monster cheese.
M: What is your guilty pleasure?
C: Dark chocolate.
M: If you had to name this chapter of your life what would it be?
C: Margo because that is my old dog.
M: What is something you have been doing that brings you joy?
C: Reading by Joan Didion plays it as it lays. It’s dramatic. I like drama, I like the dichotomies. I like to write in a journal too but I don’t think that brings me joy, it can be painful. I only focus on the bad things and get depressed. I want to do pottery.
November at Red Rocks Amphitheater is sometimes a gamble with the changing seasons, but I had no hesitation when given the opportunity to attend another 3 hour marathon concert from King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s North American Tour. When I went to their first Red Rocks show in early October many of the fans held these tickets since their 2020 tour that was canceled due to COVID. The November date was a surprise, as the final show was tacked onto their tour promising the same feel-good giz energy as the first marathon show at Red Rocks. My friend flew into Denver with some film cameras after hearing the news and we eagerly waited in the longest line I have seen at Red Rocks- undisturbed by the cold in my gizzard-themed crocodile onesie.
Note: I was encountered by multiple “die-hard” Gizzard male fans who had a lot to say about the difference between a crocodile and an alligator, proceeded to mansplain the symbology of King Gizzard and their Giz-verse related to the crocodile, all of which I am aware of. If you are a girl going to a Gizzard concert, avoid this conversation at all costs. But DO wear a crocodile onesie because it is warm and Giz fans are cultish so you’ll get creds. If anyone asks, say: “crocodiles are from f**king Australia… just like them” and leave at once.
First and foremost, I will say that King Gizzard has an absurd amount of albums, with three albums released last month alone! and although I know many of their songs, I do not know all of their songs. But some people there did. When I was chatting in the photo pit with another photographer, she showed me the zoomed-in set list on her camera with the opening song entitled “Digital Black-” I was not sure what albums nor energies King Gizzard was bringing to the night. I was ready for everything reminiscent of their themes in their recent album: Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms, and Lava- with an emphasis on lava.
A funky set from The Murlocs and the ethereal sounds of Leah Senior set the scene of deception for King Gizzard. We went down to the pit to prepare for the show to start. The band was as playful as ever, with Joey trying to banter amongst the crowd while the staff were tweaking Lucas’ guitar settings. After a few minutes everything was ready to go and (surprise, surprise) they started with “Digital Black” in Stu’s satanic cadence and blaring guitar riffs. Everyone instantly went into a frenzy despite being confined to the tiered seats (although some people above did mosh/fall onto our row!). Throughout the night, King Gizzard dedicated a third of their set to playing songs from their 2017 album Murder of the Universe and selected the vast majority of their marathon set to more metal-oriented songs that strayed from their dreamy synthesizer hits. This meant a lot of head banging and an entrance into the Rats’ Nest, arguably the hardest album that they played from. They drew from a variety of albums along the way including “Cutthroat Boogie” from their 2012 album 12 Bar Bruise, one of my favorite songs of the night that featured some amazing harmonica solos and fit comfortably among the Colorado landscape. King Gizzard continued their tasteful guitar thrashing from various albums including some favorites like “Hot Wax” and a jammed up version of “Her and I (Slow Jam 2)” and concluded with a more relaxed outro of “The Fourth Colour.’ The intermission offered a quiet countdown for fifteen minutes until their second set. A marathon indeed!
The second half of the show astonishingly kept up the same energy as the previous, jokingly playing the American National Anthem before jumping straight into “Head On/Pill” while lacing in “Hot Water” and teasing their recent release of “Hypertension” throughout their lengthened song. This was an especially impressive song for their ability to transition between three (basically four) songs in one, and definitely sent the message that they were not planning on slowing down. After about their 10 minute version of that song, they revisited the album I’m In Your Mind, Fuzz, a personal favorite of mine, while still sticking to a high energy set by playing “Am I In Heaven?” The transitions between songs were seamless, usually recognizable motifs across all their albums, causing the crowd to stir with anticipation. Stu returned to Infest the Rats’ Nest to keep the pace up as the wind started to blow up the slope of the amphitheater. It was truly an epic scene: a showdown between King Gizzard and the elements, and they prevailed with hair flying. After a few metal songs, they switched up the vibe to something more lighthearted with Ambrose howling into the mic during “Let Me Mend The Past.” Shortly after Leah Senior came on to do an amazing narration of “Alter Me III” and “Altered Beast IV” also from Murder of the Universe. Leah Senior brought the eerie cadence like the Ronald Dahl-esque introduction of “Dark Fantasy” by Kanye West. King Gizzard slowed down for the final song, “Float Along-Fill Your Lungs,” playing an ensemble of dreamy guitar chords clashing against each other. The ending was drawn out like the studio version, but I’d like to think it was also a moment of savoring the last moments of their long-awaited North American tour.
The stamina and chemistry of the band is something that is rare amongst jam bands, and King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard put everything out in that three hour marathon set. Even if many of the songs were not ones I was familiar with, the songs were sharp and fast- perfect for hypnotic dancing and head banging. Their interaction with the crowd made it even more of a special experience, after spending so much time apart from their American fans it felt more like a reunion. Although their tour is finally over, their music continues. I know I will be trying to play catch-up as they keep cranking out more and more albums this year, and for many years to come.
Seiji Oda is a rapper, singer/songwriter, and producer from Oakland, California. He began producing and creating music in high school. His big break hit when Seiji and his brother Nathaniel, or Lil Ricefield, released their viral hit “Trapanese,” a song that poked fun at asian stereotypes and referenced countless anime and other Japanese pop culture over a Seiji-produced beat. The song was remixed by local Bay Area rappers Daboii and Cash Kidd. But Seiji isn’t only an incredible producer, he can rap, sing, and songwrite just as well. In the past few years, he has worked heavily on his solo work, releasing one of my favorite albums of this year, lofi//HYPHY, an album that combines the two genres, the former being known for it’s chiller production and the latter known for its danceability. I got the opportunity to talk to Seiji about his upcoming album ORA//太陽, which is coming out on November 7th.
What’s your process for making a cohesive body of work, whether that’s a two-piece or an entire album?
I usually approach it by having a theme for whatever the project is. A lot of the time it might be a single song that inspires the full body of work. I think “Ok here’s this song that has this specific feeling that I’ve never done before and I want to keep building on and around that.” It’s really about that feeling. For this next project, I really want to make sure that every song, or at some point around the song I get that feeling from it. When you hear a song and think “that shit has that shit in there”, I can’t really describe it. The reason I listen to music is to get a specific emotion or get in a certain mood, so I try to create bodies of work that represent how I feel and I can go back to that project when I want to feel that way.
It’s just fun too. Music doesn’t have to be serious in order to be impactful. It can be some dumb shit. It doesn’t have to be the most polished thing in the world and it gets the job done.
I saw that you made a Japanese City Pop playlist and your new song City Pop 001 incorporated that genre. Are we going to hear more of that on the album?
