On Lake Street Dive and Evidence for The Divine

Lake Street Dive can make me a believer.

March 24th, 2017
Lex Voight
Category: Lead Story, Review

I have an ambiguous relationship with God(s).

While on one hand I steadfastly believe organized religion to be mostly a terrible thing, I’m aware that the community that religion can foster can be beneficial. Historically, however, people have used that faith in one particular deity or another to draw lines and fight wars, rather than reach out and encompass their fellow man. And the deities have mostly kept out of it, either too ignorant, absent, trusting, or sadistic have been content to let us sort it all out for ourselves. This, of course, has been used, along with innumerable other arguments that are tough to contradict, as evidence that “God is dead” – either that they never existed or they buggered off or we killed them. Most of the time I fall on this side of things: religion is in general harmful, the divine is irrelevant because I have seen no concrete evidence of its existence and there are few arguments that I find satisfactory to explain it’s existence.

“The Unmoved First Mover”/Intelligent Design argument I always thought kind of nicely solved the pesky problem of there being science and everything – that some infinitely intelligent being just kinda set everything up like the most intricate 11-dimensional line of dominoes and then went “flick.” Its an argument that’s tough to argue with when one doesn’t understand how to explain the big bang.

“At first there was nothing, which exploded,” as Terry Pratchett once said.

The other argument for the existence of the divine is, of course, Lake Street Dive.

And I meant that with total (semi) seriousness. Lake Street Dive, who I saw for the first time this week at the Theater at the Ace Hotel, are clearly too perfect to have come from a cold, unfeeling, and uncaring universe neutral to the existence of humanity.

Lake Street Dive are a moderately successful soul/jazz/pop band that formed in Boston a number of years ago. Each member, an expert at their respective instruments, updated the New Orleans-influenced jazz-soul sounds of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Chet Baker, Sam Cooke, and Otis Redding, mixing it with a heavy dose of disco, pop, and rock and roll. What they’ve done just over the three records and one EP that I have heard (there are several LP’s in their oeuvre which are nigh impossible to find) is create some of the most soulful contributions to modern music that is infinitely enjoyable.

I often openly question why music, as a medium, didn’t just give up after Freddie Mercury died. People like Bridget Kearney, Mike Calabrese, Mike Olson, and the incomparable Rachael Price, are the answer.

Ms. Price came sashaying out at the Ace, clad in a flow-y pink retro jumpsuit that took the audience’s breath away. Believe me when I say this as a cishet man who gasped in pleasure when Jon Forte walked out in a tux when I saw him open for K’Naan and drooled when I shot Lenny Kravitz last year at KAABOO. I know what an audience – straight, gay, or whatever – loses its breath. And it was lost before Lake Street Dive launched into “Bad Self Portraits.”

We were never to regain it.

Pulling from all over their last three LP’s, as well as a couple covers featured on their Fun Machine EP, Lake Street Dive left the audience breathless, dancing, screaming, and shaken. To my infinite pleasure, LSD’s set wears its old soul influences on its sleeve. I always thought it an amazingly beautiful gesture when someone like Solomon Burke or Al Green–people who’s talent is legendary and who packed houses just on their own names–would then point to the members of their band, name them, and give them each a moment to stand out in front of the crowd as their own. In LSD, each member is similarly equally valued in their live show, each given a chance to shine despite Rachael Price’s frontwoman status. Bridget Kearney’s upright bass solo, in particular, is something to behold (woman can absolutely shred). Multi-instrumentalist Mike Olson, however, creates a quiet presence in the background, often at a slight remove, holding playing the trumpet or guitar masterfully but with little fanfare.

Belting out a string of room-filling soul/rock one does miss the quieter sound of some jazz and soul and, sure enough, halfway through their show LSD took a break to go acoustic for a couple of songs, before launching back into some of their most pop-influenced tracks off their 2016 full-length Side Pony.
Look, I’m not entirely sure of the existence of god, but I had a borderline religious experience watching Lake Street Dive play. There are few things in this world which I consider truly heavenly, but Lake Street Dive were clearly sent from on-high.

