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[Interview] Civil Twilight Gets Back to Basics on Story of an Immigrant

Civil Twilight Press shot

Let Civil Twilight’s Steven McKellar tell it, and the worst thing a band can do is let things get too complicated. Unfortunately, midway through recording their third studio album that was exactly where the South African band was. Cutting track after track, they couldn’t find a sound suited for sculpting a record around.

“You should hear the other demos that we’ve made, you’ll have a five-minute song that’s like six different musical styles,” McKellar joked. “You’ll go to the bridge and it’ll be a jazz-fusion breakdown and then the chorus is a slash metal thing, it’s all over the place.”

As the writing process wore on, the band, comprised of McKellar, his brother Andrew, Richard Wouters and Kevin Dailey, found themselves consistently circling back to one rough, soulful track that began with skittering hand drums and flashes of guitar, before opening up to sweeping synths and guitars that gleamed like an unobstructed horizon.

That record, “Story of an Immigrant,” wound up being not only the title track for their third full-length, which was released by Wind-Up Records in July, but also the project’s inspiration.

That a South African band now living in Nashville (humorously McKellar described as a “…land of milk and honey where the rents are cheap and the beers are cheap”) would make an album called Story of an Immigrant might seem almost too on the nose, but the meaning is not as literal as appears.

“[It’s about] where we’ve came from, the journey that we’ve taken to get here, what it means to be an immigrant. Not just within borders or physically, but just people when you’re trying to discover a home or a place of comfort and peace,” McKellar explained.

It’s been three years since Civil Twilight released Holy Weather, a solid album that is much darker than the rest of the band’s discography. It’s very of-the-moment, fitting in perfectly with other strong, yet sullen indie rock releases like Local Natives’ Hummingbird or Half Moon Run’s Dark Eyes.

“The second record’s got this feel of vagrancy, and timelessness to it. Like we’re vagabonds roaming, this one’s a bit more stable,” McKellar explained.

A lot of that, he says, came from the writing process. Where Holy Weather was written on the road out of necessity, the band made a concerted effort to get back to their roots on the new album, composing and recording as a unit in a stationary location. That openness is felt throughout the album, and is a major reason why Story of an Immigrant is Technicolor to its predecessor’s grayscale.

According to McKellar, a lot of the cohesion can be chocked up to the addition of Dailey, who they’d played with in the past. Dailey wrote a lot of what ended up on the album, and also brought a self-awareness that was instrumental.

“On a social level he brought in a sense of humor, reminding us not to take ourselves too seriously and just to have fun,” said McKellar. “…The style of his writing is from a place that I felt like I couldn’t get back to anymore, and it helped me as a songwriter get back there. That’s sort of the theme, is getting back to the old thing.”

One of the tracks that Dailey contributed is “Love Was All That Mattered,” the album’s ghostly acoustic closer. It’s the furthest sonic left turn on Story of an Immigrant, as synths sweep across the soundscape like a stiff breeze while McKellar reflects wistfully on a past relationship gone awry.

“It’s a sad song, but it’s got elements of hope to it,” said McKellar, who noted that it was the first song he’d recorded without writing the lyrics. “I think we wanted to end with that song because it wasn’t like going out with a bang, it was like leaving a little question mark.”

While “Love Was All That Mattered” is a solemn exit note, the rest of Story of an Immigrant beams with joy and a welcome sense of relief. “When, When” has shades of Vampire Weekend’s “Everlasting Arms,” and with its frenetic production and scratchy guitar showcases Civil Twilight at their freewheeling best.

Elsewhere, “Holy Dove” harnesses some of the harsher energy of Holy Weather into a hard-driving anthem, and the hook bursts to life in a way that practically forces you to stomp your feet and nod your head.

Front to back, Story of an Immigrant is a confident, infectious record that showcases Civil Twilight’s comfort with not only their place in music, but also as artists themselves. The album is a testament to the power of cohesion and simplicity, which McKellar believes are two of the most fundamental aspects of keeping your head above water in the music world.

“For me a band’s not anything if the members aren’t loving each other, it doesn’t mean anything. I hate seeing bands like that, that get up on stage and don’t even want to acknowledge each other,” he said. “[It] shouldn’t get any more complex than four dudes playing music together.”

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[Interview + EP] Elderbrook

Elderbrook B&W2

Elderbrook is a U.K.-based singer-producer who has been churning out stellar minimalist indie electronic tracks for the past year. With sharp lyrics, an engaging baritone and production that thrives on live sounds, he’s crafted two tremendous EPs, 2014’s Simmer Down, and Travel Slow, which came out today.

We got the chance to speak to the university student-turned-boundary-pushing musician in the week leading up to Travel Slow’s release about his musical background, love of folk music, and creative process.

