Femme Fridays: Looking Closely with Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner”

Femme Fridays: Looking Closely with Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner” Photo: A&M Records

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.

The Vandelles Made a Song About Rude People on the Internet

The Vandelles Made a Song About Rude People on the Internet Photography by Jasno Swarez

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.

Hear it for yourself below, and be sure to catch The Vandelles tonight July 13 at Mercury Lounge with Ume.

 

SIGNAL’s “Dorks on Bikes” Is the Sound of Our Desperate Times

SIGNAL’s “Dorks on Bikes” Is the Sound of Our Desperate Times Photography by Leia Jospe

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.

Listen below, and be sure to also catch SIGNAL supporting Empath tonight July 11 at Trans-Pecos

Mutual Benefit Invited Some Friends Over for a Veggie Feast and Jam Session

Mutual Benefit Invited Some Friends Over for a Veggie Feast and Jam Session Photography by Stephanie Griffin.

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!” 
 

For Mutual Benefit, warding off sadness is as simple as friends, music, and good veggies. Mutual Benefit plays Park Church Co-op on December 8.

Emma Louise Delivers Pitched-Down Perfection on “Wish You Well”

Emma Louise Delivers Pitched-Down Perfection on “Wish You Well” Photography by Thom Kerr

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. 

Having a Baby is the Most Punk Thing That Hit Bargain’s Nora Singh Could Do

Having a Baby is the Most Punk Thing That Hit Bargain’s Nora Singh Could Do Photography by Taylor Boylsten

Nora Singh, the Hit Bargain frontwoman and self-described “Gallagher of noise rock”, is ready to move on from “queening,” or trampling men’s faces, during the band’s live shows.

Her reasons for this decision are partly practical: It’s more difficult to find face-standing fetishists now that Craigslist’s Casual Encounters has been shut down. But they’re also political. Over the phone with AdHoc last month, she questioned the subversive potential of stepping on male fetishists’ faces. “Can you really say you’re smashing the patriarchy by playing into a man’s fantasy?”

If you’re the kind of person who actively tries to incite collisions between the expected and the unexpected in your art, you also tend to be the kind of person who resists being put in a box, which is exactly the kind of person Nora Singh is.

“In terms of the creative direction of (Hit Bargain), we’re entering into another phase,” Singh explained over the phone. This new phase is inspired by a series of changes that occurred in Singh’s life and in the world since Hit Bargain released its self-titled EP in 2016. For one, the American people elected a man to the highest office in the nation who, at best, has a notorious reputation when it comes to his treatment of women.

“We have a known sexual assaulter, a misogynist, someone who’s disrespectful of not only women, but trans people, people of color.”

Also, Singh gave birth to a child last fall, which Singhs says is “the most punk rock thing” she could do, simply because it’s such a curveball to what people expect from her.

But becoming a parent hasn’t blunted the kinetic political energy of Hit Bargain, whose new album Potential Maximizer, which was released May 11 on Buzz Records, features strident takedowns of xenophobia, sexism, and capitalism over taut electric guitar riffs. Singh spoke with AdHoc about the #MeToo moment, identifying as a New Yorker while living in LA, and what the media tends to get wrong about queer and non-binary people ahead of Hit Bargain’s show with PILL and Yvette at Alphaville on June 21.

 

AdHoc: What were you doing before you formed Hit Bargain?

Nora Singh: I used to be in a band called These Are Powers when I was in New York. We disbanded around 2010, 2011 or so. I moved to France in 2011. I had lived in New York from 2001 until 2011. I moved to France to marry our European tour manager, as you do. So I was in France until about 2014. Basically, I went for love and I stayed for the food.

We split, and I didn’t want to repeat myself, so I moved to LA in 2014 on April Fool’s Day. I lived in a house full of ex-New Yorkers and incidentally met [guitarist and vocalist] Mike [Barron], who had also just moved from New York. The whole band has, at one point or another, lived in New York. With the exception of Sean [Monaghan], our bass player, none of us knew one another before starting the band. 

Read More

Talking Nightmares with La Luz’s Shana Cleveland

Talking Nightmares with La Luz’s Shana Cleveland Photography by Chona Kasinger

No band attacks vocal harmonies with as much commanding intensity as Los Angeles-based La Luz. Their eerie brand of surf-rock has always had something cinematic about it, thanks in no small part to their deadly four-part crooning. Their latest outing, Floating Features, finds the band dragging those screen dreams into the open. It’s simultaneously their most immediately rewarding record and their slowest burning, holding you captive with vibrant production and razor-sharp songwriting. Make no mistake: Floating Features will turn you into a Luzer for life.

AdHoc caught up with lead singer and guitarist Shana Cleveland to dig into their latest concoction.

Floating Features is available now via Sub Pop.

AdHoc: Which song is the oldest on Floating Features?

Shana Cleveland: I’m actually not sure. I know that I wrote “Cicada,” “Walking Into the Sun,” and “Lonely Dozer” early on. I wrote those first few in Northern California and the rest in LA, where the band fleshed them out together.

You tend to put a few instrumentals on your records, just tracks where you and the band rock out and jam. Is that something that you feel is central to the identity of the band?

