Tag Archives: Garage

Benjamin Booker Serves As His Own “Witness”

Benjamin-Booker-by-Neil-Krug-600

Photo by Neil Krug.

Benjamin Booker’s latest record, Witness, boldly explodes the garage-blues paradigm of his previous work. In an essay announcing the record, he detailed the dual inspirations for this radical shift: the work of civil rights activist and writer James Baldwin, and a trip to Mexico City. Booker visited the latter, in an attempt to escape the structures of American society. The former could almost be seen as a catalyst for that trip. Booker’s experiences during his Mexico City jaunt, and the conclusions he’s reached on Witness, feel like an echo of a letter Baldwin wrote to his literary agent in 1979: “I am saying that a journey is called that because you cannot know what you will discover on the journey, what you will do with what you find, or what you find will do to you.”

What Booker found, and what he shares on his new record, is anger, understanding, clarity—maybe even purpose. Many have heard the titular lead single as a call to action against police brutality and systemic violence against and subjugation of black bodies in America. And while these readings are accurate (“Now everybody that’s brown can get the fuck on the ground,” Booker spits before Mavis Staples sings, “Am I gonna be a witness?”), Booker recoils at the suggestion that this is a “political” record.

Instead, Booker’s gaze was turned inward, and Witness is a reflection of that; it’s an exploration of his role in America, a dissection of his own agency. In the end, Booker’s self-examination prompted action, and a dedication to “bearing witness to the truth,” be that an indictment of racist law enforcement, or an indictment of our own unspoken complicity in those systems. With Witness, he pleads that we have those conversations with ourselves. In 1963, on Dr. Kenneth Clark’s WGBH program, Baldwin pled the same: “There are days… when you wonder what your role is in this country, and what your future is in it. How precisely are you going to reconcile yourself to your situation here?”

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Eight Bands Helping to Make San José, Costa Rica an Indie Music Paradise

Los Waldners

Los Waldners

Costa Rica is known for its biodiversity and eco-tourism, making the Central American nation a great place to visit no matter what your interests. But if you get the chance to hang out in San José, you might want to consider taking the time to check out a concert. The city’s indie scene has become home to an outsized amount of musical diversity.

Thriving in the shadow of both green hills and an active volcano, Costa Rica’s busy capital of San José is cosmopolitan but, with a population of less than 350,000 in the city proper, relatively small. The city has fostered the kind of close-knit but musically heterogeneous scene that can flourish in a just-big-enough town. Indie music within its confines and surrounding principalities doesn’t have one single sound; bands range from enigmatic bedroom electropop to loud-as-hell post-rock. Still, there’s a cohesive scene, one with plenty of variety, inventiveness, and raw energy.

The short music documentary In San José offers a snapshot of the city’s music scene via interviews and live footage. But, much like this list, it’s just an introduction to a music community that’s quickly expanding. And if this Tico indie starter pack leaves you wanting more, take a dive straight into the DIY deep end in the volumes of audiovisual fanzine Súper Legítimo.

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Sub Pop Imprint Hardly Art Celebrates 10 Years as a Tastemaker All Its Own

Hardly Art

Sometime over tea at a donut shop in downtown Seattle, it occurs to Sarah Moody, general manager of Sub Pop Records’ imprint Hardly Art, that her label officially celebrated a milestone just days before.

“Just last week was our technical 10-year anniversary of the announcement of the label,” she says, taking a moment to reflect. “That was on March 9th, 2007.” To celebrate, the label is releasing a compilation of “bedroom recordings, demos, rarities, unreleased, and widely ignored material.”

Moody has been with Hardly Art since the beginning and Sub Pop before that. At 22, she was handpicked by Sub Pop CEO Megan Jasper, co-founder Jonathan Poneman, and Head of A&R Tony Kiewel to lead the nascent imprint.

At the time, Sub Pop was going on 20 and entering a stage of growth few indie labels survive long enough to see. The label quip, “Going out of business since 1988,” didn’t hold up. Sub Pop was thriving, having folded in successful comedy acts like Eugene Mirman, Flight of the Conchords, and Patton Oswalt into its ranks, along with crossover bands like Fleet Foxes and Iron & Wine.

The label had more ideas than it had resources to execute them. “One of the dangers of being successful and growing larger as a record label is that you can become victim to your own inertia,” Kiewel says. “You get bigger, it gets harder to change directions or to stop going in whatever direction you’re already aimed.”

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Nikki Lane, High-Class Hillbilly

Nikki Lane

Nikki Lane by Jessica Lehrman

Nikki Lane’s East Nashville-based vintage store High Class Hillbilly lives up to its name. The fringed, suede skirt with a faded logo of big-screen cowgirl Dale Evans; the pink, satin pedal pushers, the cropped leather jacket—it’s hard to imagine any of them having been casual Goodwill finds. In fact, there’s very little on the carefully color-coordinated racks that appears less than 40-years-old. Lane has a good eye, and her constant touring gives her an opportunity to scour antique malls and estate sales across the United States.

With Highway Queen, which she produced with Jonathan Tyler, the South Carolina-born mini-mogul is now three albums into crafting her identity as a purveyor of tough-sounding, ‘60s-informed twang-pop that straddles Americana, alt-country, and garage rock. She’s sharpened her songwriting, with its vinegary sweet hooks and often pugnacious posture, and made the most of a husky, drawled delivery whose greatest appeal is its delicious contradiction. It simultaneously feels hard-bitten and girlish.

Reclining on a blue couch in the basement of her store, Lane reassures an assistant, “People can come down here. I’m definitely not boxing out shopping!” The browsing customers don’t distract her in the least from discussing the clear-eyed vision that guides her multi-pronged career.

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How the PNKSLM Label is Keeping Sweden Weird

PNKSLM

Luxury Death / Hater

It’s 1am on a hot summer night, and the site of Stockholm, Sweden label PNKSLM’s second birthday party is quickly devolving into chaos. Midway through a set by local psych tearaways Sudakistan, someone decided to set off the fire extinguisher. Now, the disused parking lot, rented for the purpose of squeezing as many loud, raucous bands as possible into a single space, has been coated in whipped-cream-like foam.

“Everyone was covered in white, a few people were throwing up—it was absolute chaos,” recalls the label’s founder, Luke Reilly. “We thought the party was over, but at least half the people wanted to stay,” says Johan Alm, who co-runs the label with Reilly.

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