VIDEO PREMIERE: The Parlor - Sap

Will Shenton

When we first listened to The Parlor's 2015 LP Wahzu Wahzu, what struck us most was the band's ability to seamlessly blend genres that, on paper, didn't have any business being on the same album. Their songwriting abilities transcended those boundaries, and gave the record a narrative feel that was reflected as much in sound and style as it was in lyrics.

Their latest video is an accompaniment to "Sap," the song that marks the halfway point of Wahzu Wahzu and serves as something of an interlude between the dreamy "You Are You Were You Can" and the resoundingly funky title track. A wash of strummed guitars, brushed percussion, and a lazy, doodling saxophone form a backdrop to distant, reverb-drenched vocals, giving the impression of a sunset reverie on a day you don't want to end.

The video is exactly that: several shots of wife-and-husband duo Jen O'Connor and Eric Krans wandering a beach as evening gives way to night. The lighting is gorgeous, and there's a soft focus throughout that furthers the languid, half-awake aesthetic. Like the song itself, it's more vignette than arc, and the two media complement each other perfectly.

"Sap" is a conscious, if temporary reprieve from the chaos and obligations of life, like a child's defiant attempt to squeeze the last few moments from the end of summer vacation. Though it's still July, I know what I'll be watching come September.

REVIEW: The Tambo Rays - Recharge

Will Shenton

I've always had a soft spot for the effervescent, glimmering sheen of pop. There's something innately appealing about music that doesn't require you to think too much, opting instead to grab you by the reptilian parts of your brain and drag you onto the dance floor with its energetic hooks. And yet, after more than a handful of listens, it can often feel hollow, the lyrics and structure lacking the substance to have much staying power.

With their sophomore EP, Oakland group The Tambo Rays have delivered five tracks that artfully sidestep those pitfalls. Recharge—an aptly titled record for a number of reasons—builds truly infectious songs atop a rich emotional foundation, chronicling the struggle of founding band members Brian and Sara DaMert after their father passed away in 2015. In so doing, the music embodies both a tribute to their perennially optimistic dad and their healing process itself: "finding passion and opening the heart to love more."

After the fairly ebullient opener, "Yes and No" ("Can you feel the energy / Moving through your body?"), "Always Down" is the first track to hint at this underlying melancholy. The lyrics are an affirmation of support, a promise to always stand by someone's side regardless of how crushed they might be by depression and pain. "And I'll always be there for you / Situations unknown / And I'll always be there for you / To take you where you want to go to," DaMert sings in the build to the chorus, which concludes with the encouraging line, "But we aren't lost now / We found the love."

"Wrong Turn" and "Nothing to Lose" build upon this theme, balancing vulnerability and doubt with statements of defiant optimism ("Sometimes sorrow if swallowed it grows / But I find if I love the sorrow it goes"). And like the rest of the EP, both couch their emotionality in fantastically catchy songwriting.

But it's the strength of the closer, "Get It Right Now," that really ties the room together. If not the strongest song on the album, it's certainly a personal favorite, and something about its tone seems to integrate the best parts of the preceding tracks into an eminently satisfying conclusion. "Pick up the pieces and relax your mind / Pick up the pieces and create your life / We hit the floor naked all alone ... So get it right now," the chorus implores, seeming to shake off any lingering sorrow and embrace the promise of the future, as an irresistible synth line winds its way between the vocals.

Recharge is a rare album, one that's simultaneously easy on the ears and hard on the heart. The Tambo Rays have proven their ability to write captivating earworms that resonate well beyond the superficial, and in the process, it seems, they've found the catharsis they needed to heal and grow. Evocative and wonderfully listenable, I can't recommend it enough.

 

Be sure to catch The Tambo Rays EP release show with Cave Clove and Star Parks at The Night Light in Oakland this Friday, 7/21.

REVIEW: Eva Ross - Lose

Kelly Kirwan

Eva Ross is living with ghosts. They go by names like loneliness, regret, longing, and as is the rub for far too many artists to count, they serve as both burden and muse. Her latest album, Lose, is a seven-track dip into those moments of melancholy. The Kentucky native has channeled the pain of her past—and the lethargy it precipitated—into an album that’s filled with rich, simmering guitar and nightingale vocals. From the first notes, Ross lures you into a world painted in icy blue hues. Her voice is ethereal, fragile, draped across her mournful arrangements with a slight warble to her sharp soprano. It's almost reminiscent of those dark fairytales that deal in grim ironies—a beautiful voice that came at the cost of anguish.

“I’m not sure I want to exist / If I don’t have the will to choose / Which memories I’ll keep or I will lose,” Ross muses on the title track, a harrowing line that echoes long after her soft, understated delivery fades. She wrestles those existential qualms with a certain grace, but always wears her vulnerability on her sleeve. In fact, her music offers a new twist on that famed Ernest Hemingway quote, that all there was to writing was to sit down at a typewriter and bleed. For Ross, her wounds are laid bare in her music, and her pain spills out as if she were spinning silk. 

The song "It’s Fine" highlights a phrase that almost never rings true for the person uttering it. There’s a subtle current of strength running through Ross’ voice though, despite feeling like it might float away with a gust of wind. She weaves together images that form a recognizable narrative: a person close to her becoming a stranger, and the exhaustion that comes as the flame flickers out. “Take my hand as I lift up praise to God / And I'm trying to study and pass all my grades / While you're in a car getting high all day,” she sings, before echoing the title again and again. It’s not fine, or at least it wasn’t then. But if Ross has shown anything in her latest work, it’s that even when battered by circumstance, she trudges on.

