First Aid Kit: Stay Gold LP

FirstAidKit_StayGold

 

First Aid Kit- Stay Gold

First Aid Kit is the folk-duo comprised of Swedish sisters, Johanna and Clara Söderberg. With the release of their fourth album, their first on a major label, Stay Gold is a culmination of the hard work these sisters have put into their music. They have been considered contemporaries of modern folk legends Fleet Foxes, recorded with Jack White, and have an established artistic friendship with Conor Oberst, touring with his band Bright Eyes and singing backing vocals on his latest solo album. With First Aid Kit’s newest LP, Stay Gold, the duo has cemented their sound of mature folk-pop that still keeps the essence of a country twist.

As with much folk, the strongest element of this album is the vocals. These sisters have such a strong command over their harmonies. Seamlessly, they ebb and flow, trading off melodies and harmonies, leading the listener into the haunted, pure notes being sung. Without even listening to the lyrics, the sound of the vocals, the earnestness, wit, and pain all trickle out. The notes are never forced, even on more upbeat tracks, but they are well controlled with a finessed power. This same mature understanding of music and the way melody and harmony lines interact is revealed in the music of Stay Gold. First Aid Kit and their band have a way of composing great folk-pop without relying on major label industry standards, like dueling guitars and a mustached Brooklyn-ite plucking a banjo. No. Instead, the album is filled with lush orchestration and simple, yet necessary, percussion. While there are acoustic guitar strums and plucks and a piano, it is the use of not only string instruments, but woodwinds as well, that give Stay Gold its distinct sound. Sonically, First aid Kit know who they are, and the polished recordings courtesy of a major label only enhance the band.

Lyrically, Stay Gold appears to tell the story of a relationship that the narrator feels was forced to go on to long, and while highlighting moments of their time together, finally realizes that it wasn’t meant to be. While this subject matter may seem a bit morbid, or even cliché, First Aid Kit shines brightest in the depths of somber ballads and mid-tempo recollections.

On the mid-tempo title track, ‘Stay Gold’, the sisters sing, “What if our hard work ends in despair?/ What if the road won’t take me there?/ Oh, I wish for once, it could stay gold./ What if to love and be loved is not enough?…” This kind of questioning is what drives the content of not only this song, but the album in its entirety. The lyrics, while simple on the surface, actually question the clichéd, candid responses given to those struggling with love and relationships. It is said hard work pays off, but difficult tasks are trying and often lead to more strains on the relationship. There is the saying we are all on a journey and all have paths carved out for themselves, but these sisters are asking an important question; what if the path I’m meant to follow doesn’t end in a place where ‘we’ are together? That last question, “What if to love and be loved is not enough?”, sticks out to me, mainly because of their relationship with Conor Oberst from Bright Eyes. He used the line, ‘We have a problem/ with no solution/ but love and to be loved” on a song many years ago. This reviewer can’t help but sense the sisters of First Aid Kit are alluding to Mr. Oberst while at the same time making their own statement that there has to be more to a relationship than the platitudes given by those outside the relationship.

On the track, ‘Cedar Lane’, the sisters are vocally at their strongest, perfectly complimenting the slow, sweeping orchestration of slide guitars and woodwinds. It is a song about remembering a time when things seemed to be better, bringing the narrator to a place that holds precious memories. While reflecting on Cedar Lane, the narrator sings of walking with their lover and how, “time moved so swiftly/ all of those days”, and how the lover told the narrator, “Something good will come out of this.” Lyrically, First aid Kit is able to take the listener into the moments when times were pleasant and full of hope, forgetting that on the larger scale, problems are not being resolved.

Now, don’t worry, while the album does keep a slower, steady tempo, the sisters let loose with a little fire on the barn burner, ‘Heaven Knows’. It has a slow intro, ending in the lyrics, “paid so much attention to what you’re not/ you have no idea who you are.” Then it kicks in to full gear with the sisters singing, “But heaven knows, knows that you’re a liar”, and takes off from there. The song is that immediate post-break-up realization and burden-lifted-off-the-shoulders excitement at your whole world opening up again.

