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REVIEW: The Messenger Birds Doom-pocalypse Debut — Everything Has to Fall Apart Eventually

Album To Be Played In Its Entirety Live From Rustbelt Studios at 8pm EST This Friday, October 9 on Band’s Youtube Channel

When approaching any new band, it’s best to avoid assumptions to keep from pigeonholing them as this or that instead of just themselves, Still though, it would be understandable that The Messenger Birds, a Detroit two-piece rock band made up of members Parker Bengry and Chris Williams, whose debut album is being pressed at Jack White’s Third Man Press, might cause people to assume they are a band in the same vein as another great Detroit band: The White Stripes. If that was anyone’s assumption going in, Bengry and Williams quickly dispel it with extreme prejudice just moments into their debut full-length Everything Has to Fall Apart Eventually

What’s instantly shocking about the album is that it was, according to the band, written in 2018 and recorded mostly in 2019, because the music feels immediate, like the band is bunkered down somewhere, inundated by the relentlessly bleak news of the day, and cranking out these songs to express their frustration and rage. Make no mistake: Everything Has to Fall Apart Eventually is not just a great rock record – it’s an emotional journey. 

The Messenger Birds | Photography: Koda Hult

The opening track, “Play Dead (Just For Tonight)” opens with a somberness of a funeral dirge, with a slow-building guitar, picking up more and more momentum with each note. Lyrically, some connections are made because of what we, the listener, are feeling inside at the moment. But one can’t help but feel the line “Keep your mask up on the nearest shelf,” even if its meaning is about the need to escape into another persona to get away from everything that feels horrible. The further references to “another day for the Holocaust” – a shooting at a synagogue, pipe bombs, and false-flag conspiracies – lay open the song’s ominous tone of fear and paranoia, like it’s anticipating an oncoming apocalypse, complimented by the creeping feeling of dread of the music that eventually explodes into chaos of drums and guitar with the song title repeated as a refrain “Just play dead for tonight,” like needed advice to survive these times. 

“Play Dead (For Tonight)” is just an opening salvo. “The Phantom Limb,” which has hit 5 million plays since it debuted on Spotify in 2018, is where the record really kicks into high gear. It’s the kind of fist-pumping, all-out rocker that’s been missing from our recent music landscape. It’s a song that forces you to remind yourself that it’s being played by two guys on two instruments, and is the best that dynamic has produced since The White Stripes. One of the many things that stand out about Everything Has to Fall Apart Eventually is how much Bengry and Williams are able to pull off with each song, reaching sonic landscapes that seem impossible for a two-piece band. 

If the release’s ominous, paranoid tone is merely hinted at in the first two tracks, the one-two punch of “What You Want to Hear” and “Self Destruct” releases it like a primal scream. The Messenger Birds clearly didn’t set out to write songs about how we are inundated every day with bleak news brought to us by society’s most heinous monsters – these songs are merely a byproduct of what it’s like living in these times. 

Even a cursory glance of a news feed or comment thread sees people desperately clinging to a vision of our society that is far from reality, and “What You Want to Hear” is the ballad of confirmation bias: a song directed at everyone who wants to live in an insular bubble and shut out any challenges to their flawed beliefs. “Self Destruct” is where we’re headed as our country seems to be handed off more and more to hate groups that have been emboldened in the past few years. “My tv’s like a time machine/Takes me back… 1943/Tiki torch, marching up the street/Flying flags of a dead dream” is a lyric that is clearly inspired by the events in Charlottesville just three years ago, but sadly are still too relevant in light of The Proud Boys and other supremacist groups trying to bully and intimidate those who push back against their messages of hate.  

The first single and true emotional centerpiece is the title track “Everything Has to Fall Apart Eventually.” As hopelessness seems pervasive and the walls start closing in, we’re too often left with our own thoughts screaming inside our heads. While we all hope for the best, we fear the worst, and the narrator of the song knows this better than anyone. It’s the anthem for fighting back when fighting back feels pointless, and for when loss and tragedy feel too inevitable to resist anymore. As the song closes with the repeated “Hope we make it through,” we can all close our eyes, nod for a moment, and mouth “I hope so, too.” 

If the title track is the emotional apex, then the acoustic “When You’ve Had Enough,” gives us a moment to scale it all back for a breather and some introspection before gearing up again. It’s a song that seems perfectly placed at the end of the record that has been an intense rollercoaster of emotion, like the moment when the ride hits a long stretch of gentle hills and you feel for a moment a cool breeze on your face and gain a sense of peace. It’s providing comfort through the reminder that we are not alone in this, even if, like the song intones, “Most days I’m only getting by,” which we all have felt in these past 10 months. 

The world we are living in is a constant rollercoaster that never seems to end, and the album closes with “Start Again” to remind us of that. The lyrics reference the Greek myth of Sisyphus (“I feel like Sisyphus just got it started again…”) who angered the gods by putting Death in chains so no one else had to die. As punishment, he is forced to push a heavy boulder up a hill only for it to roll back to the bottom again, forcing him to start again. I’ve always loved the myth of Sisyphus because it is a tale that defines determination, even in the face of that which is unavoidable. French philosopher Albert Camus wrote an essay about Sisyphus’s pursuit of getting the boulder to the top without rolling back down again, even though he knew it would. Camus tells the reader that it is important to picture Sisyphus as happy. If we can picture Sisyphus as happy, then we too can be happy and believe in our collective potential to survive all of this horribleness. Even as the song descends once more into a chaos of screeching guitars and drums, The Messenger Birds seem to want us to do the same. 

Everything Has to Fall Apart Eventually is one of the most self-assured debut records I’ve heard in recent memory and one that feels the rafters begin to shake as the foundation of our reality cracks underneath and knows it’s all caving in on us. Even if the lyrics warn us that we are at the forefront of an apocalypse, it implores us to stand together against every wretched monster carrying tiki torches and trying to shout us down with hate. We will fight back and reclaim our world and our sanity and do it together, pushing back those who are only concerned with power. 

Let’s hope for that return soon, because with our world being on pause for the moment, live shows won’t be happening for a while. This is a shame because this album is an album that demands – cries out – to be heard live. In the meantime, blast it from your speakers and let it pulsate through your body and reverberate through your soul. The Messenger Birds are a band for this moment and could define a third phase of Detroit born-and-bred rock ‘n’ roll. The Messenger Birds Everything Has to Fall Apart Eventually was released October 7th through Earshot Media. You can order the record, buy some merch, watch videos, and get the latest news on the band on their website.

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The Messenger Birds will continue to celebrate the new release with fans as direct support for Steel Panther’s upcoming socially-distanced ‘Fast Cars and Loud Guitars- Live at The Drive-In’ show taking place on October 16 at Pontiac, MI’s Crofoot Festival Grounds. Tickets for the event are now available here.

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REVIEW: Jason Isbell Wrestles With Ghosts of the Past On Reunions

My history with the music of Jason Isbell is long by most standards, dating back now seventeen years since he was the “new kid” in the Drive-By Truckers, almost like a hired gun as the band’s third guitarist, during their brilliant trio of albums: Decoration Day, The Dirty South, and A Blessing and a Curse. Isbell seemed like the band’s little brother at the time, and yet his songs easily stood toe-to-toe with those from bandmates Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, with standout tracks like title track “Decoration Day,” “Goddamn Lonely Love” from The Dirty South, and the outtake “TVA” from those sessions. 

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As good as he was when he was younger, he has managed, since going solo, to continue to push himself more and more with each album, effortlessly stretching creatively to one-up himself across three proper solo albums and now four albums with his backing band The 400 Unit. Through those seven post-Truckers records, he has solidified his position as one of our greatest-living songwriters, an assertion he might deny but one with which his legion of fans would certainly agree. 

