For anyone flying into or out of John F. Kennedy International Airport, we highly recommend taking some time to check out the new, beautifully done TWA Hotel, adjoining Terminal Five (Jet Blue’s terminal). Its center is housed in the old Trans World Flight Center, originally designed + built in 1962 by Finnish American architect Eero Saarinen, and flawlessly renovated by New York’s own Beyer Blinder Belle.

Walking into the common space of the new hotel feels like stepping back in time to 1960s New York, complete with a sunken main bar, hidden away little lounges, a red-carpeted arching tunnel connecting the terminal to the new space, and fully immersed staff, many wearing the original Stan Herman TWA uniforms (that’s a 1975 one below being modeled by our new friend, Donna).

Everything we saw was impeccably + thoughtfully designed, and—this being a quick stop in on our way into the city for a long-overdue visit—there’s a lot we didn’t see too, like the Connie Cocktail Lounge inside of a 1958 Lockheed Constellation airplane parked on the tarmac, a pool bar, and a rooftop deck.

We’re guessing pretty nice hotel rooms too.

The hotel was easily the most thoughtfully designed space we’ve seen of late.

Read more about the space and book your stay at TWA Hotel’s site.

Not to get all Dos Equis guy on you, but, we don’t do band interviews often; when we do, we like to feature bands that are newer on the scene that we think are making music that’s somehow distinct + awesome. The debut full-length from Brooklyn-based Erin Hoagg (AKA Rare DM), Vanta Black, definitely hits those marks. Brooding with layered vintage synths but made more human with Hoagg’s personal lyrics, the album is a perfect aesthetic marriage of the digital and the organic for us.

We took a little time to talk with Hoagg about her album, her approach to writing, terrible boyfriends, and the mysterious namesake of the album, which you can listen to in full below; buy it via iTunes or your favorite independent record store.

Photo + album cover by Lissy Elle Laricchia.

raven + crow: First off, thanks for talking with us—we really dig your album. This being your first, I’m assuming it’s been a long time coming. Have you been writing/recording + performing as Rare DM for long?

Erin Hoagg: Thanks so much for asking me to do this interview!! I am excited to talk with you. Very happy you like Vanta Black.

I used to call my project Errmine, which is what I named my soundcloud in high school, and about 3 years ago but it didn’t feel like it properly described my project—I had grown so much musically since then, and my sound has really evolved. I changed it to Rare DM when I released my first single off the album (Almost a Year) and really feel like I’ve done the right move there. I have been playing shows for about 4 years now and writing music for this project for about 5 years, though I have been making up songs since elementary school.

Yeah, totally makes sense to rebrand yourself in that since when you’re moving into a whole new set of audiences. So, I don’t like to play the comparison game with bands or pigeonhole music too too much, but how do you describe Rare DM when people ask?

I usually start by saying I make music with analog gear and play live with all hardware. Then the question gets more tedious if they wanna know “who” I think I sound like. I’m not trying to sound like anyone so it’s a funny question. It’s much easier when people are familiar with electronic music. I got asked that question recently and the convo went a little like: “Well do you know The Knife?” “No.” “Early Grimes?” “No.” “…Ladytron?” “No.” “Molly Nilsson?” “Geneva Jacuzzi?” “No.” “Ok…Kraftwerk?” “Kind of.” I just kinda hit dead ends on all the electronic references I thought they might know and then just said “Ok, well I make music with drum machines and vintage synths and I’m told I sing like a crooner.”

I’d say that works. Since you brought it up (and I was already curious) what are using in terms of synths and other hardware for the songs on the album? It has a very distinct sound.

Why thank you!! Distinct is a fine word.

Synth wise you are hearing a lot of Juno 60—whenever there is an ARP, it’s my Juno. When you hear that dusty sounding vibraphone or a ‘human voice’ that’s my Casio CZ 5000, which I found on the street in SoHo. Drum-wise I am using a Elektron Machinedrum and some rare little vintage drum machines. Think Quiet has some toy keyboard on it—I wrote that song on a Yamaha I bought for $5 in a junk store. I used Logic to record the album (I’ve switched to Ableton since—much better), though it was mixed in Ableton by Patrick Canaday. It’s annoying if you don’t use the same DAW ( digital audio workstation) as your engineer because you can’t just give them the project file, you have to bounce everything separate and make sure you line it up perfect. Super happy to be using Ableton now, for a variety of reasons and definitely to not deal with that anymore.

Oh, man, thanks of the detailed break-down—I’ve been thinking about getting a Korg MS-20 for a bit now and I feel like this has given me a lot more to think on. Also, I totally miss the great, random things you can find just being thrown out on the streets of NYC. You get NONE of that here in LA.

I read that you one-take improvised some of the lyrics on the album—true?

