Father John Misty

 Photo by Emma Tillman

Photo by Emma Tillman

Written largely in New York between Summer 2016 and Winter 2017, Josh Tillman’s fourth Father John Misty LP, God’s Favorite Customer, reflects on the experience of being caught between the vertigo of heartbreak and the manic throes of freedom.

God’s Favorite Customer reveals a bittersweetness and directness in Tillman’s songwriting, without sacrificing any of his wit or taste for the absurd. From “Mr. Tillman,” where he trains his lens on his own misadventure, to the cavernous pain of estrangement in “Please Don’t

Die,” Tillman plays with perspective throughout to alternatingly hilarious and devastating effect.  “We’re Only People (And There’s Not Much Anyone Can Do About That)” is a meditation on our inner lives and the limitations we experience in our attempts to give and receive love. It stands in solidarity with the title track, which examines the ironic relationship between forgiveness and sin. Together, these are songs that demand to know either real love or what comes after, and as the album progresses, that entreaty leads to discovering the latter’s true stakes.

God’s Favorite Customer was produced by Tillman and recorded with Jonathan Rado, Dave Cerminara, and Trevor Spencer. The album features contributions from Haxan Cloak, Natalie Mering of Weyes Blood, longtime collaborator Jonathan Wilson, and members of Misty’s touring band.

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Real Estate

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In Mind, the fourth full-length record from Real Estate, is a portrait of a mature band at the height of its power. Long respected for their deft lyrical hand and gorgeous melodies, In Mind builds upon the band’s reputation for crafting perfect songs and carries Real Estate even deeper into the pantheon of great songwriters.

On the new record, the band fine-tunes the winsome songwriting and profound earnestness that made previous albums—2009’s Real Estate, 2011’s Days, and 2014’s Atlas—so beloved, and pushes their songs in a variety of compelling new directions. Written primarily by guitarist and vocalist Martin Courtney at his home in Beacon—a quiet town in upstate New York—In Mind offers a shifting of the gears, positing a band engaged in the push/pull of burgeoning adulthood. Reflecting a change in lineup, changes in geography, and a general desire to move forward without looking back, the record casts the band in a new light—one that replaces the wistful ennui of teenage suburbia with an equally complicated adult version. The record not only showcases some of the band’s most sublime arrangements to date, it also presents a leap forward in terms of production, with the band utilizing the studio as a tool to broaden the sonic landscape of their music to stunning effect. 

Per bassist Alex Bleeker, the songs on In Mind reflect a kind of quiet ambition on the part of the band. A desire not to reinvent themselves, but rather to just be the best version of themselves that they can be. “We’re never looking to overhaul anything in a huge way,” he says, “But we do want to grow and explore new territory and use the studio in a different way. We didn’t want to change anything arbitrarily, but it felt good to reach out into some more exploratory space while still holding on to what makes us Real Estate in the first place.”

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Chicano Batman

  Photo by Josue Rivas

 Photo by Josue Rivas

They came out of L.A., four young men in vintage formalwear, playing songs that blended Brazilian Tropicalía with early ’70s psychedelic soul and the romantic pop of bands like Los Ángeles Negros. It was an immediately addictive sonic brew, and their reputation grew fast. Since forming in 2008, Chicano Batman have released two full-length albums—a self-titled 2009 debut, and 2014’s Cycles Of Existential Rhyme—and two EPs. The band has played Coachella, and toured with Alabama Shakes and Jack White, among others. Now, they’re making their boldest statement yet with Freedom Is Free, their third album and ATO Records debut. 

Chicano Batman’s look has done as much to set them apart as their sound or their name. Since the beginning, they’ve performed in matching suits and ruffled shirts; Bardo explains, “We’re making a particular reference that some people understand—Los Ángeles Negros, Los Pasteles Verdes. In the ’70s, it was a big thing where all these cats were playing romantic ballads, but they were funky as hell.”

Outside the studio, Chicano Batman have built a stellar reputation through heavy touring across the country. They've played major festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo. Opening for Jack White, Alabama Shakes, The Claypool Lennon Delirium and Gogol Bordello on recent tours has given them the chance to win over thousands of rock fans, night after night. In 2017, they’re planning their own national headline tour, sharing with anyone who wants to hear the news that Freedom Is Free.

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Blitzen Trapper

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It was on September 23, 2008 that Blitzen Trapper, after putting out three albums on its own label, released its fourth full-length album, Furr, via Sub Pop. At that time, it was a record that captured exactly where the band’s frontman, Eric Earley, found himself, both literally and metaphorically, geographically and existentially. Not that the Portland-based musician actually remembers much about the creation of the record’s 13 intriguing, spellbinding songs. Or, more specifically, what its songs actually mean, either now or then. Instead, Furr, stands as a kind of tribute and elegy to the city that inspired it, but that, a decade later, no longer exists.

