Capitol Hill Block Party 2017: A Fresh Take 

Sometimes when you go to a festival year after year you get a bit jaded; you know the pace and exactly where to go for who you want to see (which is not a bad thing...) But, there is something about the feeling of not knowing what to expect; taking the time to figure things out and enjoying the initial moment when you walk through the gates that resonates with us all. I think we all chase that feeling of novelty at one point or another. So we decided to send fresh eyes to cover the festival to get a vantage point from a young and less experienced photo journalist who had never been to the Capitol Hill Block Party. We all envy this person…


Being a Capitol Hill Block Party virgin, as I entered the festival I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I had heard rumors of its wild and reckless nature, but it wasn’t until I walked through the gates that I realized the glory that is Block Party. Music and of course the "faint" smell of weed and sweat filled the air. Immediately, I knew I wasn't in Kansas anymore!

This siren of a three-day festival erects in the heart of Seattle and it's the best kind of pandemonium. Seattleites from all walks of life congregate in the streets of Capitol Hill, forget all their worries, and let loose to the rhythm of fantastic live music.

From the start, the mainstage was an absolute party. Performances from Danny Brown, Snakehips, and Angel Olsen kept the crowd roaring. Onlookers enjoyed the show from their third story apartment windows and seemed like angels when they tossed popsicles at overheated festival attendees below.

Even security was getting in on the fun, nodding along to the music and keeping the crowd cool between sets. My camera did take an unexpected shower - but hey, that buff hose-wielding security guy was just doing his job.

The Vera Stage kept things fresh, with appearances from the likes of Knowmads, Torres, and Perfume Genius. My favorite performance came from the fabulous Mykki Blanco. Her far from conventional 45 minute set kept the crowd bumping. Things got real when she tore off her wig, jumped offstage, and pranced around the crowd spitting rhymes and grinding on fans. As one does...

As the day progressed and the sun fell, tensions and expectations were higher than ever for the festival's headliner: a little DJ by the name of Diplo. The moment he took the stage, everyone’s inner party animal came out. The crowd turned into an absolute mosh pit. It was impossible not to join in on the party. I’d like to thank the kind fellow who helped me change lenses in the midst of the flailing bodies, I’d be lost without you man.

All in all, Capitol Hill Block party was pure fun, though I am thankful to have made it out in one piece. ‘Till next year!

 Words // Photo by Peter Sullivan


Dan Blakeslee - Album review / Song premiere: "A Golden Turn"

Ring Dan Blakeslee and you’ll hit a friendly greeting of Dan singing and playing his guitar, followed by a full mailbox. Maybe this artful dodge is a relic from Dan’s time more than a decade ago in Portsmouth, N.H., when he owed so much artwork to folks around town that he took to walking the alleys to avoid disappointed customers. This time in his life is the impetus for the title of Blakeslee’s latest album, The Alley Walker, and like with most talented artists, he rewards your patience.

Piecing together tunes and stories from as far back as 2005, the album was a long time in the making, but one well worth the time.

“I planned to make it seven years ago,” Blakeslee says via phone when we connect. “I ended up making two others in between. I knew I wanted The Alley Walker to be a little more explosive, take a few more risks.”

Those explosive risks are dutifully explored and artfully executed with the help of producer Chris Chase and the backing talents of the Callabash Club. Longtime Blakeslee listeners will recognize the tunes, but the songs come alive on the record, capturing the band’s propulsive energetic live sound and giving life to Blakeslee’s vivid storytelling.

The songs take seed from Dan’s wanderings, with references to his time in Somerville (“The Somerville Line”), New Hampshire (“Pride of the Picataqua”), and the road (“Lone Star”, written in New Orleans). The album’s title track closes the album, a fitting capstone to complete the album’s journey. But like a record on repeat, Blakeslee recently found himself in a similar mental state as when he first wrote “The Alley Walker” more than 11 years ago. In a scramble to pay for the studio time, Blakeslee again took on more and more art projects, leading to an eerily similar mindset as to his first writing and lending a prescient tone to his work in the studio.

