Heartbreaking Bravery

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2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories, Pt. 5

Four installments in and this series, designed to emphasize meaningful moments- on a personal level- in music throughout the course of 2014, is going strong. In the fifth installment, Space Mountain’s Cole Kinsler writes about Pile’s Rick Maguire and Pile’s Rick Maguire writes about Yautja. Additionally, David Sackllah writes about both great film and great music (a trend that will be repeated throughout the coming year), Stephen Pierce tackles confronting devastation, and Miranda Fisher looks back on an interview before looking ahead to her next project. As always, it’s an absolute honor to be presenting such extraordinary pieces from equally extraordinary people. Everything they’ve got to say is always worthwhile and their words here are no exception. So, enough introductory grandstanding (or whatever this is), and on to part five of 2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories.

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One Night, When Rick Went Solo

I moved to Boston for work, not really having any close friends in the area. I jumped into the music scene and found a bunch of my now-favorite bands. Ever since I’ve been heartened by how sincere and unpretentious everyone has been. I feel a pretty strong attachment to the city now. Sometime in June I saw Rick from Pile play a solo set at a house in Jamaica Plain. He played in a living room to maybe 30 or 40 people sitting on the floor. There was still some chatter in the room when he sat down and unassumingly began his set with “Purse and Fares”. I’ll never forget the sound of his huge voice in that little room. It was a really cool night. I was blown away, and may or may not have gotten teary-eyed a few times. How beautiful his songs were suddenly hit me. I went solo but the handful of people I met were all super nice and probably just as excited as I was. It’s always awesome to be a part of something like that because it feels so special. I’ll never forget it.

-Cole Kinsler (Space Mountain)

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Yautja

I wish I had something better prepared for this but the only thing about 2014 that is coming to mind and then consistently blows said mind is Yautja. Their album Songs of Descent is great. Also, we were lucky enough to tour with the likes of (New England) Patriots, Grass is Green, Fax Holiday, Big Ups, and Speedy Ortiz, and that was pretty great. Hanging out with old friends and making new ones.

-Rick Maguire (Pile)

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A Case of Whiplash and Fireworks

2014 was a whirlwind of a year, with ups and downs both personal and social. I made a lot of new friends, grew apart from some old ones, moved back to the city I grew up after four years away, and began a new job. I wouldn’t have been able to make it through the year, or any year, without the great people and music that I found throughout the year. I wanted to touch on two pieces of art here that blew me away, one that left me trembling in a theater and a four-minute song that tore me apart emotionally every time I heard it.

Part 1 – An accurately named film

On paper, Whiplash doesn’t sound like the most tantalizing concept: A prodigious student at an elite jazz school studies with an esteemed yet abusive teacher. The film pulls the audience into a world of technicality, constantly name-dropping great musicians such as Buddy Rich, drawing the viewer into a highly specialized world that means everything to the people involved. Thankfully, a knowledge of jazz, its styles, or its legends isn’t required to enjoy the film. The movie winks at that, about halfway through, when Andrew (Miles Teller), the aforementioned student, attends a family dinner with his uncle and cousins. The whole family keeps on bragging about his cousin’s mediocre achievements in football, as Andrew throws a tantrum for not receiving recognition for being accepted into one of the most prestigious jazz bands in the country. It’s a familiar sentiment for many, where one has reached a level in their concentration that is highly laudable, but the people they have grown up around, of whose approval they seek, don’t understand or care about.

Director Damien Chazelle does an exemplary job of pulling the viewer into Andrew’s mind frame, that of an obsessively ambitious musician who has eclipsed many of his peers, and refuses to back down when faced with obstacles. Only in his case, the obstacle is immense, the cruel, sadistic teacher of the top class at the top school, the fearsome Terrence Fletcher, played excellently by J.K. Simmons. Simmons delivers a tightly controlled performance, stalking his classroom with an icy cool that is always on the verge of becoming unhinged fury. Fletcher snaps often throughout the movie, subjecting his students, and Andrew especially, to a tirade of verbal, emotional, and physical abuse. Simmons doesn’t play it one-note, offering bits of approval, luring in his students with seductive techniques that they have a chance at winning his approval, typically before striking that down.

