VIDEO PREMIERE: Slow Dakota - Cherry Mary Michigan

Will Shenton

On "Cherry Mary Michigan," director Britta Lee's second music video for Slow Dakota (and, somewhat unbelievably, her second music video ever), we return to the dreamlike Midwestern landscape she explored in last year's "The Lilac Bush." Once again featuring Lee's younger siblings in costumes that place them somehow out of time, the video's impressionistic narrative serves as both a vessel for and foil to PJ Sauerteig's lyrics.

Where Lee's imagery is decidedly rural, "Cherry Mary Michigan" is a song about urban isolation. At its climax, Sauerteig laments, "Why on earth do I live in this prison / Solipsistic overstimulation / Every day, twenty-two blocks of cat-calls / Every night, twenty bills I can’t pay." We're invited to synthesize the two scenes, recognizing alienation in both the bucolic and the metropolitan. It's a conclusion we'd do well to remember: much as we may want to escape, there's no running from ourselves.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Slow Dakota - The Lilac Bush

Will Shenton

Slow Dakota's latest video, an accompaniment for 2015's "The Lilac Bush," is almost meditative in its structure. As the song's breathy flutes begin their dance, we open on a series of gorgeous natural scenes: a woman's legs as she walks down a forest path, a field of lilacs, and a monarch butterfly alighting on one of its blossoms. Director Britta Lee, better known for her portraiture and botanical photos, has translated her visual style into a cinematography that feels both deeply alive and removed from the normal passage of time.

Lyrically, "The Lilac Bush" is a song that recalls an abortive suicide attempt: "I put my chin inside / A mouth of knotted rope / But instead of stopping / My heart began to fly / A dove perched on my shoulder / And whispered in my ear / 'Each day God comes home / With lilacs from His bush / He picks them all for you / His chosen darkling thrush!'" Like much of The Ascension of Slow Dakota, it grapples with artist PJ Sauerteig's sometimes desperate clinging to faith and love in the face of depression and self-loathing. In this case, it was a brief, revelatory moment that saved his life.

The video seems to be a visual interpretation of that hallucinatory respite. It features the director and her 9-year-old sister (perhaps the same person at different points in her life) exploring what the artist describes as a "sort of Midwestern Eden." Overflowing with serenely vibrant life, it serves as a foil to the bleakness of the lyrics, and one that captures the dove's reassuring message: there is love in this world, and beauty, and you belong among all of it.

PREMIERE: Slow Dakota - Rumspringa EP


Will Shenton

Slow Dakota's sophomore release, Rumspringa, begins on a characteristically aspirational note: "When I'm free / When I leave the city / When I'm free / Then I'll wake up early / I'll tend the rocky fields on the hill / I'll serve the basil in my windowsill." The lyrics are familiar to anyone who's ever dreamt of escape to a more idyllic life, and the way we tend to insist upon plans when we're least certain that we'll actually follow through.

It's a sentiment that fits with the EP's title—a reference to the Amish rite of passage in which adolescents are allowed to explore the outside world—as well as its sound. Mastered by the legendary Greg Calbi (known for his work on countless classic records, from Lennon to Bowie to Talking Heads), Rumspringa is a decidedly more polished album than last year's The Ascension of Slow Dakota. The songwriting is approachable, pop-sensible, and thoroughly fun to listen to, but thankfully manages this evolution without losing any of artist P.J. Sauerteig's distinctively raw delivery, nor the sense of humanizing self-doubt that permeates his work.

Each track on the EP is named for a different whimsical character, with most (if not all—I'm no master of Midwestern geography) referencing a city or state. Titles like "Abram Indiana," "Elijah Yoder," "Cherry Mary Michigan," and "Jebediah Iowa" all drive home that this work is as much about place as it is about personal experience. The names are hybrids of biblical Americana, seemingly entwining Sauerteig's own explorations of religious faith with broader questions of identity and the ever-changing definition of "home" (he even split the recording between his home state of Indiana and his adoptive New York). If we leave and decide to return, what are we coming back to?

Rumspringa is a fitting title for Slow Dakota's relatively short diversion into explicitly pop songwriting; like its namesake, it seems to represent both indulgence and experimentation, but also a subtle, almost reflexive quality of clinging to the familiar. Whether Sauerteig will return to his more avant-garde roots or continue down this infectious rabbit hole remains to be seen. Either way, it's bound to be compelling.

REVIEW: Hoops - Routines

Laura Kerry

While listening to Hoops, you might at first be tempted to play a game of musical analogs, obsessively identifying what artists they sound like in a given moment. Rife with the familiar sounds of ‘80s synths and contemporary jangly guitars, the Indiana-based band provides plenty of fodder for such an activity. In the past, they’ve been compared to everything from Real Estate and Wild Nothing to Tears for Fears. But for the most part, the game never finds a satisfactory conclusion; a perfect match never settles. Above all, you will find, Hoops just sound like themselves.

