After a long holiday break, Heather and I are back on the air. We have a new time this semester – Saturdays 4-6pm. We were delighted to have Ian George visit us. He just released a new album, The Kingdom of My Youth. We played a few of his songs, including my favorite Kandinsky.
Ian has some interesting and very lucky stories – especially about how the last album was made. So much fun to talk to him. He’s album released party is Thursday (Feb 21) at the Icehouse!
We finished the show with some unreleased songs by J Berg, an emerging musician from Minneapolis. We also had a chance to talk with him over the break. I’ll include the video below.
You can listen to the playlist of the show on Spotify. I’ll include our intended playlist below. As always – the intention doesn’t necessarily match up with what we really played.
Sleep Study released their first album since 2012 last Friday night at the Uptown VFW. And when I say album, I mean album. They only released vinyl and download versions.
They are an interesting band. I have wanted to see them for a while but they were on a hiatus of sorts for the last couple years. Apparently at the end of 2014, they returned from a long tour, spending last 4 hours from Des Moines to the Cities with no heat in the car. They had just finished their (until now unreleased) second album. The plan was to take a short break for the holidays and return to their heavy gigging schedule.
But that quick break lasted longer than anticipated. Band members got involved with other projects and life went on until the 2016 election, when Ryan Plewacki found motivation to write again and the band resumed talks with Simon Recordings in 2018 about finally releasing their sophomore album, but wanted to take another crack at it in the studio. Plewacki, Justin Hartke, and Michael Gunvalson spent a hurried weekend tracking with engineer Bryan Hanna and Plewacki finished the project in his home studio.
It was worth the wait. They are like the band you see playing the cool club scene a movie. The music is catchy, like pop music but there’s something cooler about it. Something feels deeper. And it could be the cool band from nearly any era.
The staccato vocals have a very 60s or 70s vibe, especially in a song like Party in Here or Modern Man. The string forward sound falls more retro more album than live. Live it’s more rocking with the players feeding off each other and clearly having a good time. Ms. America has such a twangy sound but in a British way. It’s hard to peg down the sound. There are some very space age sound moments like the echoes in Counting Our Favors.
Although they are from Minnesota, there is a British undercurrent in many of the songs. Sometimes that feels like the Beatles; sometimes Stone Roses. There’s a common thread but part of the fun is the ability to defy era.
It feels like they play what they like – unabashedly. And it works. The set up of the night mirrors that sentiment. A strange but tasty buffet of sound. They started with the Black Widows, a solid garage sound and feminist flare behind the black mascara. Loud, retro, punk. Followed by Farewell Milwaukee, also enjoyable but much more mellow sound. With an ethereal wispy sound of the early 70s, like Sleep Study. A fun, different show.
Drone not Drones is an annual (6 years!) fundraiser held for Doctors without Borders at the Cedar Cultural Center. Luke Heiken is the brain and brawn behind it all – although I think he gets a lot of help from friends, musicians and the folks at the Cedar. It is 24+ hours of drone music. Not music made by drones, as several people have asked me but music with a hum or drone sound to it.
The bands change about every 30 minutes. My favorite part of the show is the changeovers. One band is playing the next one sets up. They play together for a minute or two and the first band sets down. The drone continues throughout.
The music is varied. It’s ambient, it’s aggressive, it’s synthesized, it’s vocals (in different languages), it’s instrumental. Sometimes there’s a performance element, although less so this year than previous. There is a screen going throughout with what I can only call groovy images throughout. I was there for about 12 hours total – most during the first night.
Many people bring their sleeping bags. It’s like an indoor camping ground with way better bathrooms. Some people bring kids. I think that must be such a fun night for them running around the grownups in sleeping bags. There’s a bar and food but it’s not a big boozy event for the most part. It’s really the community-personification of chill. And each year it grows. The room as at least three-quarters full the whole time I was there. And often felt too cozy, in a good way.
I tried to get 30 seconds of each band I saw to give a flavor. I’ve done my best to label correctly, but if there was a change in the schedule, I’m wrong and I could be wrong regardless but it does give you the idea.
