Archive for July, 2016


This article first appeared at No Ripcord on July 7, 2016.

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Natasha Khan has always used Bat for Lashes as a vehicle for stories, whether from her personal history or her imagination. Throughout her career, she used her entrancing voice and otherworldly music to weave tales both fantastical and mundane with equal passion. On The Bride, Khan goes a step further, creating an arc about a woman whose fiancé dies on their wedding day, sending her spiraling into a journey of self-discovery and healing.

Yes, a concept album is difficult to pull off in the best of circumstances, but damn does Khan sell it. By letting the music guide the narrative, not the other way around, she (mostly) avoids the storyboard pitfalls that plague other such endeavors. It also helps that Khan’s never sounded better. She hits that sweet spot between power and control that dazzles but doesn’t overwhelm.

Listen to In God’s House, which turns a wedding organ inside-out, flattening the notes into a funeral dirge. It’s only in the chorus that synths sparkle up, reflecting the prophetic vision the bride sees of her love’s demise. “What’s this I see?/My baby died on the beach/What’s this I see?/Fire,” Khan sings, shouting out the last word in a stunning burst of horror and heartbreak. Joe’s Dream doesn’t quite reach that level of pathos, but its thumping drumbeat and muted guitar chords wisely put the focus on Khan’s vulnerable, almost desperate vocals.

It’s fitting that The Bride came out 10 years after Bat for Lashes’ debut, Fur and Gold, as that’s the last record to hone in on Khan’s own perspective, if not necessarily her actual life. Now, instead of playfully swinging down the road on a bike in What’s A Girl To Do?, the bride of Honeymooning Alone cries and rages as the “girl that was denied.” Next, the propulsive highlight of Sunday Love finds the bride trying to outrun her own tragedy, the electronic beat spinning like spokes on a wheel.

When people are faced with death, they look beyond the everyday to seek answers or lay blame elsewhere. Khan does both. She curses out the heavens on the stormy Never Forgive The Angels. On the string-swept Close Encounters, she hopes that her lover’s spirit exists as a “pale green light” that she will join one day, becoming “a dream of time and sound.”

Nearly all these tracks work perfectly together for the fable Khan has crafted. Widow’s Peak is the only number that fails to land. The spoken-word piece goes overboard with the mysticism, throwing in wind chimes and lines about dreams, goddesses and demons. It pulls you out of the experience and is not a song you’ll need to hear more than once.

Thankfully, the beautiful closing tracks are a restoration both for the album and the bride. The healing begins on If I Knew, a sparse piano ballad as strong as Laura. “Baby, if I knew what I know now/I could never turn it back around,” she sings, knowing the relationship was still worth the pain. I Will Love Again is a mirror of Joe’s Dream, stripped back to put Khan’s voice in the center. But she sings each word with confidence, the fragility left behind. In Your Bed finds the bride reaching the point where she can look back and recall her time with her love happily, as strings swirl skywards around her.

With The Bride, Khan has created a sublime tale of sorrow and recovery, of accepting loss and working through pain to become a stronger person. Likewise, Khan has taken her interest in similar journeys from earlier albums and used them to make her most consistently captivating work thus far. If there’s one way that art imitates life here, it’s that remembering and learning from the past can help build a stronger present.

9/10

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This article first appeared at No Ripcord on June 29, 2016.

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Companion is comprised of four tracks from Braids’ sessions for Deep in the Iris, their third and so far best album. Still, don’t think these are scraps from the cutting room floor. The trio of Raphaelle Standell-Preston, Austin Tufts and Taylor Smith are too dedicated to let their fans off that easily. Instead, Companion is exactly what it says it is, an accompanying piece that gives you a deeper look into the same journey.

The haunting title track begins with Standell-Preston’s voice, mournful and resigned, singing “It had nothing to do with you/how can I make that more clear?” to her stepbrother, who was left behind when her family was torn apart by the actions of her abusive stepfather. All the focus here is on her passionate delivery, with synths that gently swell like waves on a beach. It’s such a stripped-back track that it feels like we’re intruding on a private conversation she’s wanted to have for years with her sibling.

The destruction of a different type of relationship is the subject of Trophies for Paradox. Beautifully warped, taunt guitar strings form the bed of this tale of a man who fulfills his desire and then dismantles the relationship. Standell-Preston deftly takes her opening lines of optimism, “He came in/Like a winner/Strong and slim/Trophies in his grin,” and turns them upside-down as the relationship turns cold, singing “He came in/Like a sinner/Small and grim/Trophies to the wind.”

