TRANSVERSO

- A culture magazine reaching terminal verbosity -

EXCLUSIVE PREMIERE: All Of The Lights Announce Self-Titled Debut, Drop Soaring First Single, "Fading"

Music News, New Music, Exclusive PremiereWeston PaganoComment
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London-based pop outfit All Of The Lights have finally announced themselves with debut track, “Fading,” the lead single from a forthcoming self-titled EP three years in the making.

With members hailing from the UK, Sweden, and Estonia, the group combined to self-produce, mix, and master all of All Of The Lights, allowing for complete creative control. “Fading” layers a hopeful synth melody over an atmospheric soar, guided by a lyrical reconciliation between regret and acceptance. “Why waste our time / Running for our lives?” vocalist Raven Alexander asks. With “Fading,” we’re given more than enough reason to pause for something more.

Alexander explains,

It’s about acknowledging the darkness in yourself through a never-ending battle in your mind, and a false sense of victory over your emotions, while actually coming to terms with what you are and accepting it to be able to move on. ‘We’re fading’ refers to the duality of the protagonist. The two verses are a conversation between the negative and positive sides and the chorus is an agreement between them.

Transverso is proud to premiere the music video for All Of The Lights' debut single, "Fading." Watch and listen below.

Heartache and Candor Shine on Julien Baker's 'Turn Out the Lights'

Music ReviewSean McHughComment
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In 2015, seemingly out of nowhere, a nineteen year-old Memphis post-punker by the name of Julien Baker released Sprained Ankle, a collection of songs written with startling awareness and humility that, for the most part, remains absent in much of her peers. Naturally, the blogosphere erupted with adoration - here was a promising young artist that had depth, sustainability, and seemingly little interest in the post-Internet social media sphere - and thus began the meteoric rise of Julien Baker’s (totally deserved) legacy.

It’s almost amusing to consider that throughout the two years that followed Sprained Ankle’s release, someone as private as Baker would quickly become one of the most sought after entities in independent music. If Baker’s songwriting were any indication, forthright lyrics and minimalist guitar would leading to indie-stardom would have been the last thing on her mind. Nevertheless, Baker is a member of the late-millennial generation, so combined with Baker’s irrefutable musical excellence, she garner deep and devout support from any and all who see her (as they should).

But with Baker, there’s an added dimension of fervent devotion - both amongst contemporaries and gatekeepers alike (Matador, NPR, and everyone in-between) - within the indie world. There’s an artist worth talking about, and for once, it seems like there’s enough of a wellspring of talent to continue talking about her, so when we stop talking and move on to whatever artist du-jour may pop up in the interim, Baker’s follow-up will no doubt be exceptional.

And almost to the T, when Baker announced the release date for her sophomore effort, Turn Out the Lights, almost exactly two years following the release of Sprained Ankle, that same adoration returned, and with good reason. While folks within the blogosphere may be quick to move on to something with a little more sheen to it, consistency is what truly builds a legacy, and TOTL  manages to serve as a prime exemplar.

When Baker and her new label, Matador, released TOTL’s lead single, “Appointments,” Baker’s rasped whisper came through singing heart-wrenching thoughts of not living up to another’s standards, failing to understand change over time, and ultimately watching such factors lead into the end of a relationship. All of this on top of Baker’s tastefully minimalist guitar tones, this time accentuated by percussive piano, further extending the sentiments of what is a devastating first taste.

The rest of TOTL follows suit - expanded sound (piano, string arrangements, and woodwind on an instrumental “Over,” which seamlessly leads into “Appointments”), and decidedly more confident (“Turn Out The Lights”), but ultimately plain-speaking lyricism. Baker’s candor has always been her most disarming artistic attribute - just look to the immense pain and visceral imagery of “Shadowboxer” for reference - but on TOTL, she manages to lean into her guitar abilities a little more willingly. The dynamic crescendos of “Shadowboxer” or the subtle overlays of “Sour Breath” further extend Baker’s supreme progression as a lyricist on top of her continued prowess.

While Baker’s musicality may serve as a pleasant surprise on TOTL, her distinct capacity with language continues to be by far and away the most beguiling aspect of any Julien Baker project. Baker’s lyrical depth has hardly been doubted, refuted, or rebuked - and to do so would only serve a contrarian cause - but if there was ever an ounce of musing uncertainty, this album throws any and all cynicism by the wayside.

TOTL is an absolute masterclass in songwriting. Look no further than “Televangelist” for what is one of the strongest exercises in allegorical elocution in recent memory. Wasting no time, Baker opens with “My heart is going to eat itself,” diving headfirst into a hymn of heart broken masochistic martyrdom. Shortly thereafter, Baker utters what may be the greatest line of the year - ”I’m an amputee with a phantom touch / Leaning on an invisible crutch / Pinned to the mattress like an insect to styrofoam / Coming up from my bedroom alone,” - over nothing more than echoing piano. Baker goes straight for the heart, in an attempt to imbue her own anguish.

Turn Out the Lights is truly one of the best albums of 2017. There is no galavanting of gregariousness, no over-saturation of privileged existence, instead, there is only what Baker offers up for those who are willing to receive of her. This album is her via dolorosa, and we are privileged that she would be willing to share it with the world. Julien Baker is a once-in-a-lifetime talent, and Turn Out the Lights is simply exquisite.

Heads Up: Warpaint on Making People Dance, Abandoning the Album, and Reaching Their Prime

Music InterviewWeston PaganoComment
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"You wouldn't know it but you're really in your prime," coos the opening line of Warpaint's latest release, 2016's Heads Up. That sentiment, along with the band's first single to chart in the US, "New Song," has lead the aptly named album as a bold statement from a group of artists now fully embracing the sort of tight, danceable pop they had only flirted with before.

Warpaint's meandering art rock has always been equal parts groovy and moody, though this third full length sees Emily Kokal (vocals, guitar), Theresa Wayman (guitar, vocals), Jenny Lee Lindberg (bass, vocals), and Stella Mozgawa (drums) hone their craft into its most accessible form yet. In the year following its release, Heads Up has gone on to result in, among other things, an opening slot on Depeche Mode's global Spirit tour, and even an awkward encounter with Shia LaBeouf, though the album was nearly never made at all.

Following their recent performances at Chicago's Lollapalooza and Subterranean (pictured below), Transverso spoke with Wayman over the phone to discuss this and more, catching her in a particularly zen moment immediately following a session with Depeche Mode's tour masseuse.


TRANSVERSO: What's it like touring with Depeche Mode?

THERESA WAYMAN: It [has been] incredibly fun, and it is such an honor to be opening for them. The reality of it didn't quite hit me until we got to that first venue – they have this whole world that they set up. They weren't one of my main influences growing up, so I have appreciated the magnitude of what was happening this whole time, but I didn’t quite get it as much as Jen, who has been heavily influenced by them.

With Heads Up being about a year old now, how has your perception of it and what you accomplished changed over the course of that time?

Well I'm still really proud of the album, and I think I'm I am even more proud of it than I was when it came out because I've got some distance and I realized some of the things that I was stressing over weren't as big a deal as I had thought at the time. It’s nice to have that experience, as opposed to [feeling] like something still isn't right. I just feel really at peace with that album. I like it a lot, and I don't listen to it that often. I don't really listen to any of our recorded music that much, but I feel like they’re some of our strongest songs, and I love playing them live.

I feel as though they walk the line of being accessible and yet their own unique thing. I think we have other songs and other albums that do that too, but as a whole I think we accomplish that more with this album and I appreciate that. That's pretty much been my goal with writing music for a while now; to kind of figure out how to perfectly be obscure yet understood. I don't know why I have that drive, but I do. I think some artists are completely okay with not being understood, that's not their objective. Other artists really want 100% to be in the mainstream and be understood. I just like finding the balance somewhere in between.