You can also get the full schedule or watch the full show.
It’s all polish and professionalism with Six Mile Grove on stage. One song to the next with just enough banter to keep it interesting. The songs are so finished and band is on top of everything. Little wonder, since they have been playing together for 20 years. They brought all of their following down to the Hook & Ladder to celebrate the release of their most recent album, Million Birds. It is the first album that they recorded together in one room.
They opened up with an older song, Man of Steel. It’s a great opener. The song gets faster and faster, building an excitement for the show. The drums are holding down the beat of the songs but the strings really take off at the end. Then they moved right onto Shame on Us, from the new release. It’s got the definite country twang. The pedal steel is perfect for it. There are songs that feel more rock and country but that pedal steel brings all back to the Americana side of town.
The band has an interesting story. They played for many years with Bob Wootton, Johnny Cash’s guitarist. There’s an evident impact of playing with someone who is such a legend especially seen in how they took on that old school polish. Play well, play hard and look like you’re having a good time doing it. It’s very appealing. The other comparison I’ve heard to them that I think rings true is Jason Isbell. Their songs are about family life and the good, bad and wistful of family life but generally very upbeat and uplifting.
Not My Fault has a very popular feel. Perhaps given the sentiment of the phrase but also the ease of beat. Damned If I Do is a slower, sweeter song that touches a chord.
Sometimes I forget that the Twin Cities has long history of RnB and a shorter but deep history of Hip Hop, especially positive Hip Hop. Then I get a chance to see a band like iLLism and I remember that Minneapolis brand of RnB is world famous for a reason. They released their new album illuminate at the Amsterdam.
We walked into a crowded, swaying room. Envy and Fancy, the duo known as iLLism are on stage with a full band, nearly too full for the physical space and pleasantly abundant sounding– horns, drums, keyboard and more. And it is hot. It’s a smooth funk with rap entwined. Envy has a solid, cool rap and Fancy has a sweetness in her voice that broadens the appeal. They share a sassy vibe between the two of them that’s very fun to watch. The crowd broke out in what I can only call a line dance, in sync, in step. Such a fun atmosphere!
BLK Magic is a song for the times. (In fact I plan to the Women’s March MN podcast later this week.) It’s an important message wrapped up in a lot of sugar. It’s a tribute to a friend who died. Despite the solemn theme and reason it sounds like a celebration. The horns are great. The song starts cool and ends like an anthem. It’s the combination of rap and smooth sweetness that gives the songs a quality that feels like it’s going to be big.
iLLism was top three finalist at the Paisley Park Battle of the Bands. The polish of Paisley Park is evident. They’re tight. It is clearly commercially viable, it has a wide appeal. It build on the history of the music of the area but it brings a freshness too in the pairing of Envy and Fancy. They’re a band for the times! I suspect Bet will be an album highlight. It’s very dance-able; their voices really mingle and blend so smoothly. Again, very positive message – about betting on yourself.
I had a great conversation today with Tina Schlieske (of Tina and the B Sides & Genital Panic). I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve always enjoyed her music but she became a hero to me last year with Genital Panic, her all female punk band that focuses on a politics and social commentary. I grew up listening to Tina and by that I mean, we’re the same age and she was living the life I wish I lived. That was never truer than it is right now – although I’m pretty happy with the life I live too.
Tina started Genital Panic in reaction to Trump and so much that he stands for but she also started it in her late 40s as a reaction to realizing that while the music industry might find a woman invisible, it’s a good time for women to speak up for themselves. It was a perfect storm. In producing and performing songs, such as Pussygrabber and Lick My Impeachment, Tina found she wasn’t alone. She has heard from many how the music speaks to and for them – both women and men appreciate her art.
I will be listening to Tina and Genital Panic on the soundtrack for Women’s March on Saturday – with any luck I’ll bump into her too.
