Category Archives: Have You Heard?

Have You Heard… Julie Byrne?













by Gabriel Valdez

“I’ve been called heartbreaker
For doing justice to my own.”

Sometimes a song can feel like getting lost in dappled light. It can lift time and make me feel the texture of the memories I most fear losing. These songs let us exist in two places at once, in two times.

The joy in this is the lightness of unpacking sensations from my past. The heartbreak is my inability to feel them fully again, as in presence. I sit with the sensation not of a moment, but of its memory. The windows into it are always shifting. I can’t climb into it fully, but I can feel the breeze come through, hear the echoes of it float in.

Sometimes a singer like Julie Byrne can take the heartbreak of being contained by the present in a way memory can’t be…and the joy of sensing all that memory floating free. In that moment, you’re sitting there with someone. You’re not alone in the joy or the heartbreak. Someone else is there with you, sharing the same conflicting longing and closure, aching and satisfaction, embarrassment and pride.










“I dreamt of the warmest days of love
Which knew not sorrow nor betrayal
When truth was will in the singing of the gale
But when I lay in a verdant field
None could stay my rising.”

It’s sunny there, and the wind will sway the branches, and if you can find stillness with the longing of your past, you can understand and appreciate it. You can see the elements of a memory, realize perspective you couldn’t in the moment.

Not all memories are good, either. Some are anxious, panicking, moments when someone made you lesser because that’s what kept you. Sometimes, you can reclaim the parts where you grew, without feeling like someone else has ownership or control of them. You don’t hear the echoes of doubt or fear that once were intertwined with the good things you learned about yourself.

You realize not being able to step back into those memories can be good. You didn’t fear losing them, you feared losing the elements that helped you grow to become who you are. You feared losing pain would risk losing the lessons learned from it, even when the lesson learned was to step away from pain.






“I’ve been sitting in the garden
Singing to the wind
Searching for an anchor
I’ve been seeking god within.”

We can hold on to the lessons of strength we each learn from rising back, without having to internalize the doubt or coercion that made us pen ourselves away in the first place. We can hold on to what we learned from pain and doubt, without having to hold on to the pain and doubt. We’re not what someone else tried to make us into out of the anxiety of what would happen if we didn’t reshape ourselves. We’re what overcame that fear and intimidation. But sometimes it takes a spark to think of it this way, to put it all together. Sometimes it takes a song, or sometimes a painting, or a movie, or a play, or conversation.

It takes a stillness in ourselves, imparted by something else to cease our restlessness and look at the memory in joy and heartbreak, in fear and strength, with the breath of panic that you thought you’d put behind you, and the calm to be able to accept that it no longer controls you. That’s what resilience is. It isn’t cold and calloused. It’s turning the panic of incomprehension into the calm of understanding. It takes a stillness to witness who you are and how you got there.

We come out the other side of it, without needing to get lost to anger and frustration. Maybe we even learn how not to get lost in panic and anxiety. We learn better how to get lost in our calmness. Julie Byrne offers a good place to slow the world down, like getting lost in dappled light.


If you like Julie Byrne, try: Dawn Landes for something lively and practical, Marissa Nadler for something darker and mysterious, Patty Griffin for the storytelling, or Joni Mitchell for the imagery.

Have You Heard… is a stream of song and band recommendations, many of which may be new to you. We hope it’s less concerned with celebrity and image, and more concerned with the music and what it evokes.

The feature image of Julie Byrne is from Brooklyn Vegan here.

Have You Heard… Bear in Heaven?








by Gabriel Valdez

In 2010, I bought a copy of Uncut off the shelf of Turn It Up, a music store in Northampton, MA. I bought it for the cover story, this feature about Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, often viewed as the seminal album in shaping modern music production.

I was originally drawn to Bush in college for her aesthetic similarities (both musical and otherwise) to my favorite artist, Tori Amos. I would end up reading the article two or three times, focusing on Bush’s collaborations with Peter Gabriel and her dealings with her record label, EMI.

That copy of Uncut came with a sampling album. It was called Western Skies, and featured up-and-coming bands from the alt-country movement. Here’s the track list.

I wasn’t expecting much from it. Most notably, it featured a song from Okkervil River’s collaboration with Roky Erickson. Little did I know at the time that it would mark the conclusion of those few years when Okkervil River was, to me, the best band going.

