Petal-Magic Gone

               Despite 2015’s Shame being a powerful debut filled with pounding hits (“Tommy”) and emotive ballads (“Heaven”), it didn’t really deliver nearly as much as one would hope a debut would.  Kiley Lotz, Petal’s songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist, revealed in a recent piece for Out that this would be the first album where she has songs about her sexuality.  Magic Gone sees Lotz jumping over any hurdles that Shame couldn’t completely clear.  The songs are fearless and well-crafted on Magic Gone.  Lotz retains the charm of her first album, but she holds nothing back here. Continue reading

Mount Eerie-Now Only

               This is all terrible to write about.  Last year’s A Crow Looked at Me was a career-defining album for Phil Elverum.  That’s terrible to say, because it’s an album so rooted in the tragic loss of his wife, Geneviève.  It’s also somewhat ignorant, because Elverum had been working as a musician for over two decades.  While a popular artist in his own rite, A Crow Looked at Me was the sort of album that propelled him into a certain level of mainstream success.  His near-immediate follow-up Now Only should not be nearly as good as it is, but it’s a similarly haunting and honest album. Continue reading

Brian Fallon-Sleepwalkers

Where Painkillers served to bridge the gap from the crumbling Gaslight Anthem’s worst album to Brian Fallon’s solo career, Sleepwalkers sees Fallon comfortable in a singer-songwriter role.  His sophomore solo effort marks a massive step up from the previous album.  Fallon leans on the nostalgia that made him a punk celebrity, and the album is a good supplement to The Gaslight Anthem reunion this summer. Continue reading

Sidney Gish-No Dogs Allowed

Released almost exactly one year after her debut album, Sidney Gish’s new No Dogs Allowed marks a significant step forward for the Boston singer-songwriter.  Gish’s debut marked the scope of her ambition by having her play every instrument, mostly with just her guitar and voice.  Dogs sees Gish venturing with different guitar tones, more drum loops, and real bass.  Gish also keeps with her writing of catchy songs withs, somewhat random lyrics, although she seems a little bit more thoughtful this time around.  With the increased popularity, Gish is placing herself in league with the likes of Waxahatchee, Julien Baker, and other indie-pop songstresses that have taken the music industry by storm so much in the past year. Continue reading

Julien Baker-Turn Out the Lights

There aren’t that many artists that can kick you in the shins emotionally quite the same way that Julien Baker does on her sophomore album Turn Out the Lights.  That is to say that these are songs that can make you cry the first time you hear them.  If you’re having a tough time in this thing called life, bring a box of tissues to your drunk/hungover/lonesome listening party of this album.  From the door creak that opens the album to the final fading notes on the piano, Baker will take you through pain, numbness, uplift, and catharsis. Continue reading

Julia Nunes begins Kickstarter to fund 5th Full Length Album

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/julianunes/julia-nunes-makes-music/widget/video.html

Singer-songwriter Julia Nunes began a Kickstarter campaign to fund her followup to the excellent Some Feelings.  In addition to the record, backers have access to exclusive t-shirts, handwritten lyrics, ukuleles, and more.  To pledge to this campaign and watch a preview, check out Nunes’ Kickstarter.

Kevin Devine-‘Instigator’

v600_kd_instigator_1600            Kevin Devine is a phenomenal songwriter in the same way Billie Joe Armstrong is a great songwriter.  His songs can be very simple, but they’re all pretty catchy, and the lyrics and vocals are at the forefront.  He’s also most well-known for mixing both intensely personal lyrics with some political views peppered in.  Where Armstrong has gotten vague, Devine has become hyper specific, and Instigator is one of the best records of 2016.

Where songs about drinking alone, unrequited crushes and self-pity may have become old-hat, Devine’s latest is one of his best and most refreshing albums.  Instigator is mostly a record about making peace with the world you live in.  The title track and “Magic Magnet” romanticize both the good and bad in relationships.  Devine is both madly in love and wants to have arguments with you (when you need to).  The best part of these songs is the seeming glee that Devine presents them with.  The guitar tones are bright, and the tempo is up.  Both songs sound like driving down a Los Angeles highway in the summer time.  “No One Says You Have To” is about as mellow as the album gets, but the quick fingerpicking and soothing tone are equally as positive.  “Before You’re Here” is a beachy song about anticipating the birth of his daughter.

Even what appear to be Devine’s darkest personal moments have a positive twist on them.  In “Daydrunk,” Devine sings:

But daydrunk is what I used to be

No Jimmy Buffet song

No island imagery

Old men

Dying retirees

Bellies on the bar

Elbows up with me.

Despite the darker imagery depicting Devine’s alcohol and drug abuse, he sings it in a cheery, poppy little song.  The album closer, “I Was Alive Back Then,” reflects on some larger moments in his life-depression, Christmas mornings, marriage.  The song’s repeated chorus of “I was alive back then” makes it seem like Devine is beginning his midlife crisis at 36, but when he ends, he sings, “I was alive back then/Now, I am again,” singing about the birth of his daughter.  It’s the most somber, sobering moment of the album.

Following the first three upbeat numbers, Devine gives us “Freddie Gray Blues.”  It’s a haunting track that tackles not only the current issues of police brutality, but Devine addresses his own white-privilege from a very self-aware point of view.  He also offers this different point-of-view that leaves a lot of people conflicted:

When I’m talking these killer cop blues

I’m kinda talking my family to you

See, my dad was a cop

And his dad was a cop

And my uncles were cops

And my cousins were cops

I’m partly here because of cops

And I love all those cops

And I know not every cop

Is a racist, murdering cop

But this is bigger than the people I love

The system’s broken

Not breaking

It’s done

In a song like this, Devine mixes his two styles beautifully, and he’s penned a protest song as good as Bob Dylan’s “The Hurricane.”

“Both Ways” is a surf-punk jam that both satirizes and criticizes the United States.  The song is mainly calling out hypocrisy that mostly seems to be calling out right-wing conservatives.  One of Devine’s most clever lyrics is “You can’t weaponize Jesus/and be shocked when the heathens shoot back.”  At the same time, it seems Devine is praising the United States for being a nation that could allow both, or he could be understanding of where both sides come from.  He could also just be satirical.

This brings us to perhaps my favorite Kevin Devine song ever written.  “No History” is a song about the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center.  The song crams a range of emotions into three and a half minutes.  The song begins sounding like a search party.  Devine recounts the day of the attacks, his own coping, and turning to his father to try to make sense of it all.  Devine sings as his father, “I know I see it/I thought it made sense.  I don’t anymore.”  The chorus erupts into a word salad of confusion where Devine sees a destroyed city, anger at Muslims, and a mourning nation.  Before the final chorus, Devine reflects on how far we’ve come from that day.  We’re still in a world where we’ve fought a war on terror that, at times, seems to have gone nowhere.  Still, he reflects on seeing his niece as an infant, and how life does go on.  “This is the future: severe and always happening.”  It’s a song that’s powerful, to say the least.  Devine’s politics may not be for everyone, but he certainly presents himself in an honest way that demands your attention.