Stay Gold is strong folk-pop album that is mature enough to be enjoyed by folk enthusiasts and polished enough to earn radio play. And while the album could have ended on the upbeat, in-your-face attitude of ‘Heaven Knows’, First Aid Kit showcase their true songwriting sensibilities and end the album with a contemplative, somber, song that understands the hope ahead, but is not in denial of the heartache that will accompany the end of the relationship traced throughout the album. This alone should be reason enough to appreciate the brevity of the album as a whole. Maturity is a tough sell in the major label business, dominated by songs about clubbing and forgetting about silly boys and meeting the next hunk who is sensitive because he wears glasses. First Aid Kit do not shy away from stark reality, ending on a song that makes the listener yearn for more, taking their time after the album has ended to think to themselves. That, is the sign of a great album.

9.5/10

Duologue: Memex EP

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Duologue / Memex

Prior to the release of their album Never Get Lost, Duologue released a four track EP entitled Memex. A compilation, which I had the pleasure of listening to this week. I was impressed to say the least, and even more moved by the visual accompaniment of the Memex music video. Simply put, an experience which conceives the sublime.  The titular track is, itself, a work of tasteful writing and impeccable production. Commencing with piano chords recorded through a high-end EQ, followed by ghostly multi-tracked vocals, and a slow drum beat, the track harbors and resonates melancholic emotions.  “Memex” provides wide-open spaces and subtle textures, shifting from majestic to haunting tones. Overall, the song is very opaque and wraps up in a heavy conclusion with distortion, crashing cymbals, and a chilling bass line.

Successor track “Operator” functions as a lost-love song. Able to retain the melancholic quality but, gravitating towards a subtly vivacious upbeat tempo, with chilled electronic drums and sweet vocal melodies that drive the track and engage the listener.  The compositional style of this track is generously dynamic and unpredictable, upon first listen. It’s exciting in a very laid back, lounging way. The pivotal climax occurs halfway through the song via a momentous chord change, triumphant in nature, and accented by vocal harmonies & soft synths. Eventually petering out, it builds up and returns to the electrical chorus once more; a very satisfying progression of musical narrative.

“Traps” pushes the excitement forward. It is always thrilling when you reach the second chord in a 4/4 progression, hearing it for the first time because you know, you feel that it’s going to resolve to something very gratifying, and when it does hit that perfect place it lights you up from the inside out. This song is not as unpredictable as the last two, it has a little more pop, but this is too a great advantage. In a way, it gives the listener a moment to relax. There are still some really unexpected changes in mood that take place; changes that at first seem a little odd, but after a while realize themselves to be really neat. Once again, the percussion plays a strong role and is tastefully mixed.

The last song on Memex EP, “Bodylog” didn’t to it for me as much as the other three, even so, it’s a great track. The energy, however, seems almost contrived, trying to reach an intensity very early on, and then rebuilding from its ashes. A very dancey tune especially towards the end. It has some very interesting rhythmic moments, and it’s a decent way to wrap up the EP. After many listens through, I’m really pleased to have come across Duologue’s Memex EP Here is a group that understands music and emotion, and I hope to hear more from their new LP Never Get Lost.

9/10

Profile: Naomi Punk

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It’s a calm, if not damp night on the North side of Chicago. On a residential street near the Loyola campus, dim street lights give off an orange glow that is enhanced by the newly formed rain puddles. The last thing you would be expecting to take place on a quiet night like this? An earth-shattering, face-melting punk show. Below ground, in a DIY venue space known as “Albion House” (in reference to the street the space is located on), Chicagoans flocked out to see some raw local talent, leading up to Seattle/Olympia natives, Naomi Punk. Violent Success caught up with Captured Tracks‘ rising stars to discuss their sound, Seattle’s music scene, and their new album, Television Man.

Violent Success: After you guys started playing together, how long would you say did it take for you guys to find your sound?

Travis Coster: I think it was always kind of found

Nicolas Luempert: I think it was really found in Summer of 2011, on the west coast tour.

Travis: Yeah, but we had already had those songs. I feel like we were never trying to make a sound. We were never like: ‘Alright, we gotta have a cool, unique sound if we wanna do what we want with music.’

Neil Gregerson: We didn’t have a focus.

Travis: Yeah. I feel like the focus has just always been trying to make a pop song- trying to arrive at pop melody or structures. I feel like it’s always been driven by an idea of finding a new way toward a pop transcendence. Not like ‘pop culture’ pop; we never went pop or something. We were always trying to move toward repeating parts until we heard beautiful things and liked ‘em.