Whiplash is a thrilling battle of wills; one that also shows the isolation that can go hand-in-hand with ambition. Andrew pushes away his family and girlfriend to achieve his goal of being the best drummer and winning Fletcher’s approval, pushing his body to extremes and making some supremely reckless decisions. The film properly vilifies both student and teacher in their quest to push each other to a breaking point, showing how the extremity of talent or drive doesn’t always make a person likable or sympathetic.

What Whiplash does excellently, is build up its story, getting the viewer to care about its two supremely flawed leads, and then amplifying the stakes before leading into possibly the most thrilling third acts in cinema in the past five years. As Whiplash plows ahead to its finish, the viewer, like the characters, get locked into a full-throttle ride that leaves the heart pounding, and had everyone in the theater in a tight sweat. I can’t recommend Whiplash enough, a visceral journey that felt like a master-class in getting the wind kicked out of you.

Part 2- A little spark doesn’t mean you’re the only one

Three and a half years ago, I met the love of my life, a wonderful woman who is extremely strong, caring, and supportive. I count myself extremely lucky that she wants to be around me. Before that, I spent most of my life in middle school, high school, and college, very unlucky in romance. Like many teenagers, I went through a cycle of crushes. There were times I put myself out there, and got turned, and other times where I resigned to be a sad sack about it and keep it to myself.

There’s two parts to every crush. There’s the fun part, the part where you think the person might like you back. You’re filled with joy and excitement every time you see their name. Your phone vibrates and your heart jumps a little because it might be that person texting you. Then there’s the other part, the uncertainty, the longing, and the nagging feeling that it won’t end well. That’s the painful part, where you don’t know how the other person feels, but hope and pray that it’s the same way you do.

That second part is what grounds “Fireworks” by Radiator Hospital, and made it such a poignant song that when I first heard it, it made me relive every crush of my teenage years. Sam-Cook Parrott does the astounding job of including the song twice on his album. The first version you hear is sung by Maryn Jones of All Dogs, and presents the first character in the tale. She reminisces about a walk with a friend that “went further than we thought it would.” She wonders why he doesn’t call, imploring that her boyfriend isn’t at home. She knows it won’t work, and tries to forget him, even though she knows it’s futile. She asks if he felt the fireworks, and affirms, as if she’s trying to convince herself, that “a little spark doesn’t mean you’re the only one.”

On its own, the song would be a devastating tale of a longing feeling that isn’t returned, but the addition of the reprise towards the end of the album makes it so much more. This time around, you hear the exact same song sung by Parrott, from the male character’s point of view. The lyrics are almost identical, with subtle but important changes. “I think of them often, when he gets home” is changed to “I think of them often, when I’m alone”. “I looked at you like you meant something” is changed to “I looked at you, thought I’d never stop looking.” The meaning is similar, but the difference in words adds a layer of intimacy and authenticity to the song. The events and circumstances are the same, but both people remember them and feel them in slightly different ways.

Both “Fireworks” and its reprise are a master class example in songwriting. Few songs do as good a job as capturing such an intense, familiar feeling. By telling the story from both perspectives, Parrott makes it feel real, complicated, and intense. Hearing it brought me back to being 17, wondering if the girl about to go to college might actually like me back. It made me remember these vivid, specific memories in my life. I’ve talked to friends, who had a similar reaction from the song, applying it to situations in their life. Fireworks isn’t great just because it’s relatable, but the fact that it touches on something so specific and familiar, while being universal enough to apply to people of completely different circumstances, makes it a shining example of stellar songwriting.

-David Sackllah (i am full of light)

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Reigniting the Spark

It’s hard, when you’re the obsessive type, to reconcile endings; to change.

The year began for me at a turning point. The outlet for my prior six years of singular drive and dedication– bicycle racing– had ended its season with a question mark hanging over it. Because of a knee injury, that trajectory was sidelined. Stir-crazy, restless, and of course wondering what I had been working toward and what I hoped to get out of it, that question mark only grew as time went on and the problem persisted– worsened, even. Panic set in, then desperation. Eventually, I settled on a sense of existential detachment: You know, that kind of place you can work yourself into where you’re kinda aware of just how stupid it is to be so passionate and depressed about something as ephemeral as whatever that object of your affection may be, but mostly you’re terrified, gripped by a fear of embracing the void and figuring out what’s next.

When you’re in that sort of dark place, you have to embrace what light exists- otherwise make your own. It’s an elemental thing. So I looked toward what had been there the whole time: The soundtrack, pushed from the background to the forefront.

