Friday, 24 February 2017

Grizzly Bear (Ed Droste)

Today's presentation concerns a group that began as the solo effort of just one man, Ed Droste, in the early 00s. This man happens to be gay.

Droste was born in Massachusetts, on October 22, 1978. Through his mother's Forbes line, he is related to singer China Forbes (Pink Martini). He attended Hampshire College for one year in 1999 before transferring to and graduating from New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study in 2003.

He has always been very open about being gay. In a recent interview for Esquire, he said:

"I remember the moment I realized I was gay. I was watching Growing Pains when Leonardo DiCaprio was on, and I was attracted to him. I'm roughly his age, so I was probably thirteen. I had a pang of attraction, and my next reaction was Oh, shit. It wasn't fear. I was just like, Fuck. I've got to deal with this now. Goddammit. But I decided to put it on the back burner. Literally, I made a conscious decision: I'm ignoring this. Chill. I'll deal with it later, once I get through high school."

"I came out late - I was twenty-one. I don't fully know why I wasn't comfortable with it. I was holding on to some perceived notion of normalcy. I guess that meant kids and a wife. There's this impulse: I'm just going to do it like you see everyone do it. Plus, there was just a general discomfort in my own skin and body, which is a common denominator for a lot of people."

"I started Grizzly Bear, my band, at twenty-four, and I never tried to hide my sexuality. The interesting thing about being constantly out is that it was never an issue. It never came up in interviews. I still think to this day a majority the band's fans have no idea."

In 2004, Droste released Grizzly Bear's debut album, Horn of Plenty. Predominantly a solo album, Horn of Plenty featured contributions from future drummer Christopher Bear. Rolling Stone magazine wrote of the first album, "the pure atmospheric power of the songs is more than enough to hypnotize."

Here's Don't Ask:

I fell into your arms that night
Don't ask
It's the time we had apart to sort things out
Just don't ask
It's the work you saying you're doing
But baby, I don't even ask
It's the love that came undone between us
and nobody ever asks
There's a place and time for everything I know

Here's Campfire:

You made a campfire, I put it out
Let the long johns, fall down
Around your ankles and your toes
I know what I want to see
Lay there by the fire

Droste and Bear were subsequently joined by bass guitarist and producer Chris Taylor, and performed four shows together as a three-piece. Regarding these shows, Droste noted, "We've never played without the four of us, really. The first couple shows we did before we knew Dan [Rossen], we did with three of us and they kind of sucked. From the get-go, when we were trying to put together a live show, that's when we discovered our sound and that's why I think that was the beginning of the band."

Guitarist and vocalist Daniel Rossen, a friend of Bear's from jazz-camp, joined the band soon after. Rossen stated, "For a long time, I only played my songs to close friends; and it just happened that I lived with Chris Taylor during my second year of college, so he heard them. He was my entrance into Grizzly Bear. He joined the band first, then after a while he suggested I come in with these songs. [...] When I joined, I did about two rehearsals with them, worked out one of my songs to put into the set, then a week later we were out on the road for a two-month tour. It was a real trial-by-fire thing. I was close with Chris and Chris [Bear], but I didn’t know Ed [Droste] at all; it was weird getting to know a stranger by spending all day in the same car."

Their first album as a proper band, Yellow House, was released in 2006. On this album, Grizzly Bear takes a dramatic leap forward, delivering a collection of songs that sound awe-inspiringly huge and intimate at the same time. While the album is overall more polished and focused than their debut, nowhere is this (literally) clearer than in the production. No longer lo-fi, the album's warmth, clarity, and symphonic depth gives the band's widescreen Psychedelic Folk-Rock a timelessness that makes it seem even more dreamlike and unique.

Easier opens the album with a gently exciting buildup of woodwinds, banjo, and acoustic guitar that could soundtrack the dawn of a late summer morning.

Knife was released as the album's first single on May 21, 2007. It was ranked #109 on Pitchfork Media's list of the top 500 tracks of the 2000s. Describing the song, reviewer Brian Howe wrote: "There are just a few words, inscribed in a lavish script on the harmonies; a handful of chords. But a whole host of sensations pour through them, and not just emotional ones: The guitars prickle and clutch; the refrains scale ear-popping altitudes. You can, it turns out, feel the knife."

Central and Remote moves seamlessly from fragile marimba melodies to acoustic guitar-driven verses and towering choruses.

