Welcome to AdHoc’s Femme Fridays, a weekly column highlighting the work and talent of trailblazing femmes throughout music history. In this week’s edition, we’re looking at Suzanne Vega’s classic hit, “Tom’s Diner,” in honor of the songstress’s 59th birthday this week.
Some melodies just never seem to disappear. They weave into our collective memory without notice, surreptitious and enduring, until it seems like they have been rooted in us all along. Beloved folk-pop singer Suzanne Vega is author to one such melody: 1989’s “Tom’s Diner,” an expository tune where she details a rainy morning at a Brooklyn cafe. Nearly 40 years have passed since it was written, yet its simple, a cappella arrangement feels more charming than ever.
Vega's voice is a gentle reprieve from a world inundated with noise and confusion. It is grounding. “I am sitting /In the morning /At the diner /On the corner,” she begins. No frills, no feelings—just the close-mic’d cadence of soft vocals and quiet intakes of breath. Look around, Vega seems to ask us. She does plenty of it herself, detailing her morning newspaper and taking in the movements of people at the diner: “There’s a woman / On the outside / Looking inside / Does she see me?”
Vega’s lyricism has sometimes been noted for its detached, or even clinical, perspectives— but with her tender voice and smooth melodies, I’d argue that she expertly turns the mundane into pop fodder. It’s telling, too, that this seemingly dry track would eventually be used by mathematician and electrical engineer Karlheinz Brandenburg as a marker of “warmth” when developing the MP3 in the early ‘90s. Vega’s was not a world of cold observation—the careful curiosities of any woman can glow, too, if only you listen closely.
Look what the tide brought in: Brooklyn Hula-rockers The Vandelles are back after a four-year hiatus, and just in time for summer. Their new single, “Techromancer,” pumps with wet guitar licks and throbbing basslines. Feedback drenches the start of the track, peaking and crashing away once vocalist Jasno Swarez enters the scene. “I’d rather be dead than you,” he sings on the song’s hook, “I’d rather be black and blue / I’ll greet the darkness when it comes.” This fury is influenced by the least beachy of sources: the Internet.
“Techromancer” points a finger at a world “obsessed with technology,” Swarez told AdHoc over email. It’s part of what he calls “the power of anonymous anger on the internet.” “I think everyone has had people say terrible things to them online—the chorus of “Techromancer” is me expressing my frustration with that,” he said.
We live in urgent times: our botched political climate grows darker each day, and under the reigns of a Trump presidency, the world can feel like it’s crumbling. Brooklyn post-punk quartet SIGNAL aren’t interested in finding harmony in any of this—their riotous, dissonant sound is music for the apocalypse. Their self-titled debut EP, set to release on August 10 via Ramp Local, is filled with grating noise: crunching drums flit unpredictably under the heavy distortion of a blaring guitar, played by AdHoc’s very own Carlos Salas. Wailing beneath it all is Aida Riddle, her piercing voice clambering for attention amidst the feedback.
“Dorks on Bikes,” which we’re premiering below, is the second taste of the EP. Like last month’s “BLL,” it gnarls with intensity. “Sometimes words are just the nonsense we mumble to other people to feel less alone,” SIGNAL told AdHoc over email. “You’re fucked if you do and fucked if you don’t. It sucks being with other people, but it sucks even more just being alone with yourself and your thoughts.” This reflection defines “Dorks on Bikes,” a song that ultimately feels like a raucous shout into the void.
In #adhoclifeadvice, we ask artists we love to answer questions from you, our readers. This time around, LA-based songwriter and performer Dent May—who is also a self-described hotel bar lounge singer and aspiring daytime TV talk show host—shares wisdom about finding creative inspiration and focusing on yourself. Dent May plays Market Hotel on July 13 with Shannon Lay.
Brandon Williams, the man behind the curtain that is Whitby, Ontario band Chastity, has been hitting it hard in the last couple years. Chastity covers all bases with their sound. “Die From My Mind,” the b-side of 2017’s Peroxide 7”, is a melodic anthem that grows to a booming wash of guitars, yet the maniacal guitar stylings on “Chains,” the title track from their 2017 EP, are reminiscent of the heyday of Seattle grunge. Somehow, in this torrent of creativity, Williams has still found the time to run barn shows in rural Ashburn, ON.
Chastity is now gearing up to release its debut full-length release, Death Lust—and AdHoc was fortunate enough to get the chance to premiere their video for “Heaven Hell Anywhere Else,” a melodic anthem about tempting fate and living to tell about it. Over calmly distorted guitar chords, we follow a dangerous trio. A cowboyed up version of Williams slinks through the countryside with two western-styled women. The chorus hits with a classically inspired yet fuzzed-up melody. One of the crew puts a bag over her head as the others glide their fingers over glass and lighter flames. Flowers are lain on an empty street before the bodies of cops are dragged into a church and set aflame. After these acts, the trio heads to a fair to get their minds away from what they have just done as the chorus repeats, eventually falling into the sea of distortion.
