Archive for October, 2020


Hawksley Workman’s Swag

There was a period where your favorite artists seemed unapproachable. Bands who manned their merch tables presented opportunity for interaction. The table is now digital, the shows are now virtual, and a response to your Tweet makes you feel noticed. A Retweet forms an instant bond between you and the recipient.

Artists need and deserve our support during this period. Hawksley Workman unveiled his latest record Less Rage More Tears and presented us with a chance to update our wardrobe. His Hawksley Night in Canada shows have been an excellent form of entertainment and an excuse to still use my calendar.

My package from the North arrived recently, and my genuine excitement to adorn my new T-shirt was palpable. Like the priceless animations during a Night in Canada with Workman, the T-shirt is just as quirky and awesome. Each letter is raised, in its own color, and appears super D.I.Y. The complements were a plenty, the questions came from a good place, and others must have confused it with something similar?

“My Mom has that same shirt” was spoken to me while sporting this treasure. I knew at some point I was going to selfie while wearing Workman’s latest fashion piece. This seemed like the ideal time to ping the Canadian virtuoso via Twitter and thank him for all he’s done:


Ela Minus’ Dominique…

Ela Minus appears to be a prophetic writer. Her latest record, acts of rebellion was written last year, when life looked radically different than it does today. On the surface of her 10 songs, with her talk of being alone, forgetting how to interact with others, and living off liquids, this appears to be a record composed during quarantine. She was preparing herself mentally for what 2020 was about to bring by composing this personal and head nodding album independently in her Brooklyn apartment utilizing only analogue equipment.

On “Dominique”, Ela opens her diary and creates a telling overview of her state of existence. The haunting and percolating beats bounce back and forth as we voyeuristically envision what Minus’ existence might have been during this quarantine. Her soft spoken singing voice shares, “I haven’t seen anyone in a couple of days/I am afraid I forgot how to talk to anyone else that’s not myself.” This personal and honest play-by-play sadly isn’t unique.

For many, this state of existence was a reality during the early stages of this pandemic. I hear a 1st person account like “Dominique” and realize as crazy and insanely stressful as my role as a father was, many aspects of my life remained stable. Those living alone, or meticulously composing a new record, suffered. We crave interaction with others, structure in our daily lives, and know coffee can’t be a viable, sustainable substitute for a significant other.


Live Music Is Not Canceled…

Life has been rescheduled for a TBD period. We have sadly learned to accept disappointment. That show you purchased tickets for pre-pandemic has been postponed. Most likely more than once. An event my wife and I hoped to experience is on its third new date.

Our local music showcase is intimate, it’s community focused, attracts talented artists, and strives “to bring the joy of music to life every day”. John Fullbright, Oklahoma’s Americana protege of greats like John Prine, Randy Newman, and Townes Van Zandt, has been a staple in our live music catalog. His folk meets country meets moving and emotionally charged songs are ideal for shared experiences. Our mutual calendar craves this type of event.

Having experiences like this are integral to happiness; if our days are the same over and over again, our existence becomes stale, we grow bored, depressed. Future events help to push through the muck when shit is awry.

Fullbright lets his powerful voice shine through on record and stage. His instrumentation is strategically sparse on Songs, his 2014 record relying heavily on piano and an acoustic. On “Happy”, the folkster wonders if it’s necessary to experience turmoil and loss to craft a memorable composition. Simply asking, “What’s so bad about happy?” An excellent question to ponder today. I need more uplifting art.

The penultimate track on Songs and an epic piece in length and power is “High Road”. A visual 3rd person account of young and innocent love. Until Fullbright foreshadows with, “Love comes as fast as it leaves/they think they they’ve built a foundation till life knocks them down with a breeze.” This strategically seven-minute melancholic narrative grips us from beginning, middle, and to its dark finale. Each faintly struck minor piano chord and slow and deliberate acoustic strum perfectly complement this sad yet life-affirming tale of Susie and Jack as Fullbright sings, “Living comes natural to many, love comes natural to few”. Your embrace with those close to you will extend longer than usual after being moved by this sweeping narrative.

I created a calendar event for October. Of 2021. The thought of a visual and engaging storyteller standing upon a stage to entertain my wife and I is almost unfathomable today. I’m yearning and planning for an excellent new beginning post pandemic. One full of excitement and live music will stand at the top of that priority pedestal. A rescheduled gig is not a canceled one. In the meantime…

Fullbright’s five song Daytrotter


Rage and Rebellion

It’s nearing the end of this shit storm year. Great and inventive artists are still contributing to 2020’s musical canon with full-length records. They’ve been whetting our appetite for months with teaser singles; stringing us effortlessly along their artistic journey. 10/23 has been on my radar for months. The Canadian treasure Hawksley Workman debuts his latest album Less Rage More Tears and Brooklyn’s rabble rouser Ela Minus influences us with her self-described “club punk” anthems on her debut full-length Acts of Rebellion.

