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BEING THERE: Manchester Orchestra @ Fillmore

Thursday, December 13th, 2018

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Photo by MATT SHAVER

Sitting in the lobby bar of the Fillmore, we can hear the first strains of Manchester Orchestra seeping through the showroom doors. “All of their songs are so slow,” Hannah is complaining. I don’t feel like arguing with her, so I just nod. Last year’s A Black Mile to the Surface feels cinematic and elaborately arranged, without being overbearing. It doesn’t feel like they’re trying to prove anything, scaling back after the noisy overproduction of their last projects.

Singer-guitarist Andy Hull’s songwriting is his strongest attribute, his lyrics arresting in their vivid intensity. “I Know How To Speak” might be his most emotive endeavor yet, and my stomach drops every time his voice rises to impossible heights, wavering over the chorus. Speedier tracks like “The Sunshine” and “The Gold” make room for grungier instrumentals without losing the intimate, human touch that marks this album. Last night, they dusted off a couple of classics like “Shake it Out” and “Simple Math,” but the most powerful moment of the set was when Hull covered “My Backwards Walk” by Frightened Rabbit, whose lead singer Scott Hutchison passed away in May. The song is disarming, begging to reverse time, to save a relationship just before it turns to shit.

The mood veered dramatically when The Front Bottoms took over. If nothing else, they know how to have fun. There was a bar set up onstage, friends hanging out on wooden stools with their backs to the audience. Brian Sella cracked open a can of beer, and the room visibly relaxed. Twenty-somethings crowd-surfed and threw random objects at the stage. “Thanks for the titties,” Sella laughed, picking up a skin-colored silicone bra. “Here’s a love song for you,” he said, laughing into “Peach.”

There’s something about Sella’s lyrics that make them easy to memorize, long run-on narratives pouring out in a single exhale. The band broke out crowd favorites like “Maps,” “Twin Mattress” and “Flashlight,” songs that conjure scenes of teenagers partying in the suburbs, giving each other stick-and-poke tattoos and making out in pickup trucks— or whatever it is suburban kids do. “This is a song about doing acid with your grandma,” Sella said to introduce the loopy dreamscape of “Tie Dye Dragon” off the new EP Ann. I was hoping the two bands would share the stage to perform their collab song “Allentown,” and what better place than Philly? The track blends their contrasting styles, the two singers somberly trading lines—  “I used to be a lawyer, now I just talk a lot / I’m the King of Allentown, this parking lot / I am on a journey to discover what it’s like / to be free of all my demons.” Tragically, it was not to be. – MARIAH HALL

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INCOMING: God Save The Ween

Thursday, December 13th, 2018

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The following was first published in the pages of the Philadelphia Inquirer back in 2007 in advance of their concert at The Tower. In eager anticipation of Ween’s performance at the Met Philly on Friday, we are reprising both here. Enjoy.

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They say actors are the ultimate existential heroes because they get to live multiple lives, while the rest of us have to settle for just one. Similarly, there is something heroic about Ween’s 23-year quest for the ultimate buzz, musical or otherwise, and their Zelig-like ability to utterly inhabit any genre they choose – shit-kicker country, dirtball metal, gold chain disco, hobbit-hole psychedelia, even fern-bar kool jazz – while simultaneously satirizing it for your protection. The new La Cucaracha, the 11th full-length collection by New Hope’s Dean and Gene Ween, is yet another revolving-genre spin-cycle that includes but is not limited to: Santana-esque prog; faux-sexist redneck-rock; woozy nitrous-soaked pop; Looney Tunes country & western; deep-dish dub reggae; and a couple of baroque-pop charmers.

However, you would be mistaken if you assumed that just because they are funny the duo of Dean and Gene Ween – a.k.a. Mickey Melchiondo and Aaron Freeman – are somehow less than serious about their music. “We took a very focused, workman-like approach to this record, which is the way it has to be because we both have kids now,” says Melchiondo (he’s Dean Ween), speaking of their latest, La Cucaracha. “We wrote and demoed 50 songs, whittled it down to 20, took those into the studio and then wound up picking 13 for the album. The goal was to put a lot of work and love into it.”

