TRANSVERSO

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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.

Arcade Fire Are Back with a New Album & Tour: Watch the Music Video for Title Track "Everything Now"

Music News, New MusicWeston PaganoComment

Arcade Fire have announced their major label debut with “Everything Now,” the title track from their forthcoming 5th record due out July 28 via Columbia Records.

Everything Now follows their one-off with Mavis Staples earlier this year and 2013’s Reflektor as Arcade Fire joins LCD Soundsystem and Grizzly Bear in announcing a debut album for Sony Music this year as the major seems intent to absorb every 2000s indie darling. All of this was, naturally, rolled out through a Twitter account disguised as a Russian bot.

Immediately launching into an ABBA style swing and sway, the piano led single is relatively straightforward pop for an Arcade Fire song accented by a crowd-sung chorus from their VooDoo Festival set last year and production from Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter.

Lyrically “Everything Now” targets the obsessive hyperactivity of modern life. “There’s sort of an everything-nowness to life. I feel like almost every event and everything that happens surrounds you on all sides,” Win Butler explained to BBC Radio 1. “It’s trying to capture some of the experiences of being alive now in all its flaws and all its glory.

The cover art, which you can see below, will have 20 different variants in 20 different languages over the LP's vinyl, CD, and cassette sales. The 13 track record is accompanied by an extensive tour, the details of which you can see below as well.

Wavves Create the Soundtrack for a Weird Summer with 'You're Welcome'

Music ReviewAarik DanielsenComment
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Go ahead — make a list of the weirdest, wildest things you’d like to do over the next few months. Southern California outfit Wavves has created a sure-fire soundtrack for a strange summer with its latest, You’re Welcome.

Nathan Williams and Co. often get pigeonholed with a trio of terms starting with the letter “s.” In front of the word “rock,” people place “surf,” “skate,” and/or “stoner.” There are trace elements of all those pastimes — and the sort of music that tends to accompany them — in the Wavves sound. But failing to elaborate does the band a disservice.

Williams has a serious sense of songcraft that can be traced all the way back to rock’s founding fathers. But he and his bandmates also have honed a bloodhound’s instinct, sniffing out fresh ways to deconstruct, scuff up, and altogether shred all that melodic loveliness.

On its sixth album — not counting No Life for Me, its 2015 co-op with Cloud Nothings — Wavves reunites with stalwart producer Dennis Herring (Modest Mouse, Counting Crows). Herring worked with the band on 2010’s King of the Beach and 2015’s V, and seems willing to put a microphone up close to the band’s personality and capture all the feedback.

With its oscillating guitar riff and rolling drums, opener “Daisy” sets the tone for everything to come; Wavves sounds like the house band at a twisted luau that’s getting more debauched by the minute. As is often the case, the band somehow finds a way to write a huge chorus without calling much attention to it. All the extracurriculars distract from the hook until you realize you’re singing along by the second or third time through.

You can cling to your pop bangers or cruise to country tailgating anthems, but by the time the band gets to “No Shade,” you’ll swear it’s the song of the summer. In a mere 106 seconds, Wavves delivers a knockout punch of fuzzed-out guitar, sing-song vocals and huge drums. For as short as it is, “No Shade” evokes many images. It sounds like a Pulp Fiction pool party. It will remind children of the ‘90s of wasting their summer break on the couch, trying to sneak some MTV while their parents weren’t looking.

Other early highlights include “Million Enemies,” with its deceptively cool chorus harmonies, and “Come to the Valley.” With its whirligig organ and smiley vocals, the latter sounds like a tripped-out TV theme song. The cut contains a doo-wop breakdown that would make Bruno Mars feel... well, Bruno Mars wouldn’t be fazed, but it’s a fine touch.

Late in the set, “Dreams of Grandeur” is a hazy pop-punk confessional, the sound of someone navigating the tension between twin desires: to be emotionally available and to be left alone. Closer “I Love You” sounds like it’s being beamed in on some distant AM radio signal. The tune finds a sweet spot between Buddy Holly the legend and “Buddy Holly,” the signature Weezer song.

