May 1, 2020
Brief Editor’s Note:
Long time no talk, huh? Like everyone else, the contributors here at Off Your Radar have been hunkered down since March, trying to make sense of the new “normal,” whatever that is. In light of that, we hit pause on operations here for a bit, mostly to help everyone acclimate a bit better to new routines and schedules. Over a month later though, we’re ready to get the ball rolling again today with a special issue today that lets us take a tiny step out of our normal format while still staying true to the spirit of Off Your Radar.
We’ll be covering local favorites in this issue, with each writer picking a record to talk about from a musician or artist from their hometown. Of course, the conversations veer into other discussion points with several of us using the opportunity to shine a light on other artists as well. But for the most part, we have close to a dozen album recommendations below for you to give you a little taste of our local music scenes.
We encourage you to check out these artists too, especially on their Bandcamp pages as Bandcamp is waiving their revenue share on Friday, May 1st, sending all sale proceeds directly to the musicians. This trend will continue on Friday, June 5th and Friday, July 3rd so if you catch this too late, maybe bookmark an album for the next time around.
We’ll be back soon with our 200th issue and then hopefully it will be a regular schedule again here at Off Your Radar. Until then, stay safe, take care of yourself, and enjoy our local favorites.
Released In 2010
Released By Company House Records
Having found myself on the board of a small folk music festival in my hometown, I was lucky enough to have received an invite to our region’s biggest music awards show — The East Coast Music Awards. Honestly, I recall it being a dubious event — much like a smaller version of the Junos were the artists who’d made the biggest names for themselves were celebrated. Ostensibly the artists who made the best records were the award-winners, but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, what you’d find is that those headliners would often only show up during the end of the weekend-long event to play the final gala. The real magic happened in the clubs and venues around the host city. This is where the regions indie record labels (there were only indie record labels) would trot out their best in show who might be on the cusp of becoming the next Canadian superstar — a Tragically Hip, Joel Plaskett, Sloan, or maybe even a Joni Mitchell. It was during one of these showcases where a lady named Carmen Townsend was taking the stage. I overheard two gentlemen standing next to me saying that they’d come just to see her. One described that she was sweeping the weekend in terms of critical praise and there were murmurs that she was the hottest ticket at the awards that year. The other gentleman agreed and added that ironically she hadn’t even made a record. Nobody had previously even heard of here and yet somehow, she was already a favourite.
Moments later, a humble lady took the stage, modestly betrayed only her striking and thick red hair. She was understated in a simple leather jacket and faded jeans. A hush came over the crowd as her drummer and bass player quietly took position. It had been my assumption that I was going to hear yet another Canadian indie girl hyper-enunciating her way through a song about love. Instead the drummer began playing a boxcar rhythm interspersed with the character of copious rolls — the kind you might hear in a highland pipe band. Townsend picked up the guitar and started singing and playing at the top of her lungs. Her voice was powerful, unique, soulful and had the most incredible cadence. Fluttering up and down the scales flinging melodies like spurious riffs, she wrote herself — a song called “Sweet Little Bird.” It led right into the guitar drone of “Riverrat” where the Janis Joplin and Heart comparisons began. As she sang, those same gentlemen next to me were staring gleefully at each other, one mouthing the words “Holy shit!”
(You can share in that effect by watching it here.)
Carmen Townsend didn’t release a record that year outside of her homemade demo. She eventually released her debut full-length entitled Waitin’ And Seein’. It contained those three songs from her demo in a form that was much more studio-produced, but it still did a great job of capturing her magic. Shortly after its release she was invited to accompany rock legends Heart on a cross-Canadian tour — how fitting.
After that she regrettably disappeared, never really seeming to take advantage of the momentum. There were rumours of a death in the family which can definitely have a massive impact on a person. She would turn up occasionally at local shows, festivals, and clubs — usually as someone’s guest or a special appearance. There was also a YouTube cover of a mind-blowingly moving “Nothing Compares 2 U.”
I have no idea what became of Carmen Townsend, but I still keep my eye on local listings for her name to appear in another show. She remains one of Nova Scotia, Canada’s most stunning talents and like many Nova Scotian talents, she may remain unappreciated by the wider world. At least we’ve got that one record and maybe there’s another one in the works. For now, I am Wait’n and See’n.