On his new album Reunions, Isbell, a dyed-in-the-wool Alabaman whose early albums were steeped in the Southern rock tradition, has taken on a sound that is more Americana than Southern. The America that Isbell explores is one haunted by ghosts and populated by characters wanting nothing more than to move forward in so many ways in their lives, but while struggling with pasts often complicated; wrapped tightly in both warm memories and regrets of mistakes they made but can’t quite shake or forgive themselves for. In fact, on the album’s opening track, “What’ve I Done to Help,” Isbell laments a life of mistakes; questioning with the title if he’s made any effort to make his situation better, and revealing that in fact, he’s only made it worse; a sentiment many of us can relate to when we are haunted by the ghosts of regret in our minds. 

The emotional toil of the first song gives way to its counterbalance: “Dreamsicle.” Isbell spent his childhood in Alabama, as I spent mine in Missouri, separated by some-odd 600 miles, but joined by those moments spent outside in a folding chair enjoying a sweet, cold treat. However, the song’s nostalgia for the innocence of childhood spent outside in the twinkling twilight of childhood summer nights is shadowed with the foreboding of a sadness not fully realized, but one that is still ever-present. 

By his own admission, Isbell was first able to write songs for a character that was not him or based upon a story he knew with “Elephant” from 2013’s Southeastern. “Only Children” is one such song, as the protagonist revisits his home town and is reminded of a friend lost. Even among those good memories, though, are moments tinged with a sadness; moments of more questions than answers, hinting at a story with an ending that is unknown and tragic as a result. Even the solo towards the end of the song feels like tears on a guitar. 

Side two kicks off with “Running With Our Eyes Closed,” a track that would not have been out of place on an early Heartbreakers album, as you can close your eyes and for a moment imagine Tom Petty taking that lead vocal. As Isbell sings of a romance that at any moment seems in danger of going completely off the rails but manages to continue on, he lets loose with a bluesy guitar riff unlike anything he’s attempted before and yet nailed with aplomb. 

The album’s next two tracks —  “The River” and “Be Afraid” — feel like a one-two punch. On the gentle, gorgeous “The River,” Isbell finds spirituality, baptism, and forgiveness on the titular river, as if he has been washed of the sins of his past and is ready for a rebirth. That rebirth is realized on “Be Afraid,” as he implores the listener to be afraid and “do it anyway,” meaning of course for each of us to challenge ourselves to go after the “thing,” whatever it may be in our lives that we want more than anything but let fear keep us from. Just as Isbell got on stage and played his songs for the first time, no doubt with a fear eating at his gut but with a headstrong perseverance that allowed him to do it and make an incredible career out of, he is imploring his listener to do the same: to go after the thing they want to do but are too afraid to try. Maybe this, more than anything, is the album’s central message: the world is screwed up, scary, and unforgiving, so why not just go for the thing that will fill up our souls with purpose and joy? 

Part of our individual quests for self-improvement and a life better spent means being less reckless and more aware of our weaknesses and immortality. Isbell, sober since 2012, writes of the everyday struggles with sobriety on “It Gets Easier,” but the song is no downer that wallows in the mistakes of the past or laments the desire to drink; instead it is a song of hope, meant to cheer on those battling the temptation to let them know, in fact, that it does get easier with each passing day. 

Somewhere along the way in my life, I read that if you’re a songwriter worth his or her salt and have a child, and you don’t write a song for that child, then you need to turn in your guitar and take on another profession. Isbell closes the album with the plaintive, beautiful “Letting You Go,” written about a father who loves his child so dearly, has cherished every moment, and knows that someday he will need to let that child go out into the world. One can imagine Isbell, with his guitar in his hands and his daughter with his wife, musician Amanda Shires, in his sight struggling with that same knowledge. 

It’s fitting that the album opens with songs about the ghosts that haunt each of us: those mistakes we can’t erase and the pain we’ve caused others, but slowly builds to a redemption found in rivers, bravery, sobriety, and the love of family. While this redemption belongs to Isbell, perhaps there is inspiration to be found for the listener to let go of the pain of the past, start forgiving ourselves, and embrace the joy and beauty in our own lives. The America that Isbell wrote this album in is not the America we see today. It’s an album where he chases ghosts of the past; real, imagined, fictional, or nonfictional, but we’re all chasing ghosts right now in this new America. So if you’re chasing ghosts, then why not this tour of his America? Because it’s the America we’re all living in, haunted and filled with regret for the mistakes we can’t change and the present and future we’re all accepting as a result.

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Jason Isbell Online:

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REVIEW: Dennis DeYoung Returns With New Music – 26 EAST: Volume 1

It’s been 45 years since the golden voice of a “kid from Chicago” hit the Top 10 with the song “Lady” and propelled the band Styx into the worldwide spotlight. Now, at age 73, crooner Dennis DeYoung shows no signs of slowing down with the release of his new solo CD entitled 26 East: Volume 1. The songs are refreshingly original and yet instantly familiar while the lyrics are peppered with some very poignant statements about the world today and the roles we each play.

Dennis DeYoung at Mesa Arts Center
| 2019 “The Grand Illusion Tour”
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved
Click to Enlarge

There is some expectation for great songwriting from the man who penned such top 10 hits as “Mr. Roboto”, “Show Me The Way”, “Come Sail Away”, and reached Number 1 with the definitive rock ballad “Babe.” The odds doubled when DeYoung decided to collaborate with another Number 1 songwriter:  Jim Peterik, who’s known for chart-topping successes from “Vehicle” (#2 for Ides of March), “Caught Up In You” (#10 for 38 Special), and the rock anthem “Eye of the Tiger,” a number 1 hit for his former band Survivor. Although past success is no guarantee of future results, the DeYoung/Peterik team delivered five solid tracks that are textbook for well crafted songs. “We collaborated from the get go,” said DeYoung, “happily and seamlessly and at this time we have written nine songs together of which five will be on Volume 1. Just two Chicago guys doing what they do best, making music and having a laugh.

Out of the gate, 26 East begins with “East of Midnight,” a big production of melodic rock with the signature stacked harmonies, soaring synthesizers balanced with crunchy guitars, and that strong voice that keeps classic rock radio stations in business. There’s a hint of “Grand Illusion” here and a nod to “I’m OK”, but it’s definitely not a regurgitation of the past. The song is a reminiscent journey back in time to the humble beginnings of DeYoung’s music career when the nucleus of Styx began with him and the Panozzo twins, Chuck and John. The album’s title “26 East” was the address where DeYoung grew up in Roseland on the far south side of Chicago, and the cover artwork features three locomotives traveling through space, representing the original members leaving Chicago on their journey to the stars. 

There are two other guests on this album that add to allure. First is Julian Lennon, whose harmonies seamlessly blend with DeYoung’s on their collaboration “To The Good Old Days.” DeYoung indicated that he hadn’t met Julian before recording this song, but their words seem so sincere as they sing about raising a glass to toast all of the memories of their past together and all the good and bad times that they’ve survived.

August Zadra (Guitarist, Vocalist),
“The Grand Illusion Tour”
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt
© All Rights Reserved
Click to Enlarge

The second guest is guitarist/vocalist August Zadra, who may only be mentioned briefly in the liner notes, but presumably contributed significantly to the “band” sound of the record. Zadra is a dynamic force in the Dennis DeYoung live show where he takes on the lead and harmony vocals originally voiced by Tommy Shaw. His work shines on the rocker “Damn That Dream” that talks about the reality of a dream-come-true turning into a charade that leaves you “lost and torn apart.”

