Essential New Music: Mirah’s “Sundial EP”

Brooklyn indie songwriter Mirah has always been a wonderfully eclectic artist, with each album bringing new sounds and ideas. For her latest work, she’s collaborating with longtime friend Jherek Bischoff, a noted composer. Together, the two rework key songs from her past catalog, bringing closer vocals and string-quartet arrangements. It’s quite lovely, and even when the arrangements don’t stray that far from the originals, the new intimacy of Mirah’s vocals on these tracks is worth the price of purchase itself. Physically, this is a vinyl-only EP, but pick up the digital version and you get four additional songs, some of which are more adventurous than the proper tracks. There’s only one new composition here, the title track, but it’s a hopeful number that’s full of the same kind of sunshine that infuses the EP.

Devon Leger

Normal History Vol. 465: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, 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 34-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

One could make a case that riot grrrl’s original influence appeared to taper off only to surge again as a sort of macro-nostalgia 20 years after its inception. Now, around the 25-year mark, riot grrrl’s powerful history begins to look both fluid and cyclical. Who saw Pussy Riot (founded in 2011, inspired by riot grrrl) on the horizon? Who imagined that Allison Wolfe (Bratmobile) would record a relaxed interview with Ana Da Silva (the Raincoats) about influence and inspiration all these years later? Let’s say Mick interviewed Paul 20 years after the fact. What the hell would they talk about? This note. That chord. Record sales. Ana’s conversation with Allison effectively connects two revolutionary eras of populist uprising. Never mind that it’s also feminist history!

“More More More” from Jarred Up (K, 1993) (download):

Maston: Awake In The Dark

Maston’s Tulips is a love letter to primitive-cool European film scores

L.A.-based producer/composer Frank Maston had always wanted to live abroad. When he was given the opportunity to sit in on an extended tour with Dutch indie-psychedelic-pop star Jacco Gardner, Maston—who releases his music under his surname—didn’t think twice. And it was there, during that time adrift in the Continent, that Maston’s glorious, film-geeky, hopelessly romantic Tulips was born.

“I wrote it over here, though,” says Maston, whose second album is released on the artist’s Phonoscope label. “I was trying to get at a kind of sound—it’s difficult to describe. I didn’t want it to be rooted there, but I also didn’t want it to sound like I was trying to recapture a sound that I wasn’t connected to. I ended up going (as a reference point) to a kind of music I’ve always loved: those great soundtracks to 1960s and 1970s European films.”

Like the best of those film scores—and we’re talking here not just the work of the venerable Ennio Morricone but also grittier, lesser-known composers like Bruno Nicolai and Franco Micalizzi—Tulips contains a series of short theme-and-variation grooves, heavy on chorus-washed keys, gutsy/cool guitar lines, somber flutes and minor-key bridges. As a composer and producer, Maston has done his homework—Tulips spins like a lost soundtrack circa 1969 and would be difficult to tell apart from its source material in a blindfold test—but the album works as a collection of short original compositions in a “neo-classical-trash” style. Barely 24 minutes total, Maston’s second record knows what it’s about, and not only doesn’t overstay its welcome but it leaves you wanting more.

“Oh, that’s so nice, man,” he says. “That’s such a compliment.” Well, if you’ve got a head for this sort of sound, so is Tulips.

Eric Waggoner

Film At 11: The Prefab Messiahs

Ah, Worcester, Mass. So much to answer for: Denis Leary, Abbie Hoffman, New Kid On The Block Jordan Knight, Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, the Coors Light Twins, the Big Ragu on Laverne & Shirley, suspected serial killer and cannibal Nathaniel Bar-Jonah, the editor-in-chief of MAGNET. Yeah, it’s that kind of town. In the early ’80s, garage/psych weirdoes the Prefab Messiahs were at the forefront of the city’s Wormtown scene, playing out often but only releasing Flex Your Mind, a 1983 cassette. Fifteen years later the Devolver CD-R appeared, collecting the band’s early output, with the Burger label remastering and reissuing it in 2013 on cassette and then releasing an eight-song EP of new material, Keep Your Stupid Dreams Alive, two years later.

Now, the Prefab Messiahs are back with Psychsploitation Today (Lolipop/Burger), a 10-song album that mines the same scuzz-rock/post-punk territory these Wormtown freaks were cranking out when your cool uncle was still in short pants. The band just made a video for Psychsploitation Today track “Gellow Mold” (get it, millennials? probably not), and we’re premiering the clip today on magnetmagazine.com. Says frontman Xerox Feinberg of the track, “‘Gellow Mold’ is a woozy, hallucinogenic sonic meditation on the current state of mindless conformity and mindful manipulation, those age-old buggaboos of the psychedelically inclined—and as much a thang in our splintered, black-mirrored 21st century as ever. Slipping down rabbit holes with great wifi, we pour ourselves into predetermined shapes, jiggly cubes a-drying, a generation dying. If that sounds like a mouthful of mumbo-jumbo, it’s because it probably is, but usually with vocals lower in the mix. We wash it all down with a kaleidoscopic video montage of ancient found footage, just some jokers in our jukeboxes, trying to make contact. Dig?” Yes, we do. And so should you, so flex your mind, and check out “Gellow Mold” now.

ash.ØK Makes MAGNET A Mix Tape

OK, so we’re a little biased when it comes to our hometown, but you’d be to if you lived in a place with as much to offer as Philly does. Now that the Eagles are finally Super Bowl champs for the first time, we can get back to appreciating all the diversity the City Of Brotherly Love has to offer musically. Which brings us to Ashok Kailath (a.k.a. producer ash.ØK), who just dropped an indietronica gem called The Unraveled. On it, Kailath touches on more genres than you’ll find at your favorite record store. Listening to The Unraveled got us thinking about what our homie listens to when he’s not holed up in his studio creating. So we asked him to make MAGNET a mix tape. Check out his killer jawn below.

