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Album Review: of Montreal – Lousy with Sylvianbriar

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By Dan Konzman

of Montreal is back with another album and this time it is something to get excited about!  Lousy with Sylvianbriar is the twelfth album from this psychedelic pop group, making it the latest chapter in their 17-year history.  This album is a harkening to the band’s early days and is certainly their strongest since 2007’s Hissing Fauna, are You the Destroyer? The three albums between these two weren’t exactly bad, but they were a departure from what of Montreal does best, which is in-your-face psychedelic freak-out, with a good helping of raunchiness.

Syvianbriar is a return to a bit of the chaos and variability that makes of Montreal such a fun band to listen to.  The album’s first track, “Fugitive Air”, sets the stage well.  The opening chords of the song slide into frame like a movie star with only his socks on.  The song goes on to be a fun and catchy song standout for the album.

From here, lead singer Kevin Barnes shows off the diversity he’s bringing to the table with this record.  “Obsidian Currents” takes on a slower and darker tone that recurs throughout the album on tracks such as “Sirens of Your Toxic Spirit” and “Amphibian Days”.

At times, Sylvianbriar can be quite deceptive as to the direction it is bringing you in.  For example: “She Ain’t Speakin’ Now” starts off with a relaxing verse that makes you find a slightly more comfortable position in your chair.  Then, suddenly the façade breaks and you find yourself in the midst of the funky groove you should have been expecting from Barnes all along.  This song ends up being on of the album’s strongest and really shows off the dynamics and contrasts that of Montreal loves to incorporate into their music.

The record’s third song, “Belle Glade Missionaries” sets up a prevailing theme of the album: fun, happy-sounding songs with a dark message.  The funky beat of this tune is undercut by the cheerfully delivered refrain, “they’re letting kids get blown up in their schools today so they can get them back to their factories.”  A song later in the album, “Colossus”, furthers this.  The song opens introducing that someone’s mother committed suicide  while pregnant and asks them to consider the sister they never had.

“Triumph of Disintegration” is one of the Barnes’s most well-constructed  songs from this release.  Electric guitar riffs make this a good bit rockier than much of the album, but it is Barnes’s vocals that make this song soar.  The chorus highlights his voice and allows for him to present a gripping melody unlike anything else on the album.  Though far from the catchiest track – the album is full of them – this is certainly a song that demands attention.

Second to last comes “Raindrop in My Skull” which brings a somber, emotional tone to the end of Sylvianbriar.  With this song, the band’s newest addition, Rebecca Cash takes the lead and she delivers!  Cash’s tender voice brings you to a more beautiful place than you’ve been though this album.  Violin, tambourine, and melodic guitar come together to form the ideal atmosphere for her to really shine.  With slide guitar incorporated that reminds the listener of the album’s opening track, it is almost surprising that this isn’t the album’s finale.  It is certainly deserving of the spot.  Not to say the album’s true closer is a bad song, it just isn’t nearly as fitting as Cash’s lovely tune would have been.

Overall, I can’t overstate how pleased I was with this album.  With what I heard from the last three albums, I was apprehensive to say the least.  But I am glad to say that my fears about of Montreal’s future have been alleviated thanks to Lousy with Sylvianbriar.  Upon repeated listens, this has quickly become one of my favorites of Montreal has ever put out.  With a return to many of the elements from their early years tempered with the band’s maturity, Lousy with Sylvianbriar is not only a step in the right direction, but one of the best releases from of Montreal.

Album Review: Andrew Jackson Jihad – Live at the Crescent Ballroom

ANDREW-JACKSON-JIHAD-guns-portrait-e1332449467350By Mack White

The boys are back in town. Live at the Crescent Ballroom is the latest release of your favorite folk-punk rockers Andrew Jackson Jihad, a recording of a high-energy concert in their hometown of Phoenix, Arizona. Loaded with amps and bombshells, the boys never play the same song twice, offering different arrangements for almost every song. The album introduces new content by the duo, but also delivers the tunes that the fans crave that could only come from the minds of Sean and Ben themselves.

They open their set with an ironic one, “We Didn’t Come Here to Rock,” considering hearing so many of their songs with electric guitars and drums as opposed to their standard acoustic guitar and standup bass is refreshing. It allows for a more concert-oriented sound and provides the listener with eagerness to wonder how the many songs of Andrew Jackson Jihad will be altered for this heavier environment. Their opener and the following “Distance” both have Ben louder than the studio recordings, exhibiting the vocal chemistry between the two of them. The songs at the beginning are a great preview that this is not the AJJ you’re used to hearing.

A new song, “Inner City Basehead History Teacher,” followed the vein of many songs on their most recent studio album, Knife Man. Pretty much an audible political cartoon, the song focuses on the drug use of many students in impoverished areas and how the teachers can’t help them since they’re high too. It features a lot of exaggeration for a song that clocks in at barely over a minute, but that’s part of the irresistible charm of Sean and Ben.

“Sad Songs (Intermission)” wasn’t much of a break as the title implies. Instead of having the rockabilly and western sound featured on Knife Man, it was more of a punk song featuring a straining Sean on vocals. The normal player piano riff was played on guitar, which brought a new, tighter atmosphere to the track. Just one of the many surprises featured on their live record.

Even though the only consistent members of Andrew Jackson Jihad are Sean and Ben, they didn’t hesitate to bring out some of their friends from back home. Having a full band called for a new version of “I Am So Mad at You,” featuring a groovier, disco hook for the opening guitar licks. They also utilized the band extremely well for the presentation of their new song, “Kokopelli Face Tattoo.” It’s a song that has a recognizably hateful vibe, but even if you don’t pay attention the lyrics, you can appreciate the fact that Sean and Ben clearly comprehend how to make a song that’s love at first listen. It absolutely makes the listener curious as to how the studio version of the track will sound.

An underappreciated feature of live albums is the banter before songs. Even the great live performers like Springsteen can be mundane when talking to the audience, luckily AJJ are funny and genuinely interested in what the audience has to say. Talking about all the hardship including hurricanes, destroyed cars, and broken limbs they’ve experienced on the tour, the band always seems to keep it relevant and segue well into the upcoming song.

A track like “People II: The Reckoning” may have been better if they kept it similar to the studio version. It’s a cleverly written a song that blatantly attacks your insecurities, so it fits with the toned down instrumentation since the main focus is the message. The full band somewhat distracts from that, but the blues feeling this version exhumes is still worth a listen.

Hearing the opening chords to “Bad Bad Things” is among the most powerful parts of the album. Backed by a mandolin, the chorus is extremely loud and the crowd feels obligated to sing along. If the song couldn’t sound any deadlier, the live performance is even faster and more intense than the previous versions. Sean belts it out vocally, a presentation pretty much unrivaled until the end of the album.

Andrew Jackson Jihad definitely knows how to balance an album, whether it’s in the studio or in front of an audience. Taking a break from the heavier side of things, “Back Pack” comes along and, even though appearing as relaxing, has the sinister underlying theme that the duo strives on. The chorus sounds different without the high pitched backing vocals, but Ben is a worthy replacement for the refrain.

