Boris @ Magic Stick (Concert Review by Nicolette L.)

This past Wednesday at the Magic Stick: Boris took the stage with opening act Nothing on their North American tour! Nothing is a band I’ve been aware of for a few years now but it was a pleasure being able to see them for the first time on this tour. Their really compelling mashing of several different styles made for a really moving live performance. To describe their sound in an overly-simplified manner, they kinda sound as if Amenra listened to a lot more Slowdive. Heavy, crushing, but with a wonderful knack for melody, traits of the band which shone through very clearly live. They opened the set with several really intense tracks, displaying drastic dynamic shifts within songs that were nothing short of captivating. The group would cut out for a few seconds, a single instrument strumming a moody chord progression, before suddenly they’d all crash in as loud as ever. Even the pit would take a second to pause in awe at these moments! As the set progressed they brought in slower, more atmospheric songs, it was here where the Slowdive influence really came through. I do sorta wish the vocals were mixed a little higher in the venue. Especially in the quieter moments where the vocals were intended to be at the front of the music, not being able to hear the harmonies between the multiple vocalists was a little disappointing. Nonetheless, they finished off strong with another couple of heavy-hitters. Overall an excellent performance, marred ever so slightly by a few technical issues.


Boris was next and let me just say…holy fuck! I don’t even know where to begin. First off to preface, I would like to say that I hadn’t listened to the last two records they put out prior to coming to the show, so I didn’t really know what to expect going into the show, but I was beyond pleasantly surprised with what they showed off here. They came out the gates flying, with one lightning fast track after another, in that very characteristic blend of old-school thrash metal and sludgy doom that they have been exploring on their last few records. The energy was explosive, only heightened by the group’s unbelievable stage presence. Atsuo’s vocals were commanding and anthemic, and he moved around the stage and interacted with the audience with the mythical air that boomers talk about when they bring up seeing the Stones in ‘73. The other members were nothing to gawk at either. Wata and Takeshi were both amazing, bringing the ruckus with their setups. Standing by the PAs through all of that had to have done something to my ears long-term because this might be the heaviest show I’ve ever been to. The variety the group showed off here was really impressive, transitioning very smoothly from song to song with drone metal interludes, and eventually even going into a bit of harsh noise near the end of the set. All throughout they maintained the same energy. All leading up to the final track they performed, “(not) Last Song”, which is the final track off of “Heavy Rocks(2022)” and a wonderful way to close out the set. Stylistically it is very different from the other songs they performed, a piano ballad that’s constantly simmering on the verge of exploding into feedback-heavy noise, with Atsuo’s hypnotizingly passionate vocals soaring through the room. Those who’ve listened to the record would know that the album version of the song builds at the end, but cuts off right as the band is about to rip into a breakdown. It’s a really poignant moment on the album, but I’m so grateful the live performance picks up where the recorded version ends at, leading to one of the loudest and most emotionally powerful few minutes of the entire night. BORIS FOREVER!!!!!

 Review and Photo by Nicolette L

Idit Shner & Mhondoro: Heatwave (album review by Christa V.)

Mhondoro means “the lion spirit” in Shona, a language of Zimbabwe, and this was a group born during the pandemic. Saxophonist Idit Shner, vocalist/percussionist John Mambira, pianist Torrey Newhart, bassist Garrett Baxter, and drummer Ken Mastrogiovanni came together as a parent pod to jam while their kids attended virtual school. The resulting music was so good that the group decided to turn it into a full album! The sound of this group is as diverse as its members, with clear influences from traditional African music influencing their jazz. The opening track has a mantra feel to it with the repetitive percussion and vocals throughout it. This continues in several other tracks, notably in “Mhondoro” which features woodwinds. The final track is peaceful and calming, and is my clear favorite of the album. The vocals are soothing and float above all of the instrumentals, and it keeps the mantra-like aspects going without becoming boring. Definitely interested to see if this ensemble keeps it up and releases more music! Favorite tracks: 1, 3, 7

Esmerine on Constellation: Everything Was Forever Until It Was No More (album review by Nicolette L)

The Godspeed and Silver Mt. Zion comparisons are inevitable, of course. Not that that is inherently a bad thing, and there definitely is inspiration both direct and indirect littered across the tracks(both parts of “Entropy” being one example). But “Everything Was Forever Until It Was No More” is, for the most part, able to stand enough on its own to end up as a wonderful ride straddling the line between chamber music and post-rock. Across the record we hear strings patiently build upon one another in winding, meditative patterns, with percussion entering on a few occasions and sometimes even working into slow, steady grooves(2,5,9). Other tracks are even less immediate, showing off harmonies that quietly hum under flickering electronics, while others include picked electric guitars that push the intensity up ever so slightly. Though the inclusion of a drum kit tended to be a little hit-or-miss, pushing it a bit too far into “crescendo-core” at times, the music is gorgeous, and displaying an unexpected amount of variety both in composition and instrumentation. The Kronos Quartet and Glass are definite draws for the group, but the use of electronics on the more ambient tracks(3) took me by very pleasant surprise. The last track almost reminds me of later Unwound, which is always awesome to hear. This might come off as stale or tame to some in comparison to GY!BE or SMZ but if there’s gold in here if you dig to find it!Everything Was Forever Until It Was No More" by Esmerine on Constellation


Album review by Nicolette L.

