Friday, June 24, 2016

Ryan Cassata -- SHINE

Ryan Cassata is fitting for the entry before NYC Pride. Cassata is a New York-based trans* singer-songwriter, who also describes himself as an "actor, Youtuber, and activist." If you're not sure how being a Youtuber counts as a job, this album may not be your favorite. But I guarantee you'll enjoy it anyway.

SHINE jumps around stylistically, seemingly meant to be listened to on shuffle or made into a series of music videos. From the thumping rock anthems "We're the Cool Kids" and "Sunrise Highway" to the thoughtful hip-hop inspired "Check Engine" and "Shine On," Cassata has a sense of confidence and control that few people master. Given the nature of this blog, I'm more partial to songs like "Bedroom Eyes" and "Hot Springs, Arkansas." Throughout, Cassata's warmth and humanity is the unifying factor in these songs. One gets the sense that no matter all of the many things that get thrown his way, Cassata's courage is indomitable. That's a good reminder for all of us.

Ryan Cassata -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Sharp Things -- EverybodyEverybody

For its sheer force of personality, EverybodyEverybody, by New York's pop institution the Sharp Things, is a winner. The album is delightfully weird, creating full symphonies out of life's mundane moments (see "Family Day at the Lake" and "Sport's Drinking Again.") Frontman Perry Serpa's falsetto and pop affectations call to mind Brian Wilson, but that's not all the two share. The Sharp Things are ambitious, pushing the boundaries of pop music in a way that'll immerse you in waves of sound.

EverybodyEverybody is a deep dive, but it's also a refreshing one.

The Sharp Things -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Westies -- Six on the Out

Although it's a show about a blind lawyer who becomes a vigilante thanks to his super-heightened senses, I'd say the least believable aspect of Daredevil is the show's ability to make Hell's Kitchen time warp back to an ambiguous moment in 1997, when the neighborhood was grungy -- sure -- but relatively clean. (I guess not even the best set dressers can completely mask early-aughts gentrification's sledgehammer, but props to the folks on Daredevil and Gotham.) The Westies' odes to the Hell's Kitchen of yesteryear create an atmosphere that recreate what's been lost.

I have a hard time imagining these songs in a live setting. They're so carefully composed that they demand to be savored slowly and with repetition. However, in lesser hands they'd fall apart; the band's intensity and single-minded focus on the song's story guide our ears and hearts. Michael McDermott slings these songs as if Springsteen had spent an extra frustrated ten years spinning his wheels in Jersey. They elevate the little people, sure, but we feel the full weight of the boulders McDermott's characters have to push uphill. McDermott is convincing because he's been there himself. Unlike the Westies' first release, though, we get to hear McDermott's softer side with "Everything Is All I Want For You." Six on the Out cements the Westies' status as a perceptive group of artists with important stories to tell for all seasons.

The Westies -- OfficialFacebook, Purchase from the WestiesiTunesAmazon

Thursday, June 16, 2016

PRIDE 2016: Ana Egge and the Sentimentals -- Say That Now

Last summer, Ana Egge released Bright Shadows, a thoughtful album that displayed her forceful personality through gentle songs. She must have turned right around and hopped on a plane to Denmark, where she recorded Say That Now with Danish indie band the Sentimentals. And as much as Bright Shadows helped me to appreciate the softer side of life, I was gratified by the brash, distorted guitars in the lead-off track, "Take Off My Dress."

This album feels looser, and more like a country album. Songs like "Promises to Break" tap into every good singer-songwriter's amused despair at their own dysfunction. On the other hand, "He's a Killer Now" is a now gruesomely prescient song about a mother's reaction to her son's massacre-suicide.

If I had written this review last Friday as I had intended, I would have mentioned that this song is a searing commentary on American culture: the experience of knowing that your son engaged in such a heinous act, and trying to reconcile the grief for one's son with the disgust for what he did, is common enough now that songs portraying this story no longer need to focus on one specific event. After the events in Orlando, this song is vital: reminding us that there are human beings who need compassion and empathy -- before they can get to the point where they'll commit acts of mass violence -- and that those people leave behind families with extremely difficult emotions to process.

Say That Now is peppered with humor as well as pathos. Overall, it's a fun album but, as we can see, it has a lot to say.

Ana Egge -- Official, Facebook, Purchase on iTunes

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

VIDEO: "Lover, Be Mine" -- Reina del Cid

Between the end of the school year and recent current events, I'm fairly exhausted. To the extent that it's my place to comment on Orlando, I maintain that queer visibility in all aspects of American life -- including country music -- will save us all.

On the lighter side, Reina del Cid -- who produced one of my favorite albums of 2015 -- has released a new single for the summer. Taking a different tack from The Cooling's gothic midwest pop, "Lover, Be Mine" is an impromptu, reggae-inspired jam. del Cid played the song at a show without rehearsing the band first. Once they jumped in, they knew they had to record the final product. So here's to remembering that there's lightness and joy in the world.

Reina del Cid -- Official, Facebook, Purchase from Bandcamp, Purchase from Big Cartel

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

PRIDE 2016: Sonia Leigh and Daphne Willis -- "Spider in the Roses"

Frequent tour mates Sonia Leigh and Daphne Willis teamed up to create a driving rock'n'roll track. While there are many songs warning us of dangerous women, this one stands out for its powerful vocal performances. "Spider in the Roses" is one to crank up to 11 in the car.

If you like what you hear, you can catch Daphne Willis at LA Pride and Nashville Pride this year.

LA Pride -- THIS Friday, June 10 at 9 PM (more details here)
Nashville Pride -- Saturday June 25 (more info here)

Sonia Leigh -- Official, Facebook
Daphne Willis -- Official, Facebook

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Tangerine -- Sugar Teeth

Though Sugar Teeth was released in February, Tangerine's bright guitars and airy vocals are ideal for blasting during a languorous summer twilight. The trio is comprised of sisters Marika and Miro Justad and Toby Kuhn. The three had a band in high school, split up after graduation, but reunited when they found they missed that special spark of playing together. That sense of happiness and trust comes through in these four songs: the off-kilter stop-start of "Sunset" and the burbling bass lines throughout the songs come from a special type of trust.

While "Sunset" starts the EP starts off with a punch, relaxing down into the imminently danceable "Wild at Heart" and concluding with the dreamy, Twin Peaks-ian "Sugar Teeth." Tangerine brings a synth-pop kick (with none of the synths, thankfully) to garage pop, giving a contemporary spin to nostalgic music. Sugar Teeth feels like a great showcase of things to come.

Tangerine -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp