If you’re as obsessed with Will Sheff and his mighty band of Texan titans as I am, then you knew that for the past few weeks, Okkervil River has been teasing fans with a sort of instagram Wheel of Fortune, each day or so unveiling a new letter for their title of their forthcoming eighth album. On Monday this week, the first track off The Silver Gymnasium has been released in one of those snazzy “lyrics video” that Taylor Swift keeps putting out and are so pops amongst the kiddos on youtube.
I’ve been doing time with Okky Riv for about ten years. At one point, after recently moving, I became known as “Okkervil River girl” instead of “Amber” and I was okay with that. In recent years, however, I’ve been sort of underwhelmed by the band. Black Sheep Boy was nothing short of a masterpiece and while I doubted the band could follow it up with anything as brilliant, they proved me wrong in ways with the one-two intelli-rock punch of The Stand Ins and The Stage Names. With I Am Vurry Far, however, I felt their formula stumbled and … well … I want to adore “It Was My Season,” but honestly, if I wanted to listen to post-YHF Wilco, I’d just put on Sky Blue Sky and be disappointed in the indie heroes of my youth. Will Sheff, I expect more from you!
Like most people in the world, I’m a sucker for a pretty gal. Put that pretty gal in front of a piano and have her play some minor chords and I’m even more smitten so naturally, Les RAV is right up my alley.
While the Austin band only has one track up on Bandcamp currently, that one song was enough to pique my interest in the group. Looking into who Les RAV is and what they’re about made me even more anxious to hear more from the group, fronted by rainbow pixie Lauren Bruno.
Part DIY gypsy folk, part creepy chamber pop, Les RAV sort of sounds like Joanna Newsom fronting Beirut and currently the band has taken to crowdsourcing to help fund their debut. While I’m normally not a fan of crowdsourcing to fund artistic endeavors, I couldn’t help but be touched by the band’s story. In Bruno’s words:
“I’ve been suffering from a painful stomach disease called Ulcerative Colitis since I was 11 yrs old. Between being in and out of the hospital, having my income go toward medical bills and having to quit my job to get well, it has made it near impossible for this album to come to fruition. I’ve received so much support from the local community and fans around the world and that has given me the hope and strength that together we can make this album happen.”
For the past 10 or so years, the girls in Eisley have been making music that is just as sun drenched as their homestate of Texas, thanks to the sugary sweet angel voices of the sisters Dupree (that’s guitarist/vocalist Sherri Dupree-Bemis, keyboardist/vocalist Stacy King, and guitarist Chauntelle D’Agnosto, who make up the majority of the family band with the help from male Duprees Weston on drums and Garret on bass).
The first time I heard of Eisley was back when the sisters were all blonde babes, mostly still in their teens, doing opening duty for Coldplay (though I don’t like to admit I once paid for a Coldplay concert — I swear, they used to be cool and I was real young). I remember being struck by the overwhelming beauty of the band’s melodies, not to mention the fact that the girls looked like they could have been long lost Lisbon sisters, with matching pale locks and wide, sad eyes, their gorgeous songs always tinged with a sort of melancholy (see early cut “I Wasn’t Prepared”) and occasional creepiness (“Marvelous Things”) that lent the band an eerie Grimm’s brother quality.
Time has been kind to the Duprees, with each record since the self-released EPs they were slinging at that Coldplay concert of yore charting a very clear artistic growth and progression. The girls have left the songs about dragons behind but have perfected their dreamy, fairy tale sound. On their fourth full-length release, Eisley delivers more of the same songs they’ve become known for with their extraordinary melodical grace.
If you have liked anything Eisley has released in the past, you’ll probs be crazy for Currents (Released on Equal Vision May 28th). The album is even strong enough to win over new fans, as well. As a longtime Eisley listener, however, I feel as if the difference between the band’s two songwriters, Bemis and King, has become almost too pronounced, lending the album a slightly stunted feel. Bemis embraces mainstream pop-punk sensibilities with her songs’ chugging structures, while King (who also performs with the amazing Sucre) goes for a more understated beauty on her tracks. It’s that dreamy quality that leads King to take MVP of this album, with her songs “Real World” and “Lost Enemies” lingering in the listener’s head long after the melodies have dissipated.
