Author: William Ruben Helms

I'm a music blogger, critic and photographer, who has had articles and photos published in The New York Press, New York Magazine's Vulture Blog, Ins&Outs Magazine, The Noise Beneath the Apple, Glide Magazine, The Whiskey Dregs Magazine and others.

Last month, I wrote about the indie rock All-Star act Lo Tom, an indie rock act, which features some incredibly accomplished musicians and artists, with more than 125 combined years of playing, writing, recording and touring as professional musicians. And interestingly enough, the band, which is currently comprised of  David Bazan, best known for his work in Pedro the Lion; Trey Many, a member of Velour 100 and Starfinder 59; TW Walsh, a bandmate of Bazan’s in Pedro the Lion, a member of The Soft Drugs and a well-regarded solo artist; and Jason Martin, a bandmate of Trey Many in Starfinder 59 are long-time friends, who used to mess around and jam together, missed playing together and decided that they should spend some time writing and recording together.

The quartet’s self-tiled debut is slated for a July 14, 2014 release through Barsuk Records and was written and recorded during a rare period of free time that each member of the quartet could spare. And the sessions consisted of the longtime friends meeting up with some loose riffs and beats and seeing where things would go, while Bazan, who wrote most of the album’s lyrics would make up something quickly and on the spot, before eventually refining them. Interestingly enough, the album’s first single “Overboard” possessed the looseness of four, friends and old pros getting together and jamming, and as soon as someone starts off with a idea, the other bandmates know where to go and how to flesh it out.  The band manages to find a comfortable balance a free-flowing, jam session within a band that also manages to seamlessly mesh elements of the work of each individual member; in fact, the single features the soaring hooks and power chords of the alt rock and power pop that have clearly influenced it, and each member’s own work.

The album’s second and latest single “Covered Wagon” will further cement each member’s individual reputation for crafting hook-laden, anthemic, power chord-based indie rock. But interestingly enough, the song to my ear reminds me of Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3‘s excellent Northern Aggression, Vs. and Vitalogy-era Pearl Jam, as it may arguably be one of the more straightforward and forceful rock songs off the new album — and one of my favorites of the entire summer so far.

Last month, the band announced their first live dates together, and as you may recall, the tour includes an August 12, 2017 stop at Rough Trade. Check out the tour dates below.

TOUR DATES:

08/11 Boston, MA – Brighton Music Hall (tickets / info)
08/12 Brooklyn, NY – Rough Trade (tickets / info)
08/17 Santa Ana, CA – Constellation Room (tickets / info)
08/18 Los Angeles, CA – Bootleg Theater (tickets / info)
08/19 Seattle, WA – Tractor Tavern (tickets / info)

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New Video: Widowspeak Returns with Moody and Lonely Visuals For New Single “Dog”

Currently comprised of Tacoma, WA-born, Brooklyn-based founding members Molly Hamilton (vocals, guitars) and Robert Earl Thomas (guitar), the indie rock duo Widowspeak initially formed in 2010 and featured founding members Hamilton, her longtime friend Michael Stasiak and Thomas. As a trio, they released their critically applauded 2011 self-titled debut, an effort which had album single “Harsh Realm” featured in an episode of American Horror Story. And with greater attention on the group, the then-trio recruited Pamela Garavano-Coolbaugh for their subsequent tours; however, by 2012 Stasiak and Gravano-Coolbaugh left the band, leaving two of its original members.

Interestingly, while going through a massive lineup change, Hamilton and Thomas began working on their Kevin McMahon-produced sophomore effort Almanac, an album that was released to critical applause both nationally and across the blogosphere; in fact, the band was named one of Fuse TV’s 30 must-see artists at 2013’s SXSW — and if you’ve been frequenting this site for a while, especially around 2013, you would have come across a couple of posts featuring the Brooklyn-based duo.  Now, it’s been four years since I’ve written about them but as it turns out, Widowspeak will be releasing a new album, Expect The Best through renowned indie label Captured Tracks on August 25, 2017. And the album’s latest single “Dog,” as Hamilton told NPR is “about the compulsion to move on from things and places, even people when you’re not necessarily ready to. Sometimes I get caught up in ‘the grass is always greener” mentalities or cling to an idea that ‘I’d be happy if . . .’ and make a drastic change. Then inevitably, I feel restless a few months later and it stars again.” While sonically, the song will further cement the duo’s reputation for crafting moody and hazy guitar pop that channels Mazzy Star, the song possesses a restless and ambivalent vibe as it captures an easily bored and frustrated narrator, who desperately yearns for more and more and more, and as a result the song feels urgent yet paradoxically un-rushed.

Filmed, produced and edited by Otium, the recently released video for “Dog” possesses a feverish and lonely late night nostalgia that emphasizes the song’s longing and overall ambivalence.

