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Trophy Wife: All The Sides

We’re told, or led to believe, that in the end, it’s all just a huge pile of content, sitting there, waiting. The playing field has been leveled;  the opportunities are endless. The landfills, however, are not. They beckon and plead: fill me.

                The result – the symptom – is frontloading, getting the hook up front to grab attention. Because no one has an attention span any more, we’re told. Because everything is available to everyone at all times, no one gives a shit about anything, and we’re becoming zombies, sleepwalking through our day trying to kill content. Annihiliate this stream, this viral video, all week long.

                But it’s bullshit is the thing.  There’s evidence everywhere: unlikely comebacks, TV series sprawling out over six, seven seasons, killing cliché as they develop characters to be considered outside (and far away) from a 22-minute frame, serial podcasts, you name it. The diagnosis that we’re dulled by and slave to the stream of content perpetuates itself when we buy in – but the increasing realization that the quick-hit simulacra is bogus is just over the horizon and easily visible with a few steps closer. Artists who eschew the quick fix in favor of nuance and authenticity and the long haul are those few steps.

                And just over that horizon is Trophy Wife, with All the Sides, their third long-player. This Philly two-piece painstakingly crafts their mini-epics of bombast and nuance, and they do it by (get this) listening to each other. By spending time in the practice space focusing on how many times, how loud, how this part drops out so this other part can kick in. It sounds simple because it is, but it can’t always be:  guitarist Diane Foglizzo and drummer Katy Otto are both sick players, able to stop on so many dimes, drop oddly timed phrases in and out with nary a seam, and twist distortion into contemplation (and vice versa). I can imagine how easy it might be to just go off and let the sparse arrangement pick up the metaphorical slack. But nope. Both members realize throughout that they’re halves of a greater whole, and through this understanding – through servicing the songs they write, at the expense of going off or over – they show listeners that patience is rewarded, that things come together over time, and that music, despite the new economy or whatever, does not have to be disposable to be noticed. It can be heartfelt and passionate and difficult and no less rewarding.

                Audrey’s Song is a perfect embodiment of everything Trophy Wife does well: picked single notes yield to sheets of distortion, as Foglizzo and Otto’s vocals buzz, conjoin, and fly away; toms roll, measures drop and reappear seemingly on their own accord. It’s affecting stuff which rewards repeated listens, which is what the band wants, more than a quick hit. This is long haul stuff, the fragility and empowerment of sustenance.

Michael T. Fournier

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Black Wine

“Yell Boss” (Don Giovanni Records)

 I just read “Doctor Sleep.” I still check in with Stephen King when his books materialize on the library’s new release shelf– this one finds the kid from “The Shining” struggling to overcome alcoholism as other demons, the supernatural kind, swirl around a psychic teen in a small New Hampshire town. I can safely file this tale in the “pretty good” column, not a book in which the protagonist winds up in a mystical, imagined land speaking a semi-phonetic language to vanquish a supernatural foe.

So yeah, Dan Torrance hits his rock bottom, and starts attending AA meetings. And there it is, plopped into an otherwise unassuming paragraph:

He’d wake up thirsty and miserable—wanting—which wasn’t.”

Ol’ Steve has professed his love for punk rock many times over the years, but goddamn, Stephen King must be into Black Flag.

Pool-pissers everywhere might beg to differ, citing coincidence: after writing so many words, it’s a near-inevitability that the guy would say something, sometime, which sounded like something else. And that’s fine. I can see it. Maybe he managed to nail the chorus Dezzo (and, later, Hank) barked out so well because the lyrics draw from the particular well of human experience from which Stephen King has experienced, and so publically discussed. It’s possible.

 But why would you want to warm up a pool like this? Goddammit, isn’t it more fun to think that it was an Easter egg dropped in there? Lord knows I do that sort of thing all the time – shades of blue, in my books, are bruise-colored; the biggest jerks are always names Richard Johnson. Nods, both.

 “Yell Boss,” the new full-length by Black Wine, is a dynamic record, but not a record which relies solely on dynamics. Take “No Reason,” which starts off hammering down math for just long enough to trick you into thinking it’ll be a syncopated neck acher – and instead, a snaky lead as backdrop to drummer Miranda Taylor’s fuzzed vox. It’s a neat trick: the juxtaposition of parts and personalities winds up being more jarring and effectual than the intro duh-duh-duhduh threatens. Plus, you know, it rocks.

“Rime” trumps “No Reason” in terms of sheer whip-snapping oomph: the chug contained in the opening salvo “Komrades” is reprised, daring you to look up from your phone and headbang – to have fun, the way band obviously is, with their three-part vocal harmonies. Its heft gains velocity after propelling out of a weird, gentle feedback intro, vocals subdued and sing-songy, better suited to the nursery than the pit. 

And to end the record, the tom-heavy verses of “Love Chain” form a backdrop for downright spooky Faith-era Cure guitar before the band gleefully pushes the atmosphere aside to bash out a kickass ascending two-ton figure. Then it ends. The song, the record. Over. Awesome.

I thought these cats were at the height of their craft even before the second-to-last song spun under the needle. Again: heavy, with great poppy vocals and Superchunk-y guitar leads straining through the din. Thing is, the prechorus rolled in, and a vocal line sent me back to age eight, driving around in the back of my parents’ Rabbit, listening to the radio. “No Time” – of course. The Guess Who.  Bad rock critic!

But their cover, in my zillion subsequent listens, reinforces what I think is the overall point. The signifiers are all there, the little nods and full-throated howls to the band’s many influences. I remember the first time I saw them play, acoustic in a New Jersey basement—they played another song I know from driving around with my parents as a kid: “Windy,” by the Association. Of course, they nailed it.

Such is the way of Black Wine – each of the three band members brings their particular sonic palette and blueprint to the table, add their own contributions, sand off (or, to be fair, tack on) rough edges, and the alloyed final product is set loose. Sometimes the nods are there. And who the hell knows whether the bits that I’m hearing in there are intentional – maybe these cats don’t even like the Cure, you know? But I believe this band, and I trust them. And even if you’re peeing in my pool, telling me that they can’t possibly be as smart and musical and intentioned as I think, it’s more fun to believe. Especially now, when everyone is too worried about being cool and well-versed to actually like stuff. To be a fan.  Fuck that. I’m in. And if you’ve got beef, I won’t invite you to listen to “Damaged” with me and Stephen King.

Michael T. Fournier

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Review: Black Flag, "What The..."

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The prospect of listening to the new Black Flag record – the first new studio LP from the band since 1986’s “In My Head” – is fraught with static from all sides. If you’re anything like me, you watched, with something between duty and determination, the videos which popped up this summer as…