Sundown in Oaktown is the debut album by triton., a musical project by Scott Murphy. With the concept of space being a vital tenant of the record, Murphy’s Hawaiian roots shine brightly throughout while also leaving plenty of room for the darker tones of life in Oakland, California. It is undoubtedly well-balanced and relatable with songs about how it feels to uproot your life in “_tiki_”, trying to stay out of trouble in “_jingletown_” and grappling with homesickness in “all_is_vanity.”
The album spans twelve tracks in just over 40 minutes and manages not to be rushed without dragging. Many of the songs like the opener “_bougainvillea,” sound like they’re being performed by Murphy on a seashore with a guitar in his lap. As he reflects on his new life 2,000 miles from home, he sings “I’ll figure it out/just like I always do” while addressing his shortcomings. The fastest song on Sundown in Oaktown is “orchids” which is written from the standpoint of looking back on life from the inside of a fast-moving BART train. Murphy is transparent about his mental health struggles in many songs and “orchids” does so in a way that warrants forgiveness rather than pity: “I’m sorry my place is a wreck/I just wanted it to match my head/I’m alone again in this bed/staring at the ceiling/thinking back on what you said,” he sings against upbeat keyboards, guitar, and drums.
Having grown up in the Bay Area and gone to college in Oakland myself, I can relate to much of what triton. alludes to throughout the album. Oakland has been at the forefront of artistic and social movements for decades but since it has become one of the most expensive places to live in the US (due to gentrification and inadequate rent control laws), it can often be difficult to make a living through creative means. In a press release, Murphy’s describes the experience of how living in Oakland informed the record clearly as he “saw lines drawn everywhere, neighborhood to neighborhood, rich to poor, and began his new life, trying not to slip between the cracks, and lose himself in a city that will spit you out or swallow you whole. Living paycheck to paycheck, Scott started writing music under the name triton. as a way to make sense of his fractured identity, combining the gentle sounds of his youth with the roar of city traffic, car alarms, and broken windows.”
On Tuesday, January 25th, long running political dance punk band, Downtown Boys, and Brooklyn grunge rock band, Oceanator, delivered highly energized sets to a tightly packed room at Brooklyn’s Union Pool. This show marked the fourth of the “Free Tuesdays” winter concert series that kicked off at the start of the year and which runs through February, hopefully continuing for many seasons to come like their “Summer Thunder” series has.
Oceanator opened the show and performed mostly tracks off their latest record, Nothing’s Ever Fine (one of our favorites of 2022), as well as an exciting brand new tune. Frontwoman Elise Okusami generously provided plenty of guitar shreds onstage as bassist Dylan Lapointe and drummer Jahari Fleetwood laid out the beats during their eight-song set. This show also marks their last show in the US before heading out on a three-week long European tour with post-hardcore band La Dispute in April. They have been touring vigorously over the past year, sharing stages with acts such as Pile, Jeff Rosenstock, and Queen of Jeans among others and have steadily been releasing music over the past few years. We wish them well during their time abroad and can’t wait to catch them back around town again!
Unless you’re a certified Grinch, it’s impossible not to have a good time at a Downtown Boys show. Congruent to their ethos is a sense of sustained community, and that definitely came through at Union Pool, thanks to the band and everyone else who was in attendance at the show. At the start of their set, singer Victoria Ruiz requested that audience members allow others who “may not have as much body mass in the vertical department” as them to be in front. Many obliged and what ensued was an hour full of singing, dancing, sweating, high-fives, fist pumps and good vibes in a room full of familiar faces and new friends alike.
