Monday, April 17, 2017

FIRST IMPRESSION: The Feelies - In Between

The arrival of a new album by Haledon, NJ’s favorite sons (and daughter) is always a cause for celebration – particularly when it can be punctuated by anywhere from three to twenty years in between!  What a treat, then, that “In Between”, the Feelies’ 6th album (and first since 2011’s comeback, “Here Before”) is such a lovely document of what the band does well. The newer, softer Feelies that have evolved out of their 20-year absence make increased use of acoustic instrumentation here – oftentimes, it’s the percussion of Dave Weckerman that is loudest in the mix, and the songs have a late-Velvets ease to them that bely the tension rippling right beneath the surface.  Autumnal in the best sense of the word, the album opens with the crackle of a campfire and the chirping of fauna and the title track sets the pace for most of the album – Glenn Mercer’s and Bill Million’s guitar strums nestling against one another, while Stan Demeski’s brushed drums and Brenda Sauter’s supple bass sagely keep time.  The band is in no hurry and the album is all the better for it.

Those only familiar with the band via its classic debut will certainly be surprised by how languid the band is here – most songs shuffle breezily by and the first appearance of Mercer’s biting lead guitar doesn’t rear its head until the fourth track, album highlight “Flag Days”.   All of this, however, is simply preamble to the 9-minute monolith that is the reprise of “In Between” that closes out the album.  A fully electric take on the title track, the song continues to build steam until hitting the three-minute mark, and then it goes off the damn rails.  Million’s churning rhythm guitar locks in with the rhythm section and Mercer’s skittering leads careen around it all; the sound they make is simultaneously hypnotizing and paranoia-inducing but never less than thrilling.  When both guitars nimbly (and loudly) solo over the last minutes of the jam, it reminds you of why this band is so fervently adored almost 40 years after their debut.  The culminating pick slide and feedback is all the reminder you need that age is nothing but a number and that the world is a better place with the Feelies rocking in it.  

...And We're Back!

Have you missed us?  Sure, you have!  After many false starts (read: laziness and ennui), the rockist reviews and fawning interviews you know and love are returning.  We promise to be less like that ne'er-do-well uncle who sometimes forgets your birthday and gives you wildly age-inappropriate presents (really, Uncle Barry, "naughty" playing cards?  AGAIN?) and more like an attentive lover, showering you with gifts that are both thoughtful and plentiful.  So, dig into the archives and prepare yourself for the awesome power of a fully operational mothership! (T.A.P.O.A.F.O.M for you fans of middling 90s George Clinton know who you are!) Color Is Its Own Reward is back, baby, and it's about to get loud...

Friday, December 23, 2016


Photo by Julian Tobon

The new album "All Are One" (credited to Sophe Lux and the Mystic), is both a logical extension of your previous albums but also much grander in scope. You also recorded it with longtime collaborator Larry Crane, which lends it some continuity to your past work. What was the impetus behind changing the moniker and did it impact the way you approached this set of songs?

Adding "The Mystic”  to the moniker was inspired to give birth to the alter ego and bona fide character called “The Mystic" who shows up in the videos and narrates some of the songs.  The new moniker also reflects the ideas and  themes on “All Are One.” Lastly, the new moniker also represents my return to being a solo artist. 

The album was born out of a passion to create an alternative discussion to counter the rampant dystopic themes in pop culture. I wanted to construct a body of work that created a response to the violence, classism, sexism, and lack of compassion in the world. I asked myself “how can we love what could be, instead of hate or fear what is?”  The answer came to me in dreams, visions, and meditation sessions. These ideas then turned into the songs, characters, and music that make up the new album. Working with Larry Crane was a pleasure as always. 

You came out of a very fertile musical community in Portland - did that affect your development as a songwriter and performer?

Being in Portland has affected me in a very positive way in that it is a creative climate that supports individuality in creative expression. This is a place where it is safe to “let your freak flag fly.”  It’s also a place where you can also retreat into your bear cave hibernation chamber and go deep into your creative space. I cloistered myself away like a monk when I worked on this one. 

I recently spoke with Josh Haden (of the band Spain) and Petra Haden (a cappella singer extraordinaire, ex- that dog.) about the impact of siblings and family members working in similar creative spheres. Your brother Todd has quite a bit of acclaim as a filmmaker. How did that effect your artistic development? I have to imagine that there was a system of healthy competition and support there.

Growing up with Todd as a big brother has been a great gift. We were most fortunate. Our home was a hub of constant creative activity and discovery. Todd is one of the most creative and intelligent humans I have ever met. I have always looked up to him as an artist, human being and cultural educator. I think I learned about my creative process by observing his creative process. He exposed me to great art, music, and film. I never felt in competition with him. There is a tremendous love and support between us. 

Can you tell me a bit about your songwriting process - do you typically come up with the music first or a lyrical idea?

My songwriting process is primarily intuitive, but can be very intentional and practical. I usually set an intention for a song idea, do some research for inspiration, and then let my subconscious and intuitive faculties take over from there. 

