Monday
Dec262016

The Album Leaf w/ Rituals of Mine - at Neumos in Seattle

Rituals of Mine

The Album Leaf visited Seattle for the first time in over 5 years, playing to a capacity show at Neumos. The tour coincides with the release of their first album in 5 years, Between Waves. Touring with, and opening for, The Album Leaf was Rituals of Mine (formerly Sister Crayon).

The tight trio of Rituals of Mine, headed by Terra Lopez, put on one of the best live sets I've seen all year. It was clear that, judging by the audience, I wasn't the only one in the house who hadn't heard their work at that point. It was also clear, by the line to their merch table, that I wasn't the only one who became a new fan. When you get time, check out "To Show You Violence." The haunting beauty of the track live carries over beautifully to record, and it has quickly earned a place on my personal "favorite songs of 2016" list.

With an abundance of new and old material to draw from, The Album Leaf's 90 minute set flew by. Opening with several cuts from the new album, front man Jimmy LaValle has shifted gears in sound from the earlier releases, ushering in a more electronic, glitchy soundscape punctuated only sparsely with vocals. Having been fairly well acquainted with their catalog up until the newest release, the divergent sound took some getting used to, but by the third track in its beauty was clear. Closer "The Light" brought thunderous applause and an encore from the audience. Their return from an extended touring and recording hiatus was well worth the wait.

See The Album Leaf on tour:

The Album Leaf

Photos // Words by Alexander Hallett

Sunday
Dec112016

Chris Staples: V.V. Sessions & Album Review

Despite, or perhaps in spite of, his plaintive delivery Chris Staples Golden Age is a triumph. Staples crafts simple self-searching songs, free of affectation, and lightly backed with interesting instrumental choices. Staples nearly whispers how secure he is with the insecurity of an accidentally, yet possibly “Relatively Permanent” engagement. "How lucky can two people get / hand in hand, side by side / a coincidence we even met / this could be an accident / or relatiely permenet" It's alluring, and pointed, a song about acceptance of where you've arrived.

On the title track Staples works farfisa organ, reverb electric, and jangling acoustic under a snare beat "yeah, look me in the eye with a straight face on / so what you saved a little money but your youth is gone / and you're dreamin bout your long lost babylon" reminiscing about the decision to just not try so hard anymore. Staples "Missionary" uses clave, and banjo to describe his journey to the realization that he's not changing any minds. "Cheap Shades" is an account of Staples own birth, baptism, and youth reminding us all that "nobody asked me" and "the morning sun is gonna wake me / herbs from the garden gonna bake me / no fast talker gonna take me anymore" with harmonium and a gamelan beat. Like the perfect spice in a recipe, American Folk, West African, and Indonesian sounds lightly adorn the first half of the album. Staples is on a pilgramage towards enlightenment here, treading so gently that you might not notice him, opening to the light at the speed of a flower blossom, slowly, quietly turning up, but growing noticeably.

On "Park Bench" which Staples recorded live for Visible Vocie, the resolution is simple. One man dies on a park bench, the other on a yacht, both (or all) desire the same thing "to live each day like it's my last" because "these moments that we share dissolve into the air / without warning or apology they pass". As on the album Staples is solo with guitar here (with some string backing). A stark departure from the other accompanied songs but a choice in backing nonetheless, a nod to the alone-ness of birth and death.

Chris Staples - "Park Bench" from Kitchen Sessions on Vimeo.

Staples is resolutely uncertain. A man comfortable with not knowing. "Am I Jekyl, Am I Hyde? / Will you ever be satisfied? / I change like any other man" he sings tongue in cheek on "Dog Blowing On A Clarinet". His wit shows on "Times Square" a song referencing everywhere, about not going anywhere at all, instead opting to stay home --but even then leaving the decision to the accompanying singer in the duet. It's a familiar existence. Avoiding responsiblity to the point of declining to make the simplest of decisions for fear of the consequences. Life has to beat you pretty hard to come to that conclusion, and Staples (or the characters in his songs) bear it with grace. On first listen Staples cover of Belle & Sebastian's "Chalet Lines" seems controversial. The original was written and sung by Stuart Murdoch, from a woman's point of view after being raped. Staples uses the song to show mastery of delicacy, as Murdoch did. When Chris sings the lines "She asks me why I don't call the law / Oh, what's the fucking point of it all?" you believe him/her, and better yet start to feel respobsible somehow.

Chris Staples "Chalet Lines" from Kitchen Sessions on Vimeo.