Sometimes I write lyrics beforehand, though a lot of the time I’ll make a synthline/bassline and/or drum beat etc and loop it and sing on top of it. If I’m feeling really fucked up or inspired I either hit something special or maybe it’s complete chaos and I throw it away or frankenstein it. The song “Softboy” for example was made that way—looped synth line, two takes of Machinedrum, then I riffed the whole song and never changed it; that’s why it’s a little meandering at times. I didn’t change any of the pacing or put multiple takes together. That is one vocal take I didn’t touch. Same for “Best”, and most of “Wholehearted”. I think my lyrics are very raw and sad in all of the songs and I was thinking about my romantic situation and disappointments. The changes in pace of the improvised Machinedrum take(s) affected the riffed vocals because I played off of them, same goes for whatever synth is involved. I try to give variety in my vocal takes and really dig into my pain, sometimes it ends up being a good song without me changing anything, or it feels like I shouldn’t because I wouldn’t want to make it less “real” and “honest”.

I honestly never would have know if I hadn’t read that—impressive. As you alluded to, I know many of the songs that make up the album were sparked by a pretty big break-up—do you feel like there really is a significant connection between experiencing pain or misfortune and the creative spirit, the whole tortured artist trope? Or maybe it’s more about experiencing significant moments, positive or negative?

I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently—when I was happy in that relationship I was in a way singing less / writing fewer lyrics, though having so much fun composing/jamming/writing more industrial and techno things. It sucks to think I have to be miserable to write good lyrics. If that were true I would have to be perpetually unhappy to write anything good, which isn’t ideal. I have written a lot of things while very sad, within a relationship or not, and this might be silly but I have definitely had my own sad songs make me feel better. If I’m really sad and I wanna feel less alone, I guess listening to my own take on my sadness can help me think. To further answer your question though, passionate moments positive or negative definitely make for great music. Much more so than boredom or apathy I think. I wrote a song recently that I would actually call “happy” which is something pretty much none of Vanta Black is. I play it live and I have a lot of friends saying it’s my best song, which makes me feel good. I am interested in writing songs that aren’t all sad or angry. I love darkness, dissonance, and somber sounding things though I like the contrast of writing lyrics with a dark instrumental that can still be happy. I haven’t done as many of them but I’ve got a few. Working on more.

Cool to hear. I feel like some of my favorite music is some combination of somewhat sad or melancholy music or lyrics with totally upbeat lyrics or music, respectively.

Not to get too personal, but reading your essay on “Jade” my main takeaway was ’This guy sounds like such a jerk’. But then without that relationship, maybe a lot of the record wouldn’t exist; or at least, wouldn’t exist as it does. Are y’all still in touch at all?

First, thank you for reading!! I tried to be light-hearted with the essay but I guess it’s mostly just sad. My friend made me laugh because he texted me “you lose your phone, get locked out of your house, and fall off your bike independently of him being a doof” and that made me smile. Thought I should share that.

To answer your question, no. He was wildly important and I am too heartbroken. I loved him so much. I had more fun with him than anyone else, he made me laugh more than anyone, he liked all the same music as me, we had amazing chemistry. He wasn’t good at making me feel safe though, and he was inconsistent. Absolutely atrocious at communicating in general; especially when he was far away.

If you want me to get personal—we broke up and I wrote all these songs, then he came back, ‘ready to be serious’ or something after the “Jade” time period. We were back and phenomenal for about a year and a half. Then, guess what—he got a temporary job in Amsterdam with that friend of his. FML right?? He literally met my entire extended family in July RIGHT before he left for that job and everyone loved him, we were better then ever, then he goes to Amsterdam AGAIN and disappears. He gets back and starts being all flighty and weird. He moved in with me when he got back from Europe and then lost his shit out of absolutely nowhere after about 2.5 months saying he “loves me but needs to be alone” so I’m kinda in that FOOL ME ONCE SHAME ON YOU, FOOL ME TWICE SHAME ON ME zone. He can’t bounce back from that again. Besides my friends would kill me. Also I have no interest in being friends with someone who has hurt me so bad.

Eesh. Yeah, sound uno good. On to better things. Speaking of, I love that you titled your album Vanta Blackthat stuff fascinates me. Why do you feel like this darkest stuff on earth is a good analog for your debut?

Thank you!! I love it too. The darkest manmade pigment seemed appropriate for my darkest hours. I haven’t been as mad and/or sad before as I was when recording this album. Maybe it seems melodramatic,  though most of my music does come from dark times, and most music I listen to isn’t happy-sounding either. I don’t really like Major keys. I definitely don’t write with them often. Vanta Black is neat both as a tangible thing (the pictures of the pigment are really really cool) and as a word visually. It is a beautiful combination of words. I like everything about it and, to be honest, when I was changing my project name I was considering calling myself Vanta Black. Rare DM ended up being more fitting, though Vanta Black still had a place in my heart, and I knew it would be something. Also when Lissy and I took the photo that ended up being the album cover, it really solidified my decision. That was definitely the mood of the album.

Have you ever seen the namesake in real life? I haven’t but I feel like the images you can see online can’t possible do it justice, right?

I have not had the pleasure of seeing any of Anish Kapoor’s works with the pigment in person (his studio has the exclusive license for it’s artistic use) though I have seen lots of imitation pigments that aren’t quite as insanely dark. They are still very cool though, and I look forward to seeing Vantablack S-VIS (the paint) in person someday.

I know you’re based in our old home of Brooklyn—what’s the indie electronic scene there like these days?