Having recorded the bulk of their work for Elektra Records, La Cucaracha marks the beginning of a new partnership with the storied indie label Rounder Records, which suits Melchiondo just fine. “In 2007, being on BMG or Interscope would be the kiss of death,” Melchiondo says. “If I had to do over I wouldn’t sign [with a major again] – and, to be fair, I don’t think those labels would bother to pursue us if we were starting out now. For a band like Ween, we don’t really need a label to do anything for us other than manufacture the CDs and put them in stores. Ten years ago, it was totally different. You spent $100,000 on a video for the big single and you build a marketing campaign around that. For [La Cucaracha] there was no single, no video, no promo, no marketing plan. We just got back from five weeks on tour and every single show was sold out.”

Detractors tend to dismiss Ween as the alt-rock equivalent of South Park, making music for people who never got over Mad magazine. But given the size, scope, and authenticity of their put-ons — not to mention the length and durability of their commitment to Making The Ha-Ha Funny– I’d say Dean and Gene Ween are something closer to Zen tricksters than holy fools. And for that I applaud them with the sound of one hand clapping. –JONATHAN VALANIA

WEEN PERFORMS @ THE MET PHILLY ON FRIDAY DECEMBER 14TH 8 PM

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Gritty Volunteers To Host The Academy Awards

Wednesday, December 12th, 2018

Gritty Oscar

 

TWITTER: OK Fine, I’ll Do It

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BEING THERE: Ghost @ The Tower Theater

Wednesday, December 12th, 2018

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Photo by MATT SHAVER

I don’t think anyone in the history of time has received quite the bad rap that Satan has. Dude offers out a helping hand to two individuals thrust in to a new plane of existence, extensively written about by some folks who never even met him, and that one book has cast a shadow over his intentions for a couple of millennia now. Thankfully, the Swedish metal/satanic PR firm known as Ghost has descended upon the US to spread cheer and merriment this holiday season.

Fronted by the elusive (and until 2017, anonymous) Tobias Forge (playing the role of Cardinal Copia this go round) backed by a small army of Nameless Ghouls, Ghost sounds like every suburban parents nightmare metal act. On paper, at least. But strip away the top layer of diabolical imagery and infernal pageantry and Ghost is a fairly straightforward metal act, albeit one that dabbles deliciously in a style of metal few seem to be making with their level of craftsmanship anymore. Well-produced, crisp, clean vocals, and a band name written in a font that I can actually read, they are purveyors of epic and melodic heavy metal that probably would have been right at home opening for Ozzy in the ’70s.

The live act is an impressive array of set design and technical skill. Full to the brim with instrumentalists (they even added a saxophonist for their most recent album – 2018’s Prequelle), Ghost burst in to Tower Theater with a thunderous “Ashes” (after setting the mood with some Gregorian-like chanting) before tearing through a double-act of material spanning their career. The Nameless Ghouls come decked head to toe in black and adorned with intricate (and certainly uncomfortable looking) masks, never breaking character, and all in service of their leader – Cardinal Copia, who maintained an air of energetic mystery, magically disappearing from one spot only to emerge almost impossibly from another on the grand stage.

