Today, Cali/Aussie singer-songwriter Lauren Tarver— professionally known as El Tee— released her debut album, Everything Is Fine. With her chocolatey vocals, lovelorn lyrics, and twinkly guitar, El Tee is certainly cut from the same cloth as Julia Jacklin, Lucy Dacus, Adrianne Lenker, et al. Name a buzzworthy, quiet-yet powerful, beautifully-blurred-guitar-backed, female singer-songwriter, El Tee is a bird of a feather.
One standout track on the new record is “I Don’t Care,” an unflinching yet nonchalant takedown of a guy everyone on this Earth has definitely met. She begins the track with a clever reversal, singing, “You’re so well-read / So hard to read / You’re an artist, a good one, someone with a dream / I don’t care.” Tarver continues, “You say you have baggage / But hey so do we / So does everyone else, including me / I don’t care.” The chorus is the real kicker, with El Tee twisting the proverbial knife as she explains, “And I want to feel the way that I felt / When I’m loved by my friends and those I care about / I’m not chasing a feeling that I don’t know well / Without hesitation, I’m really too old for this.” El Tee truly turned her gaze on everyone who has ever confused being emotionally unavailable with being complicated and shuts them the fuck down.
The rest of Everything Is Fine can be intense– on track “Inside,” I got a veritable shiver down my spine when El Tee sang, “Have you ever spoke to God / Or told him those things / You wanted / Well they may or may not / Come true if all goes right / If all goes wrong / He won’t be there to help you along.” A few songs can be incredibly specific, requiring listeners’ full attention– on the eponymous “Everything Is Fine,” the artist brings us on a car trip home from Christchurch South, where confusing details and emotions are woven together. In the end, this debut is (perhaps paradoxically) optimistically fatalistic– on closing “Good,” she muses, “Maybe I am who I wanted to be / Maybe I’m just not that good / Well I feel like the ending is near / And I know everything will be alright.” Everything Is Fine is difficult, touching, and beautifully done (hats off to the production by engineer Andrew McEwan and mastering by Adam Dempsey). Still, it’s nice that between these moments of morbidity and malaise, El Tee can still find a moment to remind us all that even artsy fartsy men ain’t shit. Take a listen to the new record now– the perfect record to spin as the seasonal depression kicks in. Like, in a good way. Just listen to it. It’s great.
In 2012, Atta Boy accomplished the industry equivalent of an Irish Goodbye– they released one of the best albums of the decade and then seemingly dropped off the face of the planet. Debut album Out of Sorts gained the Los Angeles-based group a sizable following, with millions of streams accumulating on Spotify. Posts on their dormant Facebook page piled up, from requests for performances in fans’ hometowns, to long accounts of how Out Of Sorts changed the lives of listeners, to ceaseless demands for new music– all of which went unanswered. More recently, one fan asked what many have wondered, “What happened to you guys?” Finally, Atta Boy has answered the calls: They’re back.
“Devoted,” the group’s newest single off their imminent sophomore album Big Heart Manners, should be put on the syllabus for a masterclass in how to make a successful comeback. Returning from an extended break can be daunting for anyone, but reintroducing yourself after almost a decade of silence can feel insurmountable. Some artists may feel boxed in by the need to recall a stale sound, while others may crack under pressure to reinvent. Atta Boy doesn’t fall into either trap. “Devoted” contains just enough old to satiate eager fans while introducing new aspects to their sound that represent a maturation and growth for the band.
Hits like “Saccharine,” “Diamonds,” and “Walden Pond” off their first record made a splash with lead singer Eden Brolin’s standout vocals, thoughtful piano from Dashel Thompson, and lo-fi guitar riffs by Freddy Reish. However, “Devoted” finds Atta Boy trying on some country trappings. The group switches out their trademark keys for an oscillating pedal steel, courtesy of Marty Rifkin. This shift may seem strange to some, but the explanation for the change in sound sits within the track, with Brolin explaining, “Write him a country song / Cause I won’t be ‘round for long / Just sing him back up / They all know your heart is crowded with salt and Big Sur sand.” This new song incorporates a twangy attitude, giving off a country-adjacent vibe similar to groups like First Aid Kit or The Wild Reeds. When paired with Brolin’s powerful vocals– which gain easy comparison to the likes to Land Of Talk’s Elizabeth Powell or even Karen O for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs– the track melds together several different sounds, resulting in a creative and distinctive single.
Beyond creative musicianship, emotional intensity stands out in Atta Boy’s oeuvre, with songs that astutely capture the joy, sadness, longing, and celebration that are commonplace workplace hazards of being a human being. “Devoted” is similarly emotionally resonant, with the song capturing the metaphorical push and pull that occurs in a one-sided relationship. The opening line sets the tone for the frustrated attitude of the track, as Brolin explains, “Well he ain’t got not time for me / But he likes my company / And ain’t that enough?” She continues, voicing the anxieties of those surrounding this toxic friendship, “Girl, no need to hurt yourself / It’s not worth your mental health / And he’ll never show up.” Finally, Brolin sings the things that keep the narrator sticking around in this relationship, “But I know how soft your voice is / When you look into my eyes.” “Devoted” is a keen look into the conflicting emotions that occur when being a devoted friend to a person who is simultaneously easy and difficult to love.
With Big Heart Manners slated to come out on June 26th, “Devoted” is a beautiful preface to the next chapter for Atta Boy. Show them some devotion and listen below.
