BIRN Album Review: MAGDALENE by FKA twigs

Avant-pop artist Tahliah Debrett Barnett (better known as FKA twigs) has made a memorable comeback with sophomore album MAGDALENE–one of the BIRN’s favorite albums of 2019. After the release of her debut album LP1 in 2014 and touring the world, she went on a lengthy hiatus, followed by surgery removing six fibroid tumors from her uterus, among other sudden life changes. During Barnett’s time in recovery, she began making many self-healing realizations about her own womanhood, and rebuilding confidence in her femininity–resulting in MAGDALENE, a thoughtfully produced experimental-pop masterpiece that speaks volumes to women today.

Barnett had hit a rough patch while working on the album–but the heightened emotions she was experiencing only strengthened her artistic vision and enhanced her writing. She took inspiration from Mary Magdalene’s story, resonating with her inner turmoil as a woman who struggled to be accepted in society. Barnett decided to embody the character of Mary Magdalene as a symbol of empowerment, encouraging other women to take control of their own narrative. Although MAGDALENE isn’t quite a concept album, its powerful themes, biblical references and religious imagery might easily fool you–thanks to Barnett’s skillful attention to detail and intentional placement of each track, lyric, beat, and rhythm. MAGDALENE’s sound delves deep into experimental territory, a bit more so than Barnett’s prior more “accessible” works–with subtle additions of church choir-like background vocals and cinematic swells of a string orchestra. Many aspects of the production draw comparisons with other experimental art-pop artists like Bjork, Grimes, and SOPHIE. 

Kicking off with the haunting “thousand eyes” and closing with “cellophane”, a fragile and emotion-filled ballad, the album progresses from eerie, dark and complex to soft and vulnerable slow-tempo tunes with truthful words like “A woman’s work, a woman’s prerogative, a woman’s time to embrace she must put herself first”. This contrast seems to represent that there are many more layers to a woman than what may be seen or expressed on the surface–just cause one may appear to be gentle doesn’t mean she can’t also be assertive and aggressive, and vice versa. MAGDALENE does a clever job at expressing how society has misrepresented women to be only one thing or another for ages, and FKA twigs’ courageous self-expression is incredibly admirable.

Coming up on BIRN Alive: Nathalie Hernandez, Paper Citizen and more

(Pictured: Jessie J Ensemble)

BIRN Alive is wrapping 2019 up with more exciting live performances and interviews from artists of varying styles and diverse musical backgrounds. Don’t miss out! 

Saturday 12/7 – 4 PM: Nathalie Hernandez 

A powerhouse vocalist and young former contestant of The Voice, Nathalie Hernandez is dedicated to being an honest voice as a 21st century female. She plans to release her debut single in the near future. 

Sunday 12/8 – 7 PM: Paper Citizen 

Paper Citizen is an indie rock project led by Singaporean singer-songwriter Claire Gohst. Although the project is Boston-based, Gohst began making a name for herself by performing locally in Singapore at 18. Combining her artistic roots and new musical discoveries, Paper Citizen was formed during her first few years in Boston. 

Saturday 12/14 – 4 PM: The Dana Roth Group

Currently attending Berklee College of Music, Dana Roth is an active bassist, composer, and music producer. She has recorded music with Ester Rada, Yael Deckelbum, and Tamir Grinerg among others, and has toured the world at venues such as Blue Note Tokyo, Ronny Scott London, and New Morning Paris. 

Sunday 12/15 – 8 PM: Los Walters (pre-recorded on Sunday, November 10)

Made up of Ángel Figueroa and Luis López, Los Wálters is a Puerto Rican electronic pop duo with beginnings in 2011. Written and recorded in different locations across Latin America and the United States, the duo’s music is often inspired by their diverse surroundings, while keeping their signature Caribbean and electronic sound. 

Tune into BIRN1 for exclusive live performances and interviews every week while college is in session. The BIRN wishes you a great holiday season and a happy new year!

If you are an artist or are in a band that would like to play BIRN Alive in the spring semester, send your band/artist links to birnalive@thebirn.com.

