Dion Lunadon – self-titled

As the story goes, Dion Lunadon, known to many as the bass player and co-mastermind of A Place to Bury Strangers, was feeling restless during a break in APTBS’ tour schedule. So, he poured that restless energy into his first solo album and gave the world a frantic, wild piece of noise-punk that has some fun surprises in it.

The album’s opener is a raging piece against something we all have to deal with – “Insurance, Rent, and Taxes.” The song flattens you with squelching sound and Robi Gonzalez (who used to play for APTBS). Lundaon sings, “Much too young to get any older.” on the swinging “Reduction Agent.” Lunadon reveals his love of dirty juke joint blues in the track in both the rhythm and lyrics (“I’ve got the mark of death. It won’t leave me alone.”). The organ and bass on “Fire” burns as hot as its namesake, building to a crazy blender-like frenzy. “Com / Broke” is your new favorite song for trying to beat rush hour traffic. Just be careful, as Lunadon’s lyrics do involve car crashes, fires, and self-destruction.

“Hanging By a Thread” is a post-punk (and nearly instrumental) surprise with guitars that sound like industrial saws. The industrial grind continues on “Move,” and Lunadon’s vocals sounds like the Borg has assimilated him. The drums blast the doors off the song around the 1:30 mark and you’re holding on for dear life by that point.

“Eliminator” is fierce noise-punk, and “Howl” is about Lunadon’s joy in expressing himself in the spotlight. It’s like something Lou Reed blasted out of his speakers when getting ideas for Metal Machine Music.

Believe it or not, “Ripper” is a psychobilly cut and Lunadon and crew have a blast on it. I couldn’t help but grin through the whole track. “White Fence,” on the other hand, is more fine post-punk with weirdly angled guitars and desperate vocal stylings. The closer, “No Control,” brings Lunadon’s album back into weird psychedelia before a quick, distorted fade out leaves you gasping for breath.

This debut solo record is quite a statement. It’s powerful, brash, and even fun. More debuts need to be this self-assured.

Keep your mind open.

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Melkbelly announces tour dates with the Breeders and Bully.


(photo credit – Lenny Gilmore )

Chicago’s Melkbelly are set to release their debut full-length album, Nothing Valley, on Oct. 13th on Carpark Records’ imprint Wax Nine. Next week, the four-piece — Miranda Winters (vocals/guitar), brothers Bart (guitar) and Liam Winters (bass), and James Wetzel (drums) — hit the road for a run of pre-release shows supporting Protomartyr. Today, they are announcing more headline shows, plus support tours with The Breeders and Bully. All dates are below.

Emerging from Chicago’s DIY spaces, Melkbelly recorded Nothing Valley fresh off a west coast tour. The resulting debut album is organized noise and thoughtful freneticism. Throughout, they fuse dreamy vocal lines and cantankerous guitar racket as their songs clang and bang in stripped-down production that highlights the band’s sharp edges. Multi-faceted slabs of sound serve harmonious, immediate songs.

Watch Melkbelly’s “Middle Of” Video –
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdLUXUsBoQY “Kid Kreative” Video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mJoRmdYTo0Pre-order Nothing Valley:
Via Wax Nine – smarturl.it/nothingvalley_wax9
iTunes – smarturl.it/nothingvalley_itunes
Apple Music – smarturl.it/nothingvalley_appleMelkbelly Tour Dates:
(new shows in bold)
Wed. Sep 6 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Cattivo #
Thu. Sep. 7 – Baltimore, MD @ Metro Gallery #
Fri. Sep 8 – Raleigh, NC @ Hopscotch Festival
Sat. Sep. 9 – Asheville, NC @ Mothlight #
Sun. Sep. 10 – Cincinnati, OH @ Northside Yacht Club #
Fri. Oct. 13 – Chicago, IL @ The Hideout (Record Release Show)
Mon. Oct. 16 – Bloomington, IN @ Bishop Bar +
Tue. Oct. 17 – Columbus, OH @ Double Happiness
Wed. Oct. 18 – Washington DC @ Comet Ping Pong
Fri. Oct. 20 – Brooklyn, NY @ Alphaville
Tue. Oct 24 – Cleveland, OH @ Now That’s Class
Wed. Nov. 08 – Portland, OR @ Wonder Ballroom ^ — SOLD OUT
Thu. Nov. 09 – Seattle, WA @ Showbox ^
Sun. Nov. 12 – San Francisco, CA @ the Independent ^ — SOLD OUT
Mon. Nov. 13 – Los Angeles, CA @ El Rey Theater ^ — SOLD OUT
Tue. Nov. 14 – Phoenix, AZ @ LBX
Thu. Nov. 16 – Denver, CO @ Larimer Lounge
Fri. Feb. 16 – Norman, OK @ Opolis *
Sat. Feb. 17 – Santa Fe, NM @ Meow Wolf *
Sat. Feb. 24 – Eugene, OR @ Hi Fi Music Hall * 
Mon. Feb. 26 – Vancouver, BC @ Biltmore Cabaret *
Thu. March 1 – Spokane, WA @ The Bartlett *
Fri. March 2 – Boise, ID @ Neurolux *
Sat. March 3 – Salt Lake City @ Kilby Court *
Tue. March 6 – Kansas City @ The Record Bar *

# = with Protomartyr
+ = with Snail Mail
^ = with the Breeders
* = with Bully

Live: Depeche Mode and Warpaint – Toronto, ON – September 03, 2017

The calm before the storm at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario.