The Ghost fan base knows what to expect from their shows at this point, and judging by the reception, they delivered for the entirety of their double act set. Even if the subject matter gives you the heebie jeebies, I would highly recommend attending at least one show to any metal head, of any age (the little girl standing next to me couldn’t have be older than six, and she was having a blast on her dads shoulders). As for the subject matter itself, if you’ve spent a few thousand years in solitary, Cardinal Copia and the Nameless Ghouls are who I would call for help. Remember reverence and, in the immortal words of Ice Cube and the Westside Connection, bow down when you come to their town. – MATT SHAVER

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GEEK SQUAD: There Will Be Blood

Wednesday, December 12th, 2018

Late last week the trailer and title for Avengers: Endgame finally dropped. Fans has been begging for this trailer for months. And it is finally here. And it’s a downer. The trailer picks up with the core team members Ironman, Captain America, Black Widow, Bruce Banner, and Thor all mourning the deaths of 50% of the entire universe from Avengers: Infinity War (2017). The trailer cements just how badly the team lost to Thanos. And yet underneath the somber tone is the promise of vengeance. Don’t expect the heroes we’ve watch for 10 years to just sit around talking about how much they all miss Bucky, Spider-Man, or Black Panther. One moment really stands out to me: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) stands over a dead body in a new costume (his Ronin costume) with a look of pure anguish. The last time Renner was seen was in Captain America: Civil War (2016). After that, the archer retired from The Avengers to spend more time with his family. It’s ambiguous in the trailer, but my educated guess is that Hawkeye is mourning his wife and children. If so then Hawkeye could literally humanize the entire film. It wasn’t just gods, aliens, and superheroes who were wiped out by Thanos, millions of un-super everyday people are gone, too. And the remaining Avengers are dead set on avenging them all. There will be blood. – RICHARD SUPLEE

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NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When U Can’t

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

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FRESH AIR: McPherson never thought he’d make a Christmas album. Then, he says, “I got a bug in my ear.” He and his band perform live in studio from Socks, and McPherson talks about growing up on a cattle farm. MORE

PHAWKER: I have seen the future of the past, and his name is J.D. McPherson, a thirtysomething cuffed-denim Okie with lacquered hair, iron lungs and, goodness gracious, great balls of fire. Back in 2012, McPherson and his gifted retro-rock posse released Signs & Signifiers, a bracing collection of tailfin rockabilly, rawboned R&B and sultry moonstruck balladeering. It was hands-down the feel-good record of the year. In advance of his Philly appearance, talked about the usual rockabilly guy stuff:  pomade, semiotics, Larry Clark’s Tulsa, early 60s ska, Greg Ginn, Esquerita vs. Little Richard, the sexiest Buzzcocks album, the majesty of Robert Plant & Alison Krauss’ Raising Sand, how a white man from 2012 can sing like a black man from 1957 and what is the greatest baby-making music ever made. MORE

RELATED: Q&A With J.D. McPherson, Retro-Rock Badass

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UNDONE: The Complete Oral History Of Weezer

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

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Artwork by Fuzzysocks102.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A vastly shorter version of the following oral history of Weezer appeared in MAGNET MAGAZINE in 2014. In advance of Weezer’s performance at The Met tomorrow night, we are publishing the complete and unabridged version. Enjoy.

“The best history of Weezer I have ever read.” – PAT WILSON, DRUMMER

BYLINER mecroppedsharp_1BY JONATHAN VALANIA This year the Blue Album turns 20, and Pinkerton is old enough to vote. Two decades-plus of being Weezer hasn’t all been Buddy Holly glasses and hash pipes for The Last Band Standing, Alt-Rock Class of ‘94. At various points along the way Weezer has been at war with the haters, the fans, the industry, and themselves — wars that have ended in victory, surrender, a cease fire, and a lasting peace, respectively. As such, the Weezer saga has its share of death, insanity and betrayal. And shredding. Always with the shredding. Speaking of which, Weezer’s new album, Everything Will Be All Right In The End, is not just a return to form, it’s at least as good as the Blue Album, if not the best thing they’ve ever done. They all deny it’s a swan song, but it sure feels like one. Which is why we tracked down all the living band members past and present, and, with the help of some special friends (Ric Ocasek, Rick Rubin, Johnny Knoxville and Karl Koch, aka The Fifth Weezer), and jigsawed together the magnet_weezercombo_114 copytragicomic puzzle of the last 22 years.