Released On January 1, 2011
Self-Released, Re-Released By WarHen Records
What does it mean for music to be “brackish?” To even begin answering that question, I’ll need to rewind to last June, when I was the recipient of what has to be the greatest record delivery of all time. Around 7 a.m., a copy of David Shultz & The Skyline’s Rain In To The Sea was placed on my porch alongside a Northern Neck brand ginger ale and a bag of Utz crab chips. If I hadn’t been following Shultz’s social media around the time of the record’s re-release (it originally came out a little more than a decade ago), I imagine I’d have been confused instead of overjoyed. What record comes with snacks? And why those snacks? One word… brackish. I can’t attest to how far back Shultz has identified with that descriptor, but I do know that my vinyl copy of Rain In To The Sea technically has two serial numbers: WH032, because Charlottesville’s WarHen Records partnered on the reissue, and BS002. What does the “BS” stand for? Brackish Sounds. What type of water do blue crabs like? Brackish water. And what kind of water can you find on the Northern Neck, where the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers meet the Chesapeake Bay, and where countless blue crabs scurry around, just waiting to be plucked out of the water and made into potato chips? I think you know where I’m going with this. (I’m kidding about the crabs being made into chips, though I was confused about that whole deal for way longer than I’d like to admit.) So I’ll ask again: What does it mean for music to be brackish?
Maybe it grew out of the metaphor that gave the album its title. Another answer is regional identification — like associating the sounds of New Orleans with the bayou. (Chuck Klosterman and Chris Ryan recently recorded an episode of their new Music Exists podcast on that very topic, incidentally.) My answer is a little different. It’s about how water that’s both salty and fresh is representative of the interstitial function of music in our lives. With apologies to Dave Matthews, it’s all about the space between. Music is both tangible and intangible; it’s a product of physics, but you can’t see or touch it. Music is both personal and shared; we listen together but we process it on a deeply individual level. Music is both conscious and subliminal; we’re not always aware of how songs are changing our environment, even when we play them intentionally. The space between is filled with mystery and beauty, and that’s just where Rain In To The Sea rushes in. Opening track “Against Nothing” is like a lyrical pause button: “The sun is up, the day is new / Yes, these mornings are so fleeting / And I fear that I am stalling / I know I have some work to do.” I felt that stillness again and again over the weekend when I had my copy on the turntable. Moments that shouldn’t have been something to write home about — trying to figure out dinner while the kids were circulating in search of something to occupy their attention, cleaning the living room in preparation for a family movie night — were made golden, like Shultz’s voice was filling the space of idleness with something free-flowing and incandescent. Whatever that substance is (M.C. Taylor’s voice functions similarly), its greatest gift is a sudden decluttering of your perspective. For a brief time, you can see so clearly that being close to the ones you love is the only truly important thing.
That’s just how my relationship with the album started. I was on the Jersey Shore with my extended family when WarHen announced the reissue in May of last year. WarHen was front-of-mind, thanks to Saw Black’s wonderful Water Tower LP and the delightfully deceptive Beltway Recording Company album, so I decided to give Rain a listen, despite not having been familiar with it from its original release. I played it in the car while picking up pizza for dinner, and on my phone in the kitchen while my sister’s family, my family, and my mom slowly dismantled a coffee cake from Mueller’s Bakery in Bay Head. We were in the process of trying out a new tradition — assembling in the house my mom and her brother inherited after my grandmother died, sneaking in a shorter, smaller version of the family beach week we’ve held on the Outer Banks for more than 30 years. It’s hard to know whether traditions will continue, and they’re especially fragile early on. We canceled it this year for obvious reasons. But I’m holding out hope we’ll be back there next year, just as I’m holding on tight to memories from last May that glow brighter and warmer as a result of the music that surrounds them.
I can’t resist pointing out that my childhood memories of the Jersey Shore are brackish in their own way. My grandfather was a dermatologist, and he’d sometimes trade medical care for permission to tie crab pots to patients’ docks. We’d drive around in his white hatchback and dump crabs into a bucket, they’d burble in the back seat on the way back, and he’d boil and pick them in the same kitchen where I played Rain In To The Sea on my phone. The connection didn’t occur to me until I started writing this blurb. Is it coincidence? Fate lying in wait for 30-some years? I’m inclined to put it in the space between.