Lisa Hilton: Transparent Sky (album review by Christa V.)

Hilton delivers a masterful album with this creation. The trio of her on piano, Luques Curtis on bass, and Rudy Royston on drums locks in so tight to the music, yet gives every piece room to breathe. Every song sounds so well put together, and yet they all have a lightness that threatens to whisk the listener away. “Nightingales and Fairy Tales” is an exquisite example of this where the music sounds wistful and dreamy. “God Bless the Child” is one of few covers, rather than an original, but Hilton brings new life and energy to the classic hit. And the title track that closes out the album brings the whole creation together. It’s a wonder that Hilton hasn’t reached a larger audience; don’t let this album pass you by.  Favorite tracks: 3, 5, 10

Tenci and Friendship @ Otus Supply (concert review by Laura T.)

Walking into the back room of the Otus Supply in Ferndale, I was incredibly excited for the concert that was to come. Having interviewed the lead of Tenci, Jess Shoman, I was looking forward to meeting her in person and hearing their album “My Heart is an Open Field.” This anticipation was only heightened when I saw the stage, which was full with a lap steel, a saxophone, and a flute in addition to the expected drum set, guitars, and bass guitars (of which there were 6 and 3 on stage, respectively).


The opener for the show, pop band Idle Ray, transported me directly to an American Apparel  fitting room in 2015. Their 90s-inspired jangle pop matched their hipster outfits as they rushed through their set with minimal talking (most likely due to their ghost drums they controlled using a pedal, though it felt as if the backing track was what propelled their set rather than the other way around).

During Idle Ray’s set, leading man Fred Thomas’ performance was peculiar. Thomas performed a song without the help of his two band members about losing a friendship, which he dedicated to the people in the crowd who had shitty friends–and immediately chastised us for pretending the situation wasn’t relatable. The song that followed was painfully personal and specific, proving the crowd right. While maybe many of us had experienced the pain of toxic friendships, not as many had shared cigarettes on the first day of art school. I was left underwhelmed from this set, but I would like to hear the band again with a live drummer and see if the performance is more enjoyable.


After a brief break, Tenci took the stage. I was immediately calmed by the demeanor of the entire band, as they all swayed back and forth, the lead guitarist cradling their guitar as if they were  rocking it to sleep. In between each song the band would joke around, with the bassist asking the crowd if “there were any sock wearers in the crowd?” This show was the second to last of their tour, and it was obvious that the band was incredibly comfortable with one another and was truly a group of friends, as they would sometimes share a look and laugh just close enough to the mic that it would get picked up. The lead guitarist would intermittently pick up their sax for songs, and would always rare up for their solos. When performing the solos, they made the choice to include squeaks and breaks in the sound, mimicking Jess’s trills, yelps, screams, and breaks. This choice blended all of the sounds together, and made the emotions present in the songs much more raw. 

The highlight of Tenci’s set was their performance of Blue Spring. With every hit of the instrumental each musician created such a release of energy, thrashing their heads and playing their instruments with reckless abandon. It was a beautiful sight to see, especially contrasting to their quiet and contained emotion that was displayed throughout. The joy of the band enjoying each other's presence flowed off of the stage, while I danced like a fool with my friends. 


Philly-based band Friendship took the last set of the night. Starting off with their guitarist playing a lap steel, the lead singer, Dan Wriggin’s deep vocals complimented their lyrics celebrating the mundane and earnest parts of life. I found striking similarities between him and Bill Callahan of Smog. By this time, the whole crowd had begun dancing, and it was a pleasure to see the looks of glee that crossed their faces. Dan looked straight through his brow and held a wide, solid stance in a way that contrasted the bright and full songs that he was playing. Curt and Jess of Tenci joined the band on saxophone and vocals, respectively, for What’s the Move Baby. While both held their own style, they effortlessly blended into the band to create a new sound. For me, the highlight of their set was their performance of Workhorse. The pure explosion of sound and emotion was a great high to end their set.

Review and Photo by Laura T.


Sylvain Rifflet and Jon Irbagon: Rebellion(s) - Album Review by Nicolette L.

