Author Archives: Crystal Eckstadt

Needle Drop: Dylan LeBlanc, Coyote

After four studio albums, Dylan LeBlanc has garnered enough insight into his craft to take on the daunting feat of self-producing his own album. Like the understated and made-to-last emblems of quiet luxury, Coyote is a 13-song record of timeless grandeur hidden beneath the quiet introspection LeBlanc’s music is known for. His catalogue is a dominion of self-reflection retold through his calming voice. Resting among the great lyricists of this generation, I continuously return to his albums and each time find a missing piece of myself in them.

Unlike the unaffordable price-tag of quiet luxury, real-life excesses aren’t something LeBlanc is much concerned with. That which can bring us to our knees—humility, and salvation are mainstay themes he has ebbed and flowed with throughout his life and music career. The coyote, the album’s namesake animal, is his latest point of reflection to tell that truth.

After summiting a 100-foot cliff and having a real-life harrowing encounter with a coyote, LeBlanc understood that perilous moment as a dance between human and animal, both just trying to survive. His lyrics originate from a similar precipice, or a razor’s edge as he likes to call it.

Like his former semi-autobiographical albums, Coyote, as a concept deals with his personal struggles to find a way out of a former treacherous lifestyle where he was tormented by his past and endured the pain and regret of lost love and a life wasted, until he found his way towards redemption and freedom. Through masterful storytelling, Coyote seeks resolve to the backdrop of various guitars including slide, haunting keys, and vagabond blues fading into the sunset of Americana-folk wanderlust.

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Needle Drop: Blonde Redhead, “Melody Experiment”

It makes sense that Blonde Redhead is slated to have their new album released on Partisan Records’ new independent offshoot, section1. Aiming to release bands with an “art-first way” ethos, rock trio Blonde Redhead (Kazu Makino, and twins Simone and Amedeo Pace) are a perfect fit.

Since the ’90s they have meticulously curated a sound that is hard to pin down. Often compared to Sonic Youth in the early years of their career, traces of experimental elements alongside their no wave abrasion made guest appearances on each album, but a new level of cinematic ambiance climaxed with 2004’s Misery Is a Butterfly. It’s a space they’ve mastered and continue to reinvent. Throughout it all there is a language they have kept, Makino says. “We try to change rhythms, concepts, and sounds. But that harmonic sensibility has stayed the same. It hits the same part of your heart.”

It’s been eight years since their last album, Masculin Féminin, and now Blonde Redhead is back with their eleventh album Sit Down for Dinner. “Snowman” the album’s first single told through the somber breeze of Brazilian, experimental music captures Amedeo’s feeling as to “how it can be a blessing or a curse to be invisible and undetectable, and how it’s something we all feel and desire at times.”

Floating melodies and a looking glass of romance, sadness, and renewal saturate Blonde Redhead’s sound—“Melody Experiment,” the album’s second single is no exception. Makino’s sensuous vocals wash out the discordant guitar segments in another promising sample of what Sit Down for Dinner is offering.

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TVD Live from the
Blue Carpet: Light Up The Blues Benefit at the Greek Theatre, 4/22

PHOTOS: JULIA LOFSTRAND | Autism, a largely misunderstood developmental disorder affecting a range of issues from social skills to speech, affects 1 in 36 children in the US today. After a pandemic hiatus, Stephen and Kristin Stills annual Light Up The Blues charity concert finally returned to The Greek Theater in Los Angeles for its 6th year. All proceeds of the show went to Autism Speaks.

The Stills created Light Up The Blues to support other parents in need, as their own child Henry was born autistic. Hosted by comedian Jeff Garlin and actress Camryn Manheim, this year’s lineup featured veteran Light Up The Blues performers Neil Young, who also has children on the Autism spectrum, Joe Walsh, Willie Nelson, and Stephen Stills.

Always a generational family affair, Lukas Nelson + his band Promise of the Real and Chris Stills shared the bill with their legendary fathers. This year’s performers with autism were rapper Soulshocka, opera singer Amanda Anderson, and singer/guitarist Will Breman with indie-folk star Sharon Van Etten making a guest appearance.