Heads Up does seem decidedly dancier, poppier and more accessible than your past work in some ways yet still does a great job of maintaining your kind of signature vibe and brooding quality. How much of that was you know a conscious will to adapt and how much of that is just a natural evolution?

It's just a natural evolution for me, personally. Like I was saying, I really feel a drive to be understood and not to be too left that only a small percentage of people understand it. I think that you can be unique and individual and still be understood if you work and find a perfect channel for that. So I guess that was a conscious effort to be that way. “New Song is quite a bit more accessible than anything [we had previously done], but even if you have a song that has a weird abstract kind of format, like “By Your Side” or “So Good,” I think it's great to still be vivid in the sounds and choices of guitar lines and bass lines and how long you're staying in a section. I wanted all that to be really succinct and really vivid even if there was an odd structure that you're playing off of.

I remember hearing you originally planned to release these songs as kind of a series of singles instead of as a full record. What changed that ultimately resulted in this album coming to be?

Well we started writing these songs with that in mind, but we weren't all on the same page about that, actually. It ended up being that certain people needed more time away to not be writing, [so] you didn't want the pressure of that. So some songs got written during that time, either individually or off in pairs, and then we just kind of kept them and didn't act on finishing them. Then we just decided we would just come together and do an album, and then that made more sense. But that idea is still out there and lingering for us, and I think that we might try to do that. We actually have already written a couple of songs over the summer, and we're going to continue while we’re on this tour.

We have a lot of downtime on the tour – well, more than normal – because of Depeche Mode. They have the luxury of being able to [take days off in between shows], which is not what we [usually] do, so we have some time to write together. We're just going to collect songs and see what happens, and maybe do some individual releases or an EP or two. I think we want to just create more content for ourselves and keep putting music out but not have to have it be this one big project, and just try a little bit of a different approach.

This album was produced by Jake Bercovici (Julian Casablancas + The Voidz), whom you also worked with on your debut EP, 2008’s Exquisite Corpse. Was this a sort of full circle moment?

Yeah, definitely. He's grown a lot since then and so have we. We co-produced it – a lot of this stuff was actually produced on our own in our own studios. Stella and I started “So Good” – the bass and original electronic drum beat [and] Jen’s guitar [were] originally all recorded at Stella’s house. We all have these kind of set-ups in our places and we've been using them, so that was our own production. Same with “New Song.” And then there were things added once we went into the studio and all of us decided to finish this album and finish the songs, so it really was a collaborative production.

But it was definitely full circle working with him and realizing that when you start with something that works for you why not stay with that thing, you know? That became really evident, it was like coming home. I think we're going to continue to do this because we already have too many minds in this project and too many opinions to really add another, let alone someone that we don't know. Then we [would] all have to establish our own relationships with that person, otherwise we're not going to feel comfortable, and you have to feel comfortable when you're making music. I don't think I would really want to invite some unknown person in this scenario, at the moment it's already strenuous enough with our relationships. That being said, it’s good for us to have someone who's objective and can kind of police us a little bit and keep us happy and in check and even, because our band is really about being an even collaboration.

I appreciate how your live sets still include a surprisingly large amount of songs from the Exquisite Corpse EP, as bands don’t often perform much from nearly decade-old debut releases. That being said, you seem to only play one track off of your first full album, 2010’s The Fool. How do you decide what makes it to the stage in 2017?

Well there are many factors that go into picking them. One is we know there are certain songs that our audience likes more, so we pick those. We try to keep a pretty balanced set in terms of grabbing, like, two on average from each album, including the EP. Sometimes it gets weighted in another direction if, say, we know that somebody has really requested to hear “Stars,” but we also still want to play “Elephants” and “Beetles” as well. Then we'll have a debate about it, and every now and then it will just end up that we are playing three of those EP songs because somebody wants to hear “Stars.”

It's not usually weighted towards EP, per se, but we always play EP songs. And that's actually been happening a lot more recently, too, because we didn't for a while. We played “Elephants” pretty much our entire career as a live band, but “Stars” we didn't play for years. “Beetles” we didn't play for years. Those are the main ones. So then we started playing “Krimson,” and we just found a way to start the set with “Heads Up,” and then mashing up into “Krimson,” and so then that’s another EP song added. It works as a great start to the set, and then if you want to play “Beetles” and “Elephants” then you’ll have three songs again. So there are so many factors that go into it. So yeah, I think it's been heavier on EP lately, but it hasn't always been like that.

Has the live aspect of your music affected the writing or recording at all? Are you ever surprised by how a song is received live? I hear you’re starting to get mosh pits now.

Well the reason we made this album more dancey is because we like playing songs live that people dance to, and that we can dance to while we're playing them. I think that's one of my favorite things to do, so I would continue to want to make songs that have a pretty a good groove. We've had a couple of mosh pits. They always happen at the weirdest times. Or crowd surfing, [we’ve had’ people crowd surfing to “Undertow,” or one time it was “Set Your Arms Down,” this really heroin-y slow song. [Laughs] I never understand why or how when our fans start moshing, but it can get pretty rowdy sometimes.

In San Diego there was a fight and somebody got punched. We have some fans in the front row that get there early and stake out their spots, so if somebody comes and tries to take that spot that's not really a good scene. One time we were in Austin and Shia LaBeouf came to our show, and he made his way up towards the front, but he didn't realize that the people up there weren't just going to let him in. I don't even know if they knew who he was, but they were not happy, and so he kind of pushed out. That was another one of the tense moments that's funny.

That's hilarious. Did you recognize him from the stage at the time or did you find out after?

I didn't at first because he was wearing a hat and stuff. Then I saw the commotion and I was like ‘What's going on?’ It took me a couple of looks to see that it was him. I try not to get involved unless something really goes wrong because I don't want to stop the show.

Whenever I attend your shows they seem pretty peaceful. At Bonnaroo 2014 I remember there was a guy in the front row who wouldn't stop throwing roses at you.

Yeah, I remember that. [Laughs] That's nice, I don't mind that. People like to throw bras, too. That’s happened so many times.

I really enjoy playing live and I think one of the most important objectives to playing live show for a band is to make them dance and have a good time and maybe even do a mosh pit and stage dive. The shows that I've been to that I've enjoyed the most, that's what's happening. Like Little dragon or Thee Oh Sees – I mean Thee Oh Sees just play nonstop. They go on, they just rule the whole time, and then they get off the stage. They don't do an encore, and the people, they’re just out of their minds. And that's the point. I don't really think that live music should be too heavy. I think it should be a physical body experience where you're just really enjoying yourself. I also enjoy going to The Fonda Theatre in L.A. where there's a balcony and you have seats and you just sit and just soak up something, maybe a little music that isn't just about dancing and getting wild. So there's other aspects, but I think for the most part I just love making people dance. I want to do that more and more.

During “So Good,” which I think is one of the strongest tracks on the new record, you and Jenny trade instruments onstage. Did you trade places in writing and recording that one as well?

Yeah, I basically had written that song on guitar. It was just generic chords, just to facilitate the melody, and I didn’t want them to be in the song. I wanted to turn it into a dance song, so I knew what kind of beat I wanted to have on there, and I gave Stella a general idea of what I was thinking and she programmed a beat. I had an idea for a bass line so I just did it instead of waiting and giving it to Jen, and she's happy to switch and she likes to play guitar. So it worked out perfectly and I we just gave her the song. She came over I recorded her guitar. And then Emily put some on later when we were all in the studio finishing the album and making the album. That was earlier, during the days of working on releasing singles, and that was that was when that song came about.

And “New Song” as well, Jen recorded that day. I actually recorded the drums on [“New Song”] because she just needed something to play to. I recorded a little loop and then she edited [it] and made it tighter and wrote the bass line to it. It was weird, because “New Song” was written when we had the singles ideas in mind, and then Emily kind of came up with her melody for it at some point, and then that song was completely forgotten about, pretty much shelved, because there were too many different ideas about which direction it should go. So we kind of set it aside, and then Jake ended up hearing it later in the actual recording process and and was like, ‘What are you guys thinking? This song so cool, you have to do this song.’ So that's funny, because it seems we really wanted a song like that on our album, and really we weren't even going in that direction so much, and it's just kind of happened.

