What is it about February and new music?

Practically speaking, much of it likely has to do with not wanting to get lost in the pre-holiday white noise and giving enough time to recover from the slackening of attention that follows, but it’s nice to think of it as the creativity of the year slowly coming out of hibernation, giving some gigantic bear yawn before bounding out into the world, renewed and ready to do it all again but better.

And this month’s mixtape reflects just that, featuring the return of some of our favorite artists—Merrill Garbus’ Tune-Yards, whose just-release fourth album stands as her poppiest and perhaps strongest to date; Canadian musician Cecil Frena, who previously performed under the moniker Born Gold, and, before that, Gobble Gobble, and of whom we are very fond; Danielle Johnson AKA Danz AKA Computer Magic with her sophomore full-length out later this month (though, to be fair, she’s put out 10+ EPs and singles collections in the US and in Japan out over the past eight years; we did a now-old interview with Danz that still holds up for the interested); Sydney’s Middle Kids, who will celebrate their debut full-length in May; Philly’s most excellent Hop Along, who have a new one coming out in April; and, maybe most exciting off all, the long-awaited return of Wye Oak, with whom we kick things off.

Ever being ones to push our musical universe outward, we’re also highlighting many a newcomer, including Cape Town’s Amy Ayanda; the solo project of Columbus, Ohio’s Frances Litterski, Effee; NYC electronic duo Satellite Mode; Berlin-based artist O-SHIN; Queen of Smooth, Wafia, who’s based either in Australia or up the street (as with most musicians these days); some highly emotive electronic music from two more Australians—What So Not (AKA Emoh Instead AKA Chris Emerson) featuring a favorite find of 2016, Sydney musician BUOY; Manchester four piece New Luna with something catchy and promising; the very excellent undergrad Sidney Gish (we’ve got an interview with her we just did and should be posting next week); and Dublin band Cloud Castle Lake, whom we were lucky enough to catch earlier this week with an intimate set at Hotel Cafe, during which time our minds were fucking blown.

Honestly, if at least one of these bands doesn’t end up being your new favorite, we’re terrible at our jobs…technically being running a creative agency, but, in this case, consider us your new music sherpas. Please enjoy.

Sunday morning, in the wake of the flood of activists and activated citizens that filled the streets of Los Angeles on this first anniversary of the Women’s March, KCRW DJ Anne Litt played a heretofore unknown to us song that seemed fittingly excellent; we felt the need to share.

The 1976 song—”Cashing In”—was written by Taiwo and Kehinde Lijadu, two Nigerian sisters who pushed the envelope, both musically and lyrically, tackling issues that were beyond progressive for their time, especially in 1970s Nigeria.

You can follow the Lijadu sisters, who have an actively run Facebook page, and explore their catalog via iTunes + order physical and digital releases through Knitting Factory Records.

We first wrote about our obsession with the music of Icelandic artist Sin Fang on these pages back in 2013. Sin Fang has long been associated with a favorite label of our’s, Morr Music, an independent label out of Berlin that specializes in nuanced electronic music and glitchy pop; in short, our bread and butter. We’ve been fans of Sin Fang—née Sindri Már Sigfússon—ever since. Early last year, Morr announced that Sindri would start collaborating on a monthly musical experiment with some good friends and fellow Icelanders—multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter Sóley and Örvar Smárason of the band, múm.

This month, the twelve songs the trio recorded and released for once a month in 2017 were put together and released as a new full-length—the appropriately named Team Dreams. We took the opportunity to talk again with Sindri (above, middle, upset) about the idea behind the band and process, what’s to come for them all, and (briefly) tourism in Iceland and how hard it is for foreign artists to tour the US.

raven + crow: So, last time we talked, way back in 2013, after Flowers but before Spaceland, you ended the interview saying that you’d hoped to do something more collaborative in the future. Is Team Dreams the realization of that hope?

Sindri Már Sigfússon: Yes that’s one of them. Since Flowers, I’ve worked on a lot of different stuff with different people. I think it’s good for people who do music on their own to collaborate; I get inspired by other people and everyone has their own way of doing things. Sometimes I’ve been working with someone and they have such a radically different method than me to get to a place that it astounds me. I think I’ve learned the most over the years from working with different people and adopting methods, climbing into their brain for a little when we work together.

I know Sóley played with you in Seabear and you all toured with múm in that band—is that how the three of you first met or does the friendship pre-date that tour?

I met Sóley when she joined Seabear, but i’ve known Örvar since before I started making music. He was friends with my friend’s older brother and we used to hang around them and they would allow us to come to their parties even though we were tiny teenagers. We’re all good friends. We also have kids at the same age that play together.

And how did the whole idea to collaborate on an album together first come about?