The last unreleased song they played was “#Armageddon.” Discussing current obsessions in the world that are frequently looked down upon, mainly social media, the song has pop culture references and, as always, some hidden truths disguised through violent imagery. Even though the boys discuss some disgusting topics (specifically murder, abortion, and countless other things you’re not used to hearing about), Sean has a way to get his point across and in that sense is a very underrated lyricist.

A novelty song of sorts, mainly since it doesn’t sound like anything the band has ever done before, “A Song Dedicated to the Memory of Stormy the Rabbit” features a guitar to cover the percussion part standard for the tune. Still invoking the same mysterious and haunting aura that the studio produces, the live rarity is full of all the alliteration and wild transitions a fan of AJJ could ask for. Their albums are so well constructed it’s difficult to imagine other compositions of the songs challenging them, but this version of “Stormy” is definitely a contender.

The album ends with none other than “Big Bird,” Sean’s greatest vocal performance on any of their studio records and, you guessed it, the strongest vocals of the entire live album. Building up until the tipping point, the entire band performs at their peak, displaying the rawness of their music while not obscuring Sean’s singing and vivid lyrical imagery. The song is longer than most of their normal material, but it’s fitting since it’s anything but normal. Odd structure and weird composition only allow the band to go up and end the album on a great note. It’s noble that Sean and Ben don’t hold anything back for their live performances, exhibiting the same enthusiasm you hear on their studio work.

Apparently the show actually ended with a cover of “Where Is My Mind?” by Pixies, but the boys didn’t have permission to put it on the album. It would’ve been a great addition, but a finale like “Big Bird” is more suitable since it encompasses everything the band works towards and leaves the listener destroyed and broken in the best way. Live at the Crescent Ballroom is enjoyable if you’re a fan of folk, punk, or pretty much music in general. Andrew Jackson Jihad are fun and put on an unconventional show that spans across their whole career. The duo allows the listener to be part of the experience, whether you were in attendance or not.

David Bowie: A Catalog Assessment

David Bowie is one of the most widely known rock musicians in the canon and has had a major hand in popular music since the early 70s. And yet, nearly everyone you typically talk to about Bowie’s music will only have a few words to say about him. Whether it’s rock-heads who say that Ziggy Stardust is one of the best albums to 80s babies who like to sing along to “China Girl” and “Let’s Dance” to hipsters who can’t be restrained in their adoration of albums like Low or Station to Station.

But with a catalog as long, diverse, and plainly good as David Bowie’s, these quick, focused adorations do not do it service. So, let’s do our best to set the record on Bowie’s career with an overview of the man’s career over the last third of the 20th Century.

 

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Self-Titled Album: Your Dad’s Hilarious Prom Photo

 Every true Bowie fan will, at one point, get curious about that very first album he put out and want to see where it all began. This may or may not be a good idea, depending on your perspective. What you get is a full album of bizarre, British-invasion pop music. Very flowery, very cheeky, and of course, very cheesy. But, it’s hard to call these songs “bad.” In the way that many early Beatles albums are cheesy but still somewhat beloved, the titular Bowie album works in such a way. Songs like “Rubber Band” and “She’s Got Medals” are enjoyable and I’ve still got friends who love to bring out “The Laughing Gnome” and giggle along to the ridiculous tune. In general, the self-titled album can be a fun look at where such a massive artist began, especially if you snicker “oh no” through a clenched smile.

 

Hunky Dory: The Most Underrated Overrated Album

 Hunky Dory is a great album. It really is. And it doesn’t get much of the attention it deserves in Bowie’s catalog. But it also has several flaws that need to be addressed immediately. First and foremost, “Changes” is a horrible song and its popularity is baffling. Hunky Dory has many good spots, but there are plenty of pretty cheesy songs. If the self-titled album was Bowie’s Beatles for Sale, Hunky Dory is his Revolver. Some goofy bits, but the clear beginning of great music. “Life on Mars?,” “Oh! You Pretty Things,” and “Queen Bitch” push Bowie into his more lyrical direction and start to show the stripped down instrumentation that would follow into his next few albums. And he still remained experimental with odd songs like “Quicksand” and “Andy Warhol.” It is certainly not as sophisticated as many fans claim, but it was a clear, strong step in the right direction.

 

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the rest of the long album name

Yes, the one people usually know! I prefaced this article half-complaining that less savvy Bowie fans usually point to this as his best album, but…they’re kind of right. Ziggy Stardust is one of his most consistent and interesting albums. The concept is relatively easy to follow, the hard-rocking parts flow in and out in a way that makes sense, his lyricism is in display throughout nearly every track. The quality of every song is hard to argue. And here, we see the beginning of the “funky” Bowie sound that’s so present throughout his career. “Hold On To Yourself” and “Suffragette City” have a magical rhythm about them and tracks like “Moonage Daydream” and “Ziggy Stardust” have this inherent motion about them. And that’s not to underscore lesser-known songs. “Soul Love” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” are some of Bowie’s most gorgeous songs and “Star” a consistently overlooked great, weird rock tune. As an album, Ziggy Stardust serves as a sterling flagship in Bowie’s career.

 

Diamond Dogs: The Real Best Album?

Imagine an album with all of the hard-rocking elements of Ziggy Stardust, but then carried over throughout an entire album. That’s Diamond Dogs. The title track is an anthemic, grimy rock track, “1984” is a perfect example of what disco got right, and “Big Brother” is a darkly poetic song that’s hard to pin down. And, of course, everyone gets a little excited when the guitar melody to “Rebel Rebel” first comes in. Diamond Dogs also shows the beginnings of Bowie’s most experimental composing, with the “Sweet Thing” and “Candidate” medley, which serves as a long, perfect mix of minimalism and maximalism in Bowie’s composition.  Bowie fans would be remiss to overlook the entirety of the Diamond Dogs album, which it unfortunately seems to usually be.

 

Station to Station: The Easiest Listen

Station to Station is the second big shift in Bowie’s catalog, Hunky Dory being the first. From the opening title track, he gives us a 10-minute song with a lengthy, bizarre, soundboard beginning. The rest of the song is one of his strangest lyrically and it relies on even more jazz sounds than the previous, lackluster Young Americans album had. And, of course, it’s all-amazing; truly one of his best songs. The rest of the album is a little less bombastic, but the heavier reliance on funk sounds and a sharp turn away from rock music is still prevalent. “Wild is the Wind” is almost an R&B song and when the little drum fills come in, it can take your breath away. Songs like “Word on a Wing” and “Golden Years” are kind of corny, but that’s balanced by the ambitious, funky “Stay” and the truly bizarre “TVC 15.” Station to Station is a relatively short album, dominated by its opening title track but contains numerous other songs that don’t slouch.