Pulling back your new record for a later date due to a world-wide pandemic initially seemed smart. As time went on, there didn’t appear to be an end in sight. Artists with creative output knew they had something to share, musically unique work their audience could appreciate during these times. Both artists have written records for these times: one to contemplate how we respond to these trying times we are all experiencing, the other head noddingly addictive and empowering us to not accept the status quo.

Hawksley’s 17th record, Less Rage More Tears, a nine track album showcasing his ability to be diverse in his genres of choice while always exercising his formidable vocal range.

Ela Minus, the Brooklyn by way of Colombia beat maker lets us hear all 11 tracks off her Acts of Rebellion record. A let’s formidably resist against all injustice record that’s interspersed with soothing and restful electronic soundscapes.

Full-lengths still excite me. They give me a reason to slow down and decipher a theme and potential message for the listener. Release dates are calendar worthy. Something to count down the days until you can experience every track in their intended order. Music exists for so many reasons. Today I’m choosing to lose myself in 20 new tracks.


Folkin’ With Notorious…

Last night I sat down to a dinner alone on a patio in a small mountain town. It was peaceful, the sun was setting as the pink and purple sunlight majestically shone on the peaks of the mesa. Though my focus wasn’t on nature’s beauty, my attention was on the outdoor speakers and what was in queue. This small and modern restaurant creates impeccably delicious and visually stimulating dishes. In order for an all around excellent experience, the atmosphere must be as meticulously thought out as the tiniest ingredients that are placed into each unique plate.

The volume was set to promote conversation amongst outdoor diners, not too loud to drown out voices, yet not soft enough to consistently question what’s currently playing due to its near whisper-like volume. All songs were hip-hop instrumentals of tracks we know, not special renditions performed by a covers specialist; these were the b-sides to a hip-hop 12″ where it’s the original sans vocals.

I questioned the selection choice based on the clientele I’d safely assume a restaurant of this mark was striving for. Though every song intrigued me; Nas’ “The World Is Yours”; Naughty’s “O.P.P”. Some were to be expected; Dre’s “Forgot About Dre”; Eminem’s “Shake That” but others almost forced me out of my seat to interrupt the staff asking who curated this diverse hip-hop playlist.

In a town with a population under 3K, hearing a cut off Rawkus’ hard-hitting Soundbombing II record only enhanced this solo experience. Common and Sadat X’s “1-9-9-9” was a single upon release of this record but this quaint restaurant in the midst of Western Colorado is playing this right now for all their patrons. A confused feeling came over me, a feeling questioning the validity of this playlist. As I browsed through my Release Radar and heard Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo Money Mo Problems (Stripped Version)” a similar thought and feeling immediately hit me: who is the intended audience? An unnecessary update of sorts to the 1997 classic speaking truth: less is more.

Where the original samples, or definitely bites heavily for inspiration, Diana Summers’ “I’m Coming Out” to drive the ’97 gem, this 2020 Stripped Version‘s focal point is the chugging acoustic guitar you might hear at an open-mic night performed by your roommate. What? Why insert an overexcited unplugged folkster to propel B.I.G’s parable for the uninitiated?

“Mo Money Mo Problems” initially struck many because of its groove and beat. Strip that away and insert a guitar line and you’re insulting the original audience. A version perhaps constructed in Garage Band, or something an aspiring singer-songwriter pieced together in a late-night jam session they posted on Soundcloud. Is this release worthy? Does it belong in my Release Radar?

Props to the restaurant for taking out their vinyl collection and flipping over the 12″ to create an experience driven solely by the beat. Where if the restaurant’s playlist consisted of the A-side to these selections, jaws may drop, patrons might take offense at the lack of safe environment due to the lyrical content. On this Notorious re-imagination, lyrically, B.I.G. still represents, though what’s underneath these words of wisdom in this stripped version is nothing but a problem.


Viagra Boys’ Ain’t Nice…

All acts deserve a second chance. My current obsession are the Viagra Boys. Their “Sports” crossed my desk in ’18; a male-centric boast demonstrating how masculine one is by name checking sport balls; the absolute absurdity of the lyrics are only the beginning; Weiner dogs, short shorts, nakedness. Its brilliance didn’t compute initially, under the hilarity, is a definite groove. But “Slow Learner” registered immediately, and I fell hard for this Swedish post-punk, chaotic quintet. They’re fun, don’t give a shit, bashing the status quo over the head and smirking. Street Worms, their debut full-length from 2018, is currently in I can’t hear enough of you status.

