Pitchfork Presents: Yamantaka Sonic Titan, Speedy Ortiz, Priests, Joanna Gruesome, Perfect Pussy, Courtney Barnett, Eleanor Friedberger (Solo), with DJ Jenn Pelly
Brooklyn, NY, 11211-4119
Yamantaka Sonic Titan
YT//ST was founded in late 2007 by performance artists alaska B and Ruby Kato Attwood, born from the ashes of the late Lesbian Fight Club. Armed with mixed-race identities, mad illustration skills and a whole pile of home-brew junk electronics, alaska and Ruby wrote and performed the first mini ‘Noh-Wave’ Opera, ‘YAMANTAKA // SONIC TITAN I’ in April 2008. YT//ST continued to perform short homebrewed operas, eventually forming a network of Asian and Indigenous artists through collaboration and formed the current YT//ST collective. Montrealers had come to know YT//ST by their dazzling musical theatre performances in giant monochrome paper sets, sometimes in far out places, like the Montreal Eaton Centre Food Court at 2AM. Aesthetically, they blend the poorly appropriated styles of Noh, Chinese Opera, Chinese, Japanese and First Nations Mythology, Black & White Television, Psychedelia & Rock Operatics into a sensory feast of nigh-monochromatic costuming, unique hand-built musical instruments and their own mangaesque cardboard ‘NEVERFLAT’ style of 2.5D set design.
On their debut full-length, Western Massachusetts' Speedy Ortiz manages a bit of magic by conjuring the spirits of classic American indie rock, while twisting those ghosts into new shapes. It's easy to hear the influences of Helium, Jawbox, and Chavez on this album, as well as nods to contemporaries Grass is Green, Pile, and Roomrunner. Sweet vocal harmonies run up against gnarly distortion, aided by basic, chunky bass parts and heavy, fill-laden drums. The album was recorded in a few days in November at Justin Pizzoferrato's (Dinosaur Jr., Chelsea Light Moving) studio, Sonelab.
Thrilling Cardiff-based noise-pop five-piece Joanna Gruesome will be releasing their terrific debut album via Fortuna POP! (Europe) and Slumberland (USA) in September. Brimming with irresistible pop melodies and spiked with dissonant fuzzy jangle, their songs are shot through with loud discordant feedback and super-fast, hardcore punk drumbeats. This album sees their first foray away from recording in a living room to a proper studio under the guidance of producer MJ of the much lauded Hookworms.
Kicking it against sexism and homophobia, nothing is off-limits, drawing inspiration from DIY scenes such as Riot Grrrl/noisepop/C86 /K Records as well as post hardcore like Drive Like Jehu/Converge and the art rock of The Velvet Underground and My Bloody Valentine, Joanna Gruesome offer a staggeringly diverse album, unexpectedly quiet and surprisingly loud.
Joanna Gruesome comprise Alanna on vocals, Owen on guitar, Max on bass, George on guitar and Dave on drums. They all met in an anger management counseling group. During the course they were told that writing, making music, dancing or painting could relieve tension and help reduce feelings of anger. One initiative involved a project where they were assigned a group to compose and perform a song in front of other members. Initially they found each other infuriating but gradually acknowledged their musical chemistry and decided to continue with the band outside the therapy group.
Most of the album was written during a month long stay in a seedy west Brighton hotel (now closed down) called The Hell House. The residents were pretty strange, kept attempting occult rituals/using Ouija boards etc and many of the songs were written to distract from the weirdness. Heart-wrenching and exhilarating in equal measure, these are not cheerful songs.
Awash with nods to mental illness and the dark recesses of the mind, the record is littered with references to the devil or zombies and allusions to comic books. “Secret Surprise”, in which mental illness takes a physical form and is fought using razor blades. Or "Anti-Parent Cowboy Killers," which is about stealing a scooter and driving it into the ocean when you should be in school LEARNING. Or "Sugarcrush," about spending a summer burning knitwear.