Not, of course, that the band is just relying on the past glory of this record. Far from it. A decade on from the release of Furr, has released five more critically acclaimed and achingly beautiful records. The band hasn’t loosened its ambitions, either. In 2017, the band put together Wild And Reckless a full-production theater event that ran for a month at Portland’s Center Stage theater and which also spawned last year’s full-length of the same name. There are plenty of plans for the future in the works, too. But for now, just for a little while, it’s time to revel in the joy and sorrow of a time and place that no longer exists—except of course, in a few hearts and minds, and in these wonderfully wistful songs.

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Post Animal

 Photo by Emily Quirk

Photo by Emily Quirk

Chicago-based Post Animal are a band of brothers. Though they formed in 2014 and just began touring in 2017, their affinity for slick riffs, pop hooks, and psychedelic tendencies join them in a bond much tighter than their years suggest. Initially formed when childhood friends, bassist Dalton Allison and guitarist Matt Williams, met keyboardist and guitarist Jake Hirshland, the band’s sound began to take shape when the three enlisted some more pals from both the Chicago music scene and through their time working at local burger joints. Rounding out the band’s lineup, Post Animal is completed by drummer Wesley Toledo and guitarists Javi Reyes and Joe Keery. Though Post Animal’s live shows have long proven that swirling riffs are the band’s bread-and-butter, it’s earworms like “Ralphie” that show how easily they can churn out an infectious pop melody. “Ralphie” isn’t the only song that finds the band sharing lead vocal duties. In fact, each band member contributes vocals, like Hirshland’s mesmerizing turn on “Castle” or Williams’ punchy performance on “Heart Made of Metal.” Other songs, like the dynamic “Gelatin Mode,” shift from a lighthearted experience in dueling lead guitars to a face-melting dose of sludge with ease. But most importantly, When I Think Of You In A Castle is a testament to not only the brotherly connection that these friends share, but also to the power of collaboration between like-minded musicians who just get one another. Almost impossible to describe, the Post Animal bond is best observed while foolin’ at the merch table after a sweaty show. They look forward to seeing you there and, naturally, becoming your new best friends.

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Palm

 Photo by Shawn Brackbill

Photo by Shawn Brackbill

Palm plays rock music backwards. Eve Alpert and Kasra Kurt's guitars occupy themselves most often with the pace-keeping work typical of a rhythm section. Meanwhile, Gerasimos Livitsanos' bass and Hugo Stanley's drums perform commentary and reportage from their deeply embedded positions at the front. The band is firmly attached to the physicality of rock, but not as much its tone; their instruments tend to sound like any number of things at any given time.

None of the members of Palm are formally trained on their instruments. The band formed in 2011 at college in Upstate New York, when high school friends Eve and Kasra met Gerasimos and Hugo. In those early days, the band was just beginning to forge its collective musical identity through experiments in recording and performing live.

Their first album, Trading Basics (2015), was written in Hudson, NY, a riverside outpost where the group could clarify its intentions outside the direct influence of nearby cultural capitals. That year, the members of Palm relocated to Philadelphia, where they continue to live only a few blocks apart from one another. This proximity has facilitated a level of collaboration necessary for a sound so slippery to remain in the firm grasp of its players.

On 2017's Shadow Expert EP, they made use of the steady hand granted by a tireless touring schedule, cutting their songs to efficiencies of pop confection without sacrificing the avant-adventurism at the center. The effort was met with praise from such outlets as Pitchfork, Stereogum, Spin, and Tiny Mix Tapes, who likened the sound variously to Stereolab, Slint, Sonic Youth and Broadcast. With Rock Island (2018), Palm excuses the company of these myriad influences with a sly brush of a hand, ushering the listener into a new domain, thrillingly strange for all its familiarity.

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Caamp

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Evan plays the banjo, Taylor plays the guitar and together they slam stages as the power duo Caamp. The childhood friends have been writing songs since 2012 and began performing as Caamp in 2015. In March of 2016, the duo released their self-titled debut record that has since put them on the map. Caamp is known for their heartfelt sound, and authentic live shows that leave their loyal crowds with hearts pounding. Taylor and Evan are two good gentlemen, writing good music, and plan on... Caamping til' they croak!

