Based in Seattle, THEESatisfaction is Stasia Irons and Catherine Harris-White. The duo writes, produces, and performs all their material, “funk-psychedelic feminista sci-fi epics with the warmth and depth of Black Jazz and Sunday morning soul, frosted with icy raps that evoke equal parts Elaine Brown, Ursula Rucker and Q-Tip.”*
THEESatisfaction. Where are they coming from? Where are they going to? If we’re straight on our priorities, you’ll be listening to their album while I tell you about some of the answers…
First principle: they’re positive energy. Black energy, black women leaping oceans and continents at a single bound. With positive strength of purpose.
Further, they’re black purity. Hear that in their intonation. Without trickery. They know the gimmicks, scorn to use ‘em. Rather, they’ll face you and relate what’s in their hearts, faithfully and incorruptibly.*
awE naturalE, the group’s debut, is hard to describe and even harder to categorize; it’s been floating between the pop, r&b, and electronic sections of the WOBC new shelf since it arrived a week or so ago. But no mind. This album is funky, cosmic, purposeful, other-worldzly, higher plane, cool. Whatever you do, don’t funk with this groove.
One of WOBC’s recent acquisitions, Nightlife is an eclectic addition that rubs up against the vault on all sides. The Saratoga Springs Duo is Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter, two high school friends with their hearts set on platonic bandmateship. Their main inspiration is the optical illusion from which they are named. They were those kids with anachronistic upbringings who grew up listening to Cocteau Twins, J Dilla, and David Bowie. And Nightlife certainly illuminates this time-twisted coming-of-age. Off of Barsuk Records, the EP features Sarah on keyboards, Josh on guitar, vocals from both, and a lot of production-level drum-kitty sirens and wisps. Twenty-seven minutes in heaven, for sure, this release feels like it’s ‘just a tasting’.
Let’s do a little run-through, shall we? ’16 Years’, kicks it off, quite a teenage outcry. Kindof like the ‘It’s my birthday and I’ve been socialized into thinking that I must partake in a performative existential reflection to build a narrative upon which I can grow, even though I’m still at the point where I want to be regarded as older rather than younger’. Sarah is spot on here, definitely like a nice teenage car ride with the moon-roof down radio-flipping. Definitely lots of feelings. Next we have ‘Don’t Move’ the album’s successful single from last October. Sarah’s soliloquy is over, Josh comes in, and they partake in a sort of dialogue. There’s a nice clanking in the back over and over reflecting nicely off the otherwise rather alarming words. “I’m not your drinking problem”, “I’m not your paranoia”, “I know that you’re still alive”, la la la, all the meaning is driven right out of these lyrics, its still head-boppy and the track you want to put on right when you come home.
Next comes “Turning Into Stone”, another all-star, building on more clanks and synthy drop-downs, Josh’s turn. We get some powerful chilling harmonies, “it’s a new day, and I’ve got new ways, of turning into stone.” A little more electro-inspired, track 3 still maintains the sort of somber tone within an upbeat sound. Tracks 4-6 bring a few new bends in the roads; whispers, little scats, onomatopoeia, and a platter of emotional spectra. It maintains that youthful urgency, and a perhaps naïve but relatable look toward the past, but the security of a future. Some nice mix-ups, track 5, the title track, slows it down to for the acoustic guitar-fretting to play a big role and interact with some cloudy background. It’s a nice moment of fulfillment, like the ones at the end of a night when you’re thoroughly exhausted and pleased, just genuflecting on hours of satisfying new adventures. Overall, the album strings together a lot of different twists and perspectives of the events we call life into is a big giant sigh of “These Are Days”.
Last week, beloved avant-pop wierdos Dirty Projectors released a new track, “Gun Has No Trigger”, via Soundcloud. This is the first single from the band’s forthcoming full-length record Swing Lo Magellan, due out July 10th on Domino Records. The last time we heard from the band was late 2010, when they released Mount Wittenberg Orca, a 7-track collaboration EP with Bjork. Wittenberg came on the heels of 2009’s acclaimed Bitte Orca, a groovy and wildly successful album that bestowed indie royalty on the previously obscure band of Yale dropouts.
Guitarist/vocalist/producer/jack-of-all-trades Dave Longstreth spearheaded the Dirty Projectors project while he was a college freshman in 2002, and has taken the lead in composing and producing all of the band’s releases since. What is perhaps most distinct about the Dirty Projectors’ music as a whole is that it has constantly evolved, both in concept and sound. From the lo-fi field samples of The Graceful Fallen Mango and the operatic drama of The Getty Address, to the Black Flag-inspired Rise Above and the R&B-infused Bitte Orca, the band is in a continuous state of flux that is still apparent on “Gun Has No Trigger”.
