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Maria Hackman // I’m Not Your Man  •   Album Review

The cover of Marika Hackman’s third album I’m Not Your Man is a beautifully lopsided pastel-clip art nightmare. But even with all the off-green tinting, and a strangely ominous partially chopped cucumber in the background, it’s Hackman’s figure on the front that grabs your eye. Verging on uncanny-valley territory, Hackman’s glossy eyes and porcelain facial features give her the appearance of a wax statue seconds away from coming to life. This not-quite-blank expression and tight framing leaves the feeling of uncomfortable ambiguity, and with the songs contained therein, Hackman’s soothing, often angelic voice serves the same context—providing a lushness for the undercurrents of anxiety and discomfort hidden beneath a gorgeous façade.

I’m Not Your Man finds Hackman mastering the art of subverting her flawless voice with violence, rage, and mystery. On lead single “Boyfriend,” Hackman airs her frustration with the view that lesbian relationships are somehow “lesser,” nearly whispering in the pre-chorus, “Heaven knows we’re meant to be/But it’s turned into a mess/No one takes us seriously just because I wear a dress.” By the end of the song, the hypnotic guitar hook and crashing drums play back up to Hackman’s literal screams. “My Lover Cindy” breaks its seemingly out of place jangle-pop tone with Hackman singing, “’Cause I’m a greedy pig/I’m gonna get my fill/I’m gonna keep my eyes on the prize/And I’ll suck you dry, I will.” The thick, single strummed guitar chords just barely exist underneath biting lyrics sung so effortlessly and not hiding behind the intrinsic irony of such emotional self-deprecation.

While the album is led by Hackman’s propulsive full band hits, the slow burners contain just as much angst and anger, and call back to her previous work’s more synth-heavy sound and acoustic guitar base. “Cigarette” combines the gentle finger picking of modern folk acts like Fleet Foxes with choir-like keyboard swells, creating beautiful soundscapes as Hackman focuses on a night out gone horribly wrong. And tracks like “I’d Rather Be With Them” highlight Hackman’s proclivity for emo-revival lyricism, singing in the song’s bridge, “I’m so fucking heartless/I can’t even cry/I’ve opened up my body and it’s hollow inside,” followed by, “So ring up my parents/And tell them I’m dead.” But that last threat isn’t a gimmick, and it’s not even really subversive. Whereas a weaker singer/songwriter might decide to deliver such lines with an on-the-nose cheekiness, Hackman is able to fully embody irritation, confusion, and whole-hearted sincerity. There is one strictly sensual love song on the album, that being “Violet,” a floating, carnal come-on akin to the less subtler tracks of bands like The Last Shadow Puppets. “I love your mouth,” Hackman repeats, savoring every word as she breathes in deep before each cooing take. The song’s desperation for some kind of sensation by any means possible is inherent in its completely tactile recording. But it’s not hedonistic, or drenched in thrill-seeking. If anything, Hackman’s words ring true in a world where numbness can be a survival technique, and it reinforces I’m Not Your Man as the proper arrival for this bold, young British force.

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Great Grandpa // Plastic Cough  •   Album Review

Great Grandpa are children of the 1990s—that much should be obvious from the first second of the Seattle quintet’s debut, Plastic Cough. “Teen Challenge” leads proceedings with the kind of dirt-caked power chord progression and proudly ironic chorus—“Ooh ooh, always killin’ it,”—that will never be attributed to the present time no matter how enduring its pleasures. But here, “children of the 90s” is much more meaningful.

Great Grandpa have no qualms about acting on their youthful confusion. It’s alternately thrilling and mildly embarrassing. And rather than become the sum of their various musical proclivities, Plastic Cough is able to stand out and show that Great Grandpa can be torch bearers for people who are told they’re flawed, but know they really aren’t. While Built to Spill taught the 90s that subtle math-rock influences can have their place in grunge riffs, pop-punk acts like early Green Day taught everyone how to rant, and Great Grandpa are well-versed in both practices.

Guitarists Patrick Goodwin and Dylan Hanwright’s eerie sound shines through on “Grounded,” as both wind between dissonant off-centered arpeggios to a gentle melody played over pop chords. Singer Alex Menne matches with her often angular use of emphasis. When she sings, “Keep the present in the moment like it’s supposed to be/I don’t wanna be addicted to your vision,” during “Expert Eraser,” both “supposed” and “vision” are given raunchy inflection, leading the listener to feel like Menne is either excited to finally say what’s on her mind or just trying not to explode. And where the metaphor stops, the shamelessly straightforward and catchy chorus fills us in as Menne and company shout with all the power of every classic alternative anthem, “Fill us with good feels/You know that we’re helpless!”

