Emerging Vancouver-based indie pop act Vox Rea — siblings Kate Kurdyak (lead vocals, piano, guitar, bass), her sister Lauren Kurdyak (vocals, piano) their childhood friend Kaitlyn Hansen-Boucher (vocals, percussion) and Mitchell Schaumberg (vocals, piano, guitar, bass) can trace some of their origins back to when the Kurdyak Sisters and Hansen-Boucher singing in choirs together as children.
Lifelong academics at heart, the Kurdyaks attended a small liberal arts schools in the mountains, where Kate studied philosophy and Lauren studied ecology. And while at the school, they met Mitchell Schaumberg and started playing school parties under the name BEEF. Although they started the band as a lighthearted endeavor, the trio quickly realized the creative chemistry they all shared, and would later meet up all over the world for late night, liquor-fueled writing sessions that would eventually comprise Vox Rea’s earliest material. But more on that later. . . .
The Vancouver-based quartet’s latest project together Vox Rea is a bit of a sonic and stylistic departure. Citing influences that range from Arcade Fire to Friedrich Nietzsche, the members of Vox Rea, the act’s full-length debut chronicles a group of artists trying to come to terms with their generation’s place in the larger human story — and thematically, the album’s material touches upon addiction, self-doubt. lust, identity. independence and grief. And as a result, the album can be seen as a soundtrack to the confusion and euphoria of coming of age in a world seemingly on the verge of annihilation. The band’s unique brand of noir pop finds them crafting material that features classically inspired string arrangements, three part harmonies, brooding atmospherics and a seamless mesh of digital and analog while underpinned with raw emotionality.
Vox Rea’s latest single “Dose Me Up” is a slow-burning, atmospheric ballad centered around a stunningly gorgeous lead vocal and three part harmonies, twinkling piano, brief bursts of shimmering guitar, stuttering drumming and electronic plinks and a soaring hook. Sonically speaking, the track may draw comparisons to Cloud Castle Lake‘s gorgeous Malingerer, PJ Harvey and others but with all the sturm und drang of one’s 20s.
Currently based in Oakland, singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Lauren Hulbert has had a rather nomadic life, spending time living on both the East Coast and West Coast, as well as Thailand and Ecuador, among other places. Interestingly, Hulbert’s career has revealed an artists who has specialized in genre-defying diversity: as a child, the Oakland-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist was a classically trained pianist, who competed in Bach and classical festivals. As she got older, she taught herself guitar, eventually becoming a folk/pop artist, whose work sonically features elements of folk, alternative, country rock and pop — and thematically explores the human experience, while drawing from her own experiences. As a result, Hulbert’s work is deeply personal yet accessible, and reveals an article, who has her feet planted in the classical training of her youth and the folk and pop of her adulthood, while centered around her dreamy and soulful vocals.
Superbloom, the Oakland-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist’s forthcoming EP is slated for an October 30, 2020 release, and some of the EP’s sound and approach was inspired by Hulbert figuratively blooming back to life: Hulbert suffered a serious foot injury while on a surfing trip in Indonesia. For the next six months, she was immobile and it was unclear if she would ever be able to walk again. Understandably, it was a very dark period for her — life as she had knew it, had seemingly ending and whatever artistic and creative momentum was quelled as a result. Fortunately, over a year later, Hulbert has healed and she credits the experience as terrifying but ultimately beneficial, as it forced her to reassess her life and align herself with what’s really important. Additionally, the experience has also made her much more grateful for her health and the opportunity to write, perform, and share her music again.
Superbloom EP’s latest single is the Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea-era PJ Harvey-like “Gone in One.” is centered around jangling guitars, propulsive and shuffling drumming, subtle Flamenco handicapping and Hulbert’s expressive vocals within an alternating quiet, loud, quiet song structure. Sonically and thematically, the song is meant to evoke the sensation of being pushed away and pulled back in a romantic relationship that’s dysfunctional and unhealthy — but while featuring a narrator, who develops the strength to run as fast as she could from it.
“This song is a vulnerable, personal account of unknowingly losing oneself in someone else, which is lonely, confusing, and scary,” Hulbert explains in press notes. “It was like being stuck in a fog not knowing how to get out, looking to others to show me the way but just becoming more lost. I was constantly running internally, but getting nowhere, until I was exhausted into total indifference and I felt like the real me had been erased. Eventually, I realized I was the only one that could really save myself, so I dug really deep and found the strength to get out, which was incredibly hard. I didn’t know when or how I’d heal, but I knew I was on the right path.”
Alison Mosshart is a Vero Beach, FL-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter best known as one-half of the acclaimed indie rock act JOVM mainstays The Kills — and for being the frontwoman of the indie rock/blues punk supergroup The Dead Weather. Over the past decade or so, Mosshart has been restlessly creative: her painting has been show in galleries across the world and she has published her first book, CAR MA, a collection of her art, photography and writing that serves as a love letter to all things automobile. In that same period of time, Mosshart has become a go-to collaborator, adding that extra dash of swaggering badassery, working with her Dead Weather bandmate Jack White, Arctic Monkeys, Primal Scream, Gang of Four, Cage The Elephant, Foo Fighters, James Williamson and Mini Mansions in a rapidly growing list.
2020 will continue a period of remarkably creative prolificacy for Mosshart: Currently, Mosshart and her bandmate Jamie Hince are working on the next Kills record, which they hope to be able to bring to the road — pandemic willing, of course. This year will also see Mosshart stepping out into the spotlight as a solo artist, releasing material under her name for the first time in her career. Although, releasing music under her own name is a completely new and thrilling experience, the album’s material can be traced back to unreleased material Mosshart had been compiling for the better part of the past decade. Now, as you may recall, last month, I wrote about her debut single, the Lawrence Rothman-produced “Rise.” Initially tracing its origins to a song sketch that Mosshart wrote in 2013, the song is a slow-burning and searing blues with brooding and ominous undertones centered around thumping beats, fuzzy power chords, Mosshart’s imitable vocals and an enormous, arena rock friendly hook.
Mosshart’s second and latest single is the atmospheric and brooding, Alain Johannes-produced and recorded “It Ain’t Water.” Centered around a sparse arrangement of shimmering acoustic guitars, strings and gently padded drums, the song manages to bring PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, and JOVM mainstay Mark Lanegan to mind. Although the song was written late last year, Mosshart had been sitting on the track for some time — with the acclaimed signer/songwriter guitarist turning to the then-unfinished track whenever she found herself battling a bout of writer’s block.
“Working with Alain on ”It Ain’t Water’ was a blast. He’s such a talent and such a kind person,” the JOVM mainstay says of working with Alain Johannes. “His mind is wide open. He understands and sees the beauty in imperfection, magic moments, accidents- the soulful human stuff, and the spirited super-human hard to explain stuff that makes a song great. Working with him was an honor, and also, hot damn he can play any instrument like a champ . . . like he invented the instrument himself. Alain Johannes IS music.”
Directed, edited and shot by Mosshart, the recently released video continues a run of decidedly DIY visuals — but unlike its predecessor, its shot in an aptly film noir-like black and white and evokes our pandemic-influenced isolation, as we see the acclaimed Kills and Dead Weather frontwoman in her own home, expressively dancing in the background while we see a superimposed image of a sunglasses wearing Mossheart singing the song.
Silva’s debut EP was an EDM collaboration with DJ Sizigi-13 under the mononym Silva — but since the release of that effort, her material has leaned heavily towards singer/songwriter soul, rock and pop with 70s AM rock references, as you’ll hear on her most recent album, the Reed Black-produced Bluest Sky, Darkest Earth.
Silva’s latest single “I Wash My Hands” is a shimmering and gorgeous country soul/70s AM rock-like song centered around a fairly simple arrangement of guitar, bass, vocals and drums that’s sonically indebted to Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac. Interestingly, the song was originally written as a weary lament over a major relationship that has come to an end – but the song manages takes on a heightened meaning, reflecting on a heightened sense of uncertainty and fear, suggesting that maybe Mother Earth is attempting to wash her hands of us.
The recently released video for “I Wash My Hands” was created during the mandatory social distancing and quarantines of the COVID-19 pandemic – and it features Silva, her friends, family, bandmembers and voice students, separated by quarantine but connecting through the song.