It was after I did Spaceland—it had taken a long time and I had made lots of different versions of each song and when it was finally finished I still had to wait a few months for it to come out. So I thought it would be a fun project to just make a song and release it straight away without having to change it a million times.

Right, to be clear, the songs on this album were recorded one-by-one, correct? A month or so at a time?

Yes—sometimes we had more time, sometimes we had almost no time and sometimes we were in three different continents so every song was a different process really.

What was the reason behind doing it that way?

Just to do something fun and spontanious and challange ourselves.

Cool. So where did everything end up being recorded?

We all have private studios of our own, so we mostly recorded in our own spaces and then I mixed the songs at my studio.

Home studio + long, cold winters = creative productivity. Got it. And did the song-writing take place when you all met up—virtually or in person— or did someone walk in with a partially written song?

Most of the time one of us had an idea or demo that we then all worked on.

That seems like a good path forward, especially given the talent in the room at any given moment. How did you see the song-writing and evolution of the work differ when you had these self-imposed breaks between creative meetings instead of writing and recording things all at once?

We talked a lot online, actually, even though we live very close. We all have our own studios that we work out of so we did a lot of the work over the net.

It’s like when I text my wife from the other room—sometimes it’s just easier, right? It might be hard to step out of your own mind here, but does Team Dreams sound to your ears like an album of singles or is it more cohesive than you expected going in?

I still havent listened to the whole album from start to finish, actually. I also find that you need to get at least two years away from an album to really hear it with fresh ears. I’m constantly working on music and it’s more of an impulse for me than a thought-out thing. I often listen back to stuff I’ve done and go “Ahh, okay, that’s what I was thinking about/going through back then.”

Totally makes sense. Looking back, though, does it seem like each one of you naturally took on certain roles in the song-writing and performing over time or in certain particular songs?

No, it was just mixed but depended on each song, kind of. We’ve all done lots of music with other people and were all quite diplomatic so there was no problem if someone wanted something done differently or whatever. We just always tried to come to a conclusion we were all happy with.

We’re American—what is this word you use, “diplo-matic”?

Do you think this experience will change how you or Sóley or Orvar write or record music going forward?

I cant speak for them but, for me, I feel like I’m always changing ways of writing and working. I don’t think I could make music like I was doing 5 years ago anymore, for instance. So no, I don’t think so. I’m working on a Sin Fang album now that I started recording, like, 2 years ago.

Oh, that’s exciting. Am I correct in assuming you all are keeping your touring to Europe? I know it can be cost-prohibitive, but any plans to come stateside?

No plans for US at the moment, but we all really wanna go. Hopefully we can do it somehow this year. If a wealthy industrialist wants to sponsor a US tour for us, that would be great. For us to go play in the US, we would need three working visas—that’s like a few thousand dollars just to be able to play in the US; then it’s flights, car, gear, etc. It’s just not viable for band our size to go to America, I’m afraid. Sucks because I love playing/touring the US.

Yeah, WHY do we make it so fucking hard/expensive for artists to come here‽

This is wildly off-subject, but I feel like since last we talked, Iceland’s become this insanely popular tourist destination. I mean, it was always has been to some extent, but it seems to have really blown up, especially as far as Americans visiting—I think about half the people I know have been in the past four or so years. I’ve seen some things written about how all the tourists are kind of ruining Iceland in a way—have you seen any of that?

No, I like having more people around. There are more nice bars, restaurants, and the whole place feels a bit more metropolitan. The bad thing is greedy people push up the prices of everything and the average Icelandic person’s salary has not gone up.

Yeah, sounds pretty familiar. Not to pressure you or anything, but anything else you can tell us about the coming solo work?

I’m releasing a EP under my own name (Sindri Már Sigfússon) that’s some instrumental music real soon, and working on the new Sin Fang album that will probably come out late this year. Örvar has his first solo album coming out and Sóley is working on a new album as well.

All very exciting! Well thanks for making the time to talk, Sindri—love the album.

Thanks!

You can listen to and buy the new album Team Dreams via bandcamp (where the lion’s share of profits go to the artists), iTunes (where they don’t…but maybe you have an Apple gift card burning a hole in your iTunes account), and in local discerning record shops. Photo by Ingibjörg Birgisdóttir.

This month, I think a lot of us—ourselves included—are hoping for a good start to what will be a great year.

Well, it’s not really in our power to guarantee that, but we can promise a great start to this first mixtape of the year—a brand new song from none other than David Byrne.

It’s been a while since we’ve heard any new solo material from the ex-Talking Heads frontman, but he’s been far from idle. In addition to collaborating with artists such as Brian Eno and Annie Clark of St. Vincent over the years, writing his own musical, and popping up as a guest artist on myriad albums and performances, Byrne’s remained an outspoken and observant critic of art and popular culture, penning books, essays, and op/eds on everything from music theory to the death of creative culture in NYC. (He’s also a prolific mixtape contributor; in a time when we’re drastically cutting our email subscriptions, we highly recommend signing up of his newsletter; it’s solid.)