What were some of your formative influences? I think that the easy longline would be to Eno and early electro artists, but the new album has some very strong Sparks-like moments as well.

My early influences: Eno, YES! David Bowie, Bjork, Radiohead, David Byrne, Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, Dead Can Dance, 4 AD Artists, Real World Records Artists, Laurie Anderson, The Clash, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell. Classical: Beethoven, Strauss, Hildegard Von Bingen, East Indian Classical, Choral  and Chamber music. 

I imagine your songs are like children – it’s tough to choose one above the others. But let’s say you are asked to make a “Sophie’s Choice”; is there one that you are particular proud to have written or one that is particularly special to you ?

"The Love Comet” is one of my favorites as it has achieved something I was looking for in having a song grounded in form and content. The video also helps anchor my good feelings about the song.

What's on tap for you next?

I have been planning, practicing, and dialing in the live performance of “All Are One.” It’s a big job, but is its going to work!!  I am working on transferring the tracks into Albeton Live and adding video screens to create an audio visual show that is fun to  watch while being super portable.

I have 32 songs in the queue waiting to be recorded. So I am excited to get back into the studio. 

Friday, September 30, 2016

FIRST IMPRESSION: The Mission - Another Fall From Grace

Wayne Hussey’s reconstituted The Mission (finally dropping the “U.K.” from their stateside moniker) have decided to celebrate 30 years as a band by releasing an album – “Another Fall From Grace” – that finds them reconnecting with their past. Produced by Tim Palmer, the man behind the boards for the band’s classic debut “God’s Own Medicine” and commercial breakthrough “Carved In Sand”, the album sits somewhere between return to form and retread.  Hussey has publicly stated that the album should sound like it was released in 1985 (a bridge of sorts from the Sisters of Mercy’s “First, And Last, And Always” – in which Hussey played a pivotal role – and the Mission’s own debut), and sonically Palmer does a fantastic job of creating a lush, gothic backdrop.  The drums boom, the bass is prominently throbbing and Hussey’s 12-string guitar (somewhat diminished on recent albums) chimes throughout.  It all SOUNDS like a Mission record, but there is an immediacy to the songs that is lacking. 

2013’s superb “The Brightest Light” showed Hussey moving past some of the trappings of the “classic” Mission sound and sounding somehow older but also more feral.  His voice - always a beautiful, pleading instrument - sounded like it was about to fall apart, reaching for notes that were always just out of reach.  He sounded desperate, rather than dramatic.  Here, the whole thing feels dialed back and a bit safe.  That’s not to say it’s a failure – “Tyranny of Secrets” is a driving winner and few do epic melodrama as beautifully as the band do on album closer “Phantom Pain”.  I just wish that the drama sounded more grounded and vital.  As a Mission statement for a band that’s survived for 30 years, however, it’s certainly more than good enough.  

Thursday, September 29, 2016


Portland's finest purveyors of psych-pop are back with their finest aural confection yet, the titular track from the recently-released "Slow It Goes" 7'.  Chris Slusarenko and Joen Moen have delivered what might be their catchiest tune yet, a 4-minute slice of pop perfection that is big on the jangle AND the crunch!  So, as the weather finally begins to feel like fall, celebrate one last blast of summer by playing this LOUD...

FIRST IMPRESSION: The Micronotz - 40 Fingers

The Midwest has spawned more than its fair share of melodic, thrilling punk music – the Minneapolis scene itself of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s can lay claim to no less than three seminal acts – but many scenes were under-documented and bands that could or should have been huge (or at the very least, influential) simply struggled along for a couple years before giving up the dream and taking on day jobs.  The Micronotz, spawned out of Lawrence, Kansas, were one of those bands.  Initially starting as a punchy, angular act that highlighted original vocalist Dean Lubensky’s nervy yelp, the band developed into a melodic punk powerhouse over the course of four full-length lps.  With the addition of new singer Jay Hauptli’s burly bellow, the band pushed into sonic territory similar to Husker Du or Chicago’s Naked Raygun.  Their second album with Hauptli at the mic, 1986’s “40 Fingers”, is a great distillation of mid-20s ennui and romantic frustration.  “Black and White” could be a long-lost Doughboys track and their cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair” brings to mind Overwhelming Colorfast’s version of Simon’s “For Emily” (Hauptli’s voice bears more than passing resemblance to OC’s great Bob Reed).  The absolutely pummeling title track sounds like it could go desperately off the rails at any moment and it’s breathtaking. 

Sadly, the Micronotz wouldn’t make it out of 1986 intact, splintering just weeks after the album hit shelves.  It’s too bad, because “40 Fingers” is easily their finest work and showed a band that had finally figured out how to harness its strengths.  Luckily, Bar/None has reissued all five Micronotz albums as part of its 30th anniversary celebration, so hopefully they will get some of the belated recognition that they richly deserve. 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

INTERVIEW: Karen Haglof

Photo by Ashley Larson

I am a longtime fan of your work with Band of Susans, but to be honest I wasn’t aware of your solo work until I heard “Perseverance and Grace”, and it’s quite a corker of a record! I understand that its genesis came out of celebrating your 60th birthday last year.  What inspired you to look to your past for this album?