I recently exchanged emails with Jennifer Silva for this edition of JOVM’s ongoing Q&A series – and naturally, we chat about her new single and video, her influences –including her love of Stevie Nicks, and her songwriting process. Of course, with governments across the world closing bars, restaurants, nightclubs and music venues to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the impact on the music industry – particularly on small and mid-sized venues, and the touring, emerging and indie artists who grace their stages, has been devastating. Over the course of the pandemic, I’ll be talking to artists about how the pandemic has impacted them and their careers. And in this interview, Silva reveals that the much-anticipated follow-up to Bluest Sky, Darkest Earth has been rescheduled, with her and her backing band figuring out how to finish it with the use of technology. Then add lost gigs and the uncertainty of when you’ll be able to play or promote your new work, and it’s a particularly urgent and uneasy time. But the dedicated will find a way to keep on going on for as long as they can.
Check out the video and the Q&A below.
WRH: Much of the world has been in quarantine and adhering to social distancing guidelines as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hopefully you and your loved ones are safe and healthy. How are you holding up? How are you spending your time? Are you binge watching anything?
Jennifer Silva: The world is upside down right now and it’s been a rollercoaster of emotions for me. Shock, depression, anger, acceptance — feels like the stages of grief sometimes! I really miss my friends and my social life. Playing shows, my band. The good news though, is that my family and I are safe, healthy and well stocked. We left Brooklyn right before it got really bad and headed upstate. So, I’ve been in the woods, pretty secluded, with limited cable news (thankfully) and some great outdoorsy vibes all around me. I’m very lucky and I really can’t complain. I’ve been spending the time connecting with my family, homeschooling my daughters, cooking, knitting, reading and writing songs! We’ve been living a simple life these days and that’s actually a great thing sometimes. I just started watching Ozarkon Netflix, finally, which is perfect for this quarantine! I’m always down for an epic drug/murder/survival story. Oh, and wine.
WRH: Since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, festivals have been postponed or cancelled outright, artists of all stripes have postponed, rescheduled or cancelled tour dates. Most of the world has been on an indefinite pause. How has COVID-19 impacted you and your career?
JS: This has got to be the hardest part of it all for me. I’ve also had to cancel shows, but, most significantly, literally one week before the pandemic really hit NYC, I was in the studio with my band and producer (Reed Black of Vinegar Hill Sound) tracking my next record. We spent two full days laying down all the music and scratch vocals for 10 tracks, and I was so hyped and excited for the next two months of recording all the overdubs, lead vocals, background vocals and getting that final mix completed. Now, we must wait. Luckily though, we have the rough mixes to listen to and some of my band members are working on and planning overdubs at home. It’s frustrating but I’m still so grateful to have had those days in the studio. What we have already, sounds amazing!
WRH: How did you get into music?
JS: I’ve been singing all my life. My father played guitar around the house throughout my childhood, and so at a young age I was singing classic rock and soul music to my family. “The House of the Rising Sun” (The Animals), “Bring it on Home to Me” (Sam Cooke) and “To Love Somebody” (Bee Gees) were my first covers!
I also went to Catholic school as a girl where the nuns always made me sing the solos at the Christmas and Easter performances. And of course, I was singing in Church every week. That really helped shaped me as a singer because I was taught to belt without shame because it was a “gift”, so I have always been a loud singer, haha. I’m not religious anymore (thankfully), but man, I love me some Church hymns! And there is nothing like the acoustics in a Cathedral.
WRH: I’ve probably referenced Stevie Nicks’ “Stand Back” more times than any other journalist in town. I think of a certain synth sound – and that song comes to mind. Plus, I love that song.
I know that Stevie Nicks is a big influence on you. What’s your favorite all-time Stevie Nicks song?
JS: One thing I really love about Stevie, which I read in her biography a few years ago (by Zoe Howe), and that I can totally relate to, was that she didn’t have any formal musical education. She just had her gorgeous melodies and emotional lyrics and really, just a simple catalog of basic chords. Lindsey [Buckingham] would get frustrated with her because he’d have to finesse her songs so much to make them work. “Dreams,” for instance, only has 2 chords! But her songs were always their biggest hits. She tapped into an emotion and style and energy that people love and her voice is just absolutely unique and powerful. In a way, the reason she was so successful with her songwriting was because she wasn’t trapped in a musical box. She would write whatever she felt, and her uniqueness and melodies were memorable and beautiful. She inspires me so much! It’s nearly impossible to choose one favorite Stevie Nicks song, but I’ll go with “Edge of Seventeen.” A close second is probably “Landslide.”
