Performing in front of a sold-out crowd on Valentine's Day Eve, Denver-based DeVotchKa's set was pitch-perfect for the date: equal parts celebration of - and longing for - love. Front-man Nick Urata's lyrics, whether upbeat and danceable, downtempo and contemplative, are always pure poetry. The live experience gives an extra appreciation for the richness of the words.
The band's chemistry is second-to-none, a fine-tuned, cohesive machine that leaves room for extensive improvisation. Seeing each member of the band seamlessly transition from one instrument to the next - from sousaphone to upright bass, piano to accordion, drums to trumpet, or theremin to bouzouki - is truly a sight to behold, and only adds excitement to a truly captivating live show.
"How it Ends", arguably one of the most beautiful songs of the 21st century, served as a perfect coda near the end of an electric, dance-filled set, giving hope to the lovesick and caution to the enamored.
Photos // Words by Alexander Hallett
The Hoot & Holler gives me faith in folk musicians who are willing to claw their way through the hipster convolution. This duo plays sweet and unpretentious songs reminiscent of sitting around a camp fire that evokes a good old fashion sing along. We were able to meet up with them on their tour when coming through Seattle before their show. We squeezed in to a 1977 VW Westfalia named Jolene for a video session which seemed to come quite natural for them since they had been living out of the tour van for some time. Please enjoy this session with The Hoot & Holler!
Listen and buy their new album "Reasons to Run" Here!
Words // Video // Photo by Adam Richert
Video Editing by Alexander Hallett
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:
Photos // Words by Alexander Hallett
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.
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.
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.”
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
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.
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
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 (RockyVotolato, Budo, MaiahManser etc.) Nashville (Aaron Sprinkle, Jill Andrews, Aron Wright) and Los Angeles (Dia, Glen Phillips, Alain Whyte, Andrew Herringer).
Be sure to get this album, a lot of work has gone into this passion project!
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