Released On August 15, 2015
Released By Red Scare
I’m gonna lean into the “do whatever you want” aspect of this. (Thanks, Doug!) For the local issue, instead of talking about a single band or album or song, I’ve decided to discuss the local scene as a whole. It’ll be fun, don’t worry. (Editor’s Note: We’re featuring Direct Hit! for this section for reasons Steve explains below.)
The “local” in question is gonna be a bit abstract, so bear with me: It’s the Milwaukee–Racine–Waukesha combined statistical area, one of the definitions of the Milwaukee metropolitan area, or Greater Milwaukee. My target is Southeastern Wisconsin, basically. Hopefully by the end of this, I’ll have justified the choice of more or less wandering around this giant neighborhood I’ve called home my entire life.
Let’s zoom in for a moment. Milwaukee is my hometown and current residence, so we’ll start there. (I actually live in St. Francis right now, which is in Milwaukee County and just south of the city proper, so close enough.) The local music scene here is solid, if not entirely recognized outside of the Midwest. Allow me to demonstrate by example. The biggest band/artist to ever emerge from Milwaukee proper is probably Violent Femmes. If you expand into the Greater Milwaukee area, you can swap in Steve Miller (though not the band itself). I suppose you could also go with Les Paul, since he’s kinda of the reason most of the bands mentioned in this piece exist, anyway.
A lack of (inter)national notoriety doesn’t mean a lack of great bands or artists, though. Indeed, there are many excellent bands that are currently active from the area. Again, I’ll illustrate by example using our thriving (pop-)punk scene, something that makes me particularly happy because I grew up during the genre’s commercial peak — ya know, the Fall Out Boy / Yellowcard / New Found Glory era. There’s Dream House, who are talented songwriters and very nice in person. There’s Vinyl Theater, also great and hook-y songwriters, who put on a great live show. And there’s the incredibly energetic Direct Hit!, whose More Of The Same (Satanic Singles: 2010-2014) collection I immediately loved upon discovery three years ago. Fun fact about Direct Hit!: I spoke with singer/guitarist Nick Woods in the fall of 2008, my final semester at the University of Wisconsin, when Woods was in a prior band called The Box Social.
The Greater Milwaukee area (in which I’m now going to include Kenosha) also has an admirable metal scene, including Jungle Rot and Lazarus A.D., the latter of which made one of the best thrash records of this century called The Onslaught, and it came out on Metal Blade Records (!). Oh and there’s the always-fun Beatallica, a band that combines Beatles and Metallica songs. My favorite song of theirs is probably “Blackened The U.S.S.R.” My favorite song title, however, has to be “Everybody’s Got A Ticket To Ride Except For Me And My Lightning.” Well played, guys.
So it’s not that SE Wisconsin doesn’t have a music scene worth discussing. It’s just that this area is surrounded by cities — Minneapolis, Chicago, and Detroit — whose scenes cast seemingly inescapable shadows. So perhaps there’s some justification for Milwaukeeans to have a bit of an inferiority complex when it comes to music. Maybe, I dunno. It doesn’t bother me personally, since I like music no matter where it comes from. Still, it’d be nice if we had a Smashing Pumpkins or a Prince in terms of city pride, but perhaps it’s for the best that we don’t in an underground or in-the-know kind of way. On the other hand, we have Summerfest, the world’s largest music festival. Even if you don’t like live music, the ’Fest offers superb people-watching as you wander around its grounds. That’s something worthwhile, I s’pose.