WRH: Your first release was an EDM-like collaboration with DJ Sizigi-13. Since then your sound has gone through a dramatic change. How did that come about? How would you describe your sound to those unfamiliar with you and your sound?
JS: After my old band broke up in 2014, I was searching for new musical collaborations on Craigslist. I connected with Sizigi over email and we decided to make a song together. One song led to four, over the course of a few months. I knew going in, EDM wasn’t going to be my personal sound forever, but I was down for the challenge of writing to existing beats and learning to record all my vocals at home with GarageBand. I bought a microphone and set up a vocal booth in my closet with towels on the doors to pad the sound. I learned to edit. I love my lyrics and vocals on those songs, and I am very proud of the work I did. So, ultimately, I chose to have the record mastered and to release the 4 song EP independently. It was a stepping-stone for me.
The music I make now is all me though. I pen all of the lyrics and write the melodies on guitar, or sometimes I use my Omnichord (a vintage electronic harp/synthesizer from the 80s, which is AMAZING) and then my band brings it all to life! My sound can be described as indie rock soul. I love the Alabama Shakes so that’s a decent comparison, I hope. The lyrics are evocative and dramatic, and the music is organic rock, but I always sing with soul. I also love to explore the saint and the sinner in all of us and tap into themes from my Catholic upbringing — like with “The Convent” from my last record Bluest Sky, Darkest Earth and “Purgatory Road” which will be on my next record. I am inspired by elements of the occult (tarot cards, following your intuition, voodoo) and I use nature and other metaphors to write about complicated relationships.
JS: It feels amazing! I am so lucky to have played a small part in Rockwood’s incredible history. It was an absolute honor to play the stage that night, and to join that list of talented artists. Rockwood Music Hall was the first place I ever played in NYC. I remember getting an early Saturday afternoon acoustic slot with my old guitarist and playing to a mostly empty room. It was still so damn exciting to me, the opportunity to play that famous stage. Fast forward a few years later to my packed record release show on Stage 1 and then my graduation to Stage 2, last year. Rockwood has supported me since Day 1 and to help celebrate their anniversary, on the very stage where it all began for me, made me so proud!
WRH: Your Rockwood Music Hall set included a cover of one of my favorite Lead Belly songs ever “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.” It’s one of those songs that for whatever reason doesn’t seem to be covered a whole lot. So, what drew you to the song? And how much does the blues influence you?
JS: I have been listening to Lead Belly for a very long time. I only knew his version of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” and never actually heard Nirvana’s version until many years later, which is what I think most people think of when they hear that song these days. I used to love singing that song in the car with my boyfriend. We each took a verse. It always seemed so chilling and powerful and it really tells a story that leaves you wanting more. You are right though, it’s not covered a whole lot and when we first tried in rehearsal, we knew it would kill. Everyone really responds to that one.
WRH: How do you know when you have a finished song?
JS: I know a song is finished when I love the melody and lyrics enough to play it over and over again, day after day and when I can get lost developing the vocal runs. A good sign is when my family really responds to it as well. I also think nailing the bridge usually seals the deal for me. That’s when I write over my penciled lyrics and chords, in my black, Papermate flair pen and make it final!
I’m not a person who usually tinkers on a song for years though. I write most songs in a few hours, or a couple of days or maybe, up to a week. I like to capture the emotion of a sentiment and get most of it right and then move on to the next song. In all honesty, the best songs write themselves in 10 minutes! I actually wrote my new single “I Wash My Hands” quickly like that.
WRH: Your latest single “I Wash My Hands” and its accompanying video officially drops today. It’s a gorgeous country soul/70s AM rock song, a weary lament of someone who’s desperate to move on from a relationship or some other major life tie. You wouldn’t have known this at the time, but the song has an eerie double meaning that reflects our current moment of uncertainty and fear. Curiously, how does it feel to have written something that initially was supposed to be about something specific that suddenly transforms into something altogether different?
JS: Thanks. I think the lyrics are very relatable for anyone in a long-term relationship who understands that compromise and respect are needed for a couple to survive and more importantly, thrive. But in this unprecedented moment in our lives, that can also be said about humans and our planet. Fear of Covid-19 leaves us all washing our hands like never before, so now, this track also invokes Mother Nature’s demand for more respect. She is also washing her hands of our abuse, forcing us all to pause while she shows us just how powerful she is. It’s humbling.
WRH: The video for the song is pretty intimate almost home video-like visual, as it features a collection of loved ones, including family and friends lip synching along to the song – while they’re in quarantine. How did you come about the concept? And how did it feel to have your loved ones participate in the video?
JS: Last week, mybrother Chris and I were talking on FaceTime, about the need for interconnectedness even while social distancing. We thought about how lonely people are, even though we are Zooming and chatting on the phone, more than ever.
We thought it would be really special if I could get some of my friends and family to lip-synch parts of this song and create a montage. Video production resources are limited here in quarantine, but everybody has a phone with a camera and time on their hands!
The video is like being on a Zoom call but this one makes me feel so happy every time I watch it! It’s all my favorite people singing my song. People in Brooklyn, California, Detroit, New Jersey, New England, and even as far as Kenya! Everyone just really came through and had fun with this project, including my voice students, family members and close friends. People I haven’t seen in two months or more! I don’t know when I’ll see them again frankly, but the video makes me feel connected to them and I think it makes them all feel connected to each other. I love it so much.
WRH: What’s next for you?
JS: While I’m quarantined, I’m going to keep making art. Keep writing music. Keep singing.
I’m also going to continue to work on my next album. Right now, the plan is to release it in the Fall, so I’ve got shows to book and all the pieces in between to plan. Follow me on Instagram (@sheissilva) for all updates, single and video releases and of course, details about the album release party and tour dates.
Please stay safe and healthy, everyone. I’m sending vibes to you all. We will get through this. And I think we will be stronger for it. And don’t forget to keep washing your hands!
Freya Beer is an emerging London-born, Southern England-based singer/songwriter and guitarist who has received attention for a distinctive sound that draws from Kate Bush, Cat Power, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and others paired with poetic lyrics. Interestingly, Beer can trace the origins of her career to her childhood: she began writing songs when she was 10 and by the time she turned 16, she was performing her own original material, accompanying herself on guitar.
While studying Music Performance in college, Beer self-released her debut single “Bike Boy” in 2018 to critical applause from BBC Introducing and a number of music blogs. Building upon a growing profile, the emerging British singer/songwriter and guitarist released “Six Months,” which led to a BBC Introducing Solent Live Lounge Session, a featuring on Tom Robinson’s BBC Radio 6 and BBC Wales.
Earlier this year, Beer released “Dear Sweet Rosie.” Featuring I Am Kloot’s Andy Hargreaves on drums, the song lyrically draws from Allen Ginsberg’s “An Asphodel” and Anna Sewell’s “Black Beauty” and is structurally centered around a classic, grunge rock song structure featuring fuzzy power chords John Bonham-like drumming, an enormous hook, Beer’s sultry vocals and a swaggering self-assuredness that belies the rising artist’s relative youth. The track wound up receiving airplay with BBC Radio 6’s Lauren Laverne and Marc Riley, who invited Beer in for a live session. Beer’s second single of this year, the Pete Hobbs-produced “Arms Wide Open” is a brooding and cinematic track that features forceful and tribal drumming with longtime collaborator Andy Hargreaves, shimmering guitars, chiming tubular bells and Beer’s gorgeous and expressive vocals. And while subtly recalling PJ Harvey, Chelsea Wolfe and The Cranberries, the song reveals some ambitious yet powerfully earnest songwriting.
“I tried to convey a ritual style sound accompanied by a tribal drumming beat which drives the track forward,” Beer says. “The tubular bells helped contribute towards the overall ceremonial atmosphere of the song. Lyrically, I’ve experimented with exploring the subject of talking about the darker undertones of a relationship.”
