Psych

The true meaning of Hello Mary "Sinks In" with latest single

photo by Nolan Zangas


The first time I heard the name Hello Mary I instantly assumed it must be the name of a Christian puppet show like the ones put on by the inimitable Tammy Faye back in the day (RIP) on her TV programs (PTL Club, The Tammy Faye Show) with the phrase “Hello, Mary!” being the first words out of the resurrected Jesus’s felt mouth after He has risen from the dead, waking with a start and one hell of a hangover, and then taking a stroll outside his tomb to see what’s up nevermind that pesky giant boulder in the way only to find Mary Magdalene and “Big Mama” Mother Mary right there outside waiting faithfully for Him to whom He speaks the aforementioned salutation.

Anyway, it’s a theory. Except in this case the reality is even better than the theory because in reality Hello Mary is a young and upcoming NYC-based-indie-alt-rock trio whose combined age is probably less than the age of Axl Rose’s oldest hair extensions and, I’ll just go ahead and say it, each one of Hello Mary’s songs to date rocks harder and more convincingly/compellingly than the entirety of Chinese Democracy.  

Take their latest single for instance released just days ago, “Stinge” backed by “Sink in,” or “Sink In” backed by “Stinge,” these things are difficult to parse in the streaming age. But anyway “Sting” comes first in the running order, a song addressed to a mercurial character who “may be the one for good” but who “leave[s] just as it gets fun” which is precisely why “they said I should run” and sometimes “they” know best and yes I realize there's an unreasonably large gap between the Bandcamp embed above and this text which I blame on the new Spotify-people owners.

Meanwhile the music of “Stinge” (definition: a person or other entity who is stingy) ably captures the emotional whiplash of the narrator’s romantic longings and loser-induced frustrations flipping back and forth between the grinding riff of the song’s intro, the jangly shoegazy float of the verses with some nice off-kilter chords, and the bridge section that sounds something like an underwater waltz. 

“Sink In” comes next which is quite possibly a song about the stark reality of the previous song fully sinking in where “it starts to drift and fall away / mostly from saying all I had to say” which I gotta say jumping straight to the fifth stage of grief in the second song is an encouraging sign of psychological health and if this is what acceptance sounds like then sign me up because this song rips starting off with a James Iha-esque alternation between a contemplative riff and head-drubbing power chords (the “sink in” part) before bursting open like an overpollenated flower full of “oohs” and “ahhs” ascending to the heavens (one of my fave musical moments of the year so far) and oh yeah there’s a guitar solo too with heavy reverb and note bending and more oohs and ahhs over some altered chords and it’s a pretty exciting ride and a pretty one too.

Across these two songs Hello Mary continue to hone their appetizing mix of heavy musical dramatics spiked with an enticing sense of play (cuz dammit these young ladies know how to write a catchy hook that’s for sure just see "Ginger" below) and a trippy psychedelia-adjacent vibe (see “Take Something” above for another example) and when you put together this mix of heavy and light and just plain weird it’s not entirely unlike (wait for it…) a bizarro Christian puppet show or a close encounter with Axl Rose’s dreads. (Jason Lee)

   

Caroline Polachek takes listeners on a celestial voyage on "Billions"

Photo by Aidan Zamiri, styled by Tati Cotliar

The mesmerizingly winding road of Caroline Polachek’s musical trajectory had spanned far and wide—from writing haunted house music in Boulder, Colorado to co-founding the indie combo Chairlift and bestriding the Great-Early-21st-Century-Brooklyn-Psych-Pop-Rock Renaissance alongside the likes of MGMT, Yeasayer, and Grizzly Bear; from songwriting collabs with such obscure niche artists as Beyoncé, Solange, and Blood Orange to putting out solo albums under two separate alter egos (the Dario Argento-adjacent dark synthpop soundtracks of Ramona Lisa, and the electro-instrumental ambient drift of CEP); and finally, from her 2019 debut LP released under her own name called Pang to her two latest singles which together demonstrate that Ms. Polachek still has plenty of new musical highways and byways left to explore somehow. 

The first of these two singles (“Bunny Is A Rider”) is a song about being “liberated by disappearance, about non-responding, about being unbeholden to anyone” which accounts for the refrain of Bunny is a rider / satellite can’t find her which is a fitting theme for our current Surveillance Age where freedom’s just another word for somewhere left to get lost—a theme mirrored sonically by the stark bassline-led Spaghetti Western musical textures, and their implied wide-open spaces, complete with pitter-pattering rhythms and high lonesome whistling and autotuned trilling and sampled infant cooing plus plenty of tape hiss and chicken scratch and synth swelling all of which makes going off the digital grid sound like escaping to a glitchy Wild West.

