New Music: Friday Roll Out! Citizen, Origamibiro, John Morales, Teena Marie, Xiu Xiu, Dog Trainer

With so much down time the past year, it’s no surprise to see a resurgence of artistry that’s been almost forgotten or left behind in the not so distant past. Origamibiro returns after a 6 year hiatus with Tom Hill remaining the driving force behind the project. The change it seems hasn’t affected the creativeness though as the glitchy experimental orchestrations throughout don’t disappoint. Origamibiro seems to have a foothold on classicalisms but thoroughly run through mainstream culture. Miscellany (Denovali) is the obvious clash between cultures and finding a meeting place where it all makes sense. Strings, percussion, piano, and other instrumentations are melded together exploring sounds one wouldn’t normally find placed alongside each other. It works though. This is beauty unlike you’ve ever heard before, reaching emotions you may have lost, or finding senses you’ve never used before.

For most, 2020 was a wrap and many of us needed to just take the L. Others shined and showed growth through what seemed to be a shit year (Ok, it pretty much was.) New York’s Dog Trainer made no secret of its affect on them. Made up of Nick Broman & Lucas del Calvo, the duo set their sights on recording a new album during a pandemic in NYC. The results? Well, the bedroom pop of Scrolling to feel better…part one. They accomplished what they set out to do and there’s no other song that better represents it than “2019” but eschewing the “bedroom” portion of the band’s self-description. The single is possibly the catchiest song on the release with its driving melody & harmonies. Broman sings “2020 is the worst year/but 2019 wasn’t so good either” is the party anthem everyone could agree on while dancing in oblivion, or through it. But the duo created an assortment of pop anthems, normalizing everyday activities like on “Wish I Was” while daydreaming of younger days, or even maturing into adulthood. The songs strewn across the album are made for radio play and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The band doesn’t need big budgeted studios, just clever songwriting (check) and great deliveries (double check). The band has everything they need. 2021 should be Dog Trainer’s year. Hopefully.

Producer, remixer, musician John Morales has a long storied history in music, specifically in dance culture. With several remixing credits under his belt early on as M and M, with Sergio Munzibai, the Bronx-born Morales has worked on music by Melba Moore, Lime, Evelyn “Champagne” King, The Fatback Band, Temptations, and more. Some may be hesitant to throw on John Morales Presents Teena Marie (BBE Music) based on who Teena was, but everyone might be pleasantly surprised.

While there are some of her more popular songs missing from this release like “Ooo La La La,” and “Lovergirl,” the compilation of remixed works doesn’t disappoint on the double album. While “I Need Your Lovin’” was always a fan favorite and crowd-pleaser, Morales adds more string arrangements to the reworked version, extending the song by a couple of minutes and letting the vibrant melodies rise to the surface. Morales gives the song the full richness it deserves. The track totals 9 minutes and 11 seconds without a lull at any point in time. Opening with vocal harmonies, accentuated by strings right before that signature bassline hits. First blending and then allowing it the proper space it deserves with an echoing guitar in the distance. Of course, tossing in that Latin percussion as well. In all honesty, there’s a lushness to the entire recording…now. While Teena Marie’s music was amazing then, it’s more than that now. That’s not to take anything away from Lady T.

Listening to “It Must Be Magic” and comparatively speaking with the original, the texture here is full-bodied and Morales’ touch can be felt throughout. When she opens it with “Put some magic on this track,” not on the original, that’s exactly what Morales does here. Levels vary, again increasing the song’s initial feel. Every nuance can be heard on the sweet and sultry “Now That I Have You” and I’m left wondering why no one thought of doing this a decade ago! Teena’s artistry has always been about the music first and foremost, and she was more than a token white artist playing R&B, and this is why she was embraced by the culture. This is definitive time-warp worthy, and an added couple of minutes on “Behind the Groove” makes it even better, with signature moments in Teena Marie’s La La La La’s, coupled over added instrumentation and layers of horns & strings. But it’s “Square Biz” that sounds fuller than the street song my aunt used to play on her turntable in her Soundview apartment when I was little. Morales brings the same magic here I mentioned previously; fully textured and thick! He leaves a lot more room for her guitar strumming.

But of course, I’m certain some are wondering what else could possibly raise eyebrows. Well, all that could be found in the closing mix of her Rick James duet “Fire and Desire,” a love song that withstands the test of time, time and time again. The difference here again is Morales touch, which is ever so gentle but we can all hear the changes made, which is more of an addition than anything else. Hearing both James and Teena with what sounds like additional strings and percussion throughout adds beauty within and without. Let’s not forget about the organ as well. It’s captivating from beginning to end.