This new song is one that’s written with collaboration from Eno for Byrne’s coming solo album—American Utopia (out March 9)—and it’s a banger, as the kids say.

We’re following that one with another party-/protest-ready one from studio favorite Sylvan Esso—their just-released “PARAD(w/m)E” (…it’ll make sense when you hear it). Then “Midas” is one of many favorites off the wonderful debut by Leeds-based newcomers Noya Rao—well-worth checking out the full album from them though. Following that up with a couple nice thumping, dancey numbers from two Sydney-based musicians—Hayden James featuring GRAACE (also out of Sydney) and Basenji (not the dog) featuring Tkay Maidza (from Adelaide, which we hear is kinda near Sydney…meaning in Australia) before hitting a new one from experimental Philly band Palm and a track from a great EP by a new favorite, Gloucestershire duo Ardyn.

We’ve been pretty into New York trio Sunflower Bean since their 2016 debut, but, if their new single “I Was a Fool” is telling at all, we’re in for a much more mature, awesomely grooved out vibe from them that has us very jazzed for their follow-up in March. Following that up with two supergroups of sorts off of Berlin label Morr MusicSpirit Fest (comprising Japanese duo, Tenniscoats, and members of Notwist, Jam Money, and Joasihno) and Icelanders Sin Fang, Sóley & Örvar Smárason (more from them on these pages soon).

Then another favorite, Maggie Rogers, debuted a new single last fall that we’re just getting around to highlighting—as with everything she touches, it is gold. And we’ve got a great track from yet another Sydney band—electronic duo Chymes—before moving on to a brand new one from Brooklyn’s Chrome Sparks featuring Angelica Bess. Finishing up with a slow-burn beauty from Swedish wünderkind Kasbo and a song from an album that’s quickly becoming one of after-the-fact favorites from 2017—The Kid from Los Angeles’ own Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith; it’s weird and wonderful and kinda everything we love—another that’s well-worth a listen beginning to end.

Enjoy.

Here we go, 2018!

Continuing our self-imposed tradition of hand-illustrated, hand-lettered holiday cards at year’s end, we decided to honor the memory of Mr. Thomas Earl Petty, who touched countless lives, our own included.

Happy 2018, friends; let’s live with love above all and burn through the hate with action.

Here’s Tom’s final performance of “Wildflowers” at the Hollywood Bowl, just over the hill from our house, last September.

I met Tom Mullen years ago back in New York, through some random interactions that I honestly forget now, but that led to us talking about my old band, Speedwell (this is Troy writing, by the way). Searching back through old emails as I write this, I’m finding ones back and forth between us in the fall of 2011, shortly after Mullen had started an interview series that attempts to capture and record the mid 90s/early 2000 emo and post-hardcore scenes, largely in an effort to defend their legacy as they began to morph into something a lot of us hated—a very commercialized, highly-polished, and totally inauthentic version of themselves; something some of us termed ‘mall emo’ (props to Brian Minter—I think he’s the first I heard call it that).

Since Tom and I first met, his website and interview series has grown exponentially, as has his (now long) career in the music industry—Tom’s now a music industry executive at Atlantic and has spent time at Equal Vision, Vagrant, TVT, EMI, and Sony, where he was a 2016 Clio and Cannes Lions winner for his work with Bob Dylan. Yeah, that guy. But his passion has remained this strange, edgy scene we both grew up in, more or less, and it’s been a common thread that’s kept us in touch over the years. In addition to his site and interview series/podcast, Washed Up Emo, Tom created a popular emo-themed DJ night in NYC (the good, original one; not the bobo one) and started a pretty uncannily thorough search engine that answers the age-old question—Is This Band Emo? (sometimes with very entertaining results).

He’s also just published his first book, Anthology of Emo Volume 1—376 pages of band interviews, rare photographs, set lists, and more.

On the occasion of its release and the book party tomorrow night at one of our favorite places in Los Angeles, Donut Friend, we took a deep dive with Tom to talk music, and how Bernie Sanders’ wife changed his life as a youth.

raven + crow: Alright, Tom, so, first off, great to talk with you again—it’s been too long, man! I guess let’s start at the beginning—you’ve got a long, prestigious career in the music industry and you’ve clearly ‘paid your dues’, as they say, but what got you into the emo scene in the first place? What was the scene like where you grew up/went to school and what were some early bands—known or not—who pulled you into the scene?