Plans feels like a more brooding take on the High Llamas' intricate, Symphonic/Electronic Pop. It's also gay themed:

Juan from Argentina
Such a strange predicament we find ourselves in
Baby, it's a long way to South America
Every option I have costs more than I've got
If you trust in me, if I could I would be there

Concerning gay-themed lyrics, in a 2007 interview in AfterElton, Ed said: "I kind of like vague lyrics. Sometimes they are gay, but they’re not overt. (...) Reprise (My Love’s Another Kind) could be interpreted that way, and I think (lyrics writer Rossen) is very open to that interpretation, too, even though he was thinking of it as something else. That’s why I relate to it when I sing those lyrics, because I’ll sing those parts with him on the song. I think we all are into the vague nature of it."

The album received critical acclaim from several major publications, and ranked #8 in Pitchfork Media's best albums of 2006 list, as well as a similarly high placement in the same list of the New York Times. The music webzine Tiny Mix Tapes ranked Yellow House #7 on the Top 25 Albums of 2006.

On November 5, 2007 they released the EP called Friend. It included a cover version of The Crystals' He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss):

Their next album, Veckatimest, released on May 26, 2009, was their first one to become a mainstream commercial hit. Produced by bassist and multi-instrumentalist Chris Taylor, the album entered the US Billboard 200 at #8. By September 2012, the album had sold around 220,000 copies in the US. It also went silver in the UK. The album is named after Veckatimest Island, a small island in Dukes County, Massachusetts.

The band hints at the just how big the album's scope is with its first two tracks: Southern Point's Psychedelic Folk-Jazz throws listeners into its bustling acoustic guitars, piles of vocal harmonies, swishy drums, and various sparkling sounds, making it a disorienting and dazzling opening salvo.

The gorgeous Two Weeks, by contrast, is the album's most immediate moment, its "Would you always? Maybe sometimes? Make it easy? Take your time" chorus teetering elegantly between pleading and reassuring as it's buoyed by backing vocals courtesy of Beach House's Victoria LeGrand.

The elaborate, quicksilver suite I Live with You builds from the Brooklyn Youth Choir's vocals into skyward-climbing Chamber Pop.

The final track of the album is Foreground which, with its plaintive vocals and simple piano melody, is one of the band's most beautiful ballads yet.

Grizzly Bear were gone for a few years after Veckatimest, but the amount of extracurricular projects they tackled during that time - Chris Taylor's work with CANT, Daniel Rossen's solo EP Silent Hour/Golden Mile, and the band's reconfiguring of their own songs into the Blue Valentine soundtrack - means they never really went away. Their next (and so far their latest) album was Shields, released on September 18, 2012. The album received acclaim upon release. Shields reached #7 on the Billboard 200 and #17 on the UK Albums Chart.

At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album has received an average score of 86, based on 36 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim". Pitchfork Media's Lindsay Zoladz gave the album a Best New Music designation, writing "While there's no question that Grizzly Bear's last two records have sounded gorgeous, critics of the band have wondered if that's enough. Shields, the band's fourth and most compositionally adventurous record, should put those concerns to bed. Though full of baroque, detail-rich production and latticework melodies, Shields also offers an emotionally resonant core."

Sleeping Ute is the opening track, as well as the first single from Shields. Acoustic guitars that sound more like they're being scrubbed than strummed tumble into bubbling synths, which then give way to rhythms that conjure leaves twirling in the breeze.

This is the Nicolas Jaar Remix:

Speak in Rounds may be the most rocking song they've done yet, even if it climaxes with rustling brass and flutes instead of a shredding guitar solo. This is a live version from End Of The Road Festival 2012:

The album's second single was Yet Again. Upon the single's release Pitchfork Media awarded the song "Best New Track", stating "With the Droste-led Yet Again, [Grizzly Bear] suggest an arena-sized side of their ever-expanding sonic arsenal. Droste's vocal, soft and intimate as ever, suggests an affinity with the broad emotional palette of former touring partner Thom Yorke."

Gun-Shy is yet another jewel of a song:

Half-Gate is a song of pure melodic beauty:

The album's closing number is the exquisitely serene Sun in Your Eyes:

On September 17, 2013, the track Will Calls (Marfa Demo) was debuted, together with the announcement of two expanded Shields re-releases, followed by the song Listen and Wait (Bonus Track) on October 30. The re-releases, Shields: Expanded and Shields: B-sides, were released on November 11, 2013 and include eight B-side remixes, five unreleased songs, and three remixes.

