Listen: New Phantogram Track ‘In a Spiral’ is Unapologetically Apocalyptic

Image by Eliot Lee Hazel 

 

 

It’s not unfamiliar territory for Phantogram – considering their 2016 track “Run Run Blood” was no bundle of cheer. And the dark synth-pop duo’s newest single “In a Spiral” again announces its harrowing position right in the title.

Recorded in Joshua Tree, its bleak lyrical viewpoint pulls no punches: “I can see the end is coming round / Every day, every day, in a spiral / Better help me now, I’m going down,” howls singer Sarah Barthel. Musically, it opens with a chilling, operatic screech, before settling into ominous, Depeche-Mode-like atmospherics, with a menacing beat, and funereal but opulent synthesized strings. Despite its personal overtones, one needn’t work hard to read into its apocalyptic metaphors – certainly nodding to the current socio-political zeitgeist.

“I started chopping up sample patterns, and we all messed around with a few analogue synths ’till we found the right vibe,” says Barthel’s musical accomplice Josh Carter. “There’s a lot of energy in this song with dark, interesting wordplay. An inspiring feeling of making music in the desert. Beauty in desolation.”

If the world doesn’t end, Phantogram will play a House of Vans show in Philadelphia this Friday, October 11, before gigs in Bilbao, Mexico City and the U.S. throughout November and December.

 

Bourbon + Boots: An Epicurean Weekend in Austin

 

 

Last week was a big one. We all heaved a collective sigh when a whistleblower stood up to White House corruption – could the Republic be spared after all? As the pundits speculated, we were ready do what any self-respecting American would in times like these: drink bourbon. 

Turns out, Texas is the place to find it. Dan Garrison, owner and founder of Garrison Brothers Distillery, hosted us in Austin, as we experienced firsthand the process of making and drinking Texas Straight Bourbon. From red and rural Hye, to weird and wonderful Austin, we sipped, swirled, tasted, and toed the line of political discourse. By week’s end, we found ourselves enthralled with Austin’s charm, Hill Country’s bucolic farmland, and the hospitable (and decidedly un-P.C.) cast of characters we encountered along the way.

Here’s what we did.

 

 

 

Garrison at the Fairmont Austin

We started our journey at the Fairmont Austin, a 1,048-room high-rise located off Red River Street, adjacent to the Sir Swante Palm Neighborhood Park downtown. The hotel’s enormity does not eclipse its charisma, and the space echoed its surroundings with local art, design, and music throughout. Fairmont Austin prides themselves, as Texans do, on imbuing the South Central spirit wherever they can. 
We met the Garrison Brothers at the aptly named restaurant, Garrison (purely a coincidence we were told) run by Chef Jason Purcell – formerly of such temples of gastronomy as Bouchon and Aureole. Over dinner, the gentlemen showed us the bonds bourbon can forge, and the delightfully effervescent cocktails it can anchor. 
The chef’s tasting menu featured items like citrus cured snapper and a creamy foie gras tart, paired with bourbon-based cocktails thoughtfully crafted by Andrew Grenz, the hotel’s beverage majordomo. One table favorite was the “Farrah’s Watching,” a zesty concoction made with – naturally – bourbon, amontillado sherry, corn, lemon, and celery bitters. 
Beyond the name, there was a natural kinship between the two Garrisons. From the wood-paneled walls, to the restaurant’s commitment to “open flame, wafting smoke, and high-quality meats” – all signs pointed to a Texas-born bourbon pairing, and the Garrison Brothers stepped seamlessly into the role. 

 

Garrison Brothers Distillery  

The next day we found out just where this bourbon comes from. On a winding hour plus drive to the Garrison Brothers distillery, we bore witness to America the Beautiful in some of its most rural forms: broad blue skies, cartoonish white clouds, tree-lined hills, and acre upon acre of ranches bearing lone stars, wood-burned signage, and the occasional Trump banner.   
Hye (part of Hill Country) is rapidly becoming a destination for alcoholic beverage production, specifically wine, artisanal beers, and bourbon. The hills are made of limestone, which removes iron from local streams and creeks. Iron is the mortal enemy of any whiskey, which is why Kentucky makes such a great breeding ground for bourbon: the entire central portion of the state sits on a shelf of limestone. 
Garrison realized the opportunity and capitalized on it. In 2007, he released his first run of Garrison Brothers bourbon – 2,000 bottles that sold out almost instantly; it was the first made outside of Kentucky and Tennessee since Prohibition. (Bourbon has to be American-made, but it does not have to be Kentucky-made.) He knew he was on to something. They now bottle some of the finest, richest bourbon on both sides of the Mississippi. We were more than happy to confirm just that.

 

 

Pitchfork Pretty + C.L. Butaud

Once back in East Austin, we made our way to Pitchfork Pretty, a vibrant, upscale eatry embracing the city’s local quirks and newfound cosmopolitan sensibilities. Executive Chef Max Snyder relies on local, seasonal ingredients from the restaurant’s own garden down the road, and the menu offered a unique collection of experimental-meets-down-home classics like habanero vinegar–brined fried chicken and poached quail eggs. 
It was here we also met Randy Hester, purveyor and founder of Texas-based C.L. Butaud wines. Hester was yet another friend of Garrison Brothers (we sensed a theme), and for the night provided a sampling of his 2017 Tempranillo and 2018 Albariño, the latter was aged in whiskey barrels. He’s one of a few attempting to elevate Texas wine culture, and he’s got the chops to do it: he worked at some of the best wineries in Napa, including Cakebread, Realm, and Colgin. While continuing to perfect the craft in a new climate, with new growers, he’s keeping his sales local for now. But we imagine it’s only a matter of time before his labels – some designed by artist Deer Dana – start popping up in the best wine shops around the country.  

 

 

Hillside Farmacy

For brunch the following day, we hit the seriously charming Hillside Farmacy. The building where the restaurant resides was originally built in the 1950s as Hillside Drug Store. It closed in the ‘70s, but the restaurateurs swooped in to revive the space, while maintaining its classic ambiance. 
The design – white-tiled backsplashes, copper-plated bar seats, and antique china cabinets – harkens back to its ‘50s pharmacy roots, but the menu is decidedly modern and fresh. The chef indulged us with a selection of brunch favorites like buttermilk pancakes with blackberry compote, BBQ shrimp with lobster gravy and grits, and a Monte Cristo sandwich we still can’t stop thinking about. 

 

 

HELM Boots 

Brunch, as it does, inevitably led to shopping – and we were fortunate to get acquainted with a local Austin favorite, HELM Boots. Owner Joshua Bingaman sat on a floor cushion in the store on East 11th Street and told us about the inspiration behind creating HELM. A former sneakerhead (he and his brother owned the wildly popular Subterranean Shoe Room in the Mission District in San Francisco), he recalled a pair of his grandfather’s work boots. “The boots, his coveralls, and his Lucky Strikes were what I remember most.”
Much like Garrison Brothers endeavored to transform perceptions about bourbon being exclusive to Kentucky, Bingaman shows there’s more to Texas than cowboy boots. A meld of hiking boot, dress boot, and moccasin, HELM even include a little nod to sneakerheads in their design: the white rim of rubber around the sole. 

 

 

South Congress

Our journey ended at South Congress Cafe, located on one of Austin’s more renowned avenues. Bunkhouse Group’s trendy Hotel St. Cecilia, Guero’s Tacos, the legendary Continental Club, and Allen’s Boots all called this highly trafficked stretch home.
We sipped, yet again, bourbon-based cocktails over crab cakes and beignets, and talked about Austin – how it’s changing, gentrifying, and how the influx of new city dwellers bring their own cultural influence to town. Change is inevitable. And though we may not always agree, there’s common ground to be found at tables like this one – over food, laughter, and of course, Texas Straight Bourbon. 

 

Garrison Brothers Distillery

The New Belle and Sebastian Video for ‘This Letter’ is Beautifully Meditative

 

 

We admit, that despite our generally impressive resolve, we’ve been feeling beaten down by the ominous socio-political reality of 2019. And so we have recently chosen to lose ourselves in the hopeful embrace of the bewitching new Belle and Sebastian track “Sister Buddha.”

But the iconic Scottish indie-poppers have taken a turn towards introspection on the bittersweet current single “This Letter,” with its lyrical musings of, “I’m inclined to tell you all about the truth / Years of wondering what you were thinking of / I’ve given into endless days of being a sloth.” A wistful acoustic guitar and opulent strings give it a sense of timelessness, albeit a very Anglo sounding one.

 

 

The accompanying lo-fi, but beautifully shot video follows Glasgow trio Wet Look playing and filming themselves, meta in its most charming form.

It’s directed by frontman Stuart Murdoch, who explains, “I called upon Wet Look to help me out. They play three tired film crew people, who just made a Belle and Sebastian video – but they quite fancy having a go at filming themselves, so they get hold of Super 8 cameras, and start messing about.”

The track is taken from their current Matador Records released record Days of the Bagnold Summer. The band will also play several European live dates in October and November, including the Pitchfork Music Festival in Paris.

 

Marina is Mellowing Out ‘Love + Fear’, Touring North America

 

Carrying on without her Diamonds, Marina managed to shine just fine on her new album Love + Fear, (released this past spring) including the poignant single “To Be Human” – which sincerely wondered why humans are so disposed to cultivating hatred and strife.

Now the winsome Brit songstress has taken five tracks from said album, and stripped them down to their visceral essence, for Love + Fear Acoustic, due out September 13 via Neon Gold / Atlantic. It will notably include a reworking of the hit single “Orange Trees,” a song that joyfully revels in the beauty and serenity of nature – certainly an exigent message in this era of environmental anxiety.

Marina will also launch a 20-date North American tour September 10 at Rebel in Toronto, ending up at Vancouver’s Orpheum Theatre October 9. Keep her in your plans.

 

 

 

Artist Karen Hackenberg’s New Book is a Pop Art Take on Environmental Apocalypse

 

 

“Have fun saving the world or you are just going to depress yourself,” once said David Brower, founder of the Sierra Club. This quote makes its way onto the intro pages of artist Karen Hackenberg’s self-titled new book…and fittingly so. 

The world, quite literally, is getting buried in trash. The war on single-use plastics came too late and now we’re scrambling to find a piece of earth that’s still pristine. (Good luck!) Our oceans bear much of the burden. When the aftermath of a day at the beach washes to shore, Hackenberg can’t help but capture it. She organizes the contents, photographs them “with ear to sand” and then replicates the scene on paper and canvas with gouache and oil paints. 

In the book, readers will find these thematic works from multiple series: Floating World, Watershed, and History Painting. Each depicts a shoreline riddled with detritus. In one painting, we see an empty, clear ice sack – on it a polar bear leans on a melting glacier. 

 

 

“I collect this local flotsam as it bobs in on the waves from far and near,” Hackenberg explains, “I pose and photograph it on the beach where it stands. By using ironic beauty and humor in a subtle way, I entice the viewer to take a look closer, counteracting defeatism in the face of the world’s overwhelming ecological crisis.” 

While the underlying message screams doomsday, the images border on the cheerful, thanks to her nouveau Pop Art style. She also demonstrates a clear command of form and content – even titles (like Have an Ice Day for the polar bear ice bag painting) play a distinct role. 

 

 

“My work is influenced by the ideas embodied in Pop Art by artists such as Claes Oldenburg, Ed Ruscha and Andy Warhol,” Hackenberg, who studied at Rhode Island School of Design, writes in the book’s intro, titled The Unshakeable Habit of Noticing, “and by the iridescent light found in the paintings of realist still life painter Janet Fish.” 

