Saint Slumber Makes MAGNET A Mix Tape

Self-described “all-American indie rock” band Saint Slumber just released the second EP in its three-part Youth// series, titled, fittingly enough, Youth//2. It comes on the heels of last year’s (you guessed it) Youth//1 and will be followed by next year’s (wait for it) Youth//3. (In the meantime, though, the Pennsylvania/Jersey quartet has a new single, “Fever,” an R&B tune made famous by the likes of Peggy Lee and, of course, Elvis Presley.) We asked Saint Slumber to make us a mix tape, and like the Youth// trilogy, it’s EP length, all the better to allow the listener to thoroughly digest each song. It’s a diverse collection with a common theme: the elements of songwriting.

“To put an interesting spin on the idea of the mix tape, I wanted to make a songwriter’s mix tape for MAGNET,” says frontman Josh Perna. “Here are five songs that encapsulate five different elements of songwriting that have impacted me and helped me hone my personal songwriting voice for Saint Slumber.”

Freelance Whales, “Starring” (Hook)
An amazing example of a band that dropped a masterpiece and was never seen again. Freelance Whales’ Weathervanes was a record that showed me how a full-length record could showcase the strength and consistency of a band’s unique sound. I remember being 17 when I first heard the chorus to “Starring,” and I was blown away: This was my first memory as a songwriter of hearing a chorus and being obsessed with how tight, catchy and minimal an idea could be. Ever since I’ve tried to employ the ideology of “less is more.”

Ben Howard, “I Forget Where We Were” (Story)
Lyrics in 2018 are inarguably marked with a serious trend in hyper-realism. While this can make for honest, visceral performances by vocalists, I need to often remind myself that there is a place for poetry and story in song; the easiest route in writing isn’t always the best. Ben Howard is an unbelievable lyricist, weaving amazingly rich story with a subtlety that might make you miss it the first few times. On “I Forget Where We Were” there is a wash of realism, present-tense storytelling and a scene set with beautiful, descriptive language. “Oh, your mariner’s mouth … the wounded with the wounder’s whip.” For those curious, Ben’s influence on me can’t be overstated.

Stromae “Tous Le Mêmes” (Production)
The moment a song leaves the realm of being sung a cappela and is officially captured, production impacts all music. The unsung, misunderstood lens through which all music is heard, production has as much to say about how your song sounds as the songwriting itself. Having an understanding of how production impacts your songwriting will help you better understand how to frame your own music. Stromae, the French pop star who handles a large portion of his own arrangement and production, does so much scene-setting on “Tous Le Mêmes”; the vintage horn and upright-bass samples are juxtaposed beautifully by the chopped-up vocals and modern synth kick. The end result is such a particular sound, blending old and new, that has nothing to do with the words he’s singing.

SZA “Supermodel” (Honesty)
Simultaneously contradicting and fortifying the point I made with “Story,” lyrics only connect with people when they are communicating an inextricable truth. Whether that truth is told in a complicated and abstract story or in a completely literal statement, people want to hear and feel something real, and the easiest way to do that is to just sing from your gut about real things. On “Supermodel,” SZA sings an almost extemporaneous, stream-of-consciousness song about some real stuff, and it just bowls me over every time. “Why I can’t stay alone just by myself? Wish I was comfortable just with myself … But I need you.”

King Krule, “Easy Easy” (Voice)
The most important lesson I ever learned in songwriting was to embrace my voice. The voice is the only musical thing that you can’t fundamentally change through practice. You can become technically better at singing, but the voice you were born with is the voice you will be singing with. Some people were born with era-shifting, golden pipes, and the rest of us got whatever fate decided to throw at us. But I really believe anybody can sing an amazing song; they just have to find what their sound is meant to be. King Krule has such an iconic, left-of-center voice; it’s unapologetic, it’s raw, and it’s undeniably King Krule. That is what we all should be shooting for, as songwriters.