The second single, “Billions,” released earlier this month, likewise takes the listener to a place outside of normal experience or social surveillance—the title and the cosmic vibes of “Billions” can’t help but put this listener in a very Carl Sagan-esque headspace—a space comprised of delicately lurching reversed rhythms and skittering tablas that like raindrops dancing off rooftops plus celestial choirs and sub-bass and string arpeggiations and dramatic recitations and a breakdown section with what may possibly be a dilruba solo (but hey I’m no ethnomusicologist) not to mention Caroline’s majestically malleable voice swooping across multiple octave registers and multiple emotional registers and multiple digital manipulations across the song’s nearly five-minute kaleidoscopic arrangement.

In sum it’s a virtuosic arrangement and production and performance overall—with both singles co-written and co-produced by British producer/remixer/songwriter Danny L Harle, best known for his work with the pioneering PC Music collective and for his impressive resume of collaborations, including making Pang and seriously the collaborative work of Polachek & Harle so far is the closest upgraded-equivalent of Bjork and Nellee Hooper’s sublime mid-90s sides that I know of with “Billions” being their “Venus As A Boy” (extolling the virtues of a lover who lies like a sailor but…loves like a painter). The duo have a knack for not only crossing musical boundaries but also for pretty much melting them away entirely, with synthetic sounds rendered vivid and visceral and lifelike, while organic sounds often come off as extraterrestrial, in other words, a near-total meshing of human/physical and machine/technological that’s like “sexting sonnets / under the tables / tangled in cables” to quote Caroline herself.

Oh and the video for “Billions” is cool too just like most of Ms. Polachek’s video (see top of this page, co-directed by Matt Copson and Caroline herself) and after viewing it you’ll probably wanna go grape-picking-and-stomping and then order some cool crazy-straw-style wine glasses and an ornamental blown-glass funnel for bath-taking purposes but sorry no Paul Giamatti. (Jason Lee)

   

Bitchin Bajas "QUAKENBRÜCK"

Bitchin' Bajas has released a new single called "QUAKENBRÜCK" via the 7" singles series from the London label Duophonic Super 45s.

The physical vinyl edition of the sold out in minutes, but the digital version of the song and it's dub remix b-side can be purchased here.

This is the project fronted by Cooper Crain of Cave who is joined by Dan Quinlivan and Rob Frye.

The trio released a full-length album called Switched On Ra via Drag City back in October.

You can catch Bitchin' Bajas on March 5th at Empty Bottle with Ryley Walker.

   

Liz Cooper brings the hot sass on new live EP

On 2021’s Hot Sass, Brooklyn-via-Nashville-via-Baltimore-singer-songwriter-axe-wielder Liz Cooper conjures up a unique fusion/contusion of tight-as-a-tick's-ass-Music-City-worthy songcraft (e.g.,”Shoot the Moon”) crossed with a Brooklyn-worthy tendency to drive finely honed songcraft straight over the edge of a cliff (or better yet off the side of the Williamsburg Bridge, that is, if it wasn’t all caged in) in the process exploding/imploding traditional song structures with excursions into (for instance) nearly eight-minute epic Krautrock-style locked grooves infused with acid-fried-psych and a cappella inserts as on “Lucky Charm” or (for another instance) sexy glam rock stomp outfitted with fits of pummeling hardcore feral-freakout riffage alongside fragments of floaty musique concrète soundscapery as on the eponymous “Hot Sass” (a song which totally captures what it feel like to have a freakout episode in a Kroger parking lot and I grew up in Dallas so I oughta know).

The end product of all this musical assembly/disassembly was a compellingly schizoid album that felt highly apropos to last year and still feels it today—equal parts dreamy pop reverie and jittery anxiety dream—so that perhaps it makes sense Ms. Cooper made the move to Crooklyn when she did because some of the tracks on Hot Sass may be just a little bit too sassy for Nashville these days and it’s not a city that’s generally short on sass either even if there’s a growing sass supply shortage (RIP Katy K’s).

And now to our main attraction: the five-song live set posted yesterday on Audiotree Live (Chitown in the house!) by Liz Cooper and her current band—and lemme tell ya she’s assembled a crack band to help realize her post-Liz-Cooper-And-The-Stampede musical vision (the Stampede was also a crack band to be sure, tho’ one I hasten to add a band that was never known to take crack, a drug that doesn’t lend itself to mellifluous steel guitar infused alt-country).