Sometimes when I’m supremely bored, I like create imaginary supergroups in my mind. Try it: It’s like Fantasy Football, but for people who wear overly expensive vintage clothes instead of Vineyard Vines. Every once in a while, these kinds of supergroups seem to form IRL (I’m looking at you, boygenius and Filthy Friends). It’s in those moments that I wonder if God is real, or if the algorithm is so strong that they’ve delved into my mind and created the groups of my fantasy to keep my Spotify plays up. Who’s to say.
The Fundies are one of those groups that seem top-to-bottom, head-and-shoulders, 100% too-good-to-be-true. Boasting the likes of Lake Street Dive’s Rachael Price, the inimitable Margaret Glaspy, indie Bridget Kearney, and string extrodinaire Brittany Haas, this group truly has no weak links.
This EP is just solid, good fun. This might be old news to you. I’m posting it today because I don’t hear people talking about it ALL THE TIME, so I’m pretty sure many might not even know that it exists. If you need me, I’ll be practicing my harmonies so that I might make a quintet of this quartet, should they ever decide to get back together. Listen to the masterpiece below.
With lead singer Jake Ewald’s quiet vocals, the incandescent slide guitar, and lyrics that tell familiar stories with predictable endings, Slaughter Beach, Dog has always been a band that sounds like home to me. Debut Welcome was a weird, whimsical, and welcome (ha) surprise. Listening to sophomoric Birdie felt like a holyshitwhatthefuckisthis moment with tracks that are the sonic equivalent of settling into bed with a warm blanket.
Then, there was a pause. Some touring. A very weird Audiotree live session. The opening of The Metal Shop. Finally, a follow-up: This year’s Safe And Also No Fear. A downtrodden, disappointing, and dreary addition to the otherwise kaleidoscopic SBD discography, this album feels like a home you return to after a long time away. Everything is smaller, the details that used to be charming are now nauseating, and you can’t help but feel betrayed by how nostalgia has failed you.
Let’s this out of the way now: The record doesn’t sound like Modern Baseball. In fact, most of the Slaughter Beach, Dog discography doesn’t sound like Modern Baseball. At this point, the two projects are so materially different and the time away from Mobo has stretched so long that harping on the differences in attitude, subject-matter, and performance is unnecessary. They’re legitimately different bands. The only important factor to take from Ewald and Farmer’s relationship to Modern Baseball is fairly obvious: They commandeered much of the Mobo fanbase. It’s important to mention because, as Slaughter Beach, Dog continues to change, the Mobo sound will always stay the same. Anyway, TLDR: If you came here for a long article harping on how it just isn’t Modern Baseball, you’ve come to the wrong place, but I’m sure you can readily find a substitute elsewhere.
Safe And Also No Fear sounds like a grown-up version of Welcome and Birdie, which is to say that Slaughter Beach, Dog has traded in their youthful days for a soul-sucking 9 to 5 and they’re fucking exhausted. The entire 38 minutes feel sluggish, slow, and muted. Lyrically and vocally, this is the laziest we’ve ever heard Ewald. While Welcome had a gritty anger and Birdie felt aggressively intimate, Safe And Also No Fear feels mailed in. Ewald has quietly become one of the strongest lyricist of our generation, showcasing an incredible ability to churn out verses teeming with heady allusions, alliterations, and puns. This is sorely lacking on Safe But Also No Fear, where Ewald leans into concise sentences that convey a straightforward meaning but fail to inspire. The vocals are similarly surface-level. Ewald still maintains the incredible ability to make listeners feel as though they’re in the studio with him, but on this record it’s unclear if Ewald himself actually wants to be there himself.
The instrumentals are just okay. Safe And Also No Fear lacks the bells and whistles (or, more appropriately, slide guitars and subtle vocal fry) of previous standout tracks, which deflates the already sleepy album. I want this portion of the review to be longer, but there’s really not much to talk about. It sounds like what plain butter on white bread tastes like.
Even so, there are promising moments. “The Dogs” finds Ewald making a foray into spoken word. He’s not totally successful, but it’s a cool moment of experimentation on an otherwise very restrained project, a full swing and a foul ball on an album of mostly bunts. “No One” sounds like what I wish most of this album would sounded like, with engaging narrative lyrics and bright vocals. He starts, “She dumps the contents of her puse / Onto the hightop drummer chair / I could’ve sworn that I had sixty more dollars in there / She said that I would not believe the things she’d read / They’d written there, plain as day / And I might turn to salt for staying too long.” Finally: A story, a joke, a metaphor. Moments like these are scarce, but present.
Look. Sound evolves as people evolve. It’s been a joy to watch Ewald grow up through his music. Right now feels like a transitory period. I’m sure the next one will be better.
This review was written while drunk seven months ago. It sat around in Draft mode and did not go live until March 28th, 2020. We at Music Journalism Is Dead regret the consequent irrelevancy.
Last month, Audiotree knocked it out of the proverbial park again with Chicago-based indie group Lala Lala playing their spooky, masochistic single “Siren 042” at Hidden Peaks Climbing Gym, the blue-toned utopia located in Lala Lala’s hometown. Visually and sonically serene, this video perfectly encompasses the shimmering spookiness of the this track. Even more remarkably, guitarist, vocalist, and sound machinist Lillie West is one of those rare birds who sounds unbelievably better live– even compared to her already incredibly impressive studio recordings.
Extra rad points go to that “Movies” shirt. What a band full of wonderful, wonderful weirdos. Watch NOW.