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Band/Artist Profile Concert Review Miscellaneous Music News and Interviews

Justin Timberlake and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

Oh, Justin Timberlake.

It’s been a rough year or so hasn’t it, bud?

From Brittany’s slightly dubious tell all to an ill-fated romp in the Hamptons, he’s has had a tough go of it as of late.

And my, what a sight to see.

Celebrity implosions, especially of such long standing figures, are always a spectacle – but I’ve yet to see one that reeks of desperation quite like Timberlake’s.

From the hallowed halls of the Mickey Mouse Club to Gen X thirst trap World Tours, Timberlake has a knack for keeping himself in the spotlight.

For better or worse, the common man has a half-baked notion of what — or rather, who — he is.

But there’s something that feels different about this latest scandal.

Perhaps it’s because I had the pleasure of seeing him at PNC Arena a week before his DUI.

Or maybe it’s the comical coverage of the incident — considering the pouty celebrity mugshot, perp walk and the beautifully oblivious cop making the arrest.

Either way you spin it, there’s something distinctly and pitifully funny about Timberlake’s snafu.

Rockstars and rappers go through their own legal issues and brushes with the law, but when it happens to a pop star, people pay attention.

Even more so to someone of Timberlake’s caliber.

For people 35 and over, he’s been a tried and true standard for a large part of American pop-culture.

From childhood to adulthood, he’s been a prominent spotlight feature, and he’s desperately grasping at the edge of the stage as he’s being played out.

As far as the soundscape of popular culture goes, he’s by and far left behind.

His stage show proves it to, sadly: asses really only left seats for old standards like “Sexy Back,” “Suit and Tie” and “Cry Me A River” — even more so for the throwback reliant DJ opener.

Not to besmirch the opening band, but there’s something wrong with your act if more people are amped for a DJ playing the dancehall classics of yesterday than your set.

Consistently, he’s released albums every four to five years since 2002. Yet, his sound hardly changes.

Since he’s left NSYNC, the only evolution I can truly see is a semi-annual media scandal of either infidelity or inebriation.

When your entire career is based upon the affection of young girls, what happens when those girls grow up?

What happens when you grow up?

Somewhere within the pandering, paltry pastiche of the “Forget Tomorrow” world tour and the relatively tame release “Everything I Thought I Was,” you’ll find the answer.

It was a good show, don’t get me wrong.

Justin Timberlake is an entertainer first and foremost, to which he most certainly delivered.

But as the times catch up with the now 43-year old, fading pop star, the whirling dervish of past and present controversy seems to loom large over him.

From Britney to Janet, inebriation, infidelity and unknown world tours, perhaps Timberlake should take to the mirror himself and truly reckon with his next steps.

Because let’s be fair, humoring an aging audience in flights of fantasy feels like a desperate cash-grab preying on the hardwired need of women past a certain age to feel relevant — to feel important.

In a world where artists are more accessible than ever, feeling more real than ever, the thin line between artifice and artistry has never been more apparent.

And artists who are unwilling to step beyond their predestined imagery are not only doing their audiences a disservice, they are doing one to themselves.

The official “Mirrors” music video from Justin Timberlake’s official YouTube Vevo page.

-Bodhi

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Band/Artist Profile Classic Album Review

Chicks Dig Squeeze And So Should You

I never thought Squeeze would be a divisive band, but I thought wrong.

Whenever the band appears in conversation, it’s accompanied by a chorus of groans.

According to a certain subset of the population, Squeeze is a girl’s band.

Did the band garner an audience of young women? Of course they did; they were halfway decent-looking young men singing love songs.

But how does that change the sonic validity of a group?

Historically, teenage girls have always been on the cusp of greatness with who gets their fandom.

Sinatra, Elvis, The Beatles, Duran Duran, Madonna and Taylor Swift all captured teenage imaginations and were partially propelled to stardom because of it.

Now, we socially recognize the legitimacy of some of these artists as important to the fabric of pop-culture, but that was only until they gained a more adult audience.

So, what makes Squeeze different?

They ran in the same circles as Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello, being produced by the former and the latter appearing on 1981’s “Tempted” and “There’s no Tomorrow” and 1982’s “Black Coffee in Bed.”

The Official Music Video for “Tempted” by Squeeze from the Squeeze YouTube page.
Audio for “There’s No Tomorrow’ by Squeeze from the Squeeze YouTube page.
The Official Music Video for “Black Coffee in Bed” by Squeeze from the Squeeze YouTube page.

