Author Archives: Crystal Eckstadt

Needle Drop: Poppy
Jean Crawford, “One Time Hunny”

I first caught Poppy Jean Crawford at Meows Moewzs, a revival counterculture and music shop in Pasadena, opening up for Chameleons’ frontman Mark Burgess this past summer during his intimate record store tour. Amid vintage clothing, assorted leather boots, and crates of vinyl, a petite, innocent looking young woman took a stage strewn with candles and quietly strapped her guitar across her shoulder and conjured up a mood I revere—vulnerable sensuality with just the right amount of melancholy.

In the acoustic setting, I was picking up the ethereal planes of Sharon Van Etten, although later at home, digging deeper into her catalogue, traces of PJ Harvey and psych rock rolled down like clouds visiting a mountainside, morphing my room into a dream world. I was sold.

On the cusp of turning twenty-four, I sense that Crawford is precocious beyond her years as we dive into a breakfast together at the iconic 1960s throwback Clark Street Diner in Hollywood. We cross topics on everything from our love of the movie Blonde as a feminist manifesto, Buddhist chanting, and Charles Mansion phoning her landline as a child—just the normal LA chatter.

An unconventional upbringing where creativity resides in her DNA has led Crawford to this preternatural place. It’s her mother, Casey Niccoli (director of Jane’s Addiction’s “Been Caught Stealing” and one time girlfriend of Perry Farrell), and her father, surrealist painter/musician, Shannon Crawford who’d ask her to sing background vocals on his tracks and introduced her to PJ Harvey, who have given rise to her ability to think in terms of art first.

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TVD Live Shots:
Kevin Morby and Cassandra Jenkins
at the Belasco, 10/1

PHOTOS: KRIS KUGANATHAN | At the intersection of folk rock, Americana, soul, and indie music, Kevin Morby as I see it sits at the helm of a cross-genre he’s made his own.

Success for the Kansas City native has been anything but overnight. A seven studio album climb that started with his debut solo album Harlem River back in 2013, Saturday night’s performance at the historic Belasco Theater in downtown Los Angeles was the arrival of something great for Morby. Touring on his newest release, This Is a Photograph, you could feel his rise in the air. Opening act, Cassandra Jenkins, who has toured with Courtney Barnett and sang backup vocals on This is a Photograph brought her serene, experimental brand of indie music and lusty vocals to the scene. The crowd was receptive.

Last year I went to see Kevin Morby open for Hamilton Leithuaser, but this year headlining his own show, the atmosphere felt different. The 18-song setlist—half This Is a Photograph and the other half playing like a Kevin Morby’s greatest hits collection—was spiritual in service. We were all there for him. We knew all of the words. We were connected and uplifted by Morby and his band as they dispelled whatever dark matter we brought with us from our frantic lives. A metallic gold fringe jacket, Midwestern grace, rhinestone lined eyes, and a unique quickstep stage gait, he reels you into his synergetic world of secular spiritual music even though one listen to “Five Easy Pieces” will tell you it ain’t no church song.

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Needle Drop: The KVB, Unity

Meeting at Goldmiths, University of London back in 2011, vocalist/ keyboardist/ visual artist Kat Day joined singer/ songwriter/ multi-instrumentalist Nicholas Wood’s solo project that was gaining traction. Since their first LP Always Then (2012) and a couple of releases on Anton Newcombe’s label A Recordings—the minimalist electronic duo The KVB have carved out their own space in the underground scene.

Married during the pandemic in a 14th-century castle in North Yorkshire and filled with changing perspectives, Unity is a departure in sound for the cold wave duo. Mixed and produced by Andy Savours (My Bloody Valentine, The Killers, and Goldfrapp), Unity is the first album where they brought in a producer to augment their home studio recordings. Early writing sessions took place in Spain where the duo was provoked by despondent half-built luxury villas sitting vacant by the 2007-2008 global financial crisis.

The album is a kaleidoscope of bright synths interlaced with post-punk chords and breathy vocal duets. The visual name of Unity’s first track, “Sunrise Over Concrete,” captures the album’s feel and sonic imprint of dystopian renewal. Out on Invada Records, Unity looks towards the future.

After wrapping up the first leg of their North American tour, The KVB will play a few more US tour dates and international festivals.

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Timely and brilliant, Courtney Barnett’s Anonymous Club documentary premieres at Brain Dead Studios

Often referred to as the voice of a generation, Australian singer-songwriter/guitarist Courtney Barnett has developed a cult following for her self-deprecating lyrics and raspy guitars. Thrust into the spotlight as an unintentional spokesperson for depression, her music speaks to audiences who feel disconnected from the current culture of toxic positivity. More than just a documentary, Anonymous Club brings the viewer into the honest midst of her mental health struggles.

