Track Review: “Small Talk” by Courtney Barnett

Courtney Barnett has a genuine love for music that is apparent in the wholesome smile that she often wears in interviews and performances. Of course, this is nothing special; painters love painting, swimmers love swimming, scientists love science, and water is wet. What sets Barnett apart though, is her ability to share her love for music with others. Generally, this radiance shines the brightest in videos of her performing, where you can see her having fun, but I also feel this strong energy on her latest track, “Small Talk.”


Source: Andrew Brownbill/AP

“Small Talk” came from the sessions for her last album, Tell Me How You Really Feel, which explored pertinent feminist ideas on songs like “Nameless, Faceless” and “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch.” With its conversational nature and seemingly ordinary subject matter, “Small Talk” is a laid back stroll of a song. The premise is simple and relatable: getting stuck in painful casual conversation with someone as you wait for a friend to arrive. The chorus is also straightforward, consisting of the same line being repeated, “I’m waiting here for you.”

Barnett’s half-spoken half-sung delivery of the lyrics may give off heavy slacker vibes, but this belies the skillful playfulness of the instruments going on. The loose quality of the framework laid down by the sturdy bass and percussion leaves just enough room for the guitar and keys to fill everything out with some groovy improvisations. The way chords and little lines are thrown in feels like a call and response between the instruments and the vocals. On twitter Barnett admits the song was tracked live and she had only just shown it to the band. You can even hear her laughing, calling out changes, and making up lyrics on the spot. This adds to the overall unscripted live feel of the song.

“Small Talk” ends with a laugh. Something about being stuck with someone in meaningless conversation is funny. Even if the person you converse with is annoying, at least you have a story to tell afterwards. “Small Talk” isn’t an epic anthem or a heartbreaking ballad; it’s easy listening regarding the subtleties of life. The trick which is achieved splendidly here, and which is not easy to pull off, is making ordinary day-to-day happenings feel fresh by injecting some love of fun into them.


Mink’s Magic Medicine – Interview with Melissa Wright


Photo courtesy of Glide Magazine

Saturday September 9, Mink’s Miracle Medicine is performing at Gary Owen Irish Pub in Gettysburg in support of their new album, Pyramid Theories, so I spoke with Melissa Wright of the band to learn a little bit about her and the music. Write shared a lot with me from the new direction of the band and what to expect from the new album, to ancient aliens and the Pyramids in Egypt.

First, I asked Wright about the band’s new direction. When Mink’s Miracle Medicine was formed by Melissa Wright and her friend Daniel Zezeski in 2013, the group strived to create “minimalism in country music.” Back then, the group represented an alternative to the mainstream pop-dominated country music; they stripped down country music to its basic essentials. Their new singles off the upcoming album, however, are noticeably more dense in instrumentation and feature more contemporary sounds. I asked Wright how the band has evolved over the last five years since those more simplistic early days. She explained how the minimalist aesthetic of the group early on was started out of necessity. The group was travelling a lot and the band only had two people, so they made music within the limitations they had. Since then, Wright has developed more of a desire to experiment with new sounds and instruments. While she still likes to stay song-focused, their new music features more bass, piano, and keyboard.

Next, I asked Wright how the creative process behind Pyramid Theories was different from the process behind their debut album House of Candles. While it took four years to get their first album out, their second album is coming out just about a year after the first one. Wright said that she ended up writing a lot of songs that didn’t fit the first album, some of which became material for Pyramid Theories. She also claimed to be in a much better place in her life now than she was when she wrote the songs for the first record. The process of putting an album together in a year was not easy, and she said the band might take more time for their next album.

I wondered if the band was ever afraid of falling into a sophomore slump and failing to top themselves. Wright said, “yes and no”. She explained that the group takes an esoteric approach to writing music. “Everything is an expression of us living. We can’t let what other people think affect us because we’re just articulating our own feelings and experiences.” They try not to let any pressure bring them down.


What can people expect Pyramid Theories to be like? Wright admitted that there is no cohesive theme to the overall album, but they approached everything with a focus on songwriting and telling good stories. Daniel Zezeski also wrote and sings on one of the songs, which is a first for the group, because Wright usually handles all of the songwriting and singing.