Indeed, her deft hand and conceptual cleverness beg for a deeper look, and that’s the whole point. Our planet is unquestionably suffering – a result of industrialization, consumerism, overpopulation, carelessness. All of us, in one form or another, are forced to reckon with it in big (mass extinction) and small (paper straws) ways. Hackenberg, who describes herself as an activist, reckons with it in her work: suffering seen through a beautiful, somewhat humorous lens. Art is pain is art and so on. It forces us to take notice of the devastation around us, but not without giving us some pleasure in doing so. 

 

Phantogram, Lykke Li Feature on ‘PROJECTmusic’ Fashion Show Soundtrack

Phantogram

 

 

We’ve always believed that clothes (kind of) make the pop star. And to celebrate the endless love shared between music and style, the 2019 PROJECT fashion trade show (happening this week in Las Vegas) has an appropriately fashionable accompanying soundtrack.

Titled, appropriately, PROJECTmusic: Volume 2, it features a couple of our current faves: Tycho + Saint Sinner’s Roxyesque “Japan,” and a cool remix of Lykke Li‘s “sex money feelings die.” But there’s also the Lykke collab with Mark Ronson, “Late Night Feelings,” Chance the Rapper’s “Do You Remember (featuring Death Cab For Cutie),” Phantogram’s “Into Happiness,” Télépopmusik’s “Connection (featuring Young & Sick), and 17 other very stylish tracks.

It’s easily one of the summer’s best playlists, whatever your musical inclinations. Just please remember to dress to kill before pressing play.

 

Sunset Blvd. Staycation: The Mondrian Los Angeles

 

 

The Sunset Strip never fails. Though this particular stretch of WeHo looks more like SoHo these days, what with how the sun ricochets off all the scaffolding. The construction is incessant, but that’s what happens when a place is as steeped in history as this: it builds off its own heat, up and out until you can’t move an inch without seeing a hard hat.

The beauty of Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood though – somewhere around N. Olive and La Cienega – is that the streets ooze all that Old Hollywood charm, but with modern amenities. The Mondrian Los Angeles, which just underwent its own $19 million-dollar renovation, pulses in the heart of it all. Even valet is a scene.

 

 

Wanting to check out the makeover, we had the brilliant idea of a doing a day and night of the old and the new on The Strip. 

We checked in early enough to catch some sunlight by the Mondrian pool. There’s a beautiful casita known as Sky Bar wrapped in flora, and a little outdoor restaurant, Ivory on Sunset; the views are miraculously unbothered by all the economic growth. After a dip, we headed up to one of the glorious new suites, which are as spacious and appointed as they get, even for glamour puss Los Angeles. A cartwheel would be appropriate; it’s big enough. There’s also a full wet bar, and floor-to-ceiling windows, allowing us to continue oohing and aahing at the view. 

 

 

Right across the way from the Mondrian we hit The Comedy Store, where the top comedians come to work out material and shock the crowd (luckily, we’re not easily offended). The photographic evidence lines the walls of the foyer: Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, Sandra Bernhard…the legends. Even if you don’t catch someone with a “name” (which is pretty unlikely), the cover and two drink minimum won’t be in vain.

We grabbed a seat close to the stage, but not too close. On any given night Harland Williams (aka the serial killer in Something About Mary) will be there doing crowd work for his entire set. You don’t want to get caught in his line of fire…though it’s truly hilarious when someone else does.

 

 

Before the comedy and after the pool, we did an old school happy hour at The Sunset Trocadero. (It opens at 6pm.) Don’t be tempted by Cabo Cantina, even though the margaritas are decent and come two at a time. It’s a tourist trap. So is the Saddle Ranch Chop House, though that might actually be worth a visit. After all, where else can you ride a mechanical bull in Los Angeles? Nowhere, pretty sure.

The Trocadero, though, feels like it dates back to the birth of The Strip. Wood-lined bar and paneled walls, friendly bartenders, seafood cocktail, filet mignon tips and sashimi toast appetizers. It’s a locals destination – though it once was schmooze central for the likes of Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, Jean Harlow and Judy Garland. Plus, if you catch the timing right and snag a seat on the patio, you’ll see the sun glisten on those multi-million dollar celebrity homes nestled into the Hollywood Hills, and wonder how the hell someone gets that rich when the rest of LA is moving to Highland Park. Real estate, like The Industry, is everything in this town.