An unusual project: a feature film adaptation of the Haruki Murakami novel of the same name. Dealing with sixties alienation, societal hypocrisy, sexuality, growing up, depression, and free (?) love, Tran Anh Hung’s film, released in 2010, is noticeably more subdued than one might expect. It focuses on the story of Toru, his life as a student in sixties Tokyo, his emotional turmoil of losing a friend to suicide, being adrift in the world, and his relationship with two different women, the melancholic Naoko, and the confident Midori.
The soundtrack is equally restrained (and surprisingly, has no Beatles’ references or anything), being equal parts staid, quietly dramatic, understated, with some songs by the ‘krautrock’ late-60s band CAN, providing an interesting contrast to the string heavy, acoustical pieces by Jonny Greenwood. Ah yes, Greenwood, multi-talented musician, composer, member of Radiohead, composer for such movies as Bodysong and There Will be Blood… But, the real gems of this album are not the orchestral pieces, but the guitar pieces. They are quite elegant in composition and tone. Melancholic and meditative, they vanish as quickly as they appeared. This would not be such a problem if the orchestral pieces were not so pallid. At best, they are ethereal and pretty (Watashi wo Toru Toko wa Watashi Dake wo Totte Ne), but mostly they are so unassuming that they gradually just drift off into nothingness. This may have been the point. Occasionally, there is a burst of energy, such as on the track Naoko ga Shinda, a Penderecki-esque piece with tense, dissonant voices under a solo violin.
Quartertone Bloom is a stunner though, with the greatest thematic resolution and cosmic yearning that is prevalent throughout the album. It is a culmination of themes that could exist as a stand-lone concert piece (if it was longer). The ending is particularly gorgeous, reminiscent of Poulenc, Dukas, and Messiaen. The sense of ecstatic, sublime, romanticism bursts forth but is absent everywhere else on the soundtrack. That is the greatest weakness of the album. Despite its attempts at musically portraying un-fulfillment, anxiety, love, sensuality, and melancholy, it ultimately falls short. How appropriate, given the story’s tone of young ennui.
Pride is 41 minutes of loneliness. It’s like listening to Skinny Love on codeine. Slow, quiet and unsettling in every way. Interludes of noodling guitars underscore Phosphorescent’s multi-layered vocal harmonies to create a sound unlike anything that I’ve ever heard, and when the melodies come in, they’re slow and reserved. Phosphorescent is the working moniker for Matthew Houck, a singer-songwriter from Athens, Georgia. His fourth album, Pride, evokes feelings of solidarity through this contrast of slow, driving melodies and subtle interludes of drones and hisses. The beauty of the album is that it cannot be pigeonholed into the genres that it swings between, folk and ambient, because it captures both so perfectly. The record is hopeful in its tone, engaging with its pop melodies and unnerving with its ambience, to create a unique sound that makes even the toughest traveler nostalgic of their home.
Pride is an album for The Soul-searching Traveler. The person who embarks on journeys to far away lands and returns immersed in new knowledge. The traveler will find solace in the strength of Houck’s vocals and lyrics and a rhythm to travel to in the thumbing bass drum. “Wolves,” arguably the best track on the album, is the perfect example. The song opens with soft, nylon strings strumming a simple melody, until Houck enters with a youthful voice asking for protection from the wolves from his mother. “Mama there’s wolves in the house / Mama, they wont let me out. / Mama, they’re mating at night / Mama, they wont make nice.” As the lone traveler bounces from city to city, from hostel to homestay, the cry for domestic protection is the traveller can relate to. Then, the home-sickness sets in. Read More →
M. Ward has returned with his seventh and latest release, A Wasteland Companion, released today, April 10. He is one of the great musicians among contemporary folk and indie music. M. Ward is mostly known for his last two releases, Post-War from 2006 and Hold Time from 2009 and his work and collaboration with actress and singer Zooey Deschanel and their band, She & Him. M. Ward has a very distinctive style of playing and singing that resonates a warm atmospheric sound that would captivate any listener. A Wasteland Companion is one of his best efforts yet that captures a sweet sound that compliments his usual vintage tone. This album introduces a more mellow sound than his previous records that reflect off some of his work with She & Him. Read More →
I recently discovered this 2010 EP released by McFabulous, the alter-ego of a certain Chicago-based producer and Oberlin alum. Now, don’t get me wrong, I had heard of McFabulous before. He’s practically a legend. But he’s allusive. I once stumbled into a few s(l)ick beats labeled “McFabulous” floating around the iTunes library of an iMac in an internet cafe in Teaneck, NJ sometime in 2008. But there was no way to tell if those were ginuwine or not. So, it was to my surprise and amazement to find this gem surfing the internet just this year.
If you’re not already sold on McFabulous based on the cover art then I suggest you just walk away right now. It only gets better. Really, you just gotta listen to “Hobby Shop.” Beware, you might have to listen on repeat.