On Saturday, February 26th, indie rock band Tigers Jaw played Market Hotel to a sold out crowd just a state over from their hometown of Scranton, PA. After a nationwide tour supporting Circa Survive was canceled so vocalist Anthony Green could focus on his well-being, Tigers Jaw managed to pull together their own headlining tour at the last minute. For me, it was a treat to see them headline as I’m a longtime fan who’s only seen them supporting other acts in larger venues. Saturday night did not disappoint as the band played 19 songs, many of which were off their esteemed 2021 release, I Won’t Care How You Remember Me.
Buffalo and Brooklyn-based DIY musician Quinton Brock opened the show with an engaging and invigorating performance, clearly happy to be sharing his songs with neighbors and fellow music lovers. His set consisted mostly of unreleased songs as well as three released singles—“To the Moon,” “Touch,” and “There For You.” With a sound that encompasses elements of indie, R&B, indie, and punk, Brock approached the crowd with the same kind of openness present in his songs, hyping up the audience and inciting smiles, sing-alongs, and arm waves across the room. A truly talented performer, Brock set the stage for an evening of rocking out by fully activating the audience during his set.
Tigers Jaw began with their 2020 single “Warn Me” before transitioning into a set comprised of songs off several of their albums, including the aforementioned 2021 release I Won’t Care How You Remember Me in addition to spin (2017), Charmer (2014), and Tigers Jaw (2008). Throughout the night fans were crowd surfing, stage diving, and singing their hearts out to the band’s deeply personal and emotionally charged songs. There was minimal stage banter from the band, who were focused on delivering a straightforward and well-versed set. In an hour and a half, Tigers Jaw played 19 songs and missed 0 beats.
Formed in 2005, Tigers Jaw continues to make great music nearly 20 years after their inception. With lead guitarist and vocalist Ben Walsh, keyboardist and vocalist Brianna Collins, bassist Colin Gorman, and drummer Teddy Roberts, the band continues to strengthen their existing body of work by making heart-driven, melancholic, and uniquely beautiful music. At Saturday’s concert, I found myself amongst many fans who were about half my age, which means that Tigers Jaw are aging quite well and hopefully have many years left ahead of them. As someone who’s found myself leaning into the band’s work for my own moments of emotional turmoil, I’m glad that others are able to lean on them in their own way. When the band ended their set with “I Saw Water,” the crowd went wild, eager to throw themselves into the depths of a tiger’s jaw.
Tiger’s Jaw setlist:Warn Me, Cat’s Cradle, Plane Vs. Tank Vs. Submarine, The Sun, Can’t Wait Forever, Hum, Hesitation, Chemicals, Follows, Body Language,Slow Come On, Commit, Never Wanted To, June, I Won’t Care How You Remember Me, Window , Anniversary, Never Saw It Coming, I Saw Water
Scroll down for pics of the show (photos by Amanda Meth)
Mitski is back from a three-year long hiatus and her new record, Laurel Hell, has not skipped a single beat. But even if it did, it wouldn’t matter. Because the magic of Mitski is that she creates music which exists by the rules of its own universe. A record centered around how Mitski relates to herself, to lovers, and to her fans, Laurel Hell is a relatable, cinematic, and beautiful body of work. With 11 songs coming in at just over 30 minutes, Laurel Hell is paced well and doesn’t feel rushed even as it packs multiple narratives throughout.
The record opens with “Valentine, Texas,” an emotionally captivating and sweeping track that starts out quietly during the first verse before crescendoing into a louder second half. With Mitski’s signature sound of being both atmospheric and vulnerable, “Valentine, Texas” offers a familiarity to the listener as the record’s opening song. The track’s first lines allude to Mitski’s return as she sings “Let’s step carefully into the dark/Once we’re in I’ll remember my way around/Who will I be tonight/Who will I become tonight/I’ll show you who my sweetheart’s never met/Wet teeth, shining eyes/Glimmering by a fire.” Upon finding out what kind of place Valentine, Texas is, I imagined myself waltzing alone in the dust-filled town of less than 200, a particular kind of peace that is only afforded to certain people. Perhaps a kind of peace that Mitski herself craves often but has trouble accessing with her rising fame.
In “Working For the Knife,” the record’s first single and second track, she dives deeper into the struggle with wanting to create but feeling constrained by expectations as she starts off by singing “I cry at the start of every movie/I guess ’cause I wish I was making things too/But I’m working for the knife.” Sonically, “Working For the Knife” oscillates with industrial and subtly psychedelic elements with a tinge of sadness that fits well with the track’s lyrical content. The music video features her singing and dancing around by herself in a performing arts center, possibly reflecting on the freedom she’s missing from her earlier days as an artist. At the beginning, she walks in with a cowgirl hat (a likely allusion to her last record, Be the Cowboy) and by the video’s end, she writhes around on a stage floor panting heavily, starting over the cycle of baring parts of her soul to the world.
What Mitski does really well on Laurel Hell is establish a kind of theatrical sonic landscape throughout the record where she is watching herself while inviting the listener in to watch her. This is clearly demonstrated in the third verse of “The Only Heartbreaker” where Mitski proclaims: “So I’ll be the loser in this game/I’ll be the bad guy in the play/I’ll be the water main that’s burst and flooding/You’ll be by the window, only watching.”
A deeply sad song about heartbreak, “The Only Heartbreaker” is juxtaposed against a danceable 80’s beat as she sings about herself being the heartbreaker in a relationship. The song’s music video features Mitski dancing in a burning forest, reaching her hands high but unable to get out. Mitski also utilizes this juxtaposition in other songs such as “Love Me More” and “Should’ve Been Me,” offering a contrast in tempo from more solemnly paced songs.
The last song on the album is “That’s Our Lamp,” a track with a funky bass beat about looking at a lamp from outside an apartment where Mitski was once loved. “That’s our lamp/It shines like a big moon/We may be ending/I’m standing in the dark/Looking up into our room/Where you’ll be waiting for me/Thinking that’s where you loved me/That’s where you loved me.” The song preceding it is “I Guess,” which sounds like it very well could be the last song on the album as Mitski ponders a breakup against a contemplative tempo. But it’s important to consider that “That’s Our Lamp” gives closure to the narrative in “I Guess” and offers a more specific location to the aftermath of the breakup as Mitski reflects and mourns the loss of what she had. The more upbeat nature of the song feels like an encore, with the line “that’s where you loved me” repeating eight times throughout the end of the song, bringing the record to a close.
According to a recent interview with Pitchfork, the reason behind Mitski choosing the name Laurel Hell is: ‘Laurel Hell’ is a term from the Southern Appalachians in the U.S., where laurel bushes basically grow in these dense thickets, and they grow really wide… And, I mean, I’ve never experienced it myself, but when you get stuck in these thickets, you can’t get out. Or so the story goes. And so there are a lot of Laurel Hells in America, in the South, where they’re named after the people who died within them because they were stuck. And, so the thing is, laurel flowers are so pretty. They just burst into these explosions of just beauty. And, I just, I liked the notion of being stuck inside this explosion of flowers and perhaps even dying within one of them.
Mitski performing in 2019 (photos by Edwina Hay)
The cover for Laurel Hell features Mitski in a dramatic pose with her eyes closed and hair splayed out in front of black laurel flower leaves in the corner and white lines drawn into cracks forming on her face. She is wearing a red turtleneck and has red lipstick on, and her hands are positioned artistically as if she’s mid-dance.
With Laurel Hell, Mitski has created a record that is notably poppier than her past releases but still explores the condition of what it means to exist in relation to others and how it feels when those relations become undone. An appropriate follow-up to Be the Cowboy, there are repeated themes of longing and regret that color the record without becoming drawn out. What’s crystal clear is that Mitski can keep finding inventive ways to tell her story with catchy beats and heart-wrenching, memorable lyrics.