That sound is something they’ve developed over a series of popular cassette tapes from the last few years, a 2016 EP, and finally, in their debut full-length, Routine, out on Fat Possum. The band’s history extends further back, though. The three core members—Drew Auscherman, Keagan Beresford, and Kevin Krauter—have been friends since the sixth grade. Hoops began with guitarist Auscherman as a solo ambient music project that he produced in his Bloomington bedroom. Drawn to the same music, the trio soon joined forces to form a casual band that eventually turned serious.

Listening to Routine, the band’s guitarist-led origins come as no surprise. Throughout the album’s 11 well-honed pop tracks, the guitar carries as much weight as the vocals. In songs such as “Rules,” “On Top,” and “Management,” the singer’s voice is subdued, subsumed by shoegaze fuzz, but the guitar is shimmering and bright as it weaves through catchy riffs. In others like “All My Life,” the voice and guitar share and trade the melody, shifting dynamically as they come together and pull apart. In “Benjals,” guitar serves as the only melody in an all-instrumental track, but the concise song still manages to latch on with its version of a verse-chorus structure.

But Routines doesn’t function on wordless catchy melodies alone; just as important to Hoops’ breed of pop are the stories at the foundations of their songs. As they said in an interview, the trio listens as much to Nick Drake as they do Michael Jackson and Sade. And in many of their songs, these contemplative origins show. “Still remember the clothes you wore,” they sing in a song about moving past feelings, “On Letting Go”; the line in the chorus, “All my life keeps getting away from me,” gives “All My Life” its title; and in the optimistically titled “Sun’s Out,” they sadly sing, “Meet me in the sunlight / Meet me where the moon shines / I can never be the one you want.” Reflecting on time and the anxieties of past love, screwing up love, and potential love in unadorned but expressive lyrics, Routines sometimes feels like New Order (here’s that game resurfacing) and other ‘80s new wave bands that couch sad-sack sentiments in sparkling synths and danceable beats. Bright and sunny but with the right touch of wistfulness, Hoops’ new album is the perfect mix to accompany us into the summer.

REVIEW: Moor Hound - Green

Kelly Kirwan

Every year there’s a surge in public displays of affection. Social media feeds run rampant with couples’ selfies, as various heart emojis garnish sickly-sweet Instagram posts. And, depending on where you fall on the spectrum of single or in a relationship (and everything else in between) this starry-eyed, rosy-cheeked holiday may just make you smile or squirm. For Moor Hound, the warmth of love’s beginning and the cold ache of loneliness left in its wake are inextricably linked.

His ode to February 14th is without any sort of shiny veneer. It’s a poignant, rawly-delivered six-track EP by the name of Green, courtesy of Darling Records. And it cuts deep. With every acoustic guitar strum, every tangy reverberation, your heartbeat falters. A true folk singer, Moor Hound’s songs (in their succession) feel like an epic poem for the modern-day romantic. He scatters details within his lyrics that feel like flashbulb memories, turning benign moments so commonly written off into vivid imagery, imbued with a meaning that only he can understand fully. Like seeing a former couple recall a private joke, we only pick up on their briefly shared smirk, a flicker in an otherwise extinguished flame.

A subdued, slightly pitchy timbre permeates Green, with a guitar at the forefront of these forlorn ruminations. There’s a theme of travel lightly peppered throughout, as the album’s introductory song opens with, “I drove south / You came out to the show / I got nervous,” and then later recalling, “I drove through the old neighborhood.” We see the connecting thread of bonds that have faded, and how bittersweet it is to remember. Moor Hound details the route which was carved out in parts of Florida and Georgia, perhaps on tour, and we see the irony of how being on the road, constantly pressing forward, can be the perfect atmosphere to reflect on the past.

"See You Around" details exactly that. The run-in with the ex, and the wave of dread that washes over us in response. Moor Hound paints the picture with a brazen honesty, “Play it cool / Pretend that I’m over it now / And I function at a normal speed.” Languid guitar plucks follow, the rise and wane of their notes emphasized by the stripped-down backdrop. The song ends with the sad realization that this relationship is a pattern, another failed attempt at connecting, which culminates in the heavy sigh of, “No, I’ve never been in love.”

And if this feels like the gut-wrenching antidote for the most jaded of your friends, hear me out. For all of Moor Hound’s heartache, there isn’t any sweeping of sense of cynicism throughout, like you might expect. There’s a little pain, regret, and nostalgia, but woven among those heavier feelings is a sense of hope. Moor Hound isn’t writing off love. He’s opening himself up to all it has to offer, knowing full well what’s at stake.