New Video: Introducing the Anthemic and Jangling Pop Guitar Pop of Wesley Fuller

Wesley Fuller is a Perth, Australia-born, Melbourne, Australia-based singer/songwriter multi-instrumentalist and producer, who quickly received national attention with the release of his debut EP, Melvista for an anthemic jangling guitar pop sound that draws from 60s bubblegum pop, 70s glam rock. Fuller’s much anticipated full-length debut Inner City Dream is slated for a September 22, 2017 release through 1965 Records, and the material will reportedly further cement his growing reputation for crafting infectious and anthemic pop that sounds mischievously anachronistic, all while subtly expanding upon his sound and songwriting approach, as his influences expanded; in fact, as a result of his regularly occurring DJ sets in and around Melbourne, Fuller cites late 70s and early 80s Talking Heads as a growing influence on him. As Fuller explains “Melvista was really my first solo expedition and I was learning as I went along. I think by the time I came to record the album I had a better technical knowledge of what I was doing. There’s probably a wider span of influences on the album. I wanted to showcase every aspect of my sound.” 

Along with the sound, Fuller’s material thematically has reportedly progressed as well with the material on Inner City Dream revealing a growing maturity with the material focusing on the worldview of a young man trying to come to terms with his place, both physically and symbolically — but at times with a wry, observational humor; in fact, as you’ll hear on Inner City Dream’s later single “#1 Song,” the song smartly focuses and then mischievously takes fire on the upper echelon of modern pop. As Fuller says in press notes “I think everyone in the scene knows to a certain extent that it’s all bullshit. So why take it seriously? You’ve got some artists with 20 tracks in the Top 30. The gap between the big stars and the indie bands are worlds apart. There’s really no money in music at all unless you’re at the very top. To get there, you have to compromise your dignity and be prepared to release some pretty pedestrian shit.” But instead of calling those who have managed massive success a bunch of soulless sellouts, the song sly says “well, in that situation what would you do? Does anyone dream of criss-crossing the country in an old van with two, three, four or more broke, desperate and sweaty musicians, and possibly getting your whole life stolen while on the road? Who doesn’t dream of having the biggest song in their country — or in the world? And who doesn’t dream of playing in front of massive crowds at Glastonbury, Madison Square Garden, Wembley Stadium, The Rose Bowl, etc.? What would you do in the face of an opportunity of a lifetime? Talk about artistic integrity? Bullshit! You’d probably sign your name on the dotted line, sell your soul and your mother if you have to.  

“#1 Song” ironically enough manages to sound as though it was a #1 song released sometime between 1969 and 1974 — with a subtly modern production sheen; but at its core is some incredibly slick and carefully crafted pop-leaning songwriting, complete with an incredibly infectious, danceable, and anthemic hook reminiscent of T. Rex, Bay City Rollers and a handful of others.

The recently released video features Fuller and his backing band appearing as though they fell out of time warp from 1973 or so, playing “#1 Song” on a Top of the Pops-like TV show — and the way the video is shot, to even how the musicians appear to be playing bear an uncanny resemblance to how shows of that period were shot.   

New Video: The Gorgeously Cinematic and Expressive Visuals for Black Needle Noise and Jennie Vee’s “Heaven”

John Fryer is a London, UK-born, Los Angeles, CA-based multi-instrumentalist and producer, who is best known for his work as a producer, shaping the sound of Cocteau Twins, Depeche Mode, much of the Mute Records, 4AD and Beggars’ Banquet roster, as well as Nine Inch Nails, Love and Rockets, Cradle of Filth and countless others. Fryer is also known as one-half of the duo This Moral Coil with Ivo Watts-Russell. 

Fryer’s solo recording project Black Needle Noise continues his legacy for crafting lush and moody soundscapes as he collaborates wth a number of different vocalists; in fact, Lost in Reflections, the renowned producer and recording artist’s sophomore Black Needle Noise effort finds him working with Jennie Vee, Andrea Kerr, Chrysta Bell, Sivert Hoyem and others — and interestingly enough, it come-on the heels of Fryer’s collaboration with the aforementioned Chrysta Bell on a Twin Peaks-inspired cover of Julee Cruise, Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch’s “Falling.” Anyway, album single “Heaven” is a strikingly cinematic track which pairs Jennie Vee’s sultry and achingly tender vocals with a lush yet atmospheric production featuring swirling electronics, shimming guitar chords and industrial clang and clatter. And although the track will further cement his legacy for crafting a sound that you would have grown up obsessed with as a child of the 80s, the song also reveals not just his generosity in working with up-and-coming and contemporary artists, but it also reflects the contemplative, introspective nature of the album’s title — while pairing a dark sensuality with an visceral sense of heartbreak. In fact, the song’s narrator is facing the ghosts of a dysfunctional and controlling relationship that has lingered, even as she’s 4,000 thousand miles away. 