DeYoung’s music is diverse and culled from the “boom child” musical inspirations from his youth through to the songs of his modern contemporaries. The track “You My Love” feels like an homage to the love ballads of the 1950’s — so much so that you might believe that it is a cover of a song that might have been earmarked for the Grease soundtrack. Even the vocal styling is on point for this period of music.

From the Styx classic “Suite Madame Blue” to “Turn Off The CNN” from his last solo record, One Hundred Years From Now, DeYoung has never shied from making political points with his lyrics. 26 East boasts a trilogy of politically themed songs that starts with the campy “With All Due Respect.” It’s definitely a fun song about the incompetence of our bi-partisan government, but the chorus sports the childish jabs, “With all due respect, you are an asshole” and “With all due respect, plug up your pie holes” that are hard to take seriously. The following song, “A Kingdom Ablaze,” is a haunting melody with lyrics that foretell an end to our nation if we don’t correct our ways. The music is reminiscent of “Castle Walls” from the Grand Illusion album laced with a subtle shuffle, ominous Gregorian chants, and the foreboding message, “When our greed becomes our need, all will bleed.” “The Promise of This Land” is the third song in the trilogy that comes later in the track list. It is a song of hope, and DeYoung’s theatrical spirit shines as brightly on this song as it did on the wonderful collection of show tunes from his 1994 release, 10 On Broadway.  This song is full of references to our founding fathers and the dreams they had for this newly launched nation.

There are certain formulas for writing timeless “hit” songs and DeYoung and Peterik have their own recipes. The standout songs that have potential for chart topping success are “Run For The Roses” and “Unbroken.” Both start softly with the mood of a minor key and then soar to dramatic heights in major keys and layered harmonies spreading a positive message. Each song would be comfortable in any of the past five decades. Though the odds are stacked against DeYoung for chart success in the current climate of much younger artists, you never know when he might catch lightning in the bottle again (like the time “Show Me The Way” was spurred on as an anthem during Desert Storm). Who would have expected his recent rendition of “The Best of Times,” sung at his home during the COVID-19 pandemic, would go viral (no pun intended) and reach over a million views.

Speaking of “The Best of Times,” 26 East wraps up with yet another reprise of the “A.D. 1928”/”A.D. 1958” from the end of the Paradise Theater album. This time it is called “A.D. 2020” and features DeYoung playing an accordion, the instrument that got it all started for him. If you have been a fan of the music of Dennis DeYoung throughout the years, this short bookend to the album will tug at the heart strings as he seems to accept the notion that his music will last long beyond his years. He has shared his soul here in sonic form for you to listen to, relate to, and most importantly, to let it move you.

Dennis DeYoung & live band – Mesa Arts Center
| 2019 “The Grand Illusion Tour”
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved
Click to Enlarge

And so my friends I’ll say goodbye
For time has claimed its prize
But the music never dies
Just listen and close your eyes
And welcome to paradise

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26 East: Volume 1 Track List

  1. East of Midnight (Dennis DeYoung, Jim Peterik, John R. Melnick)
  2. With All Due Respect (Dennis DeYoung, Jim Peterik)
  3. A Kingdom Ablaze (Dennis DeYoung)
  4. You My Love (Dennis DeYoung)
  5. Run For The Roses (Dennis DeYoung, Jim Peterik)
  6. Damn That Dream (Dennis DeYoung, Jim Peterik)
  7. Unbroken (Dennis DeYoung, Jim Peterik)
  8. The Promise of This Land (Dennis DeYoung)
  9. To The Good Old Days (Dennis DeYoung, Julian Lennon)
  10. A.D. 2020 (Dennis DeYoung)

26 East: Volume 1 Line-Up

  • Jim Peterik: Guitar, Bass, Keyboard, Vocals and Vuvuzela
  • August Zadra: Electric Guitars, vocals 
  • Jimmy Leahey: Acoustic and electric guitars 
  • Craig Carter: Bass, vocals and invocations 
  • Mighty Mike Morales: Drums and all day sound checker 
  • John Blasucci: Keyboard’s
  • Mike Aquino: Electric Guitars 
  • Kevin Chalfant: backing vocals 
  • Matthew DeYoung: Drums on “To The Good Old Days”
  • Ed Breckenfeld: Drums on “Unbroken”
  • Zoe and Austin Orchard for Ring Around The Rosie 
  • The Chicago Children’s Choir and conductor Josephine Lee
  • Dennis DeYoung: Keyboards, fake drums, fake bass, fake news and some vocals. Oh and Vuvuzela 

Mastered by Dave Collins, DaveCollins Mastering. L.A.

(Source)

REVIEW: AJJ’s Good Luck Everybody — An Apropos Album for a Pandemic

When you think of albums that are specifically “of their time,” so to speak, it usually evokes folk protest anthems of the 60’s, such as early Dylan songs or maybe the way New York punks at CBGB tapped into a growing angst in America. More recently, I think of Springsteen’s The Rising album, which was not written about 9/11 and yet seemed to speak to much of the pain and sadness in America in the immediate aftermath. In moments of our history that are so big and uncertain (as overused as that word now feels), music is our anchor, providing stability and a sense of relief. Though released on January 17th of this year, AJJ’s Good Luck Everybody feels like an album that was meant precisely for our current reality of social distancing and shelter in place. It feels like an album written at home in search of a comfort that we have all been robbed of as our world has been turned upside-down, and as a reprieve from the constant sense of dread we have been left with.

On this, their seventh studio album, Arizona’s own AJJ – a folk punk band – has captured the anxiety and anger and angst and fear of life in the midst of a pandemic. Written and produced by AJJ’s core duo of vocalist/guitarist/founder Sean Bonnette and bassist Ben Gallaty, alongside lead guitarist Preston Bryant, cellist Mark Glick, and returning long-time engineer Jalipaz Nelson (who has worked on the majority of the band’s releases), it’s an album that yearns for a return to normality and seeks shelter from the storm, while also wanting to run out into the open and yell curse words at the sky just to let out every bit of pent-up anger and frustration. Even as the album works through so many conflicting emotions, it feels like it’s all coming from one place: the anger we feel at forced uncertainty. Even the title Good Luck Everybody, feels like a final parting line to a group of people marching into potential doom. The album still wants to feel hopeful, even as everything surrounding us screams that all hope is lost. 

Following the opening track, and the album’s first single, “A Poem,” which seems almost apologetic of the meaningless of art in our current reality, the album gets down to business on the second track. “I can feel my brain a-changin’, acclimating to the madness / I can feel my outrage shift into a dull, despondent sadness / I can feel a crust growing over my eyes like a falcon hood / I’ve got the normalization blues / This isn’t normal, this isn’t good,” starts out the second track, “Normalization Blues,” which is a slice of vintage 60’s protest Dylan, when he still wanted to be the next Woody Guthrie. Think of it like a modern-age “Talkin’ World War III Blues” for a generation weaned on social media and streaming services, except now the World War we’re all living through is being fought in the midst of smartphone-addiction-fueled indifference on our parts and gaslighting by our leaders. Even the closing line, the album-titular “good luck everybody”, feels like it’s being said with a resigned sigh, rather than with an ounce of hopeful conviction. 