 

Low and “Heroes”: The Inseparable Duo

Ah, the “cool” albums. Part of the “Berlin” trio that saw heavy involvement by Brian Eno, Iggy Pop, and Tony Visconti. But the last part of the trio, Lodger, isn’t too note-worthy. But Low and “Heroes” live up to their hype…somewhat. Low especially heralds a lot of ambient music and the album’s second side sounds like something made by Daniel Lopatin. “Heroes” has its own ambient sections, but its incorporated more with rock and especially jazz so it has a more specific “Bowie” sound. And both albums have plenty of engaging funk and rock songs as well. “Breaking Glass” is a cool little song and “Be My Wife” is a perfect example of minimalist rock music. “Heroes’” first half is filled with amazing rock songs, like the title track of course, but songs like “Joe the Lion” and “Blackout” are absolute bangers. And “The Secret Life of Arabia” is an addictively rhythmic hidden gem at the end of the album. Low and “Heroes” are both great albums, but in both cases, especially Low, they may not live up the high lauds it gets from some sections of music fans, depending on your love for ambient music.

 

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps): The All-Over-The-Place Album

 Scary Monsters is a difficult album to pigeonhole, which is definitely not a bad thing. But this album hit the highs in each of Bowie’s styles of music. The title track is one of his most bombastic rock songs, “Ashes to Ashes” is his most screwed-up weirdo tracks, and “Fashion” steps up the tongue-in-cheek disco music to amazing, hilarious extents. He also takes more odd steps with the opening and closing songs and in “Scream Like A Baby,” which sounds like a mix of Bowie’s earlier, concept-album era and the grimier sounds he started to move toward on this album. Overall, Scary Monsters is a return to Bowie’s rock sound and a showcase of how the genre has changed over active 70s.

 

Let’s Dance: The Embarrassingly Good Album

 It would be the easiest step in the world to just skip this album altogether. Although Bowie hit some of his biggest popularity heights in the 80s, his real impact on music dropped off pretty sharply at this point. And most people know the songs on the album as his real “pop” songs, so there’s not a lot to say. But here’s the thing: the reason everyone knows the songs from this album is because they’re great. “China Girl,” “Let’s Dance,” “Modern Love,” “Cat People.” They’re all here and they’re all amazing. “Let’s Dance” has an undeniable groove that can really move people to dance. “China Girl” is a shifting, difficult pop song and the Iggy Pop version should definitely be listened to as well. “Modern Love” is cheesy, sure, but it is engaging and has dazzling, coke-fueled saxophone. Let’s Dance as an album can be easy to put down and overlook, but its impact is undeniable and a revisitation can be eye-opening.

 

Outside and Earthling: Please Hear Me Out

Everyone loves to rag on 90s Bowie. And it makes sense. He tried to do the whole Tin Machine experiment, which crashed and burned, and he put out some of his most embarrassing albums. But Outside and Earthling were the decades’ two big works he put out and they’ve been debated healthily by critics. But Outside has some impressive songs, like the exciting “Hallo Spaceboy” and the creepy, anthemic “Voyeur of Utter Destruction.” Outside is often put down as an imitation of “industrial” music, but the only band that ever seems to apply to is Nine Inch Nails. And sure, the album kind of sounds like NiN, but it still carries Bowie’s iconic voice and his little flourishes of eccentric arrangement. Earthling, the “electronic” Bowie album is a harder case to sell. I…I like it, I dunno. Just try it even though it’s really not defendable.

 

The Next Day: It’s Not Bad

 The rest of Bowie’s career was pretty rocky. Heathen, in the early-2000s is not a bad album, but it’s hard to really write about. But after a long hiatus that everyone assumed would be a permanent stop in music, Bowie announced The Next Day and it was not just a cheap cash-grab album. It was a real attempt at a return to music and a last note of what Bowie has to give. So, since this will likely be his last album, it’s important to look at what The Next Day has. And it’s just…hard to really summarize. It’s not unpleasant, but it’s just rock music. Some tracks are easier to see Bowie’s earlier styles, like “Dirty Boys” has some of the Scary Monsters-era grime and the best song, “Set the World on Fire,” is a return to the same uniquely-arraigned rock music that was seen on “Diamond Dogs.” But overall, The Next Day is a bit of a sad final note. This is how the world ends: not with a bang but a whimper.

Album Review: Danny Brown – Old

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By Mack White

In case you didn’t already know, Danny Brown is the most consistent rapper in hip-hop right now. It’s been two years since he’s given us the privilege of exploring his explicit, drug-ridiculed mind, but this time is no exception to his legacy of excellence. Old is the 32 year-old’s album that sends his career into left field. It’s a new direction, but like Brown himself, it works in unconventional ways.

A worthy follow-up to 2011’s XXX, Brown organizes his new album in a similar fashion. Telling his story again in two parts, he splits the album pretty evenly with investigation upon his own actions meshed with a solid set of party tracks. Though this time, Danny doesn’t talk about the past, he’s all about living in the moment. Old is an ironic title considering Danny Brown has thrown his own hip-hop playbook out the window and adopted a new set of rules that only he has the ability to follow.

“Side A (Old)” heralds Danny’s latest journey, a fascinating song that explores where he has been and where he is headed. Sampling his own song “New Era” is only part of his self-dissection, telling the listener that he is no longer the “old Danny Brown.” The subsequent song, “The Return,” also introduces Brown and reinforces that he is back and crazier than you would think.

Danny (for a PG-13 audience) told us two years that he’s a smart dude who does dumb stuff. One thing that he is never dumb about is his collaborations. His last album only had two songs with features, while Old has a staggering seven. The most interesting of his collabs is “25 Bucks” with synthpop duo Purity Ring. The vocals of Megan James assisting Brown’s quick wit is an unbelievably effective combination, showing the Detroit rapper’s ability to adapt his flow to any environment.

“Lonely” and “Clean Up” is the strongest two-song set on the record. The first analyzing Brown’s current state of having a status but risking relationships to get there, while the latter shows how his own addictions have broken him. He preaches about how his daughter texts him saying she misses him but he would never want her to see him in his current state. He goes all out, releasing that he puts himself in danger far too often and he’s come too far to give it all up due to his own indulgences.

If you’re listening to Old on vinyl, you’re in for a completely different album around the thirty-minute mark. As soon as you flip the record over, remember that this is not a split, and that Danny is now showing you the never-ending drug trip that is his mind. “Side B (Dope Song)” opens with a regal horn section, when a sudden trap beat absorbs the listener, setting pace for the craziest EDM vacation you’ve never signed up for. While XXX’s first half focused more on Danny’s party side, this time he saved those experiences for the long stretch home.

The trap and electronic act that the second half offers is refreshing since Brown has never dove too far into the genres, but the gimmick does lose its flair after a few songs. Luckily he has a couple of strong performances, “Dip” immediately coming to mind for its infectious chorus and Brown’s recognition for how wild he actually becomes under the influence of drugs. “Kush Coma” also is another song that benefits his potential to have a club hit and also is a frequent closer for his live shows. A$AP Rocky’s odd imagery mixed with Danny’s diverse lyricism works and is a definite coma-inducer, shocking and very far from anything the listener has ever heard.