Following the completion of the Shields tour, Daniel Rossen embarked upon a solo tour performing tracks from his debut EP, and his other band, Department of Eagles. During the tour, Rossen commented on the future of Grizzly Bear, stating: "We don't have a clear plan. We tend to like to let the records come together naturally. I think everyone wants a little bit of a break and everyone's scattered around the globe. I think towards the end of the year, if it feels natural, we'll start again." In a more recent interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, singer Ed Droste explains that a new album is in the works. Unlike the recording process for Shields, where Grizzly Bear ensconced themselves at studios in Marfa, Texas and Cape Cod, Massachusetts to construct a truly collaborative album, Droste says the creative process now will be "more fractured." While two members still live in New York, the other half, including Droste, have traded coasts and now reside in Los Angeles. As of June 2016, Droste has been working on the next album with the rest of Grizzly Bear.

As far as his personal life is concerned, In September 2011, Droste married his long-time boyfriend, interior designer Chad McPhail. On August 4, 2014, Droste announced his divorce from McPhail via Twitter, stating that he's "amicably and lovingly divorcing [his] husband".

He also said: "I was married and divorced, so I've gone through the full cycle of marriage equality. It was not the best move for me, but I don't think that necessarily has to do with me being gay. I just think relationships work and then they don't. That's a universal thing."

"I've noticed a lot of gay men now saying, "We don't even need marriage." The new trending thing is to just say, "Oh, God, you're getting married? Please. You're just trying to conform to society." What was the point of fighting for it, then? Why don't you be supportive and shut up? If you don't want to get married, don't get married."

Needless to say, since Grizzly Bear are getting better with each album, I can't wait for their next album to drop. Hopefully, it will be soon.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Perfume Genius

Panos, a good friend of this blog, has recently suggested that I cover Perfume Genius, an act that he deeply appreciates. I appreciate it as deeply, and was planning to present the act later in the year. But, as they say, there's no time like the present, so dear Panos, and the rest of our good friends (known or unknown to me), here's Perfume Genius.

Perfume Genius is Mike Hadreas. His music is a combination of the complex soundscapes of Radiohead and the inspired theatricality of Kate Bush. His lyrics are as sparse and melancholy as those of Stephin Merritt (Magnetic Fields).

Hadreas is of Greek descent and was born in the suburbs of Seattle, Washington on September 25, 1981. Hadreas studied painting in school and took piano lessons as a child. His mother was a special education teacher, and his parents divorced when he was a teenager.

Growing up, Hadreas was the only openly gay student at his school, and he received death threats which were not addressed by the administration. He dropped out of high school during his senior year. Two years after dropping out, he was attacked by several young men in his neighborhood. He moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn and worked as a doorman for a club in the East Village. In 2005, Hadreas returned home to Seattle and began recording music. In 2008, he set up a MySpace page under the name Perfume Genius, and thus began his music career.

Hadreas's debut album, Learning, was released on June 21, 2010, through Turnstile Records in Europe and Matador Records in the United States. Many of the tracks for Learning were recorded in Hadreas's home. The album quickly received critical acclaim. Pitchfork gave the album an 8.2.

The opening track is Learning, a song about domestic abuse. It was featured in Episode 10 of Transparent in December 2015.

Lookout, Lookout is a dark, mournful song. Here are some of the lyrics:

Guinea pig hair in a twisted mouth
Through a hole to the railway
And Brian's face down
Keep your wits
He will not be missed
He didn't have a family to begin with

Look out, look out
There are murders about

Mr Peterson was released as a single: It is about an older man seducing a 16-year-old adolescent.

Gay Angels is a transcendent tune with positive, healing lyrics:

Write To Your Brother is a short 'n' sensitive song concerning twisted family dynamics:

Perry is about a love affair with a manipulative junkie:

Attempting to re-focus after the surprise success of debut album Learning, Michael Hadreas found himself locked in limbo. “There were a few months where I was aimless, trying to write and couldn’t” he sighs, permitting a vein of exasperation to enter his voice. “Just because I was getting a little nervous – I knew I was supposed to, y’know? There were these expectations on me. I wanted to – I don’t know, I just really wanted it to be good. I was thinking too much about it so it became forced and not very genuine. I just realised how uncool I was, I kind of came to terms with that. I realised that I’m just going to make something which is really earnest and not very hip. I just started doing what I normally do.”