Shot on a 16mm camera by director and longtime Courtney Barnett music video collaborator Danny Cohen, the documentary traverses three years of live footage and snippets from an audio diary Cohen implored her to keep. At the heart of film is the portrayal of a solitary artist driven more by compulsion than a singular passion. “I sing angrily, and lost my voice because of my anger,” she says, as she paces around a room one night after a live show.

This angst, an ingrained part of her personality, is dissected when she shares she’s had depressive moods since she was ten with thoughts of being an emo kid before knowing what emo is. She talks about breaking down on stage and crying through a song because she’s so depressed, and the crowd is like “WTF.” It was a liberating experience for her she admits with a sense that she needs these songs as much as her audience relates to them. Songs are her form of communication and connection.

Barnett has been releasing her music on Milk! Records, a label she started back in 2012. Uncontrolled by executives, the film shows her grappling with the collective narrative she’s created. On one hand she understands that showing up in the world wholly as herself is helping people, but on the other, we see intense rumination that her art is futile, and she can’t be of service to anyone if she can’t even help herself.

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TVD Live: Cruel World Festival 2022, 5/15

PHOTOS: JULIA LOFSTRAND | Cruel World Festival, which was initially set to make its debut in 2020, will go down in history in 2022 as a pivotal festival for some of the most era-defining bands in modern history who’ve retained their monolithic status.

Powerhouse, genre-originating bands—Devo, Blondie, Bauhaus, Public Image Ltd., and Morrissey—juxtaposed with the descendants of their music, was unlike anything I’ve experienced. Opting to cover Sunday and not Saturday’s show based on the 10 degree temperature difference somehow didn’t make the day any less hot. As we were all prepared to burn in black under the cloudless SoCal sky, this daylit underground party was filled with a joyous, chinoiserie parasol dotted, drama-free crowd. Music was everyone’s priority.

I made the long journey through the gates of the Pasadena Rose Bowl around 12:30 PM just in time catch Soft Kill’s deep bass and lofty lyrics. “We all got lost along the way,” lead singer Tobias Sinclair screamed into the mic during “Whirl.” “Yeah!” I thought, relishing the idea that all of us at this festival have at some point in our lives felt this way and that among this festival was our tribe.

Catching LA-based trio Automatic next, I thought their performance was more suited for this crowd than when I last saw them open for IDLES. I caught up for a brief interview with UK cold wave duo KVB to talk about their proper British castle wedding they recently had “to make the pandemic less shit” and their upcoming tour supporting their latest release, Unity, recorded with legendary My Bloody Valentine producer Andy Savours.

Heading over next to catch Sextile’s high-energy set, they played a brand new song that carried early The Crystal Method and Gang of Four vibes. As the early afternoon rolled on, I stopped at the “Sad Girls” stage to catch the English Beat and revelled in “Mirror in the Bathroom”—a perfect ‘80s ska-pop tune in the middle of the day.

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TVD Live Shots: Boy Harsher with Troller at The Belasco, 4/19

PHOTOS: MATTHEW BELTER | Jae Matthews and August Muller, the darkwave EBM outfit known as Boy Harsher have amassed a veritable cult following. In 2018 they reissued their early catalogue on their own label, Nude Club, while steadily generating new releases, ensuring their already immortal legacy is kept within their purview. With a sold-out tour stretching until August, Boy Harsher is one of the biggest acts to come out of the electronic underground.

The Belasco’s historic, cavernous ballroom radiated with the best dressed goth and fetish attire in LA as Austin-based opener Troller played for the quickly swelling venue. The crowd was receptive to their shoegaze/dark wave fusion; their share of converts imminent. It was all in anticipation of Boy Harsher taking the stage, and their performance was nothing short of seductive.

Sifting between their 6-year catalogue of music, Matthew’s voice, a crescendo of breathy lulls and high pitch screams, alternated between two microphones cutting through Muller’s synth and drum machines. Their simple algorithm—which could easily come off as basic live—is instead a provocative and sanctifying experience, including one bad ass dance party.

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Needle Drop: Sacred Skin, “No Surprise”

Formed in early 2020, Los Angeles based duo Brian DaMert and Brian Tarney began writing and producing glittering and emotional post-punk.