Argybargy:

For all intents and purposes, they ran with a cool crowd and played cool music. But because of their designation as a radio pop band for teenagers, they lost their luster.

I was going through my own record collection, and I stumbled upon my beat up copy of “Argybargy,” the band’s third studio album released in 1980 – and I fell in love.

It was a dollar bin lark because I liked “Pulling Muscles (From the Shell)” — a slightly dirty ditty about naughty diversions at the beach — but I never really listened to it until I pulled it from the stacks.

And goddamn was it good.

With “Argybargy,” the band enjoyed a brief flash of global domination and to quote Chris Jones of the BBC, “If you’re going to own at least one Squeeze album, this has to be the one.”

It’s jazzy, it’s fun, there’s almost a doo-wop flair to the dueling vocals of Glen Tilbrook and Chris Difford and there’s a delightfully working class flair to the stories they tell — even with inconsistent songs — across the board it was a fun listen.

The album did well; they found an audience as young and spunky as their sound and they found their stride – good for them, because other bands would kill for a glimpse of that success.

So yeah, chicks dig squeeze (this chick certainly does) and maybe you should, too.

Perhaps we put too much weight on how popularity affects the “coolness” of something — a prevalent WKNC conversation — but I beg that something is popular for a reason…

You can call Squeeze whatever you want — New Wave, Pop, Airheaded-Teenie-Bopper-Love-Songs — whatever you want, but if the music sounds good and the band is respected by contemporaries, maybe we should respect it, too.

– Bodhi

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Band/Artist Profile

Before There Was Bar Italia, There Was Double Virgo

Bar Italia began by accident. The members were all living in one building in Peckham, England in 2019. Jezmi Tarik Fehmi and Sam Fenton lived downstairs in a single shared apartment, making music as Double Virgo. Meanwhile, Nina Cristante lived upstairs, teaching pilates. 

The name Double Virgo is self-referential, as Fehmi and Fenton share the same star sign. Their sound is rhythmic, emotive and dark. 

Bar Italia formed later on, first signing to Dean Blunt’s music label Word Music before recently switching over to Matador Records to release their new project “The Twits.”

I was lucky enough to see Bar Italia play at Motorco Music Hall last March. Fehmi, Fenton and Cristante seemed to revel in their mysterious presence. They came on stage thirty minutes past nine p.m., played for strictly 50 minutes without pause and then left abruptly with a briefly whispered thank you to the crowd, only stopping to pass the set list off to a person standing near the front of the stage.

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Band/Artist Profile

Jenny Mae Lefell’s Life and Legacy

Only a day ago, a friend texted me, “Have you ever listened to Jenny Mae?” 

I hadn’t. He sent me the link to her album “What’s Wrong With Me?” via youtube, and I listened to the whole thing through, once, twice and then a third time.

It was strange, soft, sweet and deeply Ohio-ian, somewhat like a mix between the artists Broadcast and Kimya Dawson and Vashti Bunyan. Each of the songs felt deeply personal, deeply intimate, as if you were sitting on the bedroom floor of a close childhood pal listening to them play for you. 

Jenny Mae’s “What’s Wrong With Me?”

The compilation album of Jenny Mae’s works called “What’s Wrong With Me?”

I needed to know more, and there was not much information to work with. What information I did find, however, painted a portrait of a deeply troubled and deeply fascinating artist that deserves far more recognition than she received during her lifetime.

Jenny Mae, born Jenny Mae Leffel, was raised in a five sibling household in South Vienna, Ohio. She was the life of the party, the ringleader, a popular tomboy who won awards for her trumpet playing at a young age. 

Her high school boyfriend and long-time advocate, Bela Koe-Krompecher, recalls Leffel’s magnetic laugh and that she won the yearbook accolade of Funniest Girl. When it was time for the two to go to college, he followed her to Ohio State. 

The two immediately immersed themselves in the music scene, becoming regulars at local bars and house shows, and Leffel playing in the OSU marching band.

Leffel soon began performing with her band Vibralux, thrifting three or four dollar gowns to wear up on stage, with her early performances being described as “gauzy and delicate.” Her major influences included artists such as the Beach Boys and the Beatles. 

In a time where the Ohio musical landscape was loud and brash, Leffel’s music was dark, understated, and airy. Even though Vibralux broke up in 1993, Leffel continued to work on her own, notably releasing a single with the acclaimed band “Guided by Voices.” 