RIVERS CUOMO (singer, guitarist, songwriter): My parents were Buddhists, they were part of the Rochester Zen Center, which is one of the very first centers for Buddhism in the United States. It was a very rural and agrarian environment. I had chores like feeding ponies, clearing weeds and gardening, cooking and cleaning. Yoga, meditation practice everyday, and then some traditional academics, and a lot of self-lead creative projects. I couldn’t imagine a more nurturing, safe and supportive environment for a kid to grow up in. Years later when my brother and I went to public school, we had to teach ourselves how to swear and talk shit so we could fit in better.

PAT WILSON (drummer): I grew up in Buffalo. I didn’t get a drum set until I was 19, but I had a couple of friends that did. So, I was always at their house. They were semi-uninterested and I was like, ‘Let’s set up those drums, man.’ For some reason I just loved playing them. I dropped out of college after two months. Then I sat in my house in the basement I grew up in for a solid year and a half, smoking weed, drinking coffee, and learning how to play Rush bass lines.

RIVERS CUOMO: I was born with one leg shorter than the other so I had to wear special shoes, one with a lift, just one more reason I wasn’t as cool as everyone else. Whether by nature, or by the environment I grew up in, I found myself completely incapable of fighting I just couldn’t bring myself to defend myself physically. I’d rather just be pushed around and picked on. Usually it just petered out, because I wouldn’t fight them back. Turns out it was a good defense.

MATT SHARP (bass player, 1994-1998): I was born in Thailand but only lived there for a year before moving to the suburbs of DC. My father worked for the U.S. government during the Vietnam war and he was interviewing insurgents in Thailand to find out why they were rebelling. I got a chance to go back to Thailand for one of the last shows I played with Weezer. The touring company we were with seemed to be interlinked with the Thai Mafia. Wherever we went people were terrified of the company we were keeping, just this uneasiness from all the people around us. I remember landing and the touring company meeting us at the gate and ushering us past customs, the guards were carrying M-16s and they turned their back so we could walk through. We had a police escort wherever we went. We got out of the airport and there was a TV reporter with a big light on his camera and he points it at me and says ‘How does it feel to be home?’

RIVERS CUOMO: The first time I heard Kiss, I was living at the Ashram. There were all kinds of people who would just come through and visit the Swami there. People from all over the world. One time, when I was seven years old, this girl showed up. I remember her name was Shanti, she was black, and she had KISS Rock And Roll Over and somehow, as the record was playing, we recorded ourselves running around in circles listening to it. So, for years after, all I had was this cassette tape of KISS playing in the background with us kids screaming and running around. Years later, I met Gene Simmons. He came to one of our concerts. And Ace came, too. It was pretty mindblowing.

PAT WILSON: One day I got introduced to this kid called Pat Finn, the first bass player I ever played with. He’s like, ‘I’m moving to L.A.. I’m gonna be in a band.’ I was like, ‘I’m gonna go with you.’ Pat wound up getting a job at Tower Records on the Sunset Strip where Rivers worked.

JASON CROPPER (guitarist, 1992-1994): When I got to LA, Matt and Pat were working at this telemarketing place selling dog shampoo. Pat was like, I can get you a job.

PAT WILSON: Rivers had a ponytail and could shred with the best of them. He was like the Valley metal-jock. I don’t know if you know about those guys, but at that time it was a distinct breed of long-haired, semi-athletic, and really proficient on an instrument.

JOHNNY KNOXVILLE (friend, that Jackass guy): The guys in Weezer were part of a larger group of friends that were fairly new to Hollywood and flat ass broke. I think I was the only non-musician out of everyone. Didn’t matter though, we all swigged cheap beer together and played a lot of pickup games of basketball. Pat wilson had a hook shot that was virtually indefensible, and Rivers was scrappy as hell. A good shot too.

