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Indie Rock





A Very Special Episode usher in change with "Fix Your Hearts Or Die"

Reader’s note: This write-up is the first of two pieces on A Very Special Episode’s album Fix Your Hearts Or Die, the second of which is a profile and interview with music photographer/video director/general polymath Jen Meller who's worked extensively with AVSE and who generously provided the image above.

The recent holiday got me thinking “what’s it all about, Alfie?” and here’s what I came up with after binging on chicken tamales from my local taco truck washed down with a few El Presidentes in the middle of the night. Halloween is all about transformation—much like a tamale emerging from its protective corn husk, and yes I’m over-reaching—with kids transformed into demonic pixies looking for their next sugar fix (ok, not such a big change there) and adults transformed into monsters and witches and sexy EMT workers, etc. with the open secret being how it all serves as an excuse to fully inhabit the freaks we already are inside (by “playing pretend” oh the irony) all the while peeling back the façade of normal life and exposing it’s oft-monstrous or just plain weird nature, not to mention our too-frequent complicity in playing the roles we’ve been assigned.

Deep, huh? Or, to put a more positive spin on it, Halloween is an all-American spin on Old World carnivalesque rituals, not to mention Caribbean and South American Carnival traditions, where trickster figures rule the day and where established identities are subverted, taboos broken, excesses accepted, and existing power relations turned on their head. Check out Mikhail Bakhtin’s Rabelais and His World if you got time and wanna read more about it but I’d better move on for now.

Or, as lead singer/lyricist Kasey Heisler of A Very Special Episode puts it on “Fuck Everything,” a track off Fix Your Hearts Or Die, the band’s debut full-length release: “I’m here but I feel like I’m losing me” and it’s not an isolated sentiment, because the notion of identities being up for grabs, potentially transformed and power relations along with them, pops up again and again in Kasey’s lyrics—like on “Cowboy” where she rebukes the song’s titular cowboy in such terms (“you know you had my going / tell me exactly who I am / to keep yourself from knowing”) or on “Weather the Storm” which evokes volatile weather systems as a parable for weathering change (like H.G. Wells said "adapt or perish" or in other words "fix your hearts or die") or on “Fire Walk With Me,” a mood piece that samples dialogue from the film of the same name in which Laura Palmer routines transforms from “goody two shoes Laura" to “very naughty girl Laura" when the sun goes down ("night time is my time") while suffering at the hands of evil, powerful men on both sides of the spectrum.

Related to this theme, it’s perhaps worth noting how by day Ms. Heisle works as an elementary school teacher—and how even outside of the classroom she often wears the wide-open yet indecipherable smile of the grade school teacher that says “no matter what kind of severe behavior problems you happen to have I’m still going to whether the storm”—but come evening, once onstage, and who knows maybe in the teachers’ lounge as well, she transforms into an alternately snarling/smiling rock ’n’ rolling bass-playing demon, a pixieish Gene Simmons with severe bangs but minus the compulsion to bang all her groupies. (to my knowledge, that is, not really my business anyway!)

Lyrics aside, it’s in the music where AVSE really drives home the theme of transformation, for rarely does a band captures volatility/mutability so potently in sound with guitarist Patrick Porter in particular having perfected a pedal-heavy playing style that makes you feel like you’ve entered the eye of a hurricane and been sucked into its vortex and passed into another dimension, assisted by Chayse Schutter’s powerful, nuanced drumming and Kasey’s dynamic bass-ing. 

And while loud-quiet-loud dynamics aren’t exactly a new thing, what sets Mr. Porter’s playing apart from many of his post-Pixies indie guitar brethren is that instead of changing from quiet to loud and back again on a dime, he’s got this thing of gradually morphing and warping the sound from one stage to another like a molting insect in a way that feels organic and highly visceral—who knew there were so many shades of white noise, ranging from etherial to abrasive?—for one example check out “Introspectre” with it’s oozing, mewling, turned-inside-out flanging musical timbres to hear what I’m getting at here, not to mention the vocal echo effect that sounds like someone left their vinyl copy of Fix Your Hearts Or Die out in the sun for too long.

For another example, go no further than album-opener “DFP” (down for pack-hunting?) which could and should serve as the soundtrack to a horror-movie werewolf transformation sequence. From the opening moments of the track the sense of tension is gradually ratcheted up bit by bit (“consume my brain and make it spin / don’t recognize the place you’re in […] there’s a sound that’s humming inside / a feeling that something’s not right”) until finally after several minutes the full on full moon lycanthropic metamorphosis takes place (from about 3:13 to 4:03 to my ears) after which a sudden state of calm descends and it sounds like the song may be over (AVSE are pros at the fake-ending fakeout) before a concluding coda that sounds like a wolf baying triumphantly at the moon. (Jason Lee)





Happy DELI-WEEN: Video and audio playlists

What whattaya know...it's almost Halloween! And since we're fully aware of our target market of ghouls and goblins and witches and warlocks and slashers and sickos and other demented and deranged types--we've assembled not ONE but TWO very special "DELI-WEEN" playlists (branding!) for your delectation. The first of these is a video playlist (see below, duh!) chock full of 159 video clips including lots of holiday-appropriate music both new and old, plus lots of vintage horror movie trailers and other Hallow's Eve ephemera. Plus, if you share the Deli's viewpoint that "Everyday Is Halloween" (due credit to Uncle Al!) then you can enjoy this sick-in-every-sense playlist all the year round.

And btw the cover image above is taken from Surfbort's recent single "Happy Happy Halloween" which just so happens to be the leadoff track of the video playlist below because Surfbort rules

 

As those late night informercials used to say...THAT"S NOT ALL because there's also a whopping 113-song strong DELI-WEEN Spotify playlist that can be enjoyed by clicking on any of the highlighted words here. Likewise, this playlist is full of music new and old--and even more than the video playlist, it's all-year-round appropriate given that only a smattering of the songs are explicitly Halloween themed--it's more just a playlist of music that's on the darker side of things, but all over the map genre- and sensibility-wise, with the songs ordered alphabetically by song title for your browsing pleasure! So maybe just pretend it's the soundtrack to I Know What You Did 20 Summers Ago or something along those lines and have a good time listening. (Jason Lee)

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Touched By Ghoul "Better Than Me"

Touched By Ghoul has released the lead single, "Better Than Me", from their forthcoming album, Cancel The World, which is due out on December 3rd via Under Road Records.

This is the work of former Sybris singer/guitarist Angela Mullhouer, along with guitarist Andrea Bauer, bassist Alex Shumard and drummer Paige Sandlin.

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Warm Human "Gimme A Reason"

Warm Human (aka Meredith Johnston) has released a new single and video called "Gimme A Reason" via House of Feelings records. This is her first single of 2021, and first on House of Feelings, after releasing a wonderful series of single last year.

When asked to explain the history of this song Johnston had this to say; "I am a terrible sleeper, I have a parasomnia where I wake myself up scratching my arms, outstretched like a zombie. Other days I wake up wondering why I slept so poorly, but when I sit up, my sheets are wrapped around my neck. This video is a visual manifestation of involuntary self torture, the feeling of drowning in your own consequences, whether in dreams or in waking life."

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The Goldstars "Stroll in Hell"

Local rock vets The Goldstars have released what may be a brand new Halloween classic, "Stroll in Hell". The new single does lean heavily of the sounds and style of "Monster Mash", but gives the classic tune a fresh and modern prospective.

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