Tom Mullen: Thanks Troy! I’ve definitely been in the music industry way too long, going on seventeen years in the professional world. A big part of my ability to stay relevant in the music industry is what I learned in the scenes growing up. I grew up in Vermont, a small state with no billboards and very few bands coming through. Thanks to Bernie Sanders’ wife, there was a teen center in Burlington, Vermont, which I lived about 40 minutes from and it had all these amazing punk, indie, hardcore, metal, and emo bands come through. They weren’t the biggest but to me, that was all that would tour that far up north. I would go see Only Living Witness, Tree, Sam Black Church, and others from Boston; bands from New York City that would trek up on their way to Montreal or on their way back from there. Burlington was so small that there was no arena, no big shows coming through, so the punk and hardcore scene to me seemed like the biggest thing in the world.

I was instantly perplexed and amazed by this underground scene that I had to dig and search for bands, labels, and scenes. I quickly developed an affinity for emo and all the bands. It was just another band on the hardcore bill so I was into all of it. I looked like a hardcore kid but listened to Karate and Snapcase. Vermont was limited due to their location and size so when I graduated high school, I knew I needed to get the fuck out to really get into the scene and see more bands. I went to school down in North Carolina, which was a culture shock for an East Coast kid. What it did have going for it were countless shows only 30 minutes away and cheap gas. After joining the radio station at the college on day two, I was off to the races calling labels, getting records in the mail, and trying to see as many shows as I could across North Carolina. One day it was Neurosis, or it was Bad Religion or it was A New Found Glory or Braid. I was taking it all in and I couldn’t get enough of it.

Ahhhhhhhh the 90s. As a quick sidenote and sign of the times, my 2017 MacBook just auto-corrected ‘emo’ to ‘emojified’, by the way.

Yes, a common issue with Apple devices. I’ve definitely asked my friends at Apple to fix that.

Get on it, Apple! So, do you feel like first-wave emo filled the same sort of role that, say, punk and new wave filled before, this sort of outsider role?

The first wave of emo, the late 80s/early 90s, was so all over the place that it was definitely an offshoot from the scenes of hardcore. The word itself derives from emotional hardcore, emo-core. So it was just different at the time and as you’d expect, hated as soon as the words were uttered in D.C.

Right, maybe we should back up for the uninitiated (and interested)—can do a quick breakdown on the various emo waves and history here?

This is heavily debated and argued about on Reddit, 4chan and wherever else people like to complain. I’ll caution that people describe these waves very differently. For myself, it’s the first wave of the D.C. bands like Rites of Spring, Embrace. The second wave of the late 90s, with The Promise Ring, Get Up Kids, Jimmy Eat World, etc. Third wave is the pop/hair metal era with Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, and Dashboard Confessional. The fourth wave is the emo revival with bands like Foxing, Hotelier, and Free Throw. Let the angry comments commence.

Yeah, that’s why we disabled commenting on these pages. Suck it, audience! This is a leading question, but how do you feel the internet and this instant information-/cultural-exchange via the web have changed such formative cultural/musical genres and experiences?

The internet is fleeting. It’s instant and there’s very little work to get something but harder to feel a deeper connection to something you took time to find online or in the real world. That’s what’s missing to me when I think about bands and music today. It’s a kid in a bedroom talking shit that would never say it at the show. Maybe back in the day, he’d be at the show and still not say it or quietly say it but today those words can be heard by anyone theoretically, so it’s a false sense of being a part of something. I think bands had more time to cultivate and really cut through, but in the same sense, someone posting a song could get huge and learn the ropes after getting that help early on that they may not have gotten. I love it all but think it’s dangerous to just be on the computer tweeting all day or commenting. Get outside, meet someone, learn something new, sit next to a human and interact.

I do think music is one of those area’s that so heavily affected by the proliferation of use of the web that it’s resulted in this flooding of information/sounds/bands, to the point that it’s impossible to really fully know the bands that make up a scene because the’re so legion now. It does actually make going out to shows and relying on good line-ups at venues one of the best ways to find new bands you might like.

Was that a motive for starting Washed Up Emo though—both the site and the interview series—sort of preserving this scene, what it evolved into, and what came from it?

The motive for the site was to exactly that. The podcast was an extension of the story to have it be evergreen. Someone listening today or 10 years from now will understand where Matt Pryor‘s headspace was and what he was into and why he was doing what he was doing with the music and the bands. It’s a life story I hoped would be something people would listen to and not just have it be the news of the day or two people trying to be funny with each other and a guest. I don’t care if anyone remembers me, I just want the stories to remain.

Your new book then—Anthology of Emo Volume 1—I assume that’s kind of the natural evolution of the interviews; what made you want to channel all of that material into book form?