Probably, anyway.

Interview with Matthew Koma

Talks new singles, Hotel Café, & more!

March 17th, 2017
Zein Khleif
Courtesy of: Insomniac

We love Matthew Koma here at the Blog. He’s a multi-talent: a master (and GRAMMY-winning) songwriter, a producer, a vocalist, and a DJ. Well, get ready, because this musical aficionado will be performing two acoustic sets in LA this month! He’ll be gracing the Hotel Café stage on March 20th and 29th, so be sure to grab your tickets while you still can.

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Not Just (White) Boys Fun: The Return: Banshees IV

This time, its personal.

March 9th, 2017
Lex Voight

Regardless of your personal politics, you have to admit that girls rule. I would like to quote Gandalf here and say, “I return to you now, at the turn of the tide,” but alas, I think we all know that that is not the case.
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Video: Matt Pond PA performs in a living room

Here’s proof of the band’s intimacy and magic

David Fisch
Category: Lead Story, Video

Last week, we reported on Matt Pond PA performing a last minute set in a living room in a townhouse in Burbank, CA. Now we’re here a week later reporting on that experience again – this time with video evidence and further proof that the band is magical.

The video below is twenty minutes of an hour-long set that captures five songs performed over a period of the band’s career, stripped back with violin, cello, guiatrs, and vocals performed by Pond, Sean Alpay, and Mel Guérison.

Matt Pond PA has been utilizing these living room sessions as an intimate way to connect with fans and to pull back the instrumentation to reveal the true songwriting nature of the tunes that would ordinarily be pronounced in larger settings. This was a unique opportunity, especially for fans on the West Coast who have been craving both the band’s presence in the area as well as in these settings.

If you were one of the lucky 25 to have witnessed it, this is a great reminder of this wonderful set. For the rest of you, this is a wonderful treat. Keep on the lookout in a town near you where they might pop-on in a living room to perform some songs, just because.

His latest album Winter Lives is available now.

More info:

Matt Pond PA

Interview with TSOL’s Jack Grisham

Punk, purge, productivity & The Trigger Complex

March 7th, 2017
Lex Voight

TSOL have been an institution for nearly 40 years in the punk scene. One of Southern California’s first mainstays in the hardcore scene, True Sounds of Liberty have been an ever-evolving and expanding artistic vehicle.
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On Suicide Silence and Suicide Squad

The legacy-Killing Joke.

March 4th, 2017
Lex Voight
Category: Lead Story, Review

We like to keep it positive on this site. In general, good vibes are the only ones that truly matter and its so much better talking about something that you love and why you love it, than something that you hate and why you loath it. Too often those conversations get into weird superiority complexes and holier-than-thou attitudes or descend into internet trolling and horribleness.
But every once in awhile a failure is so impressive that it bears examination.

Suicide Silence’s recently released self titled record is one such example. Not only because it is such an interesting case, but it because it bares such a strong resemblance in its failures to another pop culture failure/phenomenon, Suicide Squad.

Suicide Silence, for those not in the know, has been one of the hottest extreme metal bands for the last ten years. Following a grind-influenced EP that followed up on the absolute brutal-ness that Job For a Cowboy spurned after the “Doom EP”, Suicide Silence dropped “The Cleansing.” Suddenly every deathcore act around had the bar set for them—“The Cleansing” was a revelation. Deathcore had already begun to falter early on with a lack of originality and an all-too-strict structure that discouraged experimentation. Suicide Silence, with more overt metal flourishes and charismatic vocalist Mitch Lucker’s demonic/psychotic vocals, was…while not a breath of fresh air exactly, it was the absolute epitome and pinnacle of deathcore. It was the absolute gut-wrenching brutal-ness of Job for a Cowboy, the sound of Cannibal Corpse, and the bro-ness of Slipknot all mixed into one. “No Time to Bleed” followed—showing slight progression and some better than decent singles that quickly became my and all my friends ringtones. With “The Black Crown,” Sucide Silence began to branch further—clearly leaning on those nu-metal, Slipknot influences over their more traditional metal counterparts…to mixed success.