You’re Welcome is a record stocked with earworms, but it also lives along an emotional razor’s edge. Williams prizes melody above all, but seasons his songs with misanthropy. He comes off like the kind of guy who would gladly drive you out for a day at the beach, then slap your sunburn on the way home. He has more than a little Frank Black — or Black Francis, depending on your preference — to his personality. There are more than a few Pixies touchstones here, actually. On tracks like “Animal,” Stephen Pope sounds as if he took a few courses at the Kim Deal School for Snazzy Basslines.

The band’s previous record, V, was made for Warner Bros. This time out, the band is on Williams’ Ghost Ramp label. At times, You’re Welcome sounds like a band having fun with its newfound freedom. At others, it’s the sound of gleefully flipping off the major-label bosses.

Whatever Wavves is doing, You’re Welcome is a blast of fresh air tailor-made for the start of summer, sunset fades and moments of escape in whatever season they come.

Watch Fallow Land's New Music Video for First 'Pinscher' Single, "Faux"

New MusicWeston PaganoComment

"There is no god waiting for us," warns Fallow Land's Whitaker Fineberg over "Faux"'s reverb bed. "We're all alone and we're all corrupt."

The lead single is quite a dark harbinger for Pinscher, the Ann Arbor-based duo's debut EP due to be self-released June 30, especially following the comparatively sunny "Are All My Bad Decisions Rock And Roll?", which Transverso premiered back in 2015.

What inspired this heavier turn? As Fineberg tells Transverso, "Faux" was born out of a desire to strip oneself down and rebuild in someone else's image and the subsequent realization such a tactic was failed from the start. 


I wrote ‘Pinscher’ while making sense of a recent breakup. “Faux” was a failed last-ditch effort to make the relationship work. As we drifted apart, the term “incompatible” was frequently used as we discussed the relationship. “Faux” expresses my desperate desire to conform to someone else’s needs and the realization that the only way to do that was to change some of the characteristics that made me “me.” This, of course, proved to be impossible. Relationships that are predicated on a false understanding of self are ultimately doomed.

"Faux" sees Fineberg's haunting vocals deftly combined with bandmate Evan Veasey's searching guitar, set to a droning haze, and interspersed math rock-tinged bass and percussion fits and starts. 

Check out the accompanying grim video directed by Stephen Levy and Jordan Anstatt, as well as Pinscher's cover art shot by Andrea Calvetti, below.

Grizzly Bear Detail New LP 'Painted Ruins,' Release "Mourning Sound" Single, Tour Dates

Music News, New MusicWeston PaganoComment

"I made a mistake / I should have never tried," opens Ed Droste on Grizzly Bear's "Mourning Sound." Accompanied by the announcement of an extensive tour and their fifth full-length album, Painted Ruins, for which this new track is the second single after "Three Rings," that lamentation is oddly juxtaposed with long-awaited excitement.

"Mourning Sound" is a rollicking exploration of each member's contribution to the whole; Christopher Bear and Chris Taylor's drum and bass steadily guide Droste's croons before Daniel Rossen brings it home with the chorus and some trumpeted electric guitar, all over a steady buzz of synth for a very on-brand level of cohesive complexity.

Their major label debut, Grizzly Bear's Painted Ruins is due out August 18 via RCA Records. Their forthcoming tour kicks off this October, for what will be the band's first shows since performing in support of Bernie Sanders last year. The lack of a Chicago date suggests a future festival appearance.

"Mourning Sound," the album art, tracklist, and tour dates are all below. Enjoy it all while you can, because if the new press photo is any indication, poor Dan seems to be fading off into space at an alarming rate. Either that or the printer started running out of ink.

Painted Ruins

  1. Wasted Acres
  2. Mourning Sound
  3. Four Cypresses
  4. Three Rings
  5. Losing All Sense
  6. Aquarian
  7. Cut-Out
  8. Glass Hillside
  9. Neighbors
  10. Systole
  11. Sky Took Hold

Beach House Announce New 'B-Sides and Rarities' Album, Release New Track "Chariot"

Music News, New MusicWeston PaganoComment

Following 2015's surprising one-two punch of Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars, Beach House have announced a B-Sides and Rarities album featuring different versions of past releases including "Norway" as well as new songs "Chariot" and "Baseball Diamond," the former of which you can hear below.

