Normal History Vol. 575: The Art Of David Lester

Every week, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 36-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

Putting together paintings for the Jean Smith $100 USD Paintings show at Land Gallery in Portland in May. Thrilled that the folks at the gallery are supportive of my objective to open the Free Artist Residency For Progressive Social Change. Mecca Normal plays the opening May 9.

“Gravity Believes” from Sitting On Snaps (Matador, 1995) (download):

Essential New Music: Irreversible Entanglements’ “Who Sent You?”

When free jazz first manifested in the middle of the 20th century, it quickly became linked to the fight for civil rights. While framing it in those terms missed a lot of other things that the music had to say, the connection still holds, if only because freedom from poverty, incarceration and arbitrary death is still out of reach, and the music proves uniquely resistant to cooption.

Enter Irreversible Entanglements. Three years ago, the eponymous first album by the quintet—which comprises musicians from Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia—struck with the force of a comet no-one saw coming. The stern voice of poet Camae Ayewa (a.k.a. Moor Mother) rendered the music’s outrage and yearning with unmistakable clarity. But you get to be that surprising once, and Irreversible Entanglements is in it for the long haul. So instead of bowling the listener over, on Who Sent You?, the horns flank you with indelible melodies while the rhythms carry you at triple speed to exactly where you need to be. Ayewa’s voice seems to glide over the top, dropping truth and skepticism and memory with unerring precision, but she’s flying in close formation with the other musician. The fluidity and cohesion with which they throttle back and surge forward will bring you back again and again, all the better to hear the messages imparted by sounds and words. 

—Bill Meyer

MAGNET Exclusive: Premiere Of Zoon’s “Help Me Understand”

While Zoom’s stock price continues to soar as most of the world is stuck at home, Zoon’s stock should being rising soon as well. On June 19, the Paper Bag label will release Bleached Wavves, the debut album from Zoon. For the uninitiated, Zoon is Daniel Monkman, an indigenous Canadian musician who describes his output as “moccasin gaze” (a mixture of shoegaze and traditional First Nations music, obviously).

Monkman named his musical project after the Ojibway word “zoongide’ewin,” which means bravery and courage. He did so to recognize his ongoing journey back from his active drug and alcohol addiction. Aside from its gorgeously ethereal washes of sound, the 10-track Bleached Wavves is also powerful in the hope it inspires in its listeners. The album-closing “Help Me Understand” is one of many standout tracks that does just that.

“‘Help Me Understand’ is from a short story/poem I wrote about an unknown First Nations protagonist who lives homeless on Vancouver Island,” says Monkman. “While homeless, they become very ill. While no help is to be found, they accept death, and while on their last moments, they’re greeted by the creator, who welcomes them into the heart of the sun.”

Monkman enlisted Justis Krar (IMMV Productions) to direct the trippy video for “Help Me Understand” as well as the clip for fellow Bleached Wavves track “BrokenHead.”

“Making the videos challenged me to create visuals that both conveyed the intent of the song as well as facilitating an abstract narrative,” says Krar. “Daniel was integral to the process as he guided me toward visuals that represented indigenous concepts or stories that I had not had the chance to work with before. I love these songs dearly and am happy that Daniel choose to work with me.”

“I gave a little direction for the video but mostly left it up to Justis,” says Monkman. “I explained to him the story behind the song and where the lyrics come from.”

Whatever Monkman’s contributions to Krar’s video for “Help Me Understand” were, the end result is one you won’t want to miss. To that end, MAGNET is proud to premiere it today for your eyes only. Check it out right here, right now, and read our Q&A with Monkman after the jump.

Continue reading “MAGNET Exclusive: Premiere Of Zoon’s “Help Me Understand””

Live Review: Drive-By Truckers, Philadelphia, PA, Feb. 27, 2020

There’s no way anyone could’ve known how much more truth could be applied to the title of Drive-By Truckers’ latest record, The Unraveling (ATO), when they visited Union Transfer. But with the current situation in the world, humans have surely unravelled more. The politically charged quintet stormed through new and old tunes with a nimble, awesome energy. Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley stirred a tightly packed crowd with tales of the American gothic while the rest of the crew—Brad Morgan (drums), Matt Patton (bass) and Jay Gonzalez (guitar, keys)—took Philadelphia on a journey from “Made Up English Oceans” to “Angels And Fuselage” with stops at Warren Zevon (“Play It All Night Long”) and the Ramones  (“The KKK Took My Baby Away”). So many high points can be had with the Truckers’ rawk, but “Thoughts And Prayers” will stay with us long after turntables turn to dust, leaving a stamp of decisiveness on the nightmare politics for generations to come. And when the clubs start oozing with alcohol and feedback again, Drive-By Truckers will be there, to remind us of who we need to be.