Here’s a recent BIRN Alive performance by the Jessie J Ensemble: 

Curtis Heimburger (Mom Rock) – The BIRN Interview

Founded during their first year at Berklee College of Music, Mom Rock is a lively alternative rock group influenced by bands like Weezer, Talking Heads and Catfish and the Bottlemen. Recently hitting over 333,000+ streams on Spotify and quickly winning over a dedicated following, they’re climbing to success quicker than ever. 

Today, we’re chatting with Mom Rock’s founding member and the BIRN’s station manager Curtis Heimburger, about the story behind Mom Rock’s formation, the scoop on Boston’s underground music scene, and exciting new projects coming up. 

Curtis, congratulations on Mom Rock’s singles “Conversation” and “Grand Romantic Life” reaching over 100K Spotify streams! Can you tell us a bit about how you met the other members of Mom Rock, and what led up to you guys working together? 

Thank you so much! Well at the beginning of my first semester, there was an impromptu jam session in the basement of the 270 Commonwealth Dorms. We were going around the room playing songs we knew and somehow we started playing an Alabama Shakes tune. I was really into them at the time and so was Josh Polack who had been standing next to me playing guitar. So, we connected that way and would see each other and talk at the cafeteria a bunch. After we got back from Christmas break and had started our 2nd semesters, Josh and I were chatting and he said he’d talked to a drummer, Wilson Reardon, about setting up a jam and wanted me to come. After that initial practice we decided we wanted to meet up again and tentatively agreed on trying to form a band. We later recruited our first bass player Miguel Aragon who played with us for our first few shows from March until May when we all had to part ways for the summer. Before the summer ended, he told us he wanted to leave the band so that he could pursue other musical endeavors. So, we’re once again bass-less. At the start of our 3rd semester, we held auditions to find a new bass player and Josh had mentioned he’d recently reconnected with an old friend and bandmate, Tara Maggiulli, who he had invited to audition. Right away we knew we wanted her in the band and a year later, here we are!

Why did you decide to call yourselves “Mom Rock”? 

Well when we were trying to come up with a name, we were trying to go for something that sounded cool. I had come up with a few names and among them was Mom Rock, which was definitely the odd one out. But Wilson, Miguel, and I, half joking and half serious, wanted to name the band that. Josh was hesitant at first but later admitted he’d really come around to liking the name. We see it as a way to thank all moms, but our moms especially, for all the hard work they did raising us and the work they still put in day to day. Plus, we wanted to take the spotlight off Dad Rock for a while.

What were your initial expectations for Mom Rock, if you had any? Did you ever foresee the success you’re currently experiencing?  

I wouldn’t say I had any expectations going into it. I just knew that I wanted to be playing shows as well as writing and recording music again. I never would’ve thought we’d be where we are at all! I couldn’t be more grateful for our fans and friends who attend every show and listen to our music.

Can you describe the (literal) underground music scene in Allston, for those who have never been to a basement show? Do you perform those basement shows differently from more traditional concerts at venues? 

Well, every year when college kids move out of their dorms, most will find two or three friends to split apartment rooms throughout the Boston area. But some will get about 8-10 people to go in on a house together and will use their basement for house shows. Within the year, the venues grow in popularity and have show’s every other, if not every weekend. When the leases are up, the scene resets and we get a new set of venues. Some of course renew their leases or just move houses and keep the name, but for the most part it’s ever changing which is what makes it so exciting. The scene is a win win win situation; people get the chance to go see their friends play as well as listen to new bands for cheap, Bands get a local venue to play at where they know people will attend all the while getting paid, and the venue takes a cut of the door to help with rent or utilities. I think every city/town should have a system like this. Getting shows at bars and clubs isn’t easy when you’re just starting out and having a good place to play can help get anyone’s feet off the ground. As for our performance, it’s definitely where we feel most comfortable. But since we like to move around a lot, it can feel pretty cramped. No matter what though it’s the same moves, same songs, and same energy!

What was your experience at Mom Rock’s first ever show vs. the most recent one? 

Our first show was in March of 2018 at the Great Scott upstairs venue. We were definitely shaky and made quite a few mistakes but it was a bunch of fun and we put on a good show. I remember I wore my favorite Hawaiian shirt and we covered “Lithium” by Nirvana, “Just” by Radiohead, and “My Name Is Jonas” by Weezer. Regardless of how we did though I was shaking with anticipation. I was so incredibly excited to be playing again and to be honest, that feeling doesn’t really go away. Our most recent show was a house show charity event where we played last out of 6 bands. It was a long night and we were all pretty tired before we were about to play but as soon as we got on that stage we lit up and gave the best show we could. The one thing that hasn’t changed is our presence on stage. We love giving people a show and if the audience is into it, then we’re into it.

Looking at your visual aesthetic and musical influences, you definitely have a lot of 80s/90s nostalgia going on. How do you incorporate that into your music while also bringing something fresh and modern to the table? 

At the start, before we even rehearsed, me and Josh wanted to do something in the same vain and style as Weezer. It was one of the few bands we completely agreed on musically and lyrically and we kind of used that as a base. After writing the first couple songs we started to realize that it was a bit of a melting pot of both Josh’s and I’s music taste. We wanted our music to be accessible and fun but also have some grittiness and honesty to it. Plus, we had noticed that there were very few bands in the scene putting on a show with energetic/fun songs. The aesthetic is a much different story though. I was at a friend’s house when I spotted in her closet, this purple and gold two-piece jumpsuit. I had never really seen anything like it. I asked her about it and she said it didn’t fit her so she was going to return it. Being the person I am, I immediately asked to try it on and it turned out it fit! …sort of. I paid her $40 for it and showed the band who also loved it. Slowly over the following months, the band looked high and low for their own unique jumpsuit and color. Having set outfits is of course not a new concept but you rarely see bands in something other than what is basically street clothes. Even just having a set t-shirt you wear is better than nothing. We just really want to give people something to look at as well as help people remember who we are and I think it’s worked out pretty well so far. 

How would you break down Mom Rock’s general writing process? Is there one person who is good at coming up with the concept and lyrics, while another member’s strong suit might be melody and arrangement? 

Josh and I are currently the only songwriters in the band but we always like to bounce our ideas off each other when we can. We both like to write the entirety of a song by ourselves and if we think we’re finished or we get stuck, we’ll go to the other person to get their take. Once we both think we got a good finished song, we’ll show it to Tara and Wilson to get their thoughts. Songs are always open for critique but we also have a rule that every song gets a chance to be played by the band before we make the decision to add it to the set or not.

Mom Rock has been releasing singles pretty consistently, so what’s coming next? Can fans anticipate an album in 2020, or possibly a tour? 

You can definitely expect a few more songs to be released between now and next semester! Most likely not an album but quite possibly an EP. We’ve also actually just booked flights to go to Austin, Texas over our Spring break so we can have the chance to play in SXSW as well some other venues around Texas. Last but definitely not least, I won’t say too much but new outfits are currently in the works and are being handcrafted by my very own Mother so stay tuned!!

Thank you, Curtis! 

Be sure to check out Mom Rock’s performance on birnCORE live, coming up at 8PM on December 5! The show will also feature Weakened Friends and Lady Pills. Tickets are on sale now: https://www.etix.com/ticket/p/8508282

Show Review: Gus Dapperton at Royale (11/15)

Friday night was one to remember for Gus Dapperton fanatics and new listeners alike. After opening acts Yendawg and Spencer riled up the crowd, the anticipation was higher than ever as fans were pressed up against the bars, waiting for the big moment. 

Gus’ arrival was just as “Gus Dapperton” as it could get. As each band member took their place while kicking off the opening song “Verdigris”, Gus pranced up to his microphone and greeted Boston warmly with his goofy moves. He then immediately captivated the audience as he smoothly transitioned his classic debut, “Moodna, Once With Grace”–in which he swayed with his bassist in the midst of the performance, a memorable moment for fans. 