VS: So What’s your favorite part about performing the material live?

Neil: Oh, I need to think about that.

Travis: I guess I really like playing for the energy that’s there.

Nicolas: Yeah, I mean before this and I feel like all of us, in all the bands we were ever in always focused completely on playing live opposed to recording. Whereas this started as more of a recording project, and then turned into a band.

Travis: Where it was not for the live setting exclusively. So playing these songs live is acrobatic, a little bit.

Nicolas: Yeah, we were kind of translating the songs at one point. Which is cool, it’s cool to translate.

Travis: I feel like they still have to get translated a bit.

Neil: That’s just what happens when you play something over and over again.

Travis: We kind of relearned this old song that we never used to play live, and we play it live now. It’s on The Feeling and it’s totally- I listened to the old version the other day and I was laughing at how different it was. We totally translated it to like this kind of different song but it’s the same song. So I guess there’s a lot of translation that’s involved and there’s a dynamic element to it that’s really interesting.

VS: So would you guys say that Seattle’s music scene has influenced your music at all?

Travis: Well, we grew up around Seattle and and got into a lot of music by going to a lot of punk shows and underground shows. I met Nick when he was like fifteen

Nicolas: Yeah, I was fourteen

Travis: Fourteen? Yeah. And we were at a show that we were playing together, in different bands, and I was like ‘Hey are you gonna go to this show?’ And we would go to these really weird shows and they were really far out and that opened up how we thought about what we were doing. Not necessarily in terms of there being three or four cool Seattle punk bands that we really liked a lot.

Nicolas: And also, there were so many different bands that were kind of like us where it was completely focused on the live setting and not even focused on recording so there were so many places to play. There was a scene without there needing to be some weird material they were supporting.

Travis: There’s literally no documentation of like 50 bands that we would see all the time that would be amazing. Or if there was documentation, it was not representing them at all…but that band was the most meaningful band in that moment or had this visceral energy. And playing live has always been really important, so when I asked to start a band with Neil and Nick I was like: ‘Dude I really wanna do this band but I really want it to be focused on this recording project- or, not recording project but having there be this compositional dimension to it and have it be like a recorded document. Material versus performance, but now it’s performed.

Neil: I would say we probably record a lot less live than a lot of bands do.

Nicolas: It’s kind of like a recording project where we figure out the songs as you’re recording.

Travis: Yeah, we record a bunch of drums and we’re sending the songs to each other and working on them separately. Adding a lot of elements and then figuring out how we’re going to do it.

Neil: It’s only been a recent thing that we’ve all lived in the same place.

Travis: That makes it sound like it’s The Postal Service…(laughter)

Neil: Well ya know, there was an hour…

Travis: Yeah, there was a period of time where I lived in Seattle and they lived in Olympia. So whenever we would play together, we would have to do a five-hour long practice and then we wouldn’t see each other for at least a couple weeks.

VS: So what has been the biggest shift from The Feeling to Television Man?

Travis: There isn’t that much of a shift. I feel like we got better at writing songs and better at recording ourselves and honing the vocabulary of our music.

Nicolas: I feel like it also got more collaborative.

Neil: And just more active, in general.

Travis: When we were making that album, Television Man, I feel like we’re not trying to change what we were doing with The Feeling, we were just refining it.

VS: Who are some of the artists who have influenced you guys musically?

Travis: I love punk music and I grew up listening to a lot of punk music and I feel like there’s this magic, raw power in punk music. Like Iggy Pop, ‘Raw Power’. There’s something that’s bigger than it, an aesthetic even…

Nicolas: I feel like the whole thing with Punk music, like with all the bands we used to like a lot, focusing on the live performance. Focusing on a visceral thing, not a material thing.

Travis: We all have been influenced by different things and different parts of music history and appreciating them without trying to incorporate them into this project.

Neil: I would say, with this band, it’s less like we’re tapping into what we’re into and putting it into the band, it’s more like we’re tapping into what the band is and then building on that,

VS: If you could tour with any band playing today, who would it be?