Not this album. I just did that as a loosy because that was what I was feeling at the time. That’s what I’m really into right now, but I definitely see myself doing a project based all around that. A fully City Pop-inspired project is gonna happen sometime. This next album is a whole different thing.
What vibe will the album have?
It’s called ORA//太陽, which means the sun in Japanese. The alternative title is A Love Letter to the Sun and I wrote it that way because to me the songs are ordered in a way that represents the phases of the sun throughout the day. The first song feels like the sun rising, it has a peak, and the project ends at the end of the day. I really wanted to capture this feeling I get sometimes when I meditate. It’s very warm, orange, I don’t know where it’s coming from. It’s that warm feeling that I get that I want to capture in the music. That color is why I ended up calling it ORA, the first three letters of orange. But it’s also that glow, expanding light that I was feeling. I think it has a cohesive, overarching sound but each song is totally different in terms of the tempo and the type of music it is. It’s definitely more Balledy than most of my music is. I think that a lot of my music is more rap, just me talking shit, freeform. This is more me writing songs to somebody or for somebody rather than a stream of consciousness. I wanted to come at this project with more intention. That’s not something I necessarily think I have to do, but I wanted to do it for this project, it’s how I wanted it to feel. Then it can be re-interpreted from there.
What do you see in your future working on genre-bending music? Will we hear this on your upcoming album?
This project is different. Each song is inspired by a different era of music. I’m not trying to combine to different things, but there is a theme throughout this project of looking at two different sides. I wanted to recreate the concept of lenticular images with this project where you’re listening from a different perspective. Most music has equal things on each side. I wanted to break that. People have done this in the past. The Beatles were very free about their panning. They would have the drums panned to the left, which is weird as hell, most people have their drums in the middle. I wanted to make lenticular songs, where there’s a song on one side and a whole other song on the other side. Depending on which ear you’re focusing on, you might hear something very different. That’s a theme of this project, especially in the first song. Throughout the project, it switches back and forth between the bright side of the sun and then the more cozy, comfortable side of the song. You’ll see it in the project. Half of the songs are uppercase and half are lowercase to represent these two sides. It switches back and forth between this.
I see that every Sunday you post a new item of music. Since you’re fully independent, is that a way to keep fans engaged, or is it more to keep yourself engaged in making music?
I would say it’s both. It’s definitely for the fans though. As an independent artist, I’m always trying to get new people to listen to my music. What matters to me the most is having the people that always listen to my music or more casual fans feel like they’re part of something. This is why I do early releases of music on my discord or artist page. I do this to create an engaged community. I want to create a space that people can return to every Sunday and build a personal relationship with the people that listen to my music. I can’t just disappear for four months drop an album and not talk to anybody, I’m not Frank Ocean, not yet. It also helps me stay creative, I work best within structure. Having limitations makes me more creative, like here’s something I have to do and how can I go outside this box.
Who’s better at lacrosse, you or Ricefield?
You can ask him *Seiji points the camera at Lil Ricefield*. Probably him not gonna lie.
Do you have a path that you’ve thought out or are you just taking things as they come?
Right now I’m just taking things as they come. In terms of music, I have my releases planned out. I have what projects I want to put out and in what order. In terms of life though, we’re figuring it out.
I really liked your Hyperpop remix of aero3, do you plan on making any more Hyperpop songs in the future?
I do love Hyperpop. I love trying to produce songs like that because it’s so intricate. I have been working on this project with one of my friends KP. He is really interested in it. His project is going to be really Hyperpop-heavy, and it’s mostly produced by me.
Who are your biggest inspirations and influences, both musically and personally?
Lately, I’ve been inspired by Nujabes and his production, especially Lofi. Anyone that’s into that, whether they know it or not, pulls from his shit or from Dilla. I’m not a big Dilla fan, but of course, I listen to a lot of his stuff. Erykah Badu is another one of my favorite artists and inspirations, both musically and personally. Also Souls of Mischief. They were a jazzy hip-hop group from the 90s in the bay. I like that the way that they don’t take themselves too seriously but they also take themselves seriously. They take their craft seriously but they had fun with it. I think being light about stuff helps develop your craft. One of my favorite movies is Everything Everywhere All at Once. That’s definitely inspired me, maybe not in terms of music but more as a creator. They’re hella funny with their shit, but they can get their message across because their not trying to hit you over the head with it. It’s like “how can we make this cool ass thing and throw as many ideas at the wall as possible and not take ourselves too seriously to get our message across.”
-Seiji was disappointed that I hadn’t seen the movie-
Are there any other movies that inspire you?
I wouldn’t say a movie necessarily but one of my aesthetic and sonic inspirations is Samurai Champloo. I love the storytelling. Princess Mononoke also inspires me. I have a two-piece Princess Mononoke-inspired project that I’ll drop on a Seiji Sunday
Who are you listening to right now?
I really like the new Smino album. I’ve been listening to a lot of City Pop. A lot of Cindy. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Pluggnb remixes on SoundCloud. They got a crazy Ariana Grande Pluggnb remix.
How’d you get into producing?
I used to record myself on my old ass computer. That was me making songs over other people’s beats. I got to a point where I wanted to make my own shit and what I wanted to make wasn’t out there. This was before the youtube type beat era, we didn’t have those in 2012. Producing was the only option. I was also heavily inspired by HBK. I was like “these dudes are producing all of their own shit?”. That inspired me to be able to do it all myself, I didn’t have to have a whole team, I could just do it in my bedroom, so that’s where it started. When I was first making beats, I was on Mixcraft 5, and that was something. It was ass.
Who is the next collab for you in the bay? Who’s your dream collab?
I’m working with the homie ClayDough, he’s a producer, me and him are gonna drop a project. I got some music with Franco Dollas dropping, it’s going to be on the album’s cassette tape. I also got some music with Nate Curry, he’s from Sacramento, but me and him are gonna put out some stuff. For dream collab, E-40. I just want to see his process. Just to be in the same room with him and soak up the game.
Why are you dropping on Monday?
The reason I do that is because it technically drops on Sunday night so that way I can drop everything I need to on YouTube first so the people can see it before the album comes out on Sunday. I don’t like dropping on Thursday or Friday, even though it’s the industry standard and that’s when people look for new music because the context for me is more important than the numbers. If more people listen to it on a Friday, they’re going to be out with friends and doing stuff and listening to it. I’m not mad at my music being played in that setting but I’d rather have it be played on a Sunday when you’re having a relaxed day. I want people to listen to my music in the context where they are putting their full attention to it rather than playing it in the background.
Seiji’s doing a bonus track version of the album, which is going to be a virtual cassette tape. He’s going to sell it directly to the fans through emails. It’s going to have a lot of extra stuff, songs, videos, cover art, the tracklist, and more. This is a great opportunity to have ownership of music in a day and age where we’re streaming all of our favorite music.
ORA//太陽 is coming out on November 7th on all streaming platforms.