The title track of the album is already available to listen to online, so I had to ask Wright about the lyrics, which make reference to aliens and ancient roman architecture. Wright laughed and told me, “Yes, I was watching a lot of ‘Ancient Aliens’ and National Geographic documentaries about ancient cultures in Egypt and around the world.” She explained to me a theory which claims that the pyramids were built as a giant “tesla” cell powered by the Nile, which was used to generate electricity. Wright is fascinated by these theories of ancient technology, but she assured me that this is the only song about this subject on the album.

Finally, I asked Melissa Wright what Mink’s Miracle Medicine has planned for the future. Wright is looking forward to an animated stop-motion music video for “Pyramid Theories” that the band is currently working on. Although they have no specific plans besides continuing to make music and perform, Wright told me that the band just wants to keep experimenting and having fun. If you don’t like the stadium country music played on the radio today, check out Mink’s Miracle Medicine for an interesting alternative.

The Lemon Twigs: Go To School Review


The Lemon Twigs have not taken any breaks from writing music since their debut album Do Hollywood came out in 2016. The two brothers, Michael and Brian D’Addario, released an ep Brothers of Destruction and two singles earlier this year, but the real meat and potatoes that had fans salivating at the mouth was the prospect of their sophomore album. The Twigs already proved that they had the creative aptitude and songwriting chops to write fun music with a retro flair, but the real question was how they would grow and improve. Do Hollywood was a solid debut from the relatively young band, but too many bands fall victim to the sophomore slump and risk falling back into relative obscurity.

The band could have played it safe and done more of the same, which probably would have been fine for most fans, but instead they decided to write a rock musical concept album about a chimpanzee named Shane, who is raised by adoptive parents to believe he is a human boy. Shane convinces his parents to allow him to go to high school where he meets a host of characters and learns some hard lessons. For sure, this was an interesting choice for the boys, but the execution is extremely solid. The tale of Shane is a coming of age story in which the chimp progresses from a naive child into a bitter and defeated tragic figure. Along the way, he falls in love, gets beat-up by the school bully, eats bananas for breakfast, and struggles to make friends. The climax involves a terrible incident which forces Shane into isolation. Straddling the line somewhere between Matilda and The Wall, Go To School is quirky and odd but also deeply affecting.

What strikes me is how there’s an overwhelming sense of authenticity in the lyrics and performances on the album. This isn’t just a story about a chimpanzee going to school, it’s a deep reflection on alienation and not fitting in. Brian and Michael use Shane as a mouthpiece to open up about their own insecurities and make themselves vulnerable in a way we haven’t seen them do before. Being only nineteen and 21, highschool is still relatively fresh in their minds, so a lot of the experiences feel relatable and realistic.

The orchestral arrangements, which were composed by Brian, are lush and well-balanced. The track “Born Wrong/Heart Song” is particularly unique on the album because it ditches the rock instruments for full broadway-style orchestration. The clarinet and strings are gently float around but the horns add a touch of darkness to the fairytale aesthetic. Michael gives one of his best vocal performances on this track, expressing a range of emotions from sadness to anger and hatred.

The song “Lonely” is a heartbreaking moment where Shane laments how he feels different from his classmates. He wonders if there is something wrong with him. The lyrics are angsty and corny, but it’s perfect in the context of the character. Shane is a highschool student overwhelmed with uncertainty and doused in insecurity trying to figure out his own identity; the lyrics should sound more like a diary entry than a Shakespearean soliloquy. The song reminds me of myself at that age and the overwhelming social anxiety I would feel when it seemed that everyone was hanging out with their friends after school without me. I’m sure that many listeners will be able to identify with Shane’s sentiments.

Don’t worry though, not everything is just angst and depression. There is a lot of fun to be found in Go To School. For instance, “Queen Of My School” is an old-fashioned rollicking rock song in which Shane’s sexual fantasies are realized. It’s probably the best track to blast and sing-along to in the car because of how energetic and wild it is. Subtlety is thrown out the window here, but a high school story that doesn’t include some awkward sexual discovery and raging hormones is not a believable story at all.

Some other memorable performances include seventies singer-songwriter Todd Rundgren as Shane’s father on the song “Never Know,” Susan Hall as Shane’s bitter mother on the track “Rock Dreams,” and Jody Stephens of Big Star playing drums on “The Student Becomes the Teacher.”