As Ross stares defiantly towards the camera on the cover of Lose, vibrant red in the background, there’s a steel to her gaze. She may have been kicked down, but she’s persevered, prevailing by virtue of catharsis. And by listening, we do as well.

REVIEW: Bernice - Puff EP

Kelly Kirwan

Bernice plays electric, soulful grooves that unfold like the tendrils of an ivy plant, spreading serpentine across the surrounding landscape in a downright hypnotic germination. The six-piece band hails from Toronto, their moniker serving as a proverbial Russian nesting doll, packing in all the facets of experimental pop each bandmate brings to the table. Spearheaded by Robin Dann, the group’s most recent release, Puff, is a deep dive into curious and unpredictable arrangements, which gleam with rhythm & blues influences and offer garnishes of synth to maintain a sense of the avant-garde. Bernice's songs are cerebral and immersive, grown in the maze of the mind where imagination and philosophical musings mingle and evolve in tandem.

Their single, "St. Lucia," is paired with an animated video that features richly-colored sketches against a black canvas. A thumping percussion and undulating bass line reverberate deeply across the track, as Dann sings, “Hey, your name is mine / To feel,” her voice climbing in decibels as she reaches the final word, while simultaneously possessing the airy quality of a whisper. The video follows the sketches of women as they shift between purple and blue hues, diving into pools of water and then trying to hold the liquid between cupped hands. The song is mesmerizing, as is the animation, which focuses on the women in Dann’s family that came before her. Between generations they would pass down traits and names, silent links ingrained in our DNA, but without ever truly knowing the person that passed them on. It’s a phenomenon that Dann plays with in a mesmerizing fashion. 

Then there’s "David," whose lyrics could crack even a stone-cold heart. The song is slower burn, with warbled synths wobbling across the surface. “David / Sedated / Lying on the floor … Can’t lift his eyes anymore,” Dann sings, painting a picture of a protagonist riddled with the lethargy of defeat and depression. Her vocals are layered with a second satiny, songbird pitch, and their pairing feels both earnest and heartbreaking. It’s a beautiful, gut-wrenchingly subdued ballad. “Everything feels awfully empty for David … He wasn’t ready back then / Just give him something to believe in…” Dann continues, her voice wispy and slightly strained over the words. The song plays out like a glass fixture wobbling on the edge, crystalline and on the cusp of shattering into a million glittering pieces.

Puff is gem of an EP, a whirlwind of thought-provoking themes and funk-laden melodies. I highly recommend listening for yourself.

REVIEW: B Boys - Dada

Laura Kerry

“What do punk and dada have in common?” sounds like the kind of joke a cultural studies professor would ask while spilling crumbs from a pungent cheese-covered cracker onto his tweed blazer. Or, as seems to be the case with the band B Boys, it’s a question that three dudes might ask themselves while smoking weed on a couch.

For their latest album, Dada, Brooklyn-based B Boys features a mock question-and-answer in the place of a traditional bio that shows Andrew Kerr, Brendon Avalos, and Britton Walker in top form, equal parts philosophical and silly. “That’s a lot deeper than you look,” their fictional interviewer observes, after they explain that their album is “equal parts collective unconscious and personal experience.”

Dada, too, is a lot deeper than it first appears. Throughout the album, straightforward rock instruments play stripped-down ‘60s and ‘70s–influenced punk in 13 simply constructed songs. Most of the tracks are taut and crisp, with repeated structures and fairly uncomplicated instrumental parts. Not always so simple, though, is the way that these different parts fit together. In songs such as the all-instrumental “Time,” the bass and guitar intersect and dance apart, creating off-kilter, energetic rhythms. The dynamics throughout Dada are the kind best described by action metaphors: sputtering, buzzing, jumping. Sometimes the result is spacious and slow, sometimes it’s dense and quick, but more often than not, it provokes a low-level underlying sense of anxiety.

That anxiety reflects in the vocal parts, too. Most of the time, the singer uses a monotone half-yell—signaling the nihilistic side of punk over the angry—but the lyrics convey a much more nuanced spread of emotions. Though the art movement for which they named their album emphasizes nonsense and lack of meaning, Dada often sounds much more existentialist. “Identity seen in a mirror / This body encases all my fear… / Misery, euphoria / Pressures compressing one’s character,” they sing in their opener with the significant name, “B Boys Anthem.” On the closer, they round out the philosophy with, “What a man can be he must be (Nothing else matters) / To scale his hierarchy of needs (Describing patterns).” Much of the album concerns itself with large human questions. What is selfhood? What does it mean to be human?

B Boys embrace nonsense, too, though. In “Fear It,” a song with an uptempo list of worries, they sing, “When I don't feel anything and my mind draws blank / I repeat (I repeat) / Not everything has to make sense.” Embracing meaninglessness is the antidote to the fear and anxiety that they describe so sharply and economically throughout their album. This is the same embracing of nonsense that happens at the end of their fake interview bio, when, in response to the question, “Do you have anything specific you’d like to express to get the fans going?” the bio says they get up and turn on a wall of fans.  

Clearly, “dada” is sometimes just a combination of meaningless syllables, and a no-frills punk album is just a vibrant mix of rock instruments and chanting vocals that’s good to shake your head to. Other times, though, it's also much more.