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Menne has a knack for odd, little phrasing choices that elevate Plastic Cough above the usual plainspoken indie fare. Menne seems to be interested in the way words sound phonetically rather than just poetically. In the chorus of “Fade” she sings, “Unfurl this spline/With crooked slack/That bends to look closer.” There’s a sense of uncertainty that comes with change within the song\’s theme, but words like “unfurl” and “spline,” and phrases like “crooked slack” feel like they hold something beyond meaning, reaching into a tactile territory where lyricists like Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz and Matt Berninger of The National have staked their claim. None of this, however, is to suggest that Great Grandpa doesn’t like to just have some fun, and that’s never truer than in the album closer “28 J’s L8r” (yep, that’s the actual title). Again in unison, Menne and the rest of the band sing the destined to be iconic slacker rock chorus, “Never thought the zombies would come/When I was smoking ganja at home/How am supposed to outrun/When I’ve been smoking ganja at home?” It’s not the band’s best outing, but it’s a surprisingly grounded song that, at the very least, suggests how unflinching this debut is. Yes, it’s an ode to a bad trip, but it’s also an ode to the band as a whole. As the music and lyrics revolve around each other, they’re both allowed to sound as complex or silly as they want to be.

Sound Off! @ The Holland Project  •   Show Spotlights

The revered battle of the bands… an event considered by musicians and music fans as the only acceptable instance for bands to be directly competitive. Most people envision a ‘battle of the bands’ like the one depicted near the end of School of Rock– a packed mid-level venue with performers contentiously battling it out to woo judges for a prize usually consisting of a large sum of cash and equally as important bragging rights. Are you feeling Jack Black’s unbridled anger towards his old band No Vacancy for taking home the $20,000 cash prize?

Despite these preconceived notions of a ‘battle of the bands,’ the tone for the KWNK Sound Off! Battle of the Bands at the Holland Project was in fact the contrary. Perhaps the main reason for this could be the purpose of the battle: the event served as a fundraiser for 97.7 KWNK, a community-based radio station collaboration between the Holland Project, the Reno Bike Project, and Wolf Pack Radio. The top prize for the winning performer was a recording session generously donated by the Sound Saloon in downtown Reno. All proceeds from the event went to KWNK, with attendees receiving a KWNK button used to vote for a performer of their choice.

liltrafficIcy Dave and Little Traffic, on behalf of Bridget Conway.

Throughout the evening, an overwhelming sense of community could be felt in and outside the venue. With over 200 people in attendance, top-notch vegan cuisine provided by Nom Eats and Reno favorites Lil Traffic and Icy Dave on MC duties, the inaugural Sound Off! event was considered a smashing success.

The event featured seven local artists, with ages and genres among performers varying. One of the night’s most notable performances came from Boys, a band consisting of Bella and Lizzy from surf punk duo Snack. Bella’s ability to keep the crowd engaged without the constraint of a guitar worked to the band’s advantage- their lively performance earned them at least a few new fans that night.

boys3Boys, on behalf of Bridget Conway. 

The multitude of genres heard throughout the show ensured that there was something for everyone; Common Mishap’s emo-tinged alternative rock, Surly’s introspective punk, Pink Awful’s meticulously constructed shoegaze/noise rock- all topped off with Lil Traffic and Icy Dave performing a few tracks to close the night, including a new cut that had been released less than a week prior.

The standout performance of the night came from jazz/fusion group Long Story Short, the winners of the inaugural Sound Off. Long Story Short’s performance featured a vibrant horn section that commandeered the band’s vitality. Their tight knit sound incorporated motifs from rock, pop and soul- even some electronic influence was prevalent. Their unique amalgamation was enough to win a majority the crowd’s adoration, taking home the top prize of a recording session at the Sound Saloon.

surly1 (1)Surly, on behalf of Bridget Conway.

The energy and optimism behind the idea of a community radio station overshadowed any feeling of contentiousness. Instead of any competition-induced animosity, there was mutual unwavering support between performers and attendees. Performers and attendees alike were enthused by the idea of bringing true community radio to Reno. If the Sound Off! Event was any indication of the support KWNK will be receiving from the community; we have a lot to look forward to.

You can find out more/donate to KWNK at kwnkradio.org.

Cover photo of Boys on behalf of Bridget Conway.

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