Fan Interview: AJJ

AJJ

AJJ. Photo by Nancy Walters.
[This piece is part of our Fan Interview series, where fans get to interview their favorite artists. Email us at writers@bandcamp.com if you’d like to interview your favorite!]

For the past 12 years, Phoenix punk band AJJ has spoken in the language of chaos, gotten creative with kazoos, and delighted in clowning Christianity. But these days, their irreverence comes with a side of tenderness.

Their 2014 record, Christmas Island, first signaled this shift. Frontman Sean Bonnette translated grief from his grandfather’s passing into songs that, among other things, detailed an unexpected breakdown at a Linda Ronstadt museum exhibit. In The Bible 2, released last month via SideOneDummy Records, the fuzzy guitars, warm double-bass lines, and punchy lyrics sound familiar—yet many things feel new. There’s the New Wave synth touches and ambitious string arrangements, the moments of crisp production in between the fuzz, and the examination of Midwestern boyhood through a new lens. It’s the lens that comes with more than a decade’s worth of personal growth catalogued through song.

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Frank McGinnis is Still Here

Frank McGinnis

To be a kid in a small town means music comes to you with the power of revelation—a thing that speaks to you alone, and provides a vision of an outside world full of infinite possibilities. And even if the music itself doesn’t stick with you, its impact does. Frank McGinnis grew up in a town smaller than most, one of seven siblings in the Delaware County town of Roxbury, New York. You think your town is small? Please. “Those places have traffic lights,” he says. His family had to drive an hour to go to a real grocery store. My graduating class had more students than his entire school district. They no longer conduct a census of the village, because the population is too small.

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Daytripper: Taking LVL UP to Coney Island

LVL UP
LVL UP. Photo by Elyssa Goodman for Bandcamp.

Coney Island may be the home of the Cyclone and the Freakshow, but the members of LVL UP have only one goal: cheese fries and Buck Hunter. Our three-hour trip to the last stop on the Q train could end any number of ways, but as long as we’re able to find cheese fries and Buck Hunter, we’re golden.

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Former Yumi Zouma Frontwoman Kim Pflaum Finds New Life as Madeira

Kim Pflaum

Madeira is Kim Pflaum.

On Bad Humors, her first EP as Madeira, Kim Pflaum fills her songs with funk-inspired bass lines and bantamweight synths, formusic that sits halfway between disco and pop. The roots of that sound were clearly established during her previous gig as the front woman of Yumi Zouma. Having shepherded that band through two EPs of light dance pop—plus a gig opening for Lorde—Pflaum sounds wistful when she recounts the group’s history, even though she prefers not to dwell too heavily on the past.

“I wasn’t ready to leave at all,” she confesses via Skype from her studio in Auckland, New Zealand. “It was sad that I did have to. I can’t be so close to having all my dreams come true and not let it happen!”

The pressure Pflaum placed on herself resulted in a song-cycle that allows itself room to dreamwhile still acknowledging the darkness of reality. Pflaum’s voice floats like a pop princess and stings when she needs to get something off her chest. (Key lyric: “Took apart all I knew and tried again/ Only I thought this was real and it was going somewhere.”) As Pflaum explains, the final product mirrors the process.

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Album of the Day: Jose Mauro, “Obnóxius”

Brazilian record producer Roberto Quartin established the highly successful Forma record label in 1963, releasing important samba albums like Baden Powell & Vinicius De Moraës’s early fusion of Brazilian and African styles on Os Afro Sambas and Moacir Santos’s elegant Latin jazz album, Coisas. He then sold off the label and in 1970 started a new imprint, Quartin. Despite Quartin’s ear and acumen, only a handful of albums were ever released on the imprint.

Brazilians call it “vazio cultural” (cultural void) or “o sofoco” (the suffocation), denoting the years after the overthrow of President João Goulart in 1964 by a coup d’état. By 1969, the military junta further consolidated power and repressed its populace with the passing of Institutional Act Number Five, which shuttered the National Congress, suspended habeas corpus and enacted heavy censorship on all arts and music. Not the best time for a new record label like Quartin, especially when its first release, José Mauro’s debut album Obnóxious, featured lyrics that touch upon censorship, the dictatorship and the junta behind it.

Vanished for over 40 years, its title known only to the most fanatical of diggers (the likes of Gilles Peterson, Madlib and Floating Points), the Far Out label reissues this heretofore-unknown gem from a musician who disappeared before the album was released; it’s still not known if Mauro is still alive or dead. Which is a shame, as Obnóxious is the opposite of its name, a wonderful bit of mysterious música popular brasileira. The title track deftly moves from horn-laced samba to spare folk and back. The hushed “As Aventuras Sentimentais De Espiroqueta Camargo” brings to mind the sound of Milton Nascimento’s Clube de Esquina from a few years on. The album’s most astonishing track might be “Memoria,” which highlights Quartin’s own string arrangements, bringing to mind the skin-pricking orchestrations of Krzysztof Penderecki. Shadowing Mauro’s hard-driving strums, it’s one of the most haunting Brazilian songs from that era, whether or not you know what fate befell José Mauro.

— Andy Beta