Downtown Boys at Union Pool
Between songs, Ruiz also brought attention to issues regarding abortion access on demand and for any reason, white supremacy, Palestinian liberation, and capitalism, which much of the band’s music addresses. There were fourteen songs in the set, with highlights including the pairing of “100% Inheritance Tax” and “Wave Of History,” to kick things off and “Monstro” at the conclusion of the set, all from 2015’s Full Communism. In between those strong bookends, several songs from both albums made their way into the set with massive reaction to favorites like “Somos Chulas (No Somos Pendejas),” “A Wall” and their lively cover of Selena’s “Fotos Y Recuerdos.” Before the song’s start, Ruiz proclaimed, “You might think it’s a Pretenders cover, but it’s not! It’s a Selena cover!” They also included their high octane cover of the 1987 classic “Poder Elegir,” by Los Prisioneros, explaining the legacy of the influential Chilean band before beginning.
From the epic sax solos of Joe DeGeorge to the fast-paced southpaw drumming of Joey Doubek and slick infectious guitar riffs from Joey DeFrancesco, there was no shortage of talented musicianship onstage backing up the powerhouse vocals of Ruiz. Bassist Mary Regalado was unfortunately sick so could not play the show but a fill-in bassist, Tony, was able to step in to fill her shoes and they did an incredible job. Ruiz went down into the crowd multiple times during the band’s set, trading places with several audience members who happily made their way to the stage to dance, sing and cheer along. At the conclusion of the set, fans were not quite ready for the night to end and shouted for more. The sweaty and exuberant band members didn’t leave the crowd hanging and quickly returned to the stage to give us one more, playing their cover of Bruce Springsteen’s iconic 1984 hit, “Dancing In The Dark.”
Although this show was not their first since the start of the pandemic, Downtown Boys have not performed very much over the past few years so this was quite a special occasion. Their next show is a sold out abortion funds benefit this Saturday, January 28th at Bowery Ballroom (read more), where they’ll be playing with several other artists including Horsegirl, Katy Kirby, Weeping Icon and Wet. We are so glad we were able to catch them at such a small venue tonight and look forward to rocking out with them again soon!
Scroll down for setlists, pics of the show (photos by Kate Hoos)
Oceanator Setlist: Morning, Bad Brain Daze, Solar Flares, A Crack in the World, New One, Stuck, From the Van, Evening
Downtown Boys Setlist: 100% Inheritance Tax, Wave of History, I’m Enough (I Want More), Lips That Bite, Promissory Note, Fotos Y Recuerdos (Selena cover), Tonta, Poder Elegir (Los Prisioneros cover), Somos Chulas (No Somos Pendejas), Break A Few Eggs, Because You, L’internationale, A Wall, Monstro Encore: Dancing In The Dark (Bruce Springsteen cover)
This past Sunday, January 15th, I got to ring in my first show of 2023 with the tender indie beats of Kississippi, Highnoon, and Jane Lai as they performed in front of a packed room at Brooklyn’s Baby’s All Right. The three bands complemented each other’s sounds quite well as they all shared similar vibes but had distinct musical styles, with Kississippi and Highnoon even sharing a few band members. Brooklyn-based outfit Jane Lai kicked things off first, followed by Highnoon and finally Kississippi, both of whom are from Philadelphia.
Jane Lai played six songs, including a few from her 2022 album, Received Receipt, as well as a brand new track. While I was only familiar with Kississippi’s music at the start of the show, it didn’t take much to convert me into a member of the Jane Lai Fan Club. Along with an endearing stage presence, Lai cleverly incorporated elements of daily life in a manner that manages to be beautifully philosophical in her music. Contemplative, soft, and exploratory are all useful words to describe the tone of Lai’s music and I would not be surprised to see her playing even bigger stages in the not-so-distant future.
Highnoon took things in a more 90’s alt direction with their set as they played several unreleased tracks as well as some of their newer singles such as “Back to You” and “Are You With Me.” Front-person Kennedy Freeman even rocked a Deftones shirt with a cat on it to give a nod to some of the band’s influences (which many of us cat parents and devotees here at Full Time Aesthetic can greatly appreciate!). The band delivered a highly energized set, complete with a guitar solo from guitarist Brendan Simpson and plenty of rocking out around the room with some of Highnoon’s friends and family present. Interspersed between moments of rocking out were times of reflection and the band have struck a balance with the emotional pacing of their songs, many of which address topics of relationships and life’s complexities. They also announced that they are working on new tunes and we very much look forward to what lies ahead.