—words and photos by Chris Sikich

In The Arms Of Melody: Jane Birkin Brings The Songs Of Serge Back To New York City With Help From Iggy Pop

Jane Birkin returned to NYC with her dazzling Birkin Gainsbourg: Le Symphonique, featuring the songs of late husband/collaborator Serge Gainsbourg. While daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg joined in the fun at the Beacon Theatre for one song, the appearance of Iggy Pop provided Birkin with the perfect duet partner. MAGNET photographer Wes Orshoski was in the mood for love.

Essential New Music: Shane Parish’s “Death Bell Knellin'”

You could call Shane Parish a guitarist, or you could call him a cottage industry. Either way, you’d be right. The Asheville, N.C., resident has played pan-generic electric music with Ahleuchatistas, free improvisation with percussionists Frank Rosaly and Tatsuya Nakatani, and old American folk songs on Undertaker Please Drive Slow (a splendid CD released by Tzadik a few years ago). But in order to keep a household going, Parish is also a musician and instructor for hire; you might catch him playing rustic background sounds at the Biltmore Mansion, and you can drop him a line if you need a guitar lesson. He’s fully embraced the potentialities for self-releasing music that the internet affords. If he has a good session with a musician, he might put out a digital single, and if he goes down a topical rabbit hole, you’ll find the evidence on his Bandcamp page. 

A couple years ago Parish was gifted a copy of Fireside Book Of Folk Songs. He set himself the task of not only learning its contents, but documenting the effort, and over the summer of 2019, he put 14 volumes of solo recordings on Bandcamp. That’s 147 songs in all, and it’s all there if you want to take the deep dive with him.

If that sounds a bit overwhelming, however, there’s Death Bell Knellin’, which cherry-picks 11 tracks from the Fireside project. These include songs deeply familiar to American listeners (“Barbara Allen,” “Loch Lomond”), while others (“Hatikvah,” “Marche Lorraine”) are better known in other lands. One thing that’s apparent from the outset is that Parish didn’t just sit down and play these songs straight. He uses them as launchpads for improvisations informed less by the prescriptions of jazz or bluegrass than by his curiosity of where his ample technique might take them. Parish might halt the progress through a familiar melody to savor a bent note, or dig deep into a tune’s emotional vibe. Note that while these are songs with lyrics and vocal melodies, Parish lets his guitar do all the singing.

—Bill Meyer

Some Girl: Natasha Khan Brings A Stripped-Down Bat For Lashes To New York City

Bat For Lashes completed the U.S. portion of its North American tour at Town Hall in NYC. Multi-instrumentalist Natasha Khan, accompanied only by Laura Groves on keyboard and backing vocals, came across the pond for an eight-date jaunt in support of last year’s Lost Girls. Aside from a handful of her new songs, Khan played some old faves as well as covers of songs by Don Henley, Kate Bush and Cyndi Lauper. MAGNET photographer Wes Orshoski was there, because it’s not just girls who wanna have fun.

Gathered In Song And Satire: Damien Jurado And Nick Thune’s Travelling Salvation Show Hits Philadelphia

Damien Jurado will release his third album in less than two years on May 1. What’s New, Tomboy? (Mama Bird) follows 2019’s In The Shape Of A Storm and 2018’s The Horizon Just Laughed, though the new LP is more of a band-based effort. Jurado’s recent tour, however, was a solo jaunt, even though he brought comedian/actor Nick Thune along for the ride. MAGNET photographer Chris Sikich caught the “Sad Music, Sad Comedy Tour” stop at Philadelphia’s World Cafe Live.

MAGNET Exclusive: Premiere Of Mojo Nixon’s Previously Unreleased “Occupy”

Dead Don Henley and David Geffen. Pregnant Debbie Gibson with a two-headed love child. Fast-food-eating Jesus. Stuffed-muffin Martha Quinn. These are the characters who inhabit the songs created by the mighty Mojo Nixon. These folks rub elbows with the likes of vibrator-dependent women, rampaging rednecks, comatose girlfriends, country dicks, rabies-ridden babies, exhumed blues legends and, of course, Elvis.

On March 27, they’ll all be together for the very first time. The 10-CD/DVD The Mojo Manifesto: The Original Album Collection boxed set (Manifesto) collects all of Nixon’s studio albums (that’s 147 songs, kids!) plus full-length documentary The Mojo Manifesto: The Life And Times Of Mojo Nixon.

Nixon—now a DJ/host on SiriusXM—decided not to include any bonus tracks on The Original Album Collection, but he did dig around his Cheez-It-crusted archives and found this track for MAGNET to premiere today. It’s called “Occupy.”

“This song was written and recorded in the fall of 2011,” says Nixon. “I  borrowed Woody Guthrie’s ‘You can’t scare me, I’m sticking to the union’ for the chorus. The second verse is, ‘Gonna occupy the bars, fill up all the jails/Eat so many mushrooms that we grow tails/Gonna occupy an eightball and yer pepper spray/Gonna make my stand, stay right here today.'”

Classic Mojo and a Mojo classic! We’re proud to premiere “Occupy” today on Check it out now, kings and queens of the couch.