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Fiona Silver unveils her "Swoon" song and you're sure to swoon too

This past weekend Fiona Silver released her latest single (most of the profiles written to date about the native-New-Yorker-turned-bottle-blond-R&B-and-soul-belter refer to her as a “spitfire” so I’m going to resist that trend oh whoops..) and it’s another corker, a contemporary throwback closing-credits-ready mood piece with some seriously soulful feels (the track was recorded in Atlanta with Randy Michael as co-writer and producer) that’s something like a classic girl group number sans the girl group and it's very appropriately titled “Swoon.”

And by feels I mean it’s an aching atmospheric ballad full of gently caressed drums, shivering strings, mellow groove low end, mournful organ chords, and crying electric guitar (dig that heavy reverb and tremolo not to mention the subtle yet sublime note bends in the solo). And that’s even leaving out the classic-Americana-high-lonesome-style-whistling towards the end, all of which echoes the lyrical content about “deep black skies” and “cry[ing] lovebirds” and the like. And in the chorus, when Ms. Silver reveals that “everyday / from midnight to noon / autumn to June / you make my heart swoon,” not only do you actually believe it but you also feel it because this song is a straight-up declaration of lovesick blues that’s more along the lines of Hank Williams than Doris Day when it comes to coping with the blues (tho' the latter could get a bit emo when she was down for it).

And hell, I’m down for it. In fact I’m sincerely hoping that “Swoon” is the first advance single from an album (or an EP, I'll even take an EP) to be titled Staring Pensively Into Your Whiskey Tumbler While Thinking About What Could Have Been, Or What Still Might Be, Against All Odds, Because You’re A Hopeless Dreamer That Way. Because who couldn’t use an album by that title right now or any time really...

…which is precisely why artists like Fiona Silver (or Lou Ann Barton, or Bettye LaVette, or...maybe just check out Brooklyn-based Dala Records' roster for more contemporary examples) are still necessary in this world, artists who write songs for cutting a rug at the juke joint on a Saturday night and songs for chain smoking Lucky Strikes alone at the kitchen table on a Sunday morning, songs that evoke and update the universal sentiments of dance-ready R&B and good time rock ’n’ roll and gutbucket blooz for modern types who're still cool for cats. (Jason Lee)

photo credit: Michael Lavine; HMUA: Paige Campbell 

 





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)





Teddy Grey explores celebrity break-up culture on "The Great Failed Romances of the Twentieth Century"

In Richard Dyer’s classic 1979 book Stars (classic, that is, if you happen to be a Cinema Studies major) the distinguished British scholar considers how stars/celebrities provide a kind of psychological and sociological map to the culture from which they are spawned—kind of like how actual stars once served as maps, used to cross unfamiliar lands and strange seas. (of course today we've all got our omnipresent pocket computers and GPS apps to fill that function, and of course nothing bad ever comes from putting machines in charge...)

Anyway, Dyer goes on to unpack at length how these star-driven mental maps are formed through the art of storytelling—the TV shows and movies and long-form music videos and youtube makeup tutorials that the stars star in, and also in the many, many stories about the stars themselves that circulate in our society which can collectively be called “star texts” if you’re nerdy like that—stories that help to shape the collective belief systems through which we navigate our own lives in a celebrity-driven culture, a lot like how all those nutty stories about Greco-Roman gods captured the belief systems of Greco-Roman times—gods that provided the names for many constellations (names used to this day) which of course are made up of…STARS! (ok I'll give the whole metaphor a rest now)

 Like the gods of ye olden times, modern celebrities appeal in large part because they're both human and superhuman, both highly relatable and highly aspirational. Consider, for instance, how Glenn Danzig can be going out to buy kitty litter in one moment (highly relatable!) and bestriding the stage ike a buff little garden gnome the next (and later, he can go on to direct a straight-to-Shudder horror movie featuring three stories of surreal and bloody erotic horror and ginormous breasts.

In other words, we are all Glenn Danzig. And there can never be another Glenn Danzig. And if we can navigate this contraduction, we can maybe face down all the contradictions we face on a daily basis in normal everyday normal life

Another way to put it is that, when it comes to star idols and celebrity worship, we as fans get to live vicariously between two worlds: fantasy and reality. And this is one thing Teddy Grey seems to "get" given that this self-described purveyor of “the tastiest garbage on the market” has written and recorded an entire double-album telling the stories of 30 high-profile celebrity couple breakups--granted, taking significant creative license in playing these roles himself alongside a wide array of musical and vocal collaborators, and imagining their inner thoughts and everyday experiences--stories we can all likely identify with (that is unless you've never been through a messy breakup and if so bully for you) but which are also quite exotic and impossible to identify with (that is unless you've ever had your nose cave in from doing too much coke, or been elected to Congress on the basis of a popular '70s TV variety show before skiing head first into a tree and expiring).