The characters and performances are strong, but there are some themes that feel underdeveloped. “The Student Becomes the Teacher” contains a lyrical reference to violence in schools. When Shane tells his father that he wants to go to school, his father tells him, “There’s just no way / Don’t you ever turn on channel five? / and we want you alive.” I think this concept of how school shootings are portrayed and sensationalized in the media could have been explored a little more. Mass shootings are a huge problem in schools across the country right now and a major source of anxiety for parents, teachers, and students alike which is unique to this generation. Especially given the dramatic climax of the story, it seems odd that the band would reference and gloss over an issue as prevalent as this.

It’s exciting to see the Lemon Twigs pushing their boundaries and topping themselves in a unique way. Go To School is engaging and relatable. Its nostalgic and sometimes over-indulgent in its over-the-top presentation, but always in a fun way and not a frustrating way. Its light and humorous at moments, but also heavy and emotional when it needs to be. The story is attractive but the characters and performances are what make it special. Although I wish some ideas were developed more, what strikes me the most about The Lemon Twigs’ musical is how it emphasizes the importance of love and empathy. In a time when people who disagree are often at each other’s throats, Go To School reminds us that the one thing we all desire deep down inside is to feel loved by someone.

Cut Worms: Hollow Ground Review


Max Clarke, the musician behind Cut Worms, first caught my attention with his 2017 ep Alien Sunset. His solid songwriting and rough charm left more than one of his songs lingering in my mind months after I listened to the project. I was excited to hear what would come next, and my anticipation was only compounded when I learned that Jonathan Rado, who did a fantastic job producing the Lemon Twigs’ debut album, would be lending his talent as a producer to Cut Worm’s debut album.

Hollow Ground is warm nostalgia and earnest love wrapped in a blanket and tucked in together. Almost every song deals with love in some capacity, whether the lyrics address fantasies of love, unrequited love, lost love, blossoming love, or blissful love. The honest and relatable story-telling on Hollow Ground is where Clarke really shines; there are countless moments that evoke bittersweet feelings and states of being, the way looking through an old album of photographs does. Even the vocal harmonies and arrangements feel old and familiar, recalling early Beatles songs and soulful doo-wop.

Two songs from Alien Sunset, “Don’t Want to Say Goodbye” and “Like Going Down Sideways,” return on Hollow Ground, but not without some changes. The vocal harmonies have been reworked to sound richer and more full. The rough demo-quality of the original tracks has been smoothed out and cleaned up, but not overdone to the point of being totally sanitized of their spirit.

While the changes to “Don’t Want to Say Goodbye” were more subtle, “Like Going Down Sideways” received the most significant improvements. The bass, which was overpowering in the original version, has been toned down, and the guitar part was doubled into two guitar parts providing some counterpoint melodies to each other. This reorganization of the instrumentation allows for Clarke’s singing to come through better. He takes this opportunity to add some nice shaping to the dynamic structure of the track, starting out softer and building into a satisfying high-point in the chorus.

Clarke’s vocals come into their own on this album. In the past, his rough voice garnered comparisons to the likes of Brooks Nielsen of The Growlers, but here Clarke displays a powerful vulnerability in his voice that is more unique to him. On “Cash for Gold,” his voice cracks display frustration and anguish, and on “Hanging Your Picture Up to Dry” he adds a touch of heart-broken country twang.

“Cash for Gold” is one of the highlights of the album. It’s a certified head-bopper complete with bright guitars, a playful premise, warm backup singers, and a catchy hook. I love how the structure teases the chorus with a pre chorus before going back into another verse. This makes the chorus hit much harder when it finally arrives with its lyrics that beg you to sing along.

“Hanging Your Picture Up to Dry” tips its hat to classic country music and the likes of Hank Williams with the descending guitar line that opens the song. The song paints a simple but affecting picture of someone crying over a picture of a lost lover. The lyrics capture the feeling of hopelessness that accompanies a broken heart with the line, “Maybe by the time its dry I’ll learn to start anew / or maybe I’ll just lay down and die.” It may be overdramatic, but it’s not far from how losing someone can feel.