Steve Lampiris (@stevenlampiris)
Sure, Let’s Go With That
Released On September 18, 2015
Released By 401K Music Inc
“Brooklyn’s Spires ready debut single, playing tons of local shows including July residency at Pianos,” reads the headline in Brooklyn Vegan from June 26, 2013. This was exciting news to me as I had just discovered the psych-pop quartet a couple of months earlier when they had played at Legion, appearing on the bill as “Jizzmoppers.” It was a night organized by Napoleon, a band I stumbled upon when they opened for Mystical Weapons, the short-lived but genius improvisational duo of Sean Lennon and Greg Saunier. Napoleon had impressed me with their tight songwriting, rock-solid rhythms, and passionate delivery, so I introduced myself to lead guitarist/singer, Julien O’neill, and the singer/bassist, who told me his name was Julian Anderson (although it might be Roosevelt). Maybe this piece should have been about Napoleon — check out their one album, Success (2012), if you can find it. Or follow up with O’neill in Warbly Jets. But that’s how I came to be invited out to Legion, deep in Brooklyn, and heard Spires. O’neill was also playing guitar for them, but the leader was Matt Stevenson, who had a way with a melody, coming up with catchy song after catchy song, each shot through with an old soul’s melancholy. I didn’t get to see any of those shows Brooklyn Vegan touted because life but just a couple of months later, on September 7, 2013, I caught them at Mercury Lounge, opening for The Babies, Kevin Morby and Cassie Ramone’s band. The Babies were a big draw and the place was packed. While I may have been one of the few people who were there for Spires, even I was blown away when they came out and destroyed the tiny club. Many of the songs were the same from back in April, but instead of sounding merely nice, they were now heat-seeking juggernauts of driving rhythms and slashing guitars, fully blooming with lashings of volume and perfectly timed moments of quiet. I watched a couple of songs by The Babies, but they sounded enervated and tinny after the majesty of Spires. I staggered out into the night, trying to put my head back together. When their first single, “Candy Flip,” came out that November I was amped – I wanted to relive that night. It wasn’t quite that heavy but it was still a great distillation of what had excited me about the band in the first place, with detailed guitar arrangements and those patented Matt Stevenson melodies. Things went quiet for Spires after that, until 2015 when they released a five-song EP. The sound was lighter, almost delicate at times, with a Syd Barrett sparkle that seemed to point in new directions for the group. But it was not to be. I never saw them live again and they broke up the following year. But that’s not the end of the story. In late 2017, I caught up with Jenny O., one of my favorites, at Mercury Lounge and the opening act was called Jane Church. Not another female singer/songwriter, as I thought at first, but a killer band with great songs, an uncommonly swinging rhythm section, and a familiar face up front: Matt Stevenson, now operating under the nom de guerre Jackson Church. After some fantastic singles and more shows, Jane Church, named for an early song by Sparks, came out with Calimocho Molotov! in 2019, one of the best albums of the year. So maybe this piece should have been about Jane Church — after all, they’re still a going concern. But they moved out to California so I can no longer claim them as a “local hero.” Such is the life of a music fan in New York, where the streets are paved with broken glass and broken dreams, most of them of musicians hoping to make a memorable noise. But all the above proves that, even as these bands break up, move on, or move out, there’s always at least one listener who remembers and follows the threads, in a constant search for musical joy.
Released On July 11, 2016
That was the one-word response from my then-girlfriend as I started Breaking over from the beginning. In her defense, it was the fourth, possibly fifth, time I had done it in a single afternoon. It was June 2016 and the album was still a month away from being officially released, but the band had sent me a private stream to preview the album and I listened to it every chance I got. I was still a regular MP3 user back then, so when I had to stream something it was only ever done at home, and the afternoons we spent playing board games in my parent’s living room were the best times to do it, even if it meant the same thing six or seven times in a row.
Full disclosure: I am friends with the band. I went to college with bassist/vocalist Craig Shay and we’d usually talk music whenever we were in the same room, and we occasionally played shows together, including a time when he filled in for the lead guitarist of my band. I started hanging out with them more around 2013, when they were still known as Eli Whitney and the Sound Machine, and I would see them play as much as I could. Our friendship even began to transcend music: birthdays, Christmas, New Year’s; once I even crashed on their couch after an event known as Pizza Fight 2k15 (forever immortalized in this music video).
Anyway, I wanted to get that out of the way because yes: a part of why I love this album so much is definitely to support my friends. But here’s the other reason: it’s really good. I listen to a lot of punk rock made by depressive twenty-somethings so it’s hard for me to put into words what makes any such album stand out from the rest of the crowd. But, by that same logic, I listen to enough punk rock made by depressive twenty-somethings to know when it’s well done, and the songs here on Breaking are some of the best I’ve heard.