Thank you for the props on P and G! It’s the follow up of my first solo album, Western Holiday, which came out in 2014, when I was 58 and a half!  That was preceded by a 15-year hiatus while I left active playing and went back to school and became a physician. Then the movie It Might Get Loud came out in 2009, and the itch to play again was suddenly overwhelming. So from 2009 I was getting up to speed on guitar, writing and exploring, and here we are!
I don’t know if you’ve hit 60 yet, but from 58 on, it did feel like a looming milestone; one of taking stock of the past and calculating the future, as in “ how much time do I have left to do the things I want to do?” That should be an everyday question, but turning 60 really brought it on. It was irresistible to me to try to get a second record out by that landmark, which was in late October 2015. Well, it didn’t quite get out, but the record was done by then, so the need was satisfied.

There seems to be a resurgence in interest lately in the late-70s, early-80s Minneapolis punk scene – Bob Mould put out one of the best albums of his career this year, the Suicide Commandos are back in the studio for the first time in 38 years, and the Replacements’ story finally got the treatment it deserved in Bob Mehr’s great biography. You worked pretty closely with legendary Minneapolis producer/bassist Steve Almaas on the album – what was it like growing up in that scene and working with Steve again? 

Growing up in the late 70s Minneapolis scene felt like being one of the cool kids in school, hanging out with people everyone seemed to want to know. I felt like the Longhorn Bar and that music scene were the center of the universe. It was exciting and invigorated.

After the Commadoes split, Steve Almaas put together The Crackers with me on guitar, and later with Mitch Easter as well. The band moved out to NYC in the summer of 1979. From there we played the city, toured the East Coast a bit, and made an EP. After the band split up Steve and I were in passing but not close contact for many years.

Then the urge to make music again hit, and I had the beginnings of 2-3 songs. I immediately thought of Steve as the absolute best person to help me get things moving. My initial idea was to record 4 songs for video with me on guitar in a band with a singer, to post to Youtube—that was the beginning and the end of my plan.  I e-mailed Steve out of the blue and he was intrigued, immediately broadened the horizon of the project to: 1. Must make an album. 2. Must be both singer and guitarist. Working with Steve has been as productive as I thought it could be, and more. He has the great ability to see what a song’s potential might be despite a rough demo or a half-formed idea. He has been defining, encouraging and nurturing at the same time and his work as both producer and player have been irreplaceable.

To those who know you primarily from your work with Band of Susans or your work in Rhys Chatham’s guitar-orchestras, your playing on this album might surprise them – it’s very rootsy, grounded and Americana-indebted (particularly on songs like open “Cowgirl Clothes” or “Tornado”).  For lack of a better word, it’s very “buoyant”.  I assume that your playing continues to evolve – what influenced the songs and your guitar work to take this direction?

The songs themselves have come out of a couple places—one is the realities of city life and my work life, the other is out of my experiences out West, riding at dude ranches, listening to the wranglers, going to the rodeo. I hear the guitar work as directly progressing out of my playing with Rhys, and with the Susans. When I started playing again I gravitated towards open D tuning and fingerstyle to give my playing a fullness that I was used to getting in a multi-guitar band setting. The open D droning undercore pushes the songs along, and I’ll admit I’m sloppy sometimes just to pick up a little dissonance along the way…..

I imagine your songs are like children – it’s tough to choose one above the others. But let’s say you are asked to make a “Sophie’s Choice”; is there one that you are particular proud to have written or one that is particularly special to you?

You are right about the children aspect—I am pretty proud of them all! On Perseverance and Grace it’s Cowgirl Clothes. I think……don’t get me started…….

Your “day job” is as an oncologist in New York City, but you’ve remained involved in both the art and music worlds.  How do you strike the balance between meeting the needs of your job (which I have to imagine is incredibly taxing) and nurturing this other, creative part of your life?  As a bit of a professional polymath, is there an area of music or art which you haven’t delved into that you would like to explore?

Oh man, I have little art projects that pop into my head and I just write the ideas down, and hope if they bother me long enough I will make something out of them. I also want to have a cooking blog, but can’t seem to fit that in yet. As of now, playing guitar and writing songs has become part of my routine. There are many times when there IS no balance; patient needs are number one. But that is not all the time; it has worked for me to write a couple songs, then demo them on GarageBand and then get a framework down of drums and scratch guitar and vocals in the studio, and chip away at them piecemeal. But I think most of the time, people make time for the things they REALLY want to do, and if you didn’t find the time, it wasn’t that high on the list. I tell myself that all the time.

What’s on tap for you next?

Going to be playing live this fall in the New York area, rehearsing with a great band! CP Roth on drums, Amy Madden on bass, Tom McCaffrey on guitar, Melody Rabe on vocals. I can’t wait to translate these songs to live performance! And the writing continues—I have songs in various states of doneness, working on the next group of 16 or so to decide what to put out next, in the 1-2 year range.  Art and video along the way!