Winter & the Wolves
Grieves is creatively idling on Winter & the Wolves. He's less the somber-yet-curious-about-the-world MC who showed up on Irreversible, 88 Keys & Counting, and Together/Apart, and his longtime musical partner/producer Budo is busy with other projects and absent this go-round. Though Grieves has proven to be a capable producer/locator of beats in the past, the ones he's created with new producer B. Lewis aren't the stand-alone successes we've come to expect.
As a lyricist, he's not quite the introspective fast-lifer he was the last few times out—though he's still very witty in short bursts, his well of subject matter is less deep and less relatable. "The love-song rapper is back," he half-jokes on decent opener "Rain Damage," but it's a statement that rings true here. Almost every song on Wolves dwells on past relationships gone wrong, which isn't the worst thing in the world to rap about, but his vagueness puts distance between him and the listener.
Two points that shake this trend are "Serpents," a song with great concrete imagery that utilizes his sing-rapping talents, and "Like Child," an example of the kind of poetic storytelling that he's capable of doing so well.
A staged exchange with somebody who sounds like Type on "Whoa Is Me" goes:
"My dog died."
"When you were 6."
"Really? I guess I've never gotten over it."
Grieves isn't afraid to direct jabs at himself, but his jocular acknowledgements are a pretty accurate metaphor for the whole of this collection: It sounds like mulling over the past has him in a funk, and he's still looking for a way to move forward. TODD HAMM
Rooms with Walls and Windows
As our very own Dave Segal put it in a mini-tirade about the modern state of coffee-shop rock: "Folk-rocky singer-songwriters inundate our United States. New ones keep springing up daily, earnestly clutching acoustic guitars and meaningfully intoning into microphones, until it seems like every citizen of our flawed nation can have his/her own personal troubadour."
What a contemporary singer-songwriter needs to set themselves apart, to rise above the anonymous masses of open-mic wannabes, is one or more of the following attributes: lyrical adroitness, technically dazzling guitar work, a unique perspective, a hell of a voice. On certain tracks, rising local folkie Julie Byrne achieves some of these. Unfortunately, too many of these songs seem content to drift by—quietly pretty, but never rising above the level of background music for an awkward first date.
At times, she seems to be going for an early Cat Power–ish immediacy, but where Chan Marshall's first few albums were filled with close-mic'd, harrowing tales of vulnerability and regret, Byrne appears content to drape her voice in reverb, play a few chords on her guitar, and moan/muse about nothing in particular.
Don't misunderstand: As far as this genre goes, there are some top-tier tunes here, "Emeralds" and "Prism Song" being highlights of subtle, gorgeously clear production and intent. But with her wounded, ethereal voice being the takeaway standout on the record, one wonders if she might be better served pulling a Julianna Barwick and allowing her vocals to twist and turn in the spotlight over new age–style backing tracks. There's potential here; what matters most is what Byrne does with it. KYLE FLECK
I am so proud to live in a city whose underground music scene has fostered the fierce circle of women who make up NighTraiN. First, their movie-plot-worthy backstory: The group formed by answering an ad to perform as a concept band for a play called Hot Grits. Following the play, Rachael Ferguson, Taryn Dorsey, Selena Whitaker-Paquiet, and Nicole Peoples knew that they had something special enough to stay together post-Grits to form their self-proclaimed "locomotive punk" band NighTraiN. Several years later, they've become staples of the underground music scene, throwing a yearly fest in the Central District called Hoodstock, playing Northwest festivals, touring, and generally making their high-energy shows of punk, soul, dance, and rock as entertaining and charming as it gets. (You can also call 1-855-RNCH-HTZ to listen to their jams any time you need a fix.)
Their newest batch of songs, Mating Call, is playfully caustic and overtly sexual—a searing work of soulful garage punk that was produced by local wonder Erik Blood. The result is like a Factory Records–influenced band scoring an '80s Euro soundtrack, where hilarious sarcasm meets the sinister, combining electro dance with comically dark "rawk." Punk-song topics are attacked from the vantage point of black women rather than the much-explored consciousness of straight white dudes; they range from angsty punk anthems ("Reparations") to fierce, tongue-in-cheek, female-friendly hilarity ("Girl Band"). By the album's end, it's obvious that Mating Call is the perfect title for this collection of id-driven sexual raucousness. BREE MCKENNA