Our first collaborative post of the school year brings new names and faces to the blog! With autumn in Colorado Springs coming to an end, SOCC writers reflect on their favorite fall albums- old and new- as we gather in the amphitheater under snowy Pikes Peak.
This fall I have been listening to Dots and Loops by Stereolab. I really enjoy is relaxing instrumentals and the friendly voices throughout the album. Its a very light album that I love listening to while I drive and appreciate the changing weather!
One of my favorite albums ever, and what you can hear me blasting in the shower is, Steven Miller Bands Greatest hits 1974-78. This album is put together so incredibly well that every song flows in and out of the next. A mixture or rock and roll and psychedelic synth makes it my jam
Negro SwanbyBlood Orange (2018): I have been listening to this album since it came out every fall! This album feels very autumnal to me, specifically located in DC: with ambient traffic in the backdrop of a relaxed yet moody atmosphere- something is in the air… other than midterm elections! Blood Orange creates a dysphoric image of change and that’s how I view fall: disorienting and sometimes dreadful while sonically serene. This album always feels new as there’s so much going on thematically and instrumentally, I can dip into new sensations and the old nostalgia of when I first discovered the album.
This fall I’ve been listening to an old album from Ezra Bell titled “Don’t all look up at once”. It’s a short album which makes it a great album to binge listen and the alternative bluegrass style of Ezra Bell fits with well with fall weather. Song highlights from the album include, “Pick a place and read”, “Junk food chimney”, and “Dear old dad”.
Bad Self Portraits byLake Street Drive captures, nearly perfectly, the essence of the fall season. As fall transitions between the warmth of summer and the coldness of winter, so does Bad Self Portraits. The longing for different types of love throughout the album mimic the ways in which the leaves fall, almost as if each yellow appendage that leaves the tree is an expectation not met coupled with some notion of new beginnings.
Either/Or by Elliott Smith: No matter my mood, the time, or the season, this album is in my rotation. It’s sweet and soft and quiet and effortless. It reminds me of the rain back home and all the things I miss about Portland’s charm.
Feeding Seahorses by Hand by Billie Marten: This 2019 album is the quintessential fall album and the perfect thing to curl up into bed and drink tea to. She’s managed to fill it with soft indie folk that’s loose and dreamy, yet streamlined. From the croony and upbeat Blue Sea, Red Sea to the whimsical and melodious Mice, she does it all.
Demon DaysbyGorillaz is THE album of fall. Demon Days is the perfect transition into ski season; it’s a British pop masterpiece perfect for shredding the slopes. The album is a definitely a journey with its harsh beats and hip hop undertones, perfect for this winter’s ski playlist.
For You by Parmalee. I love this album because it tells a love story and all of the songs are so sweet. The songs each talk about something different however each is also unique. They are all sing along songs and just makes me happy.
This fall I’ve been listening to Some Rap Songs by Earl Sweatshirt. For me, his instrumentals really encapsulate a dark brooding feeling that comes with the season. Inspired by the loss of his father, listening to it will make you feel like you’ve lost something as well.
I’ve been listening to Death Cab for Cuties new album “Asphalt Meadows” this fall. the singles released before the album convinced me that the band was unenthused and a bit burnt out. I was pleasantly surprised when the album itself followed the rugged and upbeat indie pop rock/focused and purposefully placed acoustics and light synths that death cab is known for. Although it’s not my favorite album of theirs, it still has the same death cab effect, where after listening, the songs bounce around curiously in your head ready to be played aloud again.
Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues is absolutely stunning and audibly pleasing, I cannot stop replaying it in its entirety. This album is especially undercoated in fall melancholy which is not only telling in its harmony, but the golden fall hues of its album cover. There is so much to be said about what makes this album so special, but it’s better to hear it for yourself then me attempt to tell you!!!
The album I’ve been listening to this fall is Cooking it: Legends of the Sesh by Tricky Mac and Benny T. These 2 Australian rappers explore a bunch of different styles through the album, but always focus on their love of partying, drinking, and doing drugs. The album has great vibes, and you can tell that both Tricky Mac and Benny T are having fun on every track. The album is goofy, it doesn’t take itself too seriously but each track has a couple lines on it that are fun and catchy enough to get stuck in your head. The perfect album to put on and not think too hard about
For just about the whole fall, I’ve had Live At the Shoals Theater on repeat. It’s a live album/concert recording from Jason Isbell, Mike Cooley, and Patterson Hood from 2014. This was the first reunion of the group since Isbell left the Drive-By Truckers, and the collaborative skills are not lost from time. Isbell’s notorious voice and song-writing shines through, and the group performs an amalgamation of the band’s and Isbell’s best songs. The crowd, as well, makes the recording feel like a celebration. The album isn’t really related to fall, but captures an amazing moment in time that fully meets its auditory potential.
Bladee’s 2022 project Spiderr has been dominating my headphones for the past few weeks. This album is a victory lap for Bladee as his last album “Crest”, a collaboration with Ecco2k, received stunning reviews from major music outlets after years of Bladee being neglected by the industry. The album is mostly produced by longtime collaborator Whitearmor and features Bladee’s signature autotune crooning over a variety of psychedelic and playful beats. What’s really exciting about this album is the introduction of drill production, an area that Bladee has just begun to explore. While Bladee’s lyrics are simple, his exploration of spirituality and Taoism is deepened in this project. This is one of Bladee’s best solo projects in years, and can be enjoyed by both newer listeners and the ones that have been there since 2013.
The album I’ve been listening to on repeat this fall has been Melophobia by Cage the Elephant. I really enjoy the album as a whole and have found that the juxtaposition of the more abrasive songs like Spiderhead and Teeth to the softer songs like Cigarette Daydreams and Telescope encapsulates my current college experience and the roller coaster the first few months have been. I also feel that this juxtaposition reflects how fall makes me feel. Going from aggressive windy and cold weather days to cooler, more mellow and colorful days ties in to the overall mood of the album and is a great reflection of how fall has made me feel recently.
The Sugarcube’s 1989 album Regina has always been in my headphones, but especially this fall. Bjork and Einar Orn’s emotive, unpredictable, and sometimes ominous vocals wake you up on the dreariest fall days. The band’s animated sound will throw around the thoughts in your head and make you feel like a tiger is about to rip out of the music and jump at you.
The ghostly voice of Nick Drake tends to reenter my life when the leaves turn from soft to crunchy. His gentle call reminds me of the wooden noise you hear when you tap on an acoustic guitar. His final album, Pink Moon, is almost entirely him and his finger picked guitar filled with delightful autumn colored ivy growing on it. This album is a home base for anyone that needs to be grounded in a time of changing colors and weather, anyone who needs to Indulge with an eternally beautiful soul.
John Vincent III – Songs from the Valley. This is the perfect electric folk album for you to listen to as fall turns to winter. To me, I am reminded of home – as though I’m sitting next to a warm fire or driving down curving country roads in Western Massachusetts. I don’t have a car and it hasn’t quite snowed yet, but this album makes the cold feel a little warmer.