His band–consisting of his sister Amadelle and his close friends from home, have a special dynamic and chemistry that is incredibly welcoming. The band felt just as important to the show as Gus Dapperton himself, often a difficult balance to achieve for solo acts. Gus’s band gives him the ability to truly own the show–you can tell by the way he freely moves across the stage, interacts with the other members and engages the audience whenever he wants. His energy radiates into the crowd effortlessly, and I think it’s safe to say that his band plays a significant role in that. 

Before he broke out into “Of Lacking Spectacle”, a fan favorite, he said to the crowd: “I’m gonna put my guitar down for a little bit and dance”. Along with being a skilled guitarist, producer, vocalist, and songwriter–Gus is widely known for his odd yet endearing dance moves. Often improvising along the way, he isn’t afraid to bring his personality into it–even if that means kicking his feet in the air and looking silly. Astonishingly, Gus perfectly kept up his powerful vocals while playing guitar and jumping up and down simultaneously. Depending on the song’s energy, he would either sing with a soft, calming falsetto or break out into raspy metal-like vocals. Gus certainly has a way of bringing great versatility to his synth-based music, even incorporating acoustic guitar into his performance at one point. 

One upbeat song after another, there was finally a pause. You could feel the excitement of the crowd even through the silence–not knowing what was coming next. “You guys can dance for this one if you want to,” said Gus. Everyone immediately screamed, recognizing the opening guitar riff immediately as he began performing “Prune, You Talk Funny”: the song he may be most well known for. Not a single person in the room was standing still, and it was endearing to see his band jumping in sync together. Gus seemed just as excited to play this one as the whole audience was to hear it. Gus’s genuine love for his art shines through the commitment he has to each song he plays, all the while maintaining a steady humbleness. And even when the screams died down during the ballads, you could hear the lingering excitement within the silence. There’s a distinguishable difference between a bored crowd and a crowd that’s listening–and you could tell that most people in the room were hanging onto every one of Gus’ words. 

Seeing the Royale filled with such a wide variety of faces and ages, it’s admirable to see how much Gus’s following has expanded over the past year or so. He puts on such an entertaining show purely by acing the art of performance, something that even some superstars fail at. If there’s one thing I figured out at this concert, it’s that you don’t get the full “Gus Dapperton experience” until you see him perform. 

Featured Show: Kate Davis at Cafe 939

It’s been a long wait for Kate Davis to finally showcase her debut album to the world. Growing up a jazz musician, Davis’s musical journey took an unexpected turn–she went from a young teen playing bass in the Grammy Jazz Ensemble to becoming an indie rock singer-songwriter as she entered adulthood. After immersing herself in the New York City music scene for years, performing at almost every iconic New York venue you can think of from The Bowery Electric to Carnegie Hall, she is now touring worldwide to promote Trophy— her latest creation. 

Tune into birnCORE to hear indie rock artist Kate’s live performance at Cafe 939 with Jesse Ruben coming up on Saturday, November 16! The show starts at 8 PM and you can stream it here.
The BIRN has a pair of tickets for you to win to see Kate Davis and Jesse Ruben live at Cafe 939 on SaturdayNovember 16. To win the tickets, send an email and your contact phone number to tickets@thebirn.com by ThursdayNovember 14 at 11:59 p.m. Make sure to have Kate and Jesse in the subject line. The winner will be chosen at random. Good luck!

Tom Speight – The BIRN Interview

Currently in the midst of a world tour, Tom Speight is an upcoming folk pop artist from London, UK. I had the chance to talk with Tom before his Boston show at the Red Room about his long winded career, from the moment he picked up his sister’s classical guitar to the creation and release of his first full length record Collide

Track Listing:

1. Waiting
2. Little Love
3. Strangers Now
4. Collide
5. Heartshaker

5. Lost to Me
5. Want You
6. Willow Tree
7. Closer
8. Alice
9. My name  

10. Into the Night
11. Evermore

BIRN: Welcome, Tom! So you’ve released 4 EPs, played more than 80 shows in the past 12 months and put out your debut album Collide last April. How does it feel to finally be noticed by such a large audience after practicing your craft with many ups and downs for years? 