It’s definitely very active, especially the DJ scene—it’s easier to find great electronic shows that are CDJ-based at places like Bossa Nova Civic Club or Mood Ring, although live electronic acts do play there too. It’s really cool when that happens, and I’ve been to many other great live shows at house parties and places like The Glove. I have some great friends that are synth nerds and super tech-y and it’s really fun to have people come over, or go to their studios and jam. I love talking gear. Secret Project Robot is about to shut down, though there are a lot of great electronic musicians that play there. In a way NYC seems pretty indie rock heavy, though you can find your electronic peers if you know where to look and go to the right shows. Also buying gear is a great way to meet other electronic musicians—especially at Control or on craigslist!!

Any favorite venues to play? I fear most of the ones we loved before we left in 2014 have since shut down.

Yes—RIP 285 and Glasslands and DBA!!

Pouring out a 40 as we speak.

As for places I have played; Elsewhere has an amazing sound-system/lighting and they are very professional. Same for Mercury Lounge and Rough Trade. I haven’t had the pleasure of playing Market Hotel or Baby’s All Right yet, though everyone who works there is great and I’m looking forward to it someday. The Glove is a favorite, and Trevorshaus, where I am playing on May 11th is a great DIY venue. You’ll have to ask me the address outside of this interview if you want to go though. 😉

Noted. I also read that play your shows fully live, right?

Yes!! I play with Octotrack, Machinedrum, drum triggers and noise synth. Along with my vocals.

That’s awesome. Any time I see a largely electronic band that’s doing something more than singing to pre-recorded track, I’m into it. So is that just you or are you building out a band for shows? And what’s technically involved in doing everything without so much pre-recorded? Sounds excitingly overwhelming.

Just me!! Not currently building a band. Some day it would be cool to have a live drummer or something, though I want my project to stay a solo project. You just have to be good at midi syncing your gear and uploading your samples correctly. It’s not that hard once you get the hang of it. There is a learning curve to the Octotrack, though you totally fall in love with it after you get past the initial headache.

Can you tell us about any little-know local bands we should keep an eye on?

Look out for Hot.throb, Hara Kiri, Longer, Ray Rose.

Thanks and will do. Do you have any fun album release plans of next month?

Yes I am playing May 11th at Trevorshaus with Umru (PC music), my best friend from Montreal, Margo, Gooddroid, and Stress. It’s going to be very fun.

Think you’ll hit the West Coast to support it?

Yes definitely!! I want to play Part Time Punks in LA ASAP, and want to play San Fransisco soon!! I am working on it.

We’ll definitely keep a look out. Thanks again of taking the time to talk and congratulations on an excellent debut.

Thank you!! Great talking to you raven + crow.

We just got turned on to a fun new food happening here in LA (like, literally this morning)—Zoë’s Food Party, which is pretty much what it sounds like.

The Zoë in question is Zoë Komarin, Jersey native, artist, and former chef at Tel Aviv’s Cafe Xoho who now, with her husband Udi, happily calls Los Angeles home, where she orchestrates food parties with spontaneity and craveability at their core.

We caught her at her weekly Wednesday morning pop-up in the back yard of Highland Park’s Collage Coffee (who, by the way, makes THE ((full stop)). BEST ((full stop)). Almond milk lattes in town ((regular full stop because grammar, I guess? But at this point…)).)

Granted, this was our first encounter, but from what we can gather, these weekly hump day pop-ups center around egg or vegan turmeric-chia-chickpea patty breakfast sammies with nearly everything—the puffy freshly steamed pita bread, the vegan patties, the tehina, the variant toppers—made from scratch by Zoë. And it’s all awesome and packed with popping flavor.

Our sandwiches featured the aforementioned savory vegan patties (seen frying on the spot below) and a broccoli salad in Zoë’s super-soft, super-fresh pita bread with her homemade sesame tahina sauce and topped with marinated pine nuts, a sweet tomato jam, fresh herbs, and edible flowers foraged by hand.

But the bread and butter (hah) of Zoë’s business model are these food parties, gatherings in homes, parks, or anywhere centered around Zoë’s cooking—as she puts it “I am your witchy food wizard entertainment clown bouncy castle.”

So clearly there’s a lot more to experience.

Explore Zoë’s site if you either want to find out more about these food parties or you want to see what is now our favorite site of the week. Or both.

In this day and age of utter overwhelmment (not a word) at every turn, we sometimes need to hear things twice to have them break through to our collective, social-media-soaked consciousness.

So, to reiterate what we shared last month, our mixtape series that we’ve been sharing on a monthly basis since 2015 has now grown into a partnership with our friends at Whalebone. Like them, we don’t really dig the term ‘lifestyle brand’, but, in their words—”Whalebone is an authentic, positive lifestyle brand that feels like a friend. One who was born and raised on the East End and who seeks out good things and the good in things everywhere.”

The yearly, massive SXSW Music Festival is now in the rear view, but our SXSW mix is evergreen and should live, roughly, for as long as the internet does—check it out over Whalebone and look for next month’s soon; we’ve got something special planned.