It might seem hyperbolic to say that this album in some way predicted the storm that lie just ahead for our country upon its release, but  “Body Terror Song” comes replete with the refrain “I’m so sorry that you have a body.” Since the album was released, and especially in the whirlwind “shelter in place” of the last couple of months, it almost seems to detail the creeping fears many of us, willingly or otherwise, have developed of our own bodies, wondering if every cough or short breath means we have “it.” Our fears have given way to a constant feeling of dread at the one thing we can’t avoid: ourselves.  “One that will hurt you, and be the subject of so much of your fear / It will betray you, be used against you, then it’ll fail on you my dear”, Bonnette sings, but as he himself noted about the song in a Reddit AMA, “Music is made to project your own experiences onto,” so maybe I’m just projecting my own insecurities here. However, I do think that the line “But before that, you’ll be a doormat, for every vicious narcissist in the world / Oh how they’ll screw you, all up and over, then feed you silence for dessert, is still pretty spot-on for the current climate. 

Whatever perceived political intentions that might be read into some of the tracks aside, the plaintive piano ballad “No Justice, No Peace, No Hope” addresses the catastrophic political elephant in the room directly, admitting to the feelings of hopelessness in it all, as we are daily bombarded by seemingly nothing but bad news. “I used to comfort myself with the myth of good intention / I can’t believe that I believed that goodness was inherent” is a relatable sentiment. Still though, Bonnette seemingly can’t give up hope, as he winds down the song with “Again we’ve slipped inside a pit of absolute despair / That’s where we live / Until we don’t”, choosing to read this, of course, as a sliver of hope and not an acceptance of defeat. 

“Mega Guillotine 2020” is a love song for a glorious end to all the chaos, with a campfire sing-along cadence. The lyrics are straightforward and sung like someone watching an asteroid hurtling towards earth that decides instead of panic, it is a better idea to just chill out and accept the inevitable fate. If hopeless is hurtling towards us, what’s the point in dodging when there is nowhere to dodge? However, it is exactly when things are the darkest, and our faith in salvation is being tested that we find a reason to keep going, which is to say that sometimes we need to take pessimism for a test drive in order to find our optimism. We may welcome the guillotine, but we’re ready to pull our heads away at the last possible moment. 

While much of the album expresses frustration with the current state of our world, “Psychic Warfare” takes a direct shot at the chaos caused by the “commander-in-chief” and his daily assaults on reality. Its anger is palpable and mirrors the overwhelming sense of anguish so many have felt every day. “For all the pussies you grab and the children you lock up in prison / For all the rights you roll back and your constant stream of racism / For all the poison you drip in my ear, for all your ugly American fear,” are lyrics you might want to scream into a pillow when it all gets to be too much. It is a song that’s right there with us, with a boiling rage of “f— all this b.s.!” 

The album closing track “A Big Day for Grimley” acknowledges that we have far to go before life resumes a true sense of normalcy. “Now I don’t suffer any more bullshit gladly / Even though everything’s bullshit now, here in 2019 / And you can bet it’s gonna be a bunch of bullshit too out in sweet 2020 / Or whenever this album’s released,” may seem designed to leave the listener on down note, but AJJ is not a band that thrives on hopelessness, and instead leaves us with a hope for a better tomorrow, wishing for “Solitude for the stoic / Mirth for the merry / A quiet room for the overwhelmed / Arcades for the ADHD / Health for the sickly,” and leaving us with the album title once more, this time sung with the conviction missing in its previous appearance: Good luck, everybody.

As Bonnette said of the album upon its release: “I really hate explaining myself, but since I think it’s important I’ll make the theme of this album explicit: Basic human connection is the path to our collective return to sanity.”

AJJ

Though we are sheltered in place, human connection is still possible. Music connects us and reminds us that we are still alive, even when we each may be hitting the point where it feels like we’re bouncing off the walls. There is no more unifying of an experience than singing along with a song we love so deeply and so personally at a concert, which unites us with every other person at the show who joins in. In those moments, we are one with each other. Now, we will unfortunately be robbed of live music for a while, but that doesn’t mean we are robbed from connecting through music. This is an album of songs that could double as mantras in a pandemic: we are still alive and we will survive this, no matter how grim it might feel. Put on Good Luck Everybody, and sing along and know that out there somewhere, a stranger is unwittingly joining you in the moment. What more could we ask for from an album?

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AJJ Online

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Georgia Train’s I do — A Naked Introspection of Relationships

About a decade ago, I was first introduced to Georgia Train as part of a two-piece band named Bitter Ruin. From the moment of first hearing the track that introduced me to them on Myspace, “Trust”, their dramatic music had the ability to connect with my mental and emotional state. Released on May 1, her 10-track solo album I do is no exception, as it resonates deeply on personal levels.

(Please check Bitter Ruin out.
They are mind-blowing and deserve all of the love in the world. )

I have developed many of my own website projects over the years that never quite took off, and one of them was a alternative/goth fashion and feminist website called Mistress Ravine – which I created in my early 20s. On that site, I had an Advice & Opinion blog that I intended to help educate young women, and put a spotlight on artists that I felt deserved recognition. For that blog, I wrote an album review for Bitter Ruin, and it’s funny to think back and wonder how much of my track-by-track dissection of Hung, Drawn, and Quartered may have possibly missed the mark when it came to interpreting the songs. It is, of course, a given that listeners will always apply their own understanding from their unique realities to tracks, yet I have thought back on it over the years a bit self-critically. Listening to Train’s commentary after having already listened to I do about seven times since its release, it is fascinating to learn the true meaning and the headspace behind the songs — it’s so much more intricate than what I tend to assume… so much more potent.

While in quarantine, Train produced this album herself, regarding which she comes across as humble and intentional in her commentary. Her solo work differs from Bitter Ruin’s past work in that it is less theatrical, or to use a word from her commentary, flamboyant. To be forthcoming, I wasn’t sure whether I would connect with the album in the same way as their past work when I heard teaser clips. However, the maturity and sophistication of I do do parallel my evolution and speak to me. The album having been recorded at home and serving as an introspection on love and marriage, it is a uniquely authentic, raw listen. However, do not go into this album expecting a series of mere love songs.

I do is, to me, an album of healing and acceptance. When we fight “to the death” to make a relationship work, it’s as if we stick our fingers in our ears, unfold our blinders, and charge forward. We feel righteous, we feel we are doing a good thing, the loving thing, and yet in actuality, we may be more doing harm than good. That is one of the most difficult things we can ever face. Sometimes, music is the key to revealing the truth, to waking us up. Sometimes we need a song to give us a poignant message (or more bluntly, hit us over the head with it) that compels us to simply utter a self-aware “ouch.”

Train, who is known — with no exaggeration — for her vocal acrobatics (a bit trite, but such an apt phrase), also has an impressive vocal range. You will catch her voice flying high, as well as dipping deep, throughout the album. Often, she flutters around in a falsetto, though any old Bitter Ruin fan knows how she can belt that chest voice (a favorite example being “Leather for Hell” — a unique rock song for Bitter Ruin). Her graceful singing on I do is a perfect fit for the very private conversation she is having through her music. 

That is not to suggest that the album lacks intensity — to the contrary, my favorite track from the album, titled “Pressure”, crescendos and inspires heartache.

“Did I put too much pressure on you to be the one I can lean on?
Maybe I was wrong to”

The following track, “Shatter”, paints a picture of the unintentional self-harm we participate in out of desperation to repair a broken relationship. The song is a twisted knife in the heart of anyone that has been in this situation, yet serves as commiseration.

“On my knees finding pieces of the shatter,
these tiny cuts don’t matter
Work all night just to put us back together,
I swear I’ll make us better”

Marry This” is a unique, nuanced track that addresses the way people that commit to each other inevitably change — a topic I have yet to see Disney tackle.

“I didn’t marry this (don’t know what it is, don’t know what it is),
I need to know what this is.”

