Looking Ahead: 4/26

Aldous Harding-Designer

Aldous Harding’s videos operate similarly to the way Solange’s do for When I Get Home–they’re inseparable from the sounds.  Both works avoid narrative, and many of the songs phase in and out of specific ideas and theses, but with the very specifically conjured visual aesthetic, they make a bit more sense and offer more straightforward emotional warmth.  Of course, Harding has only released two videos for Designer so far, but the album stands for itself outside of that visual context, each tune a world of tiny sounds building acres of landscape together.

Buy it on itunes

Read my track review of “The Barrel”

Rico Nasty-Anger Management

Though only 19 minutes long, Anger Management feels necessary thanks to its relentless pummel.  Save some singing on her final track, these tracks are jam packed with quick jabs and risky, electro beats.  Anytime Rico shows her face it feels great, but this mixtape feels loose and carefree while losing none of the rage that infected her debut album last year.

Buy it on Itunes.

-Donovan Burtan

PUP Royale Boston 4/25

You should basically know what to expect in approaching PUP on tour. They play their colossal songs; the crowd goes crazy; singer Stefan Babcock may or may not stage dive during “Full Blown Meltdown;” and hopefully the audience will provide vocal support for their especially anthemic new bangers.

Having graduated from bars with 150 audience members to more substantial indie rock spaces with a massive banner of their new album cover behind them, PUP now present catharsis on a grand scale.  Beers were thrown, lyrics addressed to our demons were communally screamed.  Admittedly, this caused problems for some audience members as the first song saw intense mayhem to figure out how exactly the moshing circles were to be dispersed (read: all over the place).  However, it was a mostly wholesome experience as “Oh-ohhs” from older material like “Sleep in the Heat” were handed off to the crowd and lyrics like “working the night shift/ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL” and “they used to say ‘don’t quit your day job’/well guess what/I NEVER HAD ONE” were transcendentally yelled.

The set was pretty much exactly an hour long with no quiet material or ballads, but there were some standout moments that saw the band testing their own formulas. “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will,” which served as part of the encore, is still one of their most twisting and winding tunes as melodies blossom as the tempos fly to the conclusion and “Meltdown” practically saw a whole new band appear.  For one song and one song only, Babcock dropped his guitar and menacingly strutted around the stage preaching his self referential tear down before tossing his body into the sea of fans, the quasi-hardcore, quasi-Black Sabbath pummel conjuring a whole new depth of darkness.

“Scorpion Hill” felt like the band’s new core.  The beginning of the tune was the quietest moment of the night and it saw a slight crack in Babcock’s voice–a crack in an otherwise absolutely flawless live sound, mind you–that made him feel like the center of a room of comrades (like the best death metal band out of Denton or som’thin’), before the tune completely broke open to run down his commuter rail/father anxieties.

And not to toot my own city’s horn, but there was something very Boston about the whole experience.  It was the first stop of this tour and the band mentioned that it was the first one to sell out.  Boston loves the shit out of pop-punk bands and maybe Toronto has some vague kinship with us.  Both are cities that are hard to live in–I currently ride a commuter rail myself for hours everyday–yet beloved by those within them.  As Harif Abdurraquib mentions in his essay about seeing Atmosphere play in their hometown, there’s something special about seeing a band in the city that made them and though that’s not exactly what happened last night their was some kindred spirit energy to the thing, as the band played to an audience they could relate to, one that really understood where they were coming from.

If Morbid Stuff felt like it transcended my “pop-punk is either rad or not rad, nuff said” concept with vivid storytelling and tons of heart, their live show fell somewhere in the middle–at its heart it was “60 minutes, trim all the fat, no encore, let’s party;” but some subtle detailing made it more than your average night at the gig.

-Donovan Burtan

Girlpool at The Sinclair 4/23

Girlpool felt limitless at their Boston show last night. A band that once sounded like two friends hanging out at home, shooting the shit with guitars; their latest LP saw an expansion on all fronts, and the live show only amplified this feeling. At parts feeling like the Cleo Tucker show, and others completely in Harmony Tividad’s plush back-pocket, the 45 minute set was magically eclectic and electrically charged by a proper touring ensemble.