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Major Murphy

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Grand Rapids’ Major Murphy is set to release their debut full-length No. 1 this year. Those who caught feelings for “Mary,” the plaintive single released in November of 2017, may be pleased to find that the single is no outlier in this album. Brimming with jangly guitar, shimmering riffs, synth-sheened grooves, and commanding backing vocals, No. 1 reimagines 1970s radio rock with bristling sensitivity for our present era. Not quite pastiche, the lyrics of songwriter Jacob Bullard come from millennials’ unique cache of societal anxiety and ego-crises. On one hand, the technicolor and mechanized world of No. 1 is unmistakably ours: we are over-stimulated and pressured, confused and frustrated. On the other, Bullard heaves up worries seeded in adult selfhood and relationships, working for answers beyond life’s many brief and manic vanities. The album’s musical sensibilities catch all this with A-side’s sudden velocity and mechanical repetitions, and B side’s encouraging grooves and contemplative soft-rock. The sound is rich and evocative, owing in large measure to bassist Jacki Warren’s faculty for harmonic structure. Drummer Brian Voortman’s keen responsiveness to melodic progressions and emotional shifts make for concert-like, energetic recordings--in fact, most of No. 1 was recorded live, capturing how naturally Major Murphy makes music together. 

EPs Future Release and On & Off Again were demoed and recorded at home around life’s many, ever-shifting details—personal schedules, babysitter availability, practice space needs and changes, and so on. When Future Release came out shortly after the band formed in 2015, Bullard remembers telling Warren and Voortman that they have no responsibility to that tape when performing. Their intention together as a band has always focused on what they do live, figuring out what and how they like to play together, rather than “trying to mimic a bedroom recording.” No. 1 is the culmination of that time and ethos: three years of exploring their musical interests and their natural dynamic. Together, they’re intuitive and involved; Warren quickly memorizing song structures and identifying all possible harmonies to Bullard’s initial guitar and vocals. “She really helps with dynamics of a song, knowing when to apply a root or a 5th in a chord, suspending or solidifying the musical movement,” says Bullard, “She has a great knack for reaching at a rhythmic element of a song too, and not flinching.” Voortman has an acute ability to play off subtle shifts in the melody of a song. “Playing with him on drums, while I'm singing with guitar, I get very fast feedback…If I even lessen or increase my intensity, Brian will respond,” says Bullard. “That is exciting for me because in some ways you never know what will happen, and in my mind, it makes the two of us be ready for anything (playing environment, mood, style) because we can listen.”

When Major Murphy tours, they travel in a light-blue Plymouth Voyager van and make a memorably caring and playful threesome. On stage, they’re a tight and assertive performance. “This album is kind of an experiment,” says Bullard, “We wanted to see what would happen if we recorded in a studio instead of at home. We wanted to extend the idea of capturing our live dynamic a little further.” The result is an album that holds the kinetic charge of these three musicians. With precise control and live versatility, they never quite let the tension out. Even their dreamy soft-rock tracks have moments that feel utterly urgent, as if something dear were at stake. And isn’t there? Major Murphy’s No. 1 releases via Winspear on March 30, 2018.

- Michelle Gottschlich

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Common Holly

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Born in New York and raised in Montreal, Common Holly (AKA Brigitte Naggar) puts unpredictable compositional elements into a singer-songwriter/folk framework, packaged in textured, eclectic electro-acoustic production. Her forthcoming album, Playing House, contemplates the notion that it is conscious thought and deliberate action that defines and cements maturation from child to adult.

‘If After All’ demonstrates Common Holly’s astonishing ability to structure and compose highly intelligent yet incredibly emotive songs. Beyond the compositional intricacy of each section, the real beauty and genius of the song can be found in how Naggar uses the meaning of the lyrics to mirror the structure of the music. Naggar sings about her difficulty moving forward from broken relationships, of attempting not to slip back into old vices but feeling hopelessly trapped in a cycle of failed recollection. She expresses a strong need to move forward, to progress and grow, a sentiment which is unmistakably mirrored in the way the music evolves within the track. 

‘If After All’ consists of three distinct sections: First, a collage of playful and mechanic percussion fills, swirling guitar harmony and deliberate vocals. Each instrument is ostensibly independent of each other; yet, collectively, each part fits together to create an intentional musical illustration. The second section mellows into somewhat of a tempered Angel Olsen singing over a Godspeed You! Black Emperor string arrangement that slowly but brutally climbs towards its peak. It finds its climax in the third section, a Mitski (see: Your Best American Girl) or Radiohead (see: Paranoid Android) almost math rock finish.

At no other moment in the song does the parallel of lyric and structure become more evident than in the final seconds of the track. Despite the erratic sounds around her, Naggar remains calm, attempting to move forward but ultimately relapsing: “I will always forget, any way you spin it”. 

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