The most beautiful song on the album is, in my opinion, “White Snow”. In the commentary, it was very interesting to hear who she states influenced the track. (Speaking of Disney, I can imagine Frozen’s Elsa singing this song. Though, with all due respect, this song is meant for Georgia Train, not Idina Menzel.)

Unholy”, with a gospel style chord progression, has the perfect sound for the closing track. If you listen to the commentary, it is mind-blowing how quickly it was written and recorded. It is the only track on the album that addresses sexuality, but as an intellectual study of sexuality — something I have never heard in a song before. Within the Gregorian chanting, she sings in a language which I was trying to pinpoint as either Italian or Latin, and it turned out to be neither. Find out what it is in the commentary.

I do is an album for listeners who like music to draw out their emotions. It is for those who like to ruminate on their relationships, or to analyze the psychology of love and behavior. (Ok, so, it’s made for me.) It fluctuates between grief, regret, desperation, ambiguity, fear, and hope. It is unlike any other I have heard, and I am very grateful it is in my life now.

I do – with track-by-track commentary- album cover

Among many things, the album is about musing on what has transpired in relationships, the uncomfortable truths about relationships we do not often hear in pop culture, struggling to understand, confronting tough realities, and coming to terms. Over the commentary, Train explains how some of her personal experiences inspired certain tracks, how songs evolved, her intentions and stylistic choices, how she reclaimed some of her music, and so much more. The commentary makes the album feel that much more whole, and I think it’s especially significant to include with a quarantine release. I absolutely support the idea of the commentary for future releases.

I highly recommend not only purchasing the version of the album with the commentary on Bandcamp, but for just a bit more, support Georgia Train by purchasing her full digital discography. Either way, you can get it here.

A Message from Georgia Train

A Few Recommendations: 

  • If you can, listen to the album with noise-cancelling headphones over your ears to experience it intimately.
  • If you are able, please purchase it even if you have access to Spotify.
  • If you purchase the commentary, you can do what I do and stream the regular version of the album on Spotify as well for a tiny bit of extra support!
  • Check out my favorite Georgia Train song, “Get Out” — another belter:
  • Follow her on social media:

Georgia Train Online

Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram
YouTube | Twitter | Spotify

  • CHECK OUT BITTER RUIN!!! They released the track “Caution to the Wind” last year after about 5 years of hiatus, and two more this year! They’re one of my all-time favorites, and I am thrilled to finally have the opportunity to share them on Burning Hot Events.
Bitter Ruin
| Photographer:
Scott Chalmers

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REVIEW: In Case of Emergency Break Glass Ceiling: On Fiona Apple’s Fetch The Bolt Cutters

“We must kill the false woman who is preventing the live one from breathing.”

— Hélène Cixous

We do this to women. We expect a performance, and the exact one we desire, on demand: Manic Pixie Dream girl, vixen, maiden, mother, crone. We want to dial a number, press a button, swipe right, and order up exactly the kind of woman we want. We box women in, pigeonhole them; we do not let women evolve, and we do not let them be. And by we, I do not mean men; I mean the entire world. We ask women to stuff their whole selves, containing multitudes, into boxes, so that we might more easily handle them. Well, Fiona Apple has fetched the boxcutter and the bolt cutters, too.  

At first listen of Fetch the Bolt Cutters, I myself am guilty of this. I was unnerved by the seemingly random acoustics that permeate the album, that seemed to bookend each track. I wanted to hear the contralto register, the impressive range and moody piano ballads of Tidal, the aggressive lyrical onslaught of When the Pawn. I wanted Fiona Apple to repeat a performance of the woman she used to be, a self she has since outgrown.

Fiona is not going to put on a mask for us. We’re asking her to remain the victim, angry at the world while she’s now a self-actualized, grown-ass woman, wandering around her house using whatever’s around her to express herself, to make music. Apple will never make another Tidal, and we shouldn’t want her to, because she is not just revisiting her pain, but growing through it. She shares herself with us rawly and authentically in this album, and it is a sin to ask of her anything else, any former selves she’s outgrown.

Evident from the opening track “I Want You To Love Me,” Fiona did come to play with us hoes; she’s exploring a playful sound that’s only grown since The Idler Wheel, one in which, rather than reigning herself in, she’s ending the track with yips and some sort of high-pitched dolphin sound. This intensifies in the title track “Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” and by this third song, I was fully like, “What is she doing?” There is so much barking sprinkled through the end of the track, the listener will wonder if it’s coming from a neighbor. That’s it, though: she’s using what’s around her — her house and her own world, her pet even — to bring us in. It is a strange joy, one that fully embodies the idea of cutting loose.

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Through the album, sonic experiments abound, the extent of which, at one point, made me think Fiona Apple’s sound is now like dog slobber to cat people. What to do with this mess? It devolves into at best jazzy, at other times wholly chaotic noise. Apple is a few rattling cans away from a straight-up noise project.

Yet, her lyrics, as ever, continue to land, a punch right in the gut: “I know a sound is still a sound around no one”, and in “Under the Table”: “I’d like to buy you a pair of pillow-soled hiking boots/To help you with your climb/Or rather, to help the bodies that you step over along your route/So they won’t hurt like mine”. By the time she intones the titular, “Fetch the bolt cutters/ I’ve been in here too long” there is no question that this is not about us. Being a musical audience is passive, a spectator sport, and Apple has worked too damn hard to shut up, not now. She doesn’t speak the truth, she spits it out like hot grease.

Arguably her most vulnerable album yet, we begin to see places where Apple has untangled the threads enough to weave together something new. In a recent interview in Vulture, Apple admitted that past perfectionism fenced her in:

“If you grow up and you’re praised a lot for being special, rather than for making an effort, you end up later in life being afraid.”

Being gifted, and being expected to call up a gifted performance in perpetuity, was a prison that kept her from appreciating her own efforts, from experimenting, made her afraid to try. What we hear in Fetch the Bolt Cutters is Apple finally feeling free to roam, to play.

In “Relay” which Apple actually started writing at 15, there are glimpses into what’s been ruminating in her mind. “Evil is a relay sport/When the one who’s burned/Turns to pass the torch” Basically, hurt people hurt people. Fiona Apple’s music, for so long, has spoken especially to survivors of assault. We could watch her rage, hear her croon vitriol in a way that elevated hurt into something divine, and made good art. Survivors need to see examples, like Apple, of someone not only overcoming their hardships, their assaults, but using them to create something new. This is how they stop being victims.

I was reminded of Marina Abramović while listening to this album, specifically her art project that involved sorting and counting thousands of grains of rice. Participants had breakthroughs, visions, and powerful transcendent experiences. What Apple has done with this album—using her house as instrument, showcasing her friends and pets — it is clear she has found her own meditation in an emergency, has built a cathedral with all of these avant-garde sounds to house her voice, which has now become its own instrument. 

Starting with “Newspaper,” the album’s sound takes on a focused quality, infused with bluesy rhythms. Her lyrics are, somehow, increasingly introspective when she near-growls about “trying not to let my light go out” and the track feels meditative, in a way. Apple is finally focusing on relationships that matter, both her relationships with other women and her relationship with herself. This was hinted at in track two with “Shameika,” and it comes to full bloom now. (“yet another woman to whom I won’t get through”

Much of the tonal shift, I believe, we see from Apple in Fetch the Bolt Cutters comes from a new perspective on her part, one of reconnecting with relationships with other women in her life. It’s essential to see other women free to express themselves, and Apple is pointing out this is a continual struggle. Patriarchy has long divided us against each other, taught us to shame, police each other and internalize misogyny, in order to better conquer. 

By the time we get to one of the standout tracks from this album, “Heavy Balloon”, which is frankly incredible, this track best displays the shift that has taken place in Apple.