With Hollow Ground, Max Clarke has established himself as a songwriter and lyricist that demands attention. He now has a very strong debut album under his belt and he has shown enormous growth in just the past year, which is not an easy task. That being said, I wonder where he will go with his next release. His sound is very particular, which makes me doubt whether I wouldn’t tire from more of the same. Until then, I am more than happy to pour over these tales of love and life again and again.

The Voidz: Virtue Review


Reviewing Virtue, the latest album from the Voidz, is a daunting task. The band, which consists of Julian Casablancas of the Strokes, Jeramy “Beardo” Gritter, Amir Yaghmai, Jacob “Jake” Bercovici, Alex Carapetis, and Jeff Kite, has been on my mind since they released their debut album Tyranny in 2014. Tyranny was an album that challenged me. At the time, I was exclusively a classic rock listener, then my friend showed me this incredibly abrasive hurricane of an album with sounds that were simultaneously futuristic and ancient. I was as swept away by the grandiose eleven-minute track, “Human Sadness,” as I was enamored by the frenetic “Business Dog.” Of course, I couldn’t wait to hear how the band would follow this up.

Three years passed and my life changed in significant ways: I went off to college, people came and went in my life, new friendships were made, and a new president was even elected. Finally, in October of 2017, the Voidz resurfaced on a Brazilian television program of all places with a new song, “Wink.” Several singles and five months later, Virtue was finally released. After months of salivating over the thought of diving into this album, it was finally there for me to bite into. But was it worth the wait?

Virtue is what I call a “gateway album,” an habit-forming album that may lead one down the path to “wilder” music. I characterize a gateway album as having an eclectic track list consisting of a wide range of genres and influences. The textbook definition of a gateway album is Demon Days by the Gorillaz; countless teens who innocently listened into this album came out of the ordeal with cravings for rap, hip hop, and dancehall that they never had before. Like Demon Days, Virtue is a sample platter of musical flavors, complete with various bite-size tastes of different genres. From the middle-eastern influences in “Qyurryus,” to the metal guitar riffs of “Pyramid of Bones,” to the underground punk aesthetic of “We’re Where We Were,” to the proggy organ on “Pointlessness,” people who aren’t scared away by the noisiness will find a lot to love and explore.

For me, the ultimate accomplishment of Virtue is how the band manages to channel so many genres and sounds, each new sound building on to their own unique identity, rather than detracting from it. The sophomore album is often the point where bands struggle. Do you deliver more of the same or do you try something totally new? Virtue straddles this line. Certain songs like “One of the Ones” would feel at home on Tyranny with its out-of-left-field chorus and layers of distortion. “Wink” on the other hand, sees the band trying a new jangly pop sound with upbeat guitar strumming and more straightforward harmonies. Sonically, it feels like a breath of fresh air compared to the dense jungle of heavier songs that precede it.

One of my favorite tracks is “Pink Ocean,” which starts out simple, but builds up into a swirling sea of synthesizer, bass, and percussion. Every little nook and cranny of the song is filled with interesting sounds and embellishments, with Casablanca’s vocals effortlessly floating over it all. Another highlight is “We’re Where We Were” with its raucous vocals and provocative imagery of Germany 1939. This track really embodies the spirit of classic Misfits songs like “Where No Eagles Dare” with its concrete-basement audio aesthetic and palpable edgy tension.

By the time “Pointlessness” rolls around and ends the album on a downcast heartbreaking note, one might need to take a breather. Between the overt political messages and the long run-time, Virtue can feel a little bloated at points, but overall there are many incentives that reward multiple listens. For example, listen closely for lyrical references to Tyranny and little production tricks like doubled vocals singing different words at the same time. Virtue is not made for everyone; the Voidz like to do their own thing, but if you can give the album a good chance, there is a lot of love and craft to be found here.

Don’t Sleep on the Sax in 2018

When one thinks about the saxophone, the first thing that pops into their head might be “Careless Whisper” or perhaps Kenny G, but the saxophone is an extremely versatile instrument with much more to offer than sleep-inducing elevator music. In order to showcase the range of the saxophone and exemplify its continued relevance in today’s music, I decided to compile this short sampling of three new songs from 2018. Several songs this year have made great use of this instrument and pushed it to interesting and unexpected places. From rock to jazz, the saxophone can howl along with noisy instruments like electric guitar or add a gentle touch to a slow jam. This is a brief list of songs in no particular order, and I am aware that there are plenty of other songs that deserve to be recognized, but these three are some of my favorites that I think are worth checking out.