I’ve been listening to Pinback’s 1999 self titled album this fall.This album has a perfect autumn moody sound while still being unpredictably fun. I’ve been on a big nineties kick recently and this has bits of everything I love. It’s a great album to listen in the late afternoon or twilight when walking around, comfortingly nostalgic. My favorite songs are Crutch, Shag, and Tripoli.
My head is a flaming 1998 computer with fans whirring and every time I hear a noise I want to catch those jagged soundwaves and catapult them away to Andromeda. I just got back from the doctor, and I did get a concussion after colliding heads with somebody at the Black Midi concert. This is not me looking for sympathy, but my concussion – as well as the destruction of my friend’s seemingly indestructible Doc Martens – just goes to show what a septic tank the pit at the Black Midi show was.
Black Midi is a chaotic band of many pretentious dashed genres: brutal-prog, jazz-rock, post-punk. My dad would probably call them ‘weird for the sake of being weird,’ and I would’ve agreed a year ago. Over time their arsonist approach to music warmed up to me with its redeeming qualities in mastery of tension and release. I arrive at the concert to see a fandango of “I Love Black Midi” or “Jesus Loves Black Midi” shirts. The most notable conversation I hear around me is also an alarming one: “I’ve heard Black Midi’s shows are louder than a My Bloody Valentine set.” As the lights dim, a WWE commentator’s voice hollers an introduction of the “world’s hardest working band,” hyping up the roaring crowd for the “super colossal heavyweight champion of the world: Black Helllllllfire Midiiiii.” The Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony” starts playing and vocalist Geordie Greep runs out to that cinematic string arrangement in a boxing robe. The crowd goes nuts at the sight of this mischievous looking Englishman. Cameron Picton has a pair of shades on that shield his deadpanned face and a brain that would set music theory books to 451º Fahrenheit. He picks up his bass and the distorted notes overpower The Verve’s prerecorded opener. Geordie Greep grabs his guitar; the end of its strings hang off the headpost like a geriatric cat’s whiskers. The band begins their set and opens with a face-melting “953” at an unholy level of the decibel scale.
I look into the crowd from the photographer’s pit to see about ten or so people clinging to the barricade for dear life. Behind them is a sight I must point to Dante’s fifth level of hell to describe: The Divine Comedy author describes the river Styx as filled with people “in that lagoon… they smote each other not alone with hands, but with the head and with the breast and feet, tearing each other piecemeal with their teeth.” Maybe this is a dramatic analogy, but the pit was true chaos. During “Welcome to Hell,” I joined the pit to find that this was an obscure type of mosh. Because of the ‘stop and go’ nature of many Black Midi songs, members of the audience are given time to stabilize and stop to pant like dogs during the calm moments of many songs. I often see faces of friends during these 5-second pauses, but as soon as the mayhem begins again they are swept away into the storm of band shirts.
Painting violent impressions into the crowd like an evil Jackson Pollack, Greep stands villainous and postured in his buttoned shirt above the chaos. The WWE commentator’s voice returns at the beginning of “Sugar/Tzu,” a song that tells the story of a fight between “Sun Sugar, a simple man, cut from coarse cloth and Sun Tzu, seeking strength from a snakeskin broth.” The fight takes place on the impossible date of “February 31st 2163.” Greep’s storytelling is gilded in an eerie elegance, bolstered by drummer Morgan Simpson’s manic jazz tempo changes. Fans yell out every word to “John L,” the tale of a cult leader being torn to gory pieces by his subjects. The brain-rattling instrumentals and jargon are what I imagine the folks that took Woodstock’s infamous “brown acid” would have heard at a King Crimson show.
Cameron Picton trades his bass for a six-string guitar and steps up to the mic to perform his own Black Midi songs. Fans belt out every word to “Eat Men Eat” along with him. This is the story of two miners (most likely in love) escaping the wrath of their blood-drinking cannibal of a captain. Picton wails the words of the captain like he is possessed.
“You f*****g f*****s ain’t seen the last of me yet
I’ll have the last laugh, you c****, soon you’ll see
Each day you wake, and each night you sleep
I’ll be camped in your chests, burning! Burning!”
Greep looks at his drummer impressed, he flashes a grin and raises his eyebrows as if breaking the fourth wall. By the end of the show, the pit is festering with stench, human and otherwise. A whiplashed crowd bangs around to “Slow,” and the sweaty stew of fans throws their bodies and elbows with what energy they have left. People that were just at war with each other in the pit tenderly introduce themselves to each other as they babble about how wild the concert was.
After the show, I sent a cool teacher of mine a Black Midi song, I was curious if he would call it progressive-rock or not. To copy and paste part of a diplomatic response from the true prog-rock connoisseur, he muses that “Prog wants to draw you into a dreamscape of expanding ideas, but this feels more like a temper tantrum.” I’d agree, Black Midi is the corrupted child of a Yes and Genesis soundtracked Middle-earth, a corrupted child with an urge to commit arson and steal some magic sword from the Shire. As I write this article two weeks later and am still concussed, I can fondly recall that the concert was less a dreamscape and more like a self-aware nightmare in which you bear witness to some talented musicians spilling cathartic oil onto the flaming nooks and crannies of their mind.
I’ve trekked to Chicago this week, and my big toe is sticking out of a hole in my sock. A man yells at me to buy his $10 poncho, but I just want a new sock. That’s okay, I’ve made it to my destination: Pitchfork Music Festival is the record-collecting younger sister to Lollapalooza, her fraternity-rushing older brother. A list on my phone holds the artist lineup, and it is filled with current critical successes along with legends of the past. Looking down, I see the ground swallow rain to spit mud back out. The grey Chicago skies tend to be sporadic. My weather app says the rain will soon clear, but these clouds will linger for a bit to hear some good music.
During a Porta Potty hiatus, the big rectangular urination-box begins to shake. SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE, a band that exists in all-caps on paper and in performance, trembles the park with apocalyptic music that would probably be called “just noise” by any self-respecting person. However, most of us Pitchfork attendees do not have much self-respect, so we pay to see a genre critics have coined “noise pop.” As if the villains in Arkham Asylum formed a band, each member plays their instruments with deranged force. Screeching guitars feel like standing within a 10-foot radius of an acid-dipped chainsaw. BEEHIVE could go from grimy indie rock verses to the loudest, most un-radio-able shoegazy explosions known to man. Each of them pushes their instruments across a lake of fire all the way into the territory of the damned. The glorious nuclear collision of sound hurts my eardrums and itches my brain, I walk away wondering if any of my brain cells jumped ship during that set.
The air surrounding the Parquet Courts fans smells like American Spirits and rain-soaked hair. These New York art punks enter with “Application/Apparatus,” mischievous and soaked in muted color like a gum-covered NYC pole. Bassist Sean Yeason’s head nods in time with the bassline; once the building instrumentals release tension, he starts shaking his hair back and forth like a wet dog. The crowd seems mild at first, but as the band begins to play “Almost Had to Start A Fight,” the audience mirrors the energy on stage by pushing others into the “chaos dimension.” I see many IPA-dipped mustaches snarl with anger as they get pushed around. Of course, this just made us push each other more.