And again, if you’re worried about missing upcoming mixes, especially ones not posted here in the future, be sure to sign up for Whalebone’s newsletter. You can also follow us directly on our Mixcloud page and on Instagram, where we’ll be sure keep announcing these.

We’ve been a bit quiet here of late, especially on the new music front. But we assure you, it’s with good reason.

Since January of 2015, we’ve been sharing our monthly mixes of new music. But going into this new year, we felt the need to evolve the series into something new for fear of it all getting a bit tired.

So, after four years of sifting through thousands of new artists + songs and sharing with you over 700 tracks (no really, we did the math), we’re undergoing a bit of a brand refresh for these monthly mixtapes, partnering with our friends over at Whalebone Media, where these mixes will live from now on.

We’re also taking a new approach to both the artwork and the actual formats of the mixes. We’ll still be keeping to 15 songs most times and avoiding too much repetition, but we’re hitting the restart button à la dying right away in Super Mario Brothers, easing up on our usual one-year-rest rule for repeating artists. We’re also making the coverage of the mixes a little more conversational and exploratory with Whalebone and start doing some themed mixes, some of which will likely feature older favorite + hard-to-find tracks rather than just new music.

But what are you doing reading this still? Head over to Whalebone now to hear the new mix and read our conversation with them on some of our favorite tracks and the inspiration behind everything.

We’ll be following up sooner than later there with a new March mix that features our favorite picks for the upcoming SXSW Music Festival.

And if you’re worried about missing upcoming mix announcements, be sure to sign up for Whalebone’s newsletter. You can also follow us directly on our Mixcloud page and on Instagram, where we’ll be sure keep announcing these.

Thanks for the continued listening as we grow this series, friends.

“‘I could never be vegan, I love cheese too much’ said every vegan before going vegan.”

True, it’s a cliché + tired meme at this point, but one that rings true for us here. Cheese—or more accurately, our love of it—was something that stood in the way of us moving from vegetarian to a totally animal-free, cruelty-free lifestyle for years. And this was in the 90s, mind you, when your vegan cheese alternatives numbered in the ones, roughly (props to you, Tofutti Slices, you bright orange, rubbery, maybe-only-edible-in-the-most-technical-of-senses things, you).

Now it’s 2019 and we’ve come a long way, baby, both in the store-bought realm and in the home-cooking one. A recipe that ties the two together well in our minds is one we’ve been pulling out of our party bag of tricks a lot lately—vegan quest, a creamy, rich, cheesy dip that highlights the bold flavors of roasted chilis + tomatoes and has roots in thew Southwest; most notably, Austin, Texas. At a glance, it might seem like an intimidating recipe, but once you get the cashew cream base down, the rest of the recipe comes together pretty easily and quickly.

Here’s what you need:

Homemade Cashew Cream (from roughly 1.5 cups of soaked raw cashew pieces; see below for instructions and additional ingredients)
7 oz. Follow Your Heart American Style Slices
4 tbsp. Miyoko’s Cultured Vegan Butter (our local Trader Joe’s carries this at about half the price of most other places somehow FYI)
4 Large Fresh Anaheim/New Mexico Green Chilis
3 Serrano Peppers
1 Jalapeño Pepper
3 Roma or Large Other Ripe Tomatoes

4 Large Cloves of Garlic
(uncut, unpeeled)
Juice from 1/2 Lemon
Sea Salt (to taste)
A Few Dashes of Your Favorite Hot Sauce
Water (to thin when necessary)
Garnishes: your favorite store-bought or homemade salsa, chopped cilantro leaves, sliced jalapeño

As mentioned, the base of this our everyday homemade cashew cream—something that’s really pretty easy to make if you’ve got a decent blender and something that’s a super-versatile kitchen staple for us. The cream’s appeared on these pages a few times before, and we walk through the basics of how to make it with our recipe for fresh pasta, but, basically, it’s a matter of soaking a cup or two of raw cashews in water overnight and blending until excessively smooth with olive oil, a touch of sesame oil, a heaping helping of nutritional yeast, a couple cloves of raw garlic, a drop or two of hickory smoke extract, a dash of sea salt, maybe a peeled, chopped shallot, and, ideally, some homemade brine and pickled cauliflower stem or something along those lines to give it some funk. That last bit is the ‘secret ingredient’ that really pulls the cream over the top in terms of taste. We simply salt a plate full of cut cauliflower stems and let them stand for anywhere from a few hours to overnight at room temperature. But this cashew cream ‘recipe’ is all about experimentation and evolution—it’s a little different for us every time and we tend to enjoy not having any hard + fast rules for portions so we can let the process and product grow and change over time or to meet particular cooking needs. Like a very rich taste? Add more olive oil. Like more of a sharp taste? More salt and maybe a little vinegar. Smoke? Add more…well, smoke (you can find liquid smoke in most grocery stores these days, usually near the barbecue sauce—look for the ones that are just water and smoke extract ideally). The end product should be something that’s really rich and creamy and very much crave-able.