Kississippi ripened the room with feeling throughout the entirety of their dreamy and captivating set, mostly playing songs off their fantastic 2021 album, Mood Ring, in addition to a sweet cover of Sixpence None the Richer‘s classic “Kiss Me.” I had been wanting to see Kississippi for quite some time and was not only enamored by how they embodied the emotional landscape of their songs but also by how they connected with the crowd. During “We’re So In Tune,” frontwoman Zoe Reynolds even led the audience through a YMCA-style dance routine as folks moved their arms around to make the shapes of W, S, I, and T. (I’m personally in favor of more bands leading their audience through dance routines like this since not only is it fun, but also helps bridge the gap between artist and fan.) Towards the end of their set, Kississippi brought out a few members of Highnoon to join them onstage as they performed Sixpence None the Richer’s “Kiss Me,” a fitting song for them to cover.
I’m so glad I was able to kick off 2023 with Kississippi, Highnoon, and Jane Lai. I had especially been wanting to see Kississippi for quite some time and am so grateful to have been present for the show, especially at a venue as intimate as Baby’s All Right. If there’s anything to take away from Sunday night, it’s that it is going to be an excellent year for music.
Scroll down for setlist, pics of the show (photos by Amanda Meth)
Kississippi setlist: Twin Flame, Dreams, Cut Yr Teeth, Indigo, Big Dipper, Moon Over, We’re So In Tune, Around Room, Kiss Me (Sixpence None the Richer cover), Greyhound
As the clock struck midnight on January 1, 2023, Detroit-based rock band, Fireworks, surprise released Higher Lonely Power, their highly anticipated first record in nine years. Following a 2014-2019 hiatus, it is the band’s fourth studio album after 2014’s Oh, Common Life and marks a notable shift in Fireworks’ earlier pop-punk stylings while still staying true to their ethos of making music that is rooted in the complexity of being alive. Refreshingly unpredictable yet strikingly cohesive, Higher Lonely Power marks a profound new chapter for the band as they consider their past, present, and future.
With the help of orchestral arrangements from Adam Mercer and backing vocals from Steven Branstrom and Ali Mosshart on several tracks, Higher Lonely Power is Fireworks’ most diverse and ambitious LP yet. Spanning twelve songs in just over 43 minutes, the band generously explores topics of religious fundamentalism, self-sacrifice, and mortality against a wide range of instrumental backdrops, including synth and string sections. From the bracing post-hardcore opener of “God Approved Insurance Plan” to the contemplative closer of “How Did It Used to Be So Easy?,” every track on the record manages to hold its own while simultaneously bringing Higher Lonely together.
Although their 2019 single “Demitasse” was left off of the record, the ethereal track set the stage for the spiritually distressed motif and evolved sound that their latest music is rooted in. Fireworks are well aware that a lot has changed since their last release and the album brilliantly encapsulates how the band have evolved with searing insight in relation to their place in the world.
Spiritual, professional, and personal disenfranchisement are all substantial hallmarks of Higher Lonely Power. “Megachurch” brilliantly references the demands and hypocrisy of evangelical institutions while also taking a jab at the deep-rooted homophobia of those establishments. “Funeral Plant” considers how the experience of grief can result in dramatically different existential paths. “Woods II” explores complicated feelings about starting a band after high school and the sacrifices that had to be made to keep Fireworks afloat.
By far the most haunting song on the album is “Blood in the Milk,” a remarkable track where the band reflects on their trajectory and how their view on mortality has transformed. The track alludes to singer David Mackinder and guitarist Chris Mojan’s days of undergoing medical tests for money with references to being poked with needles and sleeping on the floors of hotel rooms, which they spoke about in a recent Stereogum interview. Beyond that, it reveals the lengths the band went to to keep themselves alive in a world that severely disparages working artists. With “Blood in the milk and pesticides on the honey/Woke up afraid to die when we used to think it was funny” as the song’s chorus, Fireworks use their ingenious poetic insight to express just how much they’ve changed. Featuring a mix of synth and rock instrumentation with a brilliant build-up of emotion, it is easily one of the best songs Fireworks have ever written.