Somehow multiple decades have gone by without me catching electro legends Depeche Mode live.  The dates finally worked out, and my wife and I were able to see them and shoegaze / post-punk newcomers Warpaint at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre.

Warpaint impressing a lot of us.

Warpaint played a good set of crisp post-punk with snappy bass lines and even snappier drumming (which would be a theme for the entire night).  I’d heard a lot of good things about them, and they didn’t disappoint.  I need to find more of their material.

Looking down the “Barrel of a Gun” with Depeche Mode.

Out came Depeche Mode to the Beatles’ “Revolution,” a major theme for their new album – Spirit.  They rolled into “Going Backwards,” “So Much Love,” and “Barrel of a Gun” (which included a snippet of Grand Master Flash’s “The Message,” which cracked me up).

“World In My Eyes”

The crowd (which filled the stadium, apart from the unsold / unused seats behind the stage, by the way) jumped to its feet when they broke into “World In My Eyes.”  It was a reminder of not only their electro prowess, but how much influence they’ve had on Trent Reznor.  An acoustic version of “Question of Lust,” sung by Martin Gore, was a crowd favorite, and the follow-up of “Home” was excellent.

Depeche Mode never letting us down.

“Where’s the Revolution?” – the first single off Spirit – was another standout and essentially the band’s rallying cry for fans old and new to stand up against The Man. “Everything Counts” is also staggeringly relevant for these times, even though it’s decades old by now.  It preceded “Stripped,” “Enjoy the Silence” (which  was almost entirely sung by the now-bonkers crowd), and “Never Let Me Down Again” – which was better live than I even hoped it would be (and drummer Christian Eigner was absolutely slaying his kit by this point).


The encore started with “Somebody,” included a nice cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes,” and finished with big hits “I Feel You” and “Personal Jesus,” which had everyone raising their hands to “reach out and touch faith.”

“Personal Jesus”

It was long overdue, but very welcome.  My wife immediately listened to their new album as soon as we got back from the show.  She woke up the next day with Depeche Mode songs in their head, and I’ve had “Never Let Me Down Again” stuck in my brain for days.

Thanks for the fun, DM and Warpaint.

Keep your mind open.


Omni release new single and huge list of tour dates.



Today, Atlanta-based trio, Omni share a video for their new single – and album opener – “Southbound Station.” This comes to us off their forthcoming sophomore record Multi-task (out 9/22 on Trouble in Mind).  The band had previously shared the song “Equestrian,” perhaps their catchiest song to date. Sonically, “Southbound Station” is just as acrobatic a song as “Equestrian,” full of bounce, tension and release, with melodies seemingly developing out of thin air. The FADER premiered the video today. Here’s what the band had to say about the track:

‘Southbound Station’ is a song about being young in Atlanta, barely aware of anything beyond your immediate surroundings. There was always a sense of urgency to make it to the next destination where there may be a lover or a house show to attend. Years disappeared into the drunken void as I got to know the city—a charming yet challenging experience at the same time. 

Omni’s underlying seductive sophistication creates an aura of romance that many post-punk bands dare not tread, and Omni pulls it off with grace & style.  Their minimalist funk-fused agit-pop whirrs while simultaneously creating an album that is awash in the excitement of new love, or fleeting attraction. As performers, the band deliver this excitement and romance live, and have just announced new US tour dates. If you want an idea of what you’re in store for, watch a video of the band performing in France here.

“[‘Southbound Station’] is a perfect little post-punk jam for a late-evening walk through the city, when your mind is racing with possibilities.” – The FADER 



