St. Vincent “St. Vincent”

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St. Vincent

St. Vincent

By Hallie S.

At the end of Strange Mercy, Annie Clark’s last release as St. Vincent, we find our heroine about to embark on a cathartic cross-country adventure. Her bags are packed and her mind is made up: she’s ready to abandon her hectic New York life and hide out in Seattle for awhile. She’s “living in fear,” she says – but perhaps the only thing more terrifying than the world she’s leaving behind is the uncertainty that lies ahead.

Three years and two tours later, Clark sounds considerably more emboldened. On “Rattlesnake,” St. Vincent’s nervy opening track, she wanders naked through a West Texas desert, only to discover that she isn’t alone. She exchanges thoughts with Black Panther Huey Newton in her Helsinki hotel room and delivers some provocative social media criticism. (“If I can’t show it, you can’t see me / What’s the point in doing anything?” she asks on “Digital Witness.”) Previously, Clark starred in dark music videos that showed her getting kidnapped by motherless children and literally cracking under pressure at a museum exhibit; with her latest release, she seems to have ascended to cult-leader status.

Of course, St. Vincent wouldn’t be a St. Vincent album without vulnerable moments. The highest of highlights is “Prince Johnny,” a character study of a self-destructive young man that is as compassionate as it is critical. It’s the most emotionally-charged track on the album, with jarring guitar crunches and plaintive cries of “I wanna mean more than I mean to you,” though it falls a bit short of some of Clark’s earlier material. (“If I ever meet that dirty policeman who roughed you up,” from Strange Mercy’s title track, remains the most unsettling lyric she’s penned.) St. Vincent doesn’t do a lot to challenge listeners’ expectations, but its candid and earnest observations betray an element of risk, of fearlessness. Clark always did have a knack with the danger.

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Phantogram “Voices”

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Phantogram

Voices

By Katie M.

On Phantogram‘s sophomore release Voices, the duo (Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel) continue to do what they do best:  create simultaneously gritty and danceable tunes. Produced by John Hill (M.I.A and Santigold), Voices punches and grabs for the listener’s attention. Each track is dark and catchy and only gets better over time. The single, “Fall in Love” is incredibly powerful and perfectly showcases the couples love of  hip-hop. The more somber tunes on the album,   “Black Out Days” and “Bill Murray”  are striking in their own way and provide a great contrast to the more upbeat tracks. Although the album is out on a major label, it doesn’t lose its independent feel: the production is subtle and both Carter and Barthel’s voices sound better than ever. Voices is an album that showcases a band who has found their voice and deserve to be heard.

Against Me! “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”

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Against Me!

Transgender Dysphoria Blues 

Zoe K.

Being punk is taking a stand against an oppressive system. How much more oppressive can the system get when it denies a person’s identity? Against Me!’s frontwoman Laura Jane Grace hid her identity for thirty years before very publicly coming out as transgender in an in-depth Rolling Stone article from May of 2012. Transgender Dysphoria Blues, out on the band’s own label (Total Treble Records) on January 21, is their first release since Grace’s transition began.

It is necessary to have some knowledge of the immense oppression faced by the transgender community in order to understand the new album. The levels of discrimination and violence directed at trans people are staggering: according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey of 2013, they experience unemployment and homelessness at double the national rate, and when they were able to obtain jobs, 90% of survey participants reported harassment or discrimination in the workplace. As if that wasn’t enough, 26% of transgender people have experienced physical assault because of their identity, and almost half have attempted suicide.

Grace’s songs on the new album reflect this brutal reality with lyrics that convey pain and suffering. On “True Trans Soul Rebel” she sings: Yet to be born or already dead / You sleep with a gun beside you in bed / You follow it through to the obvious end / Slit your veins wide open / You bleed it out. Death is a theme further explored in the hard rock-influenced “Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ,” where Grace sings about how the best end one can hope for is martyrdom. Their second half of the album features two songs titled “Dead Friend” and “Two Coffins,” where the former is about losing a friend before their time, and the latter is a song about dying and being buried with the person you love.

The album is not all morbid musings on mortality, though. There’s also a resilience in Grace’s lyrics, especially in the last song on the half-hour-long album, “Black Me Out”: I don’t want to see the world that way anymore / I don’t want to feel that weak and insecure, which is an acknowledgement of how the time for hiding and feeling ashamed is over. The lyrics of all the songs are intensely personal and heartfelt, and Grace touches on subjects, like her experience as a transgender woman, that have been seriously underrepresented in punk music. Against Me! provides some hope for acceptance in a society where transgender people still face oppression every day.