What’s left to say? John Morales Presents Teena Marie is without a doubt, outstanding. John Morales raises Teena Marie’s cache value from beginning to end. He does the same for his own.

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Moving with unrestrained steps, the Toledo, Ohio trio Citizen releases its new full-length release Life In Your Glass World (Run For Cover Records). Within the confines of 11 songs, the band – made up of vocalist Mat Kerekes, guitarist Nick Hamm, and bassist Eric Hamm – showcase diversity from track to track while still able to gel together, enabling a totalitarian cohesiveness.

In Citizen’s 12-year existence, the band hasn’t always had a clear and defined sound that fit neatly within any specific box. If we consider the band’s last full-length, 2017’s As You Please, the group played with harmonies & melody unlike anyone would probably even consider. The album was direct and concise while almost four years with Life In Your Glass World, no fucks are given and all bets are off.  

The band opens the album with “Death Dance Approximately,” pieced together with a rhythmically heavy delivery, a bit of dissonance, seemingly skewed melodies that in actuality are straightforward, and a pummeling franticness when necessary. And it is necessary. Here Kerekes’ lyrics and delivery are visceral, clearly cutting with his words. “I Want To Kill You” follows the song’s lead although this time it seems the rhythm is what we’re to direct all our attention to. The physicality of the song is appealing as instruments build and crash along the way, and lyrically, Kerekes fights the good fight here, taking control when he has to. There’s strength all around the song itself but never relinquishing its anger.

It’s never always direct with a hard-edged punk ethos, as the trio shakes things up on “Thin Air,” as the jangled & distorted guitars swirl opens the track with a melody we find throughout the song, much more relaxed with hazy backing harmonies floating around. The band masterfully constructs the song with slight changes in dynamics as crescendos sputter in and out as well. “Call Your Bluff” takes a different approach here as well, as the band pulls new wave-ish rhythms for this banter fueled track. There’s sadness filled with hope, and at moments I’m unable to relinquish the band’s knack for grand choruses. The band makes its way across “Fight Beat,” milking a bass groove for all its worth and you won’t be able to do anything but listen to it repeatedly. The stop/starts are unexpected but wondrous.

If it hasn’t been made clear, Life In Your Glass World is the album that takes Citizen to an entirely new level. It’s one the band’s contemporaries can only hope to achieve. I’m willing to bet the group is only now scratching the surface, leaving a lot more to explore.   

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Even before Xiu Xiu became a household name amongst indiephiles, with a penchant for something more challenging, Jamie Stewart and the music he’s been making has defied category. Before bursting from its elaborate cocoon, Ten In The Swear Jar was beginning to mine the territory the wings of Xiu Xiu would feast on, with nary an artist that could match it in its own musical abandon.

Fast forward some a couple of decades and we still find Stewart challenging listeners, today marking Xiu Xiu’s 12th full-length release, OH NO (Polyvinyl Records). The band has slimmed down to just Stewart and Angela Seo as the only two core members handling vocals, piano bass, gongs, viola, mandolin, synth, and an assortment of other instruments as they’re assisted by a rotating cast of friends and musicians (including Alice Bag, Sharon Van Etten, Chelsea Wolfe, and others). Just as the band has in the past, included are 15 tracks that are up for a variety of interpretations, defying classification and lead through alluring confections of sound & fury, albeit delicately. The opening “Sad Mezcalita” builds softly around vocal harmonies and dueling vocals where Seo’s delivery is more akin to Mark Lanegan’s alcohol-drenched vocals. Stewart’s quivering voice is as hauntingly desperate as we’ve always come to expect with instruments allowed a certain amount of freedom to drift in and out of the track. Although when instruments collide, it’s existential. And all this from just one song.

Emotionally, there’s fear and dread throughout “I Cannot Resist,” while on “The Grifters,” the musicians build around a couple of notes as it slowly crescendos creating a tidal wave of sound. But this is almost nothing in comparison to the blistering “One Hundred Years,” an evocative number treading murky waters, wallowing in darkness. Its frenetic pace leaves me wanting more of the same as instruments clash against one another. Turning this up to 11 is sure to annoy neighbors, test relationships, and unleash furious dance moves. Midway through the track, there’s a quiet transition that explodes and shares its fury once again. While I revel in the directness of Xiu Xiu believing I’ve reached the pinnacle, I’m hit with “Saint Dymphna,” a beautiful excursion that takes a different pace altogether, gelled by a variety of instrumentation. It’s a grand excursion that leaves emotions obliterated.

Truly, during the band’s existence, it has never disappointed and OH NO follows suit here. We should also make note of the album’s production as Xiu Xiu received help from renowned Australian composer Lawrence English and Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier who co-produced the album with Seo. The vision was formulated, realized, and finalized to perfection.

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