Review: Shopping, ‘Why Choose’

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As featured in Rolling Stone, 11/11/2016

With longtime listeners left disenchanted by this year’s tepid Gang Of Four reboot, there’s only one thing left for a devout post-punk fan to do: Shop around. Enter London trio Shopping, who appropriate the stern, politically-charged legacy of Eighties bands like the Au Pairs or Delta 5 — as well as the cheeky punk ethos of the Slits — for an age of insatiable, compulsory consumption. On the follow-up to their 2013 debut, Consumer Complaints, the band remains in constant conversation: sparring and making up the whole way through, maneuvering through every beat and groovy bass line with mathematical precision.

Is it a scathing, in-your-face communiqué against capitalism? Not exactly. It’s more of a frenzied dash along the blurry line between consumer and personal relations. Everything here is measured in terms of time and labor, from the jilted date attesting her worth in “No Show” to the jealous sugar daddy lamenting his flighty sugar baby in “Straight Lines,” whose video is set in a swanky apartment where the clean, naked bodies of young people stand in for furniture. “I saw you with another guy,” drummer Andrew Milk sings reproachfully. “You go home empty-handed when you go home with his type.”

“Why Wait?” presents Shopping’s ultimate thesis statement for our era of instant online gratification: “Why wait when it’s all on my doorstep/When it’s all in my hand?” sings guitarist Rachel Aggs. Bass player Billy Easter has described it as a song about “being consumed by a system whilst also harboring an intense desire to freak out and consume everything at once.” That’s an apt description of what Shopping is after on Why Choose – an album that evokes all the flustered tension of an age in which we incessantly crave stimulation, even as we serve as stimulating products ourselves. Luckily, Shopping are also smart enough to keep us on our toes and dancing from start to finish, with not a second spilt.

Review: Long Beard, ‘Sleepwalker’

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As featured in Rolling Stone, 11/2/2015

The first album from Long Beard, a band led by New Brunswick, New Jersey, singer-songwriter Leslie Bear, raises some big questions: What happens to your soul when you die? How about the specters of past relationships and life stages? Assembled partly from recordings made in suburban attics and bedrooms, it’s an album that feels right at home on Team Love Records, the indie label co-founded by the king of melancholic folk anthems himself, Conor Oberst.

The spirit of Sleepwalker is a lonely, restless one. Bear’s featherweight soprano meanders from song to song like a spirit that’s cycled through centuries, dragging her guitar along for the ride. She tosses and turns with romantic longing in lead single “Porch,” and reaches an even more passionate state in “Turkeys,” whose chords unravel after she pleads, “Won’t you come over/And dance with me?” The foot-dragging malaise of “Hates The Party” has a reassuring feel for anyone prefers to stay in on Saturday nights instead of battling social anxiety in rooms full of uptight strangers.

Throughout the album, the band swims against a current of looped drones and howls akin to paranormal voices. By “Someplace,” the effect gets distracting: Backward loops go spiraling into the ether of Bear’s memory, her words hard to discern, the sounds even harder to stay invested in, to a point where only insomniacs, ghost hunters and sleepwalkers may stick around through these small hours. Eventually, Bear breaks through the sleepy muddle and takes on an earthy country-music inflection on “Days Of Heaven,” where she laments, “Lost my friend to the color green/In her eyes, they don’t remember me.” By the time you reach the bell-like reverbed guitars in “Twinkle Twinkle,” you can rest easy: This spirit is finally at peace.

New Job. New Look. New Page.

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Dear readers,

I’m suuuuuper stoked to announce that I am the new online producer at RollingStone.com! Here is what this means:

  1. I will be very very busy laying out articles on the web because that is now my full-time job.
  2. I am no longer an editor,
  3. Therefore I am no longer taking pitches.
  4. Nor will I realistically have the time to write about everything you toss my way. You are not my boss!
  5. I never have and never will take story ideas you solicit via Facebook or Twitter.
  6. Before you try it, you might wanna send me a message asking for my professional big girl email instead.
  7. I never have and never will just leave my email on the internet because,
  8. I never have and never will respond to inquiries for dates on the internet.
  9. Before you try it, you might want to chill.