Whether it’s coming to terms with an existential crisis or realizing that some things just shouldn’t stay the same, Fireworks have proven that getting wiser with age often means letting go. The sky is truly the limit for these Detroit Bad Boys and Higher Lonely Power has certainly secured a spot as one of my favorite releases of 2023.
In her debut EP ThePuppy Game, Canadian singer-songwriter Blair Lee leans into vulnerability, reflection, and the inevitable passing of time to deliver a wondrously beautiful and expansive record. Named after a game Lee used to play as a kid with her cousins and siblings (according to her official press release), The Puppy Game is both an ode to her past and a practice in choosing how to shape her future. With five songs spanning just over 16 minutes, The Puppy Game is a refreshing and striking listen that proves Lee is fully capable of making some serious waves in the indie music scene.
Opening the record is “Hurdles,” a song about Lee’s grandparents growing older and grappling with missed family moments. The music video features a montage of her grandparents spending time with her and her family as a very young child, a deeply thoughtful homage to those from whom she came. Sonically, “Hurdles” is rooted in an electro-indie soundscape. Softly strummed guitars, smooth synth, and dreamy keyboards create an expansive backdrop to her soaring vocal melodies. “You take your time/roll the window down and wave goodbye/am I your anchor?/You move in a straight line/but you’re circling my mind/’till next time, ‘till next time” sings Lee during the chorus, making clear the impact the aging of her grandparents has had on her psyche.
In addition to successfully creating a unique and cohesive sonic identity with The Puppy Game, Lee also manages to explore a variety of themes throughout the record. Following “Hurdles” is “Peachy World,” a more uptempo track about coming to terms with the possibility of a romance ending. The EP’s third song, “Flower Mind” addresses the kind of person she aspires to be and how she can achieve her dreams in the midst of doubts and setbacks by focusing on the positives in her life. With lyrics such as “Every day/I wake up and I wonder/How I’ll change/With this rain I’m under/Start to doubt it’s all in my head/If I shut up and drive/Could I leave the storm behind/For open skies” reveals her struggle with staying positive and how she wants to “be the girl smiling for no reason.” In addition to“Flower Mind” being the most introspective track on the record, it is also the most grunge-like, making its placement as the EP’s middle song ideal. After “Flower Mind” comes “All Day,” an ethereal track about Lee further recognizing her agency as a person and artist to be able to pull herself out of darkness.
The Puppy Game ends with “Last Bite,” a profoundly beautiful track rooted deep in reflection and an absolute gem of an album closer. The first thirty seconds of the song are particularly chill-inducing and capable of melting even the hardest of hearts. Featuring a tender chord progression paired with Lee’s soft yet searing vocals singing “When the sky burns pink before the night/people stop to take a picture of the light/the water” “Last Bite”brings The Puppy Game to a bracing close, appointing Lee as a force to be reckoned with. In the song’s music video, she is situated alone along a snowy beach in what could be presumed is the middle of winter. The camera captures the essence of the song perfectly with alternating clips of her singing towards the sky, looking contemplative on a tree stump, and running along the beach with her arms outstretched, holding the blanket up behind her as if she were a bird soaring above the ocean.
With an astonishingly gorgeous EP under her belt, Blair Lee has a wide open road on which to drive when it comes to her future. The Puppy Game is best listened when able to view the sky or in a quiet room since Lee’s vocals and the accompanying instrumentation can be heard as acutely as possible. She is worth checking out if you like good music but especially if you’re a fan of MUNA, Soccer Mommy, or Maggie Rogers. We are eager to see what lies ahead for Blair Lee and certainly hope that she comes down to the US from Canada to play some shows in the not-so-distant future!
The Puppy Game was self released and is available now via all major streaming platforms.