clifffs, “into the salt”

clifffs, “into the salt”

Dallas punk rockers CLIFFFS are big believers in the idea that perfection has ruined music. According to them, precisely triggered digital samples, autotune, and overly photoshopped album covers all attribute to the killing of the imperfections that give music character and turn it into just another product being marketed to the masses, all elements of humanity drained out of it.

CLIFFFS approaches their music a little differently.

“CLIFFFS don’t give a fuck about perfect”. Fellow Dallas musician Rhett Miller wrote. “Which is probably why, for their sophomore effort PANIC ATTACK, they went and made a perfect record”. The irony is there, but it’s not hard to see what he means.

Less is more with this project, and it pays off. The first single off of that record, “Into the Salt”, is a quick and fiery track with all of the delicious grit and raw energy that exemplifies garage rock. Their premise is simple, but their songs are explosive and their playing is tight. Short, not so sweet, and definitely to the point, one thing is for sure; CLIFFFS know how to rock.

CLIFFFS kicks off the first of three album release shows February 27th at Three Links in Dallas.

the lumineers @ enterprise center

the lumineers @ enterprise center

Less than a week into their nearly 9-month long U.S. run on the III World Tour, The Lumineers brought warmth to a cold and snowy St. Louis night through spirited storytelling and electric performance at Enterprise Center.

This past year saw the release of the Denver-based Americana group’s third studio album, III. The project was daring, veering almost completely away from the foot-stopping, hand-clapping hits that the group is known for to delve into the dark and and tangled web of the cycles of addiction. But what the album lacks in light-heartedness, it makes up for in it’s expertly crafted stories and songs. The group’s founding members, vocalist/guitarist Wesley Shultz and drummer/pianist Jeremiah Fraites, have been together on their musical journey for just shy of two decades now, and III has brought new clarity to just how talented they are at what is proving to be their true craft: songwriting.

Very little was traditional about the album, which was released in 3 chapters, each one focusing on a different generation of a family whose life has been deeply affected by addiction. The album saw a heavy emphasis placed on the visual aspect of storytelling as well; the band released a music video for every song on the album, and large video screens let concert-goers experience those stories live as the band played the album through and the videos played behind them. While the family depicted, also known as the Sparks, are a fictional family, their stories come from a very real place.

The Lumineers played the new album in its entirety (although not in order as it was originally released) as well as plenty of fan favorites during their set, which lasted nearly 2 hours. The first half of the show contained many of the band’s earlier hits although content from III was dispersed throughout, proving that songs from the dark storybook of an album could stand on their own as well.

While so much of the night dealt with heavy subject matter, The Lumineers didn’t let it weigh them down, and the energy was always light-hearted, electric, and engaging. Of the band’s massively successful breakthrough hit, “Ho Hey”, Shultz encouraged the crowd to join in (as if there was any planet on which they wouldn’t) as he humbly told the audience that to the band “it doesn’t even feel like our song anymore; It feels like a cover.” The stadium was eager to claim it as their own.

In terms of actual covers, the Lumineers busted out a spirited version of Dylan’s fast-paced “Subterranean Homesick Blues” as well as bringing out openers Matt Quinn of Mt. Joy and J.S. Ondra for a moving take on Cohen’s “Democracy”, which is included as a bonus track on the album.

As the night wore on the band got more serious, with the back half of the show containing almost exclusively songs from the grim III, including alternative radio-hit “Gloria”, which at first listen may sound like a bright and shiny sonic match to early Lumineers numbers, but a closer listen to the lyrics would reveal the hopeless and manic addiction fueled-world meant to be represented.

Before “Leader of the Landslide”, one of the pinnacle moments from the album, Shultz took a moment to speak of what the record means to him and his own experiences trying to help a family member battle addiction. “What I learned is that standing up against addiction is like standing up in the ocean,” he said. “It’s so hard.” He dedicated the heart-wrenching and powerful song to those in the audience going through similar experiences.

