The Muscle Shoals Country-Soul of Emily Duff

Emily Duff

“The place is spooky and full of ghosts,” says Emily Duff of the studio where she cut her new album, Maybe in the Morning. That seems about right, considering that the New York City singer/songwriter came to Muscle Shoals, Alabama to record at FAME Studios, the storied soul hub where Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, and countless others cut classic sides in the R&B golden age of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

“If you’re an insane music lover and worshipper of that era like I am,” Duff says, “you walk in the door and you’re like, ‘Fuck, I’m home.’ Every time I walked through that door I got the chills. You’re with people who basically built the whole structure that is your church of music, and you’re in that room. You can’t stop smiling, My face hurt from smiling so much.”

But the path that led Duff to that musical mecca was far from straightforward. She grew up on Long Island, on a steady diet of singer/songwriter and roots music. “Kris Kristofferson, Neil Diamond, Willie Nelson, Janis Joplin, Johnny Cash, those were the records we listened to,” she remembers. “And then there was The Partridge Family and Sonny & Cher, because I was a child of television. And I was heavily into the whole soul thing—I loved Al Green and Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin.”

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Beijing’s Do Hits Label is Forging China’s New Club Sound

Do Hits

Veeeky

The classical strains of the two-stringed erhu set to a downtempo bass beat; chopped and screwed samples from CCTV’s New Year’s Gala; the most viewed television program on Earth; cut, copied and remixed versions of Chinese Spring Festival’s traditional tunes and pop bangers—these  are the sounds that greet the listener on Year of the Rooster, the latest compilation released by Beijing label Do Hits. Both identifiably Chinese and musically forward-reaching, Do Hits has come to exemplify the new sound emerging from the country—and has recruited new blood for the cause.

Launched in 2011 as a DJ party at Beijing punk club School Bar, the idea for Do Hits originally came from Sulumi, one of the earliest pioneers of Beijing’s electronic music underground, and the founder of the seminal Shanshui Records label. He enlisted the help of two younger producers on the Beijing scene—Howie Lee and Guzz—as well as DJ Billy Starman. The Do Hits party was born as an alternative to the city’s nightlife which, at the time, was dominated by mainstream EDM, European house, and techno.

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Two Dragons, Estonia, and a New Solo Project for Erki Pärnoja

Erki Parnoja

Erki Parnoja by Tonu Tunnel

There aren’t many “big” Estonian bands. A nation of just over one million people with limited large cities can’t sustain many full-time musicians. (On the flip side, in a culture heavy on traditional folk music, it can often seem like everyone in the country has some kind of musical skill.) That makes Ewert and the Two Dragons’ success both at home and abroad all the more exciting.

Two Dragons guitarist Erki Pärnoja is piggybacking on the band’s international reach with a new solo project, though he has no plans to turn his back on the folk-rock outfit. After two albums, multiple international tours, and even a 2013 European Border Breakers award, he’s entirely wrapped up in Ewert and the Two Dragons. But thanks to a game of “what if,” Pärnoja found himself craving a bit more than band life. With Efterglow, his full-length solo debut, Pärnoja got his answers. It started with him wondering what would happen if he worked alone and embraced the Beatles and Rolling Stones—the two guitar heroes from his youth. It ended with one of his tracks scoring a mini-documentary about the life of his grandmother. In the clip, scored by the album’s title track, his grandmother returns to the ruins of the textile factory where she for the majority of her life. Like Pärnoja’s music, it’s both largely left open for viewer interpretation. It’s also deeply moving.

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The Best Metal on Bandcamp: March 2017

Best Metal on Bandcamp: March

A major stumbling block for many would-be converts to underground metal is the tendency of the vocals to veer toward the harsher end of the spectrum—”Cookie Monster vocals,” as they’re often derisively called. But in the past decade or so, traditional heavy metal and its most direct offshoots have surged back to the forefront of the underground, especially in the last few years. This column has thus far profiled primarily death and black metal bands, but this month’s edition includes a handful of great records with clean vocals that will impress newbie skeptics and wizened keepers of the flame alike. Triumphant melodic doom from Little Rock, epic traditional metal from Germany, old-school speed metal from Finland, and video game-esque power metal from Denver share space this month with brilliant death and black metal releases from all over the world.

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Album of the Day: Century Palm, “Meet You”

Toronto’s Century Palm could have only been born in a blistering Canadian winter. Dark, taut, icy and slick, their debut album Meet You is a crash course in post-punk—there’s some Krautrock influence, like the Neue Deutsche Welle bands, plus hints of goth. They adopt the angular guitars of Wire and The Fall, the deep emotionality of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Joy Division, and even the pop sensibility of Devo and The B-52’s, while maintaining a distinct identity of their own. Simply put, Century Palm have crafted an irony-free study of ’80s independent rock that is simultaneously fresh and immediately nostalgic.

After a few opening tracks set the shadowy stage, Meet You starts to take shape with “Then You’re Gone,” a breakneck tune that frenetically builds upon itself thanks to a rhythm section as tight as piano wire, spiraling upwards and falling back down again with expert precision. A manic keyboard line is scribbled over the top, giving the track an even more frantic and rattled dimension. In addition to the sound and structure of the songs themselves, frontman Andrew Payne runs the gamut of brooding punk vocal styles, perhaps unintentionally, yet charismatically, nailing many key reference points: at times he echoes Ian Curtis’ booming bass, or Howard Devoto’s blasé snarl.

“Walk Forever Blind,” another highlight, kicks off with heavy synths droning into space, until the drum beat lumbers into the mix and Payne delivers the line: “I’ll walk forever blind/ Over the hills of time/ It is the only way,” like a man who has finally discovered the meaning of life, but is too depressed to let us in on the secret. It’s not that Meet You is a direct homage to or pastiche of any of these bands; its connect-the-dots approach in such an expressive and expansive genre is part of what makes it a joy to listen to. Century Palm have clearly found their niche, and Meet You is the perfect first step towards refining their sound.

—Cameron Cook