Shout outs are certainly in order for openers Hatchie. I don’t love to make comparisons like this, but I couldn’t help but feel like the band sounded like a mixture of Heaven or Las Vegas and Celebrity Skin. In other words, the guitars were cosmic and the melodies direct and sugary. Rocking power trio, it was plainly impressive to hear singer Harriette Pilbeam absolutely nailing it—her bass causing her to lose exactly none of her stage presence.

In terms of Girlpool’s live translation, they brought limitless charm and charisma. Though What Chaos is Imaginary was contained by a particular lens, the live show felt a bit more unabashed.

This was most directly reflected in Tucker’s vocal performance, as the high range showcased at the tail end of “Hire” seemingly creeped in and out all over the place. Tunes like “Swamp and Bay” and “Lucy’s” were made raucous with this jagged vocal approach, and “Chemical Freeze” which closed (at least the pre-encore portion of the show), was wielded into a weapon of contrast. The lilting guitar line of the verses was bait-and-switched, at first sounding like an extended outro before the chorus returned one more rocking time, with Tucker blissfully screeching out each and every word. Encouraging a little bit of noodling and soloing from their touring guitarist, Tucker added a sly, rockist charm to the evening’s festivities.

Tividad, on the other hand, delved more into quiet, translucent spaces. The title track in particular shifted focus from Tucker’s joyful riffage into smarmy harmonies and icy platitudes—her impassioned but clear voice singing in a much more mellow tone.  Receiving vocal assistance from the keyboard player rather than Tucker at times, some of these moments felt a bit bittersweet—like a pair growing apart a bit but, luckily they both collided throughout the set, and returned to their roots with a (fan-requested) performance of “Soup” and “Chinatown” during the encore.

The whole effect of the night showcased a band that could go anywhere and visit any sound, but they also felt like they were still tied to each other in an organic way. Upon leaving I felt a bit like I wanted Tucker to transcend to full blown rock god, but I trust that these two will keep us both guessing and satisfied as their careers bound forward.

-Donovan Burtan

Priests-The Seduction of Kansas: Album Review

Unfortunately, some of my reservations with the title track to this album do expand their reach to much of the material here.  At 43 minutes in length, the work almost feels like the band literally stretched out their songs.  Rather than punchy, quick tempos, the band is burning slowly, leaving lead singer Katie Alice Greer out in more open spaces, which can lead to humdrum lyrical moments.

Though some of the classic Priests lyrics like “And Munayyer says Netanyahu’s actually the best thing” and “consider the options of a binary” aren’t exactly evasive and artsy, in their context they feel like important calling cards, here the effect is a bit more corrosive with lines like “it’s your movie that you wrote, starred, and directed in/I may be your muse but I’m necessary” or “No agency or complexity/Not a single feelin’ inside of me” feeling overly on the nose in the more spacey musical territories.

There’s also entire songs that honestly feel kind of cruel.  Titled in reference to a book essentially about how Fox News made Middle America the main audience of the right wing, the album sometimes seems to rear its teeth at the people themselves rather than the huge conglomerates misguiding them. Yes, Youtube is probably the most toxic version of discourse to ever exist, but “Youtube Sartre” points its knife at the libertarians arguing for apathy more than the platform itself, which is more worried about regulating queer content than hate speech.

Of course, not all of these moves are really new; the title track of their last album was also slow and quiet, but its emotional openness made it feel more like a ballad than anything else.  Here, their snarly jabs at dumb Americanisms never really stop and the spotlight doesn’t ever seem to be on the interior of the band.  There are exceptions–“Jesus’s Son” and “Good Time Charlie” fly by and feel more lyrically nuanced and less cruel, but the album feels like a band between their punk roots and a larger rock storytelling ambitions.  I think they’ll figure out how to do their thing in a new way, but it doesn’t quite feel comfortable yet.