She has not kept it a secret that being assaulted early in life majorly affected her sense of self, and surviving being raped at 12 years old led to a lifetime of eating disorders and body image issues. These are ways survivors attempt to regain control, an agency that was stolen.

“Heavy Balloon” is filled with personification, identifying with plants (“I spread like strawberries/I climb like peas and beans”). It has a mouth-feel, nourishing, as it contains imagery of fruits and vegetables, not in a final form, but growing; Fiona has learned to love the body she lives in by understanding it, listening to it, communicating with it. (“I’ve been sucking it in so long/That I’m busting at the seams”) Apple is finally dealing with the things that have held her in—mainly, herself.

“You get dragged down, down to the same spot enough times in a row,
The bottom begins to feel like the only safe place that you know.”

If there’s one thing I can say for Fetch the Bolt Cutters, is that Apple eases us into the heaviest shit. Not that she’s ever taken some turn to saccharine, ever only scratched the surface, but there is a build up to the line “Good morning/You raped me in the same bed your daughter was born in/Good morning” in the track “For Her.” Apple has reconnected with her own anger in Fetch the Bolt Cutters, and she admits the irony that in doing so, she’s created her most upbeat-sounding album. There are really no slow, sad ballads here. In an interview, she confesses she finally feels anger towards the man who assaulted her as a child and realized making excuses for others fails to hold them accountable. There is a decided connection between Apple’s righteous, justified anger and finally being able to fully, freely express herself. She feels free. 

By the time we reach the end of the album with the final track “On I Go”, this journey that is Fetch the Bolt Cutters has come full circle. Welcome to the Order of Saint Fiona, a sanctuary in which it is revealed to us that the highest transformation is severing the ties that bind us and weaving them to make art, art that connects. Wabi-sabi for the skeptical. From the beginning of the album and the ragtime saloon sound of the opening track to a near-growling in the middle with “Newspaper”, or the waltzy “Cosmonauts” to hymn-like refrains with the final track, we get to hear what it sounds like when a musical heroine stands up herself and marches to the beat of her own drum (or wall, or countertop, or whatever). 

Some have made connections between this turn for Apple, a new sound, and that of Radiohead, mainly in terms of albums that exist as a coherent whole, a complete organism—one which grows on the listener. It is accurate that Fetch the Bolt Cutters has a progression, a purpose, a message. And it is true that Apple has made use of what’s around her to create, a DIY ethos, in a way that is punk as fuck, in the canonical sense of the word.

Still, I fear I am failing Fiona Apple with this review, as I too want to offer a perfect tribute to a woman who demonstrated to me what it looks like to rise from the ashes, that moments of rage are not only justified, but holy. As I’ve long suspected, words fail us when we need them most. Apple herself has said that Fetch the Bolt Cutters is about liberating voice, but no, actually, much more than that; that’s not precise enough. Much has been made of her various states of well/unwell, lots of gazing at her mental health, but this album shows what beauty and art can come from a woman alone in a locked room — the antithesis of yellow wallpaper.

Still, there is caution that comes with labeling Fiona Apple as “finally free”: to do so would stuff this iteration back into that box, asking it to hold still. This is a woman we’ve watched, seen and heard, cut herself loose over and over, inspired us to call it like we see it, shown us resilience by not “shutting up” and now MacGyvered her way into an album wholly original, purely hers, and sorely needed.

Pre-Order the Vinyl – Out July 15, 2020

Fetch the Bolt Cutters Tracklist

  1. I Want You to Love Me
  2. Shameika
  3. Fetch the Bolt Cutters
  4. Under the Table
  5. Relay
  6. Rack of His
  7. Newspaper
  8. Ladies
  9. Heavy Balloon
  10. Cosmonauts
  11. For Her
  12. Drumset
  13. On I Go

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REVIEW: Arshenic’s Brooding “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” Music Video

Arshenic

Arshenic’s new single and music video for “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” was released on April 12th and can be enjoyed on any listening format. It is a beautifully haunting cover of the classic Lead Belly song. Arshenic is a melodic metal band from Poland, formed in 2007 by the vocalist and songwriter, Oliwia “Ofilia” Bartuś-Staszak. The other current members of the band include electric guitarist Włodzimierz “Vlad” Czuba and drummer Bartosz Staszak.

The name of the band is a reference to arsenic, which is generally thought of as a poison, however it can also be a cure. The duality between the strong female vocals, both singing and screaming, matched with clean and distorted guitars, powerful bass, and zestful drums, with a pinch of cellos, electronics, and orchestral sounds rounding out the background can be heard throughout the group’s catalogue of songs.

The music was produced by Dawid Gorgolewski, Studio Osso. The music video’s script was written by Ofilia, and Creo Official was the video producer.

As the video begins, the camera focuses on the coastline near a wooded cliff. It briefly transitions to Ofilia facing the camera wearing a gas mask — a perfect reference to the meaning of the band name — while cradling a black and white cat in her arms.

Returning to the coastline, the camera follows Ofilia as she sings and walks along an empty coastline wearing a black dress, a crystal necklace, a belt with three pentagrams, skeleton tights, and black combat boots as waves crash near her feet. The instruments, her voice, and the beach give the video a nostalgic vibe. Interspersed slow-motion footage of her footsteps lends itself to an ominous atmosphere in the video, paired with the brooding tone of the song.

Włodzimierz “Vlad” Czuba (Guitars), Arshenic

The instrumentalists are slowly revealed during the music’s buildup. Closeups zoom in on black-gloved hands sliding on the guitar with a skeleton head on the frets. The drummer plays while wearing a white gas mask with the eyes covered in black Xs. The electric guitarist wears a black mask with silver studs covering all but his eyes with a backward baseball cap on his head. The band members wearing masks stare deadpan at the camera.

Bartosz Staszak (Drums), Arshenic

As the melody sways, Ofilia walks down a dirt path in the woods wearing another gas mask, the hood of her black dress up, with scenes cutting between the woods and the beach. The transitions of water breaking over the sand and clips of rocks with the soft music are soothing. 

As the song explodes, Oflilia walks through a graffiti-covered hallway of an abandoned building. These clips are entangled with footage of a forbidden romance, lit by a red-hued light.

The scenes cut back and forth with fluidity. The musicians flicker with high-speed cuts as they play with intensity — a duality of pacing between this point and the beginning, matching the vocals and instrumentals. The video concludes as it began, pulling away from the deserted coastline.

Many elements of this video can certainly speak to viewers that are currently practicing social distancing during the pandemic. Whether that was the intention or not, the video is an emotionally evocative, powerful watch that rolls out slowly and leaves the viewer impacted.

Arshenic’s latest album, Final Collison, released by Sliptrick Records, came out in August of 2019. With their new single out now, hopefully, there’s a new album coming out sometime in 2020. Until then, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” will be playing on repeat.

Fans can find out more information about upcoming shows and announcements through the band’s website, Instagram, and Facebook page.

Arshenic Online

Website | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter



Songwriter Mark Greenawalt Self-Makes “Don’t Cry Angel” Video While in Quarantine

PHOENIX — Singer-songwriter Mark Greenwalt took the opportunity to make a music video during the government mandated stay-at-home policy. With a crew of one, he propped his prosumer camera on a tripod to film himself at the piano and behind a guitar playing his original song, “Don’t Cry Angel.” The video was released on his YouTube channel on April 4th, Greenawalt’s 53rd birthday.

The Making of the Video

He co-wrote the song with songwriter Angel Pizzaro in 2011. Pizarro presented the heart-felt lyrics about a personal friend of his who had tragically passed away. The songwriting team crafted the story to discuss the relationship between a new angel and the grieving friends and family they have left behind. “It seemed to have a message,” he said, “for people to relate to who are suffering from losses during our current pandemic.