Loveless has been a significant part of my life since 1998. I didn’t understand it then but I was fascinated and enraptured by the sounds that– as a kid that grew up on Crass, Born Against, and Reversal of Man– sounded impossibly otherworldly. That record, and then Isn’t Anything, the EPs, everything but the first 12” really, followed me everywhere, not stopping at bike racing. They were there during long summer rides, winters in the basement on the trainer or freezing in crosswinds, intervals and recovery timed to the pulsing spikes and valleys of whatever record was on. I wasn’t so far out of the loop that I didn’t hear about MBV in 2013 and my February that year was soundtracked by that, pretty exclusively. Immersed, I got to thinking about what my favorite new records were from the previous year and I couldn’t really think of any.

Of course, at that point, I was on the outside, looking in: Nothing new was making its way onto my radar, unless it was by a band that I cared about before putting on blinders. It used to be, though, that new music consumed me, as a part of– through my youth– several vibrant, active DIY punk communities. Cynthia Ann Schemmer, a friend of mine from when we were both living in Brooklyn, just published an absolutely jaw-dropping year-end piece on The Media wherein she writes of separating yourself from this conjoined twin that begins growing with you when you get into punk. Effectively, I had done this at age 26 when I decided to focus all of my effort away from that world, but I think that we’re all, for better or for worse, endlessly followed by that ghost. It haunts you everywhere; manifests itself in everything.

In my case, at the end of 2013, it showed up as that gut feeling that you get when you first hear something that instantly hits as relatable. It showed up, too, in dictating what, exactly, that means to me: Relatable is coming from house shows. Relatable is a sense of community and togetherness, which that world builds and nurtures. The friends that played in DIY punk bands a decade ago that are also carrying that ghost with them down divergent roads these days– they’re relatable. And there are so many of them. Listening to old friends forge new paths away from punk but still working within that ‘code of being’ that we all lived by in our more dogmatic days reminded me of how limitless we all can be. Seeing friends succeed while holding true to themselves is such a hugely inspiring and incredibly empowering thing to bear witness to, and it sparked a flame inside me.

I can’t nail down a single record or band that reignited that spark. There wasn’t a singular “a-ha” discovery but instead a heightened appreciation- in addition to my friends’ new bands finding success beyond basement shows, like Parquet Courts & Merchandise– for the music that had been there all along. MBV, Spacemen 3, Yo La Tengo: Loud, weird guitar music. Being without an outlet for whatever compulsion governed my actions when I was racing bikes, I dove in, down some wormhole or another trying to find music that embodied whatever it is about those bands that has resonated so heavily with me. One day it was the search for something repetitive and built around a drone, the next it was full-volume fuzz blasts, then the next day it was damaged pop. Eventually, all at once. Through Gimme Tinnitus, which became gospel after I saw it name-checked somewhere on some friend’s band’s page, the curtain was pulled back and I became aware of a whole world that had been passing me by.

I found out about Exploding In Sound Records and went through their entire catalog alarmingly fast. I was surprised to see that so many of the bands on Dan & Dave’s label that I was falling in love with were from within a two-hour radius of where I live. Continuing to turn over rocks, I found that an acquaintance of mine from a lifetime ago was making perfectly hyper jangle pop with some other folks as Bent Shapes, whose song “Hex Maneuvers” was one of my most-played songs after discovering it late last year, until their single “86’d in ‘03” dethroned it as my go-to song of theirs. I guess I really hadn’t been paying any attention at all: I had a ton of catching up to do.

The funny thing about feeling the level of excitement and newness that I found at that point is that everything becomes so incredibly urgent, immediate, and entirely possible. When I was young, I remember saying that I couldn’t imagine ever being at a point in life where I was not playing music. Though I remained a member of the mostly-hibernating DIY punk band Ampere, I barely touched my guitar in the time between my first and last time racing a bike. 2014, and the bands I heard in 2014, pushed me to change that. Obsessively, I went for it full-blast. Fast forward to the end of spring, and I had written about fifteen songs for a new band that began in late February.

Who knows fully what would or wouldn’t have been possible with or without the records that I heard and drew inspiration from this year; I think each one has been as important as the last, and will be as important as the next. It’s about filling space and finding that essence- that indescribable feeling of childish excitement and abandon. Some sort of connection. Each record that has factored into my life in 2014 has provided me with exactly what I needed through my darkest moments of reflection: A light.

It’s got to be the biggest cliché in the book to note that from even the most disappointing endings comes the promise of a new tomorrow. When one dream comes to an end, another is right around the corner, etc. etc. I guess the key is to not get too bogged down in grieving what’s departed, to continue to move forward. To apply everything you’ve learned from one path in life to another. There are universalities everywhere, ways that everything can seem to line up and connect. The ghost of the past can show up in anywhere. I can’t help but see this past year as a blur: Darkness faded into optimism, a sinking feeling of hopelessness transitioned to dedication & drive, and all along the way I was taken aback at how very fortunate I am– we all are– to be a part of whatever it is that we’re a part of, right at this very moment in time.
SOME OF MY MOST-LIKED THINGS IN 2014:

CheatahsCheatahs LP
Bent Shapes – 86’d in ’03b EP
WildhoneySeventeen Forever 7”
Sweet John Bloom – Picky 12”
Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal
Power PyramidSilence
Working – More Weight EP

THE RECORDS FROM 2015 THAT ALREADY RULE:

Sweet John Bloom – Weird Prayer
Wildhoney – Sleep Through It
KrillA Distant Fist Unclenching
California XNights in the Dark
Dweller on the ThresholdVolume 2
Longings LP

-Stephen Pierce (Kindling, writer, Exploding in Sound)

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Interviewing Neil Hagerty

At this point in my life, I’ve done enough interviews and I know myself well enough that I’m well aware I’m always going to get nervous before interviews. It’s just a given. I’m prone to anxiety anyway, and when you add in the excitement of talking to someone whose work I respect and the pressure of trying to get some usable material out of it, my nerves multiply exponentially. In 2014 I was lucky enough to interview a lot of my favorite musicians, and from Cheetah Chrome to Life Stinks, my heart was always racing in the moments leading up to the interview. But nothing compared to the sheer panic I felt on my way to interview Neil Hagerty in Denver last May.

I’m sure part of my anxiety was due to the fact that I am an embarrassingly huge fan of Hagerty and his work with Pussy Galore and Royal Trux — I think he’s the greatest guitarist of the last 25 years, at least. But the intensity of this particular freak-out was largely due to the fact that I was going it alone. Since my friend Jon asked me to create the writing section for his then photography-only zine, Rubberneck, in 2012, he has been at nearly every interview I’ve done. He takes pictures, he cracks jokes that get cut from transcription immediately, but most importantly to me, he’s a calming force. Just having one of my best friends in the room with me gives me the confidence to get through situations that otherwise would have undoubtedly sent me spiraling into a panic attack were he not there. Which is exactly what happened in the car that night in Denver. I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking, my heart from racing. I practiced breathing exercises to try to calm down. I was dipping out of a ladies’ weekend to go see Hagerty’s current project, the Howling Hex, and interview him. And although my girlfriends are wonderful and supportive (shoutout HFC!), they had no clue who this guy was or why I was so worried about fucking everything up.

But I somehow managed to not fuck up! We talked and he was nice and didn’t say anything about my nervous stuttering or the tremors in my hands. Instead, he gave thoughtful, revealing answers to all of my questions (which you can read in Rubberneck #10.) Seven months later, I’m sure he wouldn’t recognize my name, much less pick me out of a lineup. But that night I couldn’t have asked for more from someone I was interviewing, down to his offer, in the brief, terrifying moment I thought I’d lost the recording, to meet me for lunch and redo the whole thing the next day. Then the Howling Hex played and I finally got to see Hagerty on guitar. Every riff, every solo was perfect, seemingly effortlessly so. The man is a guitar wizard. The way his hands move is inhuman. Ten seconds into their set, I felt a catharsis. By the ten minute mark, a reverie. Of all the great sets I was lucky to see last year, nothing came close to the electricity I felt while watching the Howling Hex.

There were six people watching.

I don’t know why I get moved to panic over a musician whom the population of the bar couldn’t be bothered to swivel on their stools to watch. Are they wrong? Am I? (Both?) All I know is that the Howling Hex’s set that night meant more to me than to anyone else in that room, and more than anything else last year.

A month later, when Jon told me he wanted to end Rubberneck, I was heartbroken. I cried basically nonstop for two months. And when he suggested I start a new zine, it made me angry. How could I do it myself? But the more I thought about it, the more I saw the possibilities, the opportunities to do things I couldn’t with Rubberneck. And so going forward with my new zine, Casting Couch, while I know that Jon’s going to be there with me — whether he wants to admit it or not — I also know that I can do it alone if I need to.

