Tag Archives: Positive No

2017 in Review: RVA

2017 was fucked up in a truly barf-inducing cornucopia of ways, but I can point to one way in which it was unreasonably generous — how many of this city’s talented and creative musicians I had the opportunity to meet and interview. It’s an honor to experience so directly the warmth and kindness of this city’s creators. These conversations mean the world to me, and each one makes me want to redouble my efforts and get the word out about the amazing things this city’s musicians are capable of.

Speaking of what #rvamusic is capable of, here’s my list of favorite Richmond albums, with quotes from the folks I chatted with. To those people and everyone else on this list: Thank you for giving me the gift of inspiration throughout a truly messed up year.

Afro-Zen Allstars — Greatest Hits

From my River City Magazine interview with Afro-Zen bandleader George M. Lowe:

“I do this stuff to increase the amount of joy in the world. Nothing brings people together quite like music does, and being exposed to the musical culture of some other place can result in understanding more and grasping the fact that people are much more alike than they are different.”

Afro-Zen All Stars — “Cha Cha” [Bandcamp]

Saw Black — Azalea Days

So you know how Spotify spits out stats at the end of the year? My top songs were all from Moana or the Trolls movie, because I’m no longer the boss of my own car stereo. Also the Monster Mash. Halloween never really ended, as far as my daughter is concerned. The first real song on my Spotify list was “Rosie’s Comin Home.” A true crossover hit — dad and daughter singing along in the car to something not voiced by an animated character. Thank you, Saw Black. There are only so many times you can listen to the Monster Mash before you start unraveling. Yes, that was a mummy pun. I really need a break from the Monster Mash. By the way, what other song requires “the” before its title and therefore looks prohibitively strange inside quotation marks? I’ve gone back and forth about how to punctuate this paragraph for longer than I’d like to admit.

Saw Black — “Rosie’s Comin Home” [Spotify/iTunes]

Butcher Brown — Live at Vagabond

RVA Magazine was kind enough to let me review this one. Here’s a snippet:

Live at Vagabond captures both the energy of the crowd and the virtuosity of individual instrumentalists with remarkable clarity, giving listeners a taste of Devonne Harris’ compositional gifts, his adventurous approach to keys, and the ensemble’s knack for seizing the moment.

Butcher Brown — “Tunnelvision” [Spotify/iTunes]

Camp Howard — Juice

The title track is a true jam. I heard the band say they approached the instrumental work on “Juice” like they might have if they were using sampled sounds. It’s a neat thought experiment, and it resulted in a really great tune.

Camp Howard — “Juice” [Spotify/iTunes]

Dazeases — Local Slut

From my RVA Magazine interview with Dazeases:

Nevertheless, her performance style is self-made and singular. She prefers low lighting; just the night before, at a show in Charlottesville, she improvised her own ambiance using lamps she found at the venue. “Any photos — if you see a lamp on a chair, that was me.” And she described an approach to organizing set lists that involves front-loading upbeat material. “It’s really cool to watch that tone change or make that tone change happen,” she said. “I usually do an emotional slope in my sets, so it’ll start out as positive as I get for my music — it’s not really positive or happy by nature — and then just drag it down. Down, down, down. Like, unrelenting.”

Dazeases — “Laurel” [Spotify/YouTube]

DJ Harrison — Hazymoods

RVA Magazine let me review this one as well. It truly is an honor to document Devonne Harris’ brilliance as it unfolds. Here’s a section of that review:

Newcomers to the respected RVA collaborator’s solo work will get a sense for his keen ear — how he can blend disparate sounds, often from his own storied output as a producer and multi-instrumentalist, and make a cohesive musical moment.

DJ Harrison — “ProcessFresh” [Spotify/Bandcamp]

Thorp Jenson — Odessa

Another one RVA Magazine let me blurb:

It plays like an expertly crafted survey of styles from the last 60 years, from Stones riffs and heartland rock to country waltzing and soul not unlike Matthew E. White’s. Well-worn and world-class, right out of the gate.

Thorp Jenson — “Odessa” [Spotify/iTunes]

Sid Kingsley — Good Way Home

I was also fortunate enough to interview Sid Kingsley this year. What a brilliant, friendly, and humble person. If I were to assign a Revelation of the Year, it would be Kingsley’s voice. Arresting in the best way imaginable.