Heads Up’s opening line is “You wouldn't know it but you're really in your prime.” I'm always amused by how every press release for every album for every band always claims it’s the artist's best work ever, but obviously that can't always be true. Sometimes you may not realize when you're in your prime, or other times you may think you are but you're not. If Warpaint ended today, would there be a certain record or a track that you would look back on and be especially proud of, and if so, did you know it would come to hold that sort of significance at the time?

Well, [opening track] “Whiteout” is a great example, I think. I am extremely proud of that song. I didn't write that lyric, Emily did, but I like that collaboration, the way that that song came about. I love the song itself. I think it's a mature song that sounds great, [it’s] got great harmonies on it. I think we're all sort of, in a way, at our best in that song, in my opinion. I don't always toot my own horn about out music – there’s stuff that I don't like, there's stuff that I feel like falls short. But I feel good about that song. Even when that song was happening I felt that way, and sometimes I think you just know when you hit something that you feel good about. Sometimes you don't realize that there is this inbuilt charm in something that you've written, because at the time you might think that there's something wrong with it, and then you hear it a few years later and you [realize] oh, that thing that I thought was wrong actually made that song special. So I think it can happen either way. With this album I do feel as though I knew while we were making it that I was proud of it. There are still things I want to work on, but I don't question this one as much as I do the other stuff.

So yeah, I do think we're in our prime. I really do, actually. I think that we've paid a lot of dues, and we're a band that's growing slowly and getting better slowly. I think we're all, a little bit, late bloomers, and we've been at it for a while. I think we genuinely love to make art and music, and all those things are positive things, they’re good things. We’re not in it just for fame or money, we’re just doing what we do, and we're just getting better and better at it. So I think that we deserve to be able to know that we are kind of in our prime at this point.

The National Explores the Beautiful and Wild Inside On ‘Sleep Well Beast'

Music ReviewAarik DanielsenComment
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Some bands can’t help but sound like a place.

Whether it is in guitars that sound like the Sunset Strip five minutes before trouble, harmonies that feel like a damp Pacific Northwest, or grooves that drip like the faucets in a dirty Delta bar, these acts always take you somewhere, avoiding the tourist traps and surrounding you with setting.

Another type of band is just as evocative, yet the places it occupies and pre-occupies exist within a body, not outside it.

These artists, typified by a band like Radiohead, sound like the scrambled thoughts of an anxious mind, the rhythms of a quickened pulse, the weight of life as it sits squarely within the chest. These interior settings are immediately recognizable to listeners who regularly visit them, often with reservations.

The National belongs to that second company of artists. The Brooklyn band’s songs sound like a mind turned inside-out, a soul yearning for relief — sometimes in screams, sometimes in sighs. Sleep Well Beast, The National’s seventh record, continues in that vein, yet accesses refreshingly acute angles on what might be its most beautiful work yet.

Album opener “Nobody Else Will Be There” joins a gentle pulse and plaintive piano. Its atmospheric rock feels like a modern take on Peter Gabriel’s “Red Rain” until frontman Matt Berninger’s baritone enters the mix to remind you who you’re dealing with. “Day I Die,” another backlit standout, follows. Drummer Bryan Devendorf thunders along while the band around him brings the electric lightning to the storm. Berninger still is coping with existential matters, but clearly he has taken a few steps forward.

He delivers a compelling bridge lyric: “Let’s just get high enough to see our problems / Let’s just get high enough to see our fathers’ houses.” Set this against the sentiments of one of The National’s signature songs, “Afraid of Everyone,” from 2010’s High Violet; There he sank into the mantra “I don’t have the drugs to sort it out.” By comparison, it sounds like Berninger is doing more than just getting by or high with a little help from his friends.

From there, The National deepens and widens its sound. Rather than reside in a rut or attempt to jolt itself into mid-career reinvention, the band shifts by degrees, surprising faithful listeners by finding very different ways to stave off the same problem. The band inches further and further from orthodoxy on tunes like “Walk it Back” and “I’ll Still Destroy You.” The former uses electronic sounds in a stimulating way, creating a sort of pulsating sonic light. The latter is more percussive, leaning into the new-music interests of guitarists Aaron and Bryce Dessner, achieving a sort of modal, exotic peal.

The band makes use of a more standard deviation on single “The System Only Sleeps in Darkness,” wearing the clothes of a more straight-ahead rock band. Glitchy riffing gives way to a proper guitar solo, a sort of novelty on the band’s records. The track does start with a few bars of madrigal cooing, so it’s not like The National suddenly have sacrificed to the gods of stadium rock.

Late in the tracklist, the band lands a 1-2 punch that is as quietly devastating as anything it has ever recorded. “Guilty Party” is the sound of trying to connect. Over booming drum sounds, the band’s jagged instrumentals even resemble the static of trying to dial up and dial in.

The song gives way to “Carin at the Liquor Store,” one of a few songs to grow from waltzing piano. Here the sound of the instrument contains both shadow and light. Both songs have the power to cut deep; stacked together, the sweet ache is unavoidable.

None of this — Berninger’s sad-eyed ecstasies, the Dessner Brothers’ cinematic visions — works without Bryan Devendorf’s drumming. One of the most reliable, underrated players of his generation, Devendorf truly provides the band’s heartbeat, whether in a melancholy waltz meter or a desperate crash of rock and roll.

The only thing keeping “Sleep Well Beast” from contending for the class of the band’s catalog is middling rocker “Turtleneck.” The National has proved it can growl and thrash when it gets the itch — “Mr. November” is the band at its loudest and best. The ill-conceived “Turtleneck,” however, comes up short on both style and substance.

It seems ridiculous to cast The National as some sort of rock oracle, but in 2017 it seems the rest of us are just now catching up to the sort of low-grade paranoia and restlessness the band’s songs have incarnated. Here it taps into even more shades of tension. The National wrestles with the personal, with needing landmarks, even crumbling ones, to find your way in the world. Weather patterns, fuzzy memories — these things anchor Berninger’s lyrics and help him make sense of things.

They wriggle around in the grip of the political, questioning how to act for the common good when you’re barely keeping your own house in order. The songs here seem to ask “How do you prepare for the end of the world when you just keep coming to the end of your rope?”

The band’s inward gaze still is a welcome one, even now. In the work of lesser bands, it might sound self-involved, too precious for this moment. Not so with The National. On Sleep Well Beast, the band continues to map out, then walk carefully into the beautiful wilds of the human heart. If we can’t wrestle with and know ourselves, how will we ever honestly deal with someone else?

Berninger and his bandmates offer up lullabies to soothe the savage within, soaking the heart in wine and softening it to exist in a world bigger than itself.

St. Vincent Announces 'MASSEDUCTION' LP, Drops Second Single "Los Ageless"

Music News, New MusicWeston PaganoComment
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"Before we go further, a brief tutorial on the title: It's 'Mass Seduction,' not 'Mass Education,' St. Vincent informed at the start of the mock press conference that announced her forthcoming album on Facebook Live this morning. "You're probably wondering, and the answer is yes, I did toy with calling the record 'Ass Education,' but it seemed to me that was much better suited to be the title of the sequel."

Teased through a series of clever bits co-produced with Carrie Brownstein, Annie Clark's 5th solo record under her holy moniker is due out October 13th via Loma Vista Recordings. (There are more than a few gems in that announcement video if you watch all the way through, including an penalty saving anecdote from her soccer days and something about a giantism fetish.)