Few commodities are as coveted in the modern imperialist west as the image of revolt. Its rancor, its passion, the conflict that is inherent within the concept itself, revolt serves as an excellent thematic starting point for the artist. However, as per the nature of commodification, “revolt” can be very easily stripped of its semantic, ideological weight in exchange for this abstracted emotional power. And in this manner one can aptly describe “Rebellion(s)” by dual saxophonists Sylvain Rifflet and Jon Irbagon, a middling record of post-bop bordering on free jazz, underpinned by politics that are both painfully milquetoast and shamelessly incomprehensible. 


The liner notes make repeated reference to Ornette Coleman as an inspiration for the music, and that does seem to be the most reasonable sonic comparison. Much of the music follows the recent trend of avant garde post-bop a la Nate Smith, with lots of percussive tones over non-standard time signatures and jagged lines, with a dose of free improvisation thrown in. It far too often feels tame and academic, with the highly technical elements neutering the nuance and care that those aforementioned artists are able to bring to the avant garde. This mediocrity is only exacerbated by the elephant in the room for four of the six tracks, which are of course the speech recordings. 


A good examination of the effect of virality on a piece of music, the speeches here are particularly famous, and a few are very recent. Greta Thunberg’s speech on climate change to the United Nations can be heard here, as well as one of the students from the Parkland shooting discussing gun control. “Rebellion(s)” lacks the pull of recency with these speeches, with their greatest cultural impact having passed years if not decades prior. They aren’t able to provide interesting commentary on the content of the speeches themselves, nor on the meta-concept of rebellion as presented through these recordings. Who’s ideology are they attempting to challenge with this record? Their brash, shallow impressionism over the speeches’ most emotionally intense moments seems to imply that they have no interest in this sort of engagement with their audience. This is not even mentioning the use of a Paul Robeson speech in the fifth track, amidst a series of neoliberals. And so we are left with a zombie of a record with nothing compelling to offer. Track 2 is both the least out there stylistically and the best track for its lack of any vocal samples! For once something is left to interpretation.

Boyle: Psych-Jazz Collage (album review by Nicolette L.)

It is difficult to conceive of Boyle as anything other than an ensemble of at least 8 players, but somehow the entirety of “Psych-Jazz Collage 1” was performed and recorded by a single multi-instrumentalist/tape manipulator, something I was admittedly not aware of until I had written up the majority of this review.  Despite its name and instrumentation, this rarely feels like a jazz album, with its improvisation avoiding individual lines. Instead, the playing across this single, 44-minute track attempts to bring out the collective improvisational nature of the ensemble(which of course brings up a more meta question regarding the nature of improvisation in music that has been overdubbed time and time again, which this review will definitely not be capable of adequately addressing). Underlining this experiment in recording is an experiment in tape manipulation, with numerous moments of tape splicing being heard throughout. These combine in a manner to produce nothing short of an overwhelming auditory experience: a wall of drones, screams and repetition constantly spilling out of its own self-imposed boundaries, yet simultaneously bearing a monolithic, insurmountable sonic giant that presses on at its own pace.  This difficult-to-put-into-words album is fittingly eclectic in the influences it carries. The sound collage work of Pierre Schaeffer and the instrumental musique concréte of Helmut Lachenmann seem to be foundational to the music here, but one must also mention The Scratch Orchestra and other counter-cultural ensembles from the ‘60’s and ‘70’s whose methods of collective composition can be heard all over the record. Boyle’s maximalist sound and the strong emphasis on repetitive rhythmic grooves makes the music at times feel more reminiscent of oddball European prog-rock in the vein of Henry Cow or Faust. An extensive list, yet none of these elements stumble into trite imitation or derivation. These influences and sounds crash into themselves through the astounding sound collage work, where sections can jump at any moment one moment and be cut off again in an abrupt tape splice only a few minutes later. These sections mostly consist of looping instrumental patterns, with Boyle altering the loop slightly each time until, out of the tangled, noisy mesh, arise trippy full-band melodies. From here these melodies seem to steadily compress and simplify and fall apart in this sort of extraterrestrial musical game of telephone. All until eventually even these foundations of melodies fall away into the instrumental mist. The jarring cuts which separate the different sections serve to form vignettes out of the track’s progression, serving as both a unique manner of pacing the recording, and also a means of hinting at the scope of the music beyond what can be heard. It is fitting that the recording seems to start mid performance, and finish just as abruptly, implying limits we as listeners cannot comprehend. “Psych-Jazz Collage 1” presents a one-man ensemble taking great care to understand not only the role and place of each instrument, but its relationship with the rest of the instruments. A wonderful experiment. Album review by Nicolette L. 

