Massachusetts

VIDEO PREMIERE: Jake Klar - Over & Over

Laura Kerry

After you listen to his song “Over & Over,” it should come as no surprise that Jake Klar’s Until The Wild Fire Becomes Paradise is the product of wandering. The October album emerged out of the artist’s journals that he kept over a two-year expedition throughout the US and beyond, borrowing from his impressions from the road that he captured in poetry, stories, and images.

In Klar’s new video for “Over & Over,” he—with the help of cinematographer Jackson Glasgow and editor Aaron Brummer—reflects this itinerant spirit. With the warm-hued, scratch-filled, and teetering look of old tape shot on a handheld camera, the video follows an amble through a nondescript place. As Klar sings in his low and expressive voice, he wanders sidewalks, jumps a fence (gracefully), hangs on an old bridge with two friends, throws rocks, dances, and jumps into a dumpster (also gracefully).

Nothing particularly remarkable happens, but as the rumbling Americana guitar, folky melody, and jaunty piano rise, the music invests the scene with a sense of poignancy. Like the view of a highway out of a Greyhound bus window, it is made beautiful by the right music. Between this and the film effects and aimlessness of the action, the video feels intimate, as if it’s found footage from a home video collection or a projection streaming directly from a someone’s memory. Or, perhaps, it’s the journals coming through. Either way, it’s worth a visit.

PREMIERE: Backwards Dancer - October

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Will Shenton

On their latest single, "October," Backwards Dancer channel a sound I haven't had the pleasure of indulging in for years. Combining elements of noise rock, post-hardcore, and grunge, the resulting track is a wall of distortion and punchy vocals that hover around the boiling point throughout.

"October" comes alongside Backwards Dancer's announcement of vinyl pre-orders for 2017's self-titled LP. It's an explosively raw addition to the record, introducing a somewhat more off-kilter sound that feels wild and unrestrained but also mature in its songwriting. We're looking forward to hearing more from these Worcester, Massachusetts-based rockers as they experiment.

PREMIERE: Max Wareham - Good News

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Laura Kerry

Max Wareham’s website bio perfectly encapsulates his music: “He cut his teeth studying jazz at conservatory,” it says, “but now polishes them digging holes on a horse farm.”

He's best known as the bassist in Sun Parade, and has also released music with the studio collective Cousin Moon, but in his first solo studio record, the Northampton-based Wareham leaves behind lively experimentation for quieter, more acoustic pastures. Good News is a folk album that summons its abundant warmth from the glow of acoustic guitar and the beautiful hum of the artist’s voice.

Reminiscent of traditional folk music spanning from England to the Appalachians, 1920s country, and more contemporary indie folk, Wareham’s debut has few frills and no pretensions. Paired with the finger-picked compositions, the lyrics on Good News sometimes come off almost like remixes of old Irish ballads, but the artist makes them sound personal. Often hushed yet charged with feeling, his singing evokes a sense of intimacy as he croons old-timey lines such as, “Twenty years ago I left my old home / Set off to ramble around” (“Laurel Groves”); “If she comes lookin’ / Tell her where I've gone” (“If She Comes Lookin’”); and “Thinkin’ about that pretty little girl / Who broke this heart of mine” (“Roving on a Winter's Night”).

Good News excels at living in the present. On “Talking to My Sister,” he paints a more concrete picture over a picking pattern with sad undertones, singing, “Talking to my sister after the funeral / Stirring black coffee with an old dinner roll.” In “Much Too Much,” he combines past and present in lyrics like, “Fare thee well / Coffee cups / Old hotel,” also venturing into stranger narrative territories such as outer space traveling. Here and elsewhere, Wareham also explores unexpected sonic terrain. In "Much Too Much," he builds his verses around a subdued yet chaotic buzz combining a vocal call-and-response, guitars, and strings before switching to a jaunty horn composition in the chorus fit for an entrance to a royal ball.

Throughout the album, Wareham draws more subtly from this same palette, quietly backing up his singing and guitar playing with an orchestra of fiddles, cellos, bassoons, organs, and other instruments. His jazz roots are apparent in his ability to seamlessly weave together disparate parts and achieve a range of dynamics in a muted swath. The album contains the kinds of intricacies that you feel rather than analyze. With Wareham’s tender voice and skillful, understatedly thoughtful songwriting leading the way, Good News is a touch of warmth as temperatures drop.