With the news comes new song "Los Ageless." Debuted live in Tokyo a few weeks ago, this companion track and bicoastal foil to stunning lead single "New York" dispels any concerns fans may have had with the previous lack of guitar. Wildly distorted, St. Vincent's signature Ernie Ball axe slinks devilishly over an electronic beat more unabashedly dancey that anything she's done before. Lyrically, a liquid chorus of "How can anybody have you and lose you / And not lose their minds?" shows a rare glimpse of vulnerability as the hushed outro "I try to write you a love song but it comes out a lament" explains its origins.

Clark finished her Facebook Live speech with about as straight forward of a conclusion as one could expect: "The record's about love. At its best and at its core, it's about love. That's it. That's all. That is literally the only point. And I do mean literally to mean literally." In the press release she elaborates, “Every record I make has an archetype. Strange Mercy was Housewives on Pills. St. Vincent was Near-Future Cult Leader. MASSEDUCTION is different, it’s pretty first person. You can’t fact-check it, but if you want to know about my life, listen to this record.”

St. Vincent seemingly aims for pop power with the loudly neon rollout backed by production from Jack Antonoff (Bleachers, fun.), who's recently worked with Lorde and Taylor Swift. Notable features include saxophonist Kamasi Washington (John Legend, Kendrick Lamar), singer Jenny Lewis, pianist Thomas Bartlett (The National, Sufjan Stevens), and even vocals from ex and likely lyrical subject Cara Delevingne (credited as Kid Monkey).

Listen to "Los Ageless" below and scroll down to see MASSEDUCTION's cover art, tracklist, and tour dates (which will be "dominatrix at the mental institution kind of bonkers").

MASSEDUCTION

  1. Hang On Me
  2. Pills
  3. Masseduction
  4. Sugarboy
  5. Los Ageless
  6. Happy Birthday, Johnny
  7. Savior
  8. New York
  9. Fear The Future
  10. Young Lover
  11. Dancing with a Ghost
  12. Slow Disco
  13. Smoking Section

Mister Heavenly Returns with New LP and Tour, Listen to First Single "Beat Down"

Music News, New MusicWeston PaganoComment

6 long years after their "doom-wop" debut, supergroup Mister Heavenly has reared its three heads once again. Consisting of Honus Honus (Man Man), Nick Diamonds (The Unicorns, Islands), Joe Plummer (Modest Mouse, The Shins, Cold War Kids, Coromandelles), and at one point even Michael Cera as a touring member, the group has announced a forthcoming follow-up, Boxing the Moonlight, due out October 6 via Polyvinyl.

Lead single "Beat Down" explores the breaking point of restlessness conflicting with self-preservation as Diamond and Honus trade verses over a jaunty tune set to the crackling VHS of a classic bar brawl.

“I don’t know if it’s cliché or not these days to have an L.A. record, but this feels like an L.A. record,” Plummer explains in the press release. Coming off a Cold War Kids album cycle for L.A. Divine and after assisting with Honus' "apocalyptic L.A. pop” solo record last year, the SoCal identity seems more embedded in their sound than ever.

Check out the official lyrics video for "Beat Down" below, as well as dates for their North American tour and Boxing the Moonlight's album art and tracklist. You can also read our interview with Honus of Mister Heavenly here.

Boxing the Moonlight:

  1. Beat Down
  2. Blue Lines
  3. Makin’ Excuses
  4. Hammer Drop
  5. George’s Garden
  6. No Floor
  7. Magic Is Gone
  8. Pink Cloud Compression
  9. Crazy Love, Vol. III
  10. Dead Duck
  11. Out Of Time

The 8 Best Debut Albums of 2017 (So Far)

Music ListAarik DanielsenComment

We’re just a little more than halfway through 2017, and the year has already yielded some fascinating music. Much attention has been paid to superlative records by household names like Kendrick Lamar and Jason Isbell, blockbusters by newly minted superstars such as Lorde, and the forthcoming efforts of indie stalwarts Grizzly Bear, LCD Soundsystem, and Arcade Fire. But amid the waves of artists you love — and artists you love having back — it could be easy to lose sight of some terrific debut albums that have made their mark on the first half of 2017.

Some of the following artists had already made their presence felt with singles, EPs or previous projects, but in early 2017 they put out fully-formed statements that made listeners feel like they were getting acquainted with tomorrow’s stars today.

Hit play on our playlist and scroll down to check out our list of the best debut albums of 2017 (so far):

Bedouine - Bedouine
(Spacebomb Records, June 23)

It feels silly and obvious to talk about how melodic the first Bedouine record is, but this collection from Azniv Korkejian is just so lovely and tuneful. The songs glide along with tasteful instrumentals only accenting, never interrupting or overpowering Korkejian’s singing. There is an effortlessness, an unforced quality, to her sound yet with it comes with a definite sense of sophistication.


Diet Cig - Swear I’m Good at This
(Frenchkiss Records, April 7)

Alex Luciano and Noah Bowman had already created serious buzz with EP Over Easy and 7” Sleeptalk / Dinner Date that overflowed with personality. The duo amplified and sustained that buzz on a dozen tunes that only further establish Diet Cig as the new standard-bearers for pop punk. Kudos to the band for delivering perhaps the most staggering opening statement of the year with first track “Sixteen,” the awkward, ultimately empowered tale of Luciano trying to make it with a guy who shared her first name.


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Nick Hakim - Green Twins
(ATO Records, May 1)

The Washington D.C. native builds a bridge between groove-oriented R&B and a more ethereal, shapeless sort of electro-pop. Hakim’s full-length debut has all the killer rhythms and slow-burning, stirring vocals once could want, but the record also bobs and weaves in artsier directions with slightly detuned pianos, echoing drums and fine layers of modern musical dust.


Priests - Nothing Feels Natural
(Sister Polygon Records, January 27)

There’s nothing casual about this fearsome foursome from Washington D.C. Both those who think of punk as a genre, and those who see it as a state of mind, will be challenged and heartened by Priests’ debut. There is righteous anger here, expressed by pounding drums, the occasional squall of saxophones and Katie Alice Greer’s darkly compelling vocals.


Sheer Mag - Need To Feel Your Love
(Self-Released, July 14)

Buoyed by the powerhouse vocals of Tina Halladay, this Philadelphia unit makes music perfect for rawk-fist pumping and scream-till-you’re-hoarse sing-alongs. There is definitely a ‘70s aesthetic at work here with the band playing massive riffs and pursuing slinky grooves, but Sheer Mag is so good at what it does, it almost doesn’t matter when it is doing it — the band would have found an audience at any point in rock history.


Sarah Shook and the Disarmers - Sidelong
(Bloodshot Records, April 28)

The first thing you notice about Sidelong is Sarah Shook’s voice. And like her last name, that voice will leave you rattled in the best sort of ways. The North Carolina outfit writes and plays first-rate juke-joint, somebody-done-me-wrong songs. But the strength of the material reaches a new level in Shook’s distinctive timbre; she has all the confidence of a honkytonk heartbreaker, yet possesses the quaver of an alt-rock icon.


Peter Silberman - Impermanence
(
Transgressive Records, February 24)

The solo debut from The Antlers frontman is only six songs long but, at around 35 minutes of music, it qualifies as a full musical expression. Silberman melds cinematic and, at times, neoclassical colors into a quietly exquisite vision. At the risk of hyperbole, his wispy, floating vocals approach Jeff Buckley territory at more than a couple moments. This work is atmospheric, but is far from background music.


Vagabon - Infinite Worlds
(Father/Daughter Records, February 24)

Laetitia Tamko’s voice is a rich, expressive instrument that embeds itself immediately in a listener’s sensory memories. The Cameroon-born, New York-based artist freshens the stylistic tropes of 1990s Alternative Nation, fearlessly going hard after whatever she wants to do or sound like — whether that’s playing loud and fast, establishing a more esoteric sense of space and place, or calling out people who prowl like sharks, as she does on A-plus opening track “The Embers.”


