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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.

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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.

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Band/Artist Profile Concert Review

The Mystery of Authenticity and The Pale White

Yeah, the guitarist and the drummer are brothers. Once I realized this small, yet crucial fact after a quick wikipedia search, their entire performance made sense. 

The Pale White are a three-piece rock band from the United Kingdom. I saw them play as the opening act for the Pixies at the Olympia Theater in Dublin, which I was lucky enough to visit with my mom on her birthday trip. We bought the tickets last minute the day before the show, as we had previously thought it wouldn’t even be worth trying to attain them. The Pixies were playing a three show stint and the first two nights sold out instantly. We were thrilled to get seats in a stroke of fortune and went in blind about the opener. I had never heard about The Pale White. 

We went early to the venue, and it wasn’t quite full yet. Our seats were up on the balcony. The Olympia Theater is beautiful, with French-style plaster flourishes in white on the maroon walls, chandelier, and a large red, velvet curtain half-hoisted behind the stage. 

In a chaotic burst, the drummer came first onto the stage to hype up the audience. His presence was instantly frenzied as he raised his arms for applause and cheers. I think the entire audience instantly got the sense that this guy was wildly intense about his craft and meant serious business. Then, in succession, emerged the lead singer and guitarist, as well as the bassist. 

Instantly, my mom leaned over and whispered, “Who’s band do you think this is?” 

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Band/Artist Profile Concert Preview

Unwound Returns to Cat’s Cradle After Over Two Decades

After over 20 years of stasis, post-hardcore band Unwound is back from the dead with a 2024 tour.

The band will touch down in Carrboro, North Carolina March 22 at the legendary Cat’s Cradle alongside noise rock band Cherubs.

Unwound went on indefinite hiatus after their 2001 release “Leaves Turn Inside You,” the “Unwound album that ended all Unwound albums.”

Cover for “Leaves Turn Inside You” by Unwound

The band announced their reunion in 2022 following the 2020 death of bassist Vern Rumsey. Jared Warren of Melvins, Karp and Big Business stepped in to take over Rumsey’s role.

In February 2023, the band played their first show in over two decades at Seattle’s Showbox.

In November of the same year, they announced a 2024 tour featuring five cities on the east coast.

The tour kicks off March 20 in Atlanta before stopping in Knoxville for the city’s annual Big Ears Festival March 21. Unwound will perform in Carrboro March 22 before moving on to D.C. and Jersey City.

Rewound

“When we put Unwound on the shelf in 2002, we never thought we’d return to the project,” said drummer Sara Lund in a 2022 press release.

Following the announcement of Unwound’s 2023 reunion tour, demand for ticket sales was so high that the band added 10 additional dates.

“Starting over again is a rebellious act against our failure,” said founder Justin Trosper.

Cover for “You Bite My Tongue” by Unwound

Unwound emerged as a stylistic diversion from the band’s original project, Giant Henry, formed in 1988 while the members were still in high school.

“The first era of Giant Henry was sillier — making fun of grunge music, but we actually sounded grungy,” said Trosper in an interview with Tobi Vail. Unwound, Trosper explained, drew inspiration from Melvins, Black Flag, Nirvana and Flipper.

For those unfamiliar with Unwound’s sound, it’s best described as the impact point between smoky atmosphere and punk angst. The virile edge of Black Flag meets the cigarette-tinged vapor of Nirvana.

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Band/Artist Profile Concert Preview

All-Female Japanese Punk Band Coming to Cat’s Cradle

Named after an Osaka love hotel, Otoboke Beaver is an exuberant four-piece punk band from Kyoto, Japan.

The band kicked off their 2024 North American tour back in February, and will perform at Carrboro’s legendary Cat’s Cradle March 26.

If you’re not familiar with Otoboke Beaver (a crime, honestly), there’s still time. This totally rocking band will make for an unforgettable concert experience.

Wild Garage Rock

Self-described as a “Japanese girls ‘knock out or pound cake’ band,” Otoboke Beaver formed in 2009 after the members met at a college music society.

They released their first demo album in 2011 and a live album in 2012, both of which gained traction among Japanese audiences.

Otoboke Beaver began touring internationally in 2016, and have since garnered critical acclaim from numerous sources, including Dave Grohl, Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano, Tom Moreno, and numerous others.

Cover for “SUPER CHAMPON ス​ー​パ​ー​チ​ャ​ン​ポ​ン” by Otoboke Beaver

Otoboke Beaver’s garage punk style regularly flirts with madness. However, amid discordant arrangements of guitar and vocals, there’s a perceptible grand design.

Spontaneity is controlled and masterfully cultivated to create a pervading sense of unity among the band’s members.

The band’s description of “knock out or pound cake” is surprisingly apt; their sound constantly alternates between vicious, unbridled energy and idyllic ebullience.

Cover for “Love Is Short” by Otoboke Beaver

Subject matter comes directly from the band members themselves, drawing from romantic misadventures, grievances with chauvinism, sexual desire and the monotony of the daily grind.