-Donovan Burtan


Looking Ahead: 4/20

Here’s some new releases that I’ll be thinking about this week:

Sunn O)))-Life Metal

For a band so notorious for creating some of the loudest live experiences ever, Sunn O))) also somehow have a talent for life affirmation.  Titled after a joke the band formed on the road, Life Metal is typically droney and deep, but overtones blossom and shine like a summer afternoon as the smolder burns on.

Available Now on First Listen

Kevin Abstract-Ghettobaby EP

I have to say that if anyone in Brockhampton is going to make it as a solo artist it’ll probably be Kevin Abstract.  His singing and rapping kind of combines to create the true heart of the group anyways and throughout this EP both shine.

Listen to it on Spotify


To some degree, there’s no more to say about this.  Of course, Beyoncé delivered the greatest Coachella set of a generation.  Of course, the glance at her every era is immaculately planned, arranged (and even mixed and mastered).  But, that’s kind of her magic.  Beyoncé is a singular auteur, one who painstakingly betters herself and pushes forward with immaculately intricate ideas, pulled off effortlessly.  To have a document for her unmatched live feats somehow continues to up the ante.

Listen on Apple Music

-Donovan Burtan




Billy Woods and Kenny Segal-Hiding Places: Album Review

Ranking Billy Woods projects, at least in recent years between the likes of Paraffin and Known Unknowns, is kind of impossible. His flow is so singular, sonic environment so vivid and rich, that each moment feels carved out of the same holy stone. Hiding Places is fueled by some of the same anxieties of his past work, speaking about gentrification and the livelihood of the poor, the kinds of societal limits that keep economic mobility at bay, classes and races segregated, and bad habits going.  It’s a perfectly balmy listen that may not get stuck in your head, but will keep you coming back.

“You’ll never get no answers/not for the stuff that keeps you up” he spoke on Known Unknowns in 2017, and here, there’s other forms of stagnation amongst daily struggle—in one particular passage he talks about how poor people don’t exactly get their mail forwarded to them because they can’t pay their bills, a song is punctuated by the ATM voice telling you that there’s only $10.22 in your account, these types of things prevent growth. Then there’s lyrics about how tough it is to bridge the gap between this reality and those who might legitimately be able to afford tickets to see Nas play with an orchestra at Carnegie Hall: “no man of the people, I wouldn’t be caught dead with most of y’all.”

Still, his rhymes are typically a bit difficult to unite to one single theme. There’s a line about the emotional lifting of depression; one that showcases the ways in which Woods’ community is forced to eat itself: “tape ain’t even out yet how the hell’d they get a copy;” and another that uses the image of tugging on a joy stick when you don’t have money to speak about an unprivileged life: “life is like a couple of quarters you either have them or you don’t.”

Like the way his rhythmic delivery spills over bar lines and wavers between exacting and loose, his words spill over themselves, ideas constantly developing. Turning on his work is like hopping on a treadmill that’s already moving—you gotta just get right up to speed. “Mosh through the orchestral pit” opens the work, and then his stream of consciousness is off.  The lyric: “too scared to write the book, took it, put in the hook of a song, no one listened to it” showcases his borderline word association methods were each line blooms into new space—it’s MF Doom in its rhyme scheme and spoken word in its imagery.

The metaphor breaks down a bit when you think about the moments after that initial jolt of needing to get up to speed with the treadmill as Woods maintains surprises with each footfall no matter how many times you listen. You cannot know all the words to a Woods verse. You cannot remember the conclusions you drew the last time, there is only forwards on his timeline.  Now, Kenny Beats does give certain hallmarks to the album. There’s little guitar licks here, a disembodied voice there. Like Earl Sweatshirt’s hypnotic loops, there’s a raw darkness and a perfect chemistry between production and vocals, but it’s to be expected.  Woods’ treadmill is always going; approaching it is all on you.