OMNI TOUR DATES (new dates in bold)
Thu. Aug. 31 – Amsterdam, NL @ OT301
Fri. Sep. 1 – Larmar Tree Gardens, UK @ End of the Road Festival
Sat. Sep. 2 – Manchester, UK @ Strange Waves Festival
Sun. Sep. 3 – Bristol, UK @ Louisiana
Mon. Sep. 4 – Paris, FR @ Point Ephemere
Tue. Sep. 5 – Toulouse, FR @ Pavilion Sauvage
Wed. Sep. 6 – Madrid, ES @ Sirocco
Thu. Sep. 7 – Santiago De Compostela, ES @ WOS
Fri. Sep. 8 – Barcelona, ES @ Altaveu
Sat. Sep. 9 – Marseille, FR @ L’Emeobineuse
Mon. Sep. 11 – Basle, CH @ Renee
Wed. Sep. 13 – Zurich, CH @ Katakombe @ Sender
Thu. Sep. 14 – Bologne, IT @ Freakout
Fri. Sep. 15 – Lyon, FR @ Le Sonic
Sat. Sep. 16 – Orleans, FR @ Hop Hop
Sun. Sep. 17 – Lille, FR @ DIY
Mon. Sep. 18 – London, UK @ Moth Club
Tue. Sep. 19 – Birmingham, UK @ Hare & Hounds
Wed. Sep. 20 – Dublin, IRE @ Whealan’s
Thu. Sep. 21– Glasgow, UK @ Hug & Pint
Fri. Sep. 22 – Liverpool, UK @ Liverpool Psychfest
Sat. Sep. 23 – Brighton, UK @ Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar
Tue. Oct. 17 – Nashville, TN @ The End
Wed. Oct. 18 – New Orleans, LA @ Santos
Thu. Oct. 19 – Austin, TX @ Hotel Vegas
Fri. Oct. 20 – San Antonio, TX @ Paper Tiger
Sat. Oct. 21 – El Paso, TX @ Monarch
Sun. Oct. 22 – Phoenix, AZ @ The Rebel Lounge
Mon. Oct. 23 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Moroccan Lounge
Tue. Oct. 24 – San Francisco, CA @ Hemlock Tavern
Fri. Oct. 27 – Portland, OR @ High Water Mark Lounge
Sat. Oct. 28 – Seattle, WA @ The Central Saloon
Sun. Oct. 29 – Vancouver, BC @ Astoria
Mon. Oct. 30 – Spokane, WA @ Baby Bar
Tue. Oct. 31 – Missoula, MT @ Zootown Arts Community Center
Thu. Nov. 2 – Fargo, ND @ The Aquarium
Fri. Nov. 3 – Minneapolis, MN @ 7th Street Entry
Sun. Nov. 5 – Chicago, IL @ Empty Bottle
Tue. Nov. 7 – Bloomington, IN @ The Bishop Bar
Wed. Nov. 8 – Columbus, OH @ Ace of Cups
Thu. Nov. 9 – Toronto, ON @ Smiling Buddha
Fri. Nov. 10 – Montreal, QC @ Brasserie Beaubien
Sat. Nov. 11 – Somerville, MA @ Boston Hassel Fest (Once Lounge)
Mon. Nov. 13 – Brooklyn, NY @ Baby’s All Right
Tue. Nov. 14 – Philadelphia, PA @ PhilaMOCA
Thu. Nov. 16 – Richmond, VA @ Strange Matter
Fri. Nov. 17 – Raleigh, NC @ Kings Barcade


“Its spry, stair-climbing melody comes off like a jittery call to arms, with bass and guitar bouncing and aligning like magnets. The addition of a rising synth gives the tune a triumphant tone, not far from Devo’s most anthemic moments.” – NPR Music

“With a steady lo-fi pulse, the act layers gritty guitars into a outpouring of analog warmth. Each element feels essential to the build of a tight-knit mid-tempo groove as singer Philip Frobos oscillates between a disaffected croon and the yelps and shouts of high-energy punk.” – SPIN

“The bubbling bassline and cool, taunting vocals on “Equestrian” make for a self-destructive lo-fi dance party” – Stereogum

“‘Equestrian’ picks up with more Verlaine-veined guitar lines nestled atop a skittering drum beat. They lean into progress with some synth strains to back the track up, pouring on a glaze of synth-punk that doesn’t dominate, but pays reverence to their brand of ’70s gods as the track progresses.” – Raven Sings The Blues

Hi-res images/album art – http://pitchperfectpr.com/omni/

Pre-order Physical – http://www.troubleinmindrecs.com/omni-multi-task/
Pre-order Digital – http://apple.co/2sWcrT6

Omni Online:

Melkbelly’s debut album due October 13th.



Noisy, subversively catchy and rhythmically sophisticated, Chicago quartet Melkbelly emerge from Chicago’s DIY spaces with their debut album, Nothing Valley, out Oct. 13th on Wax Nine Records, a sister label to Carpark Records headed by Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz.

Melkbelly’s members live and breathe Chicago’s art and music underground where their paths crossed and alliances were forged. Vocalist/guitarist Miranda Winters played solo in folk rock project reddelicious. Brothers Bart and Liam Winters (the tall fellas playing guitar and bass in Melkbelly) ran an influential show space in Chicago. Drawn together by their passion for East Coast noise, particularly the flavor originating from Miranda’s previous homebase of Providence, RI, Miranda and Bart of Coffin Ships recruited James Wetzel, who studied jazz drums in college, from improvisational free-drum/noise duo Ree-Yees. This new group of friends orbiting the loft and art scene, began collaborating on each other’s projects, formalizing in a more guitar-driven quartet Melkbelly in 2014.