We were delighted to meet up with Haley (Bonar) to talk about Women’s March and her experience in a post March world. She marched in DC in 2017 where we was re-energized and she plans to march in DC again this year. I’m delighted to know that she’s there representing for Minnesota women. She’ll make us all look good and by that I mean sound smart!
We talked with Haley about changes in the music industry – how musicians are being defined less by their gender. We spoke off camera about how Haley has called out event hosts for inviting her as a token female – especially when she was the only female and the bill lacked people of color. That is a bold action to take and I applaud her for it. For a long time I think, out of desperation, women clung to those token positions.
It sounds like in the last year, Haley has really taken control of her music and the business of her music. She has found her (business) voice and is doing what works for her and again I applaud the gumption and confidence is takes to do that. She’s a role model for other women.
And her music has taken a change her latest album Pleasureland is instrumental with a much heavier techno vibe. I love it. I loved Bad Reputation too but appreciate the new direction. I am a fan of many of Haley’s projects, perhaps Gramma’s Boyfriend most. I like to see how she reinvents herself. I like to see how the visual and production are part of the music; the reinvention cements a deeper interest. It was fun to talk to her and see a little bit into the thought process that makes it work.
I am so pleased to include music from The Nightingale Trio on the Women’s March playlist. They bring old stories to new light in songs from Eastern Europe and the Balkans. I enjoyed my conversation with Sarah Larsson from the band. We talked about the impact of the Women’s March and the #MeToo movement on life in and out of music. We both agreed that we grownups are really learning a lot from the next generation – especially some very powerful young women of color. Our job may be to set the stage for them.
It was also fun to talk about where we are in women’s history. Sarah told me about Na Dvore Dozhd, a Russian song of solidarity among women about being married off. Traditionally women were married off and moved to the towns of their betrothed, often very far away. The chorus translates into when it rains, it pours. There’s a resignation in the sentiment that we wouldn’t see today. We may have a long way to go – but we’ve also come a long way!
Saturday night was a cozy night at the Aster Café with Vicky Emerson and Annie Fitzgerald. The room was full of musicians and music lovers.
Seeing Vicky and Annie is like eating crème brulee – sweet but in different ways. Annie is like the sweet sharp top of the crème brulee and Vicky is creamy base. A great combination together in part because they are both such good storytellers.
Vicky started with Long Gone, a song that always has a hint of an Irish lilt to me. It might be the violin, it might be the toe-tapping darkness. She played several songs off her new CD, including one of my favorite covers ever, Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue. So sophisticated when you hear it as a kid. Not quite as much when you listen as an adult. But her torchy version brings back the sophistication. It rivals one of my long standing favorite covers, Eleni Mandell doing Don’t Touch Me by Jeannie Sealy.
I was also thrilled to hear The Reckoning, a song that will be on the playlist for Women’s March Minnesota for the March on Saturday. Vicky’s voice sounds like hot chocolate feels.
Annie’s voice has a lightness; to use her own song title, her voice Feels Like Summer. She goes from cheerful imploring on Listen Carefully to a sassiness in Black and Blue. Annie’s voice sounds like lemonade tastes – sweet and refreshing.
I know that Jason Chaffee is a great guy from our conversation when he visited the Mostly Minnesota Music radio show. We had the great pleasure of having him do an in-studio performance but it was even more fun to see him play with his full band to a full room at the Aster Café.
Jason is a rocker hearkening back to the days of John Cougar Mellencamp, maybe even a little Bruce Springsteen. It’s undeniably masculine with a comfortably gruff voice, loud music, heavy beat but the songs are so emotive. The storytelling is honest and touching. And the full band was great. They look like they’re having a good time together and they seem to feed off each other on stage.
He played Going Home, which is one of my favorites. There’s a country undercurrent with a distinct but easy beat. There’s a familiarity in the themes and the tune. On the opposite side of emotion he played, Lost it All. It was a softer start and a compelling story and while there’s still a hint of country, it could also be shelved under rock ballad.
The unveiled video was Un Momento about the butterfly effect – very clever. We’ll have to keep an eye out for the online debut.