Few bands are able to reinvent their influences, and with Sacred Skin the source material is clear. New wave, synthpop, post-punk, Talk Talk, and The Fixx all shape this band, but their unparalleled sound is utterly their own. Subtle in their aggression, the power of Sacred Skin is in their perfect arrangements, their use of vintage studio gear, and DaMert’s mysterious voice. This band is potent and on the rise. This past March saw them opening for AFI at Hollywood’s legendary Palladium.

“No Surprise,” the fifth release from their forthcoming album, Decline of Pleasure, hits with that distinctive Fixx guitar tone through a number of different synths: Moog Source, Prophet VS, and Emulator II (used by Depeche Mode and Genesis). “This song came together in one late night session” they told TVD. “We wanted to make a track reminiscent of early Ministry and Duran Duran. Something dancey, but with a bit of edge.”

Much like the rest of their releases, it’s a brilliant, dreamy track. And there hasn’t been one disappointing song, just climactic tunes building the anticipation for their highly awaited album. Their aesthetic—more novel at this moment than purely nostalgic—is an early ‘80s nod to a time when our culture was not so overproduced. Sacred Skin is a band worth getting acquainted with—one that will draw you in.

Stay tuned for the Decline of Pleasure out on NYC label collective SYNTHICIDE this May. You can pre-order it here on Bandcamp.

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TVD Live Shots: Ministry and Melvins at the House of Blues, 4/13

PHOTOS: JULIA LOFSTRAND | In the Melvins’ documentary The Colossus of Destiny: A Melvins Tale, Jello Biafra of Dead Kennedys said of the band, “the fact that they get to be the Melvins and do what they want to do and get paid off of it is very rare.” Faith No More’s Mike Patton underscored, “They are a force of nature.”

Doing what one wants and being a force of nature is precisely what the Industrial Strength Tour featuring Ministry, Melvins, and Corrosion of Conformity is all about. Innumerable albums later—Ministry released their 15th studio album last year while Melvins are up to their 25th release—the fact that these bands play for their own headspace and can pack a venue of fans spanning generations is remarkable.

For many at this show, the subculture these bands have created was never a passing phase but vessels for their dark emotions and an extension of themselves that they’ve carried far into adulthood. A recently retired woman next to me explained she was going to spend her freedom following Ministry wherever they play, as she intermittently screamed lead singer Al Jourgensen’s name from the crowd. A salt-and-pepper father with his teenage son hung over a railing appreciating together the sound of musicians who are dedicated to their craft. And mixed in with the current wave of the SoCal industrial scene was a much older woman with neon yellow-green hair. She looked inspiring.

The bands on this bill are inventors of their genres, making this event not only a seriously amazing rock show but an educational history. Ministry is at the inception of industrial music. The versatile Melvins, although not fully aligned with grunge, are held directly responsible for it, and Corrosion of Conformity is thought to be one the first punk-metal bands. And how is everyone sounding at this stage of their game? Pretty fucking fantastic if you ask me.

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Needle Drop: dani mack, “Someday”

It’s a comeback story with a vexing beginning. After being shelved by a label that wasn’t interested in her having her own voice, Baylee Barrett—now known as dani mack—found her career in limbo with no path forward.

Taking on the moniker of dani mack and finding a home with a new label Future Gods, she’s poised to capture the attention of indie lovers far and wide. With her star on the rise, mack is getting traction from all the right places—“Someday” her latest single has a slot on Apple Music’s “Mellow Days” playlist as well as Tidal’s “Rising” playlist, and she’s made an appearance on NPR’s All Songs Considered. It’s the kind of attention an artist hopes for, but Barrett’s start was anything but idyllic.

Losing her mother in her early teens gave mack the perspective to spend her life doing what she loves—music. Growing up in Lubbock, Texas, the town that gave us Buddy Holly, she took vocal lessons at the encouragement of her mother who sang in their local Southern Baptist church. Showing promise at an early age, she soon became the coveted Sunday Service soloist. Her father—who raised her through the most difficult and pivotal years of her life—sacrificed and nurtured his daughter’s dreams, including her desire to move to Los Angeles to pursue music. It is in his honor that she chose his first and last name, dani mack, as her new monicker.

“Someday,” her first single, is a 100% self-produced indie-bedroom track orchestrated with her bandmate Chris Reagan and mixed by Greg Uhlmann (Perfume Genius, Hand Habits). High falsettos and distorted guitars; it’s an introspective and light approach to the blissful denial that as relationships fall apart, it’s people who resist change. “People don’t really change, their situations do,” she explains. Akin to Phoebe Bridgers in her lyrical content and sound, dani mack is set to consummate her own ascent.