Sonny Bonoho “Concubine Juicy”
From the first listen of this track, you know it’s on some other wave. First time I was introduced to Sonny Bonoho was at a live performance in L.A. Dude absolutely killed it onstage, and the energy he brought with this track was memorable. The video is just as striking and has a distinctiveness that most rap videos don’t typically bring. Try not getting this track stuck in your head.

Björk “Bachelorette (RZA Remix)”
Probably one of my favorite remixes of all time. You take the mastermind production of the RZA and pair it with Bjork’s piercing, rollercoaster-like vocals. The instrumental carries all the signature Wu elements laid over a really thick orchestral bed.

Neil Diamond “Solitary Man”
I truly regret never having had a chance to see him perform, especially after the recent news of his retiring due to Parkinson’s disease. This is music I grew up on, and it’s tough picking any single track as a favorite from this legend. The guitars, the pure indignation and hurt in his voice, along with the sweeping strings over that kit. It’s one of the few songs I consider perfect.

Keith Ape “It G Ma”
None of the rappers on this track speaks the same language, very little of it is in English, but it’s still level up from the get-go. The homage to OG Maco both lyrically and with the sparse instrumental, though, draws ire from some, but just proves the influential, borderless power of good music.

Robyn Cage “Fallout”
Beautifully shot video from one of my favorite indie artists. Her voice channels something ultra-classic with a vibe of Lana Del Rey, only more fluid and emotional. This track really carries strong, a running synth bass over a eerie set of pads, and fits perfect alongside Robyn’s vocals.

The Weeknd “Dirty Diana”
I think I first heard this track way, way, way late at night coming home from a studio session, and it blew my mind. It could have been the lack of sleep or something close to it, but when I woke up the next morning, this was the first song I tried to find online. It just stuck with me that strongly. Just like most of the world, I grew up listening to Michael Jackson, and “Dirty Diana” was always a favorite of that ’90s-era MJ. To hear it re-envisioned like this, not as a straight cover or over some kind of typical remix fare, really opened up my own creativity on how vocals and ethereal tracks could interplay.

The Gipsy Kings And Alabina “Habibi Ya Nour Elein”
Sung in both Spanish and Arabic and I can’t understand a word of it. But try listening to her voice at 2:57, and very few could put this song down without getting that lump-in-your-throat feeling. You can literally feel the emotion in her voice as it soars to some of these notes, especially against the gruff nature of the Spanish vocals. Like “It G Ma,” the passion in the music transcends language.

Flight Of The Conchords “Carol Brown”
This, without a doubt, is probably my favorite go-to song of all time. It doesn’t matter what mood I’m in, what the situation is, this track never gets tired, never gets old, and I can keep it on repeat indefinitely. Lyrically, it’s clever, and the simplicity of the instrumental, even after this many years, keeps me listening. Fun fact, which made me fall in love with this track even more: Sia was one of the writers and singers in the chorus of ex-girlfriends.

Jedi Mind Tricks Feat. Sean Price “Blood Runs Cold”
Pure, raw energy and power at its finest. This pick is a throwback to that classic era of hip hop: the samples, the lyricism—everything comes together perfectly over this one.

West Philadelphia Orchestra “Zla S’dba”
The only way to close out my mix tape is with something authentically from home. I was about to head down the route of pulling in a fave track from the Roots, Tunji Ige or Meek Mills, but on a mix with this far of a reach in genre, gritty Balkan-brass energy seems to be more appropriate. This track, in particular, is fire, but watch any one of their videos and you’ll just want to be front and center in that crowd. Closing out on that kind of energy. That’s how I’d call my mix tape complete.

Essential New Music: Lee Ann Womack’s “The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone”

Lee Ann Womack rose to prominence with prime mainstream Nashville fodder like hit ballad “I Hope You Dance” and the Shania-sized power pop of “I’ll Think Of A Reason Later.” Then she made a hell of a comeback with 2014’s The Way I’m Livin’, a roots move keyed to sinnin’ with hints of gospel and everything in between. Three years later, its more muted follow-up opens with the exclamation, “I’ve got all the trouble I’m ever gonna need” and nearly rocks out for six minutes with her Dolly Parton-esque trill backed up by a choir. But the only other things on her ninth album to match “All The Trouble” are a top-tier rendering of “Long Black Veil” and maybe “Wicked,” whose tale of a “.38 special and an alibi” returns to sinnin’. Little else here stuns you in place like “The Way I’m Livin’” or beautifies like “When I Come Around.”

—Dan Weiss

Essential New Music: Grooms’ “Exit Index”

Once upon a time, you could say “Brooklyn band” and instantly conjure a set of characteristics straight outta Central Casting: beards, guitar scree, a practice space in Williamsburg, side projects that transformed this melange into 10-inch dance sides. Grooms are now five albums into their sonic journey, and on Exit Index, the trio has steered pretty deliberately from its Sonic Youth-meets-Helium past toward a present tinged with a decidedly hazy dream-pop glow. In a just and right world, “Horoscope” would find a home on the radio, and “Magistrate Seeks Romance” would provide the soundtrack for a thousand teenage makeout sessions. As it is, this is the finest damn thing Grooms have recorded, and it represents the best sort of American pop extant, all angsty dislocation with tricky melodies for days and textures that beg you to listen over and over again. “Where are my millions?” sings Travis Johnson on the album’s opener, “The Directory.” I guess it depends upon what kinds of riches you’re counting. I’ve found mine.

—Corey duBrowa