Then tragedy struck. Mitch Lucker, the band’s endlessly charismatic frontman (I saw them play twice live and both shows were some of the best I have seen) was killed in a motorcycle accident. The band’s legacy was seemingly finalized—concretized by a tribute show where Suicide Silence played, filled in by a number of guest vocalists from across the metal and deathcore worlds to pay tribute to their fallen comrade. With more in them, the band made a bold move—soldier on. And to do so they made the best choice they could have in picking up former All Shall Perish’s vocalist, Eddie Hermida—perhaps the only person who could not only rival, but perhaps exceed Lucker’s legendary screaming vocal range. “You Can’t Stop Us” was a defiant and surprisingly solid “comeback” record.

I saw them play at Knotfest this year, for the first time with Hermida leading, and was blown away at how good they remained. Certainly Lucker’s presence was missed palpably, but the band performed exceptionally, whipping the crowd into a frenzy.

Everything seemed to be going so well.

Then things began to go awry. As Suicide Silence started to talk about their next record, dropping that it was going to contain a lot of clean vocals, people began to cry “foul,” and the band started to hit back. In a cringe-worthy series of publicity moves, Hermida and the band embarked on a salt-the-earth campaign with their fans. And…to be honest…one can hardly blame them. Metal, in general but specifically its more popular iterations and even more specifically nu-metal influenced extreme metal, is not known for its intellectual rigor or open-ness to new ideas. Too many fans of deathcore simply chase whatever is most brutal and will have none of anything else. Many fans, Suicide Silence correctly surmised, simply rejected the idea of a deathcore band, and Suicide Silence in particular, using clean singing. Personally, I was stoked. Deathcore is too confining and I believed this band to have the talent to pull just about anything off.

When first single “Doris” dropped, however, I was forced to temper my expectations. “Doris,” was a nu-metaly-mess. Off-key singing, disjointed Frankenstein of a structure, and some strange tonal issues. It was like Suicide Silence were experiencing an identity crisis. It was like the song started as one thing, the band second guessed themselves, and then became another.
And, unfortunately, its indicative of the whole album at large.

“Suicide Silence” is a mess. But an interesting one.

Which, of course, is where I get onto the subject of Suicide Squad, maybe not the worst, but certainly the most frustrating movie I have ever seen. Suicide Squad is a master class in how not to write, structure, pace, organize or tone a movie and yet it was a bonafide phenomenon, going on to break multiple box office records. The movie has about five starts, four introductions per character, no idea of what character motivation is or how to show rather than tell. It is a horribly misogynist, mixed-message of a movie with completely negligible character arcs, inexplicable decision making, constant deus ex machinas…it’s a cringe-worthy bore that is only carried by the charisma of it’s leading actors…Will Smith, Viola Davis, and Margot Robbie. It made me so angry that as soon as I saw it I went home and rewrote the whole damn movie just based on the scenes they had already shot and a few minor changes and sent it to my friends. Its so bad that it still makes me angry at least once a week.

But I LOVE bad movies. So why did this one irk me so? It wasn’t the disappointment after it failed to live up to the expectations that an absolutely stellar marketing department and some gangbuster trailers set. It was because, so often, it would get so close to greatness that it would practically telegraph what it was going to do next. It new how to reward the viewer (and yes not all movies should “reward” the viewer, but movies, like all media, are a delicate manipulation of the viewer’s emotions and knowledge that is its own visual and auditory language and frequently “rewarding” the viewer is simply because we are so familiar with narrative that we can anticipate whats coming next…the fun part that movies play on is when they see that, wink, and then fuck with you the way they want after that) and then would do something completely different out of nowhere. It’s a series of utterly baffling decisions one after the other and each time they tell you whats going to happen…and promptly do something totally random from out of absolutely nowhere.
God its infuriating.