Usually with our standard staple cashew cream, we try to keep it as thick as possible so we can use it in a wide range of ways, keeping it thick for a vegan crème fraîche; thinning it out a bit for something more cheese-sauce-like. In this case, since we’re cooking it with other ingredients afterwards, it doesn’t really matter how thick the cream is, so we added some water to the blending process, which makes it easier and quicker to get that smooth texture you’re looking for. The other difference here is that we added a little apple cider vinegar to give it a sharper kick and a fresh carrot cut into pieces to give it a richer color and a little more substance.

Once you have your cashew cream at a good place, pre-heat your broiler for a couple minutes and the place the peppers, tomatoes, and unpeeled garlic cloves on an un-oiled baking pan; then place the pan under your broiler, leaving it there for about five minutes, until the vegetables’ skins are blackened on one side. Take it out and flip everything over carefully with some tongs or super-calloused hands. In most cases, you can take the garlic out at this point as it’ll be pretty cooked through. Broil everything else flipped for another five minutes or so and then remove from heat. In our case, we actually used pretty firm, large, on-the-vine tomatoes, which took longer than the peppers, so we removed the peppers when they looked done and cooked the tomatoes longer on their own. You basically want to get both to a point where their skin is pretty black and pulling away from the flesh. Then let them sit until they’re cool to the touch and melt your vegan butter over low heat in a Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot. Once everything’s cool, peel the tomatoes, discard the skins, roughly chop and add to the pot once the butter’s fully melted. Same for the peppers, but you’ll also want to remove the seeds, which can be done easily by slicing long-ways and running under cold water (that’ll help any stubborn skins to come off too). The garlic is likely pretty liquified at this point, so you can probably just squeeze the insides into the pan and discard the papery skins.

Stir everything together and let it sauté for a few minutes on low heat, then carefully add what should be about 45-50 ounces of homemade cashew cream (about 3/4 of a blender container’s worth). Stir to mix everything together and then take your store-bought sliced vegan cheese and chop into small cubes. We specifically call out Follow Your Heart in the ingredients above because we like their company and products, but you can use anything similar, even blocks instead of sliced, sliced is just usually more available. The basic idea is you want to add some pre-made vegan cheese that’ll give the finished product a little more stretchiness and add to the nice, sharp flavor. Whatever you choose, add the chopped up cubes to the mixture along with squeezed lemon juice and stir to incorporate and allow it to start melting the cheese down.

Cover with a heavy lid and cook on low until the store-bought cheese is melted, uncovering and stirring to make sure everything’s incorporating together well and the bottom’s not beginning to burn. With the thickness and texture of this queso, you’ll most likely be able to keep it on low the whole times you’re cooking it. If it seems too cool to melt the added cheese though, turn your heat up appropriately, just keep an eye on it and make sure it doesn’t start bubbling too much. If the queso starts to get too thick or the bottom’s starting to burn despite stirring and scraping, just add some water gradually to thin it back out; once the cheese is melted, you can just cook off the water to get it to your desired, thick and creamy consistency. Then salt and add any desired hot sauce to taste. If there’s not enough of a cheesy taste for you, try adding some more nutritional yeast and/or more store-bought cheese. Once you dip a chip in and like what you taste, you’re done.

Yeehaw! Enjoy, pardner!

Hello, New Year, how are you?

What’s that? Still terribly fucked worldwide? Eh, what can you do other than forge ahead. Here’s to working to make the world a better place, fine music to set the mood to doing so, and fine wine to celebrate.

To that penultimate point, a new artist that’s got us excited for the wealth of creative expression sure to come our way in twenty nineteen is NYC-based newcomer Margaret Sohn, AKA Miss Grit. She’s just released her debut EP—which you can stream in its entirety below—and we thought we’d take the opportunity to find out more about Ms. Sohn, her skilled feline engineer, and the ideas behind the songs that make up Talk Talk.

raven + crow: So, first off, formalities out of the way—is Miss Grit you/are you Miss Grit or is that more a moniker for the band? Or is it like with PJ Harvey, where she kinda wanted the freedom of flexibility to have it be either or both depending on the project?

Margaret Sohn: Yeah more like a PJ Harvey or St. Vincent. I’m a little shy, so I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily something for me to hide behind, but definitely a character that I wanted to take on its own persona and one that I’m able to work creatively behind without all of my stresses and insecurities getting in the way as it would have if I presented myself as Margaret to the world.

Where does the name come from?

I am so glad you asked.

We love name stories.

Well, all my life I’ve been given about a million nicknames. “Margaret” has a plethora of versions, and I’ve been called about all the ones you can think of multiple times. But one that really was the most creative and has not been thought of by anyone since was from my childhood friend and next door neighbor, Charlie. He called me “Grit”. My dad got wind that he called me that and latched onto it right away and has also been calling me “Grit Dog” since then. He likes to make songs up about the name as well and sing them around the house when I’m home. So I picked this name for this project because it means one thing to me, but means something totally different to other people. And I liked that fact a lot because I could get behind both the noun “grit” as well as the personal meaning it has to me.

We promise to chant ‘GRIT DOG! GRIT DOG! GRIT DOG!’ at your first Los Angeles show.

So, I read that the EP started as demos you recorded in your dorm room and was finished or fully came into being at your friend’s home studio “with his cat Anton.” First off, these final songs sound very un-demo-y—what were your priorities in building them out into fully finished songs? And how integral was this cat in the process? I assume very.