Take set opener “Je T’aime” for instance (see the top of this page) which features a flinty/flirty shaker-assisted groove that brings to mind some of Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra’s classic mid-to-late ‘60s sides (not to mention how Liz can shift her voice from coyly supine, to aggressively vulpine, on a dime, and back again, not unlike Frank’s favorite daughter) a parallel that’s further enhanced by the song’s pregnant pauses and these-boots-are-gonna-walk-all-over-you lyrical message if less so by its space-alien-summoning keyboard solo and final serrated guitar chord.

So check out the full live set in the video at the top of this page and/or in audio form at the streaming platform of your choice and don’t worry I won’t spoil the other four songs for ya cuz I ain’t sassy like that. (Jason Lee)

   

Bummer Camp learn(s) to "Laugh All Day"

A lot of times when I'm writing these reviews or rants or whatever they are exactly it's sometimes difficult to decide if a band’s name should be followed by a singular or a plural verb. Like most people would say “The Doors were on tour in Miami when Jim Morrison was arrested for indecent exposure” because to say “The Doors was on tour when Jimbo etc etc penis etc etc” just sounds weird. But to say “Duran Duran is a band known for their sometimes risqué music videos” versus "are a band known for..." isn’t so weird at all even though there’s at least two “Durans” in the group. It’s all darn confusing sometimes.

What’s also darn confusing sometimes, and just about as common these days, is the question of whether a “band” who’s really just a single dude or dudette or charcoal briquette (whatever!) should be treated as a singular entity or a collective identity. And to complicate/simplify matters further it’s not unusual for individuals to refer to themselves as “they” these days. So hey, why not use the plural form of verbs for these individuals-cum-bands like for instance: “St. Vincent are known for being romantically linked to Kristen Stewart” which isn't bad actually because this makes it so much easier to have sex with entire bands at once and to describe such encounters in grammatically precise terms. 

Anyway what I’m really driving at here is that Bummer Camp is/are one of those “one-man bands” that gives verb-tense fixated music blog editors headaches (and don't even get me started on one-woman bands!) but for the rest of humanity Bummer Camp is/are simply purveyors of good head music, that is, if you’re chill enough for it because Mr. Bummer has a way with entrancing songs built around looping repetitions and layer-by-layer wall-of-sound constructions like a DIY musical paper mâché project made up of Rick Rubinesque Def Jam-era drum loops, bedrock bass riffs, and circling, swirling layers of guitar (plus the occasional synth natch) pasting scraps of melody-upon-melody and texture-upon-texture but while never losing the minimalist feel of each basic building block either. And by any given song's end you may feel like you huffed a little too much Elmer's glue

Bummer Camp's latest single “Laugh All Day”—his/their third single in the preceding five months—provides a good case-in-point for the points above. The song also fits his/their social-media self description to a tee, i.e., “gothy folk pop from Queens” and lyrically it's either “about my life, my friends, my family, my job, [or] my car and the inadequacy it feels because it only has one headlight" because that's what Bummer Camp songs are about.

"Laugh All Day" opens with a chugging chord progression that would do Paul Westerberg proud with its restrained “aging punk rocker aging gracefully” raggedy folksy vibe but accompanied by a primitive drum machine and catchy as hell to boot. Then about half a minute in there’s a lead part that enters with this distinctive mid-tempo-contemplative-melodic-goth feel to it where you just know that if Molly Ringwald were in detention she'd go up onto the library's stairwell landing and do her preppie anarchy dance, a mood that's intensified further by the swampy echo on the vocals sung with a Richard Butler-esque sunglasses-at-night insouciance. Ergo, gothy folk pop from Queens. 

“Laugh All Day” bops along contentedly but it also keeps slipping in these subtly spectral moments too—like how the guitar line mimics the vocal melody at first but then starts to detach until it spins off into its own curlicue melodic figures finally reaching escape velocity about halfway through the song, and then dissolving into a shimmering halo of sound, and then a plucky palm-muted surf’s up section, and then a rhythmic drop and a cascading guitar line soaring over the top, and then a wordless vocal croon soaring over the top of the soaring guitar line, with the end effect something like a chorus of cicadas on a still summer night. 

So with these recent single releases who knows if Bummer Camp is building up to full EP or an LP or a fold-out-gatefold-triple-album concept record that'll come with a full set of van decal stickers illustrated by Roger Dean. But wherever it all ends up I'd say it’s a safe to say this one-man band will keep us oscillating wildly (or oscillating mellowly) until we reach the end of the ride. (Jason Lee)