They have built-up a phenomenal live reputation, blending obnoxiously loud guitars and the occasional band uniform, with a high energy performance dispersed with quieter reflection, boy/girl vocals and teenage angst.
"A brilliant band from Cardiff who love their fuzzy melodies and songs dripped in scuzzy reverb." Huw Stephens, Radio One.
Nothing Feels Natural is the first full-length by Washington, D.C.’s Priests.
Recorded in the fall of 2016, the record is the culmination of two years’ writing, touring, tweaking, and
refining. Throughout that time the band has carved out an existence on its own terms, performing mostly
all-ages shows booked via a network of like-minded artists both within and outside punk communities.
The album represents a major step forward for Priests. It’s the band’s most stylistically diverse set of songs
to date, expanding on their lo-fi post-punk bona-fides with ideas drawn from pop, R&B, and industrial
noise. Thematically, Nothing can be understood as a series of vignettes—nine stories that crystallize into a
bigger picture about the economics of human relationships, the invisibility of feminized labor, and the dual
purpose of art for both the group and the individual.
The album will be the first full-length LP released on Sister Polygon Records, the label that Priests founded
Priests are Daniele Daniele (drums), Katie Alice Greer (vocals), G.L. Jaguar (guitar), and Taylor Mulitz (bass).
Formed in 2011, the band has proven a valuable force for strangeness in a city that is increasingly
terraformed by norms. At a time when few groups were making serious moves beyond the Beltway, Priests
toured throughout North America and Europe. More significantly, they’ve helped to raise the general
standard of show-going at home through cassettes and singles released on Sister Polygon, including music
by bands like Sneaks, Snail Mail, Pinkwash, Cigarette, Downtown Boys, and numerous Priests-affiliated
groups like Gauche and Flasher. Still, even amidst thriving hometown creativity, Priests possess a singular
gravity. They are physical and combustible, urgent and visceral.
Following the release of Bodies and Control and Money and Power, Priests began to tweak their
songwriting process – concentrating more deeply on melody, dialing down the distortion, and
experimenting with dynamics. New songs evolved in performance, starting off tentative and gaining
confidence and character on tour. The band recorded and scrapped versions of Nothing Feels Natural for
almost a year before enlisting Hugh McElroy (Black Eyes) and Kevin Erickson, who worked with Priests
previously on Tape Two, their Radiation/Personal Planes single, and half of Bodies. Nothing Feels Natural
was tracked throughout summer of 2016 at Inner Ear Studios in Arlington, VA.
The result is by turns moody and explosive. “Appropriate” is a nod to Priests’ earliest incarnations – loud
and corrosive, chaotic and improvisatory. “JJ” is streamlined and melodic, pitting barroom piano against
warped guitar and bass tones. On “No Big Bang” Daniele takes up the mic, programming a Roland TR-707
to hold down an unflagging pulse. The album’s title track and centerpiece “Nothing Feels Natural” builds
slowly, with shimmering guitars eventually giving way to feedback and billowing reverb. Lyrically, Priests
songs present contradiction. They are often delivered first person but under pretense that “you are not
you”. Nothing Feels Natural centers the experiences of women but still asks us to “consider the options of a
In these songs, innocuous moments often drive major ideological scene shifts. A cruel joke jostles the
power structure of a love triangle. A PR sales-pitch is called out as identity theft. A list of aspirational
consumer luxuries are chanted into a twisted emptiness. It’s a record that thrives amid the tension
between that what is valued and what is dismissed; between what is desired and what is presented.
Nothing Feels Natural is out January 27th on Sister Polygon Records.
Barnett's music builds on the wordy irreverence of mid-'60s Bob Dylan and a Byrds-ian blend of psychedelia, folk and country. - Pitchfork
All tired trends produce their transcendent idols and Courtney Barnett is one of a kind. Paul Kelly's successor? - Collapseboard
What sets her apart is she's got a sense of songwriting that hearkens back to the creative burst of the late '60s. Specifically in California -- her melodies and psychedelic harmonies remind me of the work of David Crosby or John Phillips. - Brooklyn Vegan
Courtney Barnett is a glorious exception to the dreary trend.