 

I'd love to say Staples has grown into such a good songrwiter, but it seems he's always been so. As exhibited here on his song “Answers, Questions” from 2011. With the same gentle delivery, foreign folk fingerpicking, and devastating word choices “with his one good eye, the moon looked down at me” Staples lets us know “I don't have any of the answers / I don't even know the question anymore.”

Chris Staples "Answers Questions" from Kitchen Sessions on Vimeo.

 

Overall, Staples subtelty could work against him. Plainspoken, balanced people rarely attract attention. But whatever diet of desperation and hope he's on is forming him into a songwriter with the eloquence and chops. His is the tendency towards awkwardness that made Stephen Yerkey, T-Bone Burnett, or dare I say Leonard Cohen, cult heroes: musician's favorite musicians, songwriter's favorite songwriters. 

 

Words by Sean Jewell

Video by Maurice Morales & Adam Richert

Video editing by Maurice Morales

Tuesday
Nov152016

Courtney Marie Andrews - Visible Voice Session

We had the opportunity to meet up with Courtney Marie Andrews (who was opening up for Noah Gundersen) at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle. In an attempt to find a private, quiet space; we tucked away in the women’s bathroom, in the basement of this beautiful old church. She played "Not the End" off of her latest album Honest Life and a brand new song that she is (for the moment) calling "Sea Town."
Courtney Marie Andrews is one of those musicians where you can foresee their climb to the top. She sang back up vocals on multiple albums and live for Jimmy Eat World and she played in Damien Jurado’s band. But this is her time to shine and she absolutely does just that.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday
Nov012016

Damien Jurado - Bellingham, WA

There's a reason Damien Jurado's career has spanned 20 years, garnered him praise from journalists and musical peers alike, and cultivated an ever-growing, loyal, and devoted fanbase, and it's this: the guy makes beautiful music. While I definitely enjoy his music, seeing him live brought a whole new dimension to my appreciation of his craft.

Playing to a mostly packed house in Bellingham, WA on October 16th, Damien peppered old songs, new songs, and "songs he rarely ever plays live anymore" into a beautifully cohesive set. One of his strengths, beyond the music itself, was his self-effacing storytelling and ability to engage with the audience on a human level - a skill which seems a lost art among many musicians.

He's currently on a coast-to-coast tour for the rest of November, and you'd be highly encouraged to check out his show if he's in your area. Check the tour dates here: http://damienjurado.com/

 

Photos // Words by Alexander Hallett

Friday
Oct072016

Kris Orlowski - Covers and Remixes (Compilation Album)

Our good friend Kris Orlowski pulled another one out of his hat!

This has been a huge year for Kris. First, he decided to slum it with us and do a video session on the back deck of my house. In May, he released Often in the Pause which kicked off a massive tour (that seems to have never stopped). He was recently engaged (Congrats Kris!), and now he has flipped the script on all of us by teaming up with 12 of his favorite songwriters, artists and producers to cover/remix a song off Often in the Pause. Contributors consist of: Seattle (RockyVotolatoBudoMaiahManser etc.) Nashville (Aaron SprinkleJill AndrewsAron Wright) and Los Angeles (DiaGlen PhillipsAlain WhyteAndrew Herringer).

Basically, Kris Orlowski is the kid in class that reminded the teacher about assigning homework. Overachieving bastard…

Be sure to get this album, a lot of work has gone into this passion project!

 

Thursday
Sep152016

WILCO SCHMILCO!

When I first heard Wilco, I was a Junior in high school. On the way to run in a league cross country meet, a teammate gave me a copy of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot to listen to on the bus ride, with this caveat: "you'll enjoy it more if you close your eyes while you listen." I heeded the sage advice, and was transported to another, more calm world by Jeff Tweedy's soothing vocals and the band's driving and introspective instrumentation. I was transfixed. Here we are, nearly 15 years later, and Wilco is as strong as ever on Schmilco. The formula hasn't changed a whole lot, and that's certainly not a bad thing as the formula has become more refined and perfected. Tweedy's voice is as mellifluous as ever, and the guitar work is perhaps even more subtle. "Normal American Kids", for example, is a simple guitar melody with Tweedy almost uncannily turning the clock back to where I was in life the first time I heard them, "I remind myself of myself long ago 'Fore I could drive, 'fore I could vote All of the time, holding a grudge 'Fore I knew people could die just because" "If Ever I Was a Child" and "Cry All Day" are perhaps the most radio ready tracks, and they'd fit perfectly on a nighttime drive or a Summer road trip. Later on the album, "Someone to Lose" and reminds me of just how poetic Tweedy's lyrics are, and how bittersweet. Perhaps the best example is from "Happiness" where he sings, "So sad it's nothing Happiness depends on who you blame" "Locator" builds to a huge crescendo, setting up the final tracks of the 36 minute, 12 track album before the perfectly bookended "Just Say Goodbye" drifts away, the last chord striking a sense of cautious optimism and nostalgia no longer viewed through rose colored glasses. As the Summer turns to Fall, and rain takes hold in the Northwest for a good 6 months, I know I'll be firing up the album repeatedly when I go for my runs in the trails. Though time has moved on, and I'm a shell of the runner who first heard Yankee Hotel Foxtrot those years ago, it's reassuring to know some things don't change: Wilco is just as strong as they've ever been.