Initially overawed by the reception afforded to his debut album, Michael Hadreas found that he could use this audience as a means to pry open his own songwriting. “I think what I initially found hard for me to navigate was that I was thinking a lot about the people who were going to listen to what I was writing” he explains. “I was sensing myself but then I kind of realised that I can write for other people, that I can be deliberate and not be phoney. When I first started thinking about who I was writing the music for it became easier, instead of thinking about the public in general, who might hate it or who’s gonna think what I could just write it for who I wanted to write it for it became a lot easier.”

Intensely personal, Learning almost felt like peering through a keyhole into someone’s life. By way of contrast, Put Your Back In 2 It, released on February 21, 2012, is a more relaxed, confident affair. Still capable of crafting something heart-grippingly emotive, Perfume Genius has evolved to grasp hold of lush aesthetics. Partially recorded in a studio outside Bristol, Put Your Back N 2 It has an easy, un-rushed feel. “I was thinking about the kind of music I listen to before I go to bed and things that I spent a lot of time with. I kind of liked that I suppose. A little more simple, fluid and not so jarring” says the songwriter. “I listen to some more difficult music but it’s not something I listen to for years and years and years, y’know? So I was trying to make something that people could listen to for a long time.”

There’s a moment on the new album, in fact it's the very first song, where everything – voice, lyrics, arrangement, production – seem to pull together, as tight as the head of a pin. AWOL Marine ends with Michael Hadraes’ voice sucked up into the heavens; synth swirl pushing harder and harder until the whole landscape is rendered as noise. Yet while challenging, the piece has a blissful edge – melancholic, but melancholy with a beautiful serenity.

Normal Song is a song of comfort:

Take my hand
When you are scared
And I will pray
If you go back out there

Comfort the man
Help him understand
That no floating sheet
No matter how haunting
And no secret
No matter how nasty
Can poison your voice
Or keep you from joy

The song was featured in the hit show Suits in 2012, as well as in a Toyotathon commercial in December 2016.

No Tear is a Nick Cave-esque song of despair dealt with resilience:

Take Me Home is a love song with lyrics reminiscent of Jacques Brel's Ne Me Quitte Pas:

I'll be so quiet for you
Look like a child for you
Be like a shadow of a shadow,
Of a shadow for you

Dark Parts is another song meant to support the listeners in their darker moments: "But he'll never break you, baby ... I will take the dark part of your heart into my heart ".

Dirge was featured in Season 3 of How To Get Away With Murder. The song is about the death of a much loved youth:

Boys that held him dear,
Do your weeping now,
All you loved of him lies here,
Do your weeping now.

All Waters deals with some of the more everyday examples of homophobia Hadreas has encountered:

Hood, a love song in which the singer is afraid that he'll mess it up, was the promotional video for the album. It featured Hadreas and pornographic actor Arpad Miklos embracing each other, and was deemed unsafe for family viewing by YouTube. The video became somewhat infamous after Arpad Miklos, who cradles Hadreas and brushes his hair, later died in an apparent suicide.

The song was featured in "Looking: The Movie" on July 23, 2016.

Sister Song, a song about the departure of a special one, was featured in Episodes 3, 13, and the season finale of Hemlock Grove in 2013.

On an interview for Stereogum, Mike touched on the subject of self-censoring your image and behavior to avoid homophobia: "It’s hard to negotiate with yourself, too. And sometimes I know I’m doing it to myself. Sometimes nobody is looking at me or cares, and I’m kinda still somehow frightened. But then sometimes I let my guard down and then someone calls me a faggot on the street. So it’s like, “Well, wait, I guess I do need to be on guard.” It happens less and less - especially since I live in a fairly liberal place - but that’s not the case all over."

About being confronted with weirdness in the Indie Rock world: "Kind of. It’s like I’ll go into a venue and they won’t take me seriously, or think I don’t know what I want because I’m sort of impish or tiny or feminine. And that’s frustrating. And that’s almost what that song is too. I’m just as badass as anyone; my clothes are just more silken. But then I’ll meet a dudey-dude band, like the Men, and they were super nice and really fun and easy to get along with. And even going to the South, I was terrified, but it was really friendly. It’s just surprising. Then there’s some asshole in some liberal area. That’s just how it goes. I did a lot of interviews where I’d get these crazy introductions. In France I was being translated live for the radio show. It was like, “He is Perfume Genius: He is gay, he is sad, he is addicted to porn.” And I had to stand up like, “Excuse me?” The first two, yeah OK, but I’m not addicted to porn! I like that that’s their lead-in, like nothing about the music, just that I like to fuck dudes, basically."