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Needle Drop: Curt Barlage, “Illuminate”

After seeing Living Color at 15, Los Angeles native Curt Barlage picked up a guitar and hasn’t looked back. A long-time member of the Los Angeles indie scene, he’s something of an LA best kept secret. After six years of working in a record shop his influences are deep, and his taste impeccable. Through various configurations and concepts over the years, and the eventual split of his former band The Bixby Knolls, Barlage immersed himself in two new collaborative projects, Strange Phases and Red Hearts White Ribbons. Defined as shoegaze and beyond, both outfits stand on their own and are active today.

The shift from being in a band to a solo project was an organic process during the lockdown as Barlage moved his recording equipment from his studio into his home and sifted through the emotions of a soul-wrenching breakup. Searching for self-awareness through yoga and meditation during the pandemic, he began hosting weekly Live By The Socially Distant Firepit sessions performing acoustic covers, his own material, and poetry readings.

This exploration of a deeper consciousness has made him more intentional about his approach to music. “It’s coming from a different source now,” he told me as I caught up with him on his return from Neem Karoli Baba Ashram in Taos, New Mexico. If this all sounds like a bunch of New Age West Coast bullshit—it’s not. A myth debunked. You can heal yourself and still play some seriously good music.

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TVD Live Shots: Nation of Language and Glove at the Lodge Room, 3/20

While we were away.Ed.

PHOTOS: JULIA LOFSTRAND | Nation of Language is the band I am most excited about. They have captivated me, stolen my heart, and infiltrated my dreams. Their music taps into my internal state: questions of existence, post-punk and new wave motifs, ruminations of self and love.

Maybe we are all the same no matter what our choice in music, but this concoction gets me. “September Again,” off of their Introduction, Please is a song I’ve had on repeat. Repeat is an unusual experience for me. I have not found myself in a loop like this since I discovered Joy Division’s, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and The National. Releasing Introduction, Please (2020) and their latest album A Way Forward (2021) during the pandemic could have shelved any emerging artist, so I have also learned not to hype up new music I come across until I see it live. I feared an anti-climax.

Openers, Glove, a 4-piece post-punk outfit presented a clear message. As Batcave progenies, the influence of Wire and Bauhaus is there. Cohesive and stylistically balanced, they are a steadfast part of the post-punk revival scene that seems to, judging by the crowd, have interest from a multi-generation of fans.

Nation of Language had a two-night residency at the Lodge Room in Highland Park. This is a pivotal moment as the band is on the brink of taking off. The crowd knows it and the band feels it. There is no label PR ploy generating this buzz, it’s stemming from radio shows and DJs genuinely gunning for them solely because they are fans.

Last October saw them performing a live session on Seattle’s KEXP. January brought a performance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert with “Across That Fine Line.” At the Lodge Room, KCRW’s own Travis Holcombe had a DJ set before and after their show. Many recognize their imminent ascension and want to be a part of it, myself included. I covered the first night for TVD, and by the night’s end I made sure I had a ticket for night two.

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TVD Live Shots:
Flogging Molly with Vandoliers and Russkaja at the Hollywood Palladium, 3/17

While we were away.Ed.

PHOTOS: JULIA LOFSTRAND | I didn’t know what to expect when I agreed to cover Flogging Molly at the Hollywood Palladium on Saint Patrick’s Day. “Are you into Flogging Molly?” I asked a guy next to me. “Seasonally,” he smiled.

Los Angeles based with most of its members from Detroit, Dublin-born guitarist/frontman Dave King is actually Irish. With their start as the resident Monday night band at LA’s Molly Malones, they’ve outgrown the bar band label and routinely sell-out large venues, even holding their own annual Salty Dog Caribbean Cruise featuring a line-up of legendary punk musicians. They are not a gimmicky Irish/punk band, but a group of talented musicians with a 20-year career who sound remarkable to this day.

I hold the same truth for the night’s two openers. The first, country-punk Texas natives Vandoliers—who go by a brand of “shithole country” as listed in their IG bio—sang a song about smoking cigarettes in the rain. They sounded great. The second opener, Russkaja—a polka-punk Slavic outfit with a metal undertone who hail from Vienna—brought lots of brass including a 100 year old tuba on stage. Drinks flying across the room, a fuck Putin message, and a cover of Avicii’s “Wake Me Up,” and I’d say that their set covered all the bases for the we are pacifists with no fucks given message they wanted to impart.