The chords and melody of the song were developed while Pizarro sat with Greenawalt at his piano nearly ten years ago. The opportunity to record the song came from a mutually beneficial relationship with the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences (CRAS) in Phoenix, who needs bands and musicians to help their students learn the ropes of professional recording techniques. The core players in the session were Pizarro on drums, Webb Pickersgill on bass, and Greenawalt on keyboards, guitars, and vocals. Student engineer, Daniel Armijo, later stated that he ended up getting a grade of 97 on the project and a song was born.

While in the studio, Greenawalt had shot some video of Pizarro playing drums. “It wasn’t the greatest of quality,” he said, “but it seemed to be a good way to get started on the music video.” There wasn’t any usable footage of Greenawalt and Pickersgill from the studio, and at this point Pickersgill had moved to Colorado to be a game director with Deck Nine (Life Is Strange). Pickersgill, however, was very interested when asked if he would be willing to film himself playing the song. “I’ll bring my bass to work”, he said, “and just ‘Milli-Vanilli’ a few takes on video for you.

When it was time for Greenawalt to perform his sequences, he envisioned singing in front of a stained glass window. At a loss for where to find one that he could record in front of, he went to YouTube to find a DIY way to make his own. After a trip to the hobby shop to get glass paint and faux leading, he created a mosaic image of angel wings with sun rays reminiscent of the Arizona state flag.

Watch Mark Greenawalt’s Time-Lapse Video

Another project behind the scenes was getting the overhead shots of the piano. For this, Greenawalt build an iPhone carrier and hung it from fishing string over a raised backdrop stand. The raising and lowering was accomplished by reeling the string around a rotating electric drill bit. “It seemed to be a good idea,” said Greenawalt, “but most of the footage was shaky and unusable. It was worth a try and a few clips actually made it into the video.

Overhead shot of Mark Greenawalt playing the piano

I wanted to include an aerialist in the video who would be spinning up high in hoop,” he said, “And I envisioned filming them over water and wearing angel wings. With the quarantine if full swing, it didn’t seem like I was going to have the opportunity to get that footage.” The eureka moment came when he found a video on a friend’s page on Facebook that was as beautiful as he had envisioned. I wasn’t over water and aerialist Dakoa O’Kane wasn’t wearing angel wings, but the imagery was stunning. He reached out to videographer Glen Goldblatt for permission to use the footage was thrilled when it was granted. This footage ended up being the bookends of the fade in and fade out of the video.

Aerialist Dakoa O’Kane footage by Videographer Glen Goldblatt

Greenawalt had a guest vocalist come to his home studio to record some harmony vocals on the song after the initial recordings at CRAS. She also “sang” some angelic whispers saying, “Goodbye, I’ll be waiting for you.” This was such a feature in the song that it seemed important to have it performed in the video. Keeping social distancing to a minimum, Greenawalt reached out to his daughter-in-law Savannah Greenawalt to play the part of the angel in the video. There were just a few short takes of her behind the stained glass and some extreme closeups of her singing the harmonies and it was a wrap for Savannah on the home “set.”

Savannah Greenawalt behind Mark Greenawalt’s handmade stained glass window

The rest of the shots were self performed and filmed by Greenawalt in his living room including a “martini shot” of him playing a “keytar” in the recently renovated tile bathroom. He culled on his knowledge from his day job as a lighting designer to successfully illuminate the sets and his brief education from film classes at The Film School at Scottsdale Community College for the editing process.

The video was completed in time for a premiere on the evening of his 53rd birthday where friends and family joined in on the chat to speak with songwriters Greenawalt and Pizarro.

“Don’t Cry Angel”

  • Written by Mark Greenawalt and Angel L. Pizarro Jr.
  • Future-Class X Publishing, ASCAP
  • Faded Periwinkle Publishing, ASCAP

Mark Greenawalt is both a Senior Concert Photographer and part-time Music Journalist for Burning Hot Events! See his concert photography here, and writing here.

Mark Greenawalt Online

Website | Facebook | Twitter
Instagram | YouTube | Patreon


REVIEW: Phoenicians Behave Like Animals with Hot Snakes, Kills Birds, Twin Ponies at Rebel Lounge (2-27-20)

PHOENIX — In 1979, a venue opened in Phoenix off of Indian School Road. Indian School is just north of the I-10, a major east-west artery that connects Jacksonville to Los Angeles, and these days is accessible by using the 51 that The Format sang about in “Tune Out”. The venue was The Mason Jar. Low slung, it was never going to win any beauty awards; a theme that most Arizona music venues seem to carry to this day. The stage inside hosted some of the biggest names in the business: Nirvana. Tool. Linkin Park. The list of past performers is quite long and just as impressive.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end – at least temporarily. In 2005, the Mason Jar was closed, turned into a bar, and live music in Phoenix lost an icon. 10 years later, the old and the new met. The exterior – once so nondescript that there are next to no photos currently existing online – received a facelift. Inside, you’ll find two arcade machines sitting in the corner. You’ll also find a bar that houses an incredible local craft beer selection. Over it, painted on a beam, are these words: “Everyone can raise a glass and sing.” It is here that fans of Hot Snakes, Kills Birds, and Twin Ponies gathered; some to sing, some to raise a glass, some both.

The Rebel Lounge’s marquee sign on 2.27.20
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Twin Ponies

Taking the stage first was Tempe-based Twin Ponies. They are an under-known band, with a quite enjoyable alt-rock sound that defies the norm. Much like one would change gears in a finely-tuned sports car, Twin Ponies is very good at shifting between tempos, excelling when it frequently picks up.

Phillip Hanna (Bass) & Wayne Jones (Vocals, Guitar), Twin Ponies
Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Band Photo Gallery

All four members are excellent musicians: Jordan Tompkins is a fantastic drummer who makes it look easy behind the kit, Phillip Hanna jumps between the bass and synth, Jacob Lauxman is a phenomenal guitar player, and Wayne Jones’ diverse vocals are impressive. There is poetry in their music and performances, and the four take great pride in their live shows (as they should) and they play quite a few shows in Phoenix. Their next Phoenix show is March 26th at The Lunchbox.

Kills Birds

The best way to describe the next band – Kills Birds – is “intense in a very unnerving way”. The onstage persona of lead singer Nina Ljeti can be described as a bit terrifying – opening her eyes wide throughout the set, rarely blinking, looking completely unhinged and ready to come off the stage to fight you.

Nina Ljeti (Vocals), Kills Birds
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Band Photo Gallery

This only amplifies the uneasiness you feel when she smiles, as somehow the eyes above that smile seem to stay dead. Behind all of that are the raw, guitar ladened sounds of the band. The sound is heavy, though not overwhelming. It is an experience on many levels: sonically, emotionally, and visually. 

Bosh Rothman (Drums), Kills Birds
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Band Photo Gallery

Ljeti is fantastic as a vocalist, and Kills Birds is a delightful, if not somewhat disturbing, show to watch. She is also an impressive multi-talented artist — a successful filmmaker, actress, writer, and has previously performed in another band. Kills Birds continue to tour with Hot Snakes, and the final show will be on March 10th in Santa Cruz.

Nina Ljeti (Vocals), Kills Birds
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Band Photo Gallery

During the Kills Birds set, someone was standing in the middle of the venue talking so loudly that they could be heard over the music that Kills Birds was playing. It was impressive, but it illustrates a problem that plagues some venues: some fans forget that the people around them did not pay to listen to a TED Talk about their latest boyfriend or hookup. It would be like going to the Louvre and finding out someone taped a poorly-drawn stick figure over the Mona Lisa. It’s rude, and more importantly, none of us care what he said last night while you were watching Netflix.