2014 was a shit year in so many ways, both global and personal. But it was also the year that I interviewed Neil Michael Hagerty. And I did it by my god damn self.

Casting Couch: coming April 2015.

-Miranda Fisher (Rubberneck, Casting Couch, The Zoltars)

2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories, Pt. 4

Welcome to round four of a series that it’s been an absolute honor and privilege to present. Over the past few months, I’ve been gathering up some of my favorite people in music- emphasizing musicians, writers, label heads, and music video cinematographers/directors- asking each to share some of their favorite moments of 2014’s rich world of music. The responses they generated have been stunning and have, largely, made me indescribably proud of people I’ve admired for some time. 20 people have contributed to this series so far and today, five more get added to that total: Christopher Good (whose work on Saintseneca‘s “Happy Alone” and Perfume Genius’ “Queen“, among others, was inspired), Edgar Durden (whose unrelenting commitment to being a positive force in music and undying support of emerging bands has made him a genuine presence), Ray McAndrew (who’s been making extraordinary music for more years than most realize), Christine Varriale (whose work on Allston Pudding has been invaluable), and Ali Donohue (whose contributions to music continue to be endless). From a Girls Rock camp to the reunion of The Unicorns, there’s quite a bit of ground to cover. So, onward and upward, here’s part four of 2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories.

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Panda Bear’s Return and A Few More Notable Moments

I think in the end my favorite music moment of 2014 was the return of Panda Bear- according to my iTunes I’ve racked up exactly 200 plays to date of “Mr. Noah“- so the proof is in the pudding I suppose. Also I really like that song “Just Call It” by SUSAN, it reminds me of Lush when they went all Britpop. I guess it’s weird to say you like a song because it reminds you of the trend-chasing version of a previous band but there you go. Part of me wants to say my favorite moment was Future Islands’ performance on Letterman just because the emergence of a unique persona like that on such a large stage feels so rare- but I’m still kind of bummed that they named their album Singles and then “Seasons” was like the only really, really good track on there. Also big thanks to Speedy Ortiz for introducing me to Sibylle Baier, I don’t know where she’d been all my life!

-Christopher Good (Music Video Cinematographer/Director)

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A List for 2014

2014 seemed like a musical dream to me. Chris Brown fell even deeper into irrelevance, Beyonce dropped a surprise album, fake revolutionaries Death Grips “broke up”, and Lorde toured with Majical Cloudz. Really great things happened. But sadly, really shitty things did too (mostly Ariel Pink, but whatever). 2014 was a tough year, personally and socially, but it is in those times that music is present to bring us closer to like-minded people- at least ideally. The chances of a couple of Virgos ending up together in a church courtyard in a little town in the southernmost tip of Texas must be one in a million. But that is exactly what music did back in March during the annual Galax Z Fair. Somehow two weirdos with the same birthday sat on a bench and thought about how beautiful certain things were, including chance, including luck, including music. 2014 was a great year. I don’t know if this is a statement or an argument I’m making to myself.

Here are my favorite records of the year:

1. Torch Song by Radiator Hospital.

Sam Cook-Parrot is my favorite poet. Sam describes my own feelings better than I ever could. The simplicity of the music, the complexity of the feelings being described, and the combination of the two make a perfect record. Thank you, Sam. There must be something beautiful in heartbreak.

2. Say Yes to Love by Perfect Pussy

Perfect Pussy created the most sonically challenging and brutally honest works of art of the year. Jenny Holzer meets Sonic Youth meets The Russian Ballet. Perfect Pussy can’t simply be heard, Perfect Pussy must be experienced. The sheer energy that shines through each band member can change a bad day to a great day. There is so much going on, whether Shaun is making light become noise, Meredith is speaking in dead languages, or Ray is beating the devil out of his guitar. There is never a dull moment with Perfect Pussy. They’re the brave band we needed. Perfect Pussy is the band that is ready to take on the world, I worry the world isn’t ready to take on Perfect Pussy.

3. Burn Your Fire For No Witness by Angel Olsen

Disclaimer: Angel Olsen smiled at me the night I saw her perform in McAllen.

The first time I listened to this record I felt an ache deep in my chest that I wasn’t very familiar with. It was a hopeful type of heartbreak. Angel’s voice is that of an actual angel with evil intentions, like she is trying to take you to the darkest room in heaven, like she is whispering your own secrets to you. I hope to be as beautiful as this record someday.