First of all, this record could not have been possible without Anton, the engineering cat master. He is wise beyond his years and elevated these tracks with his grace and knack for analog synths. But as far as the demos go, I don’t think anything from those made it onto the actual EP, but it really was my first time writing fully fledged songs. I thought they were crap at first, and even was hesitant to ask Charles (Anton’s owner) to help me with them because I wasn’t sure if they were worth digging into further. But those demos are what gave me the ability to write music. I was so scared to for so long in fear of writing something bad, but I’ve really mastered the art of vomiting my ideas into an ugly, ugly Pro Tools session and then redoing it 5 times until it’s decent enough for human ears to handle.

Well we’re happy you persevered—the EP’s wonderful. One of the things that appeals to us so much about the four songs that make it up is how well they combine very melodic guitars + electronics/keys in really cohesive, beautiful ways—you hear that often enough, but not necessarily done this well. How’s that broken down in terms of who’s writing and playing what? Is it mostly you or is this more of a collaborative process.

I wrote and played all of the guitar and synth parts on this record (with the exception of Charles’ exceptional performance of pressing the hold button on his Juno to arpeggiate through ‘Talk Talk’). The writing of these two instruments together is quite imperative to me. I’ve been playing guitar for 15 years so I naturally start writing songs centered around it. But I only bought my first synth, a Korg MS-20, a year ago. And I think that was the key weapon I needed in order for me to actually start liking the music I was writing. I’ve always had this deep admiration for all the sounds bands like LCD Soundsystem create, and was so jealous because I couldn’t make those sounds on my guitar. So once I got a synth in my hands, I found that missing piece in my music that made it all click.

Is there a theme or common chord that runs through the songs for you and does the song/EP title play into that?

I like to think of my EP in two parts. The first being about people talking about nothing too much, and me wanting all the noise of misleading things to go away. The second half being about the inaccurate portrayal of love by pop culture, and my own personal faults in past relationships due to those portrayals. I feel both parts have a similar theme of weird societal norms that people follow that eventually led to some downfall of mine.

That’s interesting. Can you talk specifically to the lyrics for “Dry My Love”? As a longtime vegan, the ‘Don’t let me eat meat’ line caught my ear.

At first I wrote that as a joke lyric, but it made it onto the final take. I am definitely not a vegetarian (Korean BBQ is my weakness), but I know I should be because the meat industry is villainous and all that stuff. That first chunk of lyrics is kind of like me asking for help from my weaknesses that include all or nothing ways of thinking, or straying from myself in relationships, or eating meat when I know I shouldn’t be. BUT I would like to happily say my New Year’s resolution is to eat meat no more than once a month.

I’ll take it! So, I also read that you build guitar pedals and voice-activated light displays in all that spare time between recording EPs and taking classes at NYU? Any chance you’ll be bringing anything like that out on a tour or some live shows any time soon?

I actually spent a lot of the summer dreaming about building my own stage design with a lot of interactive lights and motor-controlled objects. Unfortunately, the dream requires a lot of time and money to do it right, but I’m hoping once I graduate or take some time off school I’ll be able to invest more time into those plans to make it a reality.

Well, we can’t wait to see where you go form here and we’ll keep an eye out for any tour announcements that might bring you to our neck of the woods.

What is it with yearly best-of lists coming out, like, a month before the year’s actually over? Yeah, we know, getting the drop on the competition is king with content these days, but things are getting a little ridiculous; Christmas music in October ridiculous.

That’s why we here at raven + crow studio wait until literally the last day of the year to release our yearly best albums list. Plus we’re, like, really busy these days, guys.

If there’s a common thread that runs through the lion’s share of this year’s list, it’s incredibly strong female voices—from Wye Oak to Middle Kids to Snail Mail to, honestly, most of these albums, the vocals, lyrics, themes, and, beyond that, the spirit and power of the individual singer-songwriter drive the music and define its path in the most compelling and moving way possible. Beyond that, as with years past, these are longford works of independent musicians who write without restraints and create albums of songs that tell a story with passion, beginning to end.

Also as with years past, this list is inherently flawed—we can never listen to everything that’s out there and, inevitably, every year, there’s that album we discover late in the game that would have been included if we’d known of it or maybe even just given it more of a listen. And this rather arbitrary cut-off of ten albums results in an even longer list of nearly-made-the-cuts, from Balún to Madeline Kenney to Twin Shadow to Young Fathers to Anderson.Paak + (Thomas) VILDE, both of whom very nearly made this final ten.

But in the end, we were awash in wonderful music this year; of it all, this is what found us and spoke to us most clearly and indelibly; we hope it does the same for you.

Hop Along | Bark Your Head Off, Dog | Saddle Creek
One of the great things about seeing shows in Los Angeles is that it’s still a place where you can catch up-and-coming bands at intimate spots, most often at The Echo in Echo Park. That’s where we caught three of the bands on this list as it happens, Hop Along being the first of those three. This band and their new album also exemplifies this common thread we mentioned—Frances Quinlan’s voice, in the literal and figurative sense, drives this band, their music, and this powerful album in the most compelling of ways.