The Transverso Guide to Pitchfork Music Festival 2017

Music ListTransverso MediaComment

Pitchfork Music Festival is an experiential embodiment of the magazine itself, topped off with all the sweat and smoke you reflexively sense when reading their articles. All the artists too cool for Lollapalooza descend on Union Park just a few weeks before in the publication's (and our!) native Chicago, and we've taken the liberty of condensing the lineup into a handy guide you can use to preview what's in store this weekend.


FRIDAY


Hiss Golden Messenger (Red Stage - 3:00)
What’s this? An artist who has some predominant twang and mountain revival gospel roots featured on the Pitchfork Musical Festival lineup!? Say it ain’t so! Anyway, trade in your dad hats for a decidedly more Stetson-y aesthetic, because Hiss Golden Messenger is bringing some much needed Americana grit to the ultimate poseur festival on the calendar. Coming off of 2016’s Heart Like a Levee, MC Taylor is one of the few aritists in rotation today that have become consistently better with each subsequent release. So, if you want some pickin’ music to mix things up before you see Vince Staples, then Hiss Golden Messenger would serve as an interesting pre-Crabs in a Bucket fare. (Sean McHugh)

Vince Staples (Green Stage - 4:00)
Rap’s current “Big Fish,” as far as hip-hop personas go and as his recent studio release Big Fish Theory suggests, is a strong addition to the festival and helps maintain Pitchfork’s reputation for diversified and well-curated lineups. Performances of Staples’ new material will satiate an audience hunger for hip-hop bangers, invigorating electronic beats, and recitable hooks. Those who have yet to hear the new album need not be alarmed as Staples’ latest release will easily captivate fans previously earned and win over new ones. [Editor's Note: Not to mention Vince Staples' feature was probably the best part of the new Gorillaz record, too.] (Ezra Carpenter)

 

William Tyler (Blue Stage - 4:00)
One of the prides and joys of Nashville, Tennessee, William Tyler is a man that everyone has heard but never realized. His unique brand of post-bluegrass/country music brings about a side of the Southeast that many have never considered. Concise and deft in his ways, Tyler and his backing band (typically consisting of members from Margo Price and Bully) elicit sounds and senses of a Southern sound making its way into a proud but creeping decay, with the slightest sliver of hope trickling through each and every one of Tyler’s fine finger picking. Unfortunately, Tyler drew the toughest slot share of fest going up against Vince Staples’ set, which will undoubtedly be the belle of the ball (festival). (Sean McHugh)

Thurston Moore Group (Red Stage - 5:00)
Undoubtedly included in the lineup as means for Pitchfork to retain its ties to the indy-establishment community, post-punk legend Thurston Moore will be a polarizing act for the festival audience. Millennials will either embrace Moore’s cultivated practice of ambient punk or rip their ears off entirely from a boredom induced by music they simply don’t understand. Guitar enthusiasts, avid fans of experimental music, and post-punk die-hards do not need any persuasion as to why they should not miss out on a performance by the Sonic Youth founding member. But casual Sonic Youth fans (whose favorite of their catalog is most likely Goo) and those unfamiliar with their work should be weary of lengthy, downtempo post-punk instrumentals that do little to win over impatient listeners. (Ezra Carpenter)

Frankie Cosmos (Blue Stage - 5:15)
Under the guise Frankie Cosmos, Greta Kline has established herself as one of the finest songwriters of her generation. Her intimate, earnest lyrics are as emotionally transparent as a diary entry and as charmingly frank as a gossip sesh with your best friend. Her hooks worm their way into your brain, often weeks after you first hear them. So even if you’ve never heard her, check out Frankie Cosmos on the Blue Stage. By September, you’ll know all their songs by heart. (Julian Axelrod)

Kamaiyah (Green Stage - 6:30)
Fresh off her appearance on this year’s XXL Freshmen Class cover (the only female MC, bafflingly), Oakland’s own Kamaiyah is riding a massive wave of well-deserved hype. Her incredible mixtape A Good Night in the Ghetto is the perfect distillation of her bright, funky sound, which recalls Salt-N-Pepa and TLC but sounds completely singular. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more fun show at this year’s fest. (Julian Axelrod)

Dirty Projectors (Red Stage - 7:00)
Upcoming Dirty Projectors’ performances bear more of a loss than a win for avid fans. On one hand, you will have the new material featured on their recent self-titled LP at your disposal with the band’s signature electro-pop sound nuanced with the dancehall influence that has marked most popular music this past year. But sadly, you will miss out on the vocal and guitar contributions by hallmark member Amber Coffman, who left the band to begin a solo venture catalyzed by the disintegration of her relationship with former partner and DP frontman Dave Longstreth. Within the context of Pitchfork’s Friday lineup, Dirty Projectors will serve you best as a palate cleanser for headlining act LCD Soundsystem. They will do well to help you adjust from the hip-hop/R&B/industrial electronic acts (Danny Brown, Vince Staples, Arca, and DAWN) featured on the day’s lineup. (Ezra Carpenter)

Acra (Blue Stage - 7:45)
If ever there were a sound that would be simply and best described as being “creepy” while not being a post-punk emo band consigned to Warped Tour oblivion, Arca would be at the top of the heap. Alejandro Ghersi’s self-titled 2017 release is by far and away his best AND creepiest/WTF-iest. Where other records like 2015’s Mutant went for a more devilish production route, S/T is remarkably pop-y (if you can consider music that sounds like the revised soundtrack of Saw-meets-Antichrist to be pop-y) and insatiably listenable. If you want to impress even the Pitchfork-iest of wannabe scenesters at Pitchfork Fest this year, then sticking it out during Arca will almost certainly impress those strangers you desperately seek validation from! (Sean McHugh)

 

 

LCD Soundsystem (Green Stage - 8:10)
15 years later and they haven’t quite lost their edge yet. Like we wrote in our preview of Lollapalooza last year, LCD Soundsystem are about as good as a headlining act can get. Say what you will about their temporary breakup and subsequent reunion, you’d have to be heartless to sit through a live rendition of “Dance Yrself Clean” and not feel at least a decent hit of euphoria. With the introduction of new instant classics “call the police” and “american dream” to their set, plus some other unreleased tracks from the forthcoming return record American Dream (due out September 1 via Columbia / DFA), James Murphy and co will continue to rise like a phoenix from the ashes, even if New York still brings them down. All you have to do is show up. (Weston Pagano)


SATURDAY


Weyes Blood (Green Stage - 2:30)
A quiet, yet deserving member of the “next-wave” of west coast indie stars (as christened through association with Father John Misty and Ariel Pink), Weyes Blood is one of the most refined new talents in music. Orchestral compositions spread across infectious melodies make for a magnificent and beguiling live experience that settles quite nicely into the Pitchfork aesthetic. Decidedly more reserved than the delightful garage-ska of Jeff Rosen and the Rock chic of Cherry Glazerr, Weyes Blood is a nice mid-afternoon comedown on Pitchfork Fest’s second day. (Sean McHugh)

 

Mitski (Blue Stage - 4:00)
In-studio performances with various radio-stations and online media outlets have revealed a tasteful versatility in Mitski’s live performance arsenal. The artist behind 2016’s Puberty 2 is able to manage solo performances accompanied only by an electric guitar and amp, as well as support from drums and rhythm  guitar (in which case she hops on bass). Mitski Miyawaki is a true music virtuoso with proficiency in several instruments and a keen ability to curate a performance according to individual venues and audiences. It is always a unique opportunity to experience a grassroots independent artist taking on an outdoor venue and one would be wise not to miss out on her set. She pairs well with fellow New York-based independent artist Vagabon (also featured on the Saturday lineup) and will be a great primer for Angel Olsen.  (Ezra Carpenter)

Angel Olsen (Green Stage - 6:15)
The best Olsen sister of them all, Angel is set for a homecoming of sorts after leaving Chicago for Asheville, North Carolina back in fall of 2013. Coming off of last summer's rollickingly infectious "Shut Up Kiss Me" and the rest of her breakthrough album My Woman, it'll be worth stopping by the Green Stage for that single alone. (Weston Pagano)