-Donovan Burtan


Tierra Whack “Only Child” Track Review

My take is ultimately: “I don’t think that Tierra Whack’s 15 songs, 1 minute each concept was merely a marketing tool, nor do I think it totally worked artistically.” And maybe I’m biased. Though I like the work of say Minor Threat, and pick up one of those four song demos on cassette from a punk band that really delivered at their show, at the end of the day, I tend to value the part of careers where people who come from those origins flesh out their sound at bit more.

Yes, many felt like Solange’s latest was under-cooked and maybe my love of Some Rap Songs is a bit of a double standard, but I just feel like they do different jobs. Solange gives her simple phrases plenty of room to breathe with seemingly boundless repetition, whereas Earl simply distilled his music to what he does best—verses. For me, Whack World felt more like a sketch than anything else.

All that to say, I’m glad that Tierra Whack is make full bodied songs now and “Only Child” can run with the best of them. Built on a wobbly DIY-adjacent foundation, Whack’s soft vocals speak to a selfish person who comes across as formerly spoiled by the ‘rents. The track is packed with the personality that found its way onto her previous work, between the flippant vocals at the hook and the humorous digs in the quick verse—“use to arch my back for you/and now you’re my arch nemesis.” Whack World was certainly vividly accomplished and I’d expect nothing else as this artist continues to grow.

-Donovan Burtan

Weyes Blood-Titanic Rising: Album Review

Natalie Merling has previously built a world out of beautiful pillows as Weyes Blood, but her latest effort is more plush than ever. Evoking the cosmos in more than just lyrics, Titanic Rising is a monolith of galactic electronic tones, flourishing Philip Glass strings, and occasionally bellowing vocals. Though Merling’s voice can still be a little bit one note, her emotional senses are more eclectic than ever giving the listener doses of hope, and heart wrench; humor and irony in equal doses. It’s not so much packed with singable hooks and melodies, but these slow burning lamentations encapsulate the puzzles of life and love, and finding yourself in there somewhere.

To a degree, Merling plays the role of the hopeless romantic. Single “Everyday” strikes this rather directly with lines like “true love is making a comeback” and a chorus reading “I need love everyday,” but she’s also hopelessly devoted to giant cultural items–“Movies” frames her as a sucker who can’t resist a good blockbuster–and enamored with the world–“Wild Time” offers a somber answer to “Oh, What a World.”

She’ll add in a dose of existentialism for “Andromeda,” which sings to an empty galaxy, full of nothing to peak her romantic interest. Then on “Mirror Forever,” the concept of empathy creeps in through the lens of a break-up. Noting that no one can ever fully grasp your emotional experience, Merling still accepts that her experience has led to a place where she needs to move on and leave someone behind in the process.

If “Will I ever be satisfied by a partner?” is the connective thread, “what does that mean about connection?” is next on the docket, and “maybe not knowing is ok” is the final conclusion. Or A final conclusion as Merling also sends us off with “Picture Me Better,” which yearns for a world where she isn’t so stunted by these questions and able to just breathe.

The grappling nature of the album is achieved rather effortlessly, however, which makes it digestible and even fun. These may be brooding ideas but they aren’t brooding tunes as the listener is enveloped delicately and openly. Titanic Rising puts Merling in league with the likes of Fiona Apple and Mitski who find the depths of life’s meaning through nuanced exploration of interpersonal relations.  And like those two auters, she comes across as the conversationalist–a philosopher your can see yourself in.

-Donovan Burtan


Concert Log: And the Kids

Had a stellar night at the Columbus Theatre last night. Between And the Kids’ virtuosic and emotionally charged set and the surprisingly unruly material from Bat House, the night was a true balm, never feeling anything less than great.

There can be a lot of value in catching a band at the cusp of their career as an opening act. Without any preconceptions sometimes you can clue into the heart of the project in a different way than the “oh hell yeah I love this song.” Opening for Priests some time ago, Snail Mail really pierced through my soul, and though I didn’t ‘know’ the band beforehand, I felt connected to them and it led to a quicker understanding when the debut album did finally show up on my doorstep.