We already gushed over “Good Enough,” the second track released from the EP, and the whole project is absolutely stellar from start to finish. If you enjoy Fyfe, Jamie Woon, Jamie xx or any kind of smart, well-produced downtempo music Elderbrook is surely a name to watch.

You can stream Travel Slow below:

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[Premiere] Nic. – Upside Down

New Nic.!

I used to have a friend named Paul. I used to always joke about having crazy, wild sex with his mom. I haven’t spoken with Paul or seen his mom for about six years. Two days ago I moved into my new apartment. We were playing music pretty loudly and heard a knock on the door. It was Paul’s mom. It turns out she lives below us and wanted to complain about the noise. We exchanged numbers and told her to let us know if we’re being too loud. The Internet guy says we should text her and complain about her being noisy even though she is not noisy. He also suggested we shit in front of her door. Anyway. This was the song that was playing when we got the noise complaint.

Bonus!

Familiarize yourself with some of Nic.‘s other tracks.

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[ICYMI] Timeline of Meek Mill & Drake Beef

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So, in case you missed it, Meek Mill decided to take a shot at (instead of with) Drake. Why? Who the hell knows. Maybe it’s because Drake and Nicki have been linked together in the past (Meek and Nicki are dating)? Maybe it’s because Drake is jew-ish? Maybe it’s because he pretended to be in a wheelchair for so many television years? Or maybe it’s because Drake didn’t buy Meek’s new album (in stores now, go out and cop it before shots are coming your way). Whatever the reason may be, Meek was thirsty. Some think it might of simply been a terribly thought out PR move. Again, who the hell knows, and I’m at the point of this. Even WWE got involved in the beef and took Drake’s side (sidebar: I’m a closet WWE freak). Hit the jump to figure out what exactly happened.

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[Interview] Atlas Genius on the Stress and Process Behind Inanimate Objects

B&W shot of Atlas Genius

Whether or not Inanimate Objects, the sophomore album from Atlas Genius matches the surprise success of their debut (and it should, it’s excellent), frontman Keith Jeffery insists that they weren’t simply going to go back to the well that worked for them on When It Was Now.

“We definitely didn’t want to just revisit the ground that we covered on the first album,” Jeffery said. “Growing up you see bands that are desperately trying to recreate their big hit, but I’ve never really seen that work. For me that just seems futile.”

That’s a bold statement, since the aforementioned “well” earned them a gold single in “Trojans,” a record that debuted in Billboard’s Top 40, and a slew of high profile gigs, including a spot in 2013’s Lollaplooza lineup.

While “Molecules,” Inanimate Objects’ lead single, nearly matches “Trojans” for sheer infectiousness, it couldn’t be more different sonically. Jeffery rides wave after wave of massive, majestic synth on a track that is joyous and triumphant and clearly written to be played for 100,000 people at once.

That effect didn’t happen by accident. Jeffery, along with his bandmate and brother, Michael, set out to make an album that hit home with a live audience both in its loudest, most anthemic moments, and its softest, most vulnerable ones.

“When you play live you want those moments where it’s super intimate and just you and the audience with no music,” Jeffery explained. “And then you want those other moments where it explodes, so that’s what we tried to do with the album.”

“Friends With Enemies” fills the intimacy quota on Inanimate Objects practically by itself. It’s one of the darkest, most melancholy tracks the band has released, but it’s also one of their densest and most hypnotic. Jeffery’s voice fades to a near whisper as a blur of synths fade in and out, practically reaching infrasound levels.

While guitar is nothing more than a suggestion on “Friends With Enemies,” it soars elsewhere on the album. After becoming overnight synth pop darlings, the Jefferys watched as everyone from Lorde to Taylor Swift plunged into the “ethereal” sound that had been part of the band’s identity since “Trojans” entered the global consciousness. Luckily, Jeffery saw this not as an obstacle to their creativity, but an opportunity to get back to a musical love he’d been hoping to rekindle.

“For me, I just missed guitars. I grew up playing a lot of guitars and listening to a lot of guitar bands,” Jeffery said of the album. “I wanted to revisit that for myself.”

That desire is hard to miss on Inanimate Objects. “Stockholm” derives its frenetic energy from its ceaselessly chugging chords; “The City We Grow” is a quintessential piece of sun-soaked guitar pop, and the brothers go full acoustic on the soulful “Levitate.”

Overall, Atlas Genius’ sophomore album is a confident, mature record that showcases their development as a band without skimping on the massive, infectious songs that made them an instant hit with audiences. However, there was plenty of anxiety that went into the recording process for a band so concerned with perfection that they spent two years building a home studio in their native Australia. Inanimate Objects was their first time bringing in outside voices and producers.