Melkbelly’s debut EP Pennsylvania came out that same year. Engineered by Cooper Crain of Cave/Bitchin’ Bajas, the record came easily. The Chicago Reader enthused for single “Doomspringa” with its “noisy guitar freak-outs” and “beautifully melodic verses” and compared Melkbelly, accurately, to a hybrid of the Breeders and Lightning Bolt.

In 2016, the band tested the waters with new material. Inspired by the geography of a West Coast tour, shared band experiences, the van “as a magical place” and failed touristic detours at a meteor crater (it was closed) and Spiral Jetty (not van-friendly), the band gathered material written by Miranda and spawned from recorded jams for its next album. In early 2017, Melkbelly recorded with Dave Vettraino at Chicago’s Public House, writing about half the album in the studio and tracking it to 8-track analog tape. The result is Nothing Valley, organized noise and thoughtful freneticism, a fusion of dreamy vocal lines and cantankerous guitar racket. Today they share the video for “Kid Kreative.” “Kid Kreative is about creating a unique aesthetic in art or music only to have it hijacked and manhandled by someone else who reaps the rewards,” explains Miranda Winters. “It was inspired by existing as a woman in the predominantly male space of loud-music where it’s easy to be both looked over and ‘borrowed’ from.”


wax nine – smarturl.it/nothingvalley_wax9
itunes – smarturl.it/nothingvalley_itunes
apple music – smarturl.it/nothingvalley_apple

1. Off The Lot
2. Kid Kreative
3. R.O.R.O.B.
4. Greedy Gull
5. Petrified
6. Middle Of
7. Twin Lookin Motherfucker
9. R2PCM
10. Cawthra
11. Helloween

Wed. Sep 6 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Cattivo w/ Protomartyr
Thu. Sep. 7 – Baltimore, MD @ Metro Gallery w/ Protomartyr
Fri. Sep 8 – Raleigh, NC @ Hopscotch Festival
Sat. Sep. 9 – Asheville, NC @ Mothlight w/ Protomartyr
Sun. Sep. 10 – Cincinnati, OH @ Northside Yacht Club w/ Protomartyr
Fri. Oct. 13 – Chicago, IL @ The Hideout (Record Release Show)
Melkbelly Online:

Rewind Review: Big Audio Dynamite – Megatop Phoenix (1989)

Big Audio Dynamite (Dan Donovan – keyboards and vocals, Mick Jones – guitar and vocals, Don Letts – effects and vocals, Greg Roberts – drums and vocals, Leo “E-Zee Kill” Williams – bass and vocals) were a big part of my high school years, and their final album, Megatop Phoenix, was a great way to go out on top. I had it on a mix tape for years, so it was high time I bought a proper copy of it. Recorded not long after Mick Jones nearly died of pneumonia (special thanks are given to his doctors and nurses in the album’s liner notes), the album is a reflection on the band’s history and a look to the future.

“Rewind” is a battle cry to all of us to stay strong in the face of adversity and to never count out the underdog. The kick-in of Williams’ bass after the first verse still gives me chills. It’s a great blend of their raga / post-punk / new wave / electro mix that made them so innovative. “Union, Jack” is Jones, Letts, and Williams’ call to British people to get back up on their feet in the Reagan / Thatcher years that were grinding them down into complacency. It opens with a sample of the British national anthem and then kicks in some of the slickest beats by Roberts. Lyrics like “Now in the classroom I was told about the Empire, how you were bold. A pint of beer, life passes by, your spirit’s squashed just like a fly.” continue to resonate today.

“Contact” is a song about Jones’ inner struggle to express himself to perhaps a lovely lady or even his own band mates. This was B.A.D.’s last album, after all. His guitar has nice heaviness to it when it comes in during the chorus. “Dragon Town” has Jones expressing the band’s wonder at being lost in a Chinatown while looking for an exotic woman.

“Baby, Don’t Apologize” is, on its surface, about Jones telling a lover not to be sorry things didn’t work out because he can’t or won’t change. It’s probably a veiled reference to the end of the band, however. Jones had a life-changing experience with his pneumonia, Don Letts was becoming a producer and DJ, and the other band members were also involved in other projects. Jones was worried about how he might be perceived (“My head is in the stock. It rains refuse, some shout abuse, and others throwing rocks.”), but as he puts it, “What I am is loud and clear for all to see, for all to hear.”

“Around the Girl in 80 Ways” is a straight-up love song from Jones and Letts as they teach how to woo the lady of your choice. They suggest everything from “a bunch of flowers” to playing it cool. “James Brown” was written after the Godfather of Soul was involved in a domestic violence case and a police pursuit that landed him in jail. Jones and Letts tell the story from Brown’s perspective, paying tribute to him and calling him out on his bad behavior at the same time. The beats are wicked, as is the verbal takedown of American celebrity culture (which is just as bad in Britain nowadays).