The Boys announced their follow-up to be released on 1/8/21: Welfare Jazz. In celebratory fashion, with no excuses for being who they are, we are graced with the explosive “Ain’t Nice”. My wife is an excellent judge of my music: if she would turn it off, due to its loud, cacophonous sound that masterly sounds repulsive to her ears, I know it’s a track I won’t be able to get enough of.

Frontman Sebastian Murphy reflects on his past demeanor for this upcoming record:

“I’m not good at talking about politics, but everything is political when it comes down to it. I’d rather write a song about being defeated, which usually comes from a real place and says a lot,” he added. “We wrote these songs at a time when I had been in a long-term relationship, taking drugs every day, and being an asshole. “I didn’t really realise what an asshole I was until it was too late, and a lot of the record has to do with coming to terms with the fact that I’d set the wrong goals for myself.”

This single speaks to actions causing his previous relationship to sever. Ugly behavior is plastered over abrasive head nodding noise on what is a formidable preview of next year’s record.

Videos are rarely viewed here. But the parody and craziness within is worth four minutes of your time.


Lean On Me…

Some songs become so widely covered and re-interpreted by other artists that the originator is lost on me. “Lean On Me” is a current obsession. Many writers and creatives speak of finding a song that lets you get into a groove, an artistic rhythm and place it on endless repeat as you create. Bill Wither’s live version of “Lean On Me” from his stunning 1973 Live At Carnegie Hall album is my current motivator.

I’m ignorant towards many things. Music is one realm I attempt not to be. Current events, the latest film and TV shows, sports, I have no idea what’s taking place in those worlds. This is a strategic choice. But I was slapped across the face as I discovered Bill Withers was the original song-writer and recording artist of this absolutely timeless, feel great ode to knowing you can’t bear the brunt of life without the assistance of others. Withers has been my discovery of the year. His death in March brought him into the spotlight after many trusted sources spoke of his extreme talent and always available sound.

I asked 2020 for a comforting, uplifting, and genuine hero, the result was inevitably Bill Withers. His sweet baritone voice, harmonious alchemy of soul laced with funk interspersed with gospel expressing the experience we’re all simultaneously living: the human one.

A data point missing from Spotify -and call me out on my ignorance if it exists – are the amount of plays of a specific track during a specific period. This master class in optimism and camaraderie over a bright and moving arrangement is my song of the year if judged solely on number of plays.


Veruca Salt and Local H Visit Guitar World…

When you’re charting, you’re a darling. But if your single doesn’t have wings, you’re a liability and not worth keeping around. Guitar World sat down with Chicago’s Veruca Salt and Local H for a brief history of their major label hits and misses in the 90s. Chicago had a tight-knit scene where the weapon of choice was loud guitars. After Nirvana was signed and exploded, labels craved the next Seattle. Almost overnight, the label reps gravitated to the next gold rush city: Chicago.

Many of my favorites were excavated from the gritty, hole in the wall bars and venues of the city as a potential next big thing. Veruca Salt and Local H both shared enough commercial success to earn gold records. But as they’ve grown wiser, they let Guitar World know they’re glad those moments are behind them. Scott always had a true adoration for the craft and was inevitably going to persevere:

“Quitting never occurred to me. I appreciated being on a major label, but very quickly I said, ‘Time to move on.’ I knew it would be a lot of work, and that we would be doing a lot more of the work, but fuck it, you know? For a brief time we went to Palm Pictures, which was kind of like Island Jr., and we could record with Jack Douglas. 

“After that, you realize your overhead is getting lower and lower, and you’ve got to make adjustments. You tighten the belt – smaller crew, a van instead of a bus… And then not have any crew at all. But you can do it. It’s not impossible.“

While being dropped, shuffled around, and not properly respected, Lucas learned to cut his DIY teeth. Without those experiences and his bootstrapping mentality, H wouldn’t have been able to thrive during this pandemic with their innovative practices. Move after move has proved how creative and committed Local H are as a band who is in it for life.

This scene was cherished because it was happening not far from where I came up. Bands the local radio station played were accessible. It wasn’t impossible to see them live, rub shoulders with them at the merch table, and catch them multiple times in a month. These local acts were friends, bowled together, dated one another, and gratefully, shared the same bills. Seeing bands from the past in today’s print reaffirms how strong of a scene the city of Chicago had.

Hits, misses and major labels: Veruca Salt’s Louise Post and Local H’s Scott Lucas on surviving the ’90s alt-rock boom.


Nu Deco Ensemble’s Me Voy…

I miss the live experience. Monthly my wife and I attend the theatre where some experiences are musicals. A musical has a virtuosic orchestra creating soundscapes that drive the narrative. Miami has what sounds like one of the hippest orchestras in the Nu Deco Ensemble: an innovative group with no interest in discriminating against genres and artists that might not historically fuse with classical musicians.