I have a lot of favorite moments on the album, and it’s hard to narrow it down without it turning into a laundry list of every song. But I will single out the track “Friends” in particular because when I first previewed the album, guitarist/vocalist Mike Vizzi asked for my top three picks as potential singles / pre-release streams and it felt like a monumental task. After much deliberation, one of my choices was “Friends,” but it didn’t make the cut for being too “White Crosses-esque,” which was funny because I was drawn to the track due to its Against Me!-like qualities. The incident hasn’t affected my ability to enjoy the song or album as a whole, but it is a fun anecdote. Regardless of which songs were the first to hit the web (for the curious, they were “Drawbridge,” “Suburbs,” and “Letters“), if I had stumbled across this album on Bandcamp without knowing anything about who made it, I feel confident that I would love it just as much.
In a cruel twist of fate, however, I’ve seen Cold Wrecks less and less since Breaking was released. It’s not like we grew apart as people or anything. About a year ago Vizzi invited me to see Sum 41 in a tiny bar/bowling alley in Brooklyn, and I spent a day at the Coney Island brewery with the band over the summer. And the band’s output since Breaking has been just as stellar: last year they released the fantastic This Could Be Okay, while also re-releasing the Tiny Refuge EP (which is great to me because as much as I love Breaking, my all-time favorite Cold Wrecks song is “The Feels“), and putting out the split single Savannah (which I partially credit as an influence on me for finally seeking out a therapist). But as a whole, Breaking is the one that’s had a lasting impression on me. If my play counts are accurate, I’ve listened to it more than I’ve listened to North Sentinel Island, Sugar Bomb!, and Runners In The Nerved World. A few weeks ago a co-worker asked me to make them a playlist and the hardest part was deciding whether to include “Letters” or “Sad.” And when I got Doug’s email inviting me to participate in this issue, I didn’t even finish reading it and I already knew I would pick Breaking. Four years in, and it still sounds just as fresh to me. If that’s not a sign of being one of my favorite albums, I don’t know what is.
Released On February 13, 2018
Released By Rosebrook ENT
For far too long there has been an invisible divide between the hip hop scenes of Virginia’s 757 and 804 area codes. It’s nothing negative or combative. In my opinion, it’s just been about complacency. It’s two distinct groups of extremely talented people fighting for supremacy of their own otherworldly peer groups. It’s so competitive in either market, whoever had the time to look a hundred miles down I-64 for more artists to work with? Let’s flash back to 2008. I was finally coming into my own as a producer, at least in the Hampton Roads hip hop community. I had placed a few records with nationally known artists, and my name was beginning to ring some bells, at least at the underground level. It was the golden age of MySpace, and sure enough, one of my top eight, my good buddy Nesto, suggested that I take a look at a couple artists from Richmond — Canayda and Joey Gallo. Through a mutual friend, a fellow ODU Monarch that was managing them at the time, we linked up and began working on tracks in my friend Jeff’s attic studio. While some of the tracks were great, due to various extenuating circumstances, nothing ever became of them. The important part was that we had established a meaningful relationship with some of the most respected artists from RVA, and would continue to work as the years melted away. In the fall of 2017, I made a weekend trip up to Richmond to visit some family, but also to plant the Norfolk flag in Richmond by finally spending a couple days in the studio with a who’s who of the Cap City’s hip hop scene. It was beautiful. Nearly everyone that you can name was there: Michael Millions, Name Brand, Nickelus F, Easalio, Noah O, Joey Gallo. And then there was this girl that I had never heard of — Cole Hicks. This is a tough room. These guys are top shelf spitters, not to be trifled with. But I could tell pretty quickly that they all knew that Cole was on another level. You know that chick in the patent leather that slits Lennox’s throat at the end of Belly? That’s Cole Hicks. She’s literally an assassin. I heard her record one verse, and knew that I had to work with her straight away. So after that epic weekend, the three of us, myself, Joey Gallo and Cole Hicks, agreed that we would put together an EP. Just the three of us. No features. Just Richmond’s rawest rhymes over exclusively J Clyde beats. And that’s how we got to Golden Chariots. It’s a love letter to Richmond. It’s a mini-manifesto of what’s possible between the two powerhouse regions of Virginia. In the words of Little Brother: “dope beats, dope rhymes, what more do y’all want?”