4. Under Color of Official Right by Protomartyr

How do you describe a record that has to be felt? You don’t. Go listen to this record. Start a war against your local assholes, and use this as the soundtrack. Scum, Rise!

5. Bury Me At The Makeout Creek by Mitski

Mitski possesses one of those voices that haunt you; one of those voices that inhabits the deepest, darkest corners of your heart and mind. The effortlessness of this make it that much more devastating. The beauty isn’t the focal point- but neither is the rawness of the music. But, my god is this record raw and beautiful.

6. Bodies and Control and Money and Power by Priests

A punk band from DC puts out a semi-political record. This is probably the easiest way to write about Priests, but Priests require much more than a simple tagline. Priests are a weird, weird band. They touch on very political themes without ever being political. If anything, Katie Alice Greer seems to be letting us into her mind and her psyche rather than telling us about her beliefs. Katie is a force of nature, and when this record is spinning I am caught in her storm.

7. Gypsy Pervert by Mannequin Pussy

Disclaimer: I first heard this record in 2013.
Thoughts on record: It still fucking rules.

8. II by Makthaverskan

Makthaverskan means “the woman with the power/in power.” This record came to me when I needed it the most. It explained a troubled relationship to me through the other side of the coin.  After three years of being a really shitty boyfriend, my significant other decided it was time for her to venture out and find something a little bit more tangible and more, well, stable. I wasn’t the one yelling “FUCK YOU”, I was the one being yelled at… and it was kind of beautiful.

9. Too Bright by Perfume Genius

I sat in my bedroom wearing some grey sweatpants when I saw David Letterman introduce Perfume Genius on The Late Show. What happened next was incredible and so goddamn powerful. There stood a beautiful man in beautiful red lipstick wearing his heart on his sleeve. This wasn’t the usual performance. This was broadcasted to Middle America, to all the bigots, to all the racists, to all the homophobes, and to all the assholes too. And Perfume Genius stood victorious. And we knew our queen.

10. After The End by Merchandise

Nothing will ever devastate me as much as Carson’s vocals do. This record takes me away, like a vivid dream, as if I could float above a field of broken hearts. Wow. And it all feels so real.

Favorite Song of the year:

Club Going Up On A Tuesday” by ILOVEMAKONNEN ft. Drake

A song about the anxieties that come with modern life; a song about living in the modern age without the privilege that your peers have; a song about doing what it takes to live an actual life; a song about living in a police state; a song about Tuesdays.  This song is as silly as it is profound, as it is poetic, as it is perfect.

-Edgar Durden (Edgar’s Friends)

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Rediscovering The Unicorns

The Unicorns have played a key part in my life this past year in subtle and not so subtle ways. The first time I remember them being mentioned this year was in March, when I had the opportunity to meet Nardwuar. He had a theory that without The Unicorns, the Arcade Fire would be nothing- entirely due to the fact that The Unicorns (at the peak of their popularity 10 years ago) brought their friends in The Arcade Fire on their first national tour. This made sense to me at the time but- since The Unicorns weren’t very relevant at the time of the conversation- I gave it no other thought. I was 13 when they broke up and listened to their album many times throughout the years thanks to two older brothers’ music libraries. Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone had always been an album I associated with my brothers and one that brought back memories, but I hadn’t listened to them in a while. Nardwuar never came out and said it but I think he may have been hinting at the idea of a Unicorns 2014 reunion tour.

The second time I thought about The Unicorns this year was when Alden Penner released a solo album that, in all honesty, I listened to half of and decided Clues was better.

The third time, The Unicorns created a Twitter account and announced a string of reunion shows with who else but The Arcade Fire? The Unicorns 2014. The prophecy had come true! Except I am 22, not 13. I thought about going but when I saw ticket prices I X’ed out of the internet tab, laughing.

