Reviews

Thunderheist and Winter Gloves: 27 November 2009 - Seattle

The sort of performance in which playing a keyboard with your foot while slapping away at a tambourine seems like the most natural thing in the world to do.

Winter Gloves

Thunderheist + Winter Gloves

City: Seattle
Venue: Chop Suey
Date: 2009-11-27

Autumn in Seattle is not an hour in life that lends itseld to dancing. It is mid-November moving towards late when Canadian music makers Thunderheist and Winter Gloves take the stage at Seattle’s Chop Suey. Winter is knocking on the door, prowling the shadows and not quite ready to topple fall. Gold and brown leaves turn into a slurry beneath drizzling skies and thousands of shoes robbed of the proper, satisfying crunch of November underfoot. Many of those in attendance, myself among them, have spent our days answering upset phone calls, responding to innumerable e-mails, sifting through reams of arcane paperwork and entering numbers into forms laid out like quiet, well-groomed suburban neighborhoods. Our sort are scattered around the lounge before the show, looking like faded snap shots of Good Times.

We are not, one would gather, a crowd given naturally to the getting of down. If we are to dance, and we need to dance, all of us, some more than others, are going to need powerful motivation.

I should probably pause to clarify a point here. A reader could, at this juncture, infer that I feel ours is a region, or at least a bar, which is like a region, representing as it does a peculiar brand of sociological micro-climate, that is distinctly lacking in mirth. This is not the case. I am confident that, geographically speaking, we are possessed of as much mirth as any other place. It is just that some days, this one counting among their number, it is a sort of mirth that is harder to get to, an aptitude for merry-making accessible only after a long thaw.

If one was to make a list of things that most effectively speed that thaw, one would be remiss if they did not include the line item “Party Time Music”. This is precisely what Montreal-based openers Winter Gloves delivered. Their set, a blend of tunes from their debut About a Girl played like a soundtrack to reckless fun and occasionally questionable decision-making. Playing to a house that was something less than packed, Winter Gloves took the stage with joie de vivre to spare and a palpable love of being on stage.

Creating a landscape of swirling keyboards, swooning falsettos and driving drumbeats, Winter Gloves largely embrace the sensibilities of the Montreal pop sound, but temper it with a liberal dose of charisma and a refusal to take themselves too seriously. Perhaps borne out of their origins as a sort of "what the hell" side project that took on a life of it’s own, it’s comes across as a dedication to making the most of a performance. Going to town on keyboards and guitars, tambourines and glockenspiel, Winter Gloves live show is a great place to lose yourself. The foursome seems to naturally harness a live energy that a lot of bands never quite manage to capture despite their best efforts; the sort of performance in which playing a keyboard with your foot while slapping away at a tambourine seems like the most natural thing in the world to do.

After Winter Gloves set events and bodies throughout the club in motion, electro infused hip-hop duo Thunderheist took the stage and promptly made a scene not soon to be forgotten. Consisting of regulars MC Isis and DJ Grahm Zilla buoyed on stage by a talented percussionist, Thunderheist had the entire house dancing within moments, owning the stage with presence to burn and the endearing charm of someone who doesn’t know how well they’re doing something. Isis made for a commanding force on the mic, while Grahm Zilla’s beats consistently threaten to overwhelm the powerful lyrics, but always pull back at the last moment. Seamlessly transitioning from song to song, pausing only to occasionally carouse with the audience, Thunderheist were at their best manipulating the tenets of hip-hop and turning them to their own purpose, whether encouraging a crowd of people to put their hands down for a change of pace or singing the infrequently heard praises of “little booty girls”. The two great sets, along with a few strong drinks, proved just the trick for melting hard hearts and reminding a room full of folks of an old truth: the best way to fight off the cold is to move together.

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Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

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