Directed by Paul Johnson, the recently released video is centered around a concept by Hevx that follows the rising British singer/songwriter through a series of kaleidoscopic filters and hazy effects.
With the release of their critically applauded full-length debut, 2016’s Divine Love, the Swedish-Belgian duo and married couple Victoria + Jean received attention across Scandinavia, the European Union and the States internationally recognized media outlets like Noisey, Nowness, Konbini, The Line of Best Fit, Flaunt Magazine and others, including this site, for a slinky, seductive and explosive sound that meshes elements of indie rock, experimental pop, experimental rock, the blues and others that at points brings PJ Harvey and others to mind.
The duo’s long-awaited sophomore Henrik Alsér-produced album UNDERDOG is slated for release during the Spring — and the album’s first single is the brooding and menacing “Imbecile.” Centered around an atmospheric arrangement featuring sinister and propulsive bass line, insistent beats, slashing guitar lines, Victoria’s expressive vocals, a guest vocal turn from Eiffel’s Romain Humeau and an enormous hook, the song is full of bitter and accusatory resentments, the bile taste of failure and frustration, the disappointment and anger of betrayal, the gnawing sense of self-about and self-flagellation. It’s arguably, the angriest song they’ve released to date — and it’s fueled by personal experience.
“After the release of the first album, we found ourselves in debt and lost our home,” Victoria + Jean’s Victoria explains in press notes. “We were left on our own, and were much disappointed by humans and by some of our close friends’ reactions. And it’s at those moments, you know who are the friends you can trust, and those you can’t. ‘Imbecile’ came to us as a result of what are the real faces of people, just t be truthful and to say ‘you know I’m not imbecile, I know you are thinking.’ Or just to say — your’e a bloody fucking imbecile!” Unsurprisingly, the song was also partially inspired by and was coincidentally written during world events — particularly, the humanitarian and legal crisis at the American/Mexican border, Brexit and so on.
Directed by Sebastien Alouf, the recently released video for “Imbecile” is a cinematically shot, documentary-styled visual that follows the duo through a couple of days of their lives in Bristol that pulls back the curtains to reveal how their romantic and creative lives are intertwined and are one in the same. And throughout, the viewer sees that when the couple are together they’re in their own perfect world of art and love. “It has been several years since i met Victoria and Jean, and ever since I have episodically followed their adventures, life projects and music,” Alouf explains in press notes. “I have long been looking for a pretext to return to immerse myself in the intimacy of this couple, tell the reverse side of the scenery, the little strings that bind these two hypersensitive, hyper-creative and fusional beings. I wanted to make a sensitive fragment of their existence. . .”
Formed back in 2010, the acclaimed Baltimore-based dream pop act Lower Dens can trace its origins to when its primary songwriter and founding member Jana Hunter had grown tired of touring and decided to take a hiatus. For what was supposed to be their final tour as a solo artist, Hunter recruited a backing band which featured Geoff Graham, Abram Sanders and Will Adams. Finding that playing with a band was much more enjoyable to them than playing as a solo artist, helped Hunter form Lower Dens. “During that tour, I realized that it wasn’t the touring life that I hated, but more so that the kind of music I wrote as a solo artist wasn’t something I felt entirely comfortable sharing in performance setting. Lower Dens then was the eventual result of the decision to make music with the specific intention of sharing and enjoying it with others,” Hunter said at the time.
Lower Dens’ full-length debut, Twin Hand Movement was released to critical praise from the likes of Pitchfork, who compared Hunter’s vocals to those of PJ Harvey and Beach House’s Victoria Legrand and Dusted Magazine, who praised the album’s lyrics for being “delivered without irony, yet self-aware enough to appreciate the obviousness.” While touring to support Twin Hand Movement, the band began writing on the road — but the limitations of writing on the road forced Hunter to work through a laptop and keyboard rather than a guitar, which lead to an increasing presence of synths on what would become their sophomore album Nootropics.
After they completed the tour to support Twin Hand Movement, the band chose to record their sophomore album at The Key Club Recording Company in Benton Harbor, MI. Hunter cited the studio’s remote location as an imperative part of the writing and recording process. Geoff Graham added that the amount of time spent in the studio allowed them to add extra dimensions to the material to make it lusher and thicker. Largely influenced by Kraftwerk‘s Radioactivity, Fripp and Eno and David Bowie‘s production on Iggy Pop‘s The Idiot, Nootropics was released to critical praise from the likes of Pitchfork. Rolling Stone and Spin.