Joni moves with a jittery, jagged beat from Tufts, fitting for lyrics about being comfortable with not knowing where your life is heading. While the beat never truly goes off the rails, enough elements keep pushing and pulling it in opposite directions, with Standell-Preston’s vocal as the only anchor. Her voice is equally vital in Sweet World, echoing like wind over a canyon, as classical piano keys play off sharp percussion below. Still, this closing song does go on for a bit too long and doesn’t capture your attention as much as the other three tracks do.

While Sweet World may not be the best note to end on, Companion as a whole is an ideal way to close this chapter of Braids. It’s an excellent way not only to revisit and expand on some themes from Deep in the Iris, but also to hold us over for what comes next.

6/10

This article first appeared at No Ripcord on June 13, 2016.

Garbage

When a band hits the 20th anniversary of their debut, it’s hard not to look back at how it all began. For Garbage, that resulted in the 20 Years Queer concert tour last year. How do you follow this trip down memory lane? With a new album, of course! On Strange Little Birds, Garbage aimed to be more spontaneous and capture the darkness of their first record. While they do succeed on a few tracks, the results are sporadic.

It kicks off strongly though, that’s for damn sure. Sometimes rides a film noir piano line into crushing, distorted guitar scratches. It’s an opener that immediately sets the album apart from their other works. It also sets the stage for Empty, a hurricane of a song, with a slippery guitar riff that pops up throughout and anchors the song’s ascendant chorus. Shirley Manson knocks it out of the park with a performance that turns on a dime from confident belting to halted stutters.

The power on this album is definitely with the rockers. Manson’s vocal aerobatics on the electronica of Magnetized burst through different octaves in the chorus with synths storming behind her. It’s insanely catchy and should be an adrenaline rush live. We Never Tell is another kinetic uptempo number with a driving beat by Butch Vig. While these tracks are great, the problems lie between them in the sequencing. Blackout and If I Lost You bring the momentum of Empty to a screeching halt. The former wastes a decent riff and drum pattern by driving them into the ground, with minor-to-no variation over its six-and-a-half minutes. The latter takes on trip-hop, with a beautiful, fragile performance by Manson. But the song falls flat on repeated listens. Night Drive Loneliness also does little to nothing with its sinister opening guitar either, fading into electronic soundscapes.

That being said, a couple of ballads do manage to land. On Even Though Our Love Is Doomed, a heartbeat percussion, sharp guitar lines and Manson’s aching vocals create a growing sense of danger and desperation. It’s like watching an incoming comet get bigger and bigger in the night sky. Teaching Little Fingers To Play is a flashback ballad that isn’t exactly nostalgic for the past, but instead comes to terms with the present.

Strange Little Birds is not as triumphant or solid of a record as Not Your Kind Of People. While Garbage still sound hungry and willing to try something new, too many songs don’t hold up to their reputation. There’s plenty of material worth diving into on this album, but the results could have been much, much stronger.

6/10

This article first appeared at No Ripcord on May 30, 2016.

MotherFeather-MotherFeather

It wasn’t too long ago that being a New York band meant you had an attitude and fury that would guarantee your survival. Rather than staring at their instruments or try to catch your attention with small talk, these artists would get in your face and force you to listen. And you’d be thankful that they did. That’s Mother Feather in a nutshell.

Led by slithering, screaming singer Ann Courtney and vocalist/keyboardist Elizabeth Carena, Mother Feather’s self-titled debut has the theatricality of a time traveling Karen O, if she brought the underground rock of the 90s and 2000s to the 1970s. This is gritty, dive bar, party-until-the-sun-comes-up music that is anchored by guitarist Chris Foley, bassist Matt Basile and drummer Gunnar Olsen.

Just listen to the ferocious fuzz of Living, Breathing, the perfect, off-the-rails vehicle for Courtney to throw out irresistible lines like “In this light I can’t see past it/Where would you be if you were my glasses?” On Mother Feather, the band stakes out their territory with a hard rock riff, rafters-shaking bass line and a howling chorus. The Power starts with low-key, muted notes, luring listeners in before blasting them back with…well….a lot of power!

Throughout the album, Mother Feather proves that it is more than a one-trick pony. The slow-burn of Mirror starts like a heavier version of Edge of Seventeen by Stevie Nicks, before slamming into a ripping chorus with Courtney’s intense, belting vocals. Trampoline is rock-funk fusion, blowing out with a call-and-response melody. Beach House has light, sun-soaked Californian chords that fit its title. They Tore Down the SK8 Park effortlessly glides between an echoing electric guitar and acoustic rhythms.

With an aggressive, provocative style and the songs to back that image up, Mother Feather is determined to bring the fight directly to you. Once you hear their music, you’ll realize they are primed not only to survive, but to thrive. With an old-school New York swagger and earworm melodies, this band has all the momentum of a 747 at takeoff. It’s time to jump aboard.

8/10