Back a couple of months ago when Michael announced this album with the lead single, Black Man In A White World, seemed very apt due to the times we were living in. The fact that it wound be released last Friday at the tail end of one of the most demoralizing weeks that I could remember makes Love and Hate even more timely than I anticipated.
Black Man In A White World has the feel of an old time blues song born out of the slavery days. A steady clap drives the song forward as a bluesy guitar lick kicks in. The subtle background vocals that kick reminisce of social movement tunes from yesteryear as Kiwanuka pours his heart into it. Per his press release – The song deals with his issues of race, diasporic identity and anxiety, and is a captivating moment of sonic vulnerability and power. I’ve always tried to live my life trying to understand where someone else was coming from, to empathize with their situation. Am I perfect? Absolutely not. It is something I find myself failing at on occasion but always striving to be better at. Kiwanuka says, “That song is about all the sadness and frustrations of childhood, of being one of very few black kids in Muswell Hill, and never feeling like fitting in. It’s about not feeling like I could be a rock star, of always being categorised as jazz, of attending the Royal Academy of Music and seeing no black people on the course, and thinking just how much I was a black man in a white world. “ It is an absolutely brilliant tune that I’m confident will emerge as one of the songs of this era. It is that powerful.
Kiwanuka also manages to deal with love lost on the amazing opener, Cold Little Heart, that has a nearly 5 minute intro that sounds like something off Pink Floyd’s Animals as opposed to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. I saw him play this live a couple of months back and he showed off his chops as he stretched this track out and it was mesmerizing. I love that he leads off with this track as if to state, “I will not be categorized.” Later on the album, Kiwanuka gets spiritual with penultimate track, Father’s Child. it is a seven minute track that gets a little lost in the weight of its message towards the end but is spectacular nonetheless.
On the title track of this amazing album, Kiwanuka asks, “Love and hate/how much are we supposed to tolerate?” His defiant answer in the chorus – You can’t take me down / You can’t break me down – is enough to give you some hope.
Martha is a four-piece hailing from the English village of Pity Me and they have just released their sophomore effort – a blend of 90s indie guitar rock and power pop-punk – on Dirtnap Records. Their debut garnered a fair amount of praise. Any time you start getting notoriety and seeing some success, it is going to challenge your value system. Its natural as you see the world from a different perspective. For Martha, Blisters The Pit Of My Heart is about staying punk in the face of success and growing up.
After spending some time with them, they very much remind me of Superchunk; especially when JC Cairns takes the lead. The second track, Cairns sounds so much like Mac; it is uncanny. And the way the band hits the chorus, outstanding. Stick this tune on any Superchunk album and it wouldn’t seem out of place at all. Precarious (Supermarket Song) is a tragic song of love just missing its mark due to bad timing.
Drummer, Nathan Stephens Griffin has this to say about : “Playing music is something that is really important to all of us, but it’s also something that takes a lot of time and energy and emotional strain. This record is for everyone who leads a secret double life, devoting every weekend, every day of annual leave, all of their disposable income, every drop of creative energy to something as ethereal as music and art. It’s about persevering and still doing the things you love, even when most normal people can’t understand why on earth you do it.” That quote basically describes my love affair with HearYa.
I hadn’t heard of Lucy Dacus until last week but now I’ve listened to No Burden so many times, that she may file a restraining order against me. I haven’t been this blown away by a female artist since hearing Avant Gardener by Courtney Barnett. And maybe that’s I was so eager to hear Barnett in her vocals.
But after repeated listens, her delivery is a more like a blend of Sharon Van Etten and Erika Wennerstrom of Heartless Bastards. The lead track, “I Don’t Want To Be Funny Anymore,” is a 3 minute opus about figuring your place in the world. A few tracks later, Green Eyes, Red Face really sounds like a Heartless Bastards track as Dacus voice unearths that lovely combo of fragility and strength while slowly strumming the bluesy riff. As the tune slowly builds, Dacus wonders how to make that initial move towards finishing, “What am I supposed to say with your green eyes on my red face?”