Just in time for summer, the Baltimore duo opens their latest track with "A sunny day in their chariot" as their synthscapes take on the feeling of a gentle cascade of warm light. Notably, the collection of tracks also features a cover of Queen's "The Game."

B-Sides and Rarities is due out June 30 on Sub Pop (US) and Bella Union (UK/EU), and you can see the tracklist and updated tour below.

B-Sides and Rarities

  1. Chariot
  2. Baby
  3. Equal Mind
  4. Used to Be (2008 Single Version)
  5. White Moon (iTunes Session Remix)
  6. Baseball Diamond
  7. Norway (iTunes Session Remix)
  8. Play the Game (Queen Cover)
  9. The Arrangement
  10. Saturn Song
  11. Rain in Numbers
  12. I Do Not Care For The Winter Sun
  13. 10 Mile Stereo (Cough Syrup Remix)
  14. Wherever You Go

Perfume Genius Combines Lyrical Contentment with Sonic Growth on 'No Shape'

Music ReviewAndy TabelingComment

Perhaps the most immediate thing one notices when delving into Perfume Genius’ newest record No Shape is how optimistic and hopeful it both begins and ends. Mike Haedreas’ fourth album under this moniker lets itself relatively loose from the more painful aspects of addiction, heartbreak, and the life as a gay man for a documentation of a deep relationship with a partner.

Hadreas’ relationship with his boyfriend Alan Wyffles seems to color the record with its most tender moments, such as the final track which is seemingly named after his longtime partner, “Alan." For an album by Perfume Genius to end with “Rest easy, I’m here, how weird” feels almost baffling looking back at a record like Put Your Back N To It. The temptation then is to lump No Shape in with other albums celebrating romantic and relationship success, domesticity, and the feelings associated with them, something like Lennon and Ono's Double Fantasy. However, such a comparison ignores the lyrical and emotional complexity of No Shape not always found in such records.

“Sides” explores the feelings that develop over time in a long relationship, as Hadreas’ character pleads against the other voice, a delightful cameo by Weyes Blood, to stop shutting themselves away from love. In other places, a ballad of devotion between Hadreas and Wyffles becomes a testament to how time leads to a stronger bond with a phrase simple as “woven slowly." Hadreas’ lyrical brevity and unpretentiousness return on this record, but so does his mastery of the turn of phrase. His power to define moods and relationships in so few words remains an astounding gift.

Where Hadreas’ songwriting has perhaps developed most is the records expanded sense of scale and instrumentation, and producer Blake Mills provided a perfect fit for this record. No Shape’s swampy low-end makes even the briefest jams a dense and exciting listen, while Mills’ skill in recording intimate acoustic guitars and vocals is well-used in the record’s quieter moments. No track represents this growth quite like opener "Otherside," which begins with a simple piano figure, but blooms into an electronic lullaby unlike anything else he's ever done. It’s a stunning moment - one of the album’s most exciting - and shows a songwriter never content to stay on one idea too long.

Even though previous record Too Bright had electronic flourishes such as its lead single “Queen," they've never been more pronounced than on No Shape standouts like “Slip Away” or “Wreath." The only thing listeners might yearn for is just more from the more anthemic, large tracks. Given the scale of “Otherside” and “Slip Away," they breeze by, barely giving listeners time to live inside them before Hadreas moves to another idea. Given the Perfume Genius standard seems to be shorter songs this might feel a deliberate structural decision, but other tracks reach nearly five minutes (an eternity by Hadreas’ previous standards), so this decision feels somewhat curious. However, this issue is a relatively minor one in a well sequenced and consistently engaging record. Hadreas wisely structured the record with exciting and energetic openings and climaxes, leaving some of the more intimate moments for the records’ rewarding middle third such as the ethereal and haunting “Every Night."

Given the sometimes-overwhelming sense of darkness and sadness that often pervaded previous Perfume Genius records, listeners will find No Shape refreshingly optimistic and full of lighter moments. But the complexity of the record, with such topics ranging from Hadreas’ battle with Crohn’s disease to intimate relational moments, encapsulates a vivid picture of an already compelling songwriter growing into one of the most valuable we have.