Fiona Apple Released “When The Pawn … ” 19 Years Ago Today

19 years ago today, Fiona Apple released When The Pawn … Thank dog for ellipses. Read our MAGNET Feedback with Robyn Hitchcock, writing about Apple, Syd Barrett, Byrds, Decemberists, Bob Dylan, Feist, Kinks, Alison Krauss And Gillian Welch, John Lennon, Nick Lowe, Neutral Milk Hotel, Beth Orton, R.E.M., Sleater-Kinney And Fred Schneider, Patti Smith, Smiths and more:

MAGNET Feedback With Robyn Hitchcock

MAGNET Exclusive: Premiere Of Doug Paisley’s “Shadows”

Among other things, Doug Paisley is a firm advocate of efficiency. “Shadows”—available here as a free download—is the final track on Starter Home (No Quarter), a new collection of nine songs that’s just 34 minutes in length.

“There’s a lot of stuff left out in terms of the number of songs recorded and the number of versions we did,” admits Paisley. “But can you ever objectively say an album is too short or too long? If you like it, it’s too short—and if you don’t, it’s too long. I do think shorter albums are better for many reasons.”

The Toronto-based singer/songwriter took his time on this one, recording in four different studios around his home city as he went about the business of being an attentive father to his now five-year-old son. He fleshed out many of the tunes with a revolving lineup of local musicians during an on-and-off residency at Toronto’s Cameron House. And though it may have taken four years to hatch, Starter Home hardly sounds fussed over—quite the opposite. Its quiet disposition is a noticeable contrast to the more rugged full-band sound on 2014’s Strong Feelings.

“I don’t know if it’s the songs or the recording that makes it so much more dialed back,” says Paisley. “I was going for something a little more layered, with everything anchored around guitar and voice. Not that you’d necessarily detect this, but it’s still done live, for the most part. But the process was spread out over time and space.”

That gives Starter Home an unexpected cohesion as a compelling collection of moments, with Paisley’s Waylon-Jennings-by-way-of-Gordon-Lightfoot delivery and subtly intricate guitar picking providing the grounding. It’s an album that rewards patience, the songs revealing their subtle complexities over time as they draw you ever further into Paisley’s world.

“I’m a really big fan of (late country singer/songwriter) Don Williams,” says Paisley. “On his (1978) album Expressions, I initially thought there was so little going on. Then I looked at the credits for each song, and in some cases there were, like, 10 players. Something that really influenced me was how well they integrated that stuff and not have it all be at the same volume, marching in line. If these songs have achieved that at all, then it would be a real success for me.”

If you believe what you hear on Starter Home, Paisley is wrestling with the typical contradictions, urges, fears and obligations that come with maintaining an uneasy domesticity. “We’re not fighting, we’re just talking,” he sings on the title track. “Can’t you see my point of view?”

Says Paisley of the tune’s inspiration, “I was having a domestic quarrel over the telephone, and I went and wrote that song. For the most part, it has nothing to with my own life, but it was very much coming out of the state of mind I was in at the time.”

“Shadows” is the album’s most upbeat track—a persistent shuffle that recalls Jim Croce’s “Bad Bad Leroy Brown,” with a playful slide lick that will take up permanent residence in your short-term memory. At three minutes even, it leaves you wanting more.

“Some people had a bad reaction to it, but I was just like, ‘I don’t care—I love this song,’” says Paisley. “When I got back from the studio, I listened to over and over again because I was so happy with it.”

—Hobart Rowland

“Shadows” (download):

Record Review: Upper Wilds’ “Mars”

Concept-record fans, take note. Mars is a space/rock opera concerning an alternate history in which humans have already settled elsewhere in the solar system and taken all their problems with them. “Skylab” posits labor unrest in orbit, and “Dead Mall” indicates that low gravity won’t necessarily buoy up business. While this album makes enough noise to compete with an Apollo launch, it also completes a journey you would make with a boomerang rather than booster rockets.

It started with bandleader Dan Friel’s old rock band Parts & Labor, whose early albums managed the unlikely achievement of channeling Hüsker Dü’s anthemic roar through Atari-grade electronics. After P&L wound down, Friel’s electronics became the whole show, but Upper Wilds represents the re-embrace of rock. He’s singing again and bringing the noise with an electric guitar, with a bassist and drummer on hand to drive the music—hard. Friel’s electronics come out mainly to turn his voice into a fair approximation of P&L’s keys. If you loved the way his early music lavished noise and hooks, you’ll find a lot to like on Mars.

The one thing that keeps the album from blasting into deep space is the stiff, staccato drumming; these songs could do with a bit more looseness and wildness in the grooves. But since Upper Wilds are planning to make records about a few more planets, they’ll have chances to get things even more right than they already are.

—Bill Meyer