For the second album in a row, the final track is the strongest. Featuring electronic game changer Charli XCX, the beat changes and Brown barely has the energy to discuss his thoughts, gauging his dependency on narcotics. He spills on how his only wish is to grow old and see his influence on future rappers. It’s difficult to imagine that someone with such a unique persona has the power to be so passionate in a field that we learn is of such importance to him. Danny Brown is definitely crazy, but sometimes it takes a madman to convince us of a reality we thought was unimaginable.

Another great addition to the musical canon that can only be described as Danny Brown, Old challenges hip-hop through its unorthodox samples, lyrics, and organization. Even if this is the first album of Brown’s that you’ve heard, he makes you feel like you’ve known him for years since he’s so vivid with his words. By all means an artist, Danny Brown again paints a picture in the listener’s mind. He may be getting older himself, but Brown’s skill refuses to age. Even with a title like Old, the record is new in every sense of the word.

Album Review: Pixies – EP1

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By Mack White

Throughout the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Pixies were unavoidable. With the most beautiful and sloppy music you’ve ever heard, they dominated the underground American rock scene and, despite breaking up in 1993, still carry a large influence today. The band reunited in 2004 to tour and perform in sold-out venues across the world.

That takes us to 2013. In June, bassist and background vocalist Kim Deal left the band to focus on her other project, the Breeders. Shortly after Deal’s exit, Pixies released the single “Bagboy,” the band’s first new material in nine years. While not overly enticing, “Bagboy” showed that Black Francis still has the ability to write compelling hooks and can still yell hidden profundities and make them sound interesting.

A little under two months later, the band announced that they would release EP1, their first non-single release in twenty-two years. With the absence of Deal, the EP is definitely something that longtime Pixies fans do not want to listen to. While it lacks the raw, fast paced energy that their early works held, EP1 surprisingly has some redeeming qualities.

“Andro Queen” is the EP’s opener, and as a shock to fans, features Black Francis autotuned. If you haven’t closed the browser yet and burned your Surfer Rosa shirt, hear me out: This new direction kind of works for the context of the song. The song is slow paced and the use of these new vocals meshes extremely well with Joey Santiago’s guitar that builds along the course of the tune. Plus the fact that Francis’s lyrics give off a robotic feeling (as the title suggests), the vocals fit. The opener is a grower, which may not be a good move since listeners tend to make judgment after the first track, though the risks the band took for “Andro Queen” pay off in my opinion.

The next song, “Another Toe in the Ocean,” makes you think Pixies had taken a step back and revisited their surf rock days. Instead of a day at the beach, the song turned into a wave of mutilation. Even though it contains the classic formula that the band strived on of going from soft to loud to soft and repeating, the equation doesn’t add up this time. The lyrics appear misconstrued, maybe alluding to their olden days, but too much repetition of the chorus make this song pay the price. Fortunately, they debuted the song in Los Angeles on the EP’s release day and it sounded much better than the studio version.

“Indie Cindy” is the band’s plea to their listeners. It’s the strongest on the album and is a refreshing song that shows that Pixies went into the studio knowing that the fans might not appreciate what the EP offers. Featuring Francis’s wit (“You put the cock in cocktail, man!”), the song changes styles from verse to chorus and again adds another dimension by vocal effects. It’s odd that the two best songs on EP1 are the ones where Francis is not singing naturally, but then again, nothing is conventional about his singing style.

Unfortunately, EP1 doesn’t end on the strongest note with “What Goes Boom.” Sounding like a lazy Bossanova b-side, Francis shows his weakest vocal performance of the record. David Lovering’s drums sound good for the song, but when combined with a guitar riff and a string of lyrics that sound like an artist trying to recreate a sound they had in 1989, the result is not pretty. The closer doesn’t make the album go out with a boom, rather a thud.

If I had reviewed this EP after my first listen, this review would be scathing and probably a claim that I had finally turned my back on the band that introduced me to so much of the music that I love today. I gave it a few more listens, and it’s somewhat admirable that Pixies abandoned their surf rock roots and tried for a more experimental sound. It may not be an easy listen at the beginning, but given time EP1 is a unique addition to the band’s discography. Though some may see it as a stain, I see it as a more of an experiment. Of course it’s not on par with their studio albums, but when presented that they are missing one of their key members and that this is their first new collection of songs created in over two decades, it’s undeniable that Pixies still have the power to create music that always leaves their fans guessing.

Album Review: The Dismemberment Plan – Uncanney Valley

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By Mack White

Travis Morrison, lead singer of the Dismemberment Plan, said in 2009 that he was retiring from making music. I am now holding their new album, Uncanney Valley, in my hands. While the equation doesn’t make sense to me, I am not complaining. Full of all the bleeps and bloops that come with an album by them, but also some new elements surrounding a somewhat “poppier” song structure, Uncanney Valley is loaded with surprises. It’s a dangerous direction for a band that has gained praise for their post-punk sound, but the boys pull it off for their comeback album.

The jingling of bells opens up the first track, “No One’s Saying Nothing,” not only sounding like Christmas but also making me feel like it’s Christmas morning considering the Dismemberment Plan have always had a gift of creating a compelling opening track. Morrison sounds like a quicker flowing Lou Reed with Bob Dylan punctuation on his lines. It’s unbelievably refreshing to hear the droned-out synthesizer that is exhibited on many Emergency & I tracks, definitely a good note to start their album on.

“Waiting” is the single the band has been promoting for a couple months, even going to the lengths of having fans call a phone number to hear the song before the album was released. It starts with a Sousa-esque horn section, transforming into a heavy power pop song. Changing time signatures is nothing new to the D-Plan’s discography, but this song exhibited how quick the band actually is, changing times back and forth from verse to chorus throughout the tune. Near the end Travis turns into MC Morrison, relaying his wit with great speed until finally exclaiming, “No more need for conversation!” A fitting line that proves they haven’t lost much musical talent over their hiatus.

Even though the highs on the first two songs are great, the album does have some undesirable songs. “White Collar White Trash” and “Go and Get It” both seem to rely on the repetition of the chorus far too much without having any lyrical substance. The Dismemberment Plan in the past included somewhat cliché phrases in their choruses (“Put you hands in the air and wave them like you just don’t care” from “Back and Forth”), but Morrison backed them up and gave them weight through his very visual lyrics. The songs on Uncanney Valley appear to miss that extra ingredient, the one that added the unique flavor that made them the band that received such critical acclaim in the ‘90s.

The album is definitely a grower. Upon first listen I was fully against this new direction the band was taking, but some of the songs that sound gimmicky actually have a lot of room for interpretation, maybe that’s why they seemed so simple at the beginning. “Daddy Was a Real Good Dancer” and “Living in Song” not only show off Travis Morrison’s vocal range but also lets the listener peek into the never-ending song that is his mind.

The final track, “Let’s Just Go to the Dogs Tonight,” is a fine addition to the collection of great album closers from the Dismemberment Plan. With a sendoff to his younger days, Morrison urges the listener to sing along with his “repeat after me” style of writing. I can definitely seeing it being a fan favorite staple at their live shows, right up there with “The Ice of Boston.” The song has an extended orchestral fade out, and as mysteriously as it arrived, Uncanney Valley is finished.