I have no time to spend for you
seeking for a one-night stand, old fart has come
abso-f–king-lutely you’re out of question
so full-of-yourself old dirty fart

shut up
shut up
shut up and Don’t look down on me!

“Dirty old fart is waiting for my reaction” – Otoboke Beaver
Cover for “‘yobantoite mojo​’​/​’don’t call me MOJO'” by Otoboke Beaver

While the band doesn’t consider themselves to be distinctly feminist, a group of Japanese women loudly and irreverently declaring their desires in a white and male-dominated genre is nothing short of groundbreaking.

Otoboke Beaver’s latest album, “Super Champon,” came out in 2022, and all I have to say is this: if the band’s setlist draws at all from this release, audiences are in for a riotous time.

Song Highlights

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Band/Artist Profile Classic Album Review

High-Functioning Flesh: The Industrial Duo You Didn’t Know You Needed

Darkness meets drum machine with Los Angeles electro-punk duo High-Functioning Flesh.

With a sound somewhere between DEVO, Molchat Doma and Portion Control, High-Functioning Flesh is an industrial hall essential.

Much like the word “flesh,” the band’s music is carnal, tactile and vivid.

And as per usual, I found them entirely by accident.

Expanses of “The Flesh”

Often abbreviated to HFF, the band emerged in Los Angeles after Susan Subtract and Gregory Vand attended a Youth Code show.

The band’s debut album, “A Unity of Miseries – A Misery of Unities” came out on DKA Records in 2014. The album struck a chord in the industry with its evocative style inspired by sci-fi, body horror and archetypal punk angst

According to the band, their work “seeks to revive us all from our spectacle-induced coma,” presenting a sobering sound to rend the veil of capitalist monotony.

Cover for “A Unity of Miseries – A Misery of Unities” by High-Functioning Flesh

HFF cites Cabaret Voltaire and Portion Control as major stylistic influences, though the duo certainly brings their own qualities to the craft through elaborate instrumentation and production effects.

“A Unity of Miseries – A Misery of Unities” is a dynamic album, highly tactile and hypnotically raucous through its sprawls of synth, drum and fried vocals. Its industrial quality is heavy-handed and walloping like metal slamming against metal.

HFF’s sophomore album, “Definite Structures,” came out in May 2016 through Dais Records. The album reflects the progression of the band’s electro-industrial style, leaning into further experimentation with sound layering and auditory effects. The album is a kaleidoscope, evoking the brutalist edge of Skinny Puppy.

Cover for “Definite Structures” by High-Functioning Flesh

Following this release, the band dropped the single “Human Remains” through the same label. The single features two tracks, “Human Remains” and “Heightened State.”

For this release, the band turned to mellower vocals with less distortion, leaning back into the style explored with their first album.

HFF’s most recent release, “Culture Cut,” came out in 2017. A blind comparison of “Culture Cut” against “Human Remains” would almost suggest the existence of two bands.

Cover for “Culture Cut” by High-Functioning Flesh

“Culture Cut” clearly draws more from the same inspirations as “Definite Structures.”

According to Dais Records, each new release highlights the band’s evoltion “from a handful of lo-fi flashback demos to aggressively realized synth-punk dance floor anthems.”

And Dais Records is wholly correct. The music of High-Functioning Flesh belongs on the dancefloor for leather and PVC-clad youths to gyrate to.

Song Highlights

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Band/Artist Profile Classic Album Review

Artist Spotlight: Zulu

I love heavy music. And as someone who is far from a genre purist, I love heavy music that experiments with the “hardcore” label. Music that challenges what hardcore can be is extremely special to me.

I’ve talked about bands that subvert the archetype of “hardcore” before. In November of 2023, I covered Agabas, a band that blends the chaos of metal with jazz.

This week, I’m covering a band that not only fuses genres, but is doing groundbreaking work to elevate the Black community in the hardcore scene.

The Future of Hardcore

Zulu is a black-fronted hardcore punk band from Los Angeles. Formed by multi-instrumentalist Anaiah Lei, the band takes a leaf out of the powerviolence playbook, presenting a raw and aggressive distillation of hardcore punk.

What makes Zulu different from other hardcore acts, however, are the samples of funk, soul, reggae and spoken word woven into their music.

Cover for “Our Day Will Come” by Zulu

For example, the track “For Sista Humphrey” features a heavy guitar-drum duo and guttural vocals before abruptly transitioning into a soft soul melody. In “52 Fatal Strikes,” rage gives way to serenity as a brief classical instrumental jumps in.

While the contrast sounds jarring, it works.

By injecting black-pioneered genres into their music, Zulu imbues their sound with a distinct and unwavering identity. This is especially important when one considers that Zulu’s lyricism is all about elevating Blackness and empowering Black individuals.

You see tension, aggression

Only anger

I see peace

Community

Black joy is divinity

“Our Day is Now” – Zulu

However, as Lei said in an interview with Kerrang! in 2022, the band’s connection to Black culture shouldn’t stand as their only defining feature.

