Blake went to the Wiltern and reviewed Deafheaven’s final show on their most recent American tour.
MoM is back babey!! And leaner than ever.
In an iconoclastic maneuver, we've done away with genre directors in order to feature the writing of our beloved DJs. We know change is scary, but in this case it's scary awesome. Now you'll know exactly what our DJs are listening to, because they'll be telling you themselves. Genre directors were the vanguard of music writing. But we're not Marxist-Leninists (at least not all of us). We don't need the vanguard, we just need tasty reviews. Here they are.
Sure, party playlists are all the rage. We love a set of certified, danceable bops. But, what do you play when the party’s over?
That’s where this mix comes in. “end of the night” will put a cap on your evening with slow, soothing, and sometimes sad tracks. The transition from party mode to winding down is seamless, with “Drunk in LA” by Beach House and “Perfecto” by Mac Miller kicking off the mix. The playlist continues with tracks peppered with softly strummed guitar and confessional lyricism. To close out the evening, fall asleep to the philosophical preachings of Father John Misty, almost like a big-kid bedtime story.
I chose this selection of tracks because of their modernity — with the exception of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” — so that the mix could blend well with the tunes played at a contemporary kickback, house party, or romp around the town. Additionally, a handful of the songs are the last songs on their respective albums, so I figured they could top off the night as they top off their records.
Listen with friends on the way home or when you’re lazily getting ready to hop in bed. I hope this (meaningfully) sings you to sleep.
— Fiona Pestana
The inaugural Outside in Equinox Festival is coming up on September 21st to 24th, and promises a camping experience with, “exploration, discovery, & celebration of technology and the evolving human experience.” Taking place at Live Oak Campground near Santa Barbara, the festival has a great lineup along with daily workshops and lectures, with topics ranging from blockchain technology to ET Disclosure. These are a few artists I’m most excited to check out!
I had the pleasure of spending some time with Dr. Fresch at Burning Man, and not only is he one of the nicest guys ever, he’s also a fantastic DJ with the ability to play a wide range of genres. His set at Burning Man was one of my favorites, and I can’t wait to see him play.
Another amazing DJ I’ve had the pleasure of hanging out with, Justin Jay is a USC alumni who’s been blowing up in the house music scene. He has several tracks out with Dirtybird, and also has his own recording label Fantastic Voyage. He’s a festival favorite for a reason- don’t miss his set.
Please festival gods, let there be a Random Rab sunrise set. His beautiful mix of acoustic and electronic music is good for the soul. Doesn’t hurt that Apparently is one of my favorite songs, too.
Don Parmesan has established himself of one of the best up-and-coming DJs out of Santa Barbara. He’s an EOS regular and can curate a vibe like no other. He’s also hosting a theme camp “Disconauts”- be sure to check it out.
Burko and Lost Marbles
Two other up-and-coming DJs who’s sets I’ll definitely be at are Burko and Lost Marbles. I’ve seen Burko play a few times and have always been impressed by his music selection, ranging from tech house and techno, to Brazilian house and experimental bass. Lost Marbles is a group consisting of the DJs Vinny, BüF, and Don Parmesan who I mentioned earlier. They’ll be throwing down a tech house set that’ll guarantee to get your blood pumping. And who doesn’t love a B2B?
Workshops and Lectures
Although the haven’t released the workshops and lecture lineup, I’d make a point to check out at least one session. These events are a huge part of the experience, and adds a different dimension to the classic party-only-music-festival that you don’t always see.
“Wife… Kids… It’s all messing with my plan to just… move to Bhutan one of these days.” – Nick “The White Spider” Lefferts
I remember in elementary school reading a book about Abraham Lincoln, and about how in his day, when someone had a lot of debt they would often escape it by leaving town. Lincoln accrued quite a bit of debt as a young man (several times), but never skipped town; his persistence to paying his dues led to the nickname “Honest Abe.” What I found most intriguing about the story was the concept that someone could move to another town and simply begin a new life, with no way of contacting former acquaintances aside from the mail or in-person visits. As technology has progressed to give us telephones, e-mail, and social media, one of the perceived advantages has been the ability to maintain contact with friends and family from across the globe. What I would like to explore in this review is the concept of disappearing. Of a person removing themselves completely from their current life.
Mark Hollis is best known as the frontman of Talk Talk: a synthpop group that abandoned their mainstream sound to essentially invent the genre of post-rock, responsible for catchy hits such as 1984’s “It’s My Life” and minimalist masterpieces including 1991’s Laughing Stock. While fans and record labels responded poorly to the band’s less accessible material, their later albums have developed a notable cult following, and inspired musicians ranging from Radiohead and Sigur Ros, to Bon Iver, Floating Points, and Florence and the Machine. After the recording of Laughing Stock, Mark Hollis was abandoned by his bandmates, producers, and recording engineers, most of whom experienced mental illness, and several of whom never worked in music again. It was at this point that Hollis began his disappearance from the public eye.