Words by Alexander Hallett

Photos by Adam Richert

Tuesday
Aug302016

Minus the Bear w/ This Will Destroy You

Playing to a packed house, both Minus the Bear and This Will Destroy You played full, lengthy sets that enthralled the audience equally. Though their sounds are at quite different ends of the audio spectrum - TWDY being a close sonic sibling of another Texas outfit Explosions in the Sky, and MTB being much more upbeat dance rock - the two complimented each other perfectly.
This Will Destroy You's highlights included the soaring  "The Mighty Rio Grande" and "A Three-Legged Workhorse", while Minus the Bear's set kept the capacity crowd dancing til bar close with crowd favorites from across their entire catalog.

 

 

Minus the Bear

This Will Destroy You

Photos // Words by Alexander Hallett

Thursday
Aug182016

Eaux Claires Music Festival 2016

The second Eaux Claires festival (Eaux Claires "Deux") really got underway back in February. Fans who preordered tickets to the festival without knowing who would be on the lineup were rewarded with a literal cassette mixtape of songs handpicked by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and Aaron Dessner of The National. This genius marketing move announced the lineup in a clever way and helped build buzz through word of mouth as the follow-up to last year's inaugural Eaux Claires approached. Patrons who attended last years festival (myself included) looked forward to this iteration with anticipation. And, a few hiccups aside, the second Eaux Claires really exceeded expectations.
Aaron Dessner of The NationalBon Iver
    There were some big name headliners, to be sure, and we'll get to those in a bit. But this festival was really the year of experimentation for many artists. A few members of The National and Beirut teamed up as LNZNDRF, Aaron Dessner performed with Lisa Hannigan (no National this year), and a powerhouse combination of The National, PhosphorescentLNZNDRF, Lisa Hannigan and Richard Parry of Arcade Fire, and more paid tribute to The Grateful Dead.

    No experiment was bigger than Bon Iver's revealing, and subsequent performance of, their new album 22, A Million. A clear departure from their previous efforts, the new album replaces many of the building horns and percussion with synths and saxes, Vernon's vocals less ethereal falsetto than staccato and synthesized. Technical sound problems aside, this was a soaring unveiling. Each song on the new album is brief and succinct, ending almost mid-stride. It will be interesting to hear how this translates to the headphones.
Phosphorescent
    The rain soaked day one of the festival had many highlights before Bon Iver's closing. Phosphorescent Vince Staplespeppering old material with new, as a cover of This Land Is Your Land led seamlessly into the showstopping Song for Zula. Vince Staples mixed tracks from his Summertime '06 and Hell Can Wait projects, successfully igniting the crowd with energy before ending his set with a mashup of Summertime and Blue Suede Park. LNZNDRF took to one of the side stages to introduce many newcomers to songs from their self-titled effort, and James Blake's somber keys served as a perfect soundtrack as the day gave way to night and the rain kept falling.

    While one could argue that day two of the festival was lighter on star power, it'd be tough to convince anyone that it didn't match the highlights of the first day. Case in point: Mavis Staples. Just as Charles Bradley in the first year, Mavis delivered perhaps the most energy of any performer despite being one of the oldest. She had the crowd eating out of her hand, and by the time Lucius joined her on stage, it was game over.
Mavis Staples
    Jenny LewisElsewhere, Jenny Lewis (also joined by Lucius - man they really earned their paycheck at the festival) effortlessly delivered a beautiful set, Lucius continued to show why they are one of the most in demand bands in the world right now by putting on a typically flawless show, and Har Mar Superstar had a crowd of thousands dancing happily to his infectious melodies. (Editor's Note: we were able to sit down with Har Mar at the festival for an interview, which will be forthcoming). Seattle was represented, too, as Shabazz Palaces packed The Dells stage to max capacity, the crowd eating up their bass-heavy, spaced out blend of hip hop.