Keyboardist Andrew Bird mentions twice that High Fidelity was filmed in Chicago – on brand for a music enthusiast with such a beautiful mullet and clear circular glasses double the diameter of his eyes. Andrew Savage’s voice sounds as if The Clash’s Joe Strummer is singing through an obtuse traffic cone – his attitude sprinkles far and wide. At the end of the show, the same angry mustached men give in to the joy, joining the muddy push-party for “Stoned and starving,” a delight to hear live. Perhaps the lyrics were especially true for the 7 o’clock crowd.
Jason Spaceman of Spiritualized makes the list of musicians that make you think ‘how did they make it out of the 90’s alive?’ But he’s here behind his tinted sunglasses, he walks up to the stage with aloof coolness. Sitting down in his chair – one he would not get up from the entire performance – he opens the songbook on his stand. ‘Hey Jane’ begins the set, the almost 10-minute song continues like a run-on sentence that even an English teacher would enjoy. He flips his songbook mid-song while his bandmates spaz on their guitar pedals. “Shine a Light” indulges in the early 90’s work of Spiritualized, but the echoing sound is like floating in space without any fuel: invigorating at first, but by the end, I am ready to escape from the icy, reverberating slammer I am trapped in – it doesn’t sound as good live. Speaking of floating in space, it is worth noting that J. Spaceman did not perform a song from the landmark album Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space. It’s nice to evade another 90’s nostalgia tour, but his most quality work rests in that pill-bottle album. The show went in a far more blues-rock direction, and some variety was needed by the end. However, ventures into out-of-tune, guitar pedal chaos serve as fine palate cleansers for us to return to bittersweet moments like “Here it Comes (The Road).”
The National’s black and gray aesthetic paired with increasingly lukewarm album covers previously made me doubt the odds of an entertaining live show. I enter an audience filled with tortured artist types; these INFP’s wait to absorb the baritone bombs of emotion that will soon be handed to them by vocalist, Matt Berginer. Camera work allows for a black and white show on the big screen to serve as the perfect peripheral for Berginer’s theatrics. Colorful sonic and visual ignitions can be seen around the band of veterans when their songs reach a zenith. In “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness,” Aaron Dessner’s guitar weeps behind Berginer’s revelations that seem to have been spawned by a poetry inducing mid-life crisis. Dessner puts down his guitar to play a rainy day’s piano on “Light years.” The dynamic between the two is similar to rain that is sharpened by the thunder: Berginer’s poetry is propelled by Dessner’s instrumentals of equal magnitude. Because of this, The National’s set lives up to its headlining standards. I am walking out of the park with thousands of other satisfied people. That hole in my sock is much bigger than it was when the day began, and I board the train with a liberated big toe that dances around in my shoe.
I get up for Day two of Pitchfork. 55 years ago today, The Monterey International Music festival had a lineup consisting of Jimi Hendrix, Simon and Garfunkel, Janis Joplin, and too many more legends to name. I eat breakfast and wonder if any of the names at Pitchfork Music Festival will hold the same weight in half a century.
Looking around the Yuele audience is its own wonder; I see earrings made out of vats of blood, cached carts, and cat hair: I trust the show is going to impress. Coming from some Artificial Intelligence server behind the stage, Yuele’s robo-person presence is amplified by her cyborg-eye contacts that scan the audience. The thunderous, slow-hitting bass in songs like “Poison Arrow” rattles my brain and makes my nose twingly. Like a cyborg watching the human world wither away, Yuele dances around – safe from any apocalypse in her realm of dark synths.
While Yuele sings as a cold world is taken over by HAL 9000, Magdalena Bay embraces a video game-like world. They throw an 80’s themed party set one hundred years in the future. Vocalist Mica Tennenbaum bounces around on a cloud during “Secrets (Your Fire).” She throws an actual clock into the way wind before saying she “was thinking about how there’s no true end to anything.” Similar existential comments are treated with a cartoonish attitude and a smile, I feel at ease at this retro-futuristic stage.
It is now 7 pm, and after I eat some incredible fried noodles, I can see that anticipation is high for Japanese Breakfast. Michele Zauner’s Blondie-like group of tuxed men come out and pick up their instruments, ready to flash sharp smiles that make the crowd roar. She walks out in gold light, singing the triumphant “Paprika,” a poodle on her shirt and a mallet in her hand. During that explosive chorus, she beats a giant, flowery gong; a rush of sound and serotonin incites smiles across the audience. Zauner once said that this song is about “reveling in the beauty of music,” and that is exactly what we did.
“Be Sweet” and “Road Head” flex the unique abilities of Zauner to extend her voice by seemingly flexing her whole body. It was one of the best vocal performances I’ve heard live. Although Zauner spotted an unfortunate amount of people passed out during this show, she always immediately stops her songs to call for a medic. The care she holds for her fans strengthens comradery in the park.
In the middle of Kokomo, IN, Jeff Tweedy walks out to join Zauner’s twee-inspired vocals with his grainy voice. Calling him her “favorite songwriter of all time,” they duet an anthem that embodies the Chicago coffee shop ethos: “Jesus Etc.” It sounds like the sum of conspiring forces of musical talent. Bookending the set with “Diving Woman,” we smiled in adoration as the best performance of the weekend came to a close.
Making my way to the Low set, I walk over to the blue stage – which has turned into a black hole of indulgence. Low remains the quintessential band of the slowcore universe, doing numbers on its listeners by stripping their songs back so bare that they nearly embody emotion. However, on their recent albums, they have held onto that raw emotion while creating massive atmospheres, as opposed to their earlier depressed ballads. Their Pitchfork set almost entirely consisted of songs from their new album: HEY WHAT. Alan Sparhawk shoots out seizing electricity with his guitar, and “White Horses’” glitchy sensibilities leads the married couple of Sparhawk and Mimi Parker into a chilling duet over their respective styles. In fact, I haven’t heard a drummer’s vocals sound as great as Parker’s in a long time. “Disappearing” builds up as a massive Tower of Babel: usually when a song builds and releases tension, a large amount of noise and energy are let out in catharsis. But Low literally slows down as they build, messing with the audience’s sense of time to create a slow-motion toppling of sound. If I had an analog watch, I’d imagine the minute hand would be stuck in place, since Low are fond of shoveling time into a coal-fired boiler to create some otherworldly energy with it. However, my phone clock says that it is 8:25, which means it is time to go to see one of the most compelling artists of the last ten years: Mitski.
Mitski’s songs are dipped in the liquids of a gunky puddle of feelings that we often drench our favorite pair of shoes in. When my emotions feel invalid and overwhelming, I run to Mitski to take cover. Now, I am running to Mitski in real life, trying not to miss the beginning of her set. A middle-aged man walks up through the crowd to his wife “damn teenagers kept taking videos of me walking through the crowd.”
I see a teardrop fall from someone’s face into the midnight sea of Doc Martins below us when Mitski comes out. The choreography serves as a high-quality music video for every single song. She stabs herself with an air knife three times as she makes confessions at “3 am” in “Francis Forever.” Audience hearts wave a white flag at Mitski when they sing these lyrics in unison. The catharsis does not just come from singing her noisy indie rock songs. Mitski’s drives us to the eighties with “Nobody,” a song that surely would have been a New Wave classic 40 years ago. She dances around and plays a very believable game of tug-of-war with an invisible opponent. Her melodrama thrives under green lights, as her loss of innocence is allotted its own physical outlet.
Nobody expresses emotional frustration like Mitski. When I was a kid, creepy sounds in my old house would set me off. Crying, I’d run to my parents’ room to tell them that there was a ghost. I’d receive the same response “that’s just the house making noises.” I don’t blame them, I’m sure the pipes and vents were making sounds. But if 7-year-old me knew who Mitski was, I would have listened to her music in that scenario. When I feel small, Mitski makes me feel seen. I look around the crowd to see thousands of other people that Mitski has the same effect on. Somebody understands the gunk, and it is nice to see that person standing on a stage in front of us.
The last day of Pitchfork has come, and I am in an Earl Sweatshirt crowd with hundreds of other people that get their vitamin D from the light on a computer screen. You know the performance is going to be good when the DJ – Black Noi$e – has an Aphex Twin hat on. Audience conversations go as expected before Earl makes his entrance: people speak of Earl Sweatshirt’s Myspace lore and make fun of the security man who has cut off the sleeves of his extra-small work shirt to show muscles. As Black Noi$e toys with the crowd, the rain starts pouring, and our feet sink deep into the mud. Grimy weather warrants grimy sounds: “Riot!” comes on. Messy but triumphant in its chaos, the song feels like a Basquiat painting – the perfect walkout song for Earl.
Earl’s banter with the crowd is filled with layers of irony. “You’re all going to jail, I don’t know any songs,” he says. A crowd member yells in response “Play EAST.” Earl says “Okay” and laughs. He plays the 1700 sea shanty beat on “East” and the crowd screamed. A youtube comment on this goofy song once said “this song is like getting ready for a sneeze and nothing happens,” Earl’s beats are beyond comprehension and we embrace the brain-scratching disarray.
After an hour of Earl telling the crowd he “doesn’t know what we’re talking about, I don’t know any songs,” Earl begins to play Meek Mill’s most known song: “Dreams and Nightmares”. Earl is saying every word over the recording, building to the breaking point that this song is known for. The crowd is getting excited for the climax, the piano tempo speeds up and Meek’s voice is gaining more energy… oh, Earl just turned it off and walked off stage. I can’t think of a better way for such an offbeat artist to end his show.
While I saw kids chief entire joints by themselves at Earl Sweatshirt’s show, The Roots’ audience happily pass around the pleasure. This foreshadows a sense of community that the 90’s jazz-rap legends capitalize on as soon as they appear. Questlove’s drumming serves as the heart of the group, pumping out essential nutrients for the rest of the group to bounce off of with their instruments. Backing musicians are all pieces of a complete organism; most of these people have played The Late Night Show and know how to rev the engine of an energetic show. And the Brain of this project, Black Thought, is unmatched in charisma. He taps into the “summertime Chi” love that can be felt under the night sky.
This cohesive show doesn’t hold a second lacking in instrumentals. Even during Black Thought’s profound between-song talk, the playing of a trumpet or piano in the background creates an environment for those words to be heeded Gil Scott-Heron style. Songs blend into each other like oil paint soaked in medium, and the backing band can all spontaneously catch onto a new dance or tempo as they please. Black Thought raps nonstop through the horizon of world-class jazz behind him. It’s like he physically can’t stop. Guitarist, Captain Kirk Douglass, showers in spotlight with Pianist Ray Angry as they reach final form. Near the end, the group slides into the 90’s smasher “You Got Me,” cooling down the auditory fire that has been set in the vicinity. It is one of those shows where you know that they walked off the stage and laughed about how damn well they did. If they gave me the pleasure, I would buy this live album in a second.
I walk out of Union Park, the line for the train spans two blocks and bottlenecks at the stairs. I go into my notes app and cross a good deal of names off of my list of artists that I want to see live. The Parquet Courts keyboardist has convinced me to watch High Fidelity for the fourth time. I catch a vision of Jack Black’s character asking a question like “top five concerts you’ve ever seen,” and I can confirm that this weekend has added a lot more contenders for my answer.
Anywhere he goes, Ray Angry is probably the most skilled pianist in any direction for many, many miles. However, at Pitchfork Music Festival, he is surrounded by some of the most talented instrumentalists in the current musical canon— no, he’s still probably the best pianist here. He has album credits with artists such as Mick Jagger, Solange, Elvis Costello, Mobb Deep, and many more. This modern renaissance man walks in with a sharp green jacket on; under his large tan hat rests a calm brain that will soon shoot neurons to his fingers, they will play notes and impress tens of thousands of attendees for The Roots’ headlining performance.
They call him Mr. Goldfinger for a reason.
Jack: So let’s go back to the beginning, tell me about your early days playing piano at Howard University and your introduction to jazz.
Ray Angry: So basically when I was at university they wouldn’t allow me to study jazz. So, I had a double major in classical jazz starting with your young jazz legends, and also reading, but the interesting thing about me being at Howard is I got to connect with all the great Jazz musicians that were coming in. You know how young kids come to festivals go backstage? the artists who want to talk to artists. So I was doing that with all the jazz artists, like me and my friend Chris Dave. He’s like one of the best drummers in the world, he’s amazing. And he and I used to walk from our university to Blue’s Alley to see Wynton Marsalis. It really ignited my interest in jazz, you know, Branford, Kenny Kirkland, so these guys were my heroes. Those guys really got me into playing jazz, and then I was doing gospel music and R&B. Then, I dropped out of school and toured with this R&B group called The Chi, who were traveling around the world, and then I went back to school. So at Howard, I was really interested in music, period. So not just Jazz, I was also into classical and all these different styles. I figured if I can play all these different types of music, I’ll always be good. I think it’s best to think outside the box, and I came to New York, and that’s been the case since.
J: If you could talk to early Ray Angry, what would you tell him? What critiques would you give his music and what advice would you give him?
RA: You know, I’d tell him, man, practice hard, stay focused, and know the ins and outs of the business. Because I think the thing that people miss is that when you get out of school you have to work in business. You’re not just going to be playing music, you got to feed your family, you got to work, and pay rent. So for me, I would just try to make sure that my younger self knew everything about the music business. Every aspect, contracts, how to copyright your music. I think collaboration is so important too. Working with other people, asking questions, not being afraid to ask questions, and not being afraid to ask for help.
J: You released your jazz album, One about four years ago, and after some time to reflect on it, how do you feel looking back on it?