People assume that I’m influenced, and I’m trying to emulate some of these [singers]. Singing is totally a newer thing for me. It’s even newer than the piano, because I was definitely just playing piano and not singing at all. Super-bashful about it. I haven’t tried to emulate anyone vocally. Saxophone – I used to try to emulate Charlie Parker, Joshua Redman. But with my voice, I just sing. This is what I sound like.

Sid Kingsley — “Sam Stone” [Spotify/iTunes]

Minor Poet — And How!

I’ve written a bunch about And How!, and Andrew Carter was kind enough to call an article I wrote the definitive retelling of how the album took shape. Here’s a link — hopefully it gives you a sense of Carter’s love for the recording process. It was a truly inspiring conversation.

That curiosity led to years of experimenting with the recording process, and if there’s one thing And How! makes perfectly clear, it’s that Andrew Carter loves to record. You can hear it in the album’s opening moments — his knack for molding off-kilter sounds by manipulating sub-par equipment. “[In] that first song, ‘Plot Devices,’ there’s that weird, lo-fi stringy sound. It’s this little toy Casio run through a shit-ton of weird effects. That was part of the fun of making it. ‘What cool sound can I make that doesn’t exist?’”

Minor Poet — “River Days” [Spotify/Bandcamp]

Opin — Opin

I find myself coming back to this record time and again, finding new reasons to love it. There’s one constant, though, and that’s “Lift Canal,” which is at or near the top of the Best Songs of 2017 list I’m too overwhelmed to make. Speaking of overwhelm, “Lift Canal” has been there for me in some tough moments this year. Very thankful it exists.

Opin — “Get Home” [Spotify/iTunes]

Positive No — Partners in the Wild

The first tape I bought after being gifted a cassette player for Christmas. So begins a new era of jamming out in the car. Exceedingly psyched about this development.

Positive No — “Y.A.A.Y.Y.” [Spotify/iTunes]

Skinny-E — Brown Paper Bag

From the post I wrote after seeing Evan McKeel perform at In Your Ear studios late last year:

His set at In Your Ear was short, but he needed only sing a few lines for me to hear what millions of fans of The Voice had already heard — a truly incredible singing voice, able to ascend with ease and smokier than his years, with a natural distortion that provides texture and complements his precision. When I thought about the literal and figurative stage that he’d occupied on TV, sitting in that studio listening to him seemed like such a gift. It quickly sank in that he could sing pretty much any song he wanted to, which begs the question: What do you do when you can do anything?

Skinny-E — “Love Again” [Spotify/iTunes]

Eric Slick — Palisades

What a joy it was to speak with Eric Slick over the phone for this River City Magazine article and then shake his hand at the Richmond Symphony’s RVA Live! night. Two quick tangents: Did you know he hosts a truly awesome podcast called the Strange America Radio Half Hour? Or that his other band Lithuania (remember, he’s also the drummer for Dr. Dog) just released an album? Dude never stops. A few words about Palisades:

“These songs were birthed out of learning how to meditate. I started meditating and my creative life began, outside of drumming. So, it’s all still really new to me, and I’m still navigating how to be at the front of a stage, and how to be a performer. I feel like I’m juggling when I’m up there, but it’s really challenging and exciting and it’s a necessary part of my creative process. When I do go back to the drums now, I have this whole other perspective on how to play drums.”

Eric Slick — “You Are Not Your Mind” [Spotify/Bandcamp]

J. Roddy Walston & The Business — Destroyers of the Soft Life

Being the first to snag a copy of Destroyers of the Soft Life at Plan 9 was exceedingly rewarding, as evidenced by the test pressing pictured above. Digging into the liner notes in my companion copy was rewarding as well, as finding out that Michael York of Sleepwalkers played on “The Wanting” turned a song I already loved into a multifaceted celebration.

J. Roddy Walston & The Business — “The Wanting” [Spotify/iTunes]

Matthew E. White & Flo Morrissey — Gentlewoman, Ruby Man

White and Morrissey played four cities in support of Gentlewoman, Ruby Man: Paris, London, New York, and Richmond, Virginia. Their show at the Broadberry kicked off the tour, and I feel very lucky to have been there to see it. An all-star Spacebomb backing band, including Devonne Harris. A set of stunningly rendered cover tunes. I was especially thrilled to hear their take on Leonard Cohen’s legendary “Suzanne.”

Matthew E. White & Flo Morrissey — “Suzanne” (Leonard Cohen cover) [Spotify/iTunes]

More 2017 in Review:

2017 in Review: Live Albums
2017 in Review: Blasts from the Past
2017 in Review: Americana
2017 in Review: 25 Favorites

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RVA Magazine

rva-magazine

It’s been a hot minute since I was in the print edition of RVA Magazine — the last time was in 2012 — but I’m happy to say I have an article in the new issue, which sports a truly gorgeous cover. Look at that thing. Greg Simkins, y’all.

I wrote about recording studios in Richmond, spending the first half my 2,000 words surveying options and the second half profiling the studio I’ve spent the most time in — Pedro Aida’s Audio Verite. Aida is a talented dude, and interviewing him gave me an opportunity to dig deeper into his relationship with music and how he got his start as an engineer/producer. It strikes me now that the reason that conversation was so rewarding and the reason Aida finds recording so rewarding are one in the same: It’s all about connecting with people. Finding the right studio… helping people make albums… writing… performing… at every stage, your success and your ability to connect with people are intertwined, and I feel like I now have a fuller understanding of that than I did before I started working on this article. Thank you, Pedro.

You can read the article here (I also have a few album reviews/blurbs in this issue) or find free hard copies around town. I found a stack at Belmont Pizzeria while out for a run and managed to tuck two into the front pocket of the hoodie I was wearing. They bounced around a bit on the way home, but it was worth it.

I’ll close by re-posting “Reinvent The Space,” which Positive No recorded with Aida at Audio Verite. (Click here for more info on the song and the great cause you can support by buying it.)

Positive No — “Reinvent The Space” [Bandcamp]

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Positive No

positive-no-reinvent-the-space-cover

Today is a great day to stop by Positive No’s Bandcamp page.

The band is selling $5 “Posi 6 Pack” packets of buttons — featuring messages like “You are not alone” and “Believe women” — alongside their propulsive and impassioned new song, “Reinvent The Space.” Even the single’s cover art, designed by multi-talented guitarist Kenneth Close, makes a powerful statement — the hands you see were submitted at the band’s request by harassment survivors, and the proceeds are going directly to Hollaback, a non-profit that focuses on fighting harassment in public spaces.

Positive No is a force for good on so many levels. I got to stop by Pedro Aida’s Audio Verite studio while they were recording recently, and it was such a gift to spend some time with them and see them work. I made sure to snag my buttons first thing this morning to support good music and a good cause, and I hope you’ll do the same.

Positive No — “Reinvent The Space” [Bandcamp]

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2015! Holy Crap! Part 4: Resplendent Richmond Releases

Anousheh — Make Noise

Anousheh

When I first wrote about Make Noise, I zoomed in on “Blue Red” and how it’s illustrative of a powerful emotional intelligence:

There is a wonderful specificity to the lyrics — real and focused emotional messages that are often missing from music with the pop signifiers you hear on Make Noise — but my main takeaway has been more general. I hear both sensitivity and boldness in its words, and when you’re going through difficult times, those two qualities couldn’t be more crucial.

Another great example is “Lightning,” The burn is slow, building from the verse to a passage that would serve as the chorus were it not for an even more intense, imploring chorus that follows. All the while, you get a glimpse into this private world of motivations — one where strength and vulnerability are tuned on their heads: “Your lightning keeps on burning holes in my thick skin.” Each track on Make Noise presents this kind of lived-in universe worth exploring with patience and empathy. In that sense, this could be one of your favorite albums of 2016 as well.

Anousheh — “Lightning” [Spotify/iTunes]

Scott Clark 4tet — Bury My Heart

Scott Clark

Ambition is best when paired with honor, and Bury My Heart is proof. In communicating the tragic story of the Native American genocide, Scott Clark has issued an open invitation to consider more deeply a part of American history that is too often (and callously) ignored. The fact that he set out to convey such weighty subject matter wordlessly is where the ambition comes in. To say he let the notes do the talking would be to downplay how difficult it is to imbue an instrumental piece with specific ideas and emotions; the capacity to do this has always seemed borderline magical to me. Clark clearly has that capacity, and it’s inspiring to see the gift used to such a righteous end.

Scott Clark 4tet — “Broken Treaties” [iTunes]

Brian Cruse — Brian Cruse presents: The B-Snap-tet

Brian Cruse

From my interview with Cruse for River City Magazine:

In 2014, he set his sights on recording a new album, and he decided to do so under a new name – the B-Snap-tet… Under the guiding hand of Minimum Wage Recording owner Lance Koehler, who also recorded and engineered Con Legno, Cruse produced a truly eclectic listening experience, from the hip-hop-inspired “Nightlight” to the album’s meditative centerpiece, “26.1,” which takes on the grave topic of the previous year’s Boston Marathon bombing.

Brian Cruse presents: B-Snaptet — “Side Steppin’” [Spotify/iTunes]

The Diamond Center — Crystals for the Brass Empire

Diamond Center

From when I first posted about the album in October:

Crystals is excellent; I got my vinyl copy a few Fridays back and felt transported — each track felt like it was dropping me on the set of a different old movie.

The Diamond Center — “Bones” [Spotify/iTunes]

Manatree — Manatree

Manatree

From my review of the album:

A glowing YHT review of this album is long overdue. Same goes for Manatree’s live show — both are polished and powerful to a degree that’s rare for a band promoting a debut full-length. These songs are so sharp, precisely pivoting from clean to heavy, all the while building melodies that hold tracks together. The word “agile” comes to mind. This is the music Fender guitars dream of when they’re not being played.

Manatree — “Fat Jackson” [Spotify/iTunes]

No BS! Brass Band — Brass Knuckles

No BS Brass Band

From my review of the album:

I don’t think No BS! will stop acting as ambassadors of Richmond fun anytime soon, but judging by their new album, Brass Knuckles, they have their eyes set on an even bigger role. By taking up the banner of social justice in songs like “Act Like You Know” and “Tyrannis,” the group is using their force-of-nature arrangements and abilities to amplify the voices of those in the community who are taking progressive stances on issues related to race, inequality, and policing.

No BS! Brass Band — “Brass Knuckles” [Soundcloud/iTunes]

Positive No — Glossa

Positive No

I’ve written about Glossa a few times since its release (check those posts out here, here, and here), and I was so thrilled to see “Pedal Through” included on NPR’s favorite songs list. Congrats to Positive No on an excellent year!

Positive No — “Pedal Through” [Bandcamp]

Natalie Prass — Natalie Prass

Natalie Prass

From my RVA Mag blurb:

This was the album I reached for when friends and family came for dinner or a visit. I loved playing them “It Is You,” a marvel of a song, and hearing the beat to “Bird Of Prey” and the powerful conclusion of “My Baby Don’t Understand Me” meant pinching myself — reconfirming that this phenomenon, with roots in Richmond, was real.

Natalie Prass — “Why Don’t You Believe In Me” [Spotify/iTunes]

Sam Reed — This is Love

Sam Reed

From my RVA Mag blurb:

When I first heard This Is Love, I couldn’t get over the one-two punch of “Come Inside” and “Real Feel Sound.” I kept replaying them, amazed by the confluence of soul, gospel, jazz, R&B and hip hop. Reed’s voice soars in spots and seethes in others, and the backdrop provided by the Jellowstone family — especially the gritty bass in “Come Inside” and the enormous chorus of “Real Feel Sound” — had me enthralled. It’s such a lush, detailed landscape.

Sam Reed — “Come Inside” [Spotify/iTunes]

The Trillions — Superposition

The Trillions

From my RVA Mag blurb:

Most bands would kill to be as complex or as catchy as the Trillions can be, yet it’s the balance they bring to those forces that makes them truly exceptional. “Dead Meat” is my favorite illustration yet. There’s more musicality in opening seconds than in some entire albums, yet the intro gives way to a verse that exudes strength via sparse precision. Throw in a sweetly sung, slightly unsettling chorus and you have the Trillions at their best — a powerhouse as discerning as it is dynamic.

The Trillions — “Right ’til Proven Wrong” [Spotify/iTunes]

Matthew E. White — Fresh Blood

Matthew E. White

From my RVA Mag blurb:

White’s taken his hushed vocals and preternatural knack for gathering talent and applied them to subjects ranging from simple pleasures (“Fruit Trees”) to church abuse (“Holy Moly”), Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Tranquility”) to music itself (“Rock & Roll Is Cold”), all the while lifting up the R&B tradition to which he’s making significant contributions.

Matthew E. White — “Tranquility” [Spotify/iTunes]

More retrospective fun!

Part 1: Fav Physical Releases
Part 2: Blasts from the Past
Part 3: Excellent EPs

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2015! Holy Crap! Part 1: Fav Physical Releases

Animal Collective — Live at 9:30

Animal Collective

Animal Collective does vinyl porn right. Hand-numbered (just 2,000 made — mine is 1,998) and meticulously put together — complete with a reprint of the characteristically trippy poster from the 2013 show the album documents — the whole thing is gorgeous. The kicker: From the back cover art, it would appear that the front reacts to black light. I don’t have a black light, which makes this the Schrödinger’s cat of album packaging — as long as I don’t try to verify the black light thing, it’s both true and not true.

Animal Collective — “Did You See The Words” (live) [Spotify/iTunes]

Grimes — Art Angels

Grimes

Art Angels would have made this list on the stunning cover art alone (designed by Claire Boucher herself), but the vinyl package includes individual pieces of art for each track, and I’d bet the farm — easy for me to say, because I don’t have a farm — that Boucher designed those as well. It’s a flood of distinctive, expressionistic creativity — so fitting for a collection of songs that offers the same.

Grimes — “Kill V. Maim” [Spotify/iTunes]

Joanna Newsom — Divers

Joanna Newsom

Much like Art Angels, there’s an insert for each song in the Divers vinyl package, but these feel more practical. The designs are simpler, and they function nicely as a delivery mechanism for Newsom’s lyrics, which can fly past so quickly that whole stanzas get lost. But practical and amazing aren’t mutually exclusive, and the experience of listening to Divers and reading it at the same time really is amazing. It reminds my of something I wrote about Lucy Dacus recently — “You read the song and listen to it at the same time, like two forms of art unfolding simultaneously” — except even more literal.

Joanna Newsom — “Sapokanikan” [iTunes]

Positive No — Glossa

Hats off to the Positive No gang for this one. When they decided against pressing vinyl for Glossa, they didn’t forget how engaging the medium is — how a physical object with detailed notes and beautiful design can strengthen your connection to a collection of songs. Guitarist and founding member Kenny Close produced 12 unique pieces of lyric art and put them togehter in a 7×7, 28-page lyric book, which came with a digital download of the album and a bookmark. The package I got in the mail even included a copy of the band’s entry in the Negative Fun Singles Club 7-inch series. What an awesome surprise, and what an awesome way to start a relationship with a new album.

Positive No — “Northern Aggressor” [Spotify/Bandcamp]

Matthew E. White — Fresh Blood

Matthew E. White

From my review of the album:

As much as I enjoyed Fresh Blood when I streamed it via NPR First Listen, having the deluxe vinyl edition — which includes an alternate, stripped-down mix of the album called No Skin — is a whole different ballgame. I keep going back and forth between the two discs, and I’d even recommend starting with the No Skin version. It’s a great way to take in the structure of the songs, Cameron Ralston’s amazing bass lines, the texture of White’s voice, the full glory of the guitar build that brings “Holy Moly” to a close…

Switching then to the official version is like opening the shutters on a bright and beautiful day. With apologies to Beyoncé, I’m finding Fresh Blood to be a very visual album. All the depth and shading that come from the string, horn and choral arrangements make the songs feel sculptural, and I think having No Skin as a second vantage point has a lot to do with seeing that third-dimension. (I’m reminded of the “Camera 1, camera 2” routine from Wayne’s World, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Matthew E. White — “Tranquility” [Spotify/iTunes]

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Positive No

Positive No

While running along a barrier- and spectator-lined section of Monument Avenue, I found the perfect album to pair with UCI Road World Championship racing: Positive No’s Glossa.

My rationale:

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Positive No

Positive No

What a fun week to be a Richmond music fan, y’all.

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