 

Madlib (Blue Stage - 6:30)
If you are at Pitchfork Music Festival 2017 and actively choose to skip out on Madlib’s set then you are - to place it in layman’s terms - a loser. Madlib is an absolute and unequivocal of hip-hop, rap, house, electronic, chillwave, and everything else Pitchfork readers salivate over. He is the All Father of modern urban music. AKA Otis Jackson, Jr. is the go to collaborator for one of the most criminally underrated rappers of his generation, MF DOOM, and has created one of the greatest rap albums of all time, Madvillainy. I mean, come on, the dude has worked with Mos Def, Kanye, De La Soul, Erykah Badu, AND has been on heavy rotation in every DJ worth his or her weight in wax. Seriously, I cannot reiterate enough, if you are in attendance at Pitchfork Music Festival 2017 and you choose NOT to see Madlib, please do return. Go see Madlib, for the love of all that is good and pure in this world, GO. SEE. MADLIB. (Sean McHugh)

A Tribe Called Quest (Green Stage - 8:30)
Hip-hop greats currently celebrating a late career second wind, and the life of esteemed emcee and former founding member Phife Dawg, will navigate through their performance by revisiting classic tracks and new material from 2016’s politically charged We Got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service. Performing throughout the 2000s, Q-Tip developed an onstage presence that is more lively, energetic, and tenacious than anything from ATCQ’s catalog would suggest. Hip-hop heads young and old need not worry of whether or not these veterans still have the stamina to energize a crowd. Q-Tip’s mellow delivery and tack-sharp lyrics over Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s pristine work on the ones and twos are vintage hip-hop at its finest. (Ezra Carpenter)


SUNDAY


Kilo Kish (Green Stage - 1:00)
One of the coolest acts on Pitchfork’s lineup this year, Kilo Kish is exactly what someone like Kehlani wishes she could be. She’s the performance art contemporary of SZA and NONAME, and immediate associate of Vince Staples (AOTY?), so if that’s not endorsement enough, then you probably aren’t one for her set. Nevertheless, if you’re at Pitchfork Fest, you should go because her 2016 LP Reflections in Real Time kicks as AND she’s the only one playing during her time slot. (Sean McHugh)
 

 

 

Colin Stetson (Red Stage - 1:45)
Bon Iver, Arcade Fire, BadBadNotGood, Animal Collective, David Gilmour, Feist, Timber Timbre, Tom Waits, TV on the Radio. Yes, those are all bands that Pitchfork has an obsessive Stan-ism for, but they are also bands that have called upon alto and baritone saxophonist extraordinaire Colin Stetson for all their brasswind needs. On top of such a fact, Stetson’s live set and solo work is absolutely exceptional - he gerry rigs his own unique microphone apparatus (effectively a choker around his neck) that picks up guttural noises emanating not only from his core, but also his esophagus. His live set is all but a masterclass in circular breathing and live-sound MacGyvering, so if you’re one for DIY-isms, then Stetson’s set is a must see. (Sean McHugh)

NE-HI (Green Stage - 2:30)
Pitchfork is relatively light on hometown heroes this year, so make sure you show out for Chicago’s own NE-HI. The scrappy foursome traffics in sun-bleached, nostalgic guitar anthems that were custom-made for drinking on a friend’s porch. Their infectious riffs recall fellow Chicago mainstays Twin Peaks (who played Pitchfork last year) but NE-HI’s earnest tone sets them apart. The gang is holding down a prime spot on the main stage, so come celebrate their success by cracking open a cold one with these boys. (Julian Axelrod)

Isaiah Rashad (Red Stage - 3:20)
One of the best rappers working and yet somehow can’t seem to garner the respect of his contemporaries. He’s a southern rapper (Chattanooga, Tennessee) that managed to work his way into the XXL Freshman class of 2014, which included Kevin Gates, August Aslina, Vic Mensa, and some guy named Chance the Rapper (pre-spiritual revival) and Rashad STILL managed to murder the cypher. His post-2014 work has been equally as exceptional and under covered, but if you hit his Sunday set at Pitchfork Festival, you will hopefully convert to a Rashad disciple rather than Chance. (Sean McHugh)

Joey Purp (Green Stage - 4:00)
Joey Purp is yet another Chicago-based rapper that counts the like of Julien Ehrlich of Whitney and Mac DeMarco as fans; so if that isn’t Pitchfork-y enough for you, then you aren’t at Pitchfork. Otherwise, you should still check out Joey Purp because he’s a founding member of Savemoney (whose alumni include Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa) and he samples Drake’s “Gyalchester” on his song “Gucci Link.” That fact alone is worth hitting his set (and because his set is ultimately more interesting than Hamilton Leithauser, speaking from experience). (Sean McHugh)

Hamilton Leithauser (Green Stage - 4:15)
Because Rostam is never along for the live shows it can be easy to forget that The Walkmen’s Hamilton Leithauser’s newest album is not technically a solo record. He and his live band, which includes former members of Spoon and White Rabbits, still do more than a sufficient job performing the duo’s fantastic I Had A Dream That You Were Mine, though. “I use the same voice I always had,” Leithauser belts out on “Sick as a Dog,” and despite the “extreme hiatus” of his original act there’s really no excuse to miss out on those world class pipes in any context while he’s still able to howl and wail with such passionate power. (Weston Pagano)

Pinegrove (Blue Stage - 5:15)
Arguably the greatest Bandcamp band to date, Evan Stephens-Hall and his Montclair, NJ cohorts bring their blue-chip millennial middle class spectral gazing to an otherwise lavish Pitchfork lineup (then again, the festival is the wannabe indie “tastemakers” wet dream). Anyway, Pitchfork is yet another festival stop on what has become a near two-year victory lap for Pinegrove highly lauded debut album Cardinal. There will undoubtedly be countless fervent and angst-laden Pingrovians, as the band’s faithful travel extremely well. Certainly a must see if you’re looking for more guitar and viscerality as opposed to the majority of Pitchfork’s beat-saturated 2017 lineup. (Sean McHugh)

The Avalanches (Green Stage - 6:25)
Most artists wouldn’t be able to come back from a 15-year hiatus. Then again, most artists aren’t the Avalanches. More than a decade after their seminal debut Since I Left You, the Australian group returned with another silly, sunny, sample-heavy sound collage in Wildflower. Even more impressively, they expanded their sound (including collaborations with Toro y Moi and fellow Pitchfork performer Danny Brown) while still sounding like they did in 2000. The group doesn’t tour often, so this may be your last chance to see them… until they drop their third album in 2033. (Julian Axelrod)

Jamila Woods (Blue Stage - 6:30)
Solange’s 2016 masterpiece A Seat at the Table earned her a much-deserved headlining spot at Pitchfork this year. But before you hear “Cranes in the Sky” live and ascend to heaven, make time to see another incredible 2016 R&B album come to life. Chicago singer/poet Jamila Woods gained widespread acclaim with her solo debut HEAVN, a deeply stirring and empathetic work about struggling to find peace amongst personal and political turmoil. It’s an invigorating record, and Woods brings the same mix of warmth and passion to the stage. (Julian Axelrod)

 

American Football (Blue Stage - 7:45)
The godfathers of American emo and native sons of Illinois (Urbana) who helped bring Chicago independent music into bloom in the late '90s have hit the festival circuit in support of their self-titled second LP (released in 2016 and not to be confused with their 1999 debut which was also self-titled…). Household name amongst indy/emo circles, Mike Kinsella has returned with the band’s original members to capitalize on 90s nostalgia and the hometown yearning for the unapologetic emotionality of their cult classic debut. Known for the technicality of their math rock sound, the sharpness and complexity of their instrumentals alone qualify American Football as a must-see. If not for their pristine instrumentation, see them to indulge in your forgone teenage feelings and perhaps buy yourself a PBR or some fireball to realize the sentiment.  (Ezra Carpenter)