Hot Snakes

Hot Snakes formed in 1999, a supergroup made up of members of bands that played post-hardcore punk and every form of rock known to man. Two of the band members — vocalist Rick Froberg and guitarist John Reis — started playing together back in 1986 in the band Pitchfork. Working together for over three decades leads to some magical musical chemistry. Froberg and Reis seem to know exactly what the other is thinking, and it translates into one of the best shows you could attend as a fan.

John Reis (Guitar), Hot Snakes, sings to a fan at The Rebel Lounge
Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Band Photo Gallery

Reis interacts with the crowd in a way that provides a unique connection, both to him and to the music. At points, he would lean into the crowd to play inches away from a fan in the front row. At others, he would look into the crowd and quickly point at someone and smile. You came to watch a group of talented musicians, but you left feeling as if someone saw you instead. At one point, he stopped everything due to a dispute on the floor, mediating between a woman who felt the man beside her wasn’t being nice. He was forceful and a bit exasperated at the male fan who couldn’t really say much for his own defense. It truly is a breath of fresh air when fans get called out for their bad behavior.

Rick Froberg (Vocals, Guitar), Hot Snakes
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Band Photo Gallery

Froberg is an excellent and passionate vocalist and guitar player. There is an element of frenetic rawness to his vocals — something that is matched by the guitar riffs and the delightful drumming by Jason Kourkounis. There is an urgency in the music, culminating in the song that got the biggest response from the crowd: “I Need a Doctor.” This sent some fans who were already dancing into a near frenzy. Unfortunately, the demographics at the show did not support a mosh pit – many of the fans grew up with the band, and having a career that spans over 20 years means it’s harder for some of the fans to mosh.

Hot Snakes
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Band Photo Gallery

As the night drew to a close, the tour manager came out to thank everyone for coming out. When greeted by a heckler who said, “Who is this guy?” he replied, “I’m the tour manager, numbnuts, who are you?” It was a reminder that while everyone on stage is no longer in their twenties, it was indeed a punk show. It was loud, it was fun, and it was over too soon. The tour concludes in Solana Beach, CA on March 12th.

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View Separately: Hot Snakes | Kills Birds | Twin Ponies

Hot Snakes, Kills Birds, & Twin Ponies – The Rebel Lounge 2-27-20

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REVIEW: Poppy – Reinvented – Releases An Unbridled Rock Fury at The Pressroom (2-20-20)

PHOENIX — Just to the south of downtown Phoenix sits a section of the city that predates the State of Arizona. It is known now as the Warehouse District, but it started life as Chinatown around 1870. Over the years, it became the beating heart of Phoenix, as the location next to the railway was the perfect place to set up shop to sell items like cotton and produce. Toward the western edge was a warehouse that housed a long since vanished business called “Arizona General Electric Supply.” It also housed a printing press, considered to be one of the best in Phoenix at the time the building opened in 1920.

Phoenix grew up. The new warehouses became old, some being demolished for the shiny and new. For 100 years, the exterior of the building on the corner of 5th Ave and Madison did not change. The inside did. The new and the old met, and out of this marriage came the concert and event venue that is now known as The Pressroom. In this historic warehouse, an eager crowd gathered to see Poppy, who was joined by VOWWS. Poppy, much like the warehouse, has changed from the first time the world was made aware of her presence. We met Poppy as she sat in front of a camera eating cotton candy, we watched as she talked to a plant, we listened as she sang “Lowlife,” a song that has a bit of a reggae-meets-pop sound to it. Her first tour was, in a word, bizarre.

The night started with VOWWS, an Australian death pop band taking the stage at exactly 8:00 PM. Death pop and goth rock are siblings, if not twins, and VOWWS is an excellent example of the genre. VOWWS is a 2-person band, co-fronted by Rizz on the synth/keyboard and vocals and Matt James on the guitar and vocals. They are unique in how they play live shows: The stage stayed far darker than normal, bathed primarily in red and blue lights. It was a bit disorienting at first, but it fit beautifully.

What the set lacked in energy, it made up for in catchy beats and incredible harmony between Rizz and James. The sound is both new and familiar, reminiscent of Depeche Mode. Rizz wore white facial makeup with black around her eyes, hunched over her keyboard and swaying to the music. At one point, she stepped away to join James while singing on what looked like a handheld trucker mic, with the setup giving her voice a bit of distortion. James is an excellent guitarist and vocalist, moving very little in the space around the microphone. But much like Rizz, he obviously enjoyed playing the music just as much as the audience loved hearing it. VOWWS has collaborated with Gary Numan – one of the fathers of industrial music – and have worked with Chino Moreno from Deftones on a song and was asked to play the Dia De Los Deftones festival. Unlike the stage they played on, they have a bright future ahead of them.

Chants of “Poppy” were heardas Rizz and James cleared the stage of their equipment. As soon as the siren that precedes the song “Concrete” started, the entire crowd exploded in cheers and screams.

When the world first met Poppy on YouTube, the videos were bright, her dark hair was bleached to a near incandescent blonde, the background was white, and the pastel colors around her came across as brilliant. Her first EP Bubblebath was composed of bright, airy music that had some deep lyrics. Over the last 4 years, her sound and persona evolved, starting with Am I a Girl?, culminating in her current album I Disagree.

Before this tour, she split with her creative partner Titanic Sinclair for reasons that can be found here, releasing a music video that was the exact opposite of her first music video, black and white, with harsh electronic music and biting lyrics: “Sorry for what I’ve become, because I’m becoming someone.” As she took the stage, it became apparent that the Poppy that the world got to know 5 years ago is long gone, and before us stood what can only be described as a force to be reckoned with.

It would not be accurate to say that “Poppy walked onto the stage,” as it was more of a march of an artist who owned the stage and knew it. She climbed the steps to face what looked almost like a giant cell phone, the reflective surface allowing her to look at the crowd with her back turned to them, giving some in the audience their first look at her dramatically different style. Gone is the long blonde hair; it was up in teddy bear buns and was now her natural brunette color. What hadn’t changed was her sheer talent.

“Concrete” is best described as a rollercoaster ride of a song. From the wailing siren, we are transported to screaming guitars, followed by a few dashes of kawaii metal ala Babymetal thrown in for good measure. Halfway through the song, a mosh pit had formed, someone was crowd surfing, and shortly after, someone else was holding a shoe over their head that they had just found.

There are many shows that tend to work their way to surreal; a minute and a half through the first song found us standing knee deep in surreal – and not a single person in the crowd seemed like they wanted it any other way.

There are still traces of what some may call the old Poppy: at one point while addressing the crowd, she spoke in the voice that first captured the attention of the internet. An outsider who had never watched any of her YouTube videos would likely have been momentarily confused by this, as it now seems so out of character. However, much like the building she stood in, the old and the new co-exist in a symbiotic relationship, the new only existing because of the old.

While surreal, it was also apparent that Poppy is here for the long haul. She owns the stage as if she’s been doing this for a decade or two. She has been writing thought-provoking lyrics that cut deep for some time, and she is just extremely talented overall. As an example, while singing “I Disagree,” it became apparent that the lyrics are likely rather personal as her voice took on an edge and she let out a scream that would make Lacey Sturm proud. She also had a downright spectacular cover of the t.A.T.u. song “All the Things She Said.” While this tour finished the US leg in LA on 2/21/2020, she is returning to Phoenix on August 4th, opening for Deftones in a show that should not be missed.