The album didn’t click at first listen for me, but the more I tuned in the more value I saw in it. I can absolutely see why fans may dislike it considering their post-punk roots are practically invisible on the album and it may sound like another pop record to some. After a hiatus that lasted over a decade, it’s noble the Dismemberment Plan even came back to record at all, not only head in a new direction. If they made another album in the vein of their ‘90s material it would absolutely look like they have no new insight. Fortunately, Uncanney Valley is new, exciting, and enigmatic, much like the Dismemberment Plan themselves.

Concert Review: Hopscotch Music Festival

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By Mack White, James Crooks, and Michael Papich

Marnie Stern

Marnie Stern put on a thoroughly refreshing performance at Hopscotch. She brings a fun energy to each little movement that so much live music is lacking, from the quick little steps she takes as she builds into a riff to delivering more emotion in her singing when the microphone would routinely not work. There was also the bizarre stage banter, where she and her amazing bassist Nithin Kalvakota would exchange quick barbs and she would abruptly cut off the punchline with the squealing guitar of the next song, creating absurdist comedy episodes.

But by far the most incredible thing about Marnie Stern’s performance was seeing first-hand just how original her approach to song writing is. Each song has several sudden tonal shifts, and live, these turns were even sharper. That’s paired with her chipper vocals, quick guitar, relentless drums, and evocative but vague lyrics. Seeing such unreplicable music was a good sign that music will continue to evolve and grow into amazing new forms.

 

Kurt Vile and the Violators

 On albums, Kurt Vile does not necessarily sound like a charismatic live performer. Or, at least, it does not sound like a traditional rock show with pumping fists and banging heads. But boy did Kurt and his band bring it home on Thursday night. All of the backing Violators band played furiously, especially his drummer, Vince Nudo.

This relatively intense and musicianship-driven performance ended up pairing perfectly with the haziness of Kurt’s most recent music. The gloss of his reverbed vocals, combined with the gun-ho band, created a perfect wall of music and echoing lyrics. It was like a dream.

 

A-Trak

A-Trak is promoted as one of the few real DJs left and his set on Friday proved this quite well. From start to finish, A-Trak entranced the crowd with incredibly danceable beats, with the occasional flourish of a recognizable sample that reignited passions in the audience. The crowning achievement was a roughly-10 minute sample of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” with the song’s robotic chorus repeated over and over as A-Trak played and created increasingly complex and changing beats and melodies.

Beyond the obvious appeal of an energetic dance session, A-Trak truly made his set memorable with his clear prowess at physical DJing. His hands would fly and dip with nimble dexterity from record to console, creating a show both visually and musically. He also had a penchant for adding glitch characteristics to his set, making the beats unpredictable and fun to move to. Also, going against the stereotypes of DJs, A-Trak was very cordial toward the crowd, interacting with them on a regular basis and even giving the local audience a nice nod with the repeated sample of a wolf howl.

 

Mykki Blanco

No credit should be taken away from Mykki Blanco’s skill as a rapper, but her Friday show could not honestly be described as a “rap show.” It was full-blown performance art. Of course, there was her DJ, Larry B, who brought creepy, vaguely-trap flavored beats throughout the show and both she and her opener, Psycho Egyptian, rapped with unbelievable ferocity and skill. But Mykki also gave acapella performances of bombastic poems, ran through the audience and around the enormous Contemporary Art Museum the event was held in, at one point climbed up into the rafters and hung from her legs, and used the microphone stand to stymy her arms, turning her into a lumbering, crucified demon.

None of this was a distraction from any lack of rapping ability, however. Every true song Mykki did was hungry, heavy, and had the audience going wild, especially with her closer “Wavvy.” Even after her show was technically over, Mykki had Larry B keep the music going and had the audience dance on stage. Mykki went to high school locally at Enloe High School, and at Friday’s show, she came back to remind us that she could conquer us just as easily as she did New York’s underground.

 

Suuns

Suuns’ show suffered from being in one of Hopscotch’s smallest venues and starting over half an hour late, but when they played, it was captivating. The size of the environment may have helped as the dark waves of the band washed over the audience completely. Every heavy, fast note possessed everyone on and off stage, leaving few heads still. The band’s bassist, Joe Yarmush, couldn’t escape the rush of passion, at one point playing so vigorously he crashed down into the drum set.

The darkness of Suuns’ performance cannot be overstated. The droning guitars made it feel like the lights were slowly losing power and the walls were melting together. Listening to Suuns’ studio music, one can easily predict what singer Ben Shemie’s face looks like when articulating Suuns’ slurred vocals. His face was turned into a sarcastic grimace, each word slithering out. Through and through, Suuns did not mess around when it came to delivering a journey into the dark recesses of space.

 

Breeders 

Three months after the Pixies announced that Kim Deal is no longer associating herself with them, it’s comforting to see that she still has enough musical talent to keep her fans satisfied. Backed up by her sister and three friends, the Breeders took the stage at Hopscotch to play their 1993 masterpiece Last Splash in its entirety. The band did an excellent job of making the audience feel like part of the show, asking people in the crowd questions after each song and lecturing on how each song got its title.

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Among the many highlights, one shining moment was Kim Deal tearing off the bottom off a plastic cup and putting it on her microphone to create the same vocalization of Last Splash’s biggest hit, “Cannonball”. Kelley Deal also put on a powerful performance, slaying with her guitar and taking lead vocals on “I Just Wanna Get Along”. To everyone’s surprise, all the equipment that the band used on stage were the exact same ones that they used in studio in 1993 to make the album. It was like taking a step back in time, hearing the Breeders play the album in order and with just as much enthusiasm as back in the day.

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Right when they finished with the album’s closer, “Roi (Reprise)”, Kim said they wanted to play a few more songs. With the audience on their feet cheering, the band slammed into a medley of songs from their 1990 album, Pod. It felt like seeing a second show from the band, considering the change in musical direction they took with Last Splash. Kelley Deal taking lead vocals on the Beatles classic  “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” was a spectacle of the show, letting the crowd sing along to the background “Bang, bang! Shoot, shoot!”. Not many bands that have been around for over twenty years still put on a commanding performance, but the Breeders have without a doubt been privileged in that department.

 

John Cale

Collaborating with Brian Eno, singing with Nico, and being a founding member of one of the most influential bands of all-time, the Velvet Underground, is a resumé that only John Cale has. At 71 years old, I expected Cale to walk onstage and have a shot voice that faded with time. Fortunately I was wrong and Cale gave us the best performance of the whole festival.

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For a man who is as skilled at production as he is performing, I was surprised to see how under-produced the show was. Backed by a guitarist, bassist, and drummer, Cale took lead on the keyboard while occasionally busting out his guitar. Seeing Cale was a primal experience, because if you listened to his 2012 release, Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood, you may have been turned off by his autotune and Vocoder-influenced sound. He took a right turn for the songs from that album and performed them without effects, including the booming chorus of “I Wanna Talk 2 U”.