    Perhaps the biggest letdown of the festival was Erykah Badu's heavily, heavily truncated set. Scheduled to start at 8:45, fans grew restless as 9 approached with no sign of her. Then 9:10. Then 9:20. It wasn't until 9:25 that she finally took the stage, to the clear dismay of many in the audience. Scheduled to end at 10:15, she sort of just…disappeared from the stage right before 10. No doubt about it: when she sings, she's one of the most transcendent voices alive, and an impeccable performer. The roughly 30 minutes she did manage to perform were quite special. But when folks are expecting well over an hour set, performing for less time than practically everyone else at the festival can't help but end up being a colossal disappointment.

    Still, the festival ended on a high note as Chance the Rapper saved the day by making a surprise appearance for Francis and the Lights' festival closing set. (What can't that guy do?) Couple that with the many phenomenal aforementioned performances, copious delicious food vendors, bathrooms and water stations aplenty, and abundance of community, camaraderie, and charm, and Eaux Claires has something special going on. Maybe there's something in the water, but if there is indeed a third Eaux Claires, you and everyone you know would be highly encouraged to return to the river.

 

 

Photos // Words by Alexander Hallett

Thursday
Jul282016

Newport Folk Festival 2016

      

2016 had everything we folk would expect; on stage collaborations, secret guests and up and coming artists.

But this year was the year of country! As time goes on, we lose more and more music legends. Kris Kristofferson was a "must see" on our list. As you have heard by now, the man himself played a surprise 3 song set as part of the "Texas Gentleman." Margo Price played a memorable Janis Joplin during "Me and Bobby McGee" before her own set on the Quad Stage. "If it sounds country, man, that's what it is, it's a country song" Kris Kristofferson (re: Me and Bobby McGee).
Mr. Kristofferson gave everyone warm fuzzies when he commented "it takes me back."

Other notable country acts included: JP Harris, John Moreland, Margo Price, and Ian Fitzgerald - all of which played the smaller Museum Stage last year. 2016 probably had more pedal steel than we've seen before at the festival. JP HarrisIan FitzgeraldThe type of acts you would definitely see in darker honky tonks, (I'm looking at you Tractor Tavern, Seattle) but out and about in broad daylight. Ian Fitzgerald was definitely a favorite this year, with a poker face, the best hair at Newport and a train-like sound reminiscent of Johnny Cash and Whiskeytown. "We had big plans to bathe ourselves in denim but it's real hot." Hot it was! Our sunburns have sunburns.

Margo Price threatened everyone with "shit kicking country" and she did deliver, reminiscent of country greats Emmylou Harris with the feisty lyrics of Loretta Lynn. Margo PriceA rather entertaining set with fast guitar playing, many reference to crooked Nashville and whiskey. No NFF set would be complete without a cover song to pay tribute to those that came before. Margo did a fitting cover of Gram Parsons' Las Vegas to round out the show.

First timers the Cactus Blossom were a refreshing sound on the hottest year we can recall. The brothers, complete with a full band, have a sound that is reminiscent of something old yet hard to pinpoint. Was that a cowbell?

The lesser known Museum stage is where we at VV can often be found. Never disappointing, we caught Shovels and Rope testing out some new material, and doing some real life talk about becoming parents and caring for aging parents with Alzheimer's. On becoming a mom, Carrie Ann said "it is so mundane and happens to everyone" but obviously in awe of recent happenings. We also caught a few Newport alum onstage including Elvis Perkins and Langhorne Slim.

Matthew Logan Vasquez, of Delta Spirit, Middle Brother, and generally known as Newport royalty brought it solo this year. Not one who generally plays alone, MLV brought on stage collaborations from Fruit Bats and also the Parkington sisters of Cape Cod to do a cover of "Angel from Montgomery" and also threw in a Dwight Yoakam cover, because, why not?
PS- his wife made that bedazzled jacket
Matthew Logan Vasquez
Later, joined onstage by the rest of Middle Brother, at one point MLV sported a homemade hat that read "Dad," a reminder that the Newport family is growing.

Middle Brother
Ryan Adams graced us with his presence again this year, and brought along backing band The Infamous String Dusters with Nicki Bluhm. Adams played his hits with a country/bluegrass twang. This set was exactly what we were craving after the alternative 2014 set which featured newer, harder tracks with a couple of the songs we all know and love mixed in.

Just walking around the festival, one might catch memorable bits here and there of other sets. We happened to catch River Weiss' cover of Airline to Heaven by Woody Guthrie via Wilco. By chance we also heard Graham Nash doing Our House.

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros was the Sunday finale for us at VV. After getting a late start, they put on a flawless show with all of the songs and energy one would expect.

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros