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Vow of Volition Make the Final Round of the Battle for Warped Tour

The Vans Warped Tour was the first festival for many of us back in the day. As young'ns, it's likely we didn't necessarily think about all that went into figuring out the bands to book and play the whole shebang. Part of that process, at least locally, seems to be through a series "battle of the bands" style competitions specifically for landing a spot on the fest. Quite a few Portland bands have been furiously playing against one another for said spot, and djent/prog metal act Vow of Volition are one of the acts that made it to the finals.

Warped Tour was always the type of festival that included much in the realm of pop punk, punk punk, emo and metal, so Vow of Volition's advancement to the final round is no surprise. Their incredibly technical, at times jazzy metal stands out in Portland's pretty linear popular music scene, and is much worthy of the attention its getting.

Those that want to support Vow of Volition in driving home the permanent spot can go to the Battle for Warped Tour finals Saturday at the Hawthorne Theatre.





Sunflares EP

One good thing about playing in a one-man shoegaze band is that you always know whose shoes you’re gazing at. And for a style of music that’s the aural equivalent of cocooning, this sense of isolation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. On Sunflares EP, which you guessed it, is the coming-out EP by Sunflares, a project said to be inspired by the isolation of quarantine (wait, better make that the “staying in EP”) the alone time appears to have paid dividends.

And the same goes for listening to the EP for those of us under our fifth or sixth lockdown. When lines like “Are you out there?” and “I wanna know your secrets” emerge from the layers of fuzz and flange they sound eerily familiar as they’re questions I’ve been asking myself after sitting at home for the whole night, drinking an entire case of Bud Light that was planned to last for the rest of the week or longer, but at least existential crises keep things interesting. Shoegazer, know thyself.

Sunflares’ opening track “Numb” kicks things off with some nice Lush-like swirly guitars, but any trace of Sweetness and Light is quickly interrupted when the song shifts into Superblast mode with distortion turned up to 13, but with a cool little Cure-like melody over the top and some satisfying tom-tom fills, before settling into the first verse with this enterprise’s Kevin Shields fully engaged and phaser pedals set to stun, all ready to swoop in and take out the Ringo Deathstarr. And here’s a couple music videos for those two very subtle Lush references I made because I’m always looking for a good excuse to post Lush videos.

In other words, Mr. Sunflare hits the major signposts you’d hope to hear on a 2021 shoegaze album (or shoegaze EP let’s not be pedantic here) with satisfying walls of sound and layers of effects-laden guitar smeared across this EP like strawberries and cream. But at the same time there’s some enticing twists and things are mixed up nicely overall, between and within the four tracks on offer, with shifting tempos and textures and heavy-devy parts and dreamy ambient parts. And finally here’s a video for the even more artfully subtle Cure reference contained in this paragraph.





Bimi "Too Fast"

R&B artist Bimi released a series of singles in 2020, and the most recent was called "Too Fast". Last month she released a video for the single via Pink Room Studios. Bimi was born in Nigeria, but relocated to Chicago at a very young age. She has been making music for the last five years, but seems poised for something big in 2021.

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Navy Blue "Song of Sage: Post Panic!"

Depending on your existing knowledge of skate culture, streetwear, and Frank Ocean minutia you may or may not know Navy Blue by the name of Sage Elsesser. Under his birth name he achieved teenage/early adulthood renown as a professional skateboarder sponsored by such obscure niche brands as Supreme and Converse before branching out into modeling, sneaker design, and art direction, then going on to appear on Frank Ocean’s Blonde and collaborate musically with his roomie Earl Sweatshirt, which makes sense given their shared taste for blunted beats and razor-sharp lyrics and laid back but tongue twisting flows. Today Elsesser draws more than occasional comparisons to legends like Dilla (RIP) and Doom (RIP) which is enough to make the rest of us reassess our five-year plans.

On Song of Sage: Post Panic!, his second full-length released under Navy Blue, the moniker is linked (“I been feeling Navy Blue just like my father’s cigarettes," referring to a now-obscure brand of British cigarettes) in one single turn of phrase to familial heritage and chemical addiction and struggles with depression which just happen to be a few of the recurring themes on the album. Across eighteen tracks of introspective, incantatory raps and equally incantatory, trance-inducing production, Song of Sage bridges the gap between the blues and hip hop with its emotional power and musical aesthetics. It would be interesting to test the theory but I bet open-minded fans of old-school Hill Country blues artists (see Mississippi Fred McDowell, Junior Kimbrough, Rosa Lee Hill, R.L. Burnside) would get into this album intuitively given their overlap in mesmerizing grooves and plaintive vocals and heady vibes.