Building upon a growing profile, Lower Dens opened for Beach House and indie rock legends Yo La Tengo at the Baltimore stop of the legendary act’s 2013 Fade tour. The following month, they released “Non Grata” on a split 7″ with Baltimore-based band Horse Lords, an effort that was released as part of the Famous Class LAMC series, which benefited VH1’s Save The Music Foundation.
2015 saw the release of the band’s third album Escape from Evil, which continued a run of critically applauded albums. Since then the band has gone through a series of lineup changes — with the band now being a duo featuring its founding member and primary songwriter Jana Hunter and Nate Nelson. And during that period, the members of Lower Dens had been working on their highly-anticipated follow up to Escape from Evil, The Competition.
Released last September through their longtime label home Ribbon Music, the album is a pop album with an emotionally and politically urgent concept at its core. Competition, by design is the driving force of modern capitalism and the title is Hunnter’s term for a socio-psychological phenomenon that competition generates — a kind of psychosis that accelerates and amplifies our insecurities and anxieties to the point of overload. And as a result our intimacies, our communities and even our senses of self are corroded and distorted. “The issues that have shaped my life, for better or for worse, have to do with coming from a family and a culture that totally bought into this competitive mindset. I was wild and in a lot of pain as a kid; home life was very bleak, and pop songs were a guaranteed escape to a mental space where beauty, wonder, and love were possible. I wanted to write songs that might have the potential to do that.”
Last year, the members of Lower Dens opened for hit-making act Of Monsters And Men, and they’ll begin this year with a headlining tour to support the album that starts on February 13, 2020 and includes a March 19, 2020 stop at Music Hall of Williamsburg. (You can check out the rest of the tour dates below.) In the meantime, the album’s latest single, the glistening and propulsive “Hand of God” is centered around Hunter’s achingly expressive vocals, shimmering synth arpeggios and four-on-the-floor drumming and a rousingly anthemic hook. Sonically, the song bears a subtle resemblance to Stevie Nicks’ “Stand Back” and Songs from the Big Chair-era Tears for Fears — but centered around feelings of arrogance, humility and shame.
“It’s like Cowboy Krautrock,” Lower Dens’ Jana Hunter says about the song in press notes. “Imagine a wild west adventure, like City Slickers with the star, a wealthy white man. He’s devised a way to conquer God. He has some kind of vaguely dangerous journey, then comes upon God and declares victory. In his hubris, he goes to shake God’s hand, at which time he is psychedelically humbled, his little brain imploding.”
Directed by Aaron Brown and Robby Piantanida, the recently released video, manages to employ a decidedly DIY approach with a bright psychedelic colors — with Hunter seeing the hands of God.
Sandmoon is a rising Beirut, Lebanon-based indie rock/folk act led by its Armenian-Lebanese-born, Belgium-raised frontperson Sandra Arslanian and featuring Sam Wehbi (guitar), George Flouty (bass) and Dani Shukri (drums). With the release their of their earliest batch of work — 2014’s full-length debut, Home, 2016’s #InTheEnd EP, their work writing the original soundtrack for Philippe Aractingi’s 2017 Lebanese Movie Award-winning film Listen and 2018’s Put A Gun/Commotion EP, the members of Sandmoon have developed a reputation for crafting material that draws heavily from Arslanian’s multicultural background while being hopeful and infused with an unerring sense of melodicism.
The Beirut-based indie rock quartet begins 2020 with their their latest single “Angels,” the second single off the band’s forthcoming Fadi Tabbal-produced album Put A Gun/Commotion, which is slated for release later this year. Centered around lush layers of gently fuzzy guitars, shimmering and atmospheric synths and Arslanian’s tender vocals, and gorgeous layered harmonies, the Beirut-based indie rock quartet’s latest single manages to recall — to my ears, at least — Stories From The City, Stories From the Sea-era PJ Harvey. But at its core, Sandmoon’s latest single is imbued with an aching longing. “Angels’ is about absoluteness. It’s listening to your higher self, your angels and fully living your life, with absolute love. For love is the only true thing that remains when everything else disappears,” the band’s Sanda Arslanian emphatically explains in press notes.