At a time when most female singer-songwriters perform as alter egos, Eleanor Friedberger is simply, refreshingly herself. And that's just the way her fans like it. Having spent the last decade fronting the indie-rock institution The Fiery Furnaces (currently on hiatus) with her brother Matthew, in 2011 she emerged as a formidable solo artist with Last Summer, a thoughtfully crafted tale of memory and place couched in the organic pop of her '70s idols. Instantly, Friedberger established herself as a modern-day heir to the tradition of Donovan, Todd Rundgren, Ronnie Lane, and their ilk: Warm, nuanced, timeless songs. No gimmicks necessary.
The title of Friedberger's sophomore album is Personal Record, and it is, in a sense. Personal, that is. But not personal in the way of, say, a coming-of-age record, or a diary about the past, which Last Summer was. Many of the songs seem to be about love, or love lost, but whether any of the experience is hers or someone else's, she isn't saying. "It's not as specific a narrative this time," she says. "There's a universality to it." So incisive are the lyrics, in fact, that Friedberger's bassist incorrectly assumed that two of the songs were about him. "I loved that," she says. "I want him to feel like the songs are about him. I want you to feel like the songs are about you."
The term "personal record" also refers to an athlete's best, and the double entendre is apt. An intense decade-plus of touring and recording has burnished Friedberger's voice and imbued her songwriting with newfound depth; there's a maturity and mellifluousness to this outing that feels downright epic. It was always the Eleanor-penned songs that gave the Furnaces' albums their most poignant and graceful moments, especially in later work like I'm Going Away. Last Summer took that promise into full flower; Personal Record "is part of the same growth process," she says. Faced with a six-month gap between the completion of Last Summer and its release and accompanying tour, Friedberger holed up at home in Brooklyn; by the time the tour started, she had twelve new songs to road-test. Though most bands work this way, the Furnaces didn't. For Friedberger, touring with the unreleased material allowed her to flesh out a more rollicking, full sound from the get-go. "By the time I came home," she says, "I knew exactly what I wanted the songs to sound like."
She reunited with Last Summer producer Eric Broucek (the DFA-trained emerging talent whose clients include !!!, Hercules and Love Affair, and Jonny Pierce) to expand upon the warm, textured atmosphere of their first collaboration. Tracking began in fall 2012 with a week at Plantain Studios, the West Village home of DFA. To Friedberger's favored electric pianos and classic-rock guitars, they added a menagerie including an upright bass, an alto flute, a bass clarinet, and even a portative organ. (It's a device made of several recorders and a bellows in a frame that looks like a wooden castle. Or, actually, like Howl's Moving Castle.)
Production then resumed at Broucek's home studio in the Los Angeles hills, where the rest of the record was completed in just ten days. As the songs filled out, Friedberger went full-out in immersing herself in her romantic vision of that city. "I was just listening to Fleetwood Mac and Neil Young, driving around in a borrowed Prius," she says. "Walking along Point Dume, playing tennis at Griffith Park.... I ate hippie food every day. Lots of lentils."
The sun-warmed languor of the West Coast and its golden age of rock 'n' roll shines through in Personal Record. It's the aural equivalent of an afternoon jaunt up the PCH in an orange BMW 2002, fist pumping into the wind. "When I Knew" and "Stare at the Sun" rock out like the Furnaces' finest, but with that unmistakable Eleanor gracefulness. "Echo or Encore" is a lilting love ballad underlaid with with a bossa nova beat. "I Am the Past" evokes the mystical side of the Me Decade with meandering bass clarinet and a balls-out flute solo (seriously). Though Friedberger may harbor a bit of a '70s fetish, there's an idiosyncrasy and intimacy to her music that's undeniably modern. Above all, it's pretty. "It's such a romantic album to me," Friedberger says. "But more so than love for another person, it's really about a love of music."
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