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Songwriters





Air Devi writes songs about moving and mosquitos

Air Devi is both a band and a person which is like a PJ Harvey kind of deal. And also like PJ Harvey, she's got some serious musical and songwriting chops. Air Devi, the person, is alternatiely know as Devi Majeske and she's a violinist, sitarist, guitarist, bass guitarist, keyboardist, and a fairly recent U. Penn grad who writes cool songs that come across pretty laid back at first but then get under your skin and into your heart and head. Like on the recent single “Mosquitos in the Backyard,” a song that floats by like a big marshmallow cloud and with images of “wash lines swaying” and “lush perfume hanging” to match. Except when you dig a little deeper it's not all strawberries and cream because the song appears to either be about contracting malaria and/or it's a pretty brutal take down of a pest and narcissist with lines like “you’ll feed on anything that breathes / you never loved anything." Another clever touch is how the choruses sound a little bit like a buzzing mosquito with the chopped-up guitar chords and circling bass line on the high strings so there's much to comtemplate here.

Air Devi draws from diverse musical roots ranging from first-wave punk to Bollywood soundtracks to bedroom singer-songwriter pop to folkie psychedelia but there’s one recurring motif to my ears in how she/they often combine a blissed out vibe in the music and vocals with lyrics that are a series of sharply observed slices-of-life and streams-of-consciousness--pulling from disperate stands of thought and stands of identity and even from different languages with code-switching into French and Gujarati on a handful of songs. 

The latter Indo-language is heard on “Move Without Place," a song that rotates gracefully between styles—the Gujarati comes at the end of a sequence that moves first from ambient indie pop to a syncopated baggy beat with a Bollywood-like vocal melody and then Air Devi wondering aloud “Am I colonizable? Capitalizable?” when everything suddenly stops for a split-second and a bell chimes and then it goes into what sounds like traditional Hindustani music complete with dholak drumming, which is simlilar to a tabla but double-headed, and electric guitar and entrancing ornamented singing but then it all unwinds down to a single repeated guitar note and then back to the syncopated beat with the amibient indie pop backing and back around again. The restless musical arrangement perfectly captures the theme of the song to "move without place [and] make my own space" even if one's skin and the whole world itself is "splintered" and "sensitive."

It's all equally visceral and heady stuff--a dialectic that can be applied to much of Air Devi's music in my humble opinion. But you can make up your own mind by listening to the two aforementioned singles and then 2020’s Swanning About EP above ("No Clearances" is a particuarly lovely statement of purpose). And if you need more you can check out earlier singles like "Standoffish" and "Alchemist" and the stripped-down DIY of 2018's Chicken Nuggies & Rosé EP with some of its contents later rearranged in full-band form on Swanning such as "My Landlord Is An Asshole!" and who can really argue with a sentiment like that. And then, if that's not enough, you can dig into Air Devi's Soundcloud page and find even earlier works like the anti-Putin diss track "Kremlin Bop" that doubles as a Ramones-like sing-a-long with the title perhaps even being an homage to said band. 


But hey let’s not fixate on the past because cheap nostalgia is so 2020. And plus it'll be even more interesting to see and hear what Air Devi does next. (Jason Lee)

 





Ghost Funk Orchestra soundtracks the "Asphalt Homeland"

If the long awaited Cagney & Lacey movie ever comes to fruition (sorry, I don't consider the TV movies canon) I'm going to immediately start an online petition to make "Asphalt Homeland" the opening credit music--played as the camera slowly pans over the asphalt homeland of Lower Midtown Manhattan until landing on our two sometimes harried but always resolutely determined lady detectives. And sure, the new single by Ghost Funk Orchestra is a good deal less boob-tube bouncy and peppy than the original TV theme song, but that's good because it'll help Cagney & Lacey make the transition to the big screen with the help of some dramatic, cinematic music.

Of course this isn't to imply that bandleader/songwriter/arranger/producer Seth Applebaum only writes music appropriate for a Cagney & Lacey type show. To the contrary, Seth is a one-man "library music" machine whose music could just as easily be used to score urban dramas, medical dramas, gangster epics, or even wild comedies and super action films but with a distinct golden-era approach harkening back to a time when jazz and funk and rock and Latin music and psychedelic music (and many other genres besides) often shared equal space on a single soundtrack.

Take the song called "Fuzzy Logic" for example (see video above) which stays true to its title by rejecting Boolean either/or logic in favor of multiplicity and suggestive ambiguity. It starts off sounding like the dramatic opening moments to a classic spy soundtrack or a caper movie with its dissonant stabs of brass and syncopated hi-hat cymbal--not to mention how the music video's use of color gels and multiple exposure give it a strong Bond pre-credit sequence vibe--before sliding into a groove that's laid back enough to be Sade-approved but with some vaguely uneasy lyrics (and a brief Bill Withers "I know" interlude, may he rest in peace) sung to enchanting effect by regular vocal collaborator Romi Hanoch (PowerSnap). And then about one minute in the song takes another turn with a breakdown section featuring flamenco-style clapping and dub-like echo and surf guitar reverb before circling back to the second verse and then later ending with a concise but still pretty epic solo outro traded between baritone sax and flute.

Seriously, put this song on in the car next time you're cruising around and it's guaranteed to make you feel like a total badass even if you're just heading to 7-11. Or put on almost any GFO song because they rarely skimp on the funkiness, the ghostliness, or the intricate orchestrations. And did I say "one-man show"? In reality, Ghost Funk Orchestra is more like a ten-to-twelve-man-and-woman machine because you know it can't be easy making music this elaborate alone and especially not if you plan to play live. And by the way seeing GFO live is a wonderful thing that will presumably happen again someday soon. 


So, if you lack familiarity with the Ghost Funk prior to "Asphalt Homeland," their most recent full-length An Ode To Escapism (2020) is a good place. The album features a shift array of musical emotional hues that still manage to flow together as a continuous whole--more that fulfilling the promise of the album's title. And just case you happen to forget the stated purpose of the album while listening there's an intermittent GPS Lady voiceover reminding you that "as long as your headphones are on...you're safe, and hidden" and it never hurts to be reminded of that. (Jason Lee)





Elizabeth Moen "Red State Handshake"

Elizabeth Moen rips into her home state of Iowa on her new single, "Red State Handshake". This is the first new music from Moen since the release of her latest EP "Creature of Habit".

With Moen now based in Chicago she finds herself looking back to Iowa and its Governor, Kim Reynolds, and the way most "Politicians pandering to small-town voters without really caring, hearing, or listening to their needs is one of many issues in this country".

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Ryan Sambol Releases New Album ‘Gestalt’

Ryan Sambol has a remarkable and mystical sense of humor. Across barely 23 minutes on his new album, Gestalt, he meanders through his own plucked guitar strings and muddled piano keys to highlight strange observations and theories. The name of the record comes from the German word for “shape” and is often associated with the Gestalt school of psychology, in which the whole is perceived to be far more than the sum of its parts.

 

The whole of Sambol’s career is, in fact, far more than the sum of its parts. He’s a well-worn poet and a former garage rocker from the Austin outfits The Strange Boys and Living Grateful and he likes to zig-zag while telling a story. You’d be forgiven for thinking he’s two sheets to the wind, but he’s eerily calm for a storyteller in his element.

 

Gestalt opens with tender chords that unfold like petals to reveal Sambol’s timid vocals on “You’re Still Lovable To Someone” (but it’s your guess who that ‘someone’ could be). “According to this guy / I haven’t seen the greatest movie of all time / I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was blind,” he exhales in his apathetic warble. Aspirational thinking rather than actionable advice drive his motives, if barely—“Let’s raise money for each other sometime / If the need arose it’d be good to know,” is the half-assed yet whole-hearted sentiment of someone trying to be the lovable type.

 

The power of quiet records comes from what’s unsaid more than what’s spoken for all to hear. “We met in the comments / Of one of our favorite singer’s songs,” Sambol sings on “Just Like Golden Hours”—not in the stands, not in the audience, but out in the forum where worlds apart are able to come together. The feeling is immediately resonant like a monostitch from the would-be Twitter account of Joni Mitchell; golden hours are prone to fade, YouTube videos queue to the next one and romances slowly die.

 

If Gestalt is more than the sum of its parts, it surely is a triumph. Its sum is a loosely-hewn batch of emotional country, but what it amounts to is a beautiful and poetic thought catalog of observations too small for the rest of us to catch.

 

- Mike Floeck

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Olivia Flanigan "Mannequin"

Olivia Flanigan has released the lead single, "Mannequin", from her debut album, Girl, which is set to be released on March 26th via Flood Records.

For the album Flanigan gathered together a group of talented musician including Matt Gold (Guitar), Paul Bedal (Piano/Keys), Mike Harmon (Bass), and Nate Friedman (Drums). Together they have created a sound that is rooted in Jazz and vintage torch singing while remaining fresh and modern.

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