Author & Punisher “Women & Children”

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Author & Punisher

Women & Children

Jeremiah S.

Author & Punisher is a one man doom/drone metal band formed by Tristan Shone, a mechanical engineer from San Diego. The music is composed and performed entirely on custom designed and fabricated mechanical instruments called dub and drone machines. While a large mechanical contraption may be fitting to a cacophonous wall noise, the human element in the form of the operator, lends the project a musical accessibility not typically found in the homemade instrument experimental/noise community. By design, the Dub/Drone Machines follow the player’s mood giving the songs an expressive quality that is not typically found in electronic/industrial music, where the BPM is typically locked into a stable pattern.  Operating from within a mechanical assortment of knobs and sliders, Author & Punisher’s music explores the fusion of man and machine and is essentially the ultimate industrial band in both concept and sound.

Women & Children is the most recent Author & Punisher album, and while it retains the pulsating mechanical rhythms, industrial clamor and outright sonic brutality of the previous albums it also brings the vocals to the forefront and relies on more familiar sounds, such as piano, to create some of band’s most accessible and musical moments to date. While previous Author & Punisher tracks seem to alternate between introspective dub serenity and all out assault, Women & Children has found the middle ground between those two points, making the tracks into more conventional songs while maintaining the band’s uncompromising sonic vision. While the album does feature the occasional piano ballad or Ghost style clean vocal, the overwhelming intensity of the music remains true. This is the only band in our metal section without a guitar player or drummer but the crushing intensity of their sound confirms that this is genuine metal machine music.

Author & Punisher is opening for Philip H. Anselmo in Seattle on January 17 at El Corazon.

Best of 2013 Staff Picks

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By Katie M.

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1. Ty Segall Sleeper

Ty Segall is known for shredding like a mad man and creating catchy guitar riffs, so when I first heard that he was coming out with an acoustic album I was a bit apprehensive. Luckily, this release only further proves Segall to be an increasingly interesting, multi-faceted musician.  The album’s subject matter is weighty: his father recently died, which subsequently led to a strain in his relationship with his mother.  I never imagined that a Ty Segall album could give me chills, but the intimate subject matter makes for his most heartfelt songs to date.

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2. Thee Oh Sees Floating Coffin

After hearing Floating Coffin, Thee Oh Sees became my most listened to band of the year. I heard the album in the spring and continued to play it all summer long. At times psychedelic and paranoid and at others melodic, this album makes me excited to see what else this band has in store.

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3. The National Trouble Will Find Me

The National keep releasing great albums and Trouble Will Find Me is no exception. I’m a sucker for Matt Berninger’s deep, rich vocals and existential lyrics. The album doesn’t stray from their idiosyncratic sound, but I’m perfectly content with that because they do it so well.

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4. Youth Lagoon Wondrous Bughouse

Youth Lagoon, which is the nom de plume of 24-year-old Trevor Powers, has a penchant for making excellent bedroom pop. On his sophomore album, Wondrous Bughouse he explores the human psyche and crafts melodic, poignant songs. For fans of Local Natives, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and Animal Collective.

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5. Neil Young Live at the Cellar Door

This album was kept in the vault for 44 years and I’m grateful that it was finally released this year. The recordings come from six solo shows in late November and early December of 1970 and feature Neil Young switching between acoustic guitar and grand piano. The album is raw, beautiful, and intimate and features some of Young’s best songs, such as “Down By the River”, “After the Gold Rush”, and “See the Sky About to Rain”. You seriously can’t go wrong with this album.

Guy Clark “My Favorite Picture of You”

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Guy Clark

My Favorite Picture of You

Live From Austin, TX

By Dean S.

Say what you will about Texas, but the place is crawling with songwriters.  If they’re lucky (and good) they just might end up sharing credits with Guy Clark.  And that is something special.  My Favorite Picture of You, Guy’s first album in nearly four years, features ten new seemingly timeless originals by Guy (with contributions from Shawn Camp and Rodney Crowell among others) plus Lyle Lovett’s “Waltzing Fool.”  Accompanying Mr. Clark is a coterie of stalwarts from previous albums including the indispensable guitarist Verlon Thompson.

Back in 1984 Guy was standing on the stage of Dixie’s Bar & Bus Stop accompanied only by his guitar and a slew of songs – sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes both, always on the mark. The two discs on  Live From Austin, TX includes both sets from that night, finishing off with a picture perfect rendition of good buddy Townes Van Zandt’s “No Deal.”

Next time Guy stops by Dixie’s he’ll have an even harder time choosing between songs.  But like the man says – “life’s a bitch but it could be worse.”