You should be following the Tunes You Should Fucking Know on Spotify.
It will change your life.
- Leverage Models – Leverage Models and an interview with lead singer and songwriter Shannon Fields
In only a few short years, veteran “alternative” comedian Marc Maron finally realized his lifelong dream of becoming the respected, honest comedian he always thought he was. But this transformation didn’t take place on stage, as he probably always expected. Instead, it blossomed from his DIY podcast, WTF, and an embracing of the new format’s capabilities; he, finally, gave up being so angry and just started saying out loud what his heart had been screaming all along. Now, he’s a legend.
And he’s all I kept thinking about as I talked with Shannon Fields, the man behind Leverage Models, after their ridiculously fun set at Lamont Street Collective the other weekend.
I was only familiar with Shannon because of the fairly new Leverage Models, but all research I did on the guy pointed out that he was known for his involvement with a group called Stars Like Fleas, which he describes as “very out, very abstract” and “full of a lot of confrontational stuff,” something I found really surprising considering Leverage Models sounds nothing like that; their music is enthusiastic, seductive, and direct.
But I think, for Shannon, that’s the point.
“A lot of my friends live in a world that is a little more about music that’s willfully difficult and serious, and they thought I jumped the shark with Leverage Models, and tried to make this pandering pop music,” he explains to me. “But I take Leverage Models very seriously. I don’t have an ironic bone in my body. I’m serious as a heart attack.”
Considering the sweaty, disheveled state the chaotic hour-long set he just burned through left him in, I don’t doubt it.
It’s what makes the album opener “Cooperative Extensions” so intoxicating, but it’s also what makes lines like ‘Love can be a baseball bat’ from “Night Falls on the General Assembly” smack with blunt precision. And that kind of seriousness melds into sincerity.
“After 10 years of making this music that kept audiences at arms’ length, it was both incredibly hard and incredibly easy to shed all that and come out with this. I needed that as a human being,” he confesses, which explains the more emotive, personal moments on the album like the homaging “Out in the Open” or the album-closing “A Slow Marriage.”
And while there are times Shannon is a bit too indulgent with his new baby — he rattles off relatively esoteric influences like Gary Newman, ABC, OMD, and Roxy Music while dismissing any Talking Heads comparisons — it’s endearing to hear him admit, “I wasn’t going to play this stuff for everyone. I had just moved out of New York and I had to make something for me. I was in a lot of bands full of people talking endlessly, and you had to justify what you did on political and critical levels before you did anything, and I was like ‘Ahh! I just need to make something and not think about it!’ so I started to just play.”
And when I ask him what’s next for Leveraged Models, he quickly replies, “I want to be able to put the right band on the road, because it’s just really fun to tour, and I am in love with making this music.”
Spoken like a man who is, finally, starting to realize who he is and what he wants out of life.
- tUnE-yArDs – “Water Fountain”
Merrill Garbus is one of the most courageously awesome women I have ever had the chance of seeing in person. Years ago, when I saw her at Black Cat, she started her set by marching alone to the front of the stage, peapocked in facepaint, and without any sort of flamboyance, she belted a deep but beautiful note that she kept sustained until we, as a crowd, under her direction, joined her in the monotone chant. From that moment on, we were hers for the next hour. It was magical.
And while the album that followed, w h o k i l l, had its ups and downs, it was a sign that Merrill was beginning to focus her wide creative spirit into something a bit more accessible (well, as accessible as a tUnE-yArDs album is going to be). Songs like “Bizness,” “My Country,” and “Gangsta” are one-of-a-kind sonic powerhouses, but they’re all still unfathomably catchy.
Then, however, somehow, tUnE-yArDs became synonymous with…something.
I’m not sure what exactly, but Chuck Klosterman had something to do with it. A sort of musical stigma that didn’t necessarily translate to any direct meaning or connotation but one that was sensed just the same.
By everyone but Merrill, apparently.
After the album was released and done being promoted, she took a trip to Haiti to get into “in a non-western musical tradition” after studying drumming with Haitian-born Daniel Brevil in Oakland, California, and she took a 4-day course in “intensive folkloric and contemporary dance” at the Ecole Nationale des Arts in Port-au-Prince. She wrote about her experiences in a really eloquent piece for The Talkhouse that I highly recommend.
Now she’s on the verge of releasing a very eagerly-awaited album called Nikki Nack on May 6th.
“Water Fountain” is the first single off that album, and though I have to admit it’s taken me more than a few listens to “get it”, it’s apparent from first play that she is not only fine with who she is and where she’s at, she’s more comfortable than ever being Merrill (for all the good and bad that comes with that). This isn’t the same girl that wailed “My man likes me from behind/Tell the truth I never mind” in “Powa” off w h o k i l l.
The woman singing this song belts out “WOO-HA! Got you!/We gonna get the water from your house!’