Travis: I was thinking about Magic Markers earlier. I feel like that band is really cool because they’re so focused on the live experience and they’ve been doing music for a long time. They’re artists doing their thing, which is really cool and I feel like it would be fun to see them live every night because they’d be playing really different sets. Some of their songs last eight minutes some nights and some nights they’ll last like 20 minutes, depending on how they decide how to take it which is really cool, and kind of rare in music.

Neil: They’re a real band.

VS: Say you were forced to describe your sound to someone who has never heard you guys before, doesn’t know anything about you. How would you describe Naomi Punk?

Travis: What would you say, Nick?

Nicolas: It’s pretty loud?

Travis: It’s pretty loud (laughter) (To Neil)What would you say?

Neil: Last night they were joking about how the final judge of the music, it’s not really humans but it’s aliens.

Nicolas: You have to think about the completely neutral point of the alien intelligence.

Travis: And if you’re not thinking about how the aliens would review it-

Nicolas: If you’re focused on humans only then it’s- you’re out of the game. it’s already over.

Neil: But it also means thinking about someone in the future.

Nicolas: It just means neutral. Well not neutral but completely blank. But ya know, that’s kind of funny. It was a really good joke.

Neil: I forget what the question is now (more laughs).

 

Coasts: Oceans EP

Oceans EP cover

Coasts- Oceans EP

Coasts, a five-piece band from Bristol, England, first got together in 2011. Two years later, they released their EP Paradise. Since then, the band has gained some recognition, including being one of fourteen artists to be featured on iTunes’ “Ones to Watch” in the UK for summer 2014. The band is able to further showcase their talents with their latest EP, Oceans .

The first track, ‘Oceans’, is a great way to start off the EP. It steadily pulls you in and leaves you immersed in empathy. The song starts off with a simple yet sweet guitar riff and the lyrics “We fell in love right by the ocean”.  As the chorus kicks in, like waves crashing onto the shore, the song seems to take on a different form.  It truly is an astonishing track of epic proportions.

The second track, ‘Tonight’, sounds kind like the previous song, ‘Oceans’, but what makes the track stand out is the use of the synthesizer, which makes the song more upbeat.

The song ‘Golden City’ is an absorbing track.  In the beginning, it sounds like it could be a slow song, especially considering the use of the piano, but then the song takes a different turn. It soon becomes more of a dance track that could perhaps be played at a nightclub. The lyrics, “If we play this right/ we can take the world/but I left my heart in London/ with the girl in the golden city”, makes the song quite intriguing.

The track, ‘See How’, is all about heartbreak. The lyrics “You broke my heart a thousand times or more” seem to make that pretty clear. Some other lyrics that stuck out to me were “wandering the aisles of your vacant mind”. The drums on this track make for a great beat that is consistent throughout the song.

The EP also includes two remixes of the song ‘Oceans’. The first remix, by Toyboy and Robin, makes the song faster, but not completely danceable. The second remix, by Kastle, is a rather distinct. It starts off slow and repeats the muffled lyric, “Is that the devil in your eyes?”, which kind of confused me a little.  Then out of nowhere, the song is brought to life with hip-hop and R&B melodies. It’s a unique twist on the indie rock song that I found utterly refreshing.

Listening to Coasts’ EP, Oceans , is like a fun day at the beach filled with tuneful guitar sounds and lyrics that flow. That being said, feel free to put on some cool shades and enjoy every minute.

7/10

Pitchfork Music Festival 2014: Sunday (Day 3)

Grimes

The last day began with fast-rising dream poppers DIIV. Their guitar driven sound shimmered over the audience in the early afternoon slot. While they’re sound was good, I wasn’t exactly captivated. Frontman Zachary Cole Smith’s audience interaction from what I saw was mostly nonexistent, starting the show off with a simple uttering of “DIIV” into the microphone. While their dynamics were measured, their blend was solid and the guitar came floated through with a calm intensity, their spacey performance style didn’t fully woo me. They lent well to the atmosphere, but didn’t hold my attention for too long.