“Everybody Needs a Holiday” sounds better than ever in this world that has only gotten smaller, busier, and less personal since 1989. “House Arrest” is a tale of partying on Saturday night until six in the morning when the cops show up. It’s a floor-bumper with heavy bass and kick ass drum licks. Letts gets to take lead vocals on it as he sings about “bouncers, bimbos, lager louts” and “cops and dogs in transit vans.”

“The Green Lady” is a clever and slightly bittersweet song (with great guitar work by Jones) about a man who falls in love with a Chinese woman in a mass-produced photograph hanging in his flat. “London Bridge” is about the Americanization of London, but Jones professes his love for his town with catchy hooks. “Stalag 123” is about Jones and crew being stuck in the studio working on a record while the building’s basement is flooded and they have to deal with “no windows, no air, and secondhand gear.”

B.A.D. didn’t sound like anything that came before them, and no one has really matched their mix of genres since. They had a successful reunion tour a few years ago, and we can always hope for another. If not, there’s always their excellent catalog and this fine end to it.

Keep your mind open.

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2017: Day One recap

I must admit that the Pitchfork Music Festival crams a lot of stuff into a small park.  I’m used to larger spaces like Levitation Austin, but Pitchfork gets a lot of bang for its buck at Chicago’s Union Park.

Speaking of cramming, the lines to get in were long, but moved well when my wife and I got to the festival close to 2:00.  By the end of the day, we were hearing stories of the line to get in wrapping around the block and going the whole length of the park.  One friend posted on Facebook that it was almost as bad as getting into the massive Star Wars Celebration convention.

Once inside, I was surprised to see how close two of the stages are to each other.  The Red and Green Stages are almost a stone’s throw apart.  Mandy and I wondered how noisy it was going to be with the bands playing on each stage, but the Pitchfork programmers wisely schedule the bands so that none are playing on the Red and Green stages at the same time.

We missed Madame Gandhi‘s set, unfortunately, but arrived in time to see Priests.


They played a set that proved post-punk is alive and well and had a fun time.  I later picked up their first record at a record fair located on the park’s tennis courts.  We had plenty of time to wander after their set and that’s when we discovered not only the record fair, but also a print and poster fair, a book fair, a craft fair, and plenty of food vendors.  I walked out of the record fair with not only that CD by Priest, but also CD’s by Waxahatchee, Screaming Females, and Vacation.  I might go back for a Chicago Cubs World Series Champions poster and a cute one of animals reading books.

We wandered to the Red Stage to catch the Thurston Moore Group, who put down a loud punk / noise rock set with hammering guitar solos and thunderous bass.  Moore told a funny story about Henry Rollins’ too during the set, so that was a treat.

Thurston Moore Group

We went straight back to the Green Stage to catch Danny Brown, who came out to Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man.”  He quickly got the crowd jumping with his crazy rhymes and booming beats.  Water and water bottles were flying in every direction from a mosh pit that broke out in front of the stage.  There was a lot of call and response stuff between Brown and the crowd, who I’m happy to say looked sharp and healthy (check out his lyrics if you’re wondering why I was concerned).

We stayed in our spot for about an hour to wait for LCD Soundsystem, who got a big cheer just from raising the biggest mirror ball I’ve ever seen above their set.

The crowd kept building as their 8:10 start time grew closer.  It was so packed at one point that I had difficulty raising my arms to get this photo.

I’m glad I’m not claustrophobic. That’s the Red Stage behind us, and this is just half the crowd for LCD Soundsystem. Mandy’s checking her phone to my left.

LCD Soundsystem started their set ten minutes early, bringing seemingly enough people for an Earth, Wind, and Fire tribute band with them.  They burst out of the gate hard and fast, and the crowd seemed to release energy it had been storing all day.  Their big hit “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House” was the second song of the set, so they didn’t waste time.

How it looks when Daft Punk is playing at your house.

A mosh pit broke out next to us at one point, and this aging punk rocker had to get into it and show these young hipsters how its done.  Other highlights included “Trials and Tribulations,” a lovely and loud version of “New York I Love You, but You’re Bringing Me Down,” and “You Wanted a Hit.”

LCD Soundsystem won’t be your babies anymore.

I warned Mandy as they started “Dance Yrself Clean.”  “This whole place is going to go ape shit,” I said.  She had no idea what I meant and thought the entire crowd was going to break into a mosh pit.  She was pleasantly surprised when instead we all pogoed when the song kicks into full gear.  It’s as great as you can imagine.

Dancing ourselves clean with LCD Soundsystem.

They closed with a wild rendition of “All My Friends.”  It was well worth the waits (the hour before their set, and a few years since they called it quits) to see them.  I had been bummed that I missed them when they were first on the scene, so their set at Pitchfork was my main reason for buying weekend passes.  They didn’t disappoint, and lead singer James Murphy performed with a bad back and keyboardist Nancy Wong with a bum knee – although neither showed much signs of impairment (Murphy stretched at one point, and Wong would sometimes take his arm to walk from one spot on stage to another).