Tom: It feels great to have the opportunity to put out a record. It’s hard to get to that point where you can release an album, in this kind of climate in 2019. I’ve heard that most artists release about 25 songs before putting out their first record, which is kind of crazy. But I suppose it’s a good thing for developing your songwriting and sound, and gaining a larger fanbase so that when you put a record out, you have someone to listen to it. I’m really proud of the record, it’s nice to be taking it around the world and touring. Even just being here is amazing for me, really. 

BIRN: You’ve mentioned that you and your producer Chris Bond wrote together in his barnyard studio without any phone signal or internet connection. That’s pretty incredible. How did the social isolation play into the emotional aspect of writing Collide? 

Tom: It was more during the recording process where I didn’t have any phone signal. But I think what it gave us was this focus–having everything on your phone is great but it is very distracting. Sometimes you’re not very present with things. And I think with music, you have to be very much focused and in the moment. And it just gave us that kind of opportunity to have no distractions–we couldn’t just pop to the shops to grab a coffee or anything. It was like, everything is here that we need, and the reason we’re here is to make a record, so let’s get on with it. I’m from London, and I’m not used to that countryside kind of life. So in general, it did benefit us in some respects. 

BIRN: That’s a great opportunity not only to create art, but to take a break from that bustle of living in the city. Are you going to continue with the social media breaks while writing music in the future? 

Tom: Yeah, I think so. I’m gonna make another album with him (Chris) and it’ll be exactly the same–I’m kind of looking forward to it, it’s almost like a social media detox. It’s just a distraction. I mean, it’s great for when I’m releasing music and need to spread the word about it. But also the downfall with apps like Instagram, is that you feel like you constantly have to feed that machine of showing people that you’re busy. And I try and leave a bit of mystique of not giving too much away. Like, I don’t think everyone needs to know what I had for breakfast, or what I’m up to in the studio. Ultimately, you don’t really need to know that side of things. Just listen to the songs, embrace it. 

BIRN: I can imagine you and Chris have gotten closer since working on the album, but before that, was there a moment that made you realize he was the right person to produce Collide?

Tom: I think he was definitely the man for the job. He did all the lead tracks of the EPs as well. It was definitely an emotional experience, and you grow closer to someone when you’re working with them. It’s an important thing to me, music is my life and you’re putting that trust into someone so you definitely have to have that respect, and faith in them. He was definitely the right choice, and as I said he will also be doing the second record. I can’t praise him enough, really. He plays about 70 percent of the album as well, he’s a drummer, plays bass, guitar. The thing that drew me to working with him was that I was testing out the songs with a lot of people, and they were focusing on mapping out the song on the computer. I remember getting into the first initial test session with him, and he didn’t even look at the computer or touch it. It was more like, if it works in the room with just us playing together, it’ll work on the record. It was nice, we didn’t even play to a click track. The foundation of the record was live, I was playing the guitar at the same time he was playing the drums, and his brother was playing the hammond organ. It felt very exciting, whereas when you’re stacking (the instruments) up individually, you lose a bit of that magic of little things like eye contact, or dynamics of playing together as a band. 

BIRN: Your album is pretty emotionally intense, and all the songs contain pretty heavy subject matter. Was there a particular song you especially found difficult to finish writing? And why? 

Tom: There’s a track called Alice, which is probably the rawest song on the album. It definitely wasn’t easy to record, I found myself becoming emotional when listening back to it. I was in the hospital for two months during the making of the album, as I was suffering from Crohn’s disease. And I wrote that song the day I left the hospital. The song wouldn’t have happened without that experience, so I suppose that’s the silver lining. When I listen back to it now, it does take me back to that time in my life. There’s definitely a lot of hope in the record though, there’s ups and downs. So it’s not too depressing of a listen, hopefully. 

BIRN: Your story of recuperating from your illness through music is incredibly moving and speaks to a lot of people experiencing similar struggles. What advice would you give to someone who is tackling a frustrating obstacle in their life but wants to pursue their art as a career? 

Tom: I think the first thing is not to be in denial about it. I know I was in denial for probably a couple of years when I initially got diagnosed. But I think if you can learn how to manage it, then it won’t beat you, and you can live your life to the fullest you can. You need to tackle these things head on and not put your head in the sand, really. It’s definitely not an overnight kind of fix. My heart goes out to anyone who is battling anything like that. 