Wye Oak | The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs | Merge Records Apr6
The duo Wye Oak is another band that we caught early in their career, back in New York at a small club that no longer exists for a festival that no longer exists, the CMJ Music Marathon, a wonderful, wandering, city-wide fest that we looked forward to every year. As it did then, Jenn Wasner’s song-writing, singing, and guitar-playing continues to ground this powerfully emotive band and this album is one of their most mature, layered, and fulfilling to listen to. They remain one of our longtime favorite bands.

Middle Kids | Lost Friends | Middle Kids/MK Recordings (self-released)
Another band we caught at an early Echo show, Sydney’s Middle Kids are a rock band build around the heart + soul of singer, song-writer, guitarist Hannah Joy and use the band’s songs as a medium to telegraph that heart + soul to the listener. Their long-anticipated debit full-length is everything it promised to be—heart-felt and emotional deep, building from sparse, quiet moments to rollicking rock in the blink of an eye and pulling you by the collar along for all of it.

 

Parquet CourtsWide Awake! | Rough Trade
NYC’s Parquet Courts somehow opened up a portal to an alternate dimension where smart, deadpan punk never died and they do it seemingly effortlessly. This is one of the most beautifully strange, diverse records we’ve heard but singer Andy Savage is the agent that binds it all together with his quick lyrics and piercingly flat delivery.

Snail Mail | Lush | Matador
On paper, Lush shouldn’t be one of our favorite albums of the year—it leans pretty heavily toward the 90s in sound and our assumption going in was that the whole thing would come off as a bit derivative for us. But—as the theme’s been thus far—front woman Lindsey Jordan invests herself into her singing, songwriting, and guitar-playing in the most intimate manner, making the songs on this album a diary of sorts that we get to glimpse upon in the most wonderful of ways. The band’s currently on tour with Parquet Courts as chance would have it and they’ll be playing the Novo downtown later next month. There’s no way that show won’t be amazing.

Bad Bad Hats | Lightning Round | Afternoon Records
Terrible band name? Maybe, but then again, look at Superchunk, Archers of Loaf, Minus the Bear and…well, the next band on this list. I’m sure there’s an excellent backstory (ask us the Minus the Bear one next time you see us). Bad Bad Hats’ new one is an album that snuck up on us. We’ve been fans of theirs since the beginning, but this album speaks to a skill and maturity we didn’t know they were capable of, but we clearly underestimated the Minneapolis trio—this album is full of pop gems and promises what should be a deeply affective career if there’s any justice in the world (…).

RubblebucketSun Machine | Grand Jury Music
Again, I’m sure there’s a great story. But, regardless, Brooklyn’s Rubblebucket is everything we hope pop music can become—weird, inventive, and unique; anything but duplicative or cookie-cutter. They deliver a sound with Sun Machine that’s something we’ve never heard before and it’s great (not, you know, ‘hey look how weird we’re being but this sounds terrible’).

 

Christine and the Queens | ChrisBecause Music
Our third and final ‘saw them when’ band on this list, we caught Héloïse Letissier at her first show in the US a couple years back at the aforementioned Echo. Even in those early days, Letissier put the performance itself front-and-center, stepping into this charismatic, crooning alternate persona and even bringing dancers with her to this small early show. Chris is a transformative masterpiece of work and, while we can’t wait to see where she goes from here, we’re also content to sit with this album for years. And don’t be intimidated by the track numbers on this one—it’s mostly one half English versions of the songs and then the second French, which, hats off for doing that, come to think of it.

Hippo Campus | Bambi | Grand Jury Music
As with Rubblebucket, St. Paul quintet Hippo Campus gives us a glimpse at what we want pop music to be, catchy and wildly compelling because of rather than in spite of the music’s intelligence, wit, and strangeness. Jake Luppen’s singing is every bit as quirky + glitchy as the instrumentation on this album and it works on every level.

Empress Of | Us | Terrible Records
Los Angeles native Lorely Rodriguez spent much of her musical career to date in New York, but now we’ve got her back and it’s a big win for our city—as Empress Of, she delivers unflinching, earnest commentary on life, both hers and ours; and with Us, she’s built out her sound and depth of songwriting in a way that both makes you hang on every word and tap your feet.

Growing up with a German grandmother who spent her youth and much of her adulthood in Deutschland, there were a few mainstay old world traditions that she made sure to integrate into my and my brother’s upbringing; the most memorable being her yearly holiday cookies—buttery crescents that she made shortly after Thanksgiving and then aged in cookie tins until Christmas. The ones that survived my grandfather’s diligent search-and-devour regimen in the intervening weeks—combatted by an equally diligent hand-swatting-and-scolding regimen by Mutti (German for mom—a moniker passed down to us by our dad)—were a childhood delicacy and something we looked forward to every year.

I’ve talked about these cookies for years, but never actually followed through and found a recipe that seemed right. Maybe it was the fact that we were having a child of our own and I subconsciously wanted to instill a similar fond memory and tradition in our son’s mind, but last year I finally buckled down and did it, reaching out to friends via socials to see if my description of the cookies rang a bell for anyone.