This song is not a pretty listen, though, and it was never meant to be, it’s more of a sonic experience. But when this is the first release from an album, the big question is what this abstract track is like in the context of the album, because that’s going to make all the difference in the world when it comes to how it, and ultimately Merrill, will be judged.
It was Chuck Klosterman himself that, a bit slightledly, wrote, “It’s possible that she’s an authentic genius, and that w h o k i l l will mark the ‘breakthrough’ beginning of a major career punctuated by intermittent moments of meaningful innovation,” and it looks like six weeks from now, we’ll know if Garbus is the authentic genius many of us think she might be or if Chuck is going to rub this one in all our painted faces.
I wrote a lot about Leveraged Models and Tune-Yards, so you deserve a break. Instead of reading a bunch of fancy words, here are songs which I think you all might like:
- PAWS – “Tongues”
Props to Newdust for turning me onto this fuzzy, gang-vocaled mess of a celebration of a song.
- The Night VI – “Sienna”
An interesting R&B sort of? group that, like many who have come before, gained original traction with a cover of Frank Ocean’s “Thinking About You.” Fun fact: if somehow Beyonce had come out with this exact same song, it would be a number one hit right now.
And now, it’s time for a very special edition of…
THE GUEST WRITER YOU SHOULD FUCKING KNOW: Natan Press Edition
Editor’s Note: Natan is the Washington DC Associate Editor of The Deli, a website that does a much better job than I do of promoting the DC music scene. He likes music of all kinds, but mostly just the Inspector Gadget theme.
- Myracle Brah
The weather’s been teasing us with sunshine and green patches, but everything is still covered in bleak gray-white nothing. You’ve been cooped up in your apartment, you’re angry, lonely, and you don’t want to go to the show tonight ‘cause snow.’
But you miss music; you want something that will make your insides feel brighter — something that might even make you get off the couch and dance a little.
Listen to Myracle Brah.
The longtime primary song vehicle for Baltimore’s Andy Bopp, Myracle Brah’s entire catalog has recently been re-released. I’m very excited about this, as you should be, because it means springtime for our souls. If The Replacements covered “Here Comes the Sun” with Alex Chilton on vocals, you’d have something almost exactly like Myracle Brah.
Myracle Brah’s first album, Life on Planet Eartsnop, gained incredible critical attention, and it deserved all of it and more.
Recorded on an 8-track in Andy’s bedroom, having the “low-fi” charm that was prized in the 90s, it’s surprisingly bright and varied in both sound and song. Ridiculously catchy from start to finish, it’s like a mixtape of all your favorite 90’s indie-rock singles. If this was a one-off album, Andy would have created the kind of deep-cut gem record-nerds drool over (and they do), but each subsequent album was just as exciting and solid. If you go to a performance of one of Andy’s (many bands these days, probably at a bar or an art space, you’ll run into folks who’ll ask “Is this the Andy Bopp from Myracle Brah? What’s he doing playing here?”
Answering this question opens a window to a wintry part of my mind.
Sometime around 1994, the Major Labels (quickly merging together and swallowing up all the “DIY” labels like a Snowmageddon) figured that relatively adventurous music with electric guitars had to be very angry and/or sad. While the labels were focused on darker sounds, there were attempts to release other, brighter, more tuneful bands emerging from the 80’s underground; bands like The Posies, Jellyfish, The Lemonheads and Sugar (fronted by DC-favorite, Bob Mould).
Collectively, this other alternative was sometimes known as “power-pop,” the catchy, hook-laden twin brother of indie-rock.
These bands could play guitars and drums every bit as aggressively as their less hopeful compatriots, but instead of making you scream and smash things in catharsis, they made you bounce and hum and smile. They could have clever arrangements, do interesting things in the studio, and still feel familiar. They openly owed a significant debt to The Beatles and Big Star. They were easy to like, hard to let go of, and were bought, popping up occasionally through the dismal landscape like crocuses in the snow, only to be quickly forgotten by the Majors. This happened twice to Andy Bopp: once with his first band Love Nut (whose first album, released by Interscope Records, is still in a deep freeze in some Santa Monica warehouse), and then again with Myracle Brah.
Thanks to the internet, there’s a springtime of change in the industry.
Dren Records (owned by Niall Hood of Baltimore’s Sixty Acres) has shoveled away soggy piles of music-industry malfunction, and you can get the entire Myracle Brah back catalog (with extra tracks) on iTunes or Spotify. Later this year, Andy will release a new Myracle Brah EP (The Peach EP) with five new songs, to be followed quickly by The Peach album (with 20 songs!!!). All of this on top of I-don’t-know-how-many projects. There’ll be a new Modern Ruins album, a Bleaker Street Cowboys album (along with 2 EPs), and a solo rockabilly EP recorded on his iPhone (for realz, and it sounds good: check out the video for “Sleepwalk“).
So much sun. Stay warm. You’re welcome.