As I meandered on from DIIV I found myself in the thickets of Perfect Pussy’s set. Now here’s the thing with them. They have the well, perfect, name. They have the feminism to match. Their lead singer, Meredith Graves, is a force field of fury and light onstage. Their sound is tight and brash. All these lovely parts are great, but for some reason didn’t add up to what I wish they did. I know it’s a stylistic choice, but I desperately wish they would turn Graves’ mic up. I get that they want to be noisy, and that’s totally cool. But for such a vivid emotional performance, I could barely hear her. Which, is also a pretty cool theatrical choice. But instead of having a profound effect on me, it just made me really, really, really curious to hear what she was saying. Though I wasn’t converted on site, I still hold out hope for a better second date the next time I see them.
Deafheaven, on the other hand, had me from their sound check. Lead singer, George Clark is known for his unique antics and this performance did not disappoint. As someone put it best right behind me, “he looks like voldemort before he transitioned.” Clad in black everything from slacks, dress shoes to a button down, Clarke released the beginnings of his battle cry in a spirited vocal sound check consisting of reptilian screeches and devilish wails. Once they were in full swing, they had the audience hypnotized. Backed by a heavenly metal sound, Clarke proceeded to act as maestro over the audience. With his signature cryptic sign language, he proved that fully committing to something otherwise silly can become not only cool but powerful. From their shoegazing influenced sound to Clarke’s bizarre and entrancing alter ego, Deafheaven was definitely a Sunday stand out.

My excitement was only building as I awaited Earl Sweatshirt. Unfortunately, I forgot that most Earl Sweatshirt fans are really just Tyler the Creator fans who are really just Loiter Squad fans. This resulted in a frat party so sticky, wet and dumb I could have sworn there was a keg in the mosh pit. I’m a huge fan of Earl Sweatshirt’s introspective, emotionally baring work from his debut album Doris, but that wasn’t really in the cards for this show. And while I appreciate the fact that Earl Sweatshirt is into absurdist humor, he veers from Tim and Eric territory straight into the mouth of sexism, misogyny and rape culture. It’s one thing to have “I’m gonna fuck the freckles off your face” as a line in a song, it’s another to make it the main chant of the performance. With an army of white boy wasted frat wannabes too young for college applications chanting it back at him, I didn’t feel the need to stick around for more.

Although the sound check was refreshingly on point at Pitchfork, unfortunately some still suffered. After an elongated sound check, the Dum Dum Girls still kicked off their set with a shaky balance. With their noise pop style, this could have been a cool choice. Instead, they sounded unintentionally clunky, with flat harmonies and blank faces carrying no opinion either way. While their image is a calculated cool with frontwoman Dee Dee Penny (aka Kristen Welchez) flanked by a near all-female band all outfitted in all black, they rely on it too much. I wish their awesomeness extended beyond their stage picture, but their cucumber cool affect just comes across as low energy.

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The next few hours were devoted to flitting about two great indie bands, one old and one new. First I swayed back and forth to the West Coast via East Coast sounds of Real Estate, then sat and watched Slowdive take the stage. Real Estate was solid as usual, with a laidback vibe emanating a focused energy that was contagious. Freshly reunited dream pop act Slowdive delivered an incredibly strong set, proving their sound to be as tight as ever.
As the sun and the moon slowly began to trade places, Grimes completed the sunset glow with her powerful electronica set. Self-producer, vocalist, and magical dancer, Grimes put on one of the best shows of the entire festival. To say she works hard is an understatement, constantly tweaking knobs, adding a vocal loop, or dancing to her tunes with riveting joy. While young girls and boys are more apt to look towards thoroughbred mainstream pop stars like Katy Perry, Ariana Grande or Miley Cyrus, I urge parents to expose their kids to Grimes. A truly self-created artist from the ground up, Grimes is the kind of musical heroine that would benefit kids on multiple levels. Her old standouts like ‘Oblivion’ and ‘Genesis’ sounded fresh as ever, and her new tune ‘Go’ (in collaboration with Blood Diamonds) brought the park down with powerful assertion.

Closing out the night was the unparalleled West Coast rap virtuoso Kendrick Lamar. Having seen him last year with only a DJ backing him, it was a beautiful surprise to see him backed by a full band. This added exponentially to his music, fleshing out the jazz-influenced beats like “Money Trees” and the explosive percussiveness of “m.A.A.d city.” Proving exactly why he was the perfect closer, Kendrick took the audience for a ride through his city via vocal, theatrical and musical storytelling. Glowing with beautiful humility, at one point he thanked everyone for still bumping to his album “good kid, m.A.A.d city” after two years from its official release. With an album still largely peerless, it was more than ok with me.

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