Leffel’s song with “Guided by Voices,”

From then, Leffel made the decision to suspend her education and work on her solo career. Koe-Krompecher and Leffel had broken up, but he still helped her produce her first album called “There’s a Bar Around the Corner… Assh–s.”

It was a local critical success, marking an important achievement for Lefell. However, it was here that her troubles with addiction truly began. 

She was a burgeoning alcoholic, getting drunk privately and in public. “I have a bad drinking problem,” Lefell said, even recognizing the issue. “I was drunk when we recorded, drunk when I did the credits, and drunk right now.”

Despite this, she continued to record, releasing her sophomore album “Don’t Wait Up For Me,” to recognition from magazines such as Spin. She did a small tour with artists Cat Power and Neko Case.

However, afterwards, Lefell continued to drink and began dabbling with cocaine. Her relationships with men became more erratic and family and friends reported signs of her decreasing mental health. She would hallucinate and experience troubling panic attacks.

By 2005 she was unhoused, living in Ohio and sleeping outside the OSU music building so that she could play the piano at night. 

In a moving article, Koe-Krompecher details trying his best to look after her during this time, visiting her frequently while also caring for his young family. He attempted to place her in temporary housing only for her to continuously get kicked out. In his own career path, he had become a social worker.

“The system just failed her,” Koe-Krompecher said. “I did a lot of stuff from my end…trying to get her in the right place…But she never really realized she was homeless.”

Lefell’s health and addiction only kept getting worse. In 2017, she died of liver failure. According to Koe-Krompecher, she was still cracking jokes up until the moment she died, retaining her vivacious laughter.

Reading through all this, I was shocked that such a captivating life had faded to such obscurity. Koe-Krompecher remains Lefell’s greatest champion, publishing a book about their relationship and Ohio in the 90s called “Love, Death, and Photosynthesis.”

Exploring her discography, the music of Jenny Mae Lefell remains pop perfection to this day. Her songs are indeed gauzy and delicate, but also dark, tinged with sweetness and a brutal honesty.

She does not shy away from reflecting on her mental state. On “Ho B—,” she sings, “Why am I so moody / Oh no / How did I get unhappy.” 

These lyrics are not phrased as questions, but flat statements. She doesn’t know, but she’s not asking. It’s just the truth. 

Her deep sorrow is cushioned with a catchy, classic pop chorus of “La la la la,” which almost works to offset the whole thing with an air of carefree acceptance.

This song, I think, captures how Koe-Krompecher remembers Lefell’s personality, her larger-than-life disposition juxtaposed with the crippling struggle within her own mind.

Reading about Lefell, one story that struck me came from her early childhood. She convinced her younger sister to climb to the very top of a tall pine tree, toting burlap sacks fit with pillows that they would supposedly float down in.

Unlike Winnie the Pooh, however, who accomplished a similar trick with a red balloon, Lefell and her sister crashed into the dirt. Fortunately, neither of them were hurt. 

Lefell’s career is the pine tree: she reached as high as she possibly could, nearing the top, before falling to the cold, hard ground. 

Even so, her music is as euphoric and full of whimsy as arriving at a great height, akin to the rush one gets from the peak of a ferris wheel or scurrying up an oak as a kid, knees skinned from the bark and twigs. Listening to Lefell’s voice is like capturing a bit of that magic for yourself, a magic that will live on forever.

Top Tracks:

  1. “Junk”
  2. “Spit on Your Hand”
  3. “Ho B—”
  4. “Green Jello Eyes”
  5. “Disco Song”
Categories
Band/Artist Profile Miscellaneous

The Story Behind “Everybody’s Talkin’”

One of my favorite movies of all time is “Midnight Cowboy.” It’s not a comforting movie, but it’s one of my comfort movies.

The story follows an unlikely friendship between a wannabe male prostitute with a dark past from Texas, played by Jon Voight, and sickly hustler with a limp, played by Dustin Hofman. The movie was highly controversial at the time, as it has deep and undeniable queer undertones, and it was given an X rating. Still, the movie took home a host of prizes, including three Academy Awards: one for best picture, one for best director, and one for best writing.

Throughout the entire movie one song persists, and that song is “Everybody’s Talkin’”. From the very first moment it plays, encompassing the entire universe of the film, the longing, the desire, the loneliness and aimlessness.

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Band/Artist Profile Concert Preview

Concert Preview: MIKE

Abstract hip-hop artist MIKE is set to play at Cat’s Cradle this upcoming Wednesday, May 22. This concert serves as one of the final shows for his “Somebody Fine Me Trouble” tour.