The album now complete, Dan Blakeslee and the Callabash Club no longer need to hide and shirk in alleys. In fact, they sound ready for the spotlight.

We are honored to be the first to share “A Golden Turn” from "The Alley Walker". In Dan's words:

"I have been playing music for over two decades and have known both triumph and struggle alike. I wrote "A Golden Turn" in hopes of seeking a little more balance to finally get to a more fruitful place in my career. Every day I am so grateful to be doing music and art for a living... it's not an easy road but I wouldn't want it any other way!"




Words // Brian Hodge


Murder By Death - Video Session 

I am not going to lie, I've listened to Murder By Death for many years and now I am meeting up with them right before they go on stage at The Showbox in Seattle. So needless to say, I was pretty excited. Adam (lead singer) was kind enough to perform a solo session for us in the green room.

You never really know what your going to get when you try to do a video production behind a stage. The one thing you dont want is for the opening band to start their sound check in the middle of recording. Unfortunately it happened... but like a pro Adam kept it going. We tried to dumb down the background noise as much as possible. Please enjoy!


Low Roar at the The Crocodile in Seattle

Hideo Kojima made writing about and photographing this concert possible (albeit, not personally). When a trailer for his upcoming video game dropped early last year, the song used in it immediately caught my attention. Upon Shazaming, I found out it was "I'll Keep Coming" by a group based out of Iceland named Low Roar.

Flash forward to today. Having listened to their discography rather extensively, I was excited for their live set, opening for San Fermin. It exceeded my expectations. The low-key blue lighting highlighted the mellow, often somber, yet somehow still raucous cuts that have come to define Low Roar's sound. Each member of the trio, highlighted by frontman Ryan Karazija, are multi instrumentalists and singers, and each brings a unique contribution to the whole. While "I'll Keep Coming" was certainly a set highlight, they had the capacity crowd at The Crocodile in the palm of their hand for their 45 minute set. See it.

In all transparency, I was preparing to head home after Low Roar's set in order to catch up on some much needed sleep. After hearing San Fermin's opener, though, I couldn't help but stay. The 7 member group, fronted by Ellis Ludwig-Leone, had one of the most electric live sets I've seen in years. From keys to trumpet, saxophone to guitars, the energy didn't stop for over an hour. The trumpet player walked out above the audience and danced while he was playing, for crying out loud. Everyone brought their A game. They've gained a new fan.


Photos // Words by Alexander Hallett


P.O.S. - at The Crocodile in Seattle, WA

When people talk about "paying dues" in the hip hop community, they're usually referring to opening as a local for touring acts for a few years, cultivating a nearby fanbase, slowly expanding outward geographically, and supporting other artists - all vital aspects of a lasting rap career. But there is paying dues and then there are P.O.S. - born Stefon Alexander - dues: a 16 year career of tireless work ethic, collaboration, exhaustive touring and recording...and both kidneys failing, 4 years ago, in the midst of it all. 
After a successful kidney transplant and recovery, P.O.S. is back on the road, his live show more powerful than ever. That's dedication. That's perseverance. That's part of what makes P.O.S. one of the most revered and respected artists of any genre. 
His set list at The Crocodile spanned much of his catalog, including cuts from Audition, Never Better, We Don't Even Live Here, and his new opus Chill, Dummy. It was cohesive, powerful, lively, reflective, and just a flat-out great show, as every one of the head-bobbing, jumping, hand-raised fans at the sold out show would attest. It was epic.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention openers Dwynell Roland and SIMS, as well as DJ Fundo. Supporting acts don't get much more polished than these, and it's no wonder P.O.S. hand-picked them to head out for his first headlining tour in years. 
Get out. See a P.O.S. show now: http://www.doomtree.net/pos/
SIMS and DJ Fundo are also touring Europe soon. Catch shows here: http://www.doomtree.net/SIMS
Photos // Words by Alexander Hallett

DeVotchKa at The Wild Buffalo - Bellingham, WA

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


Hoot & Holler - V.V. Session

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 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


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

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