In 1998, Hollis emerged very quietly to release his lone solo project. I say quietly because along with the lack of publicity surrounding the release, the album is literally very quiet. The opening track “The Colour Of Spring” is one of my favorite moments in recorded music. With a simple piano backing his subtly enchanting voice, the song seems to hover right along the line between silence and sound. Lyrically, Hollis’ genius speaks for itself, as in a mere ten lines he dismantles the concept of the music industry and addresses the “bridges that he’s burned,” all while offering a beautifully Existentialist view of his own fate. As the album progresses, Hollis explores love from multiple perspectives, life and death through war, and the façade of modern journalism, all through a soft and sparse musical tapestry woven together of angular horns, gently plucked strings, and meditative drums. In the end, Hollis leaves with a whisper, a barely audibly, “D’you see? / Wise words / wild words / d’you see?” Those words making his disappearance complete.
I’ve always been interested in albums made by an artist who knows the album will be their last, including J Dilla’s Donuts and David Bowie’s Blackstar. But as a final statement to the world, Mark Hollis has an obvious and glaring difference: Mark Hollis is not dead. Hollis ended his career by his own choice, and with a stark sense of finality.
To borrow a term from philosopher and limo driver Nicholas Nassim Taleb, our world is increasingly resembling an Extremistan (“-stan” is a Persian suffix meaning “land of;” Extremistan literally translates to “land of extremes”). As more people migrate to cities, areas of high population density grow more crowded, and rural areas grow still more desolate. In science, music, wealth, and celebrity, fewer and fewer people are succeeding, while succeeding to much greater heights than those before. Personally, I find the whirlwind of the life now before me quite dizzying. Striving for “success” as classically defined has always seemed a questionable goal to me, but I find more and more that the world of opportunity and scalability that technological advances have afforded us is also a world of shallowness, fakery, and meaningless connections. A world full of people with certainty, while increasingly governed by chance. A world of people living each moment of their lives simply as a means to the end of the next moment, and a world of people who judge others for their actions and results rather than the thoughts behind the actions and processes behind the results. A world that despite the thousands of humans surrounding me, feels incredibly lonely.
To me, Mark Hollis the man and Mark Hollis the album are reminders that there is another option. That no matter how crowded the world becomes, living a solitary, forgotten life can be a comfort in itself. That striving for success in the eyes of others is meaningless if it doesn’t lead to personal fulfillment. That even if life is pointless, it can still be beautiful if appreciated for its own immediacy. That it’s okay to leave. That sometimes the silence only achieved by a lack of humans can feel less lonely than the noise created by their presence. That continuing that silence for days, years, decades can be an artistic statement in itself. That others might not understand, can’t understand, will never understand, and that sometimes all you can do is try your best to explain to how you feel and – even though you already know the answer – ask quietly: D’you see?
-- Jatin Chowdhury, KXSC alumnus '18
July 27th, 2018 marks the first time the entire 36 Chambers album was played in California. The show was at The Shrine, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Wu-Tang Clan’s debut album, and let’s just say Da Ruckus was brought.
Throughout all of the great openers (special shout out to the firecracker DJ Livia) the Wu-Tang’s trademark bird loomed overhead. The Shrine was packed, and just about everyone was wearing a Wu-Tang Clan shirt. Everyone was hyped and ready.
The Wu-Tang Clan rushed out in full force with the opening track of 36 Chambers, “Bring Da Ruckus,” and this level of high energy was maintained throughout the show. The guys had a blast on stage, messing around and dancing with each other. The teamwork and talent that made the Wu-Tang Clan so successful were palpable tonight. They managed to sound like 9 unique voices, yet also a single strong force of nature.
After they performed 36 Chambers, the group paid tribute to Ol’ Dirty Bastard and played several other popular songs. Along with the tribute to ODB, there was a general attitude of gratefulness that permeated the show. The group repeatedly emphasized how important their California fans were to Wu-Tang’s success, and they marveled at the trajectory their careers have taken in the past two and a half decades.
As the show was ending, there was a moment of calm as one by one, several members, including RZA, stood alone at the top of the stage and performed some original verses. Finally, there were mentions of a new collective album, many solo projects, and the impending release of a new feature film called Cut Throat City by RZA. It definitely seemed that the Wu-Tang Clan is overjoyed to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their historical, groundbreaking album, but the group isn’t close to being done yet.
-- Madeleine Hamilton
Glassjaw’s July 20th performance at the El Rey Theatre marks the height of a newly minted era as the band performs tracks from Material Control, their first new album in 15 years. While the band had continued to occasionally release tracks in between albums, the advent of a new complete work has been a welcome shock to the hardcore music world. Without regard to the short time between release and tour, dedicated fans in the packed audience had no problem screaming the lyrics to tracks from both their new and old material.
The show opened with Hesitation Wounds whose sound captures the essence of American hardcore and punk with heavy guitar riffs and guttural screams interlaced with smooth vocals. The second opener, JPEGMAFIA approached the audience with a sense of intimacy by joining the crowds mosh pit repeatedly during the performance. His scream filled raps over strange beats caught the ears among the crowd, often before his direct physical presence or flinging sweat did.
I admit I had never heard of Glassjaw before attending this concert. In fact, I went last minute to cover for another DJ. Once there, I shuffled amongst the twenty to thirty-somethings that filled the crowd, taking care to avoid the mosh pit but also be close enough to see its inner workings while getting a feel for the band’s tone. I knew to expect hardcore but the two opening acts threw me off to Glassjaw’s comparatively relaxed sounds. These sounds create a melancholic vibe that is both soothing and somewhat stark to the listener. The hard guitar riffs paired with lead singer Daryl’s smooth coos make for a signature sound that finds its home between emo and hardcore.
The band opened with a new song from their album “Cut n Run” which captures the sounds of the band throughout its expansive career. While songs like "The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports" captured tones from the band’s height. Overall, Daryl did not talk to the crowd much perhaps showing some apprehension in presenting new material for the first time.
Despite this, the audience glowed under the bright lights of Glass Jaw’s set. As people sang and moshed along you could tell there was a mutual gratitude from band to fans and vice versa. Fans left with the renewed sense that one of their favorite bands was back with a vengeance and much musical ground still left to cover. Feeling all of this, I left the concert with my own appreciation for Glassjaw and a 25 year’s worth of a band’s history to look into.
-- T.L. Carroll
Summer. A time for…what? Trysts, flings, affairs, and rendezvous? Maybe. But also maybe not. During the summer there is too much time for brooding. Too much time to wade into the muck of past summers, those that were full of love and light. The heat and melancholy make you wilt. Here is a collaborative playlist by DJ Violet Ames and Music Writing Director Austin Rogers to soundtrack your cruel summer. Full of crooners, mourners and the heart-wrecked.
Open the playlist in Spotify here.
Deafheaven is a five-piece metal band from San Francisco. They have received critical praise for their adventurous sound and dynamic onstage energy, and are currently touring in support of their latest record, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love. KXSC DJ Blake Wagner spoke with Deafheaven’s frontman/lyricist/in-house screamer, George Clarke, about the band’s latest endeavor.
BW: Deafheaven is known for its eclectic array of influences. You’ve experimented with sounds from thrash and black metal to shoegaze and classic rock. What can listeners anticipate from the new album?
GC: Bands like Oasis, Pulp, Radiohead, and Queen all show up a lot more heavily this time around. We always keep our essential sound, but we shift around every album, and we like to joke that Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is our Britpop record. A lot of it has that kind of driving, melodic quality to it.
BW: Do you find that there’s a natural evolution from one record to the next, or do you just hit “reset” and start from the ground up with each new work?
GC: No, I think that it’s definitely a progression. By now, Kerry, myself, Dan, and Shiv have all been in a band together since 2013, and we can really play with each other in a much more cohesive way. We talk about the influences we want to bring to the table each time around, and with this album, we were really on the same page with things. That made the songwriting process really enjoyable – in fact, I would say the most enjoyable songwriting experience we’ve had so far.
BW: While we’re going down the roster of Deafheaven members, it’s worth noting that there is a new member of the band, Chris Johnson. What kind of energy do you think he brings to Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, especially to the songwriting process?
GC: A ton, which is something I really wanted to touch on. All of our past bassists – who, it’s worth noting, were all great musicians and are still friends of the band – were originally guitarists. But Chris is the first real bassist we’ve worked with, and bassists who know their instruments bring a totally different energy.
I think the bass work on this album is really a step up, and Chris wrote a lot of his own parts based off of Kerry and Shiv’s riffs. There are definitely sections in the album where the bass playing is my favorite part, and Chris is also a sound engineer, so you can hear a noticeable difference in our production both in the studio and live.
BW: Yeah, the new record has a really crisp, atmospheric quality that I think one review even described as “cinematic.” On that note, I’m curious to know what non-musical influences (movies, books, poetry, television) influenced the writing and recording of Ordinary Corrupt Human Love.
GC: Kerry in particular is a really avid moviegoer, and he’s always ready to discuss film, so a lot of that creeps into his songwriting. Personally, I was reading a lot of Dulce María Loynaz, whose collection, Absolute Solitude, was essentially the main lyrical influence on the record.
BW: And the title of the album is a Graham Greene reference, right?
GC: It is, which was something else that I was reading and kind of just grabbed the title from (which was actually a total life-saver). I was also reading Pablo Neruda, Maggie Nelson’s The Art of Cruelty, and Langston Hughes’ Not Without Laughter.
BW: There must be a direct link between all those influences and the larger ideas of the record. What are the recurring themes this time around?
GC: I would describe this album as very celebratory. Touring for New Bermuda was really stressful, and that led to some time off. During that time off, everyone individually relaxed and re-gained a sense of appreciation for what we do as a band, so Ordinary Corrupt Human Love has a really strong sense of purpose and togetherness.
The record focuses on empathy, unity, and the commonality of all people, especially the more mundane aspects of human experience. We incorporate a lot of flower and bird imagery, emphasizing that appreciation for the world around us and what we have. The mood overall is meant to be cathartic and positive.
BW: That’s really salient, especially with regards to the current social and political climate. The themes of empathy and humanity and collective identity seem especially apropos.
GC: You’re right, a lot of it did emerge as a reaction to the current political climate. I feel really exhausted and helpless a lot of the time, and I think that with this album, I wanted to help change the narrative, if only temporarily. Offer something different for a moment.
BW: Deafheaven’s sound has a really strong emotional tenor. It can be really invigorating but also really draining to listen to a Deafheaven album in its entirety. Performing your music night after night must be really intense. Can you switch that energy on and off or do you have to get into a certain headspace?
GC: I guess I have to get into a certain headspace, but that applies to pretty much anyone performing in front of a crowd of strangers. However, especially since our sets have been getting longer and our records do require a certain level of patience, there’s a need to make the live shows really energetic. It’s the difference between being at a concert with a bunch of people and just sitting at home listening to the album on your couch.
BW: Touching on the album-listening experience, there’s something really synesthetic about the cover art that’s accompanied each Deafheaven release – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is no different. It’s a really classic image. It looks like it could have been taken 50 years ago or yesterday.
GC: We worked together again with Nick Steinhart, who’s essentially our art director (as well as partner-in-crime and extremely good friend). We also worked with photographer Sean Stout, and the idea was to capture people in ordinary moments, touching on that appreciation for the day-to-day aspects of life.
While we were recording the record, we were living in this house and had picked up all this equipment to develop photos at home. Sean would come in every day and we would just roam around San Francisco and shoot everything - then, we’d go home and develop the photos that same night. We did that everyday, finally winding up with something like six hundred images.
All of the packaging is filled with photography of people in street scenes living their lives. But on the cover in particular there is a kind of sweet anonymity about this woman, and I felt like it was the perfect image to represent the record and the stories we wanted to tell.
BW: I’m excited to sink my teeth into the new album and catch you guys on tour later this summer. Thanks for taking the time to chat.
GC: My pleasure! Take care.
Deafheaven will be performing at The Wiltern in L.A. on Saturday, August 18. Their new album, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, is out now.
I've never had a more stellar Monday night in my entire life.
After a long day (and a 45 minute nap in my car before the show) I made my way over to The Echo on July 2nd for Transviolet’s last show. Not only was this the closing show of their first ever U.S. headline, but it was the group's homecoming show as well. I’ve been a fan of this band for about two years and had the chance to see them perform twice before. Both instances were incredible, the first truly left me frozen in place and utterly captivated. However, there was something about this occasion that was more distinct and even elevated.
There are very few artists whose performance genuinely changes the space and atmosphere of the venue, but Transviolet did just that. The members of this group have an obvious passion and love for the music they produce that translates to their stage presence. Small details added a level of depth to the artist's themselves as well as their production: the way eyes would close with certain notes sung, chords played, or individual shouts from the crowd. Pauses that the band held during songs left the audience on their toes, holding in a breath, waiting for more. Once that breath was released, the music seemed to almost possess members of the band, creating movements that represented a strong connection between them and the sound they have created. This environment communicated something that ignited every individual in the room, allowing fans to move with the music just as the performers did.
Often writing about feminist topics and issues, the band recently released their single, Bad Intentions, which they performed that night. Singing songs about topics that deserve to be noticed, Transviolet certainly creates a space in which they are the focus. The group definitely creates justice for these topics as their production is extremely powerful and impactful.
As always, Transviolet put on an amazing show. Til next time!
-- Nina Baker-Mason
With the release of the album OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES, avant-pop artist SOPHIE places herself at the top of the musical pantheon, ready to change auditory pop perfection as we know it.
The L.A. based producer, songwriter, and creator is an enigma. Prior to releasing her 2018 album (which, when said out loud, is meant to sound like “I LOVE EVERY PERSON’S INSIDES”), her identity was completely under wraps - her age, appearance, and, at the time, gender were all undisclosed, masked behind an output of textured singles with strange titles like “BIPP” and “MSMSMSM”. Her first project PRODUCT was released in 2015, and since then, SOPHIE has been kept in the darkness, her persona being carried behind pitched vocals and artificial instrumentation.
However, her debut album, released on June 15th, subverts expectations: OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES is an eclectic, meditative album on identity, society, and genre as it stands in the modern pop landscape.
When promoting OIL, SOPHIE decided to come out of her shell, and it pays off tremendously. The single “It’s Okay To Cry” was the first introduction to the record, and features the producer herself softly whisper-singing over a jingly keyboard riff and atmospheric synthesizers - a huge contrast to the abrasive IDM on her previous work. Every word, note, and breath here is incredibly delicate, and lyrics like “All of the big occasions you might have missed / No, I accept you” gain deeper meaning when considering that the song was SOPHIE’s self-introduction into the spotlight as a trans woman. By shedding the mystique, she allows herself to shine and become vulnerable, in a way previously uncharted.
The sound throughout the record consistently toes the line between bubblegum pop and industrial chaos with ease. She intends to be abrasive, purposefully developing sound clashes that upon the first listen make the listener jump, but reveal intricate and sophisticated progression beyond the inaccessibility. A first listen of “Ponyboy” or “Whole New World/Pretend World” can leave the regular listener confused, but through the disorientation, it’s easy to see that the whole record is shrouded in unparalleled creativity.
OIL reflects SOPHIE’s other work in that it carries a metallic shimmer, as though you’re immersed in a reflection of sort; on the surface it could appear bland and emotionless (as does most PC Music influenced bubblegum bass), yet there is something incredibly enticing just beyond grasp. Every note seems to come out of nowhere and leaves you at the edge of your seat in an incredibly surrealist form of auditory entertainment. Songs like “Faceshopping” feel as if machines haphazardly clanging together were banging in time - however, it all seems effortlessly calculated. There is an intention in every single note programmed, with every sound enhancing and adding to an emotional cacophony.
Where the record truly shines, however, is where it taps into that emotion. The centerpiece, and arguably an early contender for song of the year, is the immersive “Is It Cold In The Water?”, a song that frames itself as a melodic piece of performance art. Over sweeping bass and a consistently pulsating synthesizer that never lets up for the three and a half minute runtime, Mozart’s Sister sings lyrics like “I’m freezing / I’m burning / I’ve left my home”. Her voice, hauntingly gorgeous and, again, delicate, cascades over the production effortlessly, jumping octaves and flowing as if the song was the water itself. It is full of genuine uncertainty; when she begs the question “Is it cold in the water?” over and over again, it is desperation seeping through, conveying the true and very real fear of not knowing. When considering SOPHIE’s struggles with self and gender, even though she isn’t singing herself on this track, “Is It Cold In The Water?” is a meditation on what the unknown brings in a change of identity. The track seems to be an auditory form of rebirth, cleansing the palate and capturing the essence of transformation. The song is an experience, rather than a piece of music; it’s one of the most incredible forms of experimental emotion ever committed to a pop record.
OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES, in a phrase, is merely something that a listener has never heard before. The form-breaking tracks of “Ponyboy” and “Faceshopping” incorporate breakdowns fusing industrial music with IDM. “Infatuation”, much like “Is It Cold In The Water?” is a slow-burn track full of whispers and pseudo-harmonies over punching synthesizers. Even a cookie cutter pop song like “Immaterial” is an incredible earworm using sparse production to convey a critique on a materialistic society. The unconventionality oozes from every note, drop, and beat OIL brings; it is as though we are seeing into the future through an auditory crystal ball.
Every listener to this album will have a different experience. The impact this record has is felt where SOPHIE fills a sonic space or leaves it empty, it is felt with every single instrumental clash, it is felt in the feeling one automatically gets in their chest upon hearing the near six minute long ambient instrumental “Pretending” or the aforementioned “Is It Cold In The Water?”. The album looks to the future, and poises itself to challenge it with every lyric. With her first full-length record, SOPHIE makes her presence known, in both the pop scene and musical landscape, as a force to be reckoned with, and as the sole proprietor of an uncharted sound no one else dares to explore.
-- Reanna Cruz
Flipping through a 1985 issue of the Advocate I impulse-bought from eBay, I noticed a short blurb reviewing Hüsker Dü’s album New Day Rising, which came out that same year. The reviewer wrote that “as far as I know, there’s nothing gay about [Hüsker Dü], unless you count their ferocious, unforgiving optimism.” Hüsker Dü frontman Bob Mould is in fact gay--though he would not come out publicly until the 1990s, years after the band had broken up--so the reviewer was perceptive in noting something queer in Mould’s emotionally raw blue-collar punk. The chasm between queerness and gritty, heartland rock music is not as wide as one might be led to believe, and it is bridged by precisely the desperate hopefulness and unabashed emotionality described by the Advocate reviewer. But as much as myself and other butch lesbians admire Bruce Springsteen’s tender masculinity, and as often as queer and trans punks emphatically sing along to the Replacements’ “Androgynous,” few LGBT-fronted bands have emerged since Hüsker Dü that embody the humble, persevering spirit of rust-belt and midwestern rock music.
