Tag Archives: feature

“You Gotta Fight For Your Family”: The Underrated, Powerful Shannon Wright

Shannon Wright

Photos by Jason Maris

“That’s my main priority, to be honest with my work, and put my heart out there.”

“Musician’s musician” may be a hackneyed and overapplied label, but it certainly describes Shannon Wright. The guitarist, pianist, and singer-songwriter has been making emotional, intense, iconoclastic music since the late ‘90s, earning the devoted fandom of friends like Dirty Three, Low, Steve Albini, and Yann Tiersen. Yet the mainstream recognition enjoyed by comparable peers like Cat Power or Sharon Van Etten has somehow managed to elude her.

As she speaks to us by phone from Atlanta about her new album, Division, Wright admits she doesn’t see “musician’s musician” as an insult. “It’s a really good thing,” she says softly. “It can be frustrating, because sometimes I wish more people would understand [my work], but it’s definitely a great compliment. It’s something that’s been an ongoing thing with me throughout my time playing. It’s great to inspire other musicians. I always feel very lucky that that’s happened with me.”

Division, a stunning record that’s as simultaneously delicate, wondrous and strong as spiderwebbing, came about in part because of peer recognition. Wright was at a low point not too terribly long ago, when renowned classical pianist Katia Labecque appeared backstage at one of her shows. “[She] said some really beautiful things to me,” Wright remembers. “It was kind of a crazy moment, probably the moment when I needed to hear those things the most. I was telling her that I was thinking about quitting, and she was not for that. She was saying, ‘Why would you quit? You were born to do this. You don’t have to do it a certain way, there’s no formula.’” Labeque offered her studio in Rome as a place to meditate on new music during a spate of upcoming shows Wright had in Italy.

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Howls from the Past: Punk Afterlives on Bandcamp

Wolves!

Within the sub-cultures—or sub-markets—of punk and hardcore collector freaks, the physical media fetish has remained strong even during the digital shift of the larger music industry. Vinyl was still a reasonable choice for smaller labels in the days when the majors were more interested in CDs and MP3s, and many DIY bands haven’t embraced the shift to streaming.

Bands that do press physical product also make their material available (often for pay-what-you-want) on a variety of digital platforms (like this one). Then there are the artists that put out a record or two, disband, and fade into the ether—for these bands, keeping their releases “in print,” or offering rarities after the band’s active years are up, via digital media, allows them to have a second life of sorts. As fans of niche music in the niche web of underground bands, it’s exciting to stumble upon unreleased music by long-gone or lapsed bands. Our fanaticism can be sated by artists cataloging and disseminating their own music that would otherwise be relegated to the dustbin of history.

Wolves! (Of Greece) is one such band. The British group’s only physical release was a one-sided 10-inch on UK label Gringo Records. They had a punk pedigree; the band featured ex-members of hyper-emotional punk evangelists Bob Tilton and proto-grind crust maniacs Heresy. The generic term “controlled chaos” can be applied to the group, but it doesn’t properly represent what they do. The music is true punk cacophony in the vein of ‘90s San Diego, former Bob Tilton vocalist Simon Feirn crooning, singing, and pleading—even breaking into a falsetto at times—over top of the structured noise. It’s urgent and powerful.

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First Time’s the Charm for Aster More

Aster More

You can’t talk about Aster More, the Philadelphia-based six piece dreamy shoegaze band starting to make waves in the city’s music scene, without talking about their origin as part of this past year’s First Time’s The Charm show. The event, which featured eighteen bands playing their first show ever, was created in order to promote the idea that music should not be closed off to marginalized people or to those who have never played in a band before.

The first Philadelphia iteration of the event (similar events happen in cities around the U.S. and overseas, including Portland, New Orleans and London) was in 2013, leading to the formation of bands like See-Through Girls and Marge; its ethos in Philly is very much a result of a larger, intentional cultural shift over the past decade to make Philadelphia’s DIY scene a lot more inclusive and diverse. Carolyn Haynes, Aster More’s guitarist, singer, and saxophonist—just on one song, “Dream Sequence”, but still!—has also been playing music in Philly for a number of years, most notably in Ghost Gum and the underappreciated Catnaps. Haynes reflected on that general shift while discussing Aster More’s place in the city: “I think Philly is really good at checking itself. … I think we’re pretty good about saying to someone else, ‘Hey you can’t be doing this, this isn’t cool.’ I think that opens it up to be able to have something like First Time’s the Charm and have it be so popular.”

That self-awareness and intentionality in actions is important. According to Aster More’s keyboardist and singer Kristine Eng, while the event translates anywhere, “It’s cool that it’s a Philly thing, because it’s good to see that Philadelphia is making strides towards bringing minorities to the front. I think it’s important that our music scene thinks about that and is trying to make a place for that.”

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Blitz the Ambassador Uses Hip-Hop to Make Crucial Global Connections

Blitz

Photos by Robert Winter

Six albums into his globe-trotting career, Ghanaian-born rapper Blitz the Ambassador has finally discovered a depth and breadth in his voice and style that allows him funnel his experiences into the music he makes. His latest release, Diasporadical, adopts a modern and globalized style, blending the struggles of African-evolved people worldwide and an awareness of musical history with boom-bap beats and breaks. By doing so, he’s helping to advance rap music, giving it a worldwide viewpoint that’s perfectly suited to our modern, everyone-is-connected moment.

“I’m everywhere but nowhere at the same time,“ Blitz says. “My personal evolution has evolved from making Ghanaian music, to making hip-hop based Ghanaian music in New York City. Then I toured the world after my first albums, and I gained a sense that hip-hop culture was a global phenomenon. Now, I’m gaining an urgency in my message. Because the world is shifting, and socio-political commentary is becoming more important than ever before. People need to find the connection to the global hip-hop diaspora. I’m not on a label, I wasn’t on a schedule, and I took my time to make the best record possible.”

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Bobby Brown’s “Prayers of a One-Man Band” is a Cracked Pop Masterpiece

Bobby Brown

“So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.” So says Hunter S. Thompson, memorably summing up the demise of the spirit of the ‘60s in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. What Thompson couldn’t have known in the early ‘70s, though, was the way that broken wave of hippie aesthetics would distribute its flotsam and jetsam to unexpected places and times. Enter Bobby Brown (not formerly of New Edition, not Mr. Whitney Houston), an erstwhile utopian California mystic whose complete discography, three records recorded in Hawaii in the ‘70s and ‘80s, is both a perfect snapshot of the dimming sunlight of the hippie era’s psychedelic folk influence on pop and a deeply personal expression; his albums were mostly self-released. Austin Leonard Jones, fellow folk oddity and spiritual seeker, launched his new imprint Del Rio Records and Tapes, partly with the goal of seeing Brown’s cracked pop masterpiece, Prayers of a One Man Band, back in print.

Brown himself is a reclusive figure, living in a house he inherited from his father in Reno, Nevada (that breaking hippie wave washed that far), and we weren’t able to reach him directly for this writing. But, fortunately, Jones was forthcoming as to how he found Prayers in the first place and his quest to see it re-released, tracking down a figure that even the most informed obscurantist musical obsessives had assumed was unreachable.

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