Tracks on the album like “Tired", “Post Panic!” and “Self Harm,” with their unsparing accounts of trauma and its PTSD-inflicted aftermath, act as mental health mic checks (in high demand these days) but by the final track the light at the end of the toll tunnel shines on our guide with hard-won “tears of joy / my pain fixed.” Further musical solace is provided throughout Song of Sage, which some Internet heads have deemed the best produced album of 2020, with production duties shared by Animoss, Bori, Nicholas Craven, Evidence, Jacob Rochester, Alexander Spit, Chuck Strangers, and Roper Williams, alongside five tracks produced by Navy Blue himself.

Throughout the album Navy Blue has seemingly no fear when it comes to exposing open-wounded vulnerability like on “Moment Hung” where he dives straight into the troubling ambiguity of its title vacillating between states of grace, resignation, rage, and pacification just in its opening bars--“I’m moving graciously through all the nonsense / I was complacent when this shit was toxic / fuck all these racists they getting their tops split / your lucky day ‘cause I’m not with it / never fazed by a white critic [that's me, admittedly] crucial / most this shit not unusual”--going on to lament the by-now-tragically-routine dehumanization of bodycam/cell phone public lynchings that “televise the demise” of “our fathers, our aunties and uncles.”

Despite this painful subject matter, the Ryosuke Tanzawa directed music video for the song features Mr. Blue taking his adorable pooch for a walk down a snow-covered Brooklyn block and across a neighborhood park while massaging the doggie’s ears, and listeners' ears, with a melodious flow backed by a buttery Natalie Cole-sampled track produced by Jacob Rochester. Taken together the music, lyrics, and video are a beautifully executed example of the centuries-old tradition of signifyin(g) where familiar one-to-one associations and seemingly incompatible impulses are mashed up and subverted and inverted, using the language of the oppressor as a means of subverting the language of white supremacy itself. In other words, it’s complicated, just like real life.

 

Along these same lines of colliding impulses and emotions, it’s no mistake that the crossroads is the storied origin of the blues, as in the famous Mississippi crossroads where Robert Johnson made his famous Faustian bargain, serves as a stand-in for all the deals with the devil made in the nation's history and bringing us to our current state of affairs. On Song of Sage Navy Blue deals with all kinds of crossroads especially those moving across space and time. For example take the opening track “Dreams Of A Distant Journey” with a hook evoking the tangled roots of uprooted peoples, linked to the Yoruban veneration of sacred points of intersection as preserved in Afro-Caribbean religious traditions

I got a fam in Santiago, I got a fam in Tennessee
Child of Ogun his spirit walk amongst the trees
Proper dearest came from Nashville, it’s Choctaw in me
It’s Choctaw in me

Moving from spatial crossroads to temporal crossroads on “1491,” the legacy of Christopher Columbus’s so-called discovery of the Americas is traced forward to its echoes in the present--a crossroads reaching across centuries that's yet to be transcended. But in the meantime and in these mean times, at least we have music like Navy Blue's as a way to transcend and to acknowledge all those who are simultaneously bleeding. 

 





2020 Year In Review: Fiona Silver

Forgive me, dear reader, for I am still willfully stuck in "2020 Year In Review" mode and refuse to believe that 2021 has even begun yet. Not without reason obviously. So let's agree to decree the past week as the messy afterbirth of 2020 and now officially move on to the actual start of 2021 if nobody minds. And let's pray we're not dealing with evil twin years because a conjoined 2020/2021 would no doubt make those creepy twins from the Overlook Hotel look like nothing more than adorable "cousins...identical cousins." And on that note we recommend you listen to "2020," a song released by Fiona Silver near the end of the year, to help us usher it out the door and into oblivion: 

Fittingly for its subject, the song is a blooze-rockin' gutbucket punch to the gut but just think what it's doing for your abs. Fiona's lyrics liken the year just past...whoops I mean about to pass...to a petty thief (maybe a slumlord too judging by imagery in the video) and then to a leather daddy who likes to play rough. It all builds to a frenetic guitar solo and a sound collage of news reports laying out some of the lowlights of the year before thankfully wrapping up with a final rousing chorus.

Speaking of all things fit for a masochist, back in the halcyon days of January 2020 Ms. Silver released what turned out to be an oracular track for January of this year called "Violence" whose lyrics describe abuse and its aftermath ("My sweet Lord, you bring me down / swinging low sweet chariot of sound / violence, I hit the ground [...] will you come and dig me out / six feet under no voice left to shout / pushing daisies I'm home sweet home") but this song comes swaddled in a funky uptown arrangement with a strong Daptone vibe which creates quite the interesting juxtaposition. Check out the live rendition below with full-on horn section and wah-wah pedal in full effect.  

"Violence" could soon also be found on Fiona's Hostage of Love EP released on Valentine's Day appropriately enough. These five songs are plenty enough for our guitarist-songwriter-chanteuse to show off her range--the slow burning title track being one example and the mid-tempo groover "Hot Tears" being another. Now, this may be wishful thinking and at the risk of jinxing it, here's hoping 2021 shows us some of its range soon by getting as far the f*** away from 2020 as humanly and humanely possible. (Jason Lee)

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