"'Heaven Hell Anywhere Else' is the most death-dreaming song on the record,” Williams told AdHoc over email. “I’ve been reading about how chemical our pleasure and happiness is. The feeling of pleasure just being dopamine, happiness serotonin. ‘Who laced my days with pain?’ I’m talking about imbalance of these things and feeling caught on the other side as though a God, someone or something, may be culpable. But, maybe it’s just these chemicals that hold that massive power over us: ‘Serotonin don’t let me go.’
Greenwave Beth is the Sydney-based electro-pop duo of Charles Rushforth and Will Blackburn, who also play in indie-rock band Flowertruck. Their music captures what frontman Charles calls “a dance of agony”: that space where we move to the rhythm of our own anxieties and desires. Watching him perform, Rushforth seems to be quite literally in the throes of that dance, his body twisting and writhing to the beat of a drum machine.
The band’s latest EP, People in Agony, invites listeners to share in this dance. The four-track release features hypnotic drum and bass sequencing alongside Rushforth’s explosive vocals. On opener “Country,” surging synths give way to a frantic cry: “I can’t sleep through clenched teeth / not a boy anymore.” Moments later, on “Against Me,” Rushforth croons over pulsing beats, “Love’s a fight and we’ve spent our life on the ropes.” These restless deliberations on youth, love, and identity fill People in Agony with darkness, but also with the hope that we might learn to find some pleasure in these complicated states.
AdHoc spoke with Charles Rushforth about the new EP, his raucous performance style, and the Japanese “Mom and Dad” rock stars that look after him on tour. People in Agony is out now via Dinosaur City Records.
Greenwave Beth is a side project for you. What made you want to start it, and what are you doing with Greenwave that you aren’t able to do with Flowertruck?
Charles Rushforth: I suppose it’s funny calling Greenwave a side project—it definitely is one in terms of how much time it takes up, but it’s equally as important to me in terms of what I get to create with it. With Greenwave, I’m able to make music where I don’t feel hemmed in by the genre, whereas with Flowertruck I feel like I have to make a certain sound. Greenwave lets me work with other elements like violin or a choir quite easily, for example, and I know that won’t set anything off. I can play music that fluctuates between happier and sadder stuff, but it’s still got the same tone if that makes sense.
Yeah! It’s physically a musical risk, ‘cause we’ve got a lot of stuff cabled up and it doesn’t always work; stuff breaks and it’s really organic. It’s always funny to perform live, since we have a lot of energy and it can get kind of dangerous.
I remember being electrocuted at a house party once: I was standing in a pool of water in my socks, and this power board started freaking out because we were putting too much power through it. There were certain points on stage where I’d stand and get 50 volts going through my system. We didn’t stop; we just had to tailor that into the performance. I love that it’s always kind of risky, though—that feeling like you’re putting your life on the line every time you perform.
Jordan Lee’s music as Mutual Benefit traffics in interiority, in those little secrets and spaces you save for your closest friends. His upcoming release, Thunder Follows The Light, doubles down on that intimacy. On single “New History,” Lee couches the passage of time in delicate pastoral imagery, singing, “The sun is setting on this town / Where rust and ivy intertwine / Where past and present remain bound / in all the things we leave behind.” This is where the music of Mutual Benefit has always derived its emotional power: In the puddled smallness of rust and ivy, where the inevitability of change doesn’t feel quite so oppressive.
Ahead of the album’s release on September 21, via Transgressive, Lee has released live versions of singles “New History” and “Storm Cellar Heart.” In the accompanying videos, Christmas lights are draped around the instruments and recording space like protective magic.
“It's important to me for the Mutual Benefit band to feel like a little family, so I got together some of my favorite musician friends in Brooklyn to make music and dinner at my apartment,” Lee told AdHoc about the recording process. “The end results were these two live arrangements and a veggie feast—not too bad!”
Welcome to AdHoc’s Femme Fridays, a weekly column highlighting the work and talent of trailblazing femmes throughout music history. In this week’s edition, we’re honoring the sensational Joni Mitchell, whose celebrated album, Blue, came out 47 years ago today.
Blue is a mutable shade. In the sky, it’s all sweet radiance; in our seas, it churns and laps. It’s an oscillating hue, but it carries with it a note of melancholy: We feel blue. We are blue. Some of us sing the blues—those sorrow songs birthed of Blackness, of plight. Joni Mitchell sang the blues, too, albeit of a different sort: hers was a blues of the mundane, of the individual, needling out her heartbreak with an Appalachian dulcimer. Her 1971 album, Blue, ebbs and flows like the sea, her voice weathering each pitfall and hard knock with breathtaking serenity.