On December 3, 2021, Marissa Paternoster released Peace Meter, her first solo record on Don Giovanni Records. Well-known for her wildly tenacious guitar solos, a roaring voice, and a commanding musical presence as the frontwoman of Screaming Females, Paternoster shows a more pensive side on her debut solo LPand gets deeply personal with songs about loss and longing.
With nine songs and spanning just over half an hour, Peace Meter is a solid listen with tracks that lean more heavily into 80’s goth synth rather than the fast-paced rock and roll that is associated with Screaming Females.
The album opens with “White Dove,” a stunning track with Paternoster laying out beautiful vocal melodies and intricate, delicate guitar strums. The video for the song features Paternoster walking through a cemetery, wearing a white dress and holding a wilting bouquet of roses, gazing somberly into the camera throughout the entire single-shot video. The song sounds almost like a funeral hymn, with Paternoster repeating the line “your feathers soaked in blood” throughout, which lays the foundation for Peace Meter as an album covering more serious topics. Traditionally, white doves symbolize peace and love but in the context of this song, that symbolism becomes tainted. About halfway through, the beat of the song picks up with the help of synth and drum beats but Paternoster’s voice becomes more subdued, offering a fresh and dynamic effect to the track.
As the record progresses, it becomes clear that this is an album specifically about romantic loss and the effect that the experience has had on Paternoster. The second song, “Black Hole” is melodically very catchy but features a dark undertone with Paternoster singing, “I’m awash in a big black hole without you.” Although the upbeat melody remains consistent throughout the song, the closing verse is tinged with melancholy as Paternoster proclaims, “I need evidence I can live without you/Catch a hiss with the horizon without you/Try my dress and then embalm me/I’m a statue in this fantasy/I’m awash in a big black hole without you.”
A notable collaboration on Peace Meter is the third track, “I Lost You,” a song about breaking up with a lover and not even being able to remain friends. Although the chorus features a sad sentiment of “I guess it’s sad/But it’s true/You don’t care/I’ve lost you,” the song is upbeat and danceable, with Snakeskin’s Shanna Polley on backing vocals and Lung’s Kate Wakefield on cello. According to the album’s press release, Paternoster had this to say about writing the song: “It’s one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written, and I think it’s safe to say that all parties involved brought their A game to this tune. After initially sending Andy (Gibbs, of THOU) the framework for this song, he immediately knew it could be transformed into more of an up-beat dance song with ease. I told him to go for it, and he did. Shanna’s (Polley, of Snakeskin) vocal refrains draw out the end of the song perfectly and Kate’s (Wakefield, of Lung) rapid-fire cello breaks add a lot of cutting texture to the song.”
The first half of the album is more upbeat than the latter half, but only slightly. The album is arranged quite well, with great pacing throughout. The middle track—appropriately titled “Balance Beam”—serves as one of the most beautiful songs on the album. Paternoster gently strums her guitar as she addresses her subject with an earnest gentleness even though she’s experiencing deep heartbreak. By featuring a variety of tones and tempos on Peace Meter, Paternoster truly highlights her skill and breadth as a musician. The songs are very much her own and her satisfaction with the work she put in is apparent throughout the record.
If you’re looking for a signature Paternoster guitar solo on this album, you can find it on “Running,” a funky song about traversing whatever is necessary to be with your true love again. “Let me be the one you come running to,” Paternoster repeats throughout, as drums and synth help shape the song into a danceable and memorable track.
Paternoster performing with Screaming Females (photo by Kate Hoos)
According to the album’s press release, Paternoster “began writing Peace Meter immediately after arriving home from a west coast tour cut short due to COVID. Alone in her deceased grandmother’s empty home, Paternoster sent the skeleton of a song to Andy Gibbs from the metal band THOU with the hopes that he might be able to extrapolate on the original idea. Andy sent his accompaniment back, and that process continued for the bulk of the first wave of quarantine. All parts were recorded separately during the pandemic and mixed by Eric Bennett in his home studio.