The book felt like a natural way to bring something academic and serious to the genre. The genre is more than often a punchline for a publication/press outlet to crack a joke while praising a band. Emo is the comedy genre of the Oscars. No respect and always a joke. So having the book look academic—taking a serious approach it—was a huge motivation to making a book from the interviews.

And are these full transcribed interviews? Speaking from experience, I know those can really add up to a lot of text/pages.

Yes, they’re fully transcribed but I edited out a lot of the stupid shit I say and anything out of context. It wasn’t a lot and I left 95% of the interviews in. It was all about flow.

Besides the interviews, what else is included in the book? Any favorite visuals?

Chris Barroner, who was in the band Ethel Meserve, helped a huge amount with flyers and photos for this book. Though my favorite has to be the photos of The Van Pelt. They’re fucking beautiful and it takes me back to the 90s whenever I look at them. The photos help break up the text and help someone realize the physical nature of the years when we would save things and not just scroll through our phones for that one photo we wanted to share with someone at the bar that one time. Ha!

Man. It’s seriously hard to have this conversation and not get nostalgic for simpler times. We’re old, dude.

I don’t know, though. Something tells me…can’t quite put my finger on what, but something tells me there might be more books to come…maybe even volumes. How did you choose what/who went into this first and what’s to come in the next volume(s)?

Yes, there will be more. It was all about whether the first one was successful and I wanted to do it again. The goal of this is not to make money, the goal is to make enough from each one to make the next. I just want the stories to be heard by as many people as possible. I’m doing this out of my own pocket with no publisher so I only have that motivation and no other person telling me to do it another way. I picked the first batch to showcase the depth of the genre across the eras and each volume will hopefully take that same approach. You may pick it up for Chris Carrabba but then learn about Christie Front Drive.

So love Christie Front Drive. Who did your book design, though? We really dig the typography, color way, size/format.

Jesse Reed did the design of the book. He’s a fucking genius and offered his time and support on how to make a book, which I had no clue about. It wouldn’t have happened without his help and I think he understood me completely after I spent a good fifteen minutes just spouting off about how I wanted it to look. He came back with comps of what the cover may look like and I was floored. It was exactly what was in my head.

I know it’s tough—akin to picking a favorite kid—but short of picking a favorite interview you’ve done over the years, can you call one out that was unexpectedly weirder or more interesting than you’d expected going in?

I, unfortunately, did Jon Bunch‘s last interview. Many know him from Sense Field but he was in countless bands and I was promoting one of them when we did the interview. Since the interviews are evergreen, I had the interview all edited up and found out that he had killed himself. I then had to go back and re-edit it because of things said about the future, meeting up, etc. It was heartbreaking and something I wasn’t happy about but I knew I had to do it. These were his last words about music and I had to do it justice. We ended up interviewing people at the benefit show a few months after and made an episode of all the fans, friends and band members talking about Jon. I had a tough time editing that and felt good after. I was giving this person the respect they deserved for their musical life. No matter what happened in their life and why they did what they did, I hope the music and his words live on.

God, I remember when you posted that. I never knew him, but by all accounts, he was a great guy. That was evident from afar by the outpouring of emotion and support after his death. It’s such a tragic, sad thing, but its also really heartwarming to see how his fans and friends and family have turned this tragedy into an effort to support his son too with the GoFundMe campaign.

I have no elegant way of segueing from that, but I am wondering if you have any thoughts on all these old bands reuniting now? It’s hardly a phenomenon unique to emo, but that scene has scene a lot of seminal (and less well-known) bands return of late.

Reunions are as old as time. I love tweeting out, no band breaks up. It’s so true. I mean, Jawbreaker is back. I love it when bands get together and play shows for someone that maybe wasn’t around to see them or was too young or just missed them because they weren’t in a big city then. If they’re doing it, most likely for money and to see their friends again, then hats off to them. If people show up, who cares. Shut up and play the hits.

Fair enough. Any favorites you’ve caught? I’ll say outta the gate that our mutual pick (between Katie and me) was the aforementioned Christie Front Drive at the Bell House some years back.

Christie Front Drive was fucking amazing. Eric Richter (of Christie Front Drive), featured in the first volume of the book, is responsible for so many bands connecting. He’s an unsung hero of the scene that deserves a lot more respect than he gets. It’s tough to say which ones over the years because I’ll inevitably forget one… If I had to choose right now… Refused, Boys Life, Mineral, American Football, Quicksand, and Texas is the Reason.

Totally solid picks. I wish I’d caught Mineral.

Not to seek out shade, but what’s your thought on new, younger bands coming out with sounds that are more-or-less mirroring what we heard in 90s emo?