Maybe in this spirit I should feel a little guilty of letting you in on the ‘secret’ of Bat House, but their act is a brilliant example of “anything can happen next.” At first it was vibey and subdued, almost like a mathy Grateful Dead with beautiful group vocals. But then they unleashed a cloud of noise and emerged on the other end with post-punk dissaffection—a plucky 7/8 groove later turned into emotionally open smolder, then a manic drum machine appeared and a power-pop guitar lead. Perhaps Deerhoof would be a the closest touchstone, another zany, mathy experience, but they felt quite singular, somehow touching on a bunch of musical styles in their own way.

As far as And The Kids themselves went, it was plainly impressive to see two people tackle such building and momentus musical material. Sure there were loops and backing tracks, but lead singer/ guitarist Hannah Mohan and drummer Rebecca Lasaponaro both constantly roared over them on drums and guitar, and layered vocals to boot.

Catharsis is definitely the name of their game—I mean their merch was a shirt that said “don’t die,” a reference to their tune “Champagne Ladies,” anchored by the lyric “Life is a bastard, life wants to kill you, don’t get old.” As Mohan’s vocals shifted from jumpy verses to anthemic climaxes, simple lyrics drove home existential angst in a relatable and fun way. The hallmark of their show ends up being how light and fun one can feel as they contemplate the melting effect television is having on our collective brains. And though this mission falls in line with the likes of Illuminati Hotties and Japanese Breakfast who are rock-dancing to similar conclusions, And the Kids are doing things their own way and continuing to carve out their own particular path.

-Donovan Burtan

PUP-Morbid Stuff: Album Review

Though I mentioned in my “Kids” track review that pop-punk is one of those genres where a song is either rad or not rad, not so much something that needed a bunch of explanation, PUP’s Morbid Stuff transcends that idea—it transcends its genre and everything the band has done up until this point, easily achieving one of the strongest rock records of 2019. This LP presents a band that’s both more effective at storytelling and infectious melodies, more emotionally piercing and relatable; tighter than almost anyone touring right now.

The beating heart of the thing is certainly “Scorpion Hill,” the band’s most complex and arresting song yet. It paints the tale of a man suffering on the train as his world falls apart around him, losing his job, and he wondering who he is and how he can care for his child.

After the slow acoustic intro, the band stirs up a semi-typical PUP tune with a driving verse and slow chorus, but the road-map isn’t so simple. The lyric “and I’m working the night shift, ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL” bursts to the surface acting as another, achingly slow hook, before the band kicks it back into gear, eventually screeching to a halt with “and i can’t pretend to know how this will end”—no big rock ending, no victory, just uncertainty. It’s Springsteen in its sprawl and emo in its darkness as “I found the gun, it was buried beneath piles of clothes, in the room where your son sleeps,” and other lyrics like it add nuance and depth to the broken protaganist.

Though the band still wields anger towards exes and others, as “Scorpion Hill” showcases, this is a band more apt at tackling the circumstances of their lives, and the inner strife that makes living so hard. “Full Blown Meltdown” most obviously points its gun at lead singer Stefan Babcock, going as far as pinpointing the pointlessness of the music itself: “I’m just surprised the world isn’t sick of grown men whining like children.”  Throughout, the band is self-critical. The titular phrase itself refers to the kind of weird shit that pops into Babcock’s head, he poses the proverbial “why am I like this?” on the very first song and that kind of thinking underpins the whole work.

When launching digs at others, the band is also funnier and more effective than they’ve ever been. “See You At Your Funeral,” is basically “yeah I’m better now than when we were together, also go fuck yourself,” but it remains relatively light in comparison to some of the over-the-top anger of their last album. Babock quibs about how he tried vegan food and started buying organic, a goofy 2019 version of a glow up.

Luckily, this music doesn’t become too weighty. An algorithm couldn’t have imagined a more PUP song than “Kids” and the finale “City” fittingly mirrors the close of their last album “Pine Point,” with the idea of “this place is tough” again sending the listener off.  So, PUP still knows themselves they’re just more grown-up, but not so grown up that they’ve lost their heart.

-Donovan Burtan