What an Ugly, Beautiful World. Recently while visiting a friend at Cal State LA, I found a book in the library with this title. I did not open the book. I didn't think that it could compete with its name.
Is this fair? I definitely judged a book by its cover, so strike one right there. Despite this, I didn't deem the book to be of poor quality. I decided that the sheer poetic quality of the title couldn't be topped. It won.
Music isn't like this. We receive a steady stream of Compact Discs at KXSC, and I can safely say that an album cover has never looked "too good to listen to." In fact, many personal favorites have had the worst graphic design I've ever seen (not that I'm any expert).
All of this is to say: listen to these tunes!! (images are linked)
Pedro the Lion - Phoenix
This band holds a very special place in my life and memories. In high school, an older friend of mine (whom I still credit as one of my foremost musical influences), noticed I was getting into the cresting Midwest emo revival moment at that time. He gave me a whole bunch of tapes and files, as he was sort of an OG in the scene (one of his prized possessions was an original Rites of Spring demo tape he sourced through connections).
Needless to say, his words were gospel and as you might have guessed, I ended up finding Pedro the Lion’s It’s Hard to Find a Friend in the stack. I took it home, listened to it first. There were a lot of bands that could easily slot into the “emo” realm, and a lot of them put a massive focus on creating impressive jangly chords and writing in interesting time signatures in conjunction with the thematic content. But Pedro the Lion’s way of communicating was more on the table: direct, honest, slow. Bazan wrote and played most of the accompaniments in the band’s early lifetime, probably contributing to this feeling. Listening to the record felt more akin to reading someone’s diary than song lyrics.
I knew Pedro’s front-man David Bazan was an accomplished songwriter; he’s gone on to tour under his name for years after Pedro the Lion was put on hiatus. 2018-2019 seems to be a year of revivals anyhow, and it’s nice to see Pedro the Lion’s name floating around again. They’ve found quite a lot of new ground to cover in Phoenix, touching on idyllic childhood experiences as well as newer, more traumatic ones. All of the songs are delivered with serious emotional weight, regardless of subject matter. “Circle K” and “Black Canyon” couldn’t be more different thematically, but a common melancholic thread ties them together that’s present throughout the entire album. I have a hard time thinking of bands, especially after years of hiatus, that can continually retain that emotional intensity, but this is Pedro the Lion we’re talking about.
Wrap yourself up in blankets and grab those old flipbooks your folks made of your childhood home, because Phoenix will unquestionably make you reflect on what it means to have grown up.
- Sean Morgenthaler, Music Director
RIYL: Texas is the Reason, American Football, Sloan
Recommended Tracks: 2, 4
Maggie Rogers - Heard It In A Past Life
NYU knew. Pharrell Williams knew. Now, we’re all getting to know the power of singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers.
I started consistently listening to Rogers on Spotify in mid-2018. Before, I had only heard “Alaska,” the single that floored Pharrell at a workshop at New York University. Months later, there I stood, dancing in my kitchen to “Light On” while making dinner.
Her debut album Heard It In a Past Life includes this and more, equally danceable tracks. Their layered backup vocals paired with steady beats and a twinkly electronic garnish make them dreamy pop anthems fit for singing in the car.
But, Rogers’ voice is the heart of the album. Her raw tone and confessional lyrics emphasize the pure emotion and experiences that lie behind every song. “Past Life,” a track featuring only Rogers and a piano, highlights her voice perfectly, making it the star of the song. No other instruments or poppy production details required.
With a name like Heard It In A Past Life, the album appropriately feels nostalgic: a bit rosy, but always inspiring reflection. I can already imagine thinking about my first month of 2019, recalling, “Yes, I jammed to these anthems with my friends.” I’m thankful Rogers could help me start the new year on the right foot.
- Fiona Pestana, DJ
RIYL: HAIM, King Princess, Lucy Dacus
Recommended Tracks: 1, 3, 4, 5, 9
TV-MA - “Unavailable”
My phone interview with Therisse Amunatigui, the brains and operation of TV-MA, was cut short prematurely by a very scary encounter on the beach. A man I didn’t know started pointing and yelling at me, demanding that I talk to him. In a fit of panic, I hopped in my car, locked my door, and drove away. Breathlessly, I told Therisse what had happened, and told them I would talk to them soon.
I didn’t know, I still don’t know what he wanted from me. All the worst case scenarios plagued my mind in the following weeks. I got a little paranoid. I changed my style. Nevertheless, I resolved to talk to Therisse again and write about our interview.
