New Music: Friday Roll Out! Bethany Thomas, Shades Apart, Sadistik, Elliot Smith, Madlib

If you weren’t aware, I’ve been a fan of Elliot Smith for years now. I hold Smith with the same reverence I’ve attached to A Tribe Called Quest. It always hits a cord seeing reissues, deluxe releases, and in this case, an Expanded 25th Anniversary Edition of Smith’s second self-titled release (Kill Rock Stars). The explosion of his career took its toll on the singer/songwriter who seemed to prefer smaller venues, bars that held 50 people, rather than stadiums or arenas. I watched him perform in a bar on the Lower East Side in Manhattan which was filled over capacity, as Alan Cummings squeezed past me with a cigarette in hand. It was a bit much in there but well worth the “secret” performance. The new release is filled with remastered versions of the original 12 tracks, which remain timeless, as well as 10 additional songs that were recorded live back in September 17, 1994. It was a show at Portland, OR’s Umbra Penumbra Theatre. Live performances of songs from his debut Roman Candle as well as live versions of songs from his second. Of course I picked up a copy for myself. It’s Elliot Smith after all.

It always boggles my mind as to why Madlib isn’t celebrated as much as other producers and Hip-Hop artists. His style and grace with his digital cut-n-paste compositions are sometimes mind numbing. Listening to Madicine Show – Pill Jar (Madlib Invazion) is no different. Sure his tracks are known for their brevity and straight-to-the-point effect, but they hit hard and direct. The opening “Static Invazion” is a pastiche of sound that’s both reflective and original here, and mixes so much within it you’ll feel like you’re getting lost within its druggy effect but find yourself in the end. If you haven’t guessed it, this album is the expanded version of 2013’s Medicine Show – The Pill and hits just as hard as the original. Featured throughout are Guilty Simpson, MED, J Dilla, Karriem Riggins, and James Poyser. This album requires multiple listens and that means repeat, repeat, and repeat again.  

Days like these it’s difficult to keep up and know who’s doing what with whom and so forth. I seem to lose sight of releases artists have dropped because during these isolated times, rappers, musicians, artists, and the like, have time to create, release, create. And release again. Back in March Sadistik dropped “The Plague” single and I’m just realizing now that it was part of the Delirium E.P. released back in April. These are the things I’m referring to here. Sadistik’s last album, 2019’s Haunted Gardens was delicate and somber filled with melancholy, while Altars dark and forceful tones took their toll on me.

At least this time I was aware of Elysium, his new E.P. where we find a different side of the thoughtful emcee. On the 7 tracks of Elysium, he’s still delicately walking that tight rope but although songs like “Canary In A Mine” sound dark and foreboding, Sadistik strays away from the melancholia. The beauty of the track is wrapped around what sounds like an old film vocal is quite stunning. The same spirit is filtered throughout the rest of this release, whether it’s the cooing “Sirens (feat. Wicca Phase Springs Eternal)” or on “Zodiac (feat. Mick Jenkins)” where Sadistik waxes poetic, trading verses with Mick Jenkins.

There’s a sweet sensuality throughout the songs composed on Elysium and feeling a different way around what Sadistik plays at here, is eye-opening. Yes, I remain a fan in whichever mode or mood he chooses to channel.

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There are certain things that have excited me through the years and music, yes, that is something that sometimes excites me. 90s post-hardcore and punk was pretty invigorating at times and still resonates at times. When there’s news of a band hitting the ignition on their motor again, yeah, it’s time to raise the volume levels to see if they still have what it takes.

Shades Apart was different from the bands it rolled with. Although it was part of the same scene as many of the Revelation Records bands, it was obvious the group was made for something much bigger. With swirling hooks and melodies, the band differed from the hardcore leanings of its contemporaries. After its stint on indie labels, the band made the jump to the majors for two albums and the band would see its songs in major films (American Pie) as the band toured incessantly around the world. The trio – made up of  Mark V., Kevin Lynch, and Ed Brown – wrapped things up in 2003 but later reemerged in 2012 but only now have released new material in almost 20 years. Eternal Echo (Hellminded Records) is the new album by the band and pretty much where they left off.