One of the hurdles in the past to finding an accurate recipe was the fact that everyone in my family called these butterhorns growing up. But if you look up German butterhorns, the recipes are way off—most use eggs and yeast, which I have no recollection of, and they’re flattened and rolled into layered crescent shapes, looking nothing like what I remember. But through the crowdsourcing magic of Facebook, I narrowed in on two recipes that seemed right—one an old Peace Corps friend found from the Ottawa-based food blog Plated Cravings for Vanillekipferl (vanilla crescents) and another from a friend’s old spiral-bound Emmanuel Lutheran cookbook (scanned + pictured below) for Kippfvln (Frisian or West Germanic for ’tilt’ or ‘crescent’). They’re also commonly called Mandelkipferl (almond crescent) or Mandelsichel (almond sickle), which makes a little more sense in our minds since the raw almond is really what gives these cookies their distinct, craveable flavor. We’ve read that the common crescent or sickle shape in European holiday baking is to pay homage to the citizens of Vienna who repelled soldiers from the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) when they played siege to the city in 1529AD.

I made both recipes and we ended up being a house somewhat divided on which was better—Katie preferred the Vanillekipferl from the Canadian blog (slightly more uniform in texture and consistency, maybe a little more vanilla-y); I preferred the Kippfvln (more almond-y and less uniform with the larger pieces of chopped nuts coating the cookies). But only slightly on both counts—they turned out pretty similarly and both are wonderful and very much in-line with what I remember.

Neither recipe mentions letting the cookies stand for weeks, so I’m not sure if that element’s something my grandmother added herself or it was maybe a larger geographical derivation in her part of Germany. Though I think the aging is less about fermentation (though Mutti did make a mean, embarrassingly stinky sauerkraut) and more about giving the very dry, crumbly dough time to absorb the moisture and sweetness of the powdered sugar that coats them. Or maybe it’s a trick of the mind—make these things once a year and tell everyone they have to wait three weeks to eat them and they’ll think they’re the best things in the world.

Regardless, they’re the best things in the world. And pretty easy to make. As with many simple recipes, the key is quality ingredients—key among them here, the butter. I urge you not to use your standard vegan supermarket butter or margarine. California-based vegan creamery Miyoko’s makes a vegan butter that’s worlds apart from the others in the field and will make all the difference in a butter-heavy recipe like this. And they’re much more available these days, in both health food stores/Whole Foods and in mainstream supermarkets in many cities. You can also order it directly from the company online. Other than that, we highly recommend using a good flour (we’re longtime King Arthur Flour fans, and they’re a B Corp, which is awesome).

The only other alteration I made was using the vanilla sugar from Plated Cravings‘ Vanillekipferl recipe in the recipe that appears above too, because why would you not? The stuff’s stellar.

Und Fröhliche Feiertage!

This month marks our penultimate mixtape of the year and our final regular fifteen-song mix, with the next being our ten-song mix highlighting our ten favorite albums of the year.

Traditionally, this time of year can be a little quiet on the new music front, with artists tending to want to wait until the new year for big releases. And indeed, we’re excited about more than a few full-lengths that have already been announced for January + February of 2019. But, be it the abandonment of album mentality by some newer artists or just the equivalent of family style dining in the music world, with people wanting to grab attention as soon and as often as they can, this month actually seems awash with excellent new music.

Starting with Melbourne electronic artist Alice Ivy and her sophisticated dance track “Chasing Stars” featuring Bertie Blackman. Then we have newcomer ford. (AKA Luc Bradford) out of Provo, Utah, who’s new album, (The) Evening comes to us via ODESZA‘s label Foreign Family Collective and is highly recommended for any fans of intricate, layered electronic music. The track we feature has Sarah Kinsley on vocals, but another couple from the album feature the subsequent artist on our mix, Durango, Colorado-based signer Sophie Meyers (who, awesomely enough, includes a PayPal link on her Soundcloud page—no beating around the bush with this one).

Then we’ve got a fun, addictive track from Brooklyn’s Anna Wise, featuring Jon Bap; the return of London’s biggest Missy Elliot fan, Georgia; edgy, rhythmic, almost industrial-sounding pop from Montreal’s Annie Sama; and then three in a row from fellow Angelenos—a darkly beautiful debut from Phoenix-born, LA-based Kailee Morgue; a new one from another Angeleno, Lawrence Rothman, who now has a new EP out; and a new single from one of our favorite singer-songwriters in town, Ella Vos.

We’ve also got some subtly beautiful work from London’s (Will) Westerman, who plays the Moroccan tomorrow night; one of our favorites from (Thomas) VILDE‘s most recent album, out of Stockholm/Melbourne; catchy electronic music from another all-caps-er from Melbourne, LANKS (AKA Will Cuming); a great song from Andy Shauf’s new collaborative effort with his childhood friends from Saskatchewan, Foxwarren; a sleepily beautiful song from singer-songwriter-actress Alison Sudol; and we end out with a sweeping, dramatic song from Norwegian singer-songwriter and producer, AURORA (Aksnes).

Enjoy!