Paternoster’s talent truly knows no bounds and in Peace Meter, she has created an album that is striking, reflective, and an absolute work of art. A visual artist as well as a musician, the cover art features one of her drawings of four human-like figures with breasts positioned in front of each other with their arms outstretched in a continuous circle as if they were swimming. Perhaps a reflection on the cycle of love and longing or maybe a representation of past lovers, the art evokes a peaceful sentiment that is fitting for the record.
The beauty of Ray’s work lies in her ability to make straightforward music with striking social commentary and serious staying power. Ray wrote the title track specifically in reference to Senator Susan Collins and how she chose to benefit from the exploitation of other women. From her Bandcamp page, Ray explains: “Bootlickers of the Patriarchy’ was written about Senator Susan Collins and her infamous press conference after the Kavanaugh/Blasey Ford hearings. It’s about women who succeed from undermining the success of other women or choose to gain success from exploiting the oppression of other women. This is a character who has taken many forms throughout history, the kind of woman who seems perfectly content playing Gamma to the Alpha male. “Bootlicker” is my direct challenge to the notion of “women supporting other women,” and the falsehoods and unrealistic expectations that comes with a statement like that.”
The song starts out with a slow, soulful, and almost dreamy sentiment. Opening with the lyrics “Bootlicker Bootlicker/Bootlicker Bootlicker/I see you looking cute/with that life vest on,” Ray cuts straight to the point of criticizing her subject in an enamoring fashion. Her voice is strong and melodic, akin to the kind of vocalist you would hear belting her heart out in a jazz club. But Ray clearly has a lot of asses to kick and in “Bootlickers of the Patriarchy,” she uses her musical ingenuity to create a song that is both catchy and gets a searing message across. While the song starts out at a slower pace, it switches gears into a fast, 80s inspired electro-rock track halfway through with every lyric from the first half being repeated in a more urgent fashion before ending with a variation of lyrical repetitions and leaving the listener feeling just as outraged and disappointed as she is. “You think you can sell solidarity? Bitch, don’t patronize me/You held a press conference the day/you sold your sisters out.” As the singular vocalist on the track, Ray also needs no backing vocals to aid in the song’s composition or add to its effect.
Additionally, it is worth noting that “Bootlickers of the Patriarchy” is written in a way that avoids falling into a pit of cheesy political commentary. Ray is no stranger to incorporating current events and cultural signifiers into her work, as these are the pillars of her past releases.
On the B side of “Bootlickers of the Patriarchy,” is a cover of Ministry’s “Effigy (I’m Not An),” which Ray rewrites as “I’m Not an Effigy.” The track is considerably less poppy than the original recording but is restyled in a manner that greatly complements the preceding single. Subject-wise, it’s fitting as the B-side to the single as it explores the topic of bodily autonomy with lyrics such as “You are the only person I know/I get you round to people who are on the go/Well you took me to a picture show/And what’s the first thing that I see/Them burning pictures of me head to toe, hey!” Ray’s voice is fitting for the cover, as she stretches her inflections and gets the message of the song across meaningfully and effectively and could very well be mistaken for an original if the listener were not familiar with Ministry’s work. The cover is also the first official recording with Ray on guitar, as she strums a variety of notes coinciding with additional vocals, screaming, and bass from Flossing’s Heather Elle. Brooklyn-based engineer Jeff Berner also contributed on the bass synth, tambourine, and Moog.
On choosing this song Ray elaborated: “Well, why not do a cover of your influences as a B-side? I was obsessed w/ the Ministry album ‘With Sympathy’ when writing tracks for my upcoming album. It is the record Al Jourgenson has stated multiple times that he’s ashamed of most, which is saying a lot considering this man’s autobiography. I teamed up with my friend Heather Elle of Flossing, formerly of post punk bands Bodega and The Wants for this collaboration. It’s my first official recorded track where I’m playing guitar, so as the saying goes, it’s never too late to pick up a new instrument and get totally lost in it.”