“I was really worried about working with different people because I had this fear that there would be this intangible magic that we would ruin by involving other people,” Jeffery said. “Thankfully, that wasn’t the case…I actually think it’s a better album because we opened up a little bit.”

Ultimately, Jeffery said the change in process was invigorating for the band once they found their rhythm and had the time to write. Despite a relentless touring schedule post-When It Was Now, only “The City We Grow” got the stereotypical, guitar-in-the-back-of-the-tour-bus writing treatment.”The embryonic seeds of an idea can start when you’re touring, but I find finishing off a song pretty difficult with the way we do it on the road,” Jeffery explained. “A lot of the lyrics I come up with as a result of the production sounds, as opposed to just writing it on an acoustic guitar and strumming it out.”

Jeffery said he wants to develop that ability to craft whole songs on the road, but for now he’s just eager to have fans hear the album. While the singles have been met with plenty of praise, he’s excited for the public to take in Inanimate Objects the way he intended: in its entirety.

“As the writer of the songs, to me this album is strongest when listened to as a whole. To take one moment out of it for me is like taking one scene out a movie, and that’s the only scene people get to see for a couple of months. But for me it all makes sense when you see it as a whole,” he said.

Finally, there was the perennial problem of knowing when to let a record lie and not engage in endless tinkering. The album hits shelves on August 28th, but the recording process wrapped up in Los Angeles during the early spring.

“You can always overcook things. The good thing for us is we pretty much used up all the time we allocated for ourselves. There wasn’t time for us to get to messing with things,” Jeffery said. “We could’ve gone on for another year tweaking stuff. My personality is that I could tweak stuff forever.”

Even without the extra tweaking time, it’s pretty hard to find an issue with Inanimate Objects.

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Artist Playlist: What Music is Fort Lean Listening To?

FortLeanPlaylist

Brooklyn-based Fort Lean has been churning out some incredibly infectious, freewheeling indie rock for the last year, and their profile is about to rise even more with the release of their New Hobbies EP and album Quiet Day later in the year.

In addition to putting out hits like “Cut to the Chase” and “Easily,” the group has also spent most of the summer on the road, touring heavily throughout the west coast and southwest.

To fill those long hours on the road the quintet has been consuming plenty of tunes, and they were gracious enough to make us a playlist of what kept them going as they cruised from Cambridge, MA to Tulsa, OK. Hit the jump to continue.

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[MP3 + Lyrics] Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (feat. Ed Sheeran) – Growing Up

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - Thrift Shop era

It doesn’t feel like it with the ubiquity of The Heist, but Macklemore & Ryan Lewis haven’t actually given us any new music since 2012. Well, until now.

Macklemore’s daughter, Sloane Ava Simone Haggerty was born on May 29th, and fatherhood has clearly been weighing on him heavily in the ensuing months. He gets a lot off his chest on “Growing Up,” aided by a bluesy, soulful piano-and-guitar beat from Lewis and a gospel-tinged hook fro Ed Sheeran.

The track is tender, honest and emotional, as Macklemore doles out life advice on everything from cheating in class to finding your passion in life. He speaks candidly about the difficulties of fatherhood as a performer living life on the road, and the difficult balancing act he hopes to achieve.

Macklemore also sent a note accompanying the track for context.

When you try to escape yourself, life has an interesting way of creating situations that force you to come back.  To look at who you are.  This is why ‘Growing Up’ felt like the right song to re-emerge with.  It’s where I’ve been the last year, through all the ups and downs.   We didn’t want to do a big campaign or anything over the top with this.  We just wanted to put out good music, directly to the people that have been here since the beginning.  Thank you for your patience. Hope you enjoy.”

Fatherhood has been a major theme in hip-hop recently. Chance the Rapper announced just a few weeks ago that he was expecting a child, and claimed the announcement would change the way fans listened to Surfhis latest record.

It remains to be seen if fatherhood is going to turn Macklemore into a softer, gentler artist, but “Growing Up” is certainly a different direction from much of the super speed, fist-pounding rap of tracks like “Can’t Hold Us.”

“Growing Up” isn’t the first single off a new album, just a raw moment of insight that will make even the staunchest “Thrift Shop” haters stop and listen.

A free download link is included below via SoundCloud, and you can read Macklemore’s full letter here.

Check below for the track’s full lyrics:

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[Download Mixtape] Tape Tuesday: The Flower

New Tape Tuesday!

I am not going to talk about flowers in this writeup. The name of the tape is more of a feeling. This is morning at the beach music. You can start your day with any of the first 13 tracks — preferably in the arranged order. After track 13, the mix veers into darker territory. It is like when the high wears off, and you realize that the summer is coming to an end.