 

 

Speaking of real estate, The Mondrian of course finds itself in the primest of spots for travelers, or in our case, staycationers. After cry-laughing at The Comedy Store, or getting looks and martinis (both slightly dirty) at Chateau Marmont, or riding the bull or doing whatever else Sunset Boulevard can throw at you, plopping into those incredibly comfortable Mondrian beds feels as close as you’ll get to Heaven while still within the borders of the 90069 area code. But not before we raided the mini bar for fancy chocolate-covered almonds. And took a luxurious rain water shower. And got a little nostalgic and tuned in to network TV. The world was our oyster at the Mondrian!

In the morning, we took breakfast by the pool at the Ivory on Sunset, and made one last trip up the Strip for shopping at the lovely Book Soup and then Fred Segal. Though we would strenuously recommend staying in bed and just ordering room service, while taking in the view of all the soon-to-be high rises next door. Because really, what’s more L.A. than that?

 

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: Soulful New States & Capitals’ Single ‘Criminal Mind’

 

 

Much the same as, say, Nine Inch Nails, States & Capitals, while seemingly a sprawling name for a band (like…how many states and capitals?), is actually, essentially, the clever nom de guerre for the 22-year-old, dramatically coiffed musical mastermind Richie Arthur.

Possessed of an almost preternatural way with a melody, come this August 2, Arthur will at last release the States & Capitals debut album, tellingly titled Feelings. Hopefully a harbinger of more of the same, the title track first emerged as a single in May, flaunting a cool, ridiculously infectious groove – sort of like INXS going calypso. Now BlackBook premieres here the follow-up, “Criminal Mind,” an unapologetically ’80s referencing soul-pop stunner.

 

 

It’s all here: the lavish synths, the retro-electro handclaps, and Arthur’s sensual, velvet-smooth vocals. The end result is like some rarefied, elegant marriage of Prefab Sprout sophistication and the insouciant seductiveness of The 1975.

“When working in the studio,” he recalls, “this tune was really the first time I ever tried adding more in-depth guitar parts…and honestly is how I learned I was capable of doing so. It really opened the gates for the rest of the record, and a whole new element I’m going to continue to build on.”

States & Capitals will be appearing live at The Well in Brooklyn August 2, and at the Debonair Music Hall in New Jersey August 9.

 

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: Emmaline’s Sultry, Exuberant New Single ‘All My Sweetest Dreams’

Image by Edrece Stansberry 

 

Emmaline Campbell is a throwback in the best of all possible ways. Still just 21 years old, her soul seems to date back at least a century or so. And when she sings, comparisons are more likely to be made not to Lana Del Rey or Carly Rae but Anita O’Day and Billie Holiday.

A product of the rarefied confines of the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music, she’s actually had a passion for jazz since childhood (her dad was a jazz pianist).

“I consider myself a jazz singer,” Emmaline says. “I have been singing jazz my entire life – I studied it and I think that there is a place for me in the jazz world. Whether my music is strictly jazz I cannot say and in fact, would rather not. To me jazz is art, not a set of rules.”

 

 

BlackBook proudly premieres here the first single from her upcoming debut EP, and “All My Sweetest Dreams” is as sweet and dreamy as the title suggests. With its sly, slow groove, fanciful guitar strumming, exuberant horn blasts, and Emmaline‘s sultry, intoxicating vocals, it’s a song to fall in love, and stay in love to. Though it’s actually lyrically about past loves.

“‘All My Sweetest Dreams’ was written from a place of reminiscing on the beauty in a past romantic relationship after it had ended,” she explains. “Not every relationship has to end in hate and bitterness, so writing this song was a bit of therapy for me – to remind myself that I can reflect on the good times.”

We could not agree more.