It didn’t really hit me until after the show, but recognizing all the bands over the years like the Pixies and R.E.M. who cite the Velvet Underground as a primary influence, it’s possible that Cale is among the highest tier of musicians who create a novel sound that over time means something bigger than they imagined. Hearing classics like “Fear Is a Man’s Best Friend” and “Ship of Fools” was without a doubt a primal experience. I waited after the show to see if I could meet Cale, but the only people I ran into was his band. They were a group of young, nice guys who said Cale is a great guy and has his mind set on continuing the tour and entertaining his fans. After almost fifty years in the industry, that’s all a fan could ask for.

 

Prypyat 

Made up of members of local bands Hammer No More the Fingers and Lost in the Trees, the boyfriend-girlfriend duo of Prypyat was a very pleasant surprise at Hopscotch. The two started off with what seemed like a recipe for seemed like sleepy indie-folk – a cello, a guitar, and a kick drum – but after the first few songs they both started churning out big numbers, with the cello’s sounds altered to sound electric and distorted.

A signature aspect of Prypyat’s performance was the overall dorkiness of their between-song banter, with the two talking about their history as a couple (they first met at Hopscotch 2010, interestingly) and the stories behind songs. The lyrics and vocals themselves had a yearning whine, whether it was talking about local N.C. streets or the dreaded Ghostwoods of Twin Peaks, WA. Hopefully Prypyat stays active in the local music scene to give more people exposure to their take on the North Carolina sound.

 

Horse Lords

Unfortunately, I was only able to catch the last 20 minutes or so of Horse Lords’ set, but these four musicians put on an incredible performance. Guitar and bass played off each other in incredible textured strumming while the two were accompanied by two drummers. This created an amazing beat, especially as one of the drummers primarily used nimbler percussion instruments.

Horse Lords’ finale was amazing, as the “nimbler” drummer moved to saxophone and the four traded off quick little solos, getting faster and faster as they went. It was all reminiscent of a Battles show, with every member of the band clearly having impressive chops and each enjoying jamming in tandem with one another.

 

Holly Hendron

 Holly Hendron’s performance codified modern art quite well. On the wall next to her, a projector played a constantly shifting program of 3D renders of Japanese products and stills of Japanese living spaces. In her music, she filled the room with samples of her own gentle singing which she chopped and screwed several different ways, adding abrasive bass and roaring sounds. As this chaotic and somewhat unpleasant sound grew, she dispersed the noise immediately, going into strange and pumped up beats that had the awed crowd moving in an instant.

All of Hendron’s set was then defined by this challenging dance music, combining the staccato, raindrop-like beats with whooshes, bizarre samples, and her own siren cooing. As the show went on, the video got more chaotic in response, with boxes of Japanese flour and Amazon.jp.co packages flying and stopping, the screen flicking in tangent with Hendron’s music. This odd brilliance made it an incredible original and fulfilling set and despite its complexity, no one was still when her music hit its high marks.

 

Low

Despite being in one of the largest venues at Hopscotch, Low managed to put on one of the most intimate shows of the entire weekend. The three, using just their guitar, bass, and standing drum set, created an autumny atmosphere, every line Alan Sparhawk delivered carrying a heavy amount of melancholy emotion.

While Low, with their big carpet set-up and their sparse instrumentation, could easily have passed for a light band, Sparhawk took plenty of opportunities to grind his guitar and get wrapped up in the passion of playing. But the skill and texture that was brought to the bass and drums also seasoned the room well, making Low’s slow music rich and nearly tear-jerking.

 

Solar Halos

Saturday evening at the Lincoln Theater opened with N.C.-native stoner metal group Solar Halos. This female-fronted three piece opened with their galloping track “The Vast White Plains,” and this was only the beginning to what would become a heavy set list. The following track, “Frost,” was bass driven and would establish their sound as a band.

Between the sludgy chords and droning vocals, Solar Halos capture the sound that any fan of stoner sludge is looking for. Slow, distorted, and heavy easily describe the sound of this new band, and it fits them well. After seeing and hearing this recently created band, I can easily say that they have gained a new fan and have a great chance at quickly moving up in the metal ranks within the next few years.

 

 Evoken

The penultimate band of the evening was N.J.-based funeral doom band Evoken. This set list was low and slow, with the bass guitar having a heavy, driving tone. An interesting addition to the Evoken performance was the presence of Japanese noise veteran Merzbow. Hooking up what looked like a wash pan covered with two metal coils, Merzbow added a distorted feedback to one of the songs of this set list. Between the shrill sounds of Merzbow and the pummeling bass, the sound produced by Evoken was easily one of the most interesting at Hopscotch Festival.

Each song appropriately captured the funeral doom sound, with slow processions and minor keys to add to the saddened sound. After the high feedback, low bass, and slow rhythm, Evoken put on an amazing performance that was one of the best metal performances of the festival.

 

Sleep 

The final band of the evening, and of the Lincoln Theater portion of Hopscotch, was stoner pioneers Sleep. This show marked an important date in metal music, as this show was Sleep’s first in N.C. in almost 20 years, and one of only a handful of shows they have performed since their split in 1998. Playing classics off of their landmark album, Holy Mountain, every track was met with huge cheers from the crowd.

After playing most of the aforementioned album, the true praise was heard when Sleep played their signature song, “Dragonaut.” Although each song was met with cheers, it was not until the opening riff of this track was slowly played that the entire venue exploded with cheers and fists in the air. Following “Dragonaut,” Sleep continued to play through their set list before reaching the final, epic ending that was Dopesmoker. This 63-minute song was another piece that cemented Sleep in the history books of stoner, sludge, doom, and metal as a whole. Playing an excerpt from this 1996 epic, Sleep stretched their performance time to nearly 2 hours, every minute of which was amazing.

 

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Album Review: Chelsea Wolfe – Pain is Beauty

 

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By Michael Papich 

In as much as witch house can be considered a genre of music, Chelsea Wolfe is the indie rock equivalent to that. Glitchy, dark visuals. A lumbering mood accompanying genuine beauty and pop appeal.

Ever since her debut album, “The Grime and the Glow,” Wolfe has taken a strange, gothic approach to folk-influenced rock music. Her breakthrough sophomore album, Apokalypsis, or as it is spelled in a much more badass way on the actual packaging,” Ἀποκάλυψις,” stepped deeper into this darkness and largely left the acoustic guitar behind. Then, in a total 180, Wolfe’s third album, Unknown Rooms, was a pure, lo-fi folk album. Sure, she maintained her haunting, siren-like way of singing, but the macabre allure of her earlier work was essentially non-existant.

Now, on her fourth album, Wolfe has brought the best of heaven and hell in the aptly titled Pain is Beauty. Wolfe’s dark songs have never sounded darker and her gorgeous accompanying melodies have never sounded brighter. The album’s opener, “Feral Love,” is easily Wolfe’s most gothic song; her voice drifts like a shadow on a catacomb wall and the guitars and drums form an ambient drone that sounds like it could have come from a 70s horror movie. Other songs like “Kings,” which has an almost demonic, Mordor-like quality to it.