I wanted to be more excited with the band’s album, but I’m left lingering for the sounds of 1999’s Eyewitness, or even 97’s Seeing Things to a lesser extent. That isn’t to say the band is lacking in power or song structure though, remember, the band members are still one with their respective instruments. The album opens with “So What Now” which sounds self-reflective with power chords bouncing off the walls, which easily sets the mood for the rest of the album, although the song itself is with the friendly & catchiness that we expect and want from the band. The band continues to weave through the pattern of catchiness with the flavorful “Only Light” and captures the thick harmonies around loud guitars and thumping drums. In fact, the band moves with melodies throughout the first half of the album that are all catchy AF. “Dark Valley Lake” slows things down considerably but never relinquishes the powerful rhythms or distorted guitars. But it’s not always like that.

The band reminisces on years past with “95” where they attempt to capture the same melodic sweetness but it’s not as captivating. “Counting Down” moves in a more aggressive fashion before attempting those harmonies but it seems out of place here. After that, seems what I’m left with is background music. I honestly couldn’t tell you anything that stood out from that point on. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted Eternal Echo to blast through my speakers as I bounced off walls but for the moment, I’ll stick to the band’s back catalog.

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When a side musician steps out on their own, I’m always hesitant. No other musician gives me cold shivers than Little Steven Van Zandt whose notoriety really started with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. Given, great side musician but his own material, cold shivers. (Note: His “Sun City” protest was one of the greatest challenges to South Africa in the 80s. And his acting chops in The Sopranos was above par.) But this isn’t about Van Zandt, I digress and I apologize.

Bethany Thomas has been around and up until this moment; I’ve never heard her name uttered. She’s been a part of Jon Langford’s Four Lost Souls as well as JC Brooks’ band, the Uptown Sound. Well, Thomas’ name shouldn’t linger in obscurity anymore with the release of her debut album BT/She/Her named obviously for the pronouns Thomas is. On the album, she was assisted by a number of talented musicians which helped realize the recordings. The anthemic “I’m Not Sorry And I’m Not Scared” holds all the potency of her capabilities in this one track. When she starts things off singing, “I cast a real big shadow” you may be hesitant to believe it but the song will bludgeon you into submission from the get-go. Guitars rattle and buzz ala Edwyn Collins and the rhythm section…well, let’s just say I’m still reeling from its power. But it’s Thomas’s strengthened vocals that always keep my attention. Hell yes, ain’t no bringing her down.

The album seems, ambitious and while it’s far from a comparison, it’s akin to the chances PJ Harvey took with Rid Of Me through To Bring You My Love. The loud and abrupt distortion is evident in songs like “DE-ESCALATOR” with sparks of noise over the soft melody as dynamics shift both vocally and musically. It’s cleverly pieced together while “70th Love Song” takes a different turn, moving in a different direction taking its lead from 50s and 60s pop. It’s a grandiose number that shows a different side of Thomas.

It isn’t all power chords and riffery obviously because Thomas is far more than that and we find her love of music truly expansive on “Walls + Ceilings.” Tenderly played acoustic guitars, with electric guitars making their way through (but taking a backseat) while Thomas’ vocals fly around the track like a hummingbird. Even on “Only Mine,” here she continues to challenge that status quo as harmonies abound before the song cleverly crescendos and explodes with riveting fireworks of instruments. It’s somewhat breathtaking.

There are a few different sides and aspects to Bethany Thomas but they’re all rooted around her powerful vocals. She closes BT/She/Her with “The Waves” which is the reckoning we’re all probably not ready for. It’s explosive and reaches far over what anyone probably expected! I’m left in awe of Bethany Thomas.

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