“Suicide Silence” plays much the same way—it’s a series of completely strange choices all slammed together under a barely-held-together framework that seems cobbled out of whatever the band had to hand by way of ideas. Songs come and go out of nowhere with little thought to structure—“Doris” is a perfect example, beginning with a southern riff, typical deathcore pounding, insane amount of reverb, horribly flat vocals, and ideas from about three separate songs stuck together. There are all sorts of random pauses throughout the record for Hermida’s deranged scream-talking to come to the fore. Moreover, the instrumentation feels lazy and uncomfortable. Like it wasn’t natural for them to be playing this slowed down.

What he’s saying, however, sounds patently ridiculous…even as far as metal lyrics go. “We’re dying through life, we’re living through death,” “the torrential clouds,” and honestly, too many other examples to note are all frighteningly shoddy lyrics that sound all the worse for being better understood by clean singing. But even what singing there is, is frequently drenched in an absurd amount of reverb and echoes last seconds after the words themselves have been said. It’s a cool idea when used in a song to really impress that going-off-the-rails feeling as the sheer amount of noise mounts to a peak, but over an entire record it just feels…off. It was most likely done to help make up for the underwhelming nature of the clean vocals themselves, but you could forgive them that easily if they were simply better utilized.

Where Hermida’s vocals really aid the record is in their complete psychotic-sounding derangement. He really plays with edging that precipice between crazy and absolutely batshit insane…but it’s the one tool he has in this whole travesty of a record. And he never stops using it. Consequently it loses its unique appeal fairly quickly, despite how tortured and raw he seems to want to sound. Mixed with the clean vocals and simplistic lyrics, however, it becomes a little tired and melodramatic. Which encapsulates what is so frustrating with the record as a whole–these musicians are great, their ideas have legitimate awesomeness within them, but they keep going the wrong direction.

Tonally, the record is all over the place. Humans being complex creatures, I am not against a multi-tonal record, but “Suicide Silence” really puts a confusing amount of tonal choices into only 9 songs. It begins with a “fuck yeah!” and southern rock riffage, but so much of the record seems to be really gunning for this tortured aesthetic, before ending on a carefree and completely out of nowhere whistling jaunty tune in “Don’t Be Careful You Might Hurt Yourself” and the ding of a microwave. As Hermida rockets back and forth between talking, crooning, and vocal-chord shredding mayhem, backed by an alternating chugging and soundscape-y instrumentation, one would really think they are trying to play up this dichotomy to aim for a certain kind of catharsis brought to light by this tonal rawness, but with bits and pieces of all sorts of ideas and songs chucked together haphazardly, the record ends up being just as frustrating a listen as Suicide Squad was a watch.

“Suicide Silence” is a massive miscalculation of epic proportions. Its an embarrassment that the band, perhaps forced by an unwelcoming fanbase who hates change of any kind, has doubled down on with both an antagonistic PR campaign, but simply through the album itself. I wanted to ignore that horrible album cover/excellent band photo that destroys a visual aesthetic pattern that the band has been roughly following with their records since “The Cleansing” because it makes me too upset, but I can’t. Because it says it right there—“Suicid Silence.” This is a self-titled record. Self-titled records are assertions of identity. It’s the band saying, quite literally, “this is us.” It should function as the truest (if not the best, of course) representation of the band themselves. It’s a choice with a purpose. Suicide Silence are clearly tired of living under the shadow of tragedy and within the confines of a genre resistant to change, but that they chose this papier-mache mess of a record as their mission statement paints them into a tough corner. But look at that record cover—its literally a band photo, arms crossed in defiance and everything. “This IS Suicide Silence” is what they are telling us. And yet it doesn’t match up at all with our understanding, nor is it even said in a way to create understanding. I get that the band are really trying to shake off the stragglers who havn’t been able to move on since Lucker’s passing, but the record seems to be encountering such ire because its a perceived betrayal of their legacy that was done with purpose. It’s a defensive, defiant, provocative move on all fronts. Which is a knee-jerk feeling that seems to dictate a lot of the choices on the record. I get that they are deliberately trying to buck expectations and assumptions, but there must have been more thoughtful, authentic, organic ways that challenging of assumptions and iconography could have been done or toyed with.