From imagistic moments like, “I want to wreck my stockings in some jukebox dive,” on album opener “All I Want,” to the elusive divinity of “you’re in my blood like holy wine,” on the classic “A Case of You,” Mitchell’s Blue sows a public world out of her intimate musings, one that always seems just shy of tapping into some feminine truth. In a 1999 interview with Ottawa Citizen, Mitchell recounted the first time she performed Blue for a group of her male contemporaries:
“They were embarrassed for me. The feminine appetite for intimacy is stronger than it is in men. So my songwriter friends listened and they all shut down, even Neil Young. The only one who spoke up was Kris Kristofferson. ‘Jesus, Joni,’ he said. ‘Save something for yourself.’”
It isn’t uncommon to find descriptions of Blue that lean on Kristofferson’s famed quote; yet they’re missing something. What is there to save when you are a woman in the public eye, whose every relationship— from Graham Nash to James Taylor— is exposed for public consumption? What Mitchell understood, whether deliberately or not, was the power of her own self-representation: she released an album so rich in detail and soul-bearing that it could scarcely warrant poor criticism, especially when touched by her gentle acoustic plucks and fluttering voice. The strength of Blue, and of Mitchell herself, is the ability to take that dangerous stab at honesty and weave it into something beautiful.
Stadiums & Shrines has its roots in the golden era of underground music blogs. Founded by Dave Sutton over ten years ago, the site retains the anti-commercial, esoteric ethos of those years, which feels remarkable in an indie music industry that seems to become more professionalized by the day. Combining impressionistic prose with abstract imagery and top-notch music curation, Stadiums & Shrines continues to carry the proverbial torch for the joys of discovering new music on the internet, even as it’s evolved beyond its original function as a daily MP3 blog.
The site’s Dreams series began in 2012, inviting artists to write musical accompaniment for surreal landscapes by collage artist Nathaniel Whitcomb. And with the newly assembled Dreams compilation, released on Cascine this past Friday, June 15, Sutton and Whitcomb have assembled the definitive collection of these audiovisual pairings in a double LP and accompanying gatefold book. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Bing & Ruth, and Ricky Eat Acid have all contributed tracks to the series, taking inspiration from Whitcomb’s collages as they tour the imagined landscapes of their unconscious construction.
Like the photo collages of Chris Marker or Duane Michals, Whitcomb’s pieces force our quotidian experience into unfamiliar territory. You feel as if you know these places, and yet you recognize the distinctly imagined or impossible qualities of each landscape. The audio components for these Dream collages create space for extended rumination, offering hints as to how they want to be heard, but never quite telling us.
We spoke to Sutton and Whitcomb about DIY spaces, ambient classics, and reaching for abstraction in a concrete world. You can catch the upcoming release show for the Dreams compilation, with Julie Byrne, Bing & Ruth, and Yumi Zouma (DJ set) at National Sawdust on July 1.
Can you guys introduce yourselves?
Nathaniel Whitcomb: I’m Nathaniel, and I’ve been doing collage work pretty much for the last decade or so on and off, and the dreams collage has been a culmination of that collage work and an ongoing thing for the past eight years. So this is the result of all that work. And outside of that, I used to work in advertising and have transitioned to being a stay-at-home dad for the last two years, and that’s been awesome.
Dave Sutton: I’m Dave, and outside of S&S I work in music. S&S was my first entry into a community of music blogs, which eventually introduced me to The Hype Machine, so I work at Hype Machine doing editorial. As of the past year, I’m working at Ghostly International doing similar work.
Ghostly! I really dug that latest Mary Lattimore album.
Dave: Me too. It’s been a true honor to work on that album. Super excited for her.
Emma Louise could have made another pop record. The Australian singer-songwriter more than proved her craft on her first two full-lengths, and has grown into something of an indie darling Down Under after touring with Sam Smith for the Oceania leg of his “In the Lonely Hour” tour.
Produced by Tobias Jesso Jr., Lilac Everything, her latest album, sees Louise ditching the pseudo-twee pop persona of her past releases and boldly experimenting with her voice, which she pitches down on every song. The result is a series of quiet, genre-defying pieces. The production is spacious and ambient, and the vocal manipulations shade each lyric with an extra layer of sadness. Over email, Louise told AdHoc that “it just felt so right.”
The first single, “Wish You Well,” is surprisingly Zen for a breakup anthem. “I hope you keep singing with your eyes closed,” she croons over a steady swell of piano and percussion. There’s no bitterness here, only sadness at what could’ve been, and some meager hope for what might be.