I’ve only been to one other hip-hop concert prior to this, that being Death Grips at The Ritz back in August of last year. Death Grips similarily being a well-respected band in the underground pushing the boundary of abstract hip-hop. I’m not here to talk about them though. Instead, I want to focus on a couple of the standout pieces of MIKE’s discography, and what I’ve been listening to from him lately.

“Burning Desire”

“Burning Desire” is the latest solo album from MIKE, releasing on October 13 of last year. This would be the project that would bring my attention to MIKE. I was immediately captivated by the sampling techniques that had been employed over his more deadpan rapping. This is not to say I don’t enjoy this style of delivery, I do, and I believe it pairs nicely with the dreamy and old-school production. My favorite track would probably be “plz don’t cut my wings” which holds a feature from the artist Earl Sweatshirt. Sweatshirt and MIKE often collaborate and share appearances on one another’s projects, both sharing a similar approach to their work. Overall, I’d say that this album serves as a great introduction point to the rest of MIKE’s work. It’s very definitive and is almost an amalgamation of his output up to that point in his career.

“Beware of the Monkey”

“Beware of the Monkey” is the most recent mixtape from MIKE released on December 21, 2022. I’d describe this mixtape as a beam of hope in the wallows of despair. A large amount of MIKE’s work centers around themes of depression, isolation, and self-hatred. “Beware of the Monkey” sees him in a more optimistic and hopeful spirit, which is always nice to see after listening to some of his more early works. When taking a look at the production, you can see MIKE taking a more of hypnotic approach that he would build upon in the aformentioned “Burning Desire”. My favorite track off of the mixtape would have to be the opener, “nuthin i can do is wrng”.

“May God Bless Your Hustle”

“May God Bless Your Hustle” is one of MIKE’s earlier works that would grant him some traction in the underground. Being released on June 21, 2017, the album reflects a lot of the gloomier sentiments common during that respective era of hip-hop. It’s an extremely relaxing yet emotionally crushing record that I can heavily sympathize with at parts. Out of all of MIKE’s projects, this would be my personal favorite, with my top track being “Pigeonfeet”.

Final Thoughts

Going solely off of the music that I tend to keep on rotation from MIKE, I want to expect this show to be a personal one. It’s a type of sound that he brings forth that can really connect you to others through just the music. I’m absolutely sure that this will be one of my most unique concert experiences and I’m very much ready for it.

Categories
Band/Artist Profile Classic Album Review

Bladee’s “Cold Visions”: A Portrait of The Artist

For years now, my obsession with Bladee has been a not-so-secret not-so-guilty pleasure. It’s one of the gaps in my music taste where most people go, really? You listen to that? 

Honestly and non-ironically, I find Benjamin Reichwald, known by the moniker Bladee, to be a fascinating, ever-changing artist who has created an intentional, deep mythos around himself and his work.

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Band/Artist Profile

Warren Zevon and the World of Undesirables

It’s no secret that there are some hard facts no one likes to think about. One of those facts is the truth of the world, that there is violence which persists daily, people who go without, people who suffer and are turned away by society. This is a fact which many people choose to ignore from the safe bubbles of neighborhoods or college campuses.

Yet, this fact permeates. It’s hard to truly ignore, it’s always there. In the news, on the street corners, in the lived experiences which we try to push down and move past, injustices people have overcome, injustices people still face. 

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Band/Artist Profile Concert Preview

Queer Gothic Bluegrass Coming to The Pinhook This April

The goth-to-country pipeline is real, and the Laurel Hells Ramblers keep it well-fed with their signature “gothic bluegrass.”

This band’s distinct sound comes from the combined efforts of Clover-Lynn, a banjo player from Southwest Virginia, and Jade Louise, a fiddler who cut her teeth performing in the punk and metal scenes before returning to her Carolinian roots.

The Laurel Hell’s Ramblers are coming to Durham April 25th and performing at The Pinhook, one of the city’s most iconic venues.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Ramblers, here’s what you need to know:

Sounds from the Mountains

Laurel Hells Ramblers produces music imbued with a rich folk tradition and strong queer narrative, integrating classic bluegrass stylistics with stories of the experience of being a trans woman in Appalachia.

According to the band’s Spotify testimony, they “seek to show the world and Appalachia that not only are there queer people from the region, but that they are an active part of the culture.”