“Main Pretender” by Ty Segall from Freedom’s Goblin

On Freedom’s Goblin, Ty Segall added the saxophone along with various brass instruments to his band in order to develop a much fuller sound, resulting in more complex arrangements when compared to his past albums. The sax takes a front seat throughout the album, squealing out syncopated rhythms and catchy riffs, but one particular highlight is the track “Main Pretender.” The sax here is high-pitched and dirty, laying the groundwork for a hard-hitting counterpoint with the bass line. I love how the sax holds its ground against the loud distorted guitars in this track, but the best part is the wildly unhinged sax solo towards the end of the song. The instrument growls like it’s being choked, frantically squeaking and squawking like an angry swan. It feels like the instrument is being pushed within an inch of its breaking point at certain points in this solo, which is why I would rank this as one of my favorite solos by any instrument on a rock album so far this year.

“Call Me (On the Phone)” by Dante Elephante

Released in February, this single from Los Angeles pop/rockers Dante Elephante may have been released too early, because it feels like a summer song. Its type of song that comes on in the evening just as the sun is going down, work is ending, and you’re heading to a friend’s house just to chill. Taylor Penn plays the sax here, which isn’t heard until the latter half of the track, but when it does come in, it provides the perfect touch of nostalgia and freedom as it gracefully dances up and down. This seemingly insignificant touch shows how a bit of sax can turn a good track into a stellar track.

“When We Are” by Nubya Garcia

Jazz and saxophone go together like pinot noir and brie, which is why any list of songs featuring the saxophone would be incomplete without at least one jazz tune. Nubya Garcia, a tenor saxophonist from England, recently released When We Are, which features her own brand of jazz infused with the energetic vibes of night-club culture. On the title track, you can hear the club influence in the percussion, which has a contemporary hip hop feel to it. As for the cool saxophone playing, it transports the tune into the stratosphere. As the song grooves along, the saxophone tells a story about late night grinding and bumping in crowded venues. Her tone is very clean and bolstered by a strong rhythmic base. As an artist who is only just getting her solo career started, Garcia is an artist to pay attention to in the future for all your late-night saxophone cravings.

MGMT: Little Dark Age Review


“MGMT ARE BACK” reads a sign in the music video for “Me and Michael,” one of the singles from MGMT’s latest album, Little Dark Age. This is the fourth studio album from the band comprised of Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser, and it marks MGMT’s return after a four-year hiatus. From start to finish, MGMT’s latest release is captivating and meaningful. Whether or not you’re familiar with the band’s past work, Little Dark Age is an infectious mix of black comedy, unabashed quirkiness, and great pop-songwriting.

The opening track “She Works Out Too Much” addresses the pitfalls of dating in the super fast internet age. The lyrics playfully lampoon the instagram generation’s shallow obsession with swiping, tapping, and collecting likes. “I can never keep up,” laments VanWyngarden. The dancey electronic beat is punctuated by motivational phrases from a perky fitness instructor. The overblown enthusiasm of these snippets adds a sense of humor to the song. I particularly like the poppy brass and the saxophone toward the end of this track which wildly improvises around the melody.

Next is the title track, “Little Dark Age,” a brooding synthpop odyssey. The echoey quality of the heavy synthesizers and the reverb on the vocals create a moody gothic atmosphere. The lyrics further build on this feeling of dread. Certain images in the lyrics can’t be separated from the political message behind them, “Policemen swear to god / Love’s seeping from the guns / I know my friends and I / Would probably turn and run.” Although they may be somewhat cryptic, references like this to police brutality and other issues suggest there is something unsavory rooted deep within our own society, something we would rather keep hidden in the dark recesses of our mind than confront.

“When You Die” is an abrasive statement about death and what follows it. Ariel Pink has a writing credit on this track, and his fingerprints are definitely apparent in the playful cynicism of the chorus and the subverting of pop expectations. The song frequently teases a melody only to suddenly turn in another new and unexpected direction. The strange guitar part sounds like it’s moving backwards, but it works because it builds up brilliantly into the refrain which thrusts the listener into a surreal afterlife populated by a chorus of laughing voices.