Enter Dyke Drama. Dyke Drama is the solo project of Sadie Switchblade, the prodigally talented musician best known as the frontwoman of the short-lived but much-loved hardcore punk band GLOSS. In GLOSS (“Girls Living Outside Society’s Shit”), Switchblade embraced cathartic political anger, scream-singing about trans women taking over the world and the necessity of violent resistance. Dyke Drama is no less revolutionary, so long as one understands that for marginalized people, the personal is inherently political. With this project, Switchblade delves into the traumas and daily frustrations that impact life for many trans women and other LGBT people. Some of Dyke Drama’s songs reference experiences unique to trans womanhood, but most of Switchblade’s lyrics--about heartbreak, loneliness, and ennui--would not be out of place on a Springsteen or Lucinda Williams album. Williams’ “I Just Wanted to See You So Bad,” which Dyke Drama covers towards the end of their 2016 album, Up Against the Bricks, could pass for Switchblade’s own writing.
Up Against the Bricks oozes with emotion and poignant lyricism, but it’s also a tightly produced and incredibly infectious rock album. Opener “Rolling Tears” begins with a twangy fifteen-second guitar riff followed by a breakneck drum fill and a primal yell reminiscent of the one that kicks off the Replacements’ “Bastards of Young.” This introduction sets the album’s stylistic and emotional tone: unflinching and achy, but equally energizing. The album’s second track, “Crying in a Bathroom Stall” employs pop-punk-esque chugging guitar to imbue the titular scene of despair with defiant strength. Most of the song’s lyrics describe the almost universal experience of romantic heartbreak, but the final line gives “Crying” specificity; “Do all tall girls die alone?” Switchblade asks twice over the final guitar riffs. The line, which refers euphemistically to trans girls as “tall girls,” succinctly connects Switchblade’s personal emotional pain to the culturally embedded undesirability assigned to trans women. This feeling of lesser-ness is expanded upon in the words to “Cis Girls,” the album’s penultimate track: “You say I'm second to none / but I'm still second to one, / One of those girls.”
The heartache expressed in “Crying” is wedded with a desperate hopefulness in Up Against the Bricks’ title track. The song’s verse meanders over a wounded guitar melody, and its catchy chorus comes in triumphantly with heavy guitar chugs. “Is it too much to ask for a moment that lasts for / long enough to get it right? For you to keep me up all night?” Switchblade pleads in the chorus, “Is it too late for dreaming? To go back to believing? / To push me up against the bricks, grab my skull and kiss my lips.” The poignancy in her voice makes us hope that it isn’t too late, even as we sense that it probably is. Alongside the desperate desire for love in these lyrics is a dark shadow of aggression, even violence--having one’s “skull” grabbed and pushed against a brick wall does not necessarily conjure up images of tenderness. This forceful imagery lays bare the abuse, or threat thereof, that has defined the lives of too many trans women.
Other topics covered in the anthems that populate Up Against the Bricks include the sleaziness of the music industry (“You Can’t Count on Me”) and the alienation of growing up in a neglectful and dysfunctional family (“Day-For-Night”). These subjects, along with the rest of the album’s lyrical content, compose a clear vision; one that connects the personal with the political to generate an all-encompassing pissed-off-ness that remains bold and self-assured enough to not stray into bitterness.
Up Against the Bricks ends with the devastating “Some Days I Load My Gun,” a stripped-down ballad of suicidal ideation. It’s raw and heartbreaking, but there’s a note of hope in it too. “Some days I load my .22,” Switchblade sings, “but I don't want to give up on you / sweet people in my life / I don't wanna make anyone cry.” The lyrics acknowledge and pay tribute to the presence of a loving support system, even as they show that loved ones aren’t always enough to keep out the dark thoughts. The song--and album--ends with the fading in of a droning organ and the repeated line, “Is there anyone?” The line is sung through tinny, distant vocal effects, evoking the sensation of isolation it describes. It’s a bummer of a way to end an album, but Switchblade isn’t trying to craft a narrative of straightforward perseverance that inevitably ends with happiness or success. She’s depicting pain and grief and joy and desire in the arbitrary pattern in which life throws them at us, particularly those of us who are marginalized along multiple axes. Dyke Drama embraces its similarity to older bands like Hüsker Dü and the Replacements--the album is labeled on bandcamp with the tag “Westerberg” in reference to the Replacements’ frontman--but rather than being derivative, Up Against the Bricks carries these bands’ tough and tender spirit into uncharted territory.
If you couldn’t already tell from all of the major corporations’ rainbow ad campaigns, June is Pride Month! To celebrate our most authentic, beautiful selves, we’ve created a playlist featuring gay, bi, lesbian, trans, queer artists. The eras span from the ‘60s to the present day. There’s a whole lotta pop and classic rock, as well as some blues and hip-hop; there’s something for everyone. Crank this up to get any pride party going.