We caught up with a few Light Up The Blues folks on the “Blue Carpet” before the show. Even famed ‘60s/’70s photographer, Henry Diltz, stopped by for The Stills’ family photo shot.

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Needle Drop: Kim Logan & the Silhouettes, Shadow Work

Imagine a flash of Janis Joplin in Haight-Ashbury, mixed with a modern goth living in the Belle Époque who stands at the steps of the Temple of Apollo in Delphi conjuring oracles. Dividing her time between the UK and Paris, Florida-raised Kim Logan is something of an anachronism and resides in this suspended place and time just as much now as she did back in her youth.

Learning to read and sing from an early age, Logan was 7 years old in the 5th grade, and just 8 years old when she was kicked out of her private catholic school for writing a paper on abortion rights. The word prodigy comes to mind. But it was the big voices of her childhood like Shaina Twain, Steven Tyler, Led Zeppelin, and her time as a contracted soprano opera singer—a job she’s held since childhood—that has driven her sound and belief in her own unique voice.

After leaving Berklee College of Music at 17, Logan headed to Nashville to cut her teeth on the city’s legendary rock and blues circuit. While maintaining a position with the Nashville Opera, Logan turned down a lucrative and constrictive development deal and started her own musical imprint, Swamp Thing Records.

By releasing her music on her own label she’s been able to control her aesthetic and sound, but not without the help of vital mentors. There’s Grammy-winning producer/ engineer/ mixer Vance Powell who has worked with Chris Stapleton, The White Stripes whom she credits with shaping her artistry, and producer/ FOH engineer Brett Orrison (The Black Angels/ Jack White) who produced Shadow Work’s “Better Way.”

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TVD Live Shots: Protomartyr at the Teragram Ballroom,

PHOTOS: DANIEL GRAY | Examining a post-punk dystopian landscape with all the appropriate trimmings: working-class suffering, government failings, and the compounding existential dread facing us all, Detroit’s Protomartyr took over downtown Los Angeles’ Teragram Ballroom on a rain-drenched Wednesday night. Out on tour in support of their pandemic release Ultimate Success Today (2020), the venue set in a seedier part of town was the right place for the dissonant power rock four-piece.

LA-based opener Immortal Nightbody, the moniker of rapper/ singer/ producer Sim Jackson, brought in an unusually large crowd eager to see the cross-pollination of rap and dark wave, two subversive genres in their own right. By the time Protomartyr opened with the dark bass and airy surf rock of “Maidenhead,” the crowd had uncomfortably swelled as frontman Joe Casey yelled at us, “Don’t feel nothing for anyone, Don’t feel no love for anything,” their post-apocalyptical sphere taking shape.

Greg Ahee (guitar), Scott Davidson (bass), and Alex Leonard (drums) alongside Casey, referred to as one of the great punk poets of our generation and the band’s “Drunk Uncle,” barreled through Protomartyr’s 16-song set. Casey held a beer in one hand, and microphone with a poetic style baritone—often compared to The Fall’s Mark E. Smith—in the other for the entire night.

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TVD Live Shots:
Sharon Van Etten at
the Troubadour, 3/19

PHOTOS: JULIA LOFSTRAND | Sharon Van Etten celebrated Tramp’s 11th, not 10th, Anniversary at the Troubadour in Los Angeles this past Sunday. Not wanting the album’s milestone to be buried by her album released last year, We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong, the show sold out within minutes upon which she released live stream tickets with all proceeds going to the Turkey-Syria Earthquake Relief fund.

Neil Young played his first debut solo show at the Troubadour, an unknown Elton John played eight shows there that launched his career, and Sharon Van Etten, one of the great modern indie-folk artists of our time, continued this iconic venue’s legacy.

Adriana McCasim was a fitting opener for the night. Spatial and anxious, her self-produced songs were a perfect subtle prelude. Shortly afterward, Sharon Van Etten and her band were greeted on stage by fervent applause that turned deathly silent as the brooding instrumentals of Tramp’s opening track “Warsaw” collided with her timeless voice. “Warsaw,” followed by “Give Out” and “Serpents,” is a most haunting piece of album sequencing.