Nicolas Jaar (Red Stage - 7:25)
Its highly likely that Nicolas Jaar is your favorite DJ-producer’s DJ, and yet somehow, most people who claim to be up-to-snuff on their scene knowledge leave him unabashedly unlisted in their “top-DJs-working” lists. So, if you wish to make up for past transgressions of not-listening-ness, then hit up Nicolas Jaar’s set. He put out one of the best experimental records of the decade in 2016’s Sirens as well as one of 2017’s best Boiler Room TV sessions. Go see him to prep for Solange, if you’re trying to groove instead of feel blue after American Football’s set. (Sean McHugh)

Solange (Green Stage - 8:30)
Pitchfork named Solange’s 2016 LP A Seat at the Table its number one album of the year. Her live performance is as visually striking as her music is provocative. Elaborate stage decor and lush wardrobe pieces create a medium that amplifies her songs’ conceptions of black beauty, assessments of race relations, and interrogations of the African American identity. A live performance by Solange is nothing short of an enriching experience sonically, visually, and intellectually. As Sunday’s headliner, she is an undeniable match for her festival headlining peers and has the potential to come out of the weekend as the best performer amongst them. (Ezra Carpenter)

St. Vincent Signals Return with Melancholic Single "New York," New Tour Dates

New Music, Music NewsWeston PaganoComment

Following St. Vincent taking the music world (and a Grammy) by storm three years ago, the queen herself has returned with a tour and new single, more than hinting at a 5th LP to come later this year.

On "New York" she trades out her signature shock-inducing shredding with some melancholic ivory keys, showing a vulnerable side that feels more Annie Clark than St. Vincent. Despite (at least momentarily) shedding the larger than life persona from 2014's self-titled cycle to show a more delicate, vulnerable side, the bite is still there: "And if I call you from First Avenue / Where you're the only motherfucker in the city / Who can handle me."

Listen and see tour dates below.

TW Walsh on Reclaiming the Humor in Music, Collaborating with David Bazan, and Exercising 'Terrible Freedom'

Music InterviewAarik DanielsenComment

If you’ve dipped even a toe into the artful end of the indie-rock pool over the last 15 years, you’ve heard the work of TW Walsh.

The Boston musician, full name Timothy William Walsh, is perhaps best known as a frequent running mate to songwriter David Bazan, having contributed mightily to Pedro the Lion and Headphones. Bazan immortalized Walsh in verse on the 2004 song “Bands With Managers,” crooning “Vans with 15 passengers are rolling over / But I trust T. William Walsh and I’m not afraid to die.”

Walsh has rewarded that faith in a number of contexts. He is a thoughtful presence behind the boards, mixing and mastering projects for the likes of Sufjan Stevens, Ben Gibbard, Cold War Kids, The Shins, and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. But Walsh’s distinct fingerprint is perhaps best observed on his latest, Terrible Freedom, released in late April. For one thing, the respected collaborator did everything on the album himself. For another, the songs are the most fully realized of his career. Building on the momentum from his 2016 release, Fruitless Research, Walsh delivers a set that is painfully insightful and darkly funny.

With its slinky grooves, shimmering synths and magnetic melodies, Terrible Freedom sounds like the lost soundtrack to a Paul Thomas Anderson film; something from the era of Boogie Nights and Magnolia, back when the auteur was scoring his films with 1970s and ‘80s pop hits, before turning to the 21st-century sturm und drang of Jonny Greenwood. For all the retro vibes, Walsh’s singing is as present-tense as it gets. You are in the room with him as he unspools yarns that provoke a knowing smirk in one moment, and make you squirm in the next.

Transverso recently caught up with Walsh for a wide-ranging conversation about drumming, reclaiming the role of humor in music, and Lo Tom, the band he recently formed with Bazan and Starflyer 59’s Jason Martin and Trey Many.


TRANSVERSO: You’re on a good streak with Fruitless Research coming out last year and Terrible Freedom this year. I know that in life, or in art, our experiences build on each other. Was there anything about the process of making Fruitless Research that you feel like led you to what you did on this new record?

TW WALSH: I think over time I’ve been developing a set of skills I’m iterating over these processes for arranging and recording music, using computers and analog instruments and MIDI. Just over time, I think since drums was my first instrument — even though I’ve often had drum machines on my records — I’ve usually felt like I needed to put live drums on a record because I enjoy playing drums. 

So on Fruitless Research, it was about half and half. But on Terrible Freedom, ultimately I liked the consistency and I liked the control I had over the sonic palette when I was using drum machine samples.

If there was any kind of iteration or development sonically, there was a couple things: One, just making a commitment to using synthetic drum sounds and the other was to — with Fruitless Research, a lot of the sound came from this distorted, highly compressed, saturated kind of sound. And with the new record, it’s more like the aesthetic of ‘80s pop music where things are clear and crisp and digital-sounding, but at the same time still warm. I think those were the two factors that were kind of an evolution.

I’m always fascinated by the way that whatever instrument somebody picks up first affects the way they think about songwriting. How do you feel like starting as a drummer has made you a different songwriter than you would be if you picked up the guitar first or picked up the piano first?

I feel pretty fortunate, because I think that drumming really gives you a good foundation in rhythm obviously. And also with phrasing. You learn syncopation early on — and how that develops is in the feel of the music, right? In rock and roll music, I really do believe that the beat is the most important thing.

Often in my arrangements, I’m building the entire song around the beat or the groove. It allows me to phrase my vocals around the beat and vice versa. It’s definitely informed my songwriting because I really focus the arrangements around the rhythm section, around the bass and the drums. It gives the music a unique feel, just because that’s the direction I’m coming from. 

You’ve obviously been a key collaborator on other people’s records. You’ve had people make significant contributions to your records. What was it like this time around to do everything by yourself?

 I’ve tried to make most of my records on my own, and I think that I had some personal failings, either in being able to sustain the attention or the energy it required or just running out of steam. I do music part-time, so I’ve had to make concessions in making records.

The last time around with Fruitless Research, I knew that I had a vague vision of something I wanted to do that was a little bit different than in the past. But I didn’t really have a clear vision of how to achieve that. So I asked Yuuki [Matthews] to help out, and it was just great. It was an ideal situation, because I could put in the amount of effort I could muster to get the songs to a demo, kind of rough form and then Yuuki would take it the rest of the way home. 

That was really good because, just at that time in my life a couple years ago, that’s what I needed because of where I was at in my life. Something just clicked since then. And I made decisions from a technology perspective, as far as the tools I was going to use for a record, which made things more streamlined. And also I think I just have more confidence and a sense of ease about creativity. It was a good confluence of those two factors.

When you’re working with somebody else, obviously they can open you up to new things. They can also — and I think it’s a positive limitation — there’s the limitation of having to work with somebody else, having to communicate with them, having to defer to them in some ways and consider them. Working by yourself, did you feel like you needed to try to impose any limits or any sort of self-editing?

 I think I’m a pretty disciplined person. The limitations, they just develop naturally. I don’t like having to sort through 100 different tracks in a music session. I think a lot of people find that empowering, just to be able to throw a bunch of stuff into the pot and then try to make sense of it later. For me, I really like to arrange, and even mix, as I go along. Every component I put into the song is going to be a key component — I try not to add anything extra.

As you go along and you’re writing the parts for each instrument and you’re building upon what you’ve done before, you just fill in the holes and you build the arrangement in a way to where there’s not a lot of duplication, there’s not a lot of conflict in the sound.

I think one of the issues in the past for me was I felt maybe too exposed. If I was doing everything myself, there was nothing to hide behind. You’re really just putting yourself out there. And I so think with this record it was really, in some ways, the easiest record I’ve ever made in that I just did exactly what came naturally in every situation.