The fourth time I thought about the Unicorns was unexpectedly, in Nuremberg, Germany. I was playing a show with Perfect Pussy that was part of a festival, I went outside for a cigarette (at that time I hadn’t quit smoking) and heard someone call my name. I turned around and it was Jamie Thompson. I knew Jamie only through being a member of The Secret Unicorns Forum (and later we would become Facebook friends), although we didn’t talk that much. It turned out the festival had booked a puppet show that Jamie was a part of a few years ago. He seemed as confused by the whole thing as I did. Jamie saw we were playing the same night he landed in Nuremberg and came to the show to meet me for the first time. We ended up hanging out for the rest of the night until I had had too much to drink and needed to go back to our hotel. This was the highlight of tour for me, having an accidental run in with the drummer of one of my favorite bands during my pubescent years. Some forgotten dream of mine had finally been realized. After that night I rediscovered The Unicorns’ music and began my retrospective that all would lead up to one night at Pop Montreal.

I didn’t know I was going to see the Unicorns until a day before their reunion show in Montreal. I was visiting my partner in Cleveland with the intention of seeing, coincidentally, Islands for the first time when she posed the idea of driving to Montreal the next day to see The Unicorns. Tickets weren’t sold out and we had no responsibilities that weren’t cancel-worthy to prevent us from seeing their final reunion performance in their hometown of Montreal- so why not?

The show played out in a way that I can only imagine a show curated by The Unicorns could have played out. It was hinted at throughout the show that The Unicorns had selected all the bands that played. Of the bands playing I had only heard Each Other– who played second of four. The first band was an embarrassing joke of a bar rock band not even worth mentioning beyond this point.

Each Other were great. I had heard a tape of theirs that a friend reissued through his label, Prison Art, but they didn’t play any songs from it. The shock for most at the show, or at least the bearded bro standing next to me, was Light Fires. A MTF transsexual who stole the stage the moment she stepped onto it. Armed with only an iPod, Light Fires high kicked, sexy danced, and punched her way through her set. Between songs she bragged about the multiple celebrity musicians she knew and about how amazing she is- and I believed her. I believed every word. The bearded bro let out a brief chuckle at everything Regina said. After the 10th or so time it became obvious how uncomfortable he and some of his friends were. These bros would later turn out to be the same bros that repeatedly elbowed me and my partner with half-mosh-half-dance moves during the Unicorns set. They were a mild annoyance on an overall great night.

The Unicorns performance was more subtle in its flamboyancy, but it still held true to a lot of the theatrics that I had seen in their videos. Alden Penner had his eyes darkened and wore a tight pink tanktop and black pants. Nick Thorburn wore a completely yellow outfit, slightly resembling a banana. Jamie Thompson, the only one who wouldn’t have gotten a side eye walking down a busy sidewalk, wore a Brooklyn jersey and had his hair in a bun. The three of their clashing styles were brought together by old Microsoft Windows screensavers that were being projected in the background. The moment the Unicorns began to play the crowd jumped into a frenzy. I don’t remember all the songs that were played but I know they were all from their LP as well as a cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Rocketship”.

The Unicorns had three encores. They are a band that’s known for their wry humor on stage, in recordings, and in interviews and that came through in their encores. Their first encore consisted of a stick click count in and a single quarter note played by each band member. The second encore was quite similar to the first encore. Finally the third encore, which only came after a hand from behind a curtain told the crowd to beg for it, was the infamous “I Was Born (A Unicorn)”. Their set was short, sweet, and felt like it went for the perfect amount of time. The songs were slightly more deconstructed than how I imagined they’d be live but I wasn’t disappointed. It was just nice to see a band I adored as a kid and never had the chance to see when they were initially active.

-Ray McAndrew (Perfect Pussy, SSWAMPZZ, Toxic Parents)

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A Strong Year in Boston

I knew 2014 would be my best year yet the moment midnight on New Year’s Eve passed and Krill broke into the most passionate performance of “Theme from Krill” I’ve heard them play to date. The crowd at Pizzeria Regina in Allston, MA (yes an actual pizza place Allston Pudding threw our New Year’s Eve show at) yelled “KRILL KRILL KRILL FOREVER” like we wouldn’t hear this song over and over again throughout 2014.

Allston Pudding has been a part of my life for three and a half years now but 2014 was when it became my family. All of the people I work with at Allston Pudding mean the world to me and becoming a managing editor is the only promotion I’ve ever received- but it will always be the best one. When I started in 2011, I was this unconfident writer and photographer with no idea what good music was, to be honest. Then I discovered Pile and my life was forever changed. Through Pile I discovered all of the other bands that make the Boston/Massachusetts music scene the powerful force it is: Speedy Ortiz, Kal Marks, Sneeze, Girlfriends (now Bent Shapes), Fat History Month (now Bad History Month), and countless others. I grew to love these bands; they grew to be my friends. It’s hard to go to a show in Boston and not feel as comfortable as I would never leaving my apartment (an oft-chosen alternative in my life), because I know people at every show.