What’s interesting is most bands don’t fucking realize it. They’re just making loud music and figuring it out. It just happens to sound like the 90s. Truthfully, some are referencing that era but most aren’t. They’re just in the basement figuring it out. That’s the beauty of music that I love and it always inspires me to answer an email to a band that sends me their site and asks me to listen. I have to because that next sound may be the next thing I get sent and I want to hear it and champion it. Music is still so important to me—all I want to do is share with someone that I heard something amazing and I have to share it. I just have to do it. So when I hear a band like Free Throw or Foxing or Hotelier, all I want to do is encourage them to make more music and to create more—to make that next great album regardless of the era. I think the kids have realized the earnestness of the 90s and skipped over the hair metal era of emo in the 00s. They saw how fleeting it was and superficial it was sounding. They went back to the drawing board and figured it out. I can’t wait to hear the next thing I click on or hear in a club…

That’s super-encouraging to hear and, yeah, I love that the ‘new’ emo sounds like what I’d consider to be the good stuff, not the ‘mall emo’.

Back to the book though, I know you’re doing your release at Donut Friend Thursday—any other book events planned around the country we can shout out?

Yes! We have another event in Brooklyn at Powerhouse Books in Dumbo on the 12th of January. An actual bookstore! Growing up, the bookstore was the toy store for me. It had every topic I could think of the shelves and I could peruse anything. Growing up, my dad would always let me run wild in the bookstore and I was able to figure out what I liked and disliked because of his encouragement to read. That’s still with me today. Unfortunately, my dad passed away in late 2016, but the thought of him seeing a book I made and then having an event at a bookstore, I know for a fact, he’s looking down smiling.

As for the NYC event, I’ll be selling the book and doing a little panel discussion/Q&A with Norman from Texas is the Reason, Chris from The Van Pelt and William from Rainer Maria. It should be fun and I can’t believe I get to do this.

Yeah, condolences again about your dad, Tom. Excited to see you again tomorrow at the event.

Speaking of Donut Friend, favorite donut there, either in name or culinary composition?

I love the Jimmy Eat Swirl and the Jets to Basil. Classics. Mark Trombino, a legend already, has made an amazing product and I’m so happy it’s successful.

Awesome, man. Thanks again for talking and see you Thursday.

If you’re an emo fan and in Los Angeles tomorrow (Thursday, Jan4), you’d be a fool not to come by Donut Friend in Highland Park from 7-9PM for some mingling, emo music, and excellent, post-hardcore donuts (most of which are vegan/vegan-ize-able, by the way).

Say what you will about 2017—It was the dumpster fire to end all dumpster fires; It was the emotional and cultural equivalent of a massive slap-to-the-face/sledgehammer-to-the-soul; It was a waking nightmare that continues to somehow get worse every fucking day but 2018 will be better right right RIGHT‽

Well. Anyway. Say what you will, but this year was a fantastic year for music. Film, writing, art-as-escape and -critical-change tool in general, yes very much, but here on these pages we’re focusing on 2017 in music; specifically, the year’s best albums.

Maybe it’s that aforementioned slap-to-the-face wake-up-call, but it seems like more artists are making more excellent work than ever and, as a result, our long list of top albums was longer than ever this year.

So many artists made albums in 2017 that we consider to be superb—Phoebe Bridgers, Broken Social Scene, Grizzly BearLawrence RothmanElla Vos, Shout Out Louds, Cymbals, and Baths, just to scratch the surface. And Sampha‘s debut full-length Process was a beautifully innovative masterpiece that very nearly bumped more than one album off this list, which isn’t much of a surprise given that artist’s talent and creativity. What was a surprise for us was the eventual omission of new albums from two of our all-time favorite artists—The National + Björk. We still hold both artists in very high esteem and truly love their music, but something about both respective releases just didn’t strike the chord they usually do with us; which is totally fine—it makes room for so much more new music, much of it from very new artists for us.

As with last year, we’re presenting this year’s top ten chronologically, in order of release date…which oddly resulted in a noticeably split-down-the-middle list of, first, bigger (or at least better known) releases followed by smaller, more independent releases, with three of our ten being self-released (granted, one of them’s LCD Soundsystem, but nonetheless).

This playlist is a mix between favorite songs from each of these favorite albums and ones that work together on the same playlist and in this self-imposed order of release date, so, enjoy—it is indeed made to be listened to as a whole—but we also encourage you to listen to each and every one of these ten albums—they’re, every one, beautiful beginning-to-end.

And happy fucking new year.

Kendrick LamarDAMN.Aftermath/Interscope
We’re guessing someone out there has a best-of 2017 list that doesn’t include this album, but if it exists, we haven’t seen it yet; and with good reason—DAMN. is razor-sharp smart, fucking catchy as hell, and demands to be listened to, word-for-word. And Lamar’s live show will blow up your brain.

