Tag Archives: feature

Joan Shelley’s Music Cuts Through the Chaos of Daily Life

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Joan Shelley. Photo by Ebru Yildiz.

When Joan Shelley performed with Wilco at New York’s Beacon Theatre this March, she stood huddled on the corner of the massive stage alongside collaborator Nathan Salsburg. Beneath Wilco’s elaborate backdrop of trees and foliage, the pair might have even appeared, from certain angles, as one body, their instruments (Salsburg on guitar, Shelley alternating between guitar and banjo), overlapping both physically and sonically. And if their tightknit music and cozy positioning on stage didn’t already indicate a sense of intimacy, Shelley closed the set—which highlighted tracks from her extraordinary new self-titled album—with a traditional folk song, sans accompaniment and sans microphone. As Shelley stepped to the front of the stage to sing “Darling Don’t You Know That’s Wrong,” the audience became a part of her small circle.

It was a fitting gesture from an artist who describes her music as “the quickest way from me to another person,” whose every word seems to be chosen as a way to cut through the chaos of daily life. “It’s coming to the people instead of people coming to you,” she says of the a capella performance: “As a singer, it’s asking more from my body in order to physically do it—to turn up what you’re doing, and step outside the barrier of technology.” It makes sense that Shelley sees technology as a hurdle and not a tool. As she’s evolved as a songwriter, her songs have become more unadorned and powerful. Her two previous records on Philadelphia label No Quarter—2014’s Electric Ursa and the following year’s Over and Even—each represented massive steps forward through the deeper refinement of her craft. If you carve out a place to listen, her music fills the space around you.

Shelley’s latest record is no different. Produced by Jeff Tweedy at his Loft Studio in Chicago, Joan Shelley widens her scope, focusing on more spacious songcraft. The first single, “Wild Indifference,” is built on a series of sustained, open chords that sound like sighs of relief. But the album also marks Shelley’s starkest, simplest work to date. Early in the writing process, she found herself inspired by the most primitive of folk tunes: recordings in which performers simply sang in unison with their instrument. “I started trying to be a more playful guitarist,” she says, citing the jokey songs of cult favorite folk artist Michael Hurley as a guiding light.

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Los Angeles Police Department Tackle Anxiety, Fear of Flight, & Piano Ballads

Los Angeles Police Department

Los Angeles Police Department. All photos by Philip Cosores.

“I paid my therapist over Venmo for the first time yesterday,” Ryan Pollie says while polishing off some homemade tacos at the large dining room table at his Mid-City Los Angeles home. “You know how other people can see what you pay for? I just used emoji to describe it. I went with the face with tears streaming down, and the baby bird hatching from its shell.”

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Oxbow’s Avant-Rock Experiments With Light and Shadow

Oxbow

Oxbow by Jennifer Hale

Simultaneously smart and loutish, severely disciplined and wildly chaotic, legendary experimental rock band Oxbow combines the musical mastery of guitarist Niko Wenner, drummer Greg Davis and bassist Dan Adams with the visceral caterwaul of vocalist Eugene Robinson. In a live setting, the band executes their songs with precision while the tattooed Robinson menaces the crowd, virtually naked. The potential for physical harm is ever present; there are countless reports of Robinson, an amateur fighter, subduing rowdy “fans” with his formidable martial arts skill set. The group is currently set to release The Thin Black Duke on Hydra Head Records, their first studio album since 2007’s The Narcotic Story. As its title suggests, The Thin Black Duke folds baroque Bowie-esque pop into the heaving, gnashing Oxbow sound for their most compositionally coherent and personally challenging effort yet.

Oxbow’s tale begins in the Bay Area in the ‘80s, when Robinson sang for hardcore punk band Whipping Boy. They’d appeared on the seminal punk compilation Not So Quiet on the Western Front, which documented the 1982 northern California punk scene. Wenner joined the band in 1984; Oxbow began in 1989 as a side project of Wenner and Robinson’s which slowly took on a life of its own.

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Tyler Holmes, San Cha, and Vainhein Imagine Experimental Queer Utopias

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L to R: Tyler Holmes, Vainhein, San Cha. All photos Foto By Mateo.

Tyler Holmes is in full space-queen face when they come to greet me at the gate outside the home of their creative collaborator Vainhein; the makeup is so effective that, from a distance, I thought Holmes was wearing a mask.

It would’ve startled me, were it not so quintessentially Holmes and Vainhein (who also goes by the name Luke); they’re constantly conjuring up and dwelling in worlds of their own design. And design worlds they do—audible & visual worlds so thoroughly conceived and executed you would think they had big budgets and teams of assistants at their disposal. But these two artists, along with their best friend and collaborator San Cha (who may as well have been present in the room via hologram) work tirelessly on their own at their homes in Oakland, Los Angeles and in Mexico to manifest their elaborate fantasies into tangible realities.  When the external reality doesn’t seem to represent you, creating your own space is often the only option; and when you discover a small group of like-minded artists to create that space with, the results can expand beyond your wildest imagination.

Finding kindred spirits to work with was an uplifting and invigorating experience for all three artists. Speaking with San Cha, the love for and devotion they have for one another is palpable (“It was love at first sight!” she exclaims); the individual stories they tell about the paths that led them to one another shed light on the basis of their strong bond.

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Mini Golf, Softness & Strength: An Afternoon with Diet Cig

Diet Cig

Diet Cig. All photos by Brad Ogbonna.

Diet Cig, the punky-pop duo of guitarist Alex Luciano and drummer Noah Bowman, have agreed to conduct an interview over mini golf—in many ways, they feel like the perfect band to do so. At a time where indie rock feels predicated on some level of mystique, Luciano and Bowman are in it to have fun; they’re outgoing BFFs who possess a certain inviting sense of humor—playing putt-putt with them feels as comfortable as going with a childhood friend.

It’s a Monday afternoon in Brooklyn’s industrial Red Hook neighborhood and the streets are mostly unoccupied. It’s right before school lets out for the day—a conscious decision made to avoid the rush. Diet Cig are eager to play and eager to talk about their debut album, Swear I’m Good at This, in a nostalgic, campy setting in line with their musical identity: if it feels good, do it.

We’re at Shipwrecked Mini Golf, a pirate-themed indoor park on the second floor of an isolated warehouse building. It’s exterior isn’t much to look at, but the entrance is another story: sounds of crashing ocean waves and sporadic parrot squawks meet you right away. We’re ushered into a windowless room before the game begins to learn about the theme: pirate ghosts tell a tale of lost treasure, and it’s up to us to uncover it. It takes about five minutes and two ill-placed jokes to get through the explanation. When it’s over, we’re all desperate to play.

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