RIVERS CUOMO: Working at Tower Records was where I was first introduced to ‘cooler music.’ All of the employees there had much better taste. I was exposed to Sonic Youth and the Pixies, and early Nirvana. Even old records from the ‘60s like The Velvet Underground & Nico and Pet Sounds. At first I was pretty nauseated by all that, but after repeated listenings, my own taste started to change.
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INCOMING: Get Yer Einstürzende Neubauten On

Monday, December 10th, 2018

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Hackedepicciotto are a husband and wife on an experimental musical voyage. Alexander Hacke, founding member of the industrial noise band, Einstürzende Neubauten, plays bass, guitar, and drums, but is also an adept throat singer as well as conventional vocalist. Danielle de Picciotto, also a multi-instrumentalist, plays violin and piano, aside from her arsenal of more unusual instruments, including the Hurdy Gurdy and the autoharp. The duo are based out of Germany, and are currently on tour after releasing Menetekel (2017), which translates to “the writing on the wall.” They’ll be stopping in Philly for an entrancing night at the PhilaMOCA on Tuesday, December 11th. The first thing you hear are seagulls. Trails of reverb follow their caws. Then, the continuous, gentle thumping of a stomach-churningly low bass note takes over as the seagulls fly off into the distance, far beyond earshot, as if frightened away by the bass’ thunder. By the second track, “Dreamcatcher,” as you become surrounded by a spellbinding array of organic tribal sounds, you’ll begin to really appreciate the subtleties of hackedepicciotto’s production skills: the clarity of each instrument and noisemaker combined with on-point stereo panning transport the listener to a mythical realm. The mostly instrumental album is full of drawn-out, suspenseful post-rock crescendos. Vague, mystical lines of spoken word are traded off and sometimes harmonized between Hacke and de Picciotto, but are mostly written and recited by de Picciotto. Lyrics of “The Prophecy” hypothesize the true meaning of the Garden of Eden. Although the lyrics and the melodramatic tone in which they are spoken are a bit of a hurdle for me, there is still plenty to enjoy in this album. The album is concluded by a meditative 20-minute epic of gentle folk sounds reminiscent of early-2000s Animal Collective that grows darker toward the end. If I had to categorize Menetekel, I’d call it demonic industrial post-folk. Its dark, intense soundscapes and broad sonic palette echo the work of acts like Natural Snow Buildings, Swans, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. –KYLE WEINSTEIN

HACKEDPICCIOTTO + ERIC HUBEL @ PHILAMOCA TUESDAY DEC. 11TH 8:30 PM

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BEING THERE: Soccer Mommy @ First Unitarian

Monday, December 10th, 2018

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Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER

Wearing oversized wire-frame aviators and high pigtails supported by a small army of shiny barrettes, Sophie Allison serenaded a sold-out crowd of Philadelphia fans at the First Unitarian Church last night with her band, Soccer Mommy. Soccer Mommy’s early bedroom pop work evolved into the highly praised Clean, a 2018 record that deals with love, loss, and the overall existential struggles of most every young adult. It’s music that makes you crave the warmth of another while simultaneously feeling the pain of punching through the walls that Allison described in “Henry,” the opening song of the night.

Though the band included instant classics “Your Dog” and “Cool” on the setlist, they exchanged  regulars from earlier tours like “Allison” for “Out Worn,” another awesomely rocking song with an enticingly heartbreaking chorus off of Collection, a compilation of fully recorded versions of Allison’s early Bandcamp work. Despite the intimacy of her lyrics, Allison kept the crowd at a distance, rarely speaking between songs except for sound adjustments and the necessary words of thanks for a sold-out show. This introversion made it easy to project my own love stories onto her words, the seasonal tragedies of “Still Clean” transporting me back to my lavender-walled high school bedroom, looking out at the bare trees of a bitterly cold winter as I indulged in the self pity of my first real breakup.