This is how you end a set. Stay home if you can’t bring this kind of energy.

Getting out of the festival was a big harder than getting in since the main entrance and exit isn’t huge.  We plan to look for a VIP exit tonight.  On the way out, a young man behind said to his friends, “Mosh pits were fun when I was a sophomore three years ago.  Now, I’m not so sure.”  The old punk rocker in me wanted to give him a backwards elbow shot to the face and say, “I’m getting into pits at twice your age!”

On the list today is George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, Madlib, P.J. Harvey, S U R V I V E, and A Tribe Called Quest.  We also plan to meet up with some old friends we haven’t seen in a while (one in decades), so it should be a good time.

Keep your mind open.

Pitchfork Music Festival artist spotlight: Priests

Washington D.C. punks Priests have unleashed a lot of post-punk / no wave protest music in the last year, and the world is better for it.  They’re smack dab in the middle of the current political climate’s hotbed, and they’re not just speaking out, they’re shouting out.  A lot of their songs build to high tension, which is an apt reflection for much of the country right now.

Priests open the Green Stage at the Pitchfork Music Festival on July 14th.  It’s sure to be a raucous way to start the day.

Keep your mind open.

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WALL – Untitled

One of the best albums of 2017 is a full-length debut by a band that broke up before it was released.

No one seems to know, or is telling, why New York post-punks WALL (Vanessa Gomez – drums, Vince McClelland – guitar, Elizabeth Skadden – bass, Samantha York – lead vocals, guitar) broke up after releasing one critically acclaimed EP (WALL), wowing crowds at the 2016 South by Southwest festival, and recording what appears will be their only full-length record – Untitled. Perhaps they felt they’d said all they wanted to say. Perhaps they found out the music businesses wasn’t what they wanted after all. Perhaps it was the classic “artistic differences.” I’m not sure we’ll ever know, but there are hints on Untitled – a scorching post-punk testament to desperate times and desperate measures.

The first lyrics on Untitled are “Everyone looking ‘round, looking to get high. I was looking ‘round, looking to get high.” on “High Ratings.” The band drills out the jagged punk angles they had mastered so early around a song about people looking for validation in a world in which others are easily obscured by our narcissism.

“Shimmer of Fact” unveils WALL’s love for Joy Division. The reverbed vocals about a relationship gone wrong after moving from the friend zone to the lover zone include “Something went wrong.” and “We crossed those lines.” The song “Save Me” has shared male and female vocals (“You wanna walk away, now that’s it over?” / “Save me from myself.”) and powerful riffs that underline the frantic lyrics about danger and the thrills it can bring.

“(Sacred) Circus” continues the Joy Divison-like bass, but the guitars float into shoegaze glory, and then crash into punk rock, as they sing about love, lust, and jealousy. Part of the chorus is “Nothing in this life is sacred.” That includes, by the way, our expectations of WALL and what they had planned for their musical career. “Wounded at War,” with its guitars that sound like they’re melting in the sun, is both a salute to homeless veterans and a punch in the gut to the institutions that trained them. “Go home, soldier. Back to the war that bred you, soldier,” they sing.

“Everything In Between” sounds like it belongs in a rare 1980’s VHS vampire movie. Trust me, you’ll understand when you hear the heavy bass, racing pulse beat, and distorted guitars. “Charmed Life” (a Half Japanese cover) has a great saxophone riff throughout it. “Watch everything you do and everything you say,” they sing as they mix surf rock, post-punk, no wave, and 50’s love songs. The song ends with an abrupt stop by the band and York saying, “I guess I’m leavin’.”

On “Weekend,” she sings, “The weekend, the weaker I am.” Partying has become too much of a chore. “I can’t live this way,” she sings while the band (who sizzle for the whole track) agrees to go with her and “skip town.” “Turn Around” has York telling an admirer to “pull yourself together” and forget about even trying to chat her up or risk death.

The album ends with “River Mansion,” a gorgeous piece of post-punk shoegaze that has the band wishing for good things ahead but knowing they might end up not getting them. “We built this dream on a hill…A storm is brewing. I’m safe in the house, locked in a dream.” Perhaps WALL realized they’d already achieved the dream of expressing their art (and getting critical success for it) and knew it was time to leave the mansion they’d created before success flooded and drowned them (“I’m laying in the river and the rain is getting thicker,” York sings). Maybe WALL sensed that success wasn’t going to be good for them. Maybe there was infighting (“When our eyes meet, and you’re lying through your teeth. When our eyes meet, and I’m lying through my teeth.”). Maybe they knew going out on top was going to be the best, safest option.

Or maybe it’s all a lark. We won’t know until they or their label decide to tell us, if they ever do. Until then, we have Untitled to give us clues and questions without answers. Sometimes the mystery is more exciting than the solution, and perhaps that was WALL’s message the whole time.

Keep your mind open.