On their Nu Deco Ensemble + Cimafunk Live From Miami E.P., they recruit the Cuban fire starter Cimafunk. Three tracks stem from Cimafunk’s discography, and two are covers uniquely spun to force the audience up outta their seats and let the music take over.

Cimafunk is a hip shaking, next to impossible to keep your feet still Afro-Cuban funkster. His name originates from the word cimarron, a Cuban from African descent, but also can mean “wild” or “untamed”. If I’m stepping into a music venue post a pandemic, my expectations are the show is wild. Untamed would be a bonus.

On “Me Voy”, the rapid-fire cumbia rhythms ignite this instant dance floor filler. The pace is scorching, the full band is explosive and meant to be hypnotically moved to. Let the rhythm hit you, because if you don’t, the full sound has no other option than to suck you in and spit you out sweaty, exhausted, and smiling.

Nu Deco Ensemble keeps you guessing and doesn’t pull from where you’d expect. On this five-track E.P., the group reinterprets the excellent “Use Me” from the comforting baritone Bill Withers. Flipped, funkdafied, grooves galore, all orchestrated by a visionary and fresh troupe of Miamians.

Thank you, Release Radar. An E.P. is always an excellent introduction to a soon to be great friend. It’s Friday, turn it up, ya me voy pa’ Cuba!


Menthol’s Stress is Best…

A resurrected draft from seven years ago. An act that was always coveted but became more so after a random car-aoke of sorts.

Simplistic moments sometimes create the best memories. I cherish a grocery store run with a friend, his sibling, and the right record.

A song’s greatness isn’t always revealed immediately. The number of tracks that slipped by me for not hitting upon first listen is unquantifiable. The 90s were a time of album consumption. Some records required a few skips in order to be enjoyed. Songs had to meet this formula: upbeat, loud, the lyrics were irrelevant. A song that didn’t meet this criterion was skipped.

Menthol’s ’95 Brad Wood produced debut was one of the best unheard acts of the mid-90s. A trio based out of Central Illinois and raised on New Wave. This record brimmed full of smart, professorially-like lyrics, over driving guitars that created imperfect sonic noise. An act proving distortion could be melodic and integral to storytelling. 25 years later, this record is personally spun from front to back with catharsis-like vocals, bone-breaking drum hits, and a yearning for Chicago’s 90s sound. But today’s adoration is owed to an impassioned fan being transported back to a simpler time when this album debuted.

Years back, I visited a friend’s parents’ house. It is a few days before Christmas and all his siblings are present. My friend was tasked with a grocery run. We asked his older sibling Blair if he wanted to roll, he happily obliged. Before departing, Blair grabbed a disc.

Older brothers are cooler than you, hip to what you don’t know exists. Blair was invested in integral 90s Chicago rock; Triple Fast Action, Hum, Smoking Popes, among others. My friend took copious notes from his brother and owes his listening habits to him. Menthol’s debut was going to fuel our trip.

This Capitol Records release contains 12 punchy songs brimming full of sexual innuendo, crunch, and glam-infused muscle. As a younger listener, I would jump around, pick and choose what was worth hearing. One of the strongest tracks on this record didn’t possess the formula I was exclusive to. “Stress Is Best” is sandwiched between “Francis Scott Key” and “Bedhead, Redeyed, and Bewildered”, tracks my simple mind liked. But all it takes is one key, holy shit the emotion and energy this track creates to see the song’s true potential.

My boy at the wheel, Blair strategically skipping a few tracks to unleash the monster that is “Stress Is Best”; a slow burner, one where the wick is ignited and its destination causes a distortion filled explosion of ups and downs of the record industry. A melodic strum with a slow and deliberate vocal delivery opens this soon to be cataclysmic monster. Mid-point, the introduction repeats itself as the distortion-heavy instrumentation slows down to take a much needed reprieve from pummeling of instruments.

This is when Blair became electric, he knew the volcanic eruption had been percolating; as soon as Menthol’s powerful attack returned, he strategically rotated from his captain’s chair and peered into my eyes as he unleashed, “Tearing down red woods!” at a throat destroying decibel. Like he had been rehearsing these lines since this record debuted and now was the time to unleash them. Flawlessly ripping through the remainder of the three and a half minute track with such vocal precision all I could do was stare.

I hear this track now and picture this impassioned fan spewing me with his spittle as he impersonates Menthol’s Balthazar de Ley with authenticity and inspirational energy from the captain’s chair. Music can turn the ordinary into life affirming moments. The right song and confidence to perform possesses that power. Turn it up, don’t hesitate to perform, and give songs off coveted records time, and multiple chances to shine.

Menthol :: Stress Is Best

Nerdy Show’s podcast on Menthol

Upcoming Shows:


October 2020