Top Five Must-See Shows This Week
Sharon Van Etten is scheduled to perform Wednesday, August 15, at Crescent Ballroom.
Yeah, yeah, yeah...we get it Mondays suck (we've read Garfield). But it means the start of a new week, which means a bunch of killer shows in and around Phoenix. And here are a few of the coolest, our top five must-see shows this week.
Photo by Neko Case
Kelly Hogan knows the audacity of favors.
But if you're going to make an album, starting with a fantasy batch of songwriters and ending with a fantasy band is a hell of a way to go about it.
For I Like to Keep Myself In Pain, her first solo album in 11 years, Hogan started by writing 40 fan letters, buttering up songwriter friends like Andrew Bird, Robyn Hitchcock, and Vic Chesnutt to ask for contributions.
"I sat down and had a good think about all the people I've worked with since I was playing at bars when I was 17. It was one fan letter skeleton that was swerved to each person. It was really, really frightening to send it," says Hogan.
Frightening, but fruitful. Hogan ended up with more than 30 songs, from M. Ward, the Mekons' Jon Langford, Magnetic Fields' Stephin Merritt, John Wesley Harding, and Robbie Fulks.
"They trusted me with their songs, which meant a lot. I can't even explain how humbled I was."
Some of the early results were a surprise. Hitchcock said he'd already started writing a song for Hogan a few years earlier, after an e-mail exchange. The one song Hogan penned, "Golden," was written years earlier for Neko Case but emerged as a good fit. And "Ways of This World" from the late Chesnutt was so customized for Hogan it's as if he were psychic.
"Vic Chesnutt just blew my mind. It was one of the first ones I got back and it became the masthead of my album ship," she says. "I'm not surprised the song is so great because I love Vic and his work. We're both from Georgia, so maybe it's our shared DNA, but he surprised me because, lyrically, it was the story of my life."
Hogan selected 12 to record and began the process of discovering her own way to approach the songs.
"I feel like a hippie, but the songs just reveal themselves. It's a weird thing. I have to live with them for a while," she says. "At first, I like to have it sneak into my head. I'll always listen to a song while doing something else, like washing dishes or [shaving] my legs. I don't put it on and stare at the speaker. I'll let it get into my groundwater by doing something else for a while." -- Eric Swedlund
Aesop Rock is the most prominent of mega-verbose thesaurus MCs, but the veteran rapper has something the others don't. Busdriver's pranks are more smugly satisfying, and the proggy kinetics of Themselves more technically impressive, but Aesop creates entire realms with his cascading rhyme schemes. His new album, Skelethon, brought to you by Minneapolis boom-bap enclave Rhymesayers Entertainment, shows an unwavering veteran sticking to his guns. "Crows 1" is a crooked, warbled anthem with strangled synths and kick-snare traps and Aesop warning the kids to get off his graveyard.
"Proud chests puffed to the heavens holds nothing / If we're cutting past the muscle and the tendon," he gripes.
Anti-folkie Kimya Dawson guests on the chorus, her gentle sing-songy voice unsettling as it paints ashes and caskets with black and blue finger paint. Skelethon is unsurprisingly dense with imagery, and though Aesop certainly can confound, his flows are not so impenetrable. When he chooses to veer into relatively straightforward storytelling, it still comes out in an impressive fashion: "Ruby '81" is a linear narrative -- spun in one breathless verse -- about an infant girl saved from drowning by a quick-acting dog. Aesop Rock might be stubbornly self-contained and never ever makes this shit look easy, but his vivid world of rhyme is transparent. -- Chase Kamp
The accordion might not seem like the most obvious instrument with which to crank out fiery punk rock, but Piñata Protest use the traditional squeeze box in unexpected ways on their debut album, Plethora (released on the Hickoids' Saustex label). The San Antonio band fuses together punk tempos with Tejano and conjunto styles, proving once again that polka and punk rhythms are essentially the same.
Singing in English and Spanish, Alvaro Del Norte manipulates his accordion and chants fast, nonstop rants like "Suckcess" and "Maquilapolis," combining blue-collar lyrical laments with festively energetic music.