SC: I think it is. It’s fun to have that break. We have so many vocals, oftentimes with four-part harmonies through most of a song. So when we come back after this long instrumental break, it feels really triumphant to break in with these huge harmonies. I’ve listened to a lot of instrumental stuff—surf music and finger pickers like John Fahey—so I always appreciate an instrumental song. This record we just had one, and the others had two, but it was nice to put that one as the first track. Even though there’s only one, it has a very prominent place on the record. 

Read More

Navy Gangs Talks First Full Length, Poach, Where Darkness Meets Slinky Garage-Pop

Navy Gangs Talks First Full Length, Poach, Where Darkness Meets Slinky Garage-Pop Photography by Ebru Yildiz

Nebraska-born, Brooklyn-based indie rock group Navy Gangs first came to our attention back in 2016, with their brilliant self-titled EP. Their eagerly awaited follow-up, Poach, comes out August 3 on Modern Sky. Delicate Steve, who worked with Navy Gangs on their last release and has collaborated with Mac DeMarco and Paul Simon, resumed producer duties for Poach. The 14 track album is sprinkled with the band’s signature energetic riffs but also offers doom and gloom in songs "Dark Days" and "Vampire."

We chatted with lead guitarist and vocalist Matt Tillwick and bassist Wilson Keithline just before they headed out to shoot the music video for their latest single and Poach opener “1Alone.” The track is one that Tillwick says is "a song I wrote in my first New York apartment 1A... [it's] about the FOMO (fear of missing out) feeling, and how to embrace it." 

Take a listen to the track below and don't miss them play tonight May 31 at Trans Pecos with Poppies and Dan English. You can pre-order Poach here.
 


AdHoc: I love the single you released, “Housekeeping” and the video with the cute little cardboard cut out of you. Can we expect the rest of the album to have a similar vibe?

Matt Tillwick: No! The album is pretty dark—that’s probably the happiest song. It’s pretty widespread of an album; it has light and dark throughout and really ties in to all of the moods of being alive.

How long have you been working on these songs?

MT: Some of them are a couple of years old, and some of them are a couple of months old. We decided to record a bunch more songs than necessary and just pick through those. 

Read More

This Video by Sixteen Jackies Will Feed Your Crazy

This Video by Sixteen Jackies Will Feed Your Crazy Photography by Carmella Martonick

A spirit of lust slinks in and out of Sixteen Jackies’ sound. The Philadelphia-based quartet is headed by Jody DeMarco, whose breathy wails seduce and plead over art-rock rhythms. On their latest release, Mascula, surfing guitar melodies pair with psychedelic basslines in a tempest world of dreamlike dimensions. Released this May by Born Losers Records, Mascula follows the band’s 2017 EP, Movie Was Bad. This new record features “Power,” a song where Sixteen Jackies’ fantasy and passion reach haunting new heights. 
 
“I wrote it when I was 20 and first felt the sting of being turned down by another gay guy who thought I was too feminine for him,” DeMarco told AdHoc via email. “Power” sees DeMarco wrestling with the complexities of these queer longings: “I used the song as an outlet for those dark feelings I had, but I exaggerated them to absurdity, basically writing myself as the villain of some sort of occult erotic thriller,” he wrote.
 
In the video for the track, which we’re debuting below, we see DeMarco perform these tensions; unrequited attention breeds a certain frenzy, left to fester under the view of a Super-8 lens. Director Bob Sweeney focuses on macabre found objects: a devil’s mask in a blonde wig, a bone nailed to a wall — hazy cabalistic glimpses that foreshadow Jody's lovelorn descent.
 
Listen and watch the rousing track here, and be sure to catch Sixteen Jackies when they play Sunnyvale in Brooklyn on June 7.
 

On Sunlight Farm, Nate Terepka Embraces and Escapes Isolation

On Sunlight Farm, Nate Terepka Embraces and Escapes Isolation Photography by Megan Hattie

Nate Terepka's debut solo effort, Sunlight Farm, is an EP that feels instantaneously classic — from opener "Tempelhof," in which the Brooklyn-based musician mellifluously croons over bright piano chords and shuffling percussion, to tracks like "Out In Sun," where a pulsing, resonant 808 beat is overdubbed with vocal croons and acoustic plucks. It's a stunningly beautiful release that links quintessential rock sounds to an experimental future, walking a tightrope between past and present over the course of seven tracks. 

Such a sonic aesthetic is not surprising for Terepka, who as a member of psych-rock outfit Zula has made experimental-yet-accessible alternative music his bag. Whereas Zula's last release Grasshopper feels more textural and atmospheric, Sunlight is characterized by organic instruments playing counterpoint to various discordant electronic swells. It’s an ambitious effort for an EP, but Terepka pulls it off in a way that simultaneously isolates and engrosses the listener, a product of his desire to “acknowledge [isolation’s] importance while also trying to reach beyond it” throughout this release. 

Sunlight Farm is out May 25th on Fox Food Records. You can catch Nate Terepka playing in Zula on June 8 at Sunnyvale with support from Mauno, Look Vibrant and Pollens.