Released On August 25, 2018
Released By Vinyl City Records
When I heard that this issue was going to be on our “local favorites,” I couldn’t help but get excited. I knew it would be an easy pick for me I mean, I pride myself on knowing the local scene up here in the Twin Cities pretty well and having a hand in multiple genres up here. Easy!… Or not. As I woke up this morning to another empty day other than getting to write this post, I started freaking out. I mean, did I really think it would be easy to pick just one artist from the Twin Cities?! Come on! How stupid was that thought? We have The Replacements, Prince, Husker Du, Lizzo (okay, I know she wasn’t born here but Minneapolis has claimed her as ours due to her time spent here), Atmosphere, the Doomtree clan (see Issue #16) — the list goes on and on. Was I really going to be able to pick one?!
Enter Nur-D. If you haven’t caught on from my previous posts, I’m a live music junkie (and yes, this stay-at-home business has been rough on me and I am absolutely going through live music withdrawals) and I wanted to base my pick off of the live show aspect. Nobody encompasses what a live show should be more then Nur-D. I’ve been fortunate enough to catch this rockstar a couple of times so far: from a large nearly sold out show at the legendary First Avenue with a full band behind him to a less glamourous opening slot at the side room of the Skyway Theater where it was just him and a computer seranading the modest crowd. Regardless, he always had me smiling from ear to ear and leaving his set with a bounce in my step. Beyond his live show, his music is clever, cute, and is absolutely one of the things getting me through this insane time.
I’m not going to suggest a certain album from Nur-D, I’m just going to simply tell you to listen to everything and anything by him. (Editor’s Note: But we’ll list the first album as a jumping off point!) Every song brings a different vibe. Whether it’s the geekiness of “Tyler Breeze” where the line “I’m a Slytherin, I spit freaking poison” had my White Claw coming out of my nose the first time I heard it to the anthemic feel-good song “Take My Picture” that will instantly have you smiling from ear to ear and quite possibly dancing around your house, this guy has it all and he does it all. At it’s core, Nur-D’s music is a smooth blend of hip-hop, soul, funk… okay, there is no classifying this music. But does that really matter? Let’s just classify this guy as “feel good music,” and let’s be honest, that’s what we all need right now.
I could go on and on about Nur-D’s positivity and his music, but my words will not even come close to doing this man justice. Look him up, check him out, and just let the smile take over. Let your feet do what they may and just lose yourself in the infectious beats that are accompanied by words that range from “too close to home raw” to “White Claw out the nose funny”.
Feel good music for a world where nothing really feels quite right for any of us, Nur-D is what this world needs right now.
Released December 12, 2018
Richmond and its vibrant music scene are a popular subject here at Off Your Radar for a couple of reasons. One, in addition to this publication, I also run The Auricular which focuses primarily on Richmond music so of course the music coming from Virginia’s capital is going to be at the forefront of my mind when I’m writing here. The other reason is that over half of the contributors OYR has seen in its lifetime have been either from Richmond or very close by. Even our guest contributors are skewed towards Richmond musicians with two being from here and two others being closely associated with the city. Now, with writers in Canada and England and the American Northwest, we’re not exactly based out of Richmond… and we definitely cover music from around the globe… but really, Richmond feels like the closest home that Off Your Radar has.
So as you can figure out, we’ve covered a lot of Richmond artists here from full blown issues on Long Arms and Carbon Leaf to a bevy of cameos during our mixtape issue a few years back and countless references in the other 190ish issues we’ve put out since 2016. There’s plenty more I’d love to cover in future issues too. I’m still obsessed with the short-lived, but impactful quartet The Talkies whose mix of shoegaze and punk is always a welcome sound to my ears. Tyler Meacham (also mentioned by Joel Worford below) is a favorite in my house right now as it’s one of a handful of musicians my daughter has latched onto (the others being Charly Bliss, Lizzo, Pale Waves, and Best Coast). Elizabeth Owens still strikes me as one of the most ambitious musicians in town. The more said about Cole Hicks, the better (and J Clyde helped out in that regard above). Haircut blows my mind every time I listen to them. Angelica Garcia is operating at another level right now. Deau Eyes‘ new album comes out soon and is a high priority on my “to listen” list. Mutant Academy always electrifies, as do the countless inventive producers in town (none more prominent than Ohbliv). Kenneka Cook is a revelation. Sid Kingsley is an ungodly force. And of course, there’s Lucy Dacus, one of the most brilliant songwriters and performers to ever come out of Richmond (shout-out “Troublemaker Doppleganger” for being invigorating in any setting).