Directed by Tracy Karam, the recently released and incredibly cinematic video for “Angels” was shot in Beirut and stars Daniel Aboushakra as a young boy, who experiences profound and intense grief after his mother’s death. The video follows the boy as he makes a gradual transition from hurt, heartbreak and shock to acceptance through love — primarily through the loving presence of his father, his love of music and the boy’s own love of his mother. “It’s a an emotional video about mourning and absolute love,” Tracy Karam says in press notes. “It portrays a twelve-year-old boy trying to cope with the sudden, devastating loss of a parent by finding his way on his own. The pain forces him to face reality, in all its harshness and brutality. Yet in the midst of the chaos, there are moments of love, sparks of light that help him move on and replenish the emptiness.”
I’ve written quite a bit about the Swedish-born singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer and JOVM mainstay Sofia Härdig throughout the course of this site’s nine-plus year history. Now, as you may recall, the Swedish jOVM mainstay’s career began in earnest at a very young age: she began playing in bands when she was nine. As a teen, she began touring, eventually playing a solo set at CBGB’s. As an adult, Härdig has been hailed as the rocktronica queen of experimental music, developing an uncompromising commitment to a truthful artistic approach. “I find beauty in flaws and that which is not perfect is what excites me, I love the unusual, the unexpected, untrained and unplanned… I hope my music portrays that in its sound,” Härdig says about her approach in press notes.
Härdig’s recently released, fourth album This Big Hush, finds the Swedish-born singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer and JOVM mainstay moving away from the deliberate electronic-based sound of her previous work and towards a gritty and raw, old-school rock sound. “I recorded this album with the band in less than three days live in Tambourine Studios in Malmö,” Härdig says of the recording process for This Big Hush. “The vocals were all done in one day, a lot of them are even kept from the original live take. Part of the process is that my electronic demo making has become so thorough and time-consuming that they have been good enough to be released. Since they are out in the world and out of my system, I can break free and do something different with the band, and not the same thing all over again. We never play the same tempo, same length, they follow me where I lead them… this is THIS BIG HUSH”
“Infatuation,” This Big Hush‘s fist single was written to pay homage to post-punk pioneers like Siouxsie and the Banshees — but the decidedly riff driven song seemed to Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie, Marc Bolan/T. Rex and Horses-era Patti Smith, complete with an enormous, arena rock friendly hook. “I built this song on a riff that I really loved, building up a groove and then adding backing vocals and playing percussion with whatever I found lying around in the studio and studio kitchen,” the Swedish-born JOVM mainstay said in press notes of the song’s creation. “I used film reels, a serving bowl from IKEA, egg, yar, a knife and fork, to creating an overall feeling of skating down Sunset Boulevard in a Mohikan with a ghetto blaster on your shoulder.”
“Radiant Star,” This Big Hush‘s second single was slow-burning and jangling bit of guitar pop that brings Pretenders and the aforementioned Patti Smith to mind. “It was made during many endless nights,” Härdig says in press notes, “on my own and in my studio and also with the band on some more hectic days. Then a lot of other endless days and nights in the studio producing it. My own take of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’; a song I learned as a 3-year old on the grand piano we inherited from my grandmother.”
“Silence,” This Big Hush‘s third single was a slow-burning, lush track that to my ears brought the emotional intensity and lyricism of Patti Smith and Nick Cave to mind — but with an enormous arrangement of jangling guitars, twinkling keys, dramatic drumming, a soaring hook, a gospel-style backing vocal section and arguably one of her most emotionally direct vocal performances.
Interestingly, the album’s fourth and latest single “Sucking the Flowers” is a decidedly anthemic grunge rocker of a track that seems indebted to PJ Harvey, Patti Smith, Liz Phairand others, as the song is centered around a chugging and propulsive rhythm, enormous power chords, a raucous hook, four-on-the-floor drumming and a defiant vocal performance. Ultimately, this song much like its predecessors reveals that Härdig is a towering force of nature to be reckoned with.