The album in question is called The Great Failed Romances of the Twentieth Century (Mother West) and it features songs with titles like “Everything Will Change When We Have Money (Lindsey & Stevie),” “Our Voices Aren’t Made For Duets (Sonny & Cher),” Popular Kids (Burt & Loni),” “Second Best” (Billy & Courtney)” featuring Blaise Dahl (Dahl Haus) as Mrs. Love-Cobain, and “Like I Mean It (Ike & Tina)” featuring Jack Colquitt and Brandeaux and opening with Ike berating Tina during a recording session ("It’s a love song, girl, you gotta mean it!”) before turning into a rollicking brass-assisted number with Tina imagining better times ahead: “When I imagine you gasping for breath on the floor / I’m giving up for another auteur / I can see my happy ending…someday you’ll be dead / better days are ahead" and anyway I think you get the song-naming convention at work here. 

Personally, I think my favorite song on the album is “There’s Nothing That I Love (But You Come Close) (Sid & Nancy)” because it so brilliantly punctures the over-inflated mythology of the junkie couple with a rock musical-ready arrangement and a number of choice couplets like “let’s make out on the toilet, fuck on the floor / I think we forgot to close the bathroom door” and “take me in your arms and hold me close / tip me on my side if you hear me choke.” Oddly enough, my second favorite track happens to be the very next song on the album, called “Provocateur (Serge & Jane),” which drops some deep knowledge of Serge Gainsbourg (“bad puns and lollipops / concept albums donning Nazi rock”) or it does for an American audience at least, even if Teddy’s Serge impression sounds more like Pepé Le Pew meets Jarvis Cocker meets Dracula for a breathy ménage à trois session.

“But what does the album actually sound like?”, you may ask? Let’s go right to the press release for this one: “Shimmering guitar pop, piano ballads, arena rock—even a 32 second hoedown detailing the 32 day marriage of Ernest Borgnine and Ethel Merman!” and really who can argue with a press release that evokes either Ernie or Ethel never mind both. I would also add that The Great Failed Romances of the Twentieth Century has a Broadway Cast Recording kinda vibe—which makes sense since if you Google the album title you'll find a backstage.com public notice looking for guest singers/celebrity impersonators for the project, which also makes sense since Grey's main collaborator on the album is one Michael Lepore, a singer-actor who's in the cast of the upcoming Broadway musical Sing Street. And, finally, if you ever wished Weird Al would record a double concept album (let it be noted that "Weird Al" Yankovic is also quite the musical polymath) which also serves as the soundtrack to a Broadway rock musical, well, here’s the closest you’re gonna get so get at it! (Jason Lee





The uneasy lullabies of Furrows' "Fisher King"

The debut full-length set by Furrows, called Fisher King, is basically the folk-rock-baroque-dream-pop version of William Wordsworth’s The Prelude or, Growth of a Poet’s Mind because on this record Mr. Furrows (a.k.a. songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Peter Wagner) stares into a chasm and declares it sublime

Sounds like bullshite, you say? Well, mmmaybe, but I'm sure my high school English teacher would be impressed. Anyway, if you’re looking for a record that’ll help you to achieve a state of mellow euphoria, with more than a hint of longing to throw oneself into the abyss, and with lyrics overflowing with pastoral nature imagery like “shining suns” and stars and mountains and horizons and “skies receding out of sight” and “the sounds of the sea filling the air” and really all that’s missing is the “craggy ridge” that got Wordsworth so hot and bothered—then lucky for you because now you’ve found it. (note: even the word furrow itself refers to "a long narrow trench made in the ground by a plow" so it's nature-adjacent at least)  

Given Fisher King’s immersive yet highly generalized lyrical imagery, it’s easy to let your mind drift away and get lost in the pure essence of the music and, fortunately, that’s where Furrows excels most of all. Assisted by producer Sahil Ansari, this is a record full of cellos and Mellotrons and tense synths and “delay wobbles” and “psychic spaces”—played over bedrock layers of delicately strummed acoustic guitars and gently shimmering electric guitars and a rhythm section (Mr. Wagner's on bass, natch) that somehow maintains a steady beat despite all the sedatives they must’ve ingested before hitting the record button.

And sure, there’s some other bands from the past that have given off a similar eternal-golden-hour-bathed-in-a-meloncholy-glow impression ranging from the Chills to the Shins—but this is the present and Furrows’ music speaks to the present-day widespread state of generalized anxiety masked by numbness. (tho’ don't get me wrong, it’s a beautiful album and you’re allowed to be happy while listening to it, you sick bastard!) Either way...we all need to take the edge off sometimes, no? Rest assured this long-playing rekkid will help you to do just that. But only if you don’t mind an uneasy undertow underneath it all which is, as Mr. Furrows himself puts it on “Grey Cities,” “unseen, but always there.” (Jason Lee)





Singled out: MAVI and MIKE spit fire on new Alchemist EP

 “Look, this thing of ours, the way it’s going, it’d be better if we could admit to each other, these are painful, stressful times.” — Silvio Manfred Dante

The Alchemist is something like the equivalent of a consigliere in the world of hip hop having worked largely behind-the-scenes for the past several decades as a super-prolific producer and beatmaker, providing dusty-groove beats for legendary rap kingpins like Mobb Deep, Nas, Ghostface Killah, Lil Wayne, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem and Freddie Gibbs—the latter of which released a full-album collab with the Alchemist in 2020 called Alfredo, an album-length meditation on being a Black Godfather, peep the album’s cover art, that’s been deemed “pretty much an instant classic”). 