It is important to acknowledge that the celebration of Pride started with the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969 led by trans women of color. So, when we commemorate this month, it’s crucial to shine the light on trans, femme, black folk. Lately, the LGBTQ community has been very white, cis, and commercialized. Corporations and institutions are branding themselves as allies, but very few are actually committed to the cause. We’ve gotten to a point where Pride is becoming more and more inclusive and mainstream every year. It’s a welcoming party; an invitation to revel in what makes us beautiful and unique. Still, Pride is political. Remember that queer history involves the intersectional fight against police brutality, racism, transphobia, and, homophobia. The community and its allies should celebrate, but be active in what still needs to be done to achieve justice.
This playlist reflects the change in dynamics of the LGBTQ community over several decades like how our love for ourselves has grown unapologetic, but also how anti-LGBTQ sentiments and violence are still prevalent (and arguably even worsening). I’ve highlighted notable queer-fronted bands and queer musicians with different struggles. We’ve witnessed a transformation from the ‘50s and ‘60s in which queer folk faced explicit anti-homosexual legal system such as homosexuality being a basis for arrest. The ‘80s were definitely more flamboyant and glamorous, however, there was still difficulty for stars to discuss gay topics in their music. Today, the popularity of queer artists is skyrocketing because the community’s visibility is being more widely accepted.
These artists don’t just create music about their sexual orientation, but also who they are. This music is the soundtrack of our lives since the artists live with similar personal struggles to their audience. Pride is about validating queerness and music has played a large part in making us feel comfortable; it has been anthemic The representation allows people to embrace their diverse identities. Music is a reminder that queer folk exist, feel, and create art.
-- Natalie Lee
Check out Natalie's playlist here!
Moontower: a name that is common knowledge to USC students, and spreading like fire through a network of schools in Southern California and across the world, with their first single hitting over 100,000 plays in its first two weeks. Booking shows left and right, these three talented young musicians have had quite the atypical college semester - playing shows on boats in the San Diego harbor, booking numerous festivals, and attending record label meetings instead of studying for finals. However, as with most successful bands, there's a team behind the scenes making the rest of the magic happen. As Moontower always says, "There are three members in the band, but five members of Moontower".
To most, Moontower is just a catchy band that makes their feet move, but what many don't know are the ways the entire team is pushing the boundaries of what live music, and what being a band really means. These student's passions have ignited an augmented reality company, short films, and interactive stages… just the beginning of what is to come from Moontower.
Tom, a once a signed DJ who cultivates catchy electronic beats, met Devan - a Juilliard level flutist with long flowing brown hair - during their first week at USC. They started producing and writing music, eventually catching the eye, and friendship, of Jake. A catalyst for the creation of Moontower was a Lemaitre concert they attended together. Standing in awe within the crowd, the three said to each other that they wanted to create indie dance music that made others feel the way they felt in that moment. In the fragmentation stages over summer, Moontower's grounding was built by the hands of numerous USC students. A few notable names out of the many are Rocky (Racquel) Levia who helped with their creative direction - making their first logo and artwork - and Jamie Haberman who helped them get their ducks in a row in the ideation phase. This was the start of a trend for Moontower. As their network at USC grew, a slew of young, talented, and passionate students took on the project of Moontower and made it more than just a band, challenging what is expected from musicians.
Carina Glastris: Manager
"Shut up and stop worrying" is what the band recites as what Carina always tells them, because in their words "when she says she will do something - she does it … and when it gets done it's always better than we hoped it would be". Carina Glastris is a recent graduate of USC with a burning passion for her work and a radiant energy that ignites that passion in those lucky enough to be around her. Her involvement with Moontower began as help with branding, but during the initial meeting she started rattling off ideas and the band realized she contained the passion and drive they were looking for. Her initial mood boards she made for them blew the band away, leading them to take her on as creative direction. However, when she took on Moontower as a project, the band quickly started to see the dedication and knowledge she had push them forward in the music industry, leading them to increase her role to manager. Her housemates from this past year have become accustomed to Carina leaving the house regularly for Moontower meetings reaching past 1am, ordering 20 Amazon boxes to find "the perfect prop for the video", and daily screams of joy when Spotify updates Willam's play count. The band praises Carina's humble ability to understand what she doesn't know, and striving to gain that knowledge from those around her and surrounding herself with people who can help. "She knows how to be the coach, without being the quarterback", Tom said with a smile.
William Holywood: ???
William is one of the band's roommates who has been highlighted in "Pilot", a hilariously confusing psychedelic video to Moontower's song Marathon. William has moved many times in his life from places ranging from Czechoslovakia to middle-class suburbs. After starting his studies at USC, he ended up living with the band, but as he says, he simply "lives amongst them", mostly doing his own thing. The band was at first writing songs about William without his consent and took footage of him for Marathon by stalking him, which created a lot of animosity between him and the band. However, recently he has felt like their newer music speaks to him so has taken control of the videos - a hopeful bridge between a shaky relationship. William's next video in partnership with Moontower tells the true story of his nextdoor neighbor that he loves, or maybe he doesn't love.