Sylvan Esso • What NowLoma Vista
We love these guys. Not only do they create organic, well-written electronic music that puts song-writing, vocals, and lyrics front-and-center, they just seem like genuinely nice people. And, oh yeah, their music is the best. See above re: excellent shows that explode minds.

SZA • CtrlTop Dawg
Jersey’s SZA blind-sided us in the best way possible—we knew she was someone to watch after first hearing her single “Drew Barrymore” but we had no idea what an amazing piece of work she’d put together with Ctrl; astounding from track one to fourteen.

The War on Drugs • A Deeper UnderstandingAtlantic
We know full well there are haters out there, but we will defend this band and this album wholeheartedly as one of our favorites to our dyings days. Yes, A Deeper Understanding looks to music of years past, but it does it in a way to pushes forward into something new and—for us—genuinely endearing and innovative. We bought the album just before a trip back east and will forever associate with long drives through the weirdly beautiful swamps of southern North Carolina, which seems oddly fitting.

LCD Soundsystem • american dreamExcelsior Equity Management
Sonic Mastermind and King of Tonality James Murphy returns, and thank fucking god he has; this albums everything we want and need—the repetitive hooks that wedge their way into your subconscious, the monotonous talk-singing that approaches annoying and then pushes through into fundamentally real and undeniably beautiful, the tiny, weird little subtleties and shifts in sound that only someone with Murphy’s level of aural OCD would bother with; and all that while tackling aging and death and our socio-political climate. Thank god for James Murphy; more accurately, thank David Bowie.

Wild Cub • Closer Mom+Pop
Wild Cub frontman Keegan DeWitt jumped on our radar back in 2011, after we stumbled upon some of his excellent solo work and discovered we had some good friends in common. We were fans from the start and have seen incarnations of his bands nearly every year since; this new from his Nashville-based band seems to be striking the perfect balance, pulling from DeWitt’s distinct, deep past writing style and building it into  something new and stronger as a whole—perfect dancing-in-your-bedroom-pop.

Vilde • Study / DanceVILDE/self-released
Melbourne’s Vilde (AKA Thomas Vilde) is a totally random Soundcloud find for us, but one that strikes the perfect chord for us—glitchy, hyper melodic electronics melding with intimately weird vocals and distinct rhythms. We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: Melbourne’s electronic scene is blowingthefuckup—Vilde’s one of our favorite new artists jettisoning out of that explosion of creativity.

LuwtenLuwten • Double For Me/self-released
Amsterdam’s Luwten prove’s the perfect balance of analog and digital for us—singer-songwriter-y arrangements put to softly played, gently sung acoustics paired with beautifully explorative electronics and rhythms that step into something new altogether. Read our interview with frontwoman Tessa Douwstra from early this year, wherein we falsely accuse her band name of being intrinsically dishonest.

Hanne Hukkelberg • TrustPropeller
We generally avoid comparing artists, but this album filled a certain void left by the aforementioned Björk release this year—Norwegian musician Hanne Hukkelberg is weird in the most compelling way possible for us, pitch-blending vocals, glitchy electronics, elements of hip hop, and natural sounds into an unlikely amalgamation that we can’t stop listening to.

Liima1982City Slang
Liima is a band born of Mads Brauer, Casper Clausen, and Rasmus Stolberg of longtime favorite Danish trio Efterklang and Finnish percussionist Tatu Rönkkö. Efterklang has evolved from minimalist electronic musicians to choral folk group to high-art-opera-writers over the years (all incarnations well-worth checking out), but this newish incarnation of the group with Rönkkö delves into the hyper-melodic electronic, glancing back at the early eighties in style but morphing into something newly beautiful in form—these guys can do no wrong by us. And this track we feature is a great example of highlighting a song we love, but one that we primarily thinks fits this mix best—there are others that even more amazing. With this and all these albums, again, please listen to them all in full.

Thanks and, again, happy new year, all.

 

As all of us in Southern California remain on edge with multiple wildfires raging in the region, NASA Astronaut Randy “Komrade” Bresnik shares terrifyingly stunning photos of the fires taken from the International Space Station (as first seen by us via Daily Overview).

Stay safe, SoCal, and hope for rain and calmer winds.

As is pretty well-documented on these pages, we like what do a lot. ‘Making the world a prettier place’—as we put it in our bio—by creating what we consider to be strong design for clients working for progressive causes is a pretty great way to spend your days so far as we can tell.

But when it comes down to, no matter how great the client and how great the work, sometimes you just want to do something for yourself, you know? We started to realize this with our holiday cards especially, as we became aware that we started to look forward to the work involved in making them every year; they scratched an itch in a way that other work didn’t and struck us as something that was very “us” in form and style and inspiration—something we controlled from start-to-finish, which we really liked.