Cover for “Cripple Creek” by Laurel Hells Ramblers

The resurgence of folk music’s popularity in queer and alternative spaces is far from news. Folk is a rich and bustling genre that has influenced alternative music since the beginning.

Folk punk, a fusion genre of folk and punk rock, started as far back as the 1980s. “Gothic bluegrass” is only another iteration of folk’s impact on the alternative scene and a growing awareness of the staunch gothic energy of Appalachia (see: Y’allternative).

Discography

The Laurel Hells Ramblers released their debut single, “Cripple Creek,” January 1, 2023. The track is a solid minute of rustic instrumental featuring Clover-Lynn’s banjo and Jade Louise’s ebullient fiddle.

The band put out two more singles later that year, with “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” coming out June 25 and “Raleigh and Spencer” August 10. Both tracks are covers of classic bluegrass songs, with sprawling rhythms and smoke-tinged lyrics.

Cover for “Raleigh and Spencer” by Laurel Hells Ramblers

March 15, 2024, the band released “County Traditions,” a live LP recorded with Local Exposure Magazine. A shockingly vivid and borderline orchestral album, “County Traditions” is an excellent display of the band’s musical expertise.

Louise’s fiddle is absolutely heartwrenching as it flutters throughout each track, emerging and disappearing into a honey-smooth instrumental tapestry.

Final Thoughts

The Ramblers’ Pinhook performance starts at 8 p.m., with an opening act by Three Top Serenaders.

If their live LP — and the small, intimate atmosphere of the Pinhook — is anything to go by, this show will be mindmelting.

Categories
Band/Artist Profile Classic Album Review

If You Don’t Like Snakes, This Band Doesn’t Like You

Awesome Snakes was the tongue-in-cheek side project of Annie Holoien and Danny Henry of The Soviettes, a Minneapolis pop-punk outfit from the early 2000s.

Described by Holoien as a “f–k-around band,” the group’s iconic sound landed them not just critical reception, but a feature in the 2009 game Skate 2.

“[We] just needed to be a little more free and loose than the Soviettes could be,” Henry said in a 2006 interview with Silver Magazine. “So, we started Awesome Snakes, the idea being that we’d make a sort of jokey-mixed tape only we’d find funny. But we’d have total control.”

Photo by john crozier on Unsplash

The band’s first release, “Awesome Snakes,” came out through the cassette-only label Home Taping Is Killing the Record Industry in 2004. Two years later, the band put out “Venom,” their first and only LP, with Crustacean Records.

Despite the release’s highly focused subject matter, (centering pretty exclusively on “snakes” and/or “things that are awesome”) it was listed in the A.V. Club’s Minneapolis edition of “Best Music of 2006.”

In 2021, the band put out an expanded edition of “Venom” through Stand Up! Records as well as several vinyl pressings.

“At first, we approached them but they said they did only spoken word comedy,” Henry said. “But after seeing our show, they wanted to make a deal.”

“Venom”

Though certainly an accidental success, “Venom” is an objectively good album. Its pop-adjacent, lo-fi take on punk rock is interpersed with improv-like lyrics and incongruous soundbytes from random cassettes, giving it an uncanny multi-dimensionality that calls to mind the romantic eccentricity of 2000s indie films.

“It’s not a conscious way of entertainment,” said Henry. “We just do what we think is funny and good and if other people like it, great.”

Photo by Jan Kopřiva on Unsplash

Perhaps it’s this instinctual quality that makes “Venom” such a great release. The album feels like an expertly-executed comedic bit from the punkishly fab cover art to the discography itself, which features song titles like “I Want a Snake,” “Snakes Vs. Jerks,” “1950s UFO Vs. Snakes,” “The Future of the Snake Industry” and several others.

It’s clear from the album’s first track that Holoien and Henry are having an absolute blast.

It’s authentically fun and unintentionally genius. The cheery ebullience of Holoien’s vocals — at times reminiscent of 80s pop — contrast with Henry’s improvisationally unhinged and borderline inebriated spoken word. The lack of diegetic context — the question of why snakes? is never answered — only compounds the album’s bizarro humor.

Final Thoughts

Awesome Snakes is a great band for people who don’t take themselves too seriously.

Their work reminds me of the egg punk genre, though their sound is considerably less distorted or DEVO-esque. The staunch DIY quality of “Venom” is a refreshing return to what makes punk fun: f–ing around until something feels good, and chasing that feeling as far as it will go.

My personal favorite track, “I Want a Snake,” (featured in Skate 2) will live in my brain for years.