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Oliver Ackermann interview – May 11, 2017

L-R: Yours truly, Oliver Ackermann, Lia Braswell, Dion Lunadon

Oliver Ackermann, lead singer and guitarist of A Place to Bury Strangers, was kind enough to chat with me before the band’s performance at Chicago’s Thalia Hall on May 11th opening for the Black Angels.  We talked about the tour, the New York music scene, bassist Dion Lunadon’s upcoming album, shoegaze bands, and where to get good tamales.

7th Level Music: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me.  I’m really looking forward to the show.

Oliver Ackermann: Cool, man.  Thanks so much.  We’re psyched to be coming there.  We’ve been doing some crazy things at some of these shows.  Definitely with the energy of Chicago, I’m sure it’ll be crazy.

7LM: Have you ever played Thalia Hall?

OA: No, is that place cool?

7LM: It is very cool.  It’s a converted opera house, so the acoustics in there are great.

OA: That sounds so rad.

7LM: It is a very cool venue.  I’ve been told the restaurant there is amazing, but I’ve never eaten there.

OA: Oh, cool. Hopefully they give us a discount or something like that.

7LM: If not, I can recommend a place.  A short walk east is this really good tamale restaurant (Dia De Los Tamales – 939 West 18th Street).

OA: Really good tamales?  That sounds delicious.

7LM: If you get there early enough, I highly recommend that.

OA: Awesome.  Maybe we’ll hit that up.

7LM: The other day I was describing your music to somebody, and I said it’s kind of like a Zen master whacking you with a stick on the head.

OA (chuckling, as he’s clearly never heard that before): Okay.

7LM: The reason I came up with that analogy was because the last time I saw you guys was in Detroit when you played with Grooms and Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor.  Rick from the Sisters and I were at the back of the venue chatting, and you guys come on and as soon as your set started it literally knocked the sound out of our mouths.

OA (laughing): Awesome.

7LM: I got to thinking about it, and your music has that effect on people where it shakes people out of things.

OA: Sure.  That kind of makes some sense.  There are those shows that you go to and have your mind blown and we’re always trying to hark back upon those moments.

7LM: I remember the first time my wife and I saw you was at one of the Levitation shows.  You played at the Mohawk.  You completely floored us, and I had a similar experience.  By the end of it, I was standing there thinking, “I’ve never seen anything like this.”  It was great.

OA: That’s awesome.  Right on.

7LM: How influenced is your sound from living in New York and being from that area, if at all?

OA: I don’t know.  I wonder that, too.  Sometimes I feel like we have no influence from that.  I’m so busy in New York and we don’t always get to do things, and there’s so much crazy stuff going on, but I guess that must be an influence as well.  There are a lot of great creative people that can definitely drive you, but I feel so disconnected from the scene.

7LM: I was watching some of your videos, and I noticed this reoccurring theme in the videos, and some of the lyrics, about how technology separates us from each other.  Maybe I’m overreaching here, but it seems like you touch on those themes a lot.

OA: Sure.  Definitely.  That’s pretty funny you bring that up.  That’s definitely a theme of some of our music.  Sometimes you want to go a little old school, and you kind of miss some of those days of just being able to wander and go meet your friends if they were there, or having to go knock on their window.  I think it brings us together as well, so maybe that’s just part of it.

7LM: Is Lia (Braswell) still drumming with you guys?

OA: Lia is drumming with us, yeah.  That has been awesome.  That’s definitely been a big influence on where our sound is going.

7LM: How did you two meet Lia?

OA: (Bassist) Dion (Lunadon) had seen her play in a friend’s band, Baby Acid, and said she was a wicked drummer.  We were looking for different people to play with, so we invited her over to play drums, and she was amazing.

7LM: I saw her play with Lindsey Troy of Deap Vally and she killed it.

L-R: Lia Braswell, yours truly, Lindsey Troy

OA: Yeah, she’s incredible.

7LM: Did you and Dion meet when he came on with Exploding Head?

OA: We actually first met in Los Angeles.  I was out there doing some sort of job for a friend and I didn’t have a place to stay.  He was staying at this house with some friends of his.  I spent the night at the house because he offered a place to stay.  We met again back in New York when he moved there in 2007 or so.  He was in the D4 and a bunch of killer bands.

7LM: A friend of mine wanted me to ask you what your favorite shoegaze bands were, and I know the Jesus and Mary Chain is one.

OA: Yeah, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, of course all those bands.  Ecstasy of Saint Theresa, Heaven Piano Company, Alcian Blue was really good, the Cocteau Twins, the Emerald Down, Mallory.  There’s a bunch of good shoegaze bands.

7LM: Have you heard the new Slowdive stuff?

OA: I’ve only heard a couple of the songs.  It sounded awesome, though.  I’m super-psyched to hear the whole thing.  What do you think of that record?

7LM: I like it.  I’ve heard the first two singles.  In some ways it’s like they just stepped right out of a time machine and in other ways it sounds like they’re moving in this cool new direction.