“…when it comes to bringing in a band where all of us are Black, that is an important thing but also people make it a lot bigger than it is,” Lei said. “I guess only because it’s not the norm, and that is what’s the issue. It should be very normal.”

Zulu’s central aim, according to Lei, is to experiment freely within the scene and create a space for others to do the same.

“The one thing I wanted to do with this project was be myself entirely,” Lei said.

Discography

Zulu released their first EP, “Our Day Will Come,” in 2019. The following year, they released “My People…Hold On.”

Both EPs feature a melange of rigorous hardcore interspersed with samples from speeches, spoken word, rap, soul music and other historically Black genres.

Zulu’s first full-length album, “A New Tomorrow,” came out in 2023. The album features several singles the band released in 2022 and early 2023.

Cover for “My People…Hold On” by Zulu

The album’s opening track, “Africa,” features a bright classical arrangement before the proceeding track, “For Sista Humphrey,” fades in with a hellish guitar and vocals. A similar pattern continues throughout the album, with hardcore tracks contrasted with peaceful, slow-moving melodies.

Thematically, this poses an interesting narrative. As the band’s lyricism suggests, this contrast illustrates the dual narratives surrounding Blackness: the imposition of an aggressive, violent nature versus the reality of peace, community and creativity.

I’m looking forward to seeing the direction of Zulu’s future projects and seeing them live, since I missed their last live show.

Recommended Tracks

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Band/Artist Profile Classic Album Review

5 Amazing Goth Bands with BIack Representation

The goth scene has a diversity problem. Most alternative music scenes, if I’m being honest, have a diversity problem.

While the contemporary state of the alternative scene is certainly facilitating some much-needed change, it’s important to recognize that people of color — specifically, black people — have always been part of the scene, and always will.

Here are five awesome goth bands that feature black musicians, proving that despite popular assumption, goth isn’t white.

Scary Black

A beloved artist of mine and one who I’ve spun on-air several times before, Scary Black is orchestrated by the brilliant mind of Albie Mason, a purveyor of “introverted darkwave.”

Based in Louisville, Kentucky, Scary Black redefines the term “southern gothic.”

Cover for “Live at Fascination Street” by Scary Black

With corpse-cold melodies, vampiric lyrics and a cultivated air of foreboding, each track is goosebump-inducing in the best way.

Scary Black’s debut album, “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” features some of my favorite songs, such as “I Will Crawl Inside Your Heart and Die.”

The Ire

If you like music with screamier vocals, The Ire may be for you.

Based in Philadelphia, The Ire draws inspiration from 80’s post-punk and infuses the style with deathrock dramaticism.

Cover for “Bacchic Dance” by The Ire

Their first demo album, “Demo,” came out in 2019. From then on, their command of style only refined itself, leading to their most recent album, “Bacchic Dance,” which came out Feb 2, 2024.

Light Asylum

I remember dancing to “Dark Allies” at the Wicked Witch back in 2023. The energy was electrifying, the air gauzy with fluttering shawls and swaying arms and swooshing leather.

Light Asylum is the Brooklyn-based solo project of Shannon Funchess, founded first as a duo in 2007 until keyboardist Bruno Coviello left in 2012.

Cover for “Light Asylum” by Light Asylum

Light Asylum’s music is powerful and inspired, with Funchess’s vocals fueling the project’s international appeal. With an 80’s-inspired sound, Light Asylum’s influences extend from Depeche Mode to the industrial clang of Nine Inch Nails.

She Wants Revenge

At this point, I’d be hard-pressed to find someone in the alternative scene who hasn’t heard of She Wants Revenge.

Their iconic “Tear You Apart” defined my adolescence.

Based in San Fernando Valley, California, She Wants Revenge presents a stilted and charmingly blunt take on post-punk and darkwave.

Cover for “She Wants Revenge” by She Wants Revenge

Consisting of Justin Warfield and Adam Bravin, the band emerged in 2006 after being scouted by none other than Fred Durst, every twenty-something-year-old teenage girl’s favorite man.

And the rest is history.

Shadow Age

Putting the dark back in darkwave, Shadow Age’s music is cold and diffused through fog.

Based in Richmond, Virginia, Shadow Age released their first demo in 2013. Two years later their first EP, “Silaluk,” hit the airwaves.

The album has a beautifully esoteric sound and a distant, hazy vocal quality that conjures images of blanched, glacial landscapes.

Cover for “Silaluk” by Shadow Age

The band’s 2017 album “The Fall” is comparatively warmer, though still with a lo-fi distortion.

Their most recent release, the single “Ours,” takes the band’s sound in an interesting new direction with stronger electronic and indie influences.

Final Thoughts

People of color have always influenced the alternative music scene, and for much of musical history, their impact has been ignored.

Lending recognition to the numerous artists who continue to operate in the scene is integral to building a more inclusive and representative space.