Jacob Fishman: Production & Tour Manager, Director of Live Experience, Head of Touring and Product at Mercive
Jacob, better known as Fish, has been with the band from its creation, a consistent thread through their growth. He was living in Portland when Rocky called asking for help building a stage. Intrigued, Fish drove back to Los Angeles to work on the stage that day. He came back the next day to help, and then the next day... and has been back every day since. As a child, Fish was heavily involved in competitive robotics. He strived with physical creation of mechanical objects, yet a heavy influence to music and art pushed him towards live music experiences. The full stage that Moontower plays with, including the modular stage and lights, were built by him and Rocky. He also handles all the logistics of playing other venues, from unloading and loading the gear to mixing their music live. When he graduates, Fish dreams of packing his belongings into a single backpack, and hitting the road with Moontower to continue to restructure the current box live music is within.
Cam Lindsay: CEO of Mercive, partnership with Moontower
Fish remembers the moment when Cam had the idea to bring augmented reality into live music, excitedly asking how it would work, Cam replied, "Well, that's about all I've got right now". The idea was brought to life when Cam attended one of Moontower's shows and was blown away by its professionalism. For Cam, that show began to blur the line of what a professional was, and inspire him to work with Moontower as the starting point to creating his vision. The initial meetings consisted of conjuring up Fish and Cam's dream live performance, bursting the seams of current life music experiences. Reeling back their lofty ideas, they settled upon creating a 8ft by 10ft pod where two people could stand inside wearing a Mira Augmented Reality headset and Beats headphones to experience a three minute augmented reality experience catered to Moontower's song Marathon. The vast majority of people who entered had never experienced AR - not more than Pokemon Go - and their responses were overwhelmingly positive. Mercive has continued to expand their clientele, and has been accepted to be part of the Advanced Game Project at USC. Check out Mercive's experience at Moontower's show here.
Give Moontower's first single that is sweeping the world a listen on Spotify here.
Photo credits: Jacob Fishman, Carina Glastris, Anastasia Velicescu, Brittany Harper
Welcome back to the latest installment of the MoM newsletter. A quick shout out for our annual fundraiser going on right now: As a student radio organization we do not receive operational funding from the university so it's up to us to gather funds to keep us on the air. To support this newsletter, events, and DJs that create the content of KXSC, help us reach our fundraising goal atkxsc.org/donate!
James Earl / Duckwrth / What So Not – Friday April 6, 2018
By Madeleine Benn / Madame Psychosis – So It Goes…
This was my first time at The Palladium, so I didn’t realize just how big the crowd was going to get, but apparently James Earl, the opening DJ, was very aware that he had maybe a ninth of the audience to keep entertained. But, if he didn’t give it more consideration than the ticket-holders for that night’s complete festivities gave him then, I don’t know what to tell you. He knew his role as the first hype man and he did his job. He played regular party mixes and encouraged fill-in- the-blank moments which kept the crowd involved and dancing and not ignoring him. Overall, he was not the most notable thing about the night.
Duckwrth was on next which was a surprise to me because I had been told that he was the headliner, but that’s okay, I was rolling with it. Here’s the thing though, most of the rest of the audience, who by this time had made it through security (that’s a whole other story), were not rolling with it. Now I know (at the time I didn’t) that What So Not, the DJ that was the actual headliner, is an EDM artist and whoever paired his and Duckwrth’s audiences together should lose their job. Jesus were they mismatched. Only at the beginning of each other’s set were people not idling outside. Then it did a complete flip-flop. Anyway, Duckwrth had released the music video for his song Tamagotchi not two days before the show, so I thought there’d be some excitement over that, but other than making it his entrance song… nothing. His set lasted about an hour, but he was super active on stage, jumping over his stage props, taking off his shirt, etc. So that must have been exhausting. He finally caught the attention of the What So Not crowd with his last song, both because he declared it as his last song and because it is his most jammin’. It was one of my personal favorites MICHUUL. and it definitely had people up. Honestly this is the song you should get introduced to Duckwrth with (which is why we’ve hyperlinked it above, so check it out!).
As for What So Not, all I can say is that I finally get EDM music… or at least I understand why it’s something you have to experience. When I first saw the warning signs outside the auditorium for “INTENSE STROBE LIGHTING EFFECTS”, I said to myself, “What is this a haunted house?”. But a few drinks in, several types of smoke mixed in the air all around me and different colors and lengths of lights like that and I could see how it could be nauseating. The graphics behind the DJ were mesmerizing, but you couldn’t look at them for too long a stretch at a time because at that point the venue was pretty packed, so my friend and I really had to stick together. Ultimately though EDM is not for me. If you are looking to get into this artist though, the song that all of his fans seemed to yell along to was High You Are, so I would start there.