Soccer Mommy’s music inspires obsession – those who are familiar with it know every last word, and were more than willing to scream along to Allison’s twisted romantic angst in songs like “Last Girl” or “Flaw,” emphatically head-nodding with every pulse of the rhythm. The band danced along as well as they reworked songs with more complex production for a live setting. Mostly, as in the case of “Cool” and “Still Clean,” they simply left those elements out, progressing through the chord changes without any majorly dramatic use of effects pedals or other experimentation. Though the creative production is what first drew me to those songs, the band was right to think that sometimes it’s best to leave certain components of that on the recording. And in the intimacy of a church basement, reverting to a style more akin to Allison’s lo-fi beginnings worked well.

The set ended on “Scorpio Rising,” a song of romantic nostalgia and shortcomings that ends in a realization that there are some qualities about ourselves that we’ll never be able to change, ones that are instead controlled by some mystic force of fate or astrology. Allison has called it the centerpiece of Clean, and its spiritual power over the room was obvious as the din of voices singing along grew louder with each repeat of the chorus. Then, following the order of the album, Soccer Mommy left the stage for a brief interlude before returning to play “Wildflowers” – “a song we’ve just learned to play for shows, so you’re some of the first to hear it,” Allison told the crowd. They swapped the dreamy laser-like synths of the song’s recording for a final build of bewitching distortion, with the band members drawing closer around Allison at the end.

In that circling abstraction, I could picture the line of earth in the last verse calling to me as well, carrying me far away from these darkly cold days in the city back to summer nights spent sprawled across picnic tables staring up at the stars in warmly familiar company. Perhaps I allow my love for Allison’s songwriting to indulge me in these wistful daydreams a bit too often, or maybe it’s simply because December always makes me ache for the comfort of my true home. But romantic and idealistic as these feelings might be, they aren’t ones I’d like to change. Instead, I want to embrace the fact that I’m just a victim of changing planets, same as Allison and everyone else stuffed into that eternally humid basement last night. — SOPHIE BURKHOLDER

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CINEMA: Fame Monster

Friday, December 7th, 2018

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VOX LUX (Directed by Brady Corbet, 110 minutes, USA, 2018)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Vox Lux opens in 1999 during a Columbine-esque school shooting. A young Celeste Montgomery, played by Raffey Cassidy, is shot in the neck after she offers to pray with the gunman for the release of her classmates. Miraculously she survives and while in the hospital writes a song about her nightmarish experience and what starts as Celeste trying to find a way to heal herself becomes an anthem for a fractured country. In no time, the show biz vampires descend and Celeste is groomed for pop stardom by Jude Law, sporting a Members Only jacket and a gruff New York accent, who serves as manager, enabler and confidant. This dramatic rise to fame is narrated by Willem Dafoe in a role eerily reminiscent of Rod Serling in Phantom of the Paradise.

The film then jumps to 2017 where a 31-year-old Celeste, played by Natalie Portman, is a full-fledged popstar at the tail end of her career — weary, weathered and just a little bit crazy. We spend a day with Celeste as she readies for the launch of a comeback tour in support of her new album, Vox Lux. But even before she can even begin her morning press roundtables, a mass shooting using iconography from one of her videos, rocks the world. This is the tipping point for Celeste, who was hoping this day would be the rebirth of her career. This all plays out in front of her teenage daughter Albertine, who is played by Raffey Cassidy in a strange bit of inspired casting. Shockingly funny and sometimes hard to watch, the film is the darker side of the pop machine, with a glimpse into how its sugary sounds and glamorous idols are manufactured.

Portman turns in a staggering tour de force performance. Her transformation into Celeste feels effortless thanks in no small part to all-in performances by Law and Raffey Cassidy, who does an impressively seamless turn as her younger self. The aging rock star is invariably a male-dominated archetype in cinema (see A Star is Born). But here Portman owns it and manages to out-crazy every rocker in every biopic you’ve probably seen. SIA co-wrote most of the songs and the ethereal quality of SIA’s music lends Portman’s portrayal of Celeste and uncommon authenticity.