If they were seeking to solely shed themselves of the shackles confining them and the fans weighing like anchors on them, there is no doubt they will have done that, but with the added difficulty of no doubt falling down the ranks of bills. If they truly believe in the merits of this record (and, no doubt there are a few—just like Suicide Squad there are faint glimmers of true greatness in the sprawling morass of awfulness), and wish to continue down this path, they are going to face a rude awakening (if they care at all, of course) it is received mostly negatively by critics and fans alike. But at the same time, they will have difficulty backtracking on how antagonistic and vocally uncaring their PR campaign has been—it would take a really thoughtful interview after months of meditating on the critical failure of this record to be accepted as genuine. Finally, the band also (hopefully) can’t end here…with a slow fizzle into obscurity before a final pop of abject mediocrity. That would be a sad capper on the band’s legacy, and totally undeserved given the talent of all those involved.

While their livelihood is somewhat dependent on fans and critics reception of their output, I of course do not believe that they are beholden to make people happy and not challenge their audience or themselves. That, I believe is the role of the artist—to challenge themselves and others. Far be it from me, or any of us for that matter, to dictate the output of the author, the artist, or the musician. Works of great art, or even great media, are rarely assembled by committee. Need evidence? Just look at Suicide Squad.

Don’t Miss Matt Pond PA in LA This Weekend

You have two chances left!

March 2nd, 2017
Mikiel Houser
Category: Lead Story, News

You don’t often get to see a band you have loved for the better part of a decade play in a living room, but that’s exactly what happened last night when Matt Pond PA stopped by a small townhouse in Burbank.
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Show Review: PWR BTTM at Ebell Highland Park

Lead singer’s mom promptly brings down the house

Kyle B. Smith
Category: Lead Story, Review

“Mommm?”

You could almost hear impatience in the child’s voice. The kind that kids heap on their poor parents. The kind where the offspring tap their fingers and scowl, awaiting another in a string of thankless tasks bestowed upon them simply by virtue of their birth.

Except that this was a rock show, and the 20-something front man called to his mother in the crowd to get up on stage and sing back up. Times they have a-changed.

PWR BTTM crashed in to the Ebell Highland Park Monday night riding a wave of the-future-is-now energy in a dazzling blur of glitter, glam, and jam. More on Mrs. Hopkins a bit later, but first, her son’s band.

Ben Hopkins and Liv Bruce are PWR BTTM, a Brooklyn duo that is exponentially more than the sum of their parts. Under the vaulted ceiling of the Ebell – one of the many charms that gave the setting a throwback feel, directly in conflict with what was about to go down on stage – the sold out crowd came ready to do glam rock battle.

Many in the youthful audience were outfit in dresses, their glittered faces physically echoing Hopkins’ own mug. Each looked primed to join the band, if ever graced with the honor. With gender roles and outdated social convention checked at the door, it generated a refreshing energy still absent at most shows in this city. The clearest evidence of this were the signs posted to designate all restrooms as gender-neutral, apparently a requirement outlined by the band.

When Ben Hopkins emerged to do a quick sound check on his guitar, the general admission crowd prematurely let out an Ed Sullivan-like collective shriek. After shushing the crowd with an index finger raised to his lips, Hopkins tuned a bit, then revved up the tempo, then played up the neck with his right hand before ending with an animated chord strike – true rock ‘n roll flair! The show hadn’t even started, but then it did.

PWR BTTM’s live performance is an absolute fucking cornucopia buffet of super crunchy electric guitar, exaggerated dance moves, melodic shredding at the top of crescendos, and painfully earnest, often funny lyrics that bleed in to a non-stop conversational banter between songs.