Despite the large group on stage, which included violinist Lauren Jacobson, pianist/accordionist Stelth Ulvang, bassist Byron Isaacs and percussionist/guitarist Brandon Miller in addition to Shultz and Fraites, the feeling on stage was always intimate and that of one big, happy, musical family. The group was constantly in motion, often swapping out instruments or venturing out onto the stage’s various ramps to be closer to the encircled audience. Perhaps one of the most enjoyable aspects about watching the group is how much fun they seem to be having amongst themselves. Every member seems to possess a true sense of camaraderie that is rare to see with bands playing venues of this size. The Lumineers had a childlike lightness in their step as they danced, frolicked, and (if you’re the wacky, barefooted Ulvang) leapt 10 feet into the air off of pianos.

Shultz, as close as one can get to being an Americana Rockstar, was no exception to this. The frontman nonchalantly disregarded this status and casually hopped off the stage, unencumbered by security, to immerse himself in his audience. He journeyed around the arena for a song, climbing up almost to the nosebleeds to high-five and connect with adoring and respectful fans before returning to stage.

The show closed after a fiery encore with longtime fan-favorite “Stubborn Love”, which audience members joyously clapped, danced, and passionately belted along to with the band before saying goodbye to the always gracious folk-rockers.

As the band loaded out and fans sauntered out into the icy winter night, many concert-goers milled around the arena floor, talking and laughing quietly amongst themselves as adults and children alike gathered and tossed handfuls of the earlier-released confetti and continued to spin and dance in the paper rain as it fell back to the ground, the elation of the experience not quite worn off yet. Unwilling to wake up from the Americana- dream world that we all had spent the night dazing in, they remained there as I reluctantly left to rejoin the real world. Can’t say I blame them.

Keep up with The Lumineers here.

the lone bellow, half moon light

the lone bellow, half moon light

New York-based Americana trio The Lone Bellow have been around for a decade now, but their newest release has shown that the folksy group still have plenty of stories left to tell and plenty of new ways to tell them. The group, comprised of lead singer/guitarist Zach Williams, multi-instrumentalist Kanene Donehey Pipkin and guitarist Brian Elmquist (both of whom join Williams on both vocals and songwriting) have just released their fifth studio album, Half Moon Light, produced by The National’s Aaron Desner, who also oversaw their sophomore album, Then Came the Morning.
The album itself is a beautiful showcase of catharsis for every one of the band members, who have all endured shocking amounts of tragedy and hardship in their lives that they admirably translate into soul-shaking music. The group holds tight to its folksy roots on Half Moon Light, but it’s uplifting and spiritual tone often soars into the rafters with clear influence in gospel, soul, and blues.
The chilling story of “Intro”, “Interlude”, and “Finale”, which appear dispersed equally throughout the album, is one unlike any other. The album works around the difficult theme of death, but instead of it being a somber reflection, it’s a triumphantly uplifting celebration of life. This tone is firmly set right from the start with the intro, which showcases Williams’ grandmother bringing the house down in a moving tribute at her husband’s (William’s grandfather) funeral when this old woman, supposedly barely capable of walking, made her way up to the front of the church, kicked the paid musician off the piano, and in the final moments of the packed service, hammered out a soul-shaking medley of songs as a beautiful tribute to her husband of 64 years. Williams later realized in the studio that his dad had recorded the whole thing, and it in turn made its way onto the album. The soulful medley effortlessly manages to tie the album together in a uniquely beautiful way.
In “I Can Feel You Dancing”, Williams and Elmquist send a letter beyond the grave to their own grandfathers, who passed away fairly recently within a couple months of each other. In a showcase to the beautiful celebration of life that takes center stage thematically on this album, the track is a moving ode to life both lived and yet to be lived, as it pays tribute to their loved ones before them but also to the people currently in their life who push them to live to the fullest everyday. Triumphant horns, soaring harmonies, and a comfortingly-grounding drumline decorate the pure and sparkling walls of this number, which embodies what it means to celebrate life.
Explosive blues-rock track “Just Enough to Get By” showcases Pipkin absolutely bringing the house down with earth-shaking vocals and brutally honest storytelling. The ache and grit in the multi-talented musician’s voice bleed onto the emotional track, which tells the story of her mother, who was raped as a teenager and forced to give up the resulting child. 40 years later, that child came back into her life, and all of the emotions that Pipkin clearly felt are laid out for all to see (and feel) on this powerful track. Pipkin usually plays an important role in bringing life to the oh-so-sweet 3 part harmonies that have long been a key weapon in The Lone Bellow’s folksy musical arsenal, so seeing this intensely soulful side of her voice is an impressive display of her dynamism to say the least and a standout moment on the album.
“Good Times” is a mind-bending bout of wild storytelling courtesy of Williams that features piano that is somehow both devilish and gleeful all at once. The track is supported by shouting choruses, which are also featured  on “Count on Me”, which celebrates camaraderie and friendship. Songs like “Wash it Clean” and “August” shift the focus back to heavier material. The former features beautifully picked guitar and sliding strings as Elmquist pays tribute to his recently passed father, who he had a difficult relationship with, while the latter is an ode to Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison, who tragically passed away in May of 2018.
The trio impressively manages to stay grounded in the music that made their fans fall in love a decade ago while also bravely exploring new genres and themes. Their adventurous musical spirit aside, a constant is the positive light that the band manages to cast over so many difficult stories of hardship and tragedy, and they undoubtedly have a knack for translating those trials into a celebratory story of life.