The older Portman gets, the more complex the characters she creates, losing herself in role after role. Vox Lux is a film that deals with controversial subject matter in a way that may upset some with its unflinching truths. It’s also a touching story about how something sparked from a very real moment of healing turns its creator into pure artifice. Thankfully the film doesn’t seek salvation for the diva, it simply asks the viewer to see her for who she used to be and what she has become. All that being said, Vox Lux is an exquisite pop-infused masterpiece that solidifies Portman status as one of the most daring actors currently working.

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BEING THERE: Cult Leader @ Ortliebs

Friday, December 7th, 2018

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Photo by MARK LIKOSKY

Cult Leader, sludgy grindcore crust punks from Salt Lake City, are brutally melodic in a way one would only know by going down dark paths, through treacherous caves during the worst hours in search of answers. They played Ortlieb’s last night as part of a Deathwish Records package tour that also Sweden’s God Mother and Brooklyn’s Primitive Weapons. God Mother was heavy and pleasantly evil, but the singer stopped the music from time to time because he felt the ‘moshing’ was a bit too harsh and made a joke that in his country at least if he gets hurt there was free health care. He used his microphone chord to stage a limbo contest with audience members and then tried to wrestle the ceiling fan and disco ball as he surfed over the crowd into the bar. Brooklyn-based Primitive Weapons had a super true thrashing metal sound with powerful vocals that reminded me of the stuff I used to stay up late waiting to see on Headbangers Ball. Adorned in a leather jacket and hoodie, Cult Leader vocalist Anthony Lucero pretty much didn’t say anything in between songs other than “this is our last song” and then he finally ditched the leather jacket and hoodie. Not sure if it was because he was overheating or just wanted to prove to the audience that despite his growled declarations that he was “was made of snakes that hate the sun” he was in fact more human than demon, but either way this set made me a follower. – MARK LIKOSKY

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MOTHER TONGUE: A Q&A With Soccer Mommy

Thursday, December 6th, 2018

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Photo by LINDSEY GRACE WHIDDON

SOPHIE_BURKHOLDER_BYLINERBY SOPHIE BURKHOLDER Sophie Allison, who makes music under the name Soccer Mommy, describes her sound on her Bandcamp page as “chill but kinda sad.” Her debut album Clean (Fat Possum), which came out earlier this year, has already started topping lists for the best albums of 2018. She got her start by posting self-produced tracks online, following the increasingly popular trend of bedroom pop music. After moving to New York for college, she decided to pursue music full-time, adding a full band and advanced production to make Clean, a soft rock record that follows Allison’s reflections on breakups, growing up, and realizing that some parts of yourself will never change (and that’s okay). In advance of her sold out show at First Unitarian Church on Saturday, we got her on the phone to talk about her first attempts at songwriting, her thoughts on astrology, and what comes next.

PHAWKER: When did you write your first song? I know you’ve said that you started writing music when you were about six years old, but when did you write your first official, sort-of-polished song? And what was it about?

SOPHIE ALLISON: I mean the first song I wrote that was basically a refrain played over and over again was called “What the Heck Is A Cowgirl?” And that was when I was like, five. But when I was six, seven, eight, that whole time range, I was writing full songs with verses and choruses. They were usually about stupid stuff like having braces or doing homework. I was writing songs pretty much at that age. They just weren’t, you know, good [laughing]. But I was definitely writing a structured song.

PHAWKER: So when did you start writing songs that were more in the style of the first stuff that you put up on Bandcamp?SOCCER MOMMY CLEAN

SOPHIE ALLISON: I feel like that kind of happened in high school, when I was sixteen or seventeen. I think I wrote “Switzerland,” which is one of the ones that I first put out, when I was sixteen. I think that was probably the earliest one that was ever put on any Soccer Mommy thing. And before that I was just kind of writing like singer-songwritery stuff with jazz chords, because I was learning a lot of jazz music. But it wasn’t very stylized to me. I was just kind of doing what I knew, and writing catchy stuff, and doing verse-chorus, verse-chorus. I didn’t really have a style in mind. But I kind of developed that around sixteen or seventeen, and started diving into it.