RA: You know, I’m really happy with the recording. People often send me messages about a particular song from my album. And then Amy Schumer put it in Life and Beth. You know, for me, it’s an honor. And also, I’m excited to record my new album, because the first album is Jazz. The next one is solo piano, and it’s classical music. It’s classical music, soul, hip-hop, experimental, all these different styles of music, and it’s just the piano. I’m excited about it. And for me, being diverse and not being known for just one thing is what I’m about. I’m really about connecting folks from all walks of life, it’s been a pleasure, I love recording and the music I’m recording is just an example of where I’m at in my life at the time. I hope that anything I’ve gone through and experienced can make someone’s day brighter.
J: You said that your music is a reflection of where you are in your life, and so what’s bringing you to do a solo piano album in Three?
RA: I’ve actually never released a solo piano album, so for me, because I’m into so many different styles of music, each album represents all the colors in my mind, So the first album was like jazz, the next one is going to be classical. The one after that is going to is going to be different, maybe a funk kind of thing. So I think recording a solo piano album is something I had to do. Especially for the memory of my parents that passed away and my two brothers that passed away this year. So I’ve suffered a lot of loss, for me solo piano is something that is deep in my heart. My parents got me into music, so it’s really a dedication to my family.
J: So why’d you skip two and call it three?
RA: It’s a great conversation piece. Everyone’s like where’s two? Everyone’s gonna be looking for two and go buy One or Three. Why not just do something different?
J: In ancient Greek, Telos means to reach fulfillment or an end goal of an object. Do you think that you can push an instrument to the point of fulfillment?
RA: I would say, when I look to some of the great pianists and all the great artists. Absolutely, I mean, to me, music comes from the ether or somewhere in space, you know it comes from outside of us. And I think connecting with music on a spiritual level gives you satisfaction because your ego is pushed out of the way. So once your ego is out, this is only my opinion, you’re able to really connect with God, the universe can become a channel and really as far as I can see someone and you’re like once you do that, you experience something new and can be blown away. For me. I think it’s possible to do that, but the ego has to be out of the way first.
J: I’ve never heard anybody explain that transcendence so well. So, how’s it been touring with the roots almost 30 years after they do their debut? And is there a different mentality than there was back in the days of Undun in 2011 when you were touring with them?
RA: I think everything forced everyone to think outside the box and also to really redefine your purpose, and for me, working with the roots since 2008 has been life changing. It’s been really great because I’ve been I’ve had the blessing to be on The Tonight Show. Working with Jimmy Fallon working with The Tonight Show crew has been amazing, working Steve green. And having done a record Elvis Costello. That was because of our relationship with the roots and this has been really great. To be able to connect with the world.
J: So what have you been up to these last few years after finishing One?
RA: I’ve been working on a symphony for The Lexington Symphony Orchestra for the past year, I’ve been studying orchestration, composition and writing my personal sort that premieres November 19. I’ve done the music for Life and Beth with my writing partner Timo Elliston. It’ll be on Netflix later this year. I started my own record label called Mr. Goldfinger Music. I’ve been doing Producer Mondays, so I’ve been busy creating lots.
J: You’ve been credited on some incredible albums recently. I’m curious on your opinion on the music scene right now, is it as fruitful and filled with talent as it was in the 90’s?
RA: I think music is always evolving. There’s always gonna be someone better and there’s always gonna be a new way of looking at music, and I think it’s cool that technology is advancing now. I think it’s better because you know, who would’ve thought that you could be on your computer and someone else can be at home on their computer, and you can make a whole album. So I would say it’s getting better. And you know, technology is really connecting us more and more. In terms of music there’s always going to be growth, things are going to be listened to and be reinterpreted. Styles of music mixing together to create a new sound, so I’m excited. Next year, we’re making an authentic style rather than following a safe sound. So, I’m really excited.
“What happened to that chubby little kid, who smiled so much and loved the beach boys?”
Car Seat Headrest songwriter Will Toledo screams this on stage with his post-pubescent voice cracks fragmenting through the crowd.
“What happened is I killed that fucker and I took his name, and I got new glasses”
The audience collectively belts this “Destroyed by Hippie Powers” line as if it is one of the universal truths of the online age. And to this group of people, it may as well be.
So what the hell happened to the music kids? I’d imagine twenty-five years ago, the Car Seat Headrest fanbase’s past-adjacents would have been scoffing at hair-metal during a Pavement concert, or wearing a dirty pair of jeans at a Yo La Tengo show. The internet happened, Bandcamp happened, and the ability to record music in a shitty car on a shitty computer happened.
Now we go to a real-life self-loathing echo chamber and scream for Will Toledo: he has tights on with comically small jorts over them. He has a mask on with digital LED lights that blink every few seconds. His angst remains at the level of Paul Dano in Little Miss Sunshine. I will defend him with dusty buttons on my keyboard in online spaces until the day I die.
This band knows how to put on a show for the sweaty cesspool of incredible fans they have built over the last decade. Car Seat Headrest entered their green lighting on stage to look at an artist’s palette of hair colors in the crowd. We dance, we dance to lyrics like “Sex-havers, stop being so mean” and “The other night I cried while thinking of having sex with you.” It’s not a surprise that my uncle hates his band.
It’s also no wonder that this generation of kids would take solace in the musing of a man that sings about his hatred of social interaction, being sober, and being high. On the internet, we read anonymous people who type about their agony with Reddit ink. This tolerance – even open-armed acceptance – of self-loathing rightfully makes its way into the music of a skinny teenager with glasses and lots of time on his hands: Will Toledo. Soon after, his music makes its way onto thousands of other kids’ computers, many of whom also have a dislike for their bodies and a dislike for conversations with strangers. Now, these listeners are here at the Ogden Theater: It’s a community of online folk that are finally offline, and it’s a beautiful sight.
Andrew Katz beats on his drums, he came prepared with a white tee shirt that says “MASK” and an 80’s style white headband on. The fan-favorite “Fill in the Blank” riles the crowd up with its fast, angular guitar; a large majority of the audience yells every line. The heavy baseline in “It’s Only Sex” keeps the crowd dancing as Toledo moves his body around like a stick-figure Elvis that cannot bend his joints. His voice carries as much raw emotion as it did back in 2011 when he was recording demos in his car. Guitarist Ethan Ives threw in some wild licks to propel the angst of Toledo not just to the back of the theater – but even our nomad friends in the rocky mountains fifty miles away felt the presence of some sort of sonic virginity.
By the time the dance-demanding song “Bodys” came on, the audience turned into a wave pool, up and down and up and down. It’s a song I’ve always wanted to see live; with a subject of moving our bodies around so we can “forget that we forgot how to talk,” even the shyest people’s shells cracked, allowing them to dance and fling their limbs around. After this, sentimentality was at a high during the prized “Sober to Death.” A slower variation of this work of art made for a moment of singing along that is difficult to forget. Guitarist, Ethan Ives, even performed the noisy “It’s my Child (I’ll do what I like)” from his side project Toy Bastard, and the audience ate up the curly-haired, suburban resentment.