OA: Yeah, for sure.  I’m excited to hear the whole record and maybe if they make another record after this what comes out of it.

7LM: I have a few questions I always ask bands I interview.  One of them is, do you have any influences that you think would surprise some of your fans?

OA: Oh, for sure.  I like a lot of different music.  What do you think people would be surprised by?

7LM: Well, the reason I always ask bands this is because I once heard an interview with Rob Halford of Judas Priest and he was asked this question.  He said, “You’re never gonna believe this, but I’m a massive Hank Williams, Sr. fan.”  Ever since then I’ve been intrigued with hearing about what influences people have that others might not realize they have.

OA: I love Hank Williams, Sr.

7LM: Yeah, me too.

OA: Yeah, totally.  That stuff’s awesome. I don’t know, in this day and age is anyone going to be surprised by anything?

7LM: That’s a really good point.  Another question I always ask is, do you have any favorite misheard versions of your lyrics?

OA: I wish I could remember, because there sure are some funny ones out there.  It’s kind of cool because when you hear them a lot of times they kind of morph into what makes sense for the people.  I really like that.  It turns personal for them, which is kind of the point of our music.

7LM: That gets back to the thing I believe where your music changes people’s perceptions, especially live.

OA: Totally.  That’s the goal for a lot of our music.  It’s a state between life and fantasy and to be able to let go of some of your thoughts and troubles.

7LM: When I saw you in Detroit, you came out into the audience with your instruments and I loved how you made this cool moment where you brought this technology into the crowd, but instead of technology pushing people away it was this big communal thing.

OA: Yeah, that’s a great thing.  I think that’s pretty awesome.  Not everybody will do that to connect with the audience.  We always welcome anybody and everybody to jump up on stage or pull us down or whatever to connect and make it a communal event.

7LM: Do you write grooves first or lyrics first?  Or does it depend on the song?

OA: It depends on the song. We always try to reinvent writing songs all the time we do it.  It depends on what’s inspiring you.  Sometimes it starts with an idea and some lyrics, or sometimes the music brings out a whole story or a mood.  Even more recently, we’ve kind of been writing all of it at once.  It’s kind of a weird, wild thing.  I’ve always fantasized about having a band where you didn’t have any songs written before you played the shows, and you would play a whole bunch of songs at that moment.  You start to do this thing where you unconsciously tap into a really pure experience and it draws you in a different direction.  You’d dig deep and reveal some things maybe you wouldn’t be comfortable revealing in that moment.

7LM: If you ever do that, I hope I can get to one of those shows.

OA: Right on.

7LM: I’m one of those guys where if I go to a show and the band gets up and says, “We’re gonna play a bunch of stuff you’ve never heard before.”  I’m the guy in the back saying, “Fantastic!”

OA: Awesome.  I always like that, too.  At least to hear some sort of challenge.  It’s all about the excitement at that type of show.  I’m sure there’s band where I’d be disappointed in that, too.

7LM: Well, the opposite of that is that after we see you guys tonight, we’re driving down to St. Louis to see Tom Petty and Joe Walsh.

OA: Oh, wow, that sounds awesome.  That should be so cool.  I’ve never seen them.

7LM: Speaking of new stuff, Dion’s new album (self-titled) is out next month?

OA: Dion’s new album is out next month.  I’ve heard it.  It’s fucking awesome.

7LM: I’ve heard the two tracks that he’s released so far, and I thought, “Holy crap!  He’s gunning.”

OA: Oh yeah, it’s so powerful.

7LM: I’ve always thought that about him.  When I saw you guys in Austin the first time, it was two songs into your set and he body slammed his bass on the stage so damn hard and I thought, “Holy crap, we’re really in for something.”

OA: Yeah, he’s hit himself in the head a couple times, bled all over the place, climbed up on some things that everybody else would be scared to climb on.  I’ve seen him do some crazy things.

7LM: Are you your own guitar tech?  I’ve seen the way you handle that thing.

OA: Totally.  Yeah, we are all our own instrument techs.

7LM: That’s fantastic.  It reminds of when I was in a garage band in college, and our guitarist would cut holes in his guitar and take it apart to get different sounds out of it.  I see you getting the craziest sounds out of your guitar by mauling it.

OA: Yeah, you gotta play your instrument to the fullest.

7LM: Where are you off to after Chicago?

OA: We’re going to Minneapolis.  We’re playing First Avenue.  Purple Rain, Prince, it should be awesome.

7LM: Well thanks for all this.  Break a leg tonight.  Not literally, of course.

OA: For sure.  See you tonight.

APTBS at Chicago’s Thalia Hall May 11, 2017.

[Thanks again to Oliver Ackermann, Lia Braswell, Dion Lunadon, Burgers Rana, and Steven Matrick for being so groovy, arranging this interview and my press pass to the Thalia Hall show, and for the lighter.]

Keep your mind open.