For his latest project, the LA-based hip hop consigliere appears to have consulted his extensive Rolodex of close contacts and called in a few favors seeking guest emcees willing to collaborate on two EPs released under his own name (and more to come, one hopes) with the emcees ranging from established names to underground-up-and-comers but all equally skilled in performing verbal acrobatics.

The first installment of This Thing Of Ours (its title phrase the literal English translation of “La Cost Nostra”) dropped in late April with four tracks featuring the likes of Earl Sweatshirt, Navy Blue (see his previous Deli mag featured HERE), Pink Siifu, Boldy James, Sideshow, Maxo, and Tony Soprano—sorry to say James Gandolfini hasn’t been reincarnated, but his dialogue as the panic-attack-prone boss has been as sampled across a couple tracks here—resulting in a tight ten minutes of dizzying bars and euphoric, blunted beats (the inclusion of instrumentals for all four tracks stretches the running time to 20 minutes).

Released just over a week ago, This Thing Of Ours 2 (ALC Records) follows the format established by The Godfather Part II in splitting its action between two locales—except instead of New York and Sicily in this case it’s New York and the Motor City—with the opening two tracks narrated by two of New York’s finest young emcees, MAVI and MIKE (both are fans of ALL CAPS) and OK the former may have returned to his native Charlotte, North Carolina earlier this year but he’ll be back, we believe, because like Silvio Dante is known to say “Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in.” Anyway the two emcees set a moody and mindful tone (but still with mucho energy) on the first part of the EP that musically and lyrically echoes the post-golden-age laments of latter day mafiosi and street-level scrappers alike.

On the opening track “Miracle Baby” (see the music video up top) MAVI bobs and weaves between multiple mood swings—equivalent to Michael Corleone in Godfather Part II caught up between triumph and tragedy—spitting lines full of bravado one moment (“stop taking so much seriously / I'm taking all that's given to me”) and mournful sorrow the next (“a waiting fate there to sneer at me / I talk sometimes just knowing my phone the only one listening”) but always demonstrating total control with a masterful head-spinning flow (which is a perfect fit for the head-in-the-clouds “cloud rap” musical backing) built  on rapid-fire-machine-gun multisyllabic rhymes intercut with chopper-style-triplet-time-scat-rapping (“civilly, liberally…” etc.) all-the-while keeping it playful (“I just put my hoe through college, Lori Loughlin”) and taking no prisoners (“How we feel toward domestic terrorists? Prepared for them”). 

Track number two features MIKE on the mic (featured HERE in a Deli profile from back in June) who rides a loping, J Dilla type looped beat (RIP J Dilla, the Detroit-based godfather of soulsy lo-fi-hip-hop as you likely already know and if you don’t know, now you know) matching his flow expertly to the beat with the Alchemist laying forlorn female vocals and a distant lonely trumpet m over the top for maximum effect, and MIKE’s lyrics fully vibe with the overall vibe of course with lines that again sound like could’ve been penned by a depressed gangster.

"war on the rise, if you sure it wasn't like us / born in the plight, we was torn from the right stuff"

"I used to take the 4 or the 5 to explore from this gauntlet / make sure we alive, it's not a corpse I was caught in"

And speaking of J Dilla at this point the EP transitions over to Motown starting off with the posse track “Flying Spirit” featuring four artists on Danny Brown’s new Detroit-centric record label Bruiser Brigade with J.U.S., Fat Ray, and Bruiser Wolf mixing it up with Danny himself (J.U.S.: “it only take a knife to turn you to a flyin' spirit, like Casper the Ghost / me and Brown on collards dumpin' blunts in the ghost”) which comes across like a more demented “Scenario” (especially the closing verse by Bruiser Wolf with its breathless Busta Rhyme-ish manic intensity) and hey by the way “Bruiser Brigade” is a name taken from Danny Brown’s decade-old XXX (call it XL these days) easily one of the best hip hop albums of the last ten years in my highly non-authoritative book.

The EP finally comes to a close jury under a dozen minutes later with its two shortest tracks (each clocking at under two minutes) the first being “Wildstyle” by Zelooperz (a Bruiser Brigader not featured on the preceding posse track) who throws his voice like a demented ventriloquist so put this track on the hi-fi Halloween night to scare the crap out of trick-or-treating brats harassing you for free Pixie Sticks. 

And then finally it’s full circle back to LA (Compton, specifically) for Vince Staples’ “6 Five Heartbeats” and yeah it’s freakin’ Vince Staples so you know it’s good (even where short in duration and mellow in disposition) and I gotta at least the opening line “you had a blog, we had Berettas” (I don’t care what some fool posting on Genius says the lyric is, he clearly says “blog”)) with Vince going on to call out keyboard gangsters and other fakers (“How is every single rapper been a dopeman?”) before going on to pine for true love and true crime and don’t worry Mr. Staples I’m no consigliere (fake or otherwise) just a humble blogger writing criminally long-winded sentences. (Jason Lee)

photo by: Wyeth Collins


 

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