Shot in a cinematic and creepy black an white, and directed by Talon McKee and Lloyd Galbraith, edited by Jennie Vee, featuring animation by Mark Francombe and choreographed by Caroline Haydon, the video starts its choreographer writhing and swooning in a combination of pleasure and heartache; but at its core is a protagonist, who expresses desire, vulnerability, and self-asurredness simultaneously. 

Live Footage: Ruby Force Performs “Church and State” at Pheasant Studios

You may recall that earlier this month, I wrote about Erin McLaughlin, a Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter, whose solo recording project Ruby Force reportedly captures her personal journey of self-discovery through hard-fought and honest storytelling-based songwriting focusing on tales of love gained and lost and her own life. And with her soon-to-be released Ruby Force debut Evolutionary War, McLaughlin along with an incredibly accomplished backing band featuring  Elijah Thomson, who has played with Everest, Delta Spirit and Father John Misty; Richard Swift, who has played with The Black Keys, The Shins, The Arcs and Foxygen; Frank Lenz, who has played with Pedro The Lion; and Sean Watkins, who has played with Nickel Creek have written deeply personal yet accessible material based on a particular period of McLaughlin’s life; in fact, as she explained to Rolling Stone, “it strings together like a narrative essentially, about how I love.”  
“Cowboy,” which I wrote about a few weeks ago is a sweet, old-timey/honky-tonk-inspired country song, and the song’s narrator describes a hotly passionate yet dysfunctional, romantic relationship with a cowboy, who persistently and predictably breaks her heart; but she defiantly and proudly loves him because after all, they’ve been through everything and anything together. And although you’ve likely heard such a theme in countless country songs, McLaughlin delivers her lyrics with a beguiling mix of easygoing, self-assuredness, earnestness, flirtatiousness and self-effacing irony.

“Church and State,” Evolutionary War’s latest single, much like the preceding single was inspired by a deeply personal experience — and in this case, “a mystically transitional phase in my life when my best girlfriends and I were living in a tiny Victorian house on the literal corner of Church and State Streets in Redlands, CA,” McLaughlin explained to The Bluegrass Situation. “We were playing at the Martini Lounge on Saturday nights and singing harmonies in the church band on Sunday mornings. So, you know, the song pretty much used me to write itself.” While lyrically, the song reveals a novelist’s attention to detail — particularly the aging woman in a pink rocking chair, stomping her beat to a rhythm, the feeling of love and comfort the song’s narrator feels by being around her beloved friends and the woman who’s love and devotion saved a young cowboy from hell; but paired with a slow-burning and atmospheric arrangement that gives McLaughlin’s vocals room to stretch and roam. Interestingly, her vocals manage to channel Bonnie Raitt, circa “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” And from  this new single, I think that McLaughlin may arguably be one of country’s up-and-coming stars. 

New Video: The Gorgeous and Highly Symbolic Visuals for Rogue and Jaye’s “Golden Lady”

Comprised of the Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Courtney Jaye, who has spent stints in Nashville, Atlanta, Austin and elsewhere; and Bay Area-based singer/songwriter Zach Rogue, the frontman of indie rock act Rogue Wave, the country music duo of Rogue and Jaye can trace their origins back to a December 2013 songwriting session, in which the duo quickly recognized they had an instant and easy-going simpatico — perhaps based in their backgrounds as songwriters influenced by country, whose material frequently possessed a wistful, late night, drinking in the honky tonk vibe and the results the critically applauded debut single together “Til It Fades.” As Zach Rogue explains in press notes “We have this thing, and I don’t really know know why, it’s just a comfort level. We have this easy spirit with each other, where I like hearing here sing and I feel very comfortable proposing ideas.”

The duo’s debut effort together, Pent Up features a backing band consisting of Bands of Horses’Bill Reynolds (bass), Floating Action’s Seth Kauffman (guitar) and Grace Potter and The Nocturnals’ and Natalie Prass’ Michael Libramento (drums) and was recorded and engineered by Logan Matheny at Bill Reynolds’ Nashville-based Fleetwood Shack Studio and mixed and mastered by Mikael “Count” Eldridge in San Francisco. Officially released earlier this month, the album has been released to critically praise from a number of major media outlets including The Associated Press, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, American Songwriter and others, with Rolling Stone Country recently naming the duo one of their “10 New Artists You Need to Know,” and when you hear the album’s latest single “Golden Lady,” you’ll see why as the duo pair an easy-going, 70s AM rock and late night honky tonk twang with Jaye’s gorgeous yet wistful vocals. And while clearly drawing at Americana, 70s Renegade Country, indie rock and pop without being too tethered to them, the song also finds the duo subtly nodding at psychedelia with some pedal effected guitar.