Despite being one of the most commonly recognized forms of catharsis, there are still subjects in songwriting that are treated as non-issues or considered seemingly too taboo to talk about. Heartbreak? Tunes about that are a dime a dozen. Drug use? It’s a common topic. Once a fellow music writer told me all songs are about relationships or substance abuse. Aside from the odd politically charged track, he was pretty spot on. And if you discount songs by Demi Lovato and that one Ted Leo jam, a topic that is almost constantly shied away from is body image issues.
Girls and women in almost all aspects of life are discouraged from expressing their feelings about their own physicality if they suffer shame or disordered thinking. Despite the overwhelming pressure to be perfect, talking about the weight of this pressure is often treated as vanity and shallowness. This is why it was so chilling and refreshing to hear Mary Lambert.
A haunting confession spoken in a shaking voice over stark piano, “I Know Girls” talks of the pressure nearly every girl feels to fit in and the tolls that pressure takes on a woman’s mind and body. In five minutes, Lambert manages to be more honest and compelling than most artists are in entire records. And for the first time in more than a year, a song moved me to the point of breathlessness and teary eyes.
Let’s talk for a second about Fleet Foxes. You know the band. We all do. They’re a mild mannered group of folk superheroes who wear beanies and have beards. A fair few years back, I got the chance to see the Seattle-ites at Lollapalooza and while I was impressed, I never would have expected that the man stowed behind their drum kit had moves like this…
After years of doing double duty as both a Fleet Fox and the super serious mountain man J. Tillman, one can only assume that Tillman finally reached a sense of nirvana or ego death, fueled by massive drug use, and emerged from the desert in a Peyote-drenched glow, flanked by shirtless witch women, shaking a tambourine, and possibly riding a winged cougar. Thus, Father John Misty was born.
Sure, the music is pretty fantastic…
…but let’s face it. This man has the most gif-able dance moves of all time.
I’m no stranger to sexism in indie rock. The subject has been oft-written about by me for various sites that I’ve contributed to, namely the now-defunct Awe Chasm, and one I’ve had to deal with in various forms for a number of years now, being a young woman in the music industry. As a music journalist, my second interview ever walked out on me when I refused to get sexy with him, even though I was on the job. I remember the horrible feeling that accompanied the scene as it played out before me and the crushing realization I had as I drove home: Being in the music industry is one small step above prostitution. I comforted myself with the idea that, well, isn’t any job one step above prostitution? Especially as an artist, you’re being forced to sell yourself, your art, your ideas, and thus, you let others appropriate it as they see fit.
There’s a number of things glaringly wrong with that statement, namely the fact that journalism in any form should not make you feel like a whore. No job should, except for maybe prostitution itself.
In the subsequent years since that realization, I’ve seen friends, colleagues, musicians, and strangers treated similarly to how I’ve been treated and all of these groups had one thing in common, other than being in an artist’s industry. They were all female. It’s very rare that you see an article concentrating, say, on Matt Berninger’s physique, however women like Lana Del Rey and Grimes are commonly referred to as “cute” with their music being a slight afterthought.
It’s offensive but the fact of the matter is that it’s something I never truly grasped the complete grossness of until recently. You see, readers, I’m not just Amber Valentine, your friendly Michigan pal who likes to force her musical tastes upon unsuspecting interweb strangers. As of late, I’ve also been the gal behind Amber Valentine’s Shriveled Heart & The Skeletons Left Behind. Recently, we released a new single and an accompanying video. In the words of my bandmate, the incomparable Zunk, the vid was meant to leave the viewer feeling “a little f–ked up after watching it.” When Hearingade’s own Abby said the finished product “made me feel nauseated,” I knew I could borrow George W.’s Mission Accomplished banner, wrap myself in it like a human burrito, and sleep soundly.