"It’s weird. I’m proud, I want to talk about those things, to make an issue of them, but I don’t want that to sacrifice the music - like how hard I work on the songs, the lyrics - on its own. And that’s the whole fear, trying to not alienate me."

In 2013 he guested on Cate Le Bon's track I Think I Knew:

Perfume Genius' followup album, his latest so far, was released on September 23, 2014. Too Bright, co-produced by Portishead’s Adrian Utley, has garnered critical acclaim, including from Rolling Stone, which ranked it among 2014’s best albums (“shifting from theatrical indie pop one minute to pitch-black electronic music the next”), to The New Yorker, which evoked everyone from John Keats to Rufus Wainwright in its praise. Too Bright is indeed a stroke of genius: melodic, melancholic, and totally original. Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from critics, gave the album an average score of 87, which indicates "universal acclaim". It was also Perfume Genius' first commercial hit, peaking at #77 in the UK and #83 in the US.

The opening track is I Decline: one of the most elegant rejection songs ever:

The album's most famous track is Queen, which deals with the idea of gay panic and homophobic cliches:

Don't you know your queen
Flower bloom at my feet

Don't you know your queen
Riddled with disease
Don't you know me

No family is safe
When I sashay

Don't you know your queen
Wrapped in golden leaf
Don't you know me
Skin sewn on sheets
Casing the barracks
For an ass to break and harness
Into the fold

No family is safe
When I sashay

Queen was featured in Episode 4 of Mr. Robot in July 2015.

Fool is one of his most accomplished songs:

No Good showcases the artist's pessimistic view of life:

To me love was
Always infinite
Stolen moment
At a time

A feeling only out
For a little while
And then ripped from your arms
Like a child

I carry their names
The secret shapes
And an aching parade
Around my heart

My Body was even more pessimistic:

I wear my body like a rotted peach
You can have it if you handle the stink
I'm as open as a gutted pig
On the small of every back
You'll see a picture of me
Wearing my body

My Body was featured in Season 3 of How To Get Away With Murder.

Grid was a grittier conclusion to I Decline:

A diamond
Swallowed and shit
Then swallowed again

At least we know where it's been

Grid played in Season 4, Episode 2 of Catfish.

Too Bright, a beautiful ballad, was featured in Season 2 of How To Get Away With Murder.

The album's closing track, All Along is a breakup song of sorts:

Deep down I never did feel right
Even now sometimes
That feeling is a lie

You wasted my time

I don't need your love
I don't need you to understand
I need you to listen

Mike on self-consciousness: "I think it’s impossible not to, and that’s what’s so inspiring when you see people letting that go, especially when they’re gay and you know they have same amount of weird self-awareness from when they were little as you probably did, from recognizing they were different really early on. It can make you crazy, that awareness. It makes you very aware of how you’re sitting, how you’re carrying yourself, really early. For me, I become more and more obsessed with it, to the point where it was almost like an Inception-level of awkward, constantly thinking of how I come across. To see people who have probably dealt with that saying, “Fuck it” … it’s good. That’s what I want for myself. And I do it way more now than I used to."

In 2015, Perfume Genius joined Christine and the Queens on Jonathan:

Hadreas contributed a cover of The Grateful Dead's To Lay Me Down to Day of the Dead, a charity tribute album curated and produced by members of The National and released by 4AD on May 20, 2016. Hadreas's cover was a collaboration with Sharon Van Etten. All profits from the album will help fight for AIDS / HIV and related health issues around the world through the Red Hot Organization.

On September 16, 2016 Hadreas released a cover of Elvis' Can't Help Falling in Love in collaboration with Prada. The song was featured in the ad campaign for their new fragrance.

Initially making music only for a select group of friends, Perfume Genius finds Michael Hadreas enjoying critical acclaim, playing shows around the globe. Finishing, I wonder if the demands placed on him will lead to sacrificing elements of the intimacy whch fuel the project. His opinion: “I think that’s kind of dangerous. If I got overly confident and started telling people things instead of asking them, so it would seem like ‘listen to this message I have for you’. I still don’t feel like that but I can own it and be a little more professional but still retain that intimacy”.

Keep on asking us Mike! We'll be there to engage in a fruitful and inspired musical conversation...