So we started brainstorming other projects in that ilk and arrived at large scale illustrations of Los Angeles’ famed mountain lion, P-22. We’ve always been fascinated by the dichotomy between the heavily developed, urban nature of Los Angeles and its wild side—at 4,210 acres, Griffith Park is one of the largest parks within city borders in the United States. Our neighborhood runs right up against the park and, from the roving packs of coyotes to the red tail hawks seen soaring overhead, the feral side of the city is constantly on display for us. No single animal better represents that schizophrenic LA strangeness than our neighbor, P-22, who mysteriously and safely somehow traversed multiple freeways to make his way to Griffith years back and, up until recently, enjoyed a solitary existence as the only panther in the park.

With holiday cards, one of us (Troy) focuses on the image illustration and the other (Katie) focuses on the custom typography; with these prints, Troy’s still focusing on image illustration and we’re employing set typography for the text in our design, which we had printed by the same letterpress company we use for our cards. In this case, they printed on 13″x19″ fluorescent white 300GSM, heavyweight cotton rag stock using their large-scale cylinder press for a high-quality, archival style print with a nice, noticeable feel and impression on the paper. We had a limited run of 100 made and Katie’s been hand-watercoloring them one-by-one; each totally different, each totally unique, and each numbered and signed by the two of us.

To date, we’ve only had the prints for sale in some local shops we love—namely, The Canyon in Franklin Village, Los Angeles County Store in Los Feliz/Silver Lake, and MooShoes Los Angeles (which, full disclosure, we run). You can still get the prints at those fine shops, but, as of today, we’re also taking orders ourselves via email and through our socials (mainly Instagram), billing via PayPal, and shipping them straight to your doorstep. Because we love you.

In honor of P-22 and keeping LA wild, we’re also donating 10% of our total proceeds to CLAW—Citizens for Los Angeles Wildlife—a local non-profit working to protect and restore wildlife environments in Los Angeles and California. Their mission is to promote, educate, and protect the fundamental importance of wildlife, wildlife habitats, and wildlife corridors everywhere. You can find out more about their work work and how to get involved on their site.

So, if you’re interested in buying a print for yourself or as a gift, email us or message us through IG and let us know if you have any painting preferences—colors, painting inside and/or outside the panther form, that kind of thing. We obviously can’t honor every request exactly, per se, given the nature of the process, but we’ll do our best. We’re selling them for $48, will write you back with shipping options once you give us your zip code, and then send an invoice through PayPal.

Thanks for helping us keep LA wild!

We now actually own 0.000667% of a parcel of land along the US-Mexico border.

How did this come to pass, you ask? Well, I got this email—no, no, it’s not what you think! This is legit! Ish!

Said email was from the people behind Cards Against Humanity, a self-described “party game for horrible people”, and it went something like this: America is being run by a toilet…blah blah blah….give us $15 and we’ll send you six surprises in the mail AND we’ll save America. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? I KNOW! So I did what any rational capitalist still climbing out of the post-election nightmare-slumber would do—I gave my hard-earned money to strangers promising unspecified gifts and seemingly unattainable goals. Because I’m an America, goddammit.

Yesterday we received the first of three surprises in the mail—a fairly fat business envelope containing the following:
• A very witty letter explaining that my money had been used to purchase land along the border in order to throw up as many legal barriers as possible to building this ridiculous wall between the United States and Mexico;
• A very lawyer-y letter from the law firm retained by Cards Against Humanity—Graves, Dougherty, Hearon, & Moody—explaining the exact legal mechanics and tactics to be used in impeding the construction of said ridiculous wall;
•  An official certificate of ownership;
• Six new, thematic cards for the actual game, Cards Against Humanity; and
• An awesome map of “the land”, illustrated by Dav Yendler.

Cards Against Humanity is going all in. And we love it. We need more of this as we all march and run for office and put our creativity to good use; as we collectively crawl out of the mucky haze that is post-2016-election America and work for what I honestly believe will be a better America than it would have been if Trump had not been elected to office; as we’re shaken from a slumber and realize that we not only can make a difference in our country, we must. We’re the ones that are going to make America great again, asshole.

We likely won’t post more about this awesome—let’s be honest—gimmick on these pages, but you can always check our Instagram feed and stories. I’m sure they surprises to come will end up there.

And we’ll leave you with the postscript from CAH’s letter of explanation:

“Since the Trump administration is committed to using 12th-century military technology, we have responded in kind by building a 30-foot trebuchet, a medieval catapult designed to destroy walls, on the border. We paid 300 gold to increase its attack damage, so it’s very powerful. You can see a video of our medieval war machinery in action at CardsAgainstHumanityStopsTheWall.com.”

See, mom—Dungeons & Dragons nerds won’t become Satanists! They’ll save the world!

And now we’re finally property-owners!