Trust is a beautiful acoustic track that is sure to be a show-stopper during her live shows. The fact that she follows with that with a seven minute windy rocker, Map On A Wall, that bends and shifts all over the place shows her range as a dynamic writer. The tension she builds with Map On A Wall seems heightened after Trust. I read she tracked No Burden in one day and I’d like to think she did these one after one another as their placement on the album is just so fucking brilliant.
In the last few months, Matador has aligned themselves with two amazing voices (Will Toledo) on what its like to get by in this world as a young adult in this world today. They both wear their hearts on their sleeves so it will be fun to see how they grow as people and songwriters.
It’s been five long years since The Low Anthem blew our doors off with Smart Flesh . It was one of our favorites albums this year and like their prior efforts, has held up very well. It also led to this stellar session later that year.
Since that time, Mat and Jocie left the band, leaving Ben Knox Miller and Jeff Prystowsky to soldier on. Instead of moving on to a new album, Ben and Jeff threw themselves into the creation of Eyeland Studios, re-purposing the obsolete Columbus Theatre for their use. Somewhere during that time, the genesis of this album started, beginning as a “vague and rather abstract” short story by co-founder/singer/guitarist Ben Knox Miller, based around the “sonic mythology of a moth’s dreams.” But the studio started gaining some notoriety and musicians were eager to get in there to record which led to the album being shelved, or “incubated” as Miller puts it. Throughout all this, Ben & Jeff learned about the sonic capabilities of the space and began experimenting. And as they note in their bio, The Low Anthem never really take the direct route in anything they do.
So, long story short, this album is more than a collection of songs. It is 5 years worth of experimentation mixed with some hard work and perseverance that signals the rebirth of this band. Is it my favorite Low Anthem album? No, they’d be hard pressed to out-do Smart Flesh in my humble opinion. But there are moments of jaw-dropping brilliance on here. The Pepsi Moon, a tune about Pepsi turning the moon into a billboard is lovely. It is a quiet folk tune with cacophony of squealing violins and horns that feel like they were recorded down the street. Ozzie is a ramshackle tune about the one and only, Ozzie Smith. Truth be told, I hated this song at first but I slowly got an appreciation for it after hearing it on some good headphones and now I love it. Music is weird that way, I guess. In The Air Hockey Fire is a soft rock strummer that’s fleshed out with a host of quirky sounds. The tune is about the loss of youth after an air hockey game burns the house down.
Overall, this album grows on me every time I listen to it. Other than the two instrumentals, I seem to enjoy each track more and more each time I listen to it. Much like The Low Anthem, I don’t my full enjoyment of this album is going to a direct route. The band was just starting a tour but were involved in a fairly nasty accident. Everybody is home recovering and they’ll be back at it again.
Steve Gunn is one of the best guitarists I’ve had the pleasure to see play live. I’ve always found his music so easy to get lost in and daydream to places far and beyond where I sat. So it seems perfect that his third effort as a full-out singer/songwriter delves into exploration and experiencing your [...]
Emotions and Math is my favorite title of an album in 2016. Two rather simple words that you use on an everyday basis, but they rarely ever cross paths. In Glaspy’s bio, she elaborated on how she learned during the making of the album, everybody needs to be combine the analytical while listening to your [...]
Cut free from the major labels, Eli Paperboy Reed makes some music that matters. You see, Reed had a release on Warner Bros that sounded like Adam Levine & Blake Shelton got a hold of him. I honestly can’t make it through a song of the album. As that album was getting ready to hit [...]
Have you ever tried to capture a fart in a container? It isn’t easy, trust me. That’s what it is like to capture the brilliance of a Diarrhea Planet show in a studio. For anyone who has ever seen the Nashville sextet live, complete with four guitars, you’ll know that to be an almost impossible [...]
Photo by Micah E. Wood In their initial press release, lead singer/songwriter Cara Beth Satacino cited R.E.M circa Murmur as the driving influence. In many of those press releases, I’ll struggle to here the influence the artist cited, whether it be my shortcomings or some over-elaboration. But on this occasion, there was some real truth [...]
Photo credit: Dominique Goncalves Light Upon The Lake has slowly become one of my favorites in 2016. Funny thing is that after reading the initial PR email, I was prepared to dislike it; mostly due to the association with Smith Westerns; a band I found to be joyless and uninspired. I had no reason to [...]