In fact, much like the sources the duo draw from sonically and thematically, “Golden Lady” reveals the duo’s cool self-assuredness as the single is a recording featuring a bunch of old pros, who’ve made it seem way too easy — but at the same time, there’s an understated emotional honesty; the sort that comes from living a full and messy life of mistakes, foibles, joy, heartache, loneliness, being lost and found and lost again, and profoundly life altering experiences and experiencing them as completely and fully as possible — and with an effortless gracefulness.

As the duo’s Courtney Jaye explains, their latest single details an all-too common frustration with the universe and one’s seeming inability to cope with a personally damaging situation and learning how to be patient, how to be alone and how to love yourself before loving another and learning how to trust yourself and letting things go at the time and pace they’re supposed to. And in fact, the recently released video  Ben Bennett and shot and edited by Stefan Colson is shot in hazy, golden light and throughout Jaye is shot hemmed in and trapped in a person-sized tube and cocooned in fabric. And while Jaye is struggling to break free, there’s a sense that some of this is self-inflicted. In fact, as Jaye explains in press notes, “this video symbolizes being trapped by your own fear, self-doubt and lack of trust in universal timing. 

Comprised of Thom Gillies and June Moon, the Montreal-based electro pop duo Exit Someone can trace their origins to when they met at a show they both played in 2015 — and the duo quickly formed a songwriting partnership, primarily based around resonant pop melodies with lyrics rooted around the essence of love and loss. Their debut EP Dry Your Eyes was released earlier this year on digital and cassette through Atelier Ciseaux Records and the EP reportedly defines a time of musical spontaneity for the duo.

Building upon the attention they’ve received for their debut EP, the duo’s full-length debut Equal Trouble is slated for release later this year, and the album’s first single “Absent Lover” consists of shimmering and wobbling cascades of synths, stuttering drum programming, sultry and tender falsetto vocals and an infectious hook — and in some way the song subtly channels early 80s Prince and 80s synth pop but with a decided lo-fi tinge. At the core of the song is an aching and uneasy longing for a lover, who’s either quite a distance away or cruelly absent right in front of you, and a result while the song is breezy and swooning, it bristles with a barely concealed bitter confusion.

 

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Comprised of founding member, frontwoman and primary songwriter Devin Davis, along with Andy Hengl, Justin Geter and Mark Edwards, the Los Angeles, CA-based indie rock/grunge rock quartet Ramonda Hammer derive their name from a woman, who was featured on the early 2000s reality TV show Cheaters.

The quartet’s self-released 2016 debut Whatever That Means was released to critical praise from Impose MagazineEarmilk, PureVolume, Fuse TV and elsewhere. Building upon the growing attention they’ve received, the quartet signed with New Professor Records and released “Zombie Sweater” to applause from Brooklyn Vegan, She Shreds Magazine, Blurred Culture and others; in fact, the band also was named one of “LA’s hardest-working bands of 2016” by Oh My Rockness and one of the “best LA emerging bands of 2017 by The Deli Magazine.

Interestingly, 2017 looks to be a big year for the up-and-coming Los Angeles-based quartet as they’ll be releasing their new EP, Destroyers on August 4, 2017 — and the EP’s latest single, EP title track “Destroyers” is a jagged and off-kilter track that channels The Breeders, Veruca Salt, The Mallard, Bleeding Rainbow, and others, complete with a rousingly anthemic hook before dissolving into a stormy yet cathartic coda; but at the heart of the song is an emotional ambivalence, as the song manages to be simultaneously feral yet bitterly ironic, triumphantly ass-kicking yet a little sad.

 

 

Perhaps best known as the frontman of renowned indie rock act Black Moth Super Rainbow, TOBACCO has developed a reputation as a solo artist, who crafts abrasive yet anthemic electronic music that channels Daft Punk,  The Black KeysKraftwerk and Boys Noize, but from some industrial, dystopian and fucked up future — perhaps immediately post Trump? — in which rusty and forgotten machinery and instruments whirr, mash and grind together.

Last year saw the release of Sweatbox Dynasty, the long awaited follow up to Ultima II Massage and while album singles “Gods In Heat,” “Human Om” and “Dimensional Hum” further cemented his reputation for scuzzy and abrasive electronic music, underneath the murky surface was a breezy and dreamy melodicism that added a strange, zen-like calm to the proceedings. Interestingly, TOBACCO recently released a stand-alone single “Get Wet in the Bomb Shelter” and the new single manages to sound as though it was a forgotten Sweatbox Dynasty B side, as the song consists of cascading layers of whirring and buzzing synths, stuttering and propulsive, boom bap-like drums and a glistening melody — and much like the material on Sweatbox Dynasty, the song upon repeated listens reveals a subtle push in a new sonic direction.