BIRN: You’ve cited Leonard Cohen as an artist that’s influenced you since childhood. If you had to choose one Leonard Cohen song or album that particularly speaks to you, which one would it be?

Tom: My mom used to play a lot of cassettes and CD’s in the car, and I think with Leonard Cohen it was his “Greatest Hits” CD–Mary Ann, Hallelujah, Chelsea Night Hotel, etc. It’s just great songwriting really, and I liked how simple his production was. He wasn’t over-singing as well–he was just telling a story, really. With a lot of today’s singers, it’s like vocal olympics, but they’re not really saying anything. He wasn’t the greatest singer maybe, but his lyrics and songs made up for it, and his honesty. I think that’s inspiring. 

BIRN: You’re occupied by a lot right now, but are there any exciting future plans you can tell us about? Can fans look forward to new music soon or are you taking your time with writing the next release? 

Tom: I suppose this album is kind of wrapping up before the new year. We’ve been touring for nearly two years. It’s been kind of a whirlwind piecing that together, but as soon as I finish this tour, I’m gonna start writing some songs for album 2. I’m definitely gonna put out some music next year, just not a big body of work yet, because I need to make sure it’s right. I think I’ve put out so much music in the last two or three years that there’s still enough for people to discover, you know. I don’t really know what it’s gonna sound like yet, but I don’t think I’m gonna repeat myself–it’s not gonna be like, the outtakes of the last album. I’m quite excited to get started next year with writing new songs. 

BIRN: That’s great the tour is going well, I’m sure a lot of fans including myself are looking forward to what music you’ll be coming out with next. Thanks again for chatting with us!

Tom: Of course. This is like a legendary place isn’t it? I was like–”Berklee, this is kind of crazy.” I was quite nervous about playing near here. 

BIRN: No worries, it’s super relaxed here, you don’t have anything to be nervous about!

Thank you, Tom!

Click here for upcoming tour dates.

BIRN Album Review: Welcome Home by Hannah Cohen

Hannah Cohen Welcome Home – (alternative) 

Hannah Cohen’s return home isn’t quite as “welcome” as her third studio album’s title suggests. After spending over a decade in New York City, the worn out musician began grasping for a reason to leave–and it suddenly hit her one day while writing in the stuffed bathroom of her apartment during a heat wave. She ditched crowded subway stations for miles of empty fields in Woodstock, to rediscover her passion for music and find peace with her demons. Out of this came Welcome Home, a “Carole King meets Tame Impala” masterpiece about slowly outgrowing the robotic daily routines of urban living. 

Cohen brilliantly captures the odd essence of isolation through dreamy indie-rock guitar riffs and light synth bells that chime in every so often, like ghosts visiting from the past. She effortlessly brings us into her world of vivid memories through words like “wanna be the sun on your back” and “the water in the ocean all turns to salt on your skin”. Cohen’s soft yet ever-expressive voice carries the record’s core emotions, and contributes a special element. You can hear her vulnerability as she purposefully lingers around the highest point of her range in “What’s This All About”, an aching piano ballad about feeling lost in purpose. Even as her voice fades into the background at times, she makes a statement without feeling the need to steal the spotlight. Her conversational lyrics are comforting, and echo the words of an old friend who’s consoling you through the uneasiness that comes with change. 

As melancholy as the album gets, Cohen knows where she stands in the thick of it all. The album’s opener “This Is Your Life” is a reassuring pep talk with a title that says it all–if you don’t like your life you have the power to change it. The following songs dive into darker subjects, but she circles back to this self confidence in “Wasting My Time”. Although both songs are found in unexpected places, it mimics the rare beauty of finding hope in our daily lives during difficult times.  

It’s hard to say by the end of the album if Hannah Cohen reaches a conclusion on her journey “home”, but this open-endedness makes her message all the more real. 

Hannah Cohen plays live with Shura this Tuesday night, October 22 at Brighton Music Hall. The show starts at 8:30 PM and you can stream it here.