I could talk about any of those artists for 1,000 words, but for this issue, I really want to revisit a record that remains a personal favorite of mine from Richmond: Errol Bateman’s Colorful Creature.
I’ve written about this record a few times — once when it first came out in a long-form review and another time as part of a Best Of 2018 list — so my inclination is to say that I have nothing really different to say about this record. But then I put this record on and a million thoughts come rushing to the surface. Some are short words that pop out instantly (brilliant, sweeping, honest) while others are more fragmented though alliteration (peculiarly poignant, amazingly articulate, defiantly delicate). Each time, without fail though, I stumble onto something new that really makes me sit down and take pause.
This time around it’s how coherent Bateman makes such a mélange of styles sound on this record. We get taste of country fills (“April Matriarch“), college rock deliberations (“Autopilot“), doo-wop swings (“Right Now“), honky-tonk hustling (“Magnificent Tomb“), folk minimalism (“Last Night“), chamber pop ornaments (“Roll Your Dreams Up“), and anthemic surges (“Point Break“). There’s certainly a lot at play here, with many of it feeling contradictory when you list them out, but Bateman remains remarkably steady from style to style, making sure every track remains true to the core of the song and highlights the relationship between Bateman’s efficacious voice and ingenuous words above anything else.
True to the title, Colorful Creature embraces as many musical hues as it can to create a polychromatic portrait that reveals every facet of Errol Bateman as an artist, one who looks to speak her truth but also use music as a means of escape. Crafting a record this way allows each new sound to be a welcome addition as opposed to an errant deviation. It allows Bateman’s voice to transcend and allows her words to carry tangible resonance that’s sometimes missing from other deeply personal works.
“I want you to drink me in
I want you to see my glory and my sins
I think you should dig deep into the bitter ugliness
I want you to love me baby despite that I’m a mess”
This section from album closer “Point Break” speaks to the depth of artistry in Colorful Creature. You could perceive a record this assorted, this mishmashed to just be a mess, a rambling affirmation from an artist trying to find a point to make. But that mess may also be the point at times. It may not make sense to have a hoe-down song be the penultimate track, but life doesn’t make sense and sometimes you just need to get up and move in a way you haven’t before. It may not make sense to mix and match chamber pop and folk-rock aesthetics, but sometimes opposites do work better with one another. A colorful painting could be construed as a gigantic mess when viewed from the wrong direction, and Bateman does her best to adjust orientation on this spinning record, making it easy for people to follow her own personal perception. This greatly enhances each of the record’s ten songs and helps cement Colorful Creature as one of the most personal and emphatic records in recent memory, one that’s always a cathartic and challenging treat to dive back into no matter what the circumstance.
There are a hundred records from Richmond worth examination like this, but if I want you to walk away with something you probably haven’t heard from Richmond, Errol Bateman’s Colorful Creature is my first choice.
Interestingly, Errol Bateman has a new surprise record out today under the name The Ebb, her new band alongside Vinnie Schoenfelder, Mike Upchurch, and Sean Reese. I’ve only done a few cursory listens so far today, and it definitely carries a different ambience than Colorful Creature, but I’m more than excited to give it a true deep dive and see just how far Errol Bateman has pushed her sensational musical voice.
Released On April 25, 2019
I had a very difficult time trying to choose which local artist I wanted to talk about, and that should be an evident indication of the amazing talent from my hometown and surrounding area. (And I’ve lived in England, where 90% of my favourite artists/bands hail from). My hometown is host to the Hillside Festival (which has been running for over thirty years) and the town twenty minutes down the road is host to Riverfest which has been running for just over a decade. Both these festivals showcase local, Canadian, and international talent which has always been super exciting for me, and most likely a huge influence on my love of music. Needless to say, it was a hard choice to pick just one artist to talk about.