And the flower is dead. Sorry, just needed one flower reference for it all to make sense. And the beginning is like the flower of love, blooming. Ugh, gosh, sorry… two.

I know enough about being high to know you my ultimate drug

DOWNLOAD ‘THE FLOWER’ HERE

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Best New Songs of July 2015

HbAHzVR

The #SunsetFam killed it this month (we kill it every month). When collaborating for these monthly playlists, we like to do what’s best for business, and you are what’s best for business. Different genres, different artists, different sounds. There’s something on here for everyone, or maybe you’re like us and everything on here is for you. Say goodbye to July, and welcome August with open arms.

Highlights this month:

RKCB makes their debut with “Ignite.” NoMBe shines with “Miss Mirage” as he takes you on a journey. Gnash drops his guard and lets you in with “I Hate U I Love U.” MIYNT channels dark-pop-magic with “Civil War.” Allday, who you may remember from working with Skizzy Mars, dropped a solid 7-track mixtape. Arjun told us we should worry about a guy named Allan Rayman. Last, but not least, Meek Mill called out Drake for being fake. Drake responded with not one, not two, not three, just kidding, two “diss” songs because I guess rappers still do that. You can find the second one on this playlist. Oh, and our fellow writer, Andy, became Twitter famous with his tweet about Meek Mill’s response track.

Hit the jump for the Soundcloud stream and download!

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Outside Lands 2015: Playlist + 10 Must-See Acts That Aren’t Headliners

outsidelands

Another year, another adventure at Outside Lands awaits. Of the three years that I’ve been in San Francisco for this magical festival, this year’s lineup is arguably the most impressive. The headliners are about as diverse as they come: Elton John (to please the old school crowd), Mumford & Sons (to please the nostalgic crowd), The Black Keys (to please the rocker crowd), Sam Smith (to please the emotional crowd), and Kendrick Lamar (to please the hip-hop crowd). And yet there’s something appealing to the general music fan in all of these artist. Suffice it to say, they nailed it this year.

And that’s not just because of the big name headliners they’re bringing in. There is an amazing amount of rising stars in the smaller print names coming to the festival this year. To make sure you get the most out of your Outside Lands experience this year, we’ve picked 10 must-see acts who fall in the non-headliner category. And for fun, we’ve also put together an Outside Lands playlist to get you excited for the fun next weekend. Hit the jump to continue reading.

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Chance the Father: What Does Chance the Rapper’s Impending Fatherhood Mean for Surf?

Chance B&W 2

It’s been quite the few months for Chancelor Bennett. First he released Surf, the out of nowhere follow-up to his sensational Acid Rap mixtape, then he demolished the closing set of Pitchfork Music Festival and topped it off by announcing his Family Matters tour, which kicks off in October.

And somewhere in there, he managed to find the time to announce that he is bringing a life form into this world.

For the record, I still believe the pregnancy announcement may’ve just been a tongue-in-cheek promo for his latest set of road dates. He pulled a similar prank on the public when he announced he was “going to college…” and then kicked off a campus tour in Fall 2014.

But maybe that’s just my cynicism showing through, or concern over the fact that Chance is barely a year older than me and is on the precipice of fatherhood. For this article’s sake, let’s assume Chance is about to be a dad, and take a look at what that means in the context of his latest project.

Chance touching the stomach of the maybe mother of his child maybe.

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[Download Mixtape] Tape Tuesday: The Hills Have Eyes

New Tape Tuesday!

The Weeknd has been on a roll in 2015. He has released two singles, “Can’t Feel My Face” and “The Hills,” both of which are currently sitting pretty in the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100. I convinced myself that he was going to name his third album The Hills Have Eyes, and when he didn’t (he went with Beauty Behind the Madness), I decided to name the Tape Tuesday that as an homage to his exceptional year.

The tape plays like an escape from summer camp. I imagine around track 7 (“Round Whippin’” by A.CHAL) the protagonists are whipping their shitty cars around the hills while on copious amounts of ecstasy. Through the rest of the tape, they get in trouble, fall in love, and honestly maybe have a brief stint in rehab. I don’t know. Something crazy must happen to explain the seriousness of “Mend” by Planetarian.

But I guess that is the point of the mix. You can do crazy shit in the Hollywood Hills or wherever you are, but that crazy shit will catch up to you because the hills are watching.

Do you ever feel like the only one? ’Cause I always feel like the only one

NOTE: The Soundcloud mix is missing track 8 (“The Hills” by The Weeknd).

Hit the jump to view the full tracklist…

DOWNLOAD ‘THE HILLS HAVE EYES’ HERE

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