Wolfe also steps up the beauty in her music, with “House of Metal” and “The Warden” sounding the closest to electro-pop Wolfe will likely ever come. Her experimentation with genres helps to create a crack in the heavy cloud of soot that hangs over so much of her music. Other songs manage to keep the beauty of Wolfe’s music while letting it struggle against the chaotic tones she works to cultivate, as evidenced on “Ancestors, the Ancients.”

Not all of Wolfe’s new tinkering with styles always pays off, however. “Destruction Makes the World Burn Brighter” is a pure beach-rock song. Although it’s well executed, she does not bring much new to the genre and it does not bring much to her repertoire either.

“Pain is Beauty” also manages to combine the atmosphere of Wolfe’s darkest works with the song-writing seen in her most folky and intimate tunes. “Lone” and “They’ll Clap When You’re Gone” both take the acoustic guitar and see how much evil can be extracted from the strings and casing. “Reins” and “The Waves Have Come” take long, drone compositions and see how much longing and artistry can be painted on the cavern walls.

Chelsea Wolfe remains a very complex songwriter on her fourth album and challenges the definitions of both dark and ethereal music. Songs written by Wolfe need to be heard to be understood and near-every track on “Pain is Beauty” is well worth the listen.

 

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Concert Review: Run the Jewels

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By Michael Papich

There were more security than I’ve ever seen at Cat’s Cradle and they were giving people pat downs, which never happens. Anyway, the show started kind of late, and while I was waiting, I got to survey the scenery. I first noticed that there were a lot of seapunks. But then I saw the giant posters on stage for the Run the Jewels tour, and they included the two opening acts: Kool AD and Despot.

For exposition, Run the Jewels is the name rappers Killer Mike and El-P are giving themselves as they work together on an album, this past July ‘s Run the Jewels. It was released for free, which is partially what made the audience so interesting. Both Killer Mike and El-P put out huge albums last year, charging for them as usual, but everyone here was obviously and overwhelmingly here to hear music from Run the Jewels. They were on a huge promotional tour for a free album and it was working.

Anyway, I knew Kool AD was going to be opening, which excited me because I like him and I’ve never seen Das Racist perform live, nor will I ever because they broke up. But I had no idea that Despot was going to be there, which was exciting. His rapping is surprisingly intense and his general persona is funny and odd. Plus, he’s working on new material so I’d get a sample of what’s coming next.

Two  DJs came out on stage after a while and one of them introduced us to him as Amaze 88 and he said he’d be filling in for Despot, who couldn’t be there. Kind of a bummer, but I didn’t know Despot was going to be there in the first place, so I can’t really complain. Amaze 88 rapped for about 20 minutes and warmed up the crowd pretty well. He had a kind of slow flow and wasn’t astounding lyrically, but he had an overall “positive vibe”, which wins me over when it comes to hip hop. He also did a kind of slam poetry acapella song that was cool and had lots of rhyming big, long words together.

Not too long after him, Kool AD came out and he immediately started interacting with the crowd, running around, high-fiving, doing his stage banter. Like I said before, I like Kool AD, but I haven’t heard much of his new solo songs. Despite my lack of familiarity, each track was completely enthralling. They had the typical kind of funny, weird lines I’ve always known him to have (“legalize weed, outlaw credit cards”) and all of the beats were done by the opener, Amaze 88, were impeccable. They reminded me of Madlib beats, almost. And throughout the set, and even during his final, 10 minute song, Kool was constantly engaging the crowd in real ways, responding to what we were doing and saying.

A while after he finished, Killer Mike coolly walked on stage. I was waiting for El-P to come out as well, thinking, “okay, now here’s all the Run the Jewels songs.” But no, he started belting out “Big Beast” from his album last year, R.A.P. Music! The crowd went wild, and as he thanked us for coming out, he went into “Untitled.” The realization then dawned on me: I was not just going to hear Run the Jewels. Both Killer Mike and El-P were going to do sets from both of their albums AND THEN do Run the Jewels.

After the first two tracks, Mike talked more with the audience, talking about how he loved us and wanted us to be nice to each other and encouraged us to sing along loudly with him. With that, he went into an acapella version of “Reagan,” which was incredible. Not only is it a hard-hitting song, both in tone and lyrics, but every line was punctuated with the audience chanting along. From there, he did “Don’t Die” and “R.A.P. Music.” He ended with “God in the Building,” giving a brief talk about the importance of the song and his belief that God is more present at a rap show than at any religious institution. And toward the song’s end, he went into the audience, walked a good way in, and did the song over acapella, stopping every now and then to explain the lines, and when it was over, he disappeared. He completely vanished. He left a complete chill over the audience, leaving us all with this sense of history and power and passion.

Enters El-P blasting “Drones Over BRKLYN.”

El-P’s set up had two “DJs,” but they were more or less playing live instruments. The beats for El-P’s “Cancer for Cure” are a lot more intense and band-like than most hip-hop albums, so they added a whole extra element to the performance. El-P was less about banter and more about pure energy, so from there it was one banger after another, starting with “The Full Reatard,” which had everyone jumping and flailing more than for any other song the entire show.

A while after El-P’s set was concluded (Mr. Killums, unfortunately, never showed up), both Mike and El’s DJs came on stage and started belting out the beat to Run the Jewels’ title track, going right into “Banana Clipper” after that. The two had great stage presence together, pointing and motioning to one another between verses, choreographing poses, all kind of great stage work like that. Before “36’’ Chain,” El-P gave a speech about how everyone in the audience should believe in themselves and be cool – a corny kind of message, but in the context of the show and the music, was real. So much of rap, especially modern, mainstream rap, is about projecting a character, and on the flip side, there’s a whole cultural misunderstanding about the listenership of rap music. But what El, and the song itself, says is as you do what you do, you embody hip hop values and people will be able to tell.

“36’’ Chain” flowed directly into “DDFH,” and from there the show followed the order of the album up until “Job Well Done.” After that, amazingly, they both went into “Butane Anthem” off of Mike’s “R.A.P. Music,” starting by turning the song’s hook into a real kind of old-timey, rallying cry. It was impossibly fun. Then came “Get It,” before which El-P had to literally wring the sweat out of his shirt. It was unbelievable and, as Killer Mike put it, disgusting.

They both slowed things down a ton for “A Christmas Fucking Miracle.” El-P took time the point out how Run the Jewels was a totally free, unfunded album that belonged to the people and presented “Miracle” as a tribute to those who died too early and included Trayvon Martin.

Compared to the rest of Run the Jewels, “Miracle” is a much drearier and grittier song and both Killer P and El-Mike gave it the last remnants of their spirit. They absolutely brought the house down. Watching these two perform as a true pair felt like something totally new was happening in music, something good. If these two continue to make music in such a close capacity, rap music is going to continue to be in a very good place.

 

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Ohio’s Own Twenty One Pilots Graduate From Hometown Heroes to the Major Leagues (Q&A)

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By Valerie Reich 

I got the chance to sit down with one half of the rock duo, whose current single, “Holding On To You,” is climbing the radio charts.