I chose Kitzl as my local favourite because from the second I saw her perform, I loved her music. The electronic genre is a very interesting one and I find that in most cases, there is an artist who mixes the music and another artist who accompanies with the lyrics. What is awesome about Kitzl is that she does it all herself, which I always find impressive. I’ve seen Ed Sheeran play a sold out arena show with just himself, his guitar, and his loop pedal, and while that is a totally different atmosphere than watching someone in a bar with 100 people, I had the same level of awe and appreciation for someone who can just command the attention like that. It’s simply amazing to watch someone is completely in their element.
One of my favourite songs on this album is “Armadilla.” A combination of the lyrics, the music, the overall vibe of the song, just make it something I want to listen to repeatedly.
This is obviously a very weird time for the planet, and I will say that it has been hard for me knowing that I won’t get to see probably any live music for the next while, but I am sure it is just as hard for the artists who love sharing their work. Knowing that we will all eventually get to share these moments together again is one of the only things keeping me sane, and I know that Kitzl is definitely one of the artists that I can’t wait to see on that stage.
Released On January 1, 2020
I wish I could say that my favorite albums have brought me comfort during these difficult times, but most days, it feels as though they and I come from entirely different planets. And strangely enough, it’s only with music that I feel this way. I’ve been getting into film, watching director interviews and scene breakdowns on YouTube. I’ve been reading and writing quite a bit — submitting short fiction to plenty of literary magazines, and editing old manuscripts and essays. I even started, and re-started, and started again, my first novel. But for some reason, the music I used to enjoy doesn’t hit home like it used to. It carries a sort of emptiness with it, as though the sounds and lyrics represent a time that’s never coming back. Music is memory to me, but these days, the memories feel too far away. I don’t mean to sound morbid, but these are morbid times.
With that being said, I do want to celebrate a few artists who’ve made truly incredible work in this city (RVA). They’re friends and frequent collaborators of mine, and maybe that compromises the integrity of my recommendation, but they are incredible artists, nonetheless.
First off is Moosetrap, whose debut album Wrote In Gold is my favorite to ever come out of Richmond. I’m not going to say too much, because I reviewed the record for The Auricular earlier this year, but what I will say is that I try to avoid the album because the way that it moves me feels so delicate — I’m scared that if I listen to it too many times, I might break it. I don’t know if I can explain the feeling better than that, but that’s how powerful the record is to me. Honest to God, I don’t do a very good job at avoiding it — I listen at least once a week.
Another record I’ve enjoyed lately is Tyler Meacham’s debut EP Property. I played guitar on the record, but my part is a very small one in the congregation of talent and vision that it took to execute such a self-assured debut. You can definitely get into genre discussions over what this record is or isn’t, and how it should or shouldn’t be appreciated based on classification, but in my eyes and through my experience working with Chip (Hale, producer) and Tyler, it’s a testament to great musicianship and artistic vision, regardless of what you want to call it. I couldn’t really enjoy it for the longest time, because I couldn’t stop seeing myself in it and the ways I wished my playing were more perfect, but these days I feel a disconnect between the then and now that allows me to enjoy the record for what it is, which is a great record.
I know I’ve already broken the rule by mentioning two records, but now I’m going to shatter the rule (because why not: people are injecting disinfectant) and say that I’ve really enjoyed listening to the incomplete rough mixes of my own album, which won’t even be complete or available for who knows how long. I think hearing it just reminds me of exciting things to come once this is all through. Of all my art, it’s the project that I feel the deepest connection to. The record’s going to be called Thoughts For Breakfast (I was holding out on telling people, but screw it) and the songs on it are the most complete representation of my experience as a human being on this Earth. I think in some sense, they’ve reminded me that I’m still an individual through these times where everyone’s experience seems so collective.
I didn’t mean for this to become one long vent, yet here we are. This whole thing might seem like self-promotion, but I also might’ve decided last week that I’d rather be a writer, so… don’t worry about my intentions. Just go listen to those artists I recommended and enjoy the wonderful sounds from a distant time. Music is beautiful, writing is beautiful, spread positivity, and stay home!
Off Your Radar Issue #200