On the single’s cover is Ray, styled in a blonde wig with a contemplative expression, looking straight up as she dons dark red lipstick with her teeth not showing and her eyes affixed to the space above her, wearing visible mascara and light eyeliner. Tonally, she is tinted yellow against a red background, symbolizing or perhaps signifying how little things have changed over the course of the past several decades as there is a serious 50’s vibe going on with the aesthetic. And Ray, made up like a movie star, is ready to deliver the performance of her life, except just calling it a performance would be a great disservice—Ray is actually ready to kick some serious patriarchal ass.
If “Bootlickers of the Patriarchy” turns out to be part of a larger body of work from Ray, then it should be considered highly anticipated. Ray is really good at creating songs that are not only relevant but incredibly catchy and original. In 2021, her work is just as necessary as ever while still managing to encompass a sound that spans previous decades. Shilpa Ray is a force to be reckoned with and we’re lucky to be along for the ride.
“Bootlickers of the Patriarchy” is out now on all streaming platforms via Northern Spy Records. The single is also available as a 7inch vinyl single pre-order (though due to the ongoing vinyl shortage, the records will not ship until August 2022).
Ernesto Hex’s Stellar Vista is a dynamic and adventurous record, offering many danceable beats mixed in with the occasional melancholic moment. Written during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Stellar Vista alludes to some of the world’s darker days while still managing to create a limitless dreamscape.
Stellar Vista is comprised of eight songs and clocks in at 34 minutes and 19 seconds, with songs averaging around 4-5 minutes in length. Hex does an excellent job at creating songs that contain varied and unique tones, even throughout a single track, which is quite impressive. The album is opens and closes with songs that are upbeat and danceable, starting with “Babetown USA,” and ending with “Ultra.” Between those two tracks are six songs that shape Stellar Vista into a funky and enjoyable listen with plenty of moments for reflection, longing, and escape.
The album opens with “Babetown USA,” a summery anthem-type song that is quick to draw in the listener with extremely catchy synth and a chorus about looking into the eyes of the person you’re with and having them look right back at you. “Summer! Summer!/We’re cruisin’ Babetown USA/Stunner! Stunner!/Court-side seats so we’re on display/I look in your eyes, you look in mine too/You wanna rule the world?/I’d fucking love to!” fills the song’s chorus and is perfectly sing-along-able. Danceable and airy, “Babetown USA” is not only super fit for summer but also makes a welcome listen in the cooler months of winter when a track like this is needed to brighten the day.
The title track is the second song on the album and offers a more surreal experience, leaning heavily into synths and two kinds of vocal styles—slow and more serious in the beginning and then higher-pitched towards the end. Reflecting on tracking order, it also makes sense to place the title track right after the faster-paced opener to show the listener that this album is not going to be at all homogenous. There are several different themes and styles incorporated cohesively throughout the album that make it quite an enjoyable and refreshing listen. Given that this record was created during the pandemic, it is also worth noting that Hex did an excellent job at creating a body of work that manages to provide great breathability rather than solely reflecting upon the despair of the times. There is a bit of melancholy to be found in “Edge of the World,” though, as the song closes with a heightened repetition of “Now the world is on fire” after more slowly reflecting on the passage of time.
For only being eight songs long, Stellar Vista does not rely too heavily on any one theme. Songs such as “Riley” and “More Than Yesterday” cover topics of love, with the former track being the funkier of the two and the latter serving more straightforward rock n’roll with guitars and keyboards. “OD on Sunshine” is a song about being out in the sun a little too long and “Children of the Night” offers some contrast with lyrics about how “the walls can hear you.”
The album closes with “Ultra,” a futuristic and upbeat song that features the use of robotic vocals and a complex combination of keyboards, synth, drumming, and guitar. “Don’t ever forget the ones who got you here” sings Hex along to an upbeat tempo that is just begging to be danced to. This song is about honoring your roots while not letting the world turn aimlessly and is an absolutely outstanding end to the record.
Stellar Vista is an ambitious and beautiful record that proves Ernesto Hex to be an extremely talented and original voice in music. Listen to it on a bright summer day, a cold winter night, in the middle of a pandemic, or anywhere, really.