The band closed off with the monster 11-minute opus “Beach life-in-death,” an emotional experience for anyone who has connected with the vulnerable lyrics. The encore was an extended version of “Deadlines” – Toledo takes the time to thank and introduce his spotlit bandmates during an extended guitar solo; It was clear to see that these four are best friends. The slacker ethos of 90’s indie rock remains, but Will Toledo sings emotional lyrics like he is reading from a non-refundable receipt that lists all the stuff we wish we could return after puberty. Even at 29 years old – far past his teenage Bandcamp days – Toledo is theatrical and still in his performing prime.
Car Seat Headrest’s music is what sitting in your car to waste time during a party is like. Car Seat Headrest’s music is what being at a lunch table with absolutely nothing to add to the conversation is like. Essentially, Car Seat Headrest’s music feels like being as far away from the present as possible. However, looking around at this concert, it was clear to see that the audience members were present in the moment, enjoying themselves. The equation makes sense now:
Pessimistic people + pessimistic music = propelling a group of hormone-filled introverts to enjoy a moment.
I remember being at home during the Fall 2020 quarantine period and discovering The Flaming Lips’ Pitchfork documentary of their 1999 album The Soft Bulletin. I did not know them outside of some of their classic songs like “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1” and “She Don’t Use Jelly,” that were conceptually and aesthetically different from this album- this was something special. I hung onto every song on the album for dear life, as its messages of grief and existential dread felt particularly salient during the pandemic. Now that COVID’s presence seems more of a backdrop to “normal” life, I have moved through the Flaming Lips discography to compliment the laughter and joy that has flowed back into my day. The Flaming Lips concert, even with an emotionally varied setlist, captured the loving relationship between the band and their fans- we all celebrated life and celebrated music.
It has been a long time since I have been to a concert alone in Denver, but it seemed fitting as I alone traveled through the stages of grieving with The Soft Bulletin as my guide. I entered while the opener, Particle Kid, started their set. The lead singer, Micah, trotted around stage with a long black cape and cried out with a Kurt Cobain-ish rasp. I couldn’t help but imagine myself being at a reincarnated Nirvana concert until I heard the psychedelic synthesizers and reverb in the guitars drill into hypnotic freestyles that would last for several minutes. The most intriguing part of the set felt more like a performance art piece, something like a “Happening” piece in the 50’s where the last song turned into another long jam after people backstage tossed confetti over Micah’s head in celebration of his birthday while he continued to scream “LIFE- LIFE…” I thought I was witnessing a manifestation of a quarter-life crisis as the drums and guitar patterns started to deteriorate into amorphic static. Micah crawled around the stage continuing to repeat this word for several minutes, playing with the tone and frequency of his voice behind the blaring instruments. The crowd also moved through waves of discomfort and awe watching the performance. It seemed like his mic eventually got cut off, and the band did a short sign off before getting off stage. The opener got me more excited as Particle Kid was clearly a group of performers that revered the interactive nature of The Flaming Lips’ concerts.
After standing around for some time, the lead singer of TFL, Wayne Coyne, walked around the stage getting all the props and goodies for the fans prepared for the show. Finally, the whole band came onstage in the dark, while Wayne stepped in the spotlight with a large robotic red bird. He opened the show by talking about how in previous tours they used to have a different bird that Wayne would pretend to fly around the stage in tandem with the bird noises from “My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion.” Unfortunately, long story short, the original bird broke but now they have this new bird that ACTUALLY flies. Wayne started the set by throwing the bird up to the sky and grabbing a spotlight to cast a magical beam up while the bird fluttered around before landing in front of the mic. Everyone was singing along, even if they did not know the “bird song” (like myself) from the brilliantly animated lyrics on the fluorescent panel of lights.
It was not uncommon for Wayne to stop singing through the set and encourage everyone to scream and dance for the sake of spreading love for each other and for having live shows again. “This could be the last concert ever, for all we know,” Wayne said once, “so we might as well make it the best fucking concert ever!” And that it was. After the first song, the tech crew came onstage with a leaf blower and started to fill a clear plastic ball with air, while Wayne stepped inside the orb. This would be his temporary home, he would rock back and forth and roll around while singing in his perfect, inhuman voice. I was not expecting him to sound exactly like his recorded songs because of age and production edits, but it was so uncanny seeing him and hearing him the same as I would imagine.
The first time he stepped out of his clear ball was to move to a different inflatable structure: the infamous pink robot. Standing at about 20 feet tall, this massive giant danced with air to “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1” with Wayne playing hide-and-seek under its legs. The whole concert seemed like a return to childhood; we were encouraged to move freely and inspire each other to be fully immersed in the music. A few songs later another massive inflatable structure, a rainbow, arched over most of the large stage with Wayne in his ball singing underneath. Streams of confetti would fly out from the stage or from Wayne’s confetti cannons. Halfway through, the whole band played happy birthday to Particle Kids, Micah, and Wayne praised the band for their passionate opening set. Throughout the show, Wayne exuded the most positive energy both through his singing and his actions. In the jam section of “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell,” Wayne picked up a spotlight attached to a cord and lassoed it manically around, inciting the audience into a dance frenzy. A few songs later, a medical team had to go into the audience and Wayne stopped the show to make sure everyone was safe.
After the band finished playing some of their classic songs like “Do You Realize??” and “She Don’t Use Jelly,” They finished their set with my favorite song: “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate.” I screamed in surprise because it is such a sad song- there was no way, I thought, that they would play that! But it is also one of the most beautiful songs ever. Wayne played “Waitin’ For a Superman” earlier in the show, another song from The Soft Bulletin, prefacing that it was a sad song but we would all create a supportive environment. No such warning was given for this song, but I think it was because he knew we would be ready. I felt the love from the people around me and from the band as they blended their guitars with surreal ease. In a lot of ways, the only verse from “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate” encapsulated the message from the show: “Love in our life is just too valuable/ Oh, to feel for even a second without it/ But life without death is just impossible/Oh, to realize something is ending within us.” Wayne and the rest of TFL underscored throughout the show, especially in the wake of COVID, that our bodies are impermanent, but love is infinite; “if you give someone love you will receive it thirty fold back,” Wayne preached between the song. The band went off briefly and then played four more songs for their encore, ending with “All We Have Is Now” and the classic hit from The Soft Bulletin “Race for the Prize,” again, highlighting their message of love and human mortality. The show was a cathartic experience for me as well as insightful. With prosaic musings similar to that of Dead & Company’s Bob Weir, Wayne opened up with personal stories and feelings that made me feel like I knew him a little better.
I hope that The Flaming Lips return to Denver sometime in the future, but Wayne left the set with a big question mark over the prospect of another tour. Whatever happens, we both left knowing that this show touched the lives of so many fans. I walked out of the venue with exceeded expectations and a long drive ahead.