Dekmantel days 3 4 + 5 (festival review by Paul S.)

The bulk of the Dekmantel festival took place in the Amsterdamse Bos forest over 3 days (Friday/Saturday/Sunday). With 8 simultaneous stages, some of which are a bit of a hike from each other, and some of the spaces filling up pretty quickly, one has to coordinate and prioritize which sets are worth venturing out and staying for. On all three days, I ended up getting to the forest a bit later than I wanted since I was spending time in the city hanging out with a friend during the early afternoon. Friday I arrived just in time to catch the last 12 minutes of Scorn's set, which was one of the sets I was looking forward to the most. At least it was worth it, as Mick Harris pummeled the hangar-like UFO II stage with bass, and I was able to get as close up front as possible. Next I caught a bit of DJ Haram, who promised club bangers as long as it was ok if she threw in some weirdness, which meant Bad Brains-style hardcore and trap coexisted with Jersey club. Over at the main stage, Josey Rebelle was playing an uplifting, eclectic housey set, and Anz elevated the vibe further, playing a marvelous set which likely included a lot of her own productions, which are as likely to evoke freestyle/electro as ravey drum'n'bass. After catching some of Joy Orbison's main stage set, I discovered the amazing Greenhouse stage, a roomy, open-air hut with lots of plants. I caught some of Ugandan/British ensemble Nihiloxica's set, an exhilarating mix of high-speed drumming and blown-out electronic feedback. I always appreciate it when electronic festivals showcase a few bands, particularly when they have amazing drummers, and this was an especially welcome change of pace. After that was Legowelt, a Dutch electro master and analog synth fiend who I'd been wanting to see for ages. Following that, I caught some of Aquarian and the Hessle Audio 15th anniversary showcase, but honestly I was really tired by that point and everything was blurring together, plus it was cold and I didn't bring a jacket that day. I ended up buying a long-sleeve polo shirt at the merch table before I biked back to my hotel.

I showed up too late on Saturday for Dopplereffekt's set, but I did catch some of Anthony Rother, who mostly played Kraftwerk tunes for the portion that I saw. Then electroclash heroes Kittin & the Hacker played, and though I still wasn't quite close enough to see them, it sounded fine. After that I head over to the main stage to catch Jayda G, who played a very summery set of disco and house favorites, including her own excellent recent singles. Over at the Greenhouse, I caught some of Brazilian jazz-funk legends Azymuth, who were a last-minute addition to the lineup, and I immediately wished I'd gotten there earlier. Could not believe how tight they were, the synth player in particular is a wizard. Fortunately their set went on 15 minutes longer than scheduled, and pretty much everyone in the crowd was bouncing (and even singing) along by then. Uganda's MC Yallah then did a powerful set backed by Debmaster, who blasted out heavy, angular beats and twisted effects using video game controllers. Another artist associated with Kampala's Nyege Nyege collective, DJ Kampire, followed with an incredible mix of high-energy African electronic styles. Sully & Coco Bryce, two of the leading lights of the current jungle scene, absolutely crushed it, as expected. Over in the UFO I stage, which was exactly the same size as the main room at Bangface, VTSS was spinning booming, warehouse-ready techno. Finally, I had to end the night by catching Carlos Souffront, best known around these parts as a longtime host of Crush Collision. Now he's a well-respected, internationally touring DJ still spinning the impeccable blend of techni and acid he was playing on this station for ages. His Dekmantel set can be heard here in its entirety.

By the time I got to the forest on Sunday, the final day, South Africa's DJ Lag was in full effect, and just getting to the most hyped-up part of his set. One of the pioneers of the gqom scene, his set stayed true to the style, an intense, deep-stare type of music which is thoroughly intoxicating. Reinging Jersey club queen UNiiQU3 followed, with the type of unabashedly fun set that demanded the crowd's full attention. After a while I snuck out to the surprisingly less-attended Lee Gamble set at UFO II, which collided smashed-up jungle with sound designy techno and dirty rap. AceMoMA's set sounded good, but I had to head over to the main stage for LSDXOXO, a master of aggressive, unfiltered club music, whose set preceded Detroit's Robert Hood. The Underground Resistance co-founder is acknowledged as one of the originators of minimal techno, but his music has expanded into more of a big-room sound, and it sounded massive on the main stage. After checking out Objekt and Call Super at the Boiler Room stage (apparently the last time they're doing one of those at Dekmantel), I caught some of Batu's main stage set, to make up for when I missed him at the Tangent Gallery in Detroit during Movement weekend because I was too tired. Finally, I had to close out the festival by seeing the unstoppable Sherelle, who set the stage called The Nest on fire, providing one of many moments during the festival that made the entire, costly trek out to Amsterdam entirely worth it.


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