"Jackeee" and "Denied Rights" may be tales of desperation and social alienation, evoking the manic ska-punk rebellion of Gogol Bordello and Mano Negra, but Piñata Protest also show a goofily romantic side on sillier tracks like "Love Taco" and "Cold Fries." -- Falling James
Brooklyn songwriter Sharon Van Etten has made a brave record in Tramp. And brave records come with brave album covers, and Tramp possesses a great one: a stark, black-and-white portrait of Van Etten's stoic face. "The artwork is just me trying to be simple and make eye contact," Van Etten says. "It's trying to be myself." The record succeeds at that. And even if doesn't -- if the characters in "I'm Wrong," "Give Out," and "We Are Fine" are exaggerated self-caricatures, the kind short-handed by the Larry Davids and Elvis Costellos of the world -- it doesn't matter. Van Etten's strength as a songwriter comes from her mastery of simple phrase and direct communication, and letting herself off the hook isn't part of the deal.
"I like double meaning...I like Charlie Chaplin," Van Etten says, "and he's considered the 'king of the tramp.' It got me thinking: Why, with women, is the word 'tramp' seen as negative, but with men, it's seen as endearing? I'm not trying to make a huge statement politically, but all of those songs are love songs about different people, so I was trying to own up to that word on whatever side of things, while being honest and sincere, while being silly. I think that 'tramp' kind of sums that up."-- Jason P. Woodbury
The early 1990s saw a rash of artists release not double albums, but two separate albums on the same day. Bruce Springsteen, U2, and Guns N' Roses tried this. The loose idea was that each album would showcase a different side of the artist and the consumer could choose which side they preferred -- hopefully, both sides.
In the 2010s, the idea seems ludicrous. But outlaw country artist Shelton "Hank" Williams III, better known as Hank 3, has taken the concept two steps further, releasing four albums simultaneously. It's an audacious move, especially for an artist whose commercial stature hardly rivals such aforementioned superstars. But Williams -- who operates over a variety of genres including country, hellbilly, death and doom metal, and sludge -- is unconcerned with the monetary ramifications of his history-making move.
"I wanted to make musical history. I don't think any other artist has done a multi-genre release on the same day," he says by phone from his Nashville home. "I've always gone against the grain; I've always tried to do things different. Some will tell you it's over the top, some will tell you it's a waste, but at the end of the day, it goes against the masses . . . I'm pushing it to an extreme, but it goes back to the love of the music."
Considering Hank 3's cult following, he's likely to find success on some level as his fans pick their way through the musical mélange. Here's a brief breakdown of the albums -- each of of which is touched upon when Williams performs in concert: Ghost to a Ghost, jointly packaged with Guttertown, features Hank 3's more familiar, raucous "hellbilly" style with a handful of traditional country songs scattered about the mix.
Guttertown's palette is acoustic. The album digs deep into the Cajun bayou and swamps where Williams' family history runs deep, conjuring up dark sounds -- often muted, distorted and decidedly lo-fi -- with even darker images worthy of a parental advisory warning.
Attention Deficient Domination, Hank 3's "anticipated" doom metal venture (on which he plays all the instruments) seems to have taken a page from the Melvins' songbook. There are some rip-roaring, take-no-prisoners moments, but the album frequently gets mired in a sludgy "complex" -- Williams' word -- that drones rather than inspires.
3 Bar Ranch Cattle Callin', however, sports a cool concept: speed metal intertwined with actual cattle auctioneer calls. Auctioneers are like the speed-metal talkers of the world, and the songs work surprisingly well most of the time. Phoenix auctioneer Mitch Jordan is featured on the album, and Williams is angling to get him on stage during the Tempe show.
It was 3 Bar Ranch Callin' that caused Williams the most headaches. The production and application seemed simple enough: record auctioneers and overdub the vocals onto original Hank 3 speed-metal songs. But first Williams had to convince auctioneers of his sincerity and then deal with their egos.
"I got kind of blackballed in that world," he says. "I lost of 60 percent of the guys I had my mind set on. I was trying to explain it to these guys: 'You're not going to like the music, you're not going to understand it. Understand I'm not making fun of your industry but trying to offer inspiration to young auctioneers in a different way.' A lot of them got it.
"But, you see, I offered $500 for the rights to use [their] voices on the record. That's the straight-up deal, and I don't care if you're a kid just starting off or the most biggest auctioneer on the planet; this is the standard deal," he says. "Some of the bigwigs got a little greedy, put the calls out to all the other folks, and kind of shut me down." -- Glenn BurnSilver
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