Van Etten released the video for “Serpents” only just last month. Not feeling comfortable in her own skin, she killed the video upon its release—it’s one about an abusive relationship that decimated her sense of self and spawned many of her songs. Since then, she’s fallen in love with the right person, had a child, and gone back to school to become a therapist. The raw emotion of that song and what it has taken for her to step into her power radiated into the audience.

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Needle Drop: Dylan LeBlanc, “Pastimes” EP

A lone figure who’s been to the war of life, battled his demons, and came back to tell its tales with a gentle voice, it’s hard to believe that Dylan Leblanc has touched any darkness at all. A youth spent between the rough streets of Shreveport, LA, and the iconic Fame Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, AL where his father, country artist James Leblanc, was a songwriter and session musician, LeBlanc’s music is a folk/rock ‘n’ roll reflection of all that the Deep South has imparted to him.

Few artists can claim a four-album career, spanning over a decade, where you can drop the needle on a record without the need to get up and change songs. From his debut album, Paupers Field (2010), featuring the backing vocals of Emmylou Harris on “If the Creek Don’t Rise” (which has 13 million plays on Spotify), to the moody elegance of Cautionary Tale (2016) and 2019’s Renegade with its take-it-or-leave-it anthems, Dylan LeBlanc’s flawless catalog is a collection of lyric-driven songs that braid tales of romance, pain, and heartfelt self-reflection.

It’s a vision that he’s been quietly curating over the last 12 years, building his career one fan at a time, he tells me. “It hadn’t been a walk in the park, that’s for sure,” he says. “I just love music and love makin’ music. I don’t do it for the gains. I do it because I have to, and I absolutely love being creative.”

With the pandemic bringing life to a halt, LeBlanc released the “Pastimes” EP in 2021 as an homage to songs that have made a musical and spiritual impact on him—like J.J. Cale’s “Sensitive Kind”—which reminded him of the dive bars his dad took him to as a child. Featuring songs by Buffalo Springfield, Led Zeppelin, Glen Campbell, Bob Dylan, and The Rolling Stones’ “Play with Fire,” “Pastimes” was self-produced in as few takes as possible for authenticity’s sake. Each song is distilled by LeBlanc’s take on Americana.

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Needle Drop: Cesar Saez, El Esplendor de la Tristeza / The Splendor of Sadness

Dividing his time between Los Angeles, Mexico City, and land that he recently bought in the high Mojave Desert, Cesar Saez is a true Bohemian spirit with a predilection for the black and white films of The Golden Age of Mexican cinema, vintage clothing, and vinyl. Regarding his vinyl rituals, Saez explains “Once the needle drops, you’re in for the journey and not just one song; and that’s how I like to do it.” It’s that level of regard for the journey and not just the destination that drives the narrative of his latest release, El Esplendor de la Tristeza aka The Splendor of Sadness in English. 

Ebbing with the highs and lows of love and heartbreak, The Splendor of Sadness is a dramatic continuum influenced by ’70s Mexican pop legends such as Juan Gabriel and José José and other international artists of high drama like Serge Gainsbourg and Scott Walker. Modern boleros are interwoven with rock ‘n’ roll and traces of Britpop on this 11-song pilgrimage in English/Spanish, casting light on all of Saez’s influences. With the languid conversational stage presence of Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie, his album and persona are a new musical framework.

After the breakup of his last band The Wallburds, the former Bixby Knolls member found himself writing songs in Spanish for the first time despite English being his first language. A latent direction with roots in his childhood in Mexico City, Saez was introduced to The Rolling Stones and The Beatles by his father who listened to the CDMX radio station that steadily played classic rock hits. But it was his mother’s boyfriend who taught him his first chords on the guitar. He would show up every week on his mother’s doorstep with flowers and a mariachi band to serenade her, and then take the whole family out to dinner. It’s the duality of these experiences that have led Saez to the multi-lingual approach he’s taking as a solo artist now.

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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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