REVIEW: Birthing Hips - Urge to Merge

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Phillipe Roberts

Leave it to Birthing Hips—a band that’s spent its brief but brilliant lifespan aggressively hacking away at their instruments in search of the latest channel for their absurdist wit—to announce their new record and their demise on the same day. Heartbreaking as it is, it’s somehow fitting that their two-year run would end on such a bittersweet juxtaposition. Their songs are thrilling, violent collisions between contradictory forces, the musical equivalent of a crash test (minus the airbags and seatbelts, of course). Even on stage, you could sense the giddiness radiating off of them as they sent the heads of their devoted audiences flying. For those lucky enough to have witnessed Birthing Hips’ rare, comet-like journey through the universe, as well as those who might have missed the memo, their NNA Tapes debut, Urge to Merge, is as close to a perfect parting gift as they come. Theatrical, uncompromising, frighteningly technical, and majestic, it documents the fierce, innovative spirit of the Boston quartet at the very height of their prowess.

By the time their first, self-released tape came into being, Birthing Hips had long-since planted themselves in bold territory. The aptly titled No Sorry was an unapologetic noise-pop rampage, alternating between winking bubblegum hooks and blocky, dissonant breakdowns. But the newer tracks in their live repertoire had a tempered directness, compacting their ferocious capacity for rocking out into tightly coordinated passages while showcasing an expanded theatricality, courtesy of vocalist Carrie Furniss. Urge to Merge features renditions of these tracks that shimmer with a meticulous, well-deserved clarity that highlights both their technical skills and their easy accessibility.

“I Want This Place Impeccable” magnifies the daily drama between a messy roommate (deadpanned to excellent comedic effect by guitarist/vocalist Wendy Eisenberg) and her clean-freak counterpart (played by Furniss with just the right amount of screechy mortification) into a multi-part epic. Funnier and funkier than ever, it’s sure to bust your gut as much from the campy exchanges (“Why don’t I just roll you across the floor and drag your schlubby ass across the dust?”) as from the bone-shattering fills between them from drummer Owen Liza, who strikes a crisp compromise between Brian Chippendale’s frantic sticking and John Bonham’s classic rock stomp.

Make no mistake, the Hips are still firmly locked into noise-rock mode here; these songs tend towards the frayed and frenetic, like on “Shut Up and Leave Me Alone,” where Furniss reclaims her righteous anger “even though I am Midwestern” alongside a jazzy, aquatic groove. “Internet,” meanwhile, features Furniss freaking out in stuttered vocalizations of “You’re ruining, ruining, ruining, ruining, ruining my life!” over titanic riffs that sound like a partially melted Led Zeppelin record. Even when they do drift into calmer waters, the other, heavier shoe is never far from dropping. Closing track “A Wish” is probably the quietest Birthing Hips piece yet, but for all of its '50s pop trappings, they can’t resist a skyward climb into a shrieking post-rock meltdown.

At their very best, Birthing Hips danced with glee on the knife edge between madness and inspired tunefulness, and Urge to Merge delivers both in spades. But even with the coda to their hysterical surrealism in our hands, making peace with and sense of the fractured “defective pop” brilliance that they created is a long time coming.

VIDEO REVIEW: Squirrel Flower - Daylight Savings

Kelly Kirwan

An empty yellow chair sits in a field of neatly pressed and plowed hay, the introductory focal point of Ella Williams' latest video, "Daylight Savings." Slipping into her musical persona, Squirrel Flower, Williams lures us into landscapes that should be overwhelmingly mundane—dreary, even, with a hint of ennui. But there’s something subtly unusual that has our eyes transfixed, a dream that bears too much resemblance to our everyday, leaving a hangover of the surreal.

“I know it’s daylight savings, dear / But I can’t sleep,” Williams sings, her voice both delicate and resonantly powerful, making her lyrics elegant and enrapturing. Intermittently we see Williams draped across the yellow chair, staring into the lens of the camera, a bouquet of white flowers in her hands. Predominantly though, we see two women, alternately standing side by side in the field and the purple lighting of a nondescript room. They move in tandem, their languid choreography evocative of modern dance. In the intertwining shots that feature Williams, she's standing on a bed, strumming her guitar, or her silhouette is outlined dimly on a wall, a loose arrangement of flowers part of her shadowy profile.

Williams is a bit of an enigma in this video, her face either looking off-camera or set in a contemplative expression that's difficult to read. She’s a mystery you find yourself leaning in to understand, trying to get a grasp on her crystalline voice as she sings, “I know we’ve gained an hour / But it feels like I’ve lost two.” "Daylight Savings" is a song of slight disorientation, the bending of time, that we simply assign to the natural change of seasons. An unsteadiness that we welcome, and hell, by the end of the song, crave.