PHAWKER: Why were you learning jazz then? Were you taking some lessons in that?

SOPHIE ALLISON: Yeah. I started taking jazz lessons when I was twelve, and I took lessons before that just kind of learning chords on the guitar. And then I went to an arts school in high school, and it was mostly jazz guitar that we were learning.

PHAWKER: I’m also curious about the name Soccer Mommy. Where did that come from?

SOPHIE ALLISON: It was actually my Twitter name as a joke when I was in high school. And then I started putting stuff on Bandcamp and thought it was a funny name. So yeah, it was my Twitter handle first, and then I would post my Bandcamp stuff to Twitter, so it kind of became the name of the project.

PHAWKER: So I know you grew up in Nashville, and then moved to New York for college, and seemed to have a bunch of big life changes at once – which I can relate to because I’m also currently in college, and dealing with all of the existential angst that comes with that.

SOPHIE ALLISON: [laughing] Mhmmmm.

PHAWKER: How did all of those changes show up on your debut record Clean? Because it does deal with similar romantic vibes to your earlier stuff, but there’s almost more of a bite to it, if that makes sense.

SOPHIE ALLISON: Yeah, I definitely agree. I really think it just came from growing up a little bit. I was kind of reflecting on this experience of the first year I spent in New York, and how that changed me. I wrote kind of about the things that came after that, and about starting my life in a different way and trying to heal from the process of moving that far and having my first real break-up and being totally alone in a huge city. It was about learning a lot from that and feeling like a different person a little bit, feeling more true to myself, and finding ways to take on life from there a little bit. SOCCER MOMMY SONG FOR THE RECENTLY SAD

PHAWKER: Music from Clean has been showing up a lot on these “Bedroom Pop” playlists on streaming services, which is kind of where you started out when you were literally making music in your bedroom. But with Clean, it makes a little less sense, because with all of the production, there’s so much going on with it that you could never do in a bedroom by yourself. Tell me a little bit about the evolution of your sound on that record, and especially about the production on songs like “Still Clean” or “Cool.”

SOPHIE ALLISON: Yeah, it definitely isn’t bedroom pop anymore. I understand why people still lump it into that, because that’s where I started. And it’s evolved, but it hasn’t completely strayed from the intimacy. I’m not recording in some huge studio that is millions of dollars to rent out or anything. A lot of my record was done in my producer’s house, in his living room basically. So it does still have that intimate vibe that kind of connects with my earlier work, but it’s definitely a studio record at this point. When I first started, I was straight-up just making stuff in my room and recording it on a little Tascam, or later on a Scarlett USB import thing. I would just kinda do it in a really cheap way. I didn’t have a lot of mics or equipment. I didn’t really know what I was doing at first, I was just learning as I went. You can definitely tell when you listen to the older stuff that it’s a beginning. I think you can hear my influence of my ideas, I think I get them across. But on a record like Clean, I had so much more opportunity to get my full ideas across, and to fully flush out ideas. Whereas before, I just tried to make things sound as good as possible, because I was just doing it out of my room. With Clean, there’s just a bunch of cool production tricks that were thanks to my awesome producer, Gabe Wax. He just had so many good ideas that were exactly what I wanted the record to sound like. I barely gave him any idea of what I wanted. I just told him that I wanted it to sound like sitting in a field in the summer in Tennessee in the middle of the night. And that’s all I had to say [laughing]. And he totally got it for me. I was able to bounce all of my ideas off of him, and he would kind of take it to the next level, and help me build upon my ideas.
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CACTUS BLOSSOMS: Please Don’t Call Me Crazy

Thursday, December 6th, 2018

From Easy Way, the follow up LP to Cactus Blossom’s 2016 debut You’re Dreaming, due out March 1st 2019.

PREVIOUSLY: Dillon Alexander’s Review Of You’re Dreaming

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