Through these bands, I got to learn the other people in the scene not only in Boston but beyond. Writers and other music people like Liz Pelly and The Media, The Le Sigh, Perry Eaton, my fellow Allston Pudding writers, Ethan Long, Steven Spoerl, Dan Goldin, Amy Leigh, Ellen Kempner, Michael Falcone, Aurore Ounjian, Maura Johnston, and Sadie Dupuis, who inspire me and help me strive to be more present and aware of all of the great music and movements happening right now in 2014.

There were some amazing moments in 2014. As I stated earlier, starting with “Theme from Krill” was the best kick-off. Some of my favorite shows were the Speedy Ortiz Real Hair EP release show at Tasty Burger (I guess Boston likes food places for venues?); Disco Doom, Pile, Ovlov, LVL UP and Krill at Great Scott in March; everything at NXNE in Toronto; Boston Calling in May; every Frankie Cosmos show I went to; Ava Luna, Celestial Shore, Palehound, and Rosie and the Rosies; Boston Hassle Fest; seeing Radiator Hospital for the first time (and two other times after that); Waxahatchee, All Dogs, Potty Mouth, Cayetana; finally seeing Swearin’ live; Pile’s Special Snowflakes release show; every time I saw Lady Bones; seeing Mitski in a living room in Oak Square with 11 other people: the list continues!

Some moments can’t be tied to a specific show or event. Some friendships churn over time and these people I’ve blossomed with in 2014 have become some of my favorite people I’ve ever met. To call them my friends is weird and amazing. I wouldn’t change anything that happened in 2014- and if I could relive this year over and over again, that would be my a-ok fine with me.

-Christine Varriale (Allston Pudding)

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//GIRLS ROCK CAMP BOSTON//
//AKA the coolest thing I did this year//

It is hard to look back on this past year and pick out a single moment to share. I went on my first full US tour, had more than a few bandmates/friends move, started new projects, watched friends play sets in different pockets of the country and felt like I never stopped moving around, constantly chasing whatever was waiting ahead. If I had to pick a single music-related moment from 2014 to share with the internet volunteering at Girls Rock Boston is the thing that stands out. Girls Rock Campaign Boston is a volunteer-run summer program for girls that fosters collaboration and confidence using music. I initially heard about Girls Rock Boston from Hanna, my bandmate in Tomboy, who volunteered at GRCB the summer before. This past summer Fleabite played one of the lunchtime performances to an auditorium of young girls and badass volunteers, and I taught guitar and coached a band of tweens.

It was awesome and uplifting working with the campers and working alongside so many inspirational women, especially because at the time I was volunteering my life felt like a soggy mess. The week of camp happened to overlap with many other endings. Summer was ending, the pizza place I had been working at for two years closed for good, a bunch of friends and bandmates moved across the county, and I was about to leave for a three week tour. I remember crying a lot but I also remember laughing a lot, smiling, and feeling inspired by the people around me. By the end of the camp I felt a little more together, especially when I watched the group of girls I helped coach take the stage, chant their band name (R.U. IN?), rock out, and have fun.

I can’t relate to the anxiety and sadness I was feeling that week even though I remember that it was there. Summer ended, I found a new job, my friends are still my friends even if they live far away, tour happened and I returned. Looking back I’m glad that my time at GRCB overlapped with those polar experiences because it served as the perfect reminder of the things that are truly important: supporting one another, creating community, and putting your shit aside for a moment to be a part of something larger than yourself. I highly recommend finding a way to support your local Girls Rock chapter and consider starting such a thing if it doesn’t already exist in your community. If you want to find out more about Girls Rock Boston please check out their website and consider donating:

http://girlsrockboston.org/

See you in the pit at Girls Rock Boston 2k15!

// HONORABLE MENTIONS //

Some other 2k14 highlights include // playing Liz Pelly’s b-day bash on the 4th of July at the Silent Barn, Smash it Dead fest raising $5,800+ for the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, playing a very weird show on Martha’s Vineyard, Tomboy playing a college show in central mass that devolved into a karaoke party, Up Yours Fest @ SUNY Purchase, and a Ramones cover band.

-Ali Donohue (Fleabite, Tomboy)