“When I wrote ‘Unavailable’ I was feeling miserable, I was at the end of my rope,” says Therisse Amunatigui, a Southern California local. They were attending therapy roughly every month and a half, sometimes missing their appointments for up to 4 months. Every time they went to therapy, they filled out intake forms, which measure anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, etc.
After a few consecutive visits of noting on their intake forms that they were dealing with suicidal ideation (and nary a mention of it in the previous sessions), Therisse was abruptly threatened with institutionalization. They were forced to flee before they were “taken in,” so to speak. Racing home in a wave of adrenaline and fear, Amunatigui quickly started writing “Unavailable.”
Very quickly. "I must have written the first verse and chorus in like an hour.”
Amunatigui remembers thinking about the psychiatrist, and wondering, “why are you so suddenly concerned?” And I wonder too. Why are we (queer, trans, gender-nonconforming) non-existent until we become a problem?
“The system is apathetic to your situation” says Amunatigui.
You're asking me
To solve riddles on a dime
I've come to you
And you won't give the time
Oooo it won't help me
Not when you're unavailable
Can't get it together
When the system's not together
We were promised to get better
One more crisis and it's over
One more crisis and it's over
These lyrics from the TV-MA’s new single “Unavailable” register with me on many levels. The constant requirement of having to prove one’s right to live. If a system is designed to kill you or erase you, how can it help you?
From a very young age Amunatigui's parents involved them in music, so it was never something that they considered: their future (and their present) would be music.
Amunatigui tells me that when they started their musical education, they were very rigid in their conception of music: scales, chords, rah rah. But this began to change. In college, Sufjan Steven’s Age of Adz was a revelatory album for them.
“He incorporated noise...electronic instruments, theory...orchestral instruments…and such unique timbres.”
“Unavailable" is similarly ripe with sound. I pride myself on being able to describe instrumentation with some clarity, even with electronic music. But I’m kind of stumped here. A lot of the instrumentation can be described as electronic, but that’s as far as I’m willing to go. The opening bars are easy enough - chimes, flute, thumping bass, some kind of kazoo? See what I mean.
The best prescription is to listen for yourself, and stay tuned for our full feature on TV-MA at kxsc.org/blog in the near future.
- Aida Rogers, Music Writing Director
RIYL: Sufjan Stevens, Rebecca Sugar, Jerry Paper
Recommended Tracks: 1
DJ Richard - Dies Iræ Xerox
I never thought a techno album could be as insidious and brooding as DJ Richard’s newest. This is the sound of empty city blocks at 4 AM, hearing a sound coming from the darkness and being equally sure and unsure of what it is. It’s the sound of a black car moving just a little too slowly. This is the sound of electrified air, of an unknown number texting you in all caps, of bitten nails and acts that only be described as “vicious”. This album is dangerous.
On the other hand, as at once it is violent and teeth-grinding, it lets you breathe. The ambient tracks on here provide kind of a “Resi Safe Room” feeling to them. Moments where one can at once breathe and find an uneasy tranquility. By design, they are interspersed between the hard-hitting tracks, to never quite let you get truly entrenched into the aggressive world. I really enjoy “Dissolving World” in particular – the hiss and tape warbling seem to envelop you, in the same way that The Disintegration Loops do. The angelic choral elements help out quite a lot with this too.
Before beginning a project or sculpture, Michelangelo would visualize the sculpture within his block of marble and slowly chip away at it. A remarkable talent that is – identifying everything that can be taken away from a piece of art and leaving only that which would leave the piece incomplete if removed. I can’t speak for DJ Richard, but it seems he’s taken this approach to the tracks on Dies Iræ Xerox. There isn’t anything in this album that could be taken away without reducing the impact of both the ambience and the weight of these tracks.
- Sean Morgenthaler, Music Director
RIYL: Symmetry, TRST, anything L.I.E.S., bruxism
Recommended Tracks: 3, 6, 9, 12
Planningtorock - Powerhouse
Some gender-affirming dance bops to help you feel your body and feel it how you like it. A range of reminiscent yet fresh production that dips into 90s house, R&B, amongst other danceable rhythms. My favorite track is "Non Binary Femme," for reasons I will not delve into. Take a listen. This is another production in a long line of music that demonstrates the powerful influence of gender-variant people on dance music.
- Aida Rogers, Music Writing Director
RIYL: John Maus, SOPHIE, Glass Candy
Recommended Tracks: 1, 3, 4, 5