The Lone Bellow will play at Knuckleheads Saloon in Kansas City on March 2nd, 2020. Come out with us that night for one of the most entertaining stage performances you’ve ever experienced!
Keep up with The Lone Bellow here.
boy in space, “caroline”

boy in space, “caroline”

Swedish musician Robin Lundbäck, musically known as Boy In Space, has released a new single called “Caroline”. The single has been highly anticipated by fans since Boy in Space teased it on tour last year.
The name Boy in Space itself is highly symbolic to Lundbäck, who uses his musical alter ego as a place to express his darker feelings. Of the moniker, he says “to be “In Space” is to exist in the in-between. It’s not quite the beginning but it’s so far from the end. It’s standing apart from those who’ve found their conventional fit in this world, and recognizing that to be different is special. It’s the courage to depart the familiar to a destination unknown. The “space” is the intensity of youth. The cold sting of heartbreak. The suffocation of betrayal. And the fiery passion of young love”.
The release of “Caroline” is Boy in Space’s first release in 2020 following up a big year in 2019 as he surpassed 35 million streams on Spotify. Of the single, Lundbäck says, “Caroline is that girl that you’re crushing on but is completely out of your league and untouchable,” Robin said noting that, “we all knew a Caroline growing up.”
“Caroline” is the first of three singles set to be released in spring of 2020 and tour dates are to be announced soon.

Keep up with Boy In Space here.
finlay, “evolution”

finlay, “evolution”

Musical newcomer Finlay has just released “Evolution”, an unflinchingly honest track that comes just in time for my second quarter-life crisis of the week. The song is the young artist’s second release following his debut single, “A Million Places” and premieres alongside a refreshingly simple music video. The song itself navigates the tricky gray area that many (and by many I mean all) feel as they try to transition from childhood to adulthood and the struggles that accompany that.

The video starts out with a shaky shot of Finlay himself laughing candidly before the music starts, at which point he appears to have a sobering moment. Twinkly piano reminiscent of childhood lullabies opens the track and, accompanied alongside the visual of the young artist laughing, serve to provide us with both auditory and visual evidence of what being young and carefree feels like.

Right off the bat Finlay’s voice is aching and the piano is thoughtful. The Yorkshire-based singer is both raw and genuine and possesses an encapsulating quality that listeners are sure to immediately feel. We witness the young artist experience a rollercoaster of emotions as he does something that most artists these days wouldn’t dream of attempting for a music video; He just stands there and sings to the camera. I know, I know. Crazy. The simplicity and honesty of the whole thing in a time where music videos are more often than not expected to be highly-produced, over-the-top artistic feats is a breath of fresh air. As the song progresses, Finlay backs away from the camera and into metaphorical uncertainty, and as the shot widens we start to see the vast (and might I add, stunning) landscape that is waiting beyond him. When he finishes singing, he walks off into the unknown, fading out of focus as his voice echoes behind him. He might be new to the scene, but what Finlay lacks in experience, he makes up for with his brave vulnerability and raw talent.