Towards the end of the process, I started to get a little worried. Effectively, if nobody liked the record — this record is so utterly just who I am. So if people didn’t like it, I felt a little bit worried about that sense of rejection that I might feel because there’s really no separation between this record and me. That was one thing I was worried about.

We’ve already talked about your drumming experience. And obviously you’ve worked up facility to whatever degree on all these other instruments. When you think you about the different things that you played on this record, is there one instrument that you still feel uncomfortable on, awkward on, like it hasn’t caught up to the rest of it?

For me, the least fluid instrument is keyboard. Which is funny because that’s probably the most prevalent instrument on the record. For me, for whatever reason, my hands know what to do when I’m holding drumsticks. And my hands know what to do when I’m holding a guitar or bass. These patterns, there’s like a muscle memory there from having put real time in there. And I’m definitely not a technical player on any of those instruments; I’m more of a feel player.

But with piano, it’s really easy to mess up. The notes are very close together. The shapes that you need to do in order to do two drastically different chords are very similar. There’s a lot more room for error. And there’s a lot more possibilities on piano. You have 88 keys there and you have 10 fingers that can be each hitting a note at the same time.

With guitar, you can really only — maximum — hit six notes at a time. And with bass, you’re usually only hitting one note at a time. So it takes a little bit less parallel processing. Piano, for me, I just haven’t put in the hours to get really super proficient at that. I didn’t really even start experimenting with piano until I was well into my 20s. I’m a little bit behind on that.

You already referenced the ‘80s sound to the record. There’s a lot that I like about this album, but one of the things I really dig about it is that it does seem to reference — I hear ‘70s rock, I hear ‘80s rock, I even hear some John Carpenter synthesizer here and there — but it doesn’t sound like any one thing. You can’t just peg it down to one influence. I’m curious, what do you hear on the album in terms of music that you’ve absorbed over the years, music that’s been important to you over the years? What side of your musical education do you really feel is coming out on this album?

I actually don’t feel like it’s one particular side. I feel like for the first time I was able to present a holistic picture of my aesthetic and my tastes and my worldview. That’s what the picture is. It’s this complete picture of my life up to this point.

I was born in the mid-’70s; I grew up as a young child listening to my dad’s record collection and classic rock radio, which was focused on late ‘60s and the ‘70s — Zeppelin and The Stones and The Police. Ultimately Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, Neil Young.

And then in the ‘80s, MTV came along and it just opened a new window into the world of early rap and a little bit of punk and New Wave and dance music. MTV was really egalitarian; it would put on whatever videos were available and, at that time, it was just a real crazy cross-section of popular culture.

I started getting exposed to music that had lots of drum machines and synthesizers. I think that stuff shaped my taste and my worldview in a way that is more profound even than classic rock. But I hadn’t figured out how to represent that in a way that was genuine and respectful but still tongue-in-cheek, as so much of the music back then was. It just required a level of maturity and openness I don’t think I had until making this record to present it all in a way that wasn’t genre music, that wasn’t specific.

Thinking lyrically about the record, albums — whether it’s fair or not — they get read through a certain context. If you made a record in the first half of the 2000s, it was your 9/11 record. And everything that comes out the next four years is going to be looked back on as people’s “Trump record.” I just wonder, did you feel like anything about the present moment creeped into the record lyrically or aesthetically? Or do you feel like it’s not fair to read any of that kind of stuff into it?

I think 100 percent that’s the case. In fact, I feel like it’s a bit of a mission of mine, or a calling, to present a thoughtful reaction to where we are culturally and even globally. It’s difficult to do that in an artful way that doesn’t hit people over the head in a really ham-fisted presentation. Whether it be writing really topical material that reacts to very specific events or getting too dogmatic about it.

The key thing I want to get across is that it’s OK to feel the pain that the world is experiencing now, and we are as a country. The way to do that is to confront it and confront the fear and build the character that you have to embody to be able to hold that pain and hold that fear and find a way through it.

I didn’t really approach it from an intellectual standpoint, more trying to represent the way I feel about it and maybe other people will identify with it and find clues that help find a way through it.

I appreciate that approach. I feel like I picked up on that, and I just wanted to be sure about it. There are exceptions, but you read books or listen to records from a certain time — it almost feels like when it’s so specific, when it’s so topical, it feels really dated. But there’s something about a piece of art that tells you what it felt like to live through that time that feels a little more enduring to me. I guess that’s the approach you felt like you were taking.

Yeah, I think so. I think there’s two ways to create art. One is to make something that’s representational. It’s a picture of something that you can identify.

The other way is to create art that’s experiential. And it feels like instead of a representation, it’s a transformation or it’s an immersive, experiential representation. That’s more what I’m interested in — something that’s intangible, but it’s recognizable and there’s some different kind of knowledge or experience that’s transferred.

Are there any moments on the new record, small things, like a little turn of phrase here or maybe a little instrumental passage there, that you’re particularly proud of? Maybe something small that might get missed on the first listen but you really enjoyed putting into the song?

Musically, I like the application of subtle humor. One of my favorite musical things is on the song “Dead Landmines,” there’s this effected bass throughout the song. There’s an envelope filter on it; there was an effects pedal in the ‘70s called Mutron filter — it has this kind of wa-wa effect almost. But then it got really overapplied in funk music.

There’s this kind of silly, almost funny, effected bass throughout the whole song. At first, you might be taken aback by it. Some of my friends and peers were — it made them laugh. Ultimately it wins you over and it becomes this hypnotic, trance-like, almost the hook of the song. I like that idea that something that, on the surface, could be silly and humorous becomes a vehicle for something deeper.

As far as lyrics, again, a lot of lyrics make people laugh on this record. It’s difficult to do that in a way that just isn’t totally silly, but there’s a line in “Dropout” that goes “The graveyard doesn’t care for your type / When you’re eating your bananas way before they get ripe.” I thought it was hilarious to put a reference to bananas in a really serious, kind of existential song.

And then in “High Numbers,” there’s something about wearing a tie “with a presentable pant.” I think it’s time for artists to reclaim humor as almost a Trojan horse for the truth. It’s being underutilized, and I think that there’s a way to do it that it’ll make you smile, but later it’ll hit you in a different way.

I have to make sure that I ask you about this Lo Tom record that’s going to come out in July. You’ve obviously known David Bazan forever; I’m assuming you’ve known Jason Martin and Trey Many for a while too. Why does this feel like the right time to put something out together? 

You’re right — I’ve known Dave for almost 20 years now. And I met Trey and Martin through Dave; I’ve known them all for at least 15 years. I’ve collaborated with Dave consistently since I’ve met him and even after the band Pedro the Lion broke up. I’ve played on Starflyer records here and there. I don’t remember actually who came up with the idea to do a project like this. But one of us did and we didn’t really have a plan for it. Let’s get together for a weekend and try to record something.

Martin and I did some preparation in advance of that first session, and we each wrote a bunch of music. Then we chose four songs to go into the studio with. We had a lot of ideas about how we should go about tracking the stuff; not a lot of bands track live, everyone playing at the same time, anymore.

We weren’t sure if we could pull that off, just because we weren’t doing a lot of preparation — we weren’t even going to be rehearsing at all. But we decided to try it; we thought it would be an important thing to give a shot anyway. We went in there and we were able to do it. Ultimately it’s an excuse to get together and hang out whenever we can. And it started out that way; it’s become something a little more serious. It kind of remains to be seen how it will all play out.

There’s a few songs on the record that are particularly catchy. The band — it’s just a straight rock and roll band: two guitars, bass and drums. It wasn’t intentional, but we didn’t have a lot of time to do this stuff, so it’s very just straight-ahead rock and roll. It could be something that people really identify with, people who liked rock music and indie-rock in the early 2000s, people who like riffs and are just looking for something that has kind of presentation, but maybe a little bit more substance.

I don’t know — it’ll be interesting to see how people react to it.