In the early going, the title track from 2015’s Ugly Cherries, contained a line that casually toyed with pronouns: “My girl gets scared, can’t take him anywhere.” Meanwhile, the track’s spiraling and angular lead guitar cut through an otherwise muddied sound in the venue.

On newest single, “Big Beautiful Day,” Bruce’s cascading drums were mathematical in their precision, while Hopkins’ casual post-song spoken lament – “I left my effective make up in San Francisco” – sounded like a PWR BTTM album-ready refrain.

In amongst the yet-to-be-released songs due in May on Pageant, PWR BTTM sprinkled in seasoned anthems. The gang of eastsiders responded heartily in unison on tracks like “Nu 1,” “I Wanna Boi,” and “Trade.”

Pageant number “New Trick” described meeting friends’ parents at a graduation party while wearing a dress. Like many of their less bombastic lyrics, “If you stop staring, you’ll be able to see” took a turn that stopped me dead in my tracks.

“C U Around” had a similar effect, especially when it culminated with an ethereal jam and a silent crowd, arms raised and waving left to right. There was gravitas in the moment, evoking the graceful turns of those massive windmills out near Palm Springs.

And then entered Ben’s mom.

Responding to her son’s “Mommm?”, Mrs. Hopkins let out a motherly and high-pitched, “I’m here!” as she hurried to the stage. This was no schtick, be sure of that. Dressed to the nines in a regal shiny gold top, Ben’s mom was about to bring down the house on Pageant lead track, “Silly.”

Her son’s guitar solo played like an unhinged “White Cliffs of Dover” that was soon to join sonic forces with his mother’s own operatic howls. This cross-generational collaboration was quite possibly the most unusual dynamic I have ever seen at a rock show…yet it totally worked. Did I mention that Mama Hopkins is set to appear on five Pageant tracks?

During the encore, Hopkins (Ben) slowly fingerpicked “House in Virginia,” as if said house was actually a secluded cabin somewhere up in Wisconsin. Lilting harmonies quickly ignited, were extinguished, and then set afire again. By the song’s end, Ben Hopkins cradled his guitar like a dance partner as he drifted around the stage like a jewel-encrusted marionette. His movement became an instrument in and of itself, as the guitar responded with audible reverberations.

Before the music ever began some 90 minutes earlier, Mrs. Hopkins’ son imparted a sobering and spot on gem. It was a mini-life talk, and maybe it was a little preachy, but was Ben Hopkins wrong?:

“Music can’t save your life. But it can provide a really great soundtrack to fix your own goddamn life.”

PWR BTTM are back in LA on Saturday, July 15 at Teragram Ballroom. For tickets, click here.

PWR BTTM at Ebell Highland Park Setlist

West Texas
Ugly Cherries
Big Beautiful Day
Dairy Queen
Nu 1
Projection
Serving Goffman
New Trick
Answer My Text
I Wanna Boi
C U Around
1994
LOL
Silly
———————–
House in Virginia
Trade

Lead photo by Andrew Piccone

Show Review: Angel Olsen @ The Wiltern

A commanding performance on Valentine’s Day

February 16th, 2017
Kyle B. Smith
Category: Lead Story, Review

Think back to those chalky heart-shaped candies sold in flimsy, cardboard packaging. “Be Mine” was one that always seemed to turn up, so when Angel Olsen opened her show at The Wiltern on Valentine’s Day with “Never Be Mine,” there was a hint of fatalism in the air.
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We Went To Daft Punk’s Pop-Up Shop

Open for one week at Maxfield on Melrose

February 15th, 2017
David Fisch

In conjunction with Daft Punk’s performance with crooner The Weeknd at this year’s pretty solid Grammy Awards held at Staples Center, the electronic duo/overlords decided to open a pop-up shop in West Hollywood to show off all of the merchandise they’ve been steadily releasing since 2013’s Random Access Memories dropped.
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