Twenty One Pilots is actually a twosome — lead singer Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun — but that doesn’t mean they carry any less of a punch. The band’s latest album Vessel, entered the Billboard 200 chart at No. 58, after which they appeared at a number of high-profile festivals including Bonnaroo, Firefly, and Lollapalooza.

It all started innocently enough: the two guys were living in Columbus, Ohio. Dun and Joseph were introduced through a mutual friend and clicked. “We stayed up all night talking about our ambitions and dreams, and what we wanted musically,” Dun says. “It was kind of this weird thing where were very like-minded of the whole vision for the band. From that first night, we really wanted to play music together.”

In the span of two years, the Ohio-based duo have accomplished some of those goals in playing for massive crowds, landing a record deal with Fueled By Ramen and building the sort of buzz most bands only dream of — all thanks to their explosive unorthodox sounds and honest emotion-filled lyrics.

I recently sat down with Dun talk about the Twenty One Pilots’ whirlwind rise, why their lyrics are so serious, and where they got their name, among other topics.

Valerie ReichWhen it comes to making music, how do divide duties — does one of you write lyrics and the other music? Or is it all a collaboration? 

Josh Dun: It’s interesting. Right now,  it’s changing a bit because, when we met, Tyler was doing all the writing by himself. By the time we went to record our album, we had a glorified mix tape of songs. Some of that was a little bit of collaboration, but a lot of it was just Tyler working in his basement. Now that we’re moving forward, we’re writing songs together. The process is harder to describe. It’s not totally nailed down.

VR: How did you get your name? 

Dun: Twenty One Pilots is a play by Arthur Miller who also wrote All My Sons. It’s about a guy who’s creating and developing parts for airplanes in war time when it comes to his attention that some of these parts were faulty. He was faced with a decision: do I send the parts out and risk people getting hurt and potentially dying or do I recall the parts and most likely hang my name and probably end this business? That was a huge decision and ultimately he decides to send the parts out and as a result twenty one pilots die. There ends up being no correlation between the deaths and the parts, but one of the pilots killed happens to be one of his sons and his daughter blames him for his death the rest of the play.At the end, he kills himself.

The way we apply that to our band is that all of us are constantly faced with decisions. It could be a moral decision or just a small decision, like, should we watch the opener play? Maybe a bigger decision like, should we sign this publishing deal? Or which label should we sign with? It’s been surprising how many times we’ve used that reference throughout the last couple years to help us base our decisions that we’ve made.

VR: Suicide seems to be a recurring theme on Vessel with songs like “Car Radio,” “Migraine,” and “Holding On To You” making reference to taking one’s life. Is there a reason for that?

Dun: The lyrics are all Tyler, but it’s a real thing that’s pretty common, especially with teens. A lot of times, parents will avoid talking about it, or they’ll say, “Let’s not think about that.” But why not grant people the permission to think about it and redirect those feelings and thoughts to something different and creative? That’s kind of the mindset behind a lot of the content and lyrics on Vessel.

VR: Your music is so explosive and has so many different elements. How would you describe your sound? Could you put it into a genre?

DUN: That’s a good question. I really don’t know. I’ve lately been saying in the words of the great Louie Armstrong, there are two kinds of music the good kind and the bad kind. And I believe we are the good kind.

VR: Do you have a favorite song?  

DUN: Yeah, but that’s a tough question too. I enjoy all the songs on the record but I think from a live show perspective there are two I really enjoy. The first one is a song called “Ode to Sleep” which we typically open with and I enjoy that one because it’s so, I guess you could say, “weird” it catches people off guard and I think that’s one of the most exciting parts of the set to me especially if we’re talking about festivals where people maybe don’t know who we are. Knowing there are people who have never heard of you or seen you before playing this song with it’s strangeness and tempo changes and different styles mixed in with one song and people are trying to process two guys on the stage like “What is he doing is he rapping or is he singing?” So it’s like seeing the people who you can tell have never seen it before and watching them process the whole thing is kind of a really cool feeling for me. But then at the same time, kind of on the opposite set of things, near the end of our set we play a song called “Trees” and usually by that time because it’s the end of the set I’ve pretty much hit my drums as hard as I possibly could for almost an hour or however long it is. So I’m usually physically exhausted. But for that song, ever since we played it live it’s kind of been a refresher in something that I feel like renewed physically and I don’t know what it is or how to explain it. It’s kind of like every other song during the set is for someone else and I guess sometimes I just play that song for me.

VR: The album cover for Vessel features two older gentlemen; Who are they? 

Dun: They’re actually both of our grandfathers on the cover. We were talking about it and we’ve never seen that done before. So we were, like, “Let’s get our grandfathers together and do a photo shoot. And we did. We talked it over with our parents, it’s both of our fathers’ dad’s. They asked is they should wear anything in particular, and we were, like, “Absolutely not! Let’s just pick them up from their place and whatever they’re wearing, that will be on the cover.”

VR: Your single, “Holding On To You,” is currently No. 46 on the Billboard Rock Songs chart. What was it like hearing it on the radio for the first time? 

Dun: I honestly don’t listen to the radio often at all, but I was home about four months ago and driving to get food with my sister. We stopped at a light, it turned green and our song came on the radio. I guess I thought it was a CD at first and then my sister was, like, “This is awesome, you’re on the radio!” I kind of just sat there and the light almost turned red and the person behind me was honking. It was like how you see it in some movies, where people hear their songs on the radio but you don’t really know what that feels like until it happens. It was a really cool moment.

VRYou guys have spent much of the summer on the festival circuit. What’s it like to play on a massive open field? Do you still get nervous?

Dun: Yeah. It doesn’t sound that cool to say it, but I still get nervous for any show. But it’s different degrees — playing a small basement of a club verses playing a festival like Firefly or Bonnaroo. The feeling is, “Crap I’m about to be blasted in the face” and once you get started, then it’s, like, “OK, I’ve done this before I know what I’m doing.” After that, I feel fine. The really cool about festivals is that you’re getting to play in front of a whole lot of people who have never heard of us before. That’s exciting. At the same time, it’s a little bit of a challenge to capture the attention of people who have already seen a lot of bands.

VR: Are you enjoying touring?  

Dun: Man I love it. I actually have been home the past week which is more, that’s actually the longest period of time I’ve been home since the beginning of the year. We’ve been pretty consistently on the road. Now, it’s kind of got to the point where I was like “alright, I’m ready to get going and get back on the road. Your home is the road and for me I’ve come to really enjoy that and there’s nobody else that I’d rather play music with than our crew of guys who we play with. They’re my best friends and hopefully that will last for as long as possible. I know there comes a time where you want to sort of I’m assuming be with family and kind of stick around one place at a time but for now and for the past two years it’s been a blast and I wouldn’t rather have a normal job just go to work and come home with a routine life. I love it right now.

VR: What’s next for you guys? 

Dun: To continue touring and writing. Hopefully in the fall, we’ll have a vehicle that will be more accommodating to having a little mobile studio where we can and write and record demo stuff, because we both really itching to do that. That’s one thing that’s hard about being on the road, it’ tricky to be creative when you’re not in a place you’re used to. So we’re working on that and just pushing forward with that.

 

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