“Me and Michael” stands out as the very accessible feel-good track on the album. The pulsating keyboard, straightforward percussion, and smooth vocal inflection make this one of my favorite tracks on Little Dark Age. The subject matter is nostalgic yet vague enough that it can be about almost any friendship you’ve ever had. In terms of structure, it doesn’t pull any tricks, but it doesn’t need to. The elements of this eighties-indebted song come together beautifully, resulting in a track that has been stuck in my head since I first heard it. When that chorus finally hits, its impossible to resist singing along.

The last track, “Hand it Over,” brings closure to the album. The song revolves around abuse of power and corruption, but the delivery is apathetic as if the observer in the song is up in the clouds watching us from a removed vantage point. The song certainly floats like a gentle psychedelic pop dream. The gentle ebb and flow of the heavy synthesizer washes over the dreamy harmonies like waves, while a groovy bass line bubbles just under the surface of the melody. Eventually, the dream fades away and you are left alone with just your thoughts.
Like great art, Little Dark Age doesn’t give us answers; instead, it prompts us to search inward for our own questions and solutions. I can see myself coming back to this album in the future for its countless memorable moments, the musical intricacies that reward multiple listens, and its great production value. You could not go wrong in giving Little Dark Age a listen.

Super Bowl LII Halftime Show: Touchdown or Fumble?


Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images

103.4 million people tuned in to watch Super Bowl LII on Sunday night. I was one of those people. Some watch for the big game, some watch for the commercials, some enjoy the snacks served at the parties, and others get excited for the halftime show. I fit myself into the latter two categories. I pay attention to the game, but I’m mostly there for a good cheese platter and an entertaining performance.

Super Bowl halftime shows can be hit or miss sometimes. In the last couple of years, several performers have stood out to me for giving great shows, but for every Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, or Katy Perry, there seems to be a Coldplay. It’s impossible to satisfy everyone when it comes to the most hyped-up and talked about performance event of the year, but overall, I thought that Justin Timberlake did a good job. It wasn’t one of the greats, but it at least kept my attention for thirteen minutes.

Justin wisely started the show with “Filthy,” a song from his new album, Man of the Woods. Quickly getting the new song out of the way is a smart move, because people watching the Super Bowl don’t exactly care about his new music; they come for the hits they can sing along to, which Justin delivered on. The setlist contained all of his most popular crowd-pleasers, including “Rock Your Body,” “Sexy Back,” “Cry Me a River,” “Suit and Tie,” “Mirrors,” and “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”

One thing I liked about the show was how the musicians and band-members were showcased. Too often, the band is hidden out of sight in these types of shows, but here they were dancing and playing right next to Justin. During “Sexy Back,” I was happy to be able to see the trombonist, guitarist, trumpeter, and saxophonist grooving together. The University of Minnesota Marching Band also played a big role in “Suit and Tie,” in which they were all appropriately dressed in tuxedos. The whole marching band swinging their instruments behind Justin, as he danced around with a moving microphone on a glowing white box, was one of my favorite parts of the whole show.


Pepsi Super Bowl LII Halftime Show

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

There was a lot of impressive dancing in the show as well. One stand-out moment was the dance break on top of the NFL logo. The synchronized dancing was well choreographed, and everyone involved made those crazy dance moves look effortless.


This year, I missed the wild and imaginative costumes of previous years. The back-up singers had some costume changes, but it seemed a little lame that Justin sported a caribou shirt the whole time. More creative outfits from the past, like Katy Perry’s beach ball dress or Lady Gaga’s shiny metal costume, left a lasting impression on my mind.

The Prince tribute was also a little bit questionable. Prince was once asked if he would ever consider using technology to jam with an artist from the past, to which he responded, “Certainly not. That’s the most demonic thing imaginable. Everything is as it is, and it should be. If I was meant to jam with Duke Ellington, we would have lived in the same age. That whole virtual reality thing… it really is demonic. And I am not a demon.” Going ahead against Prince’s wishes and having Justin Timberlake sing a duet with him seemed disrespectful. The part where they lit up the entire stadium and its surrounding area purple would have been enough.

Overall, Justin Timberlake put on a good show, although only time will tell if his performance will stick in our minds like great Super Bowl halftime shows of the past. There were some great moments and there were some awkward moments, but hopefully everyone was able to find something to enjoy about the biggest sporting event of the year.