Album Review: PWR BTTM, ‘Ugly Cherries’

(Crossposted from Rolling Stone, 9/28/2015)

Drag-loving duo blur gender roles, rock out Nineties style on a delightfully fresh debut

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It finally happened: The theater kids have staked their claim on Nineties rock nostalgia. Though the self-described “genre-queer” tunes on PWR BTTM’s debut  album are closer to early Fountains of Wayne than, say, any number from Rent, drama definitely takes center stage for the glittery duo, who first met as students and drag performers at Bard College. “I held my breath in a suit and a tie because I didn’t know I could fight back,” drummer Liv Bruce confesses in “Serving Goffman,” adding, “I want to put the whole world in drag, but I’m starting to realize it’s already like that.”

The band’s musings on desire and gender performance betray an academically-trained eye for queer theory, but the analysis is delivered with a healthy dose of humor, not to mention searing guitar solos courtesy of Ben Hopkins. Hopkins takes over the mic (and the Big Muff) on the nihilistic garage ballad “1994,” which turns out to be the highlight of the album. The thrilling music video sees Hopkins’ blue, sparkly lips spliced into the faces of heavily-oiled wrestling heroes like Hulk Hogan, hitting a zenith of gay kitsch.

The long history of gender play in rock music — from David Bowie to My Chemical Romance and beyond — means that a band like PWR BTTM really shouldn’t feel like such an anomaly in 2015. What sets them apart from those famous androgynes is that there’s no alter ego or artistic pretense in their candid admissions of queer insecurity. Perhaps the true novelty of an album like Ugly Cherries isn’t its glam presentation or its commitment to celebrating all things under a rainbow of pride. It’s the heart-bursting sincerity that comes through in Bruce and Hopkins’ eagerness to slather lipstick all over their chins and serenade their fellow weirdos in basements.

Album Review: Royal Headache, ‘High’

(Crossposted from Rolling Stone, 9/22/2015)

Aussie blues-punks shrug off breakup rumors with impassioned second album

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Dust off your Chucks and leather jackets for this one. The years following Sydney rock & roll crew Royal Headache’s 2012 debut have been filled with critical acclaim and breakup rumors, but they’ve pulled it together for a thunderous new album. Frontman Shogun, who’s got a dusky, Motown-style croon, takes his teenage kicks to sentimental heights in “High” and soars to the heavens in “Carolina,” a rugged gospel tune exalting a girl long gone. The band fires off a missive to poseurs in “Garbage,” punctuated by the simple, yet profoundly quotable lines, “You’re not punk — you’re just scum!” Royal Headache’s execution is so straightforwardly 1977 that it almost teeters on generic garage-rock pastiche. The saving grace is this album’s undeniable heart and soul.

Track Review: Algodón Egipcio, “Multiestabilidad”

(Crossposted from Pitchfork, 9/22/2015)

When he’s not writing charming freak folk ballads as one half of Jóvenes y Sexys, or touring with Mexican pop ensemble Torreblanca, Venezuelan singer-songwriter Cheky Bertho commands the mixing board as Algodón Egipcio. (Or, Egyptian Cotton.) Four years after his debut, La Lucha Constante, Bertho gives us a taste of his next effort in “Multiestabilidad”. What’s otherwise a heavily postmodernist meditation is buried beneath a glitchy patchwork of samples mined from Multistability, the 2010 album by the visionary British producer Mark Fell.

“How can it be wrong? If what I perceive to me is real?” Bertho gently muses, “Many faces that feel an illusion, all under the same sun.” With surgical precision, he constructs a crystalline ziggurat of noise, each prismatic building block cracking under the pressure of each sound that follows. Fault lines become valleys, spilling into an array of warm tones. As scientific as his method is, Bertho’s ode to the multiplicity of reality is quite comforting. The fragments, discordant as they seem at first, fall neatly into place, clean as an expertly-played game of Tetris.

Album Review: The Internet, ‘Ego Death’

(Crossposted from Rolling Stone, 9/10/2015)

Odd Future crew makes inviting, heartbroken funk-soul album

the internetSmoky bedrooms and stale airport terminals set the vibe for the third LP from the Internet, the Los Angeles funk crew fronted by singer, songwriter and lovelorn Casanova Syd tha Kyd. Over 12 warm, spacey tracks, Syd reappropriates the satin romanticism of classic Seventies soul for 21st-century girls who want to be with girls. She’s got help from an impressive guest list of rising left-field stars: Janelle Monáe sends “Gabby” spiraling into a mournful waltz, while Syd’s Odd Future pal Tyler, the Creator kicks off the kind of block party that dreams are made of in “Palace/Curse.” The best tracks fade away into gravity-defying instrumental outros that make Syd’s heartache feel sublimely serene. (3.5)