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TVD Live Shots:
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis at the Orpheum Theater, 3/10

While we were away.Ed.

PHOTOS: JULIA LOFSTRAND | If you want to see the original hipsters and their contemporary counterparts, copious amounts of black, and the counterculture royalty of Los Angeles all under one roof, the Nick Cave and Warren Ellis show at The Orpheum was the place to be. A few Vampire’s Wife dresses, a formal line designed for the edgier woman by Susie Cave, Nick Cave’s Wife, floated across the art deco theater setting a certain elegant mood.

In our seats, the crowd aware that it was there to see a legend, settled into a reverent mood. A sedentary Warren Ellis sat with his synthesizer strewn across his lap bringing forth the somber arrangements of “Spinning Song” for the opening as an imposing Nick Cave, in his as expected black suit, appeared to much applause, making his way to a small platform illuminated in neon pink lighting built off of the main stage for him. A three-person choir swayed behind him.

From his preacher’s podium, the 21-song set was comprised mostly of Ghosteen (2019), an album referred to by Cave as a “migrating spirit” that delved into the loss of his son; and Carnage (2021), the first album that Nick Cave and Warren Ellis recorded together as a duo/side project during the lockdowns. A Bad Seeds member since the mid-1990s, Warren Ellis is an exceptional multi-instrumentalist who has fused a symbiotic relationship with Cave over the years. Without the weight of heavy instrumentation, the dichotomy between the cathedral-like beauty of Ghosteen and the more violent Carnage captivated the venue from beginning to end with a resplendent spiritual-like presence in this non-denominational service.

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TVD Live Shots: Spoon and Joy Downer at The Observatory, 2/8

PHOTOS: JULIA LOFSTRAND | It’s a new era for Texan-made Spoon. A band with ten studio albums behind them, they have been steadily on the rise since the mid ‘90s, and critically acclaimed for it. Known for auspiciously taking chances with their sound, their latest album Lucifer on the Sofa was just dubbed by Rolling Stone as their best record yet. Digging deep into the vinyl crates for ZZ Top and Led Zeppelin, they sought out classic rock as inspiration for this new record, and The Observatory in Santa Ana with its roadhouse aura was the perfect venue to lay down their new twangy-rock track “The Hardest Cut.”

Los Angeles-based opener, Joy Downer brought an alternative lounge singer meets dreampop performance to the start of the night. An unexpected choice of opener for Spoon, the crowd was nevertheless engaged with her observational lyrics.

Given that I have seen Spoon two times in the last five months—once at the monolithic Hollywood Bowl, and then at secret show they announced at the smaller Teragram Ballroom—I had no doubt that the long-ass drive, which included merging into 7 different rush hour highways, would be worth it.

Enroute to the venue the day before and similarly stuck in traffic, keyboardist/guitarist Alex Fischel took over Spoon’s IG stories encouraging fans to ask him anything. He confirmed that his favorite Spoon bass line is on “Who Makes Your Money,” and that his favorite effects pedal is a JHS Colour Box V2, and entertained a request for “Lines in the Suit” to be played.

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TVD Live Shots: Björk’s Cornucopia at the Shrine Auditorium, 1/29

PHOTOS: SANTIAGO FELIPE | Björk has been pushing the boundaries of self-expression since leaving one of Iceland’s most popular groups, The Sugarcubes, in the early ‘90s to pursue a solo career. One of the most innovative composers of our time—Grimes couldn’t exist without Bjork, Radiohead has claimed her as a major inspiration, and it’s safe to say that Cardi B’s eccentric fashions wouldn’t be as well-received if Björk hadn’t paved the way.

I heard her say in an interview that the decision to create dance music in her larger-than-life way came down to one thing: she’d never forgive herself if she didn’t. Four-decades of studio albums, influential collaborations, groundbreaking music videos, visionary stage performances, museum exhibitions, and innumerable awards and accolades later, Björk remains Vanguard #1.

At the intersection of music, visual art, and the latest technology, I imagine Björk standing on the precipice of a volcanic Icelandic mountain peak contemplating how to display to the world her inner being. The answer, delivered by way of a formation in the flowing lava or a gust of Nordic wind, streams a new world into her consciousness. She makes her descent down the mountain pondering how to convey it.

Björk’s “Cornucopia,” a mystical union, is that new world. Created to support her ninth studio release Utopia, a birdsong and flute-centric album co-produced by fellow visionary Arca, the album and this show are meant to address how we, nature, and technology can harmoniously coexist.

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