It also featured Joanna Newsom’s “In California,” a little bit of perfection I was already well practiced at championing to every friend who would listen.

The rest of the mix was unremarkable, except for a gem called “Deafening Love” by Bear in Heaven. “Deafening Love.” It was unstructured, moody, intense. It drove forward relentlessly at such a slow, deliberate pace. It felt like the music I might feel – not hear, but feel – at some underground ceremony calling forth a great Cthulhian monstrosity. It felt a little bit like going crazy. I loved it:






“Bear in Heaven,” I thought to myself. “I better pay attention to that sh*t.” The rest of their music often shared a similar intensity, but never quite found that insane groove of “Deafening Love.”

And then 2012 happened. It was a good year for Bears. Grizzly Bear released the fantastic album Shields. My Chicago Bears even went 10-6 with a record-setting defense (ownership, upset at drifting away from our traditional mediocrity, promptly fired the coach). And Bear in Heaven released the last thing anyone ever expected from their loosely structured, psychedelic, Cthulhian-inducing, alt-country band: a tight, poppy, modern 80s masterpiece.

I Love You, It’s Cool the album title goes. You can clearly hear the musicality of The Cure and Echo and the Bunnymen, but there’s something more there. Listen carefully enough, and you’ll start to notice a pathos behind the songs’ charms. Moments are captured with both a disarming magic and an emotional burden. This is Tears for Fears territory right here:




“Timing is a blurry word
Never ever understood
We could fret until the end
Or fluoresce in trouble’s hand.”

What few critics gave much notice to I Love You, It’s Cool listened to the sound and dismissed the album as wonderfully pleasant, but full of empty charm. They were wrong.

I Love You, It’s Cool the album title goes. On this album, sometimes that’s a reassurance. Sometimes it’s an assertion. Sometimes it’s a threat. Sometimes it’s spoken in desperation, hoping someone out there echoes it back.

In “Noon Moon,” of which there isn’t a good copy to be found (each of Bear in Heaven’s albums is freely available on Spotify, but they’re not popular enough to be found in full elsewhere), vocalist Jon Philpot sings:

“The hushed street is booming louder than my heartbeat
The sunrise reverberates, I will never sleep
The calm water should inspire my weary eyes
But this boy is running wild in overdrive.
Roll around, hair in a fit, rattle on thoughtful mind
Cruel world, can’t change a thing, crying at the television.”

You ask, “Who’s making good 80s music today?” My eyes light up. My heart leaps a little in my chest. Why? I get the chance to tell you about Bear in Heaven.

Since I can’t share “Noon Moon” here, enjoy their excellent commentary on narcissism “The Reflection in You.”


(Bear in Heaven does have a 2014 album, Time Is Over One Day Old, but like everything else they’ve done, it’s completely different from their other work: still synth-heavy, but focused on relaxed 70s folk and psychedelia.)

Have You Heard… is a stream of song and band recommendations, many of which may be new to you. It’s also the kind of analysis that’s missing in a music industry obsessed with image and celebrity instead of the music itself.

Have You Heard… I Break Horses?

Songs of 2014 – “Weigh True Words” & “You Burn”

by Amanda Smith & Gabriel Valdez

Neo-80s music that builds and builds with a dark-edged, slow-burn intensity. Optimistic choruses that feel inches away from flying over landscapes in The NeverEnding Story. I Break Horses controls your emotions with a mastery of synthesized soundscapes and lyrics that yearn to be part of a different world.

Simply put, Sweden is making the best pop in the world, and I Break Horses is a Swedish duo that’s jetted out the starting gate. Chiaroscuro is Maria Linden and Fredrik Balck’s second album, full of songs that experiment endlessly inside of strict indie pop housing. They hearken to an era of 80s optimism, 90s intensity, and modern slowcore (aka shoegazer) that’s never actually existed.

There’s more than a little Bat for Lashes in both their musical and emotive progressions, but there’s no idealism being strove toward in the style of Natasha Khan. I Break Horses is too melancholic. This re-frames their sound – here we have something more inwardly focused, a little more unsettled and discontented. That’s what creates the yearning that comes out of I Break Horses.

Both bands can make us feel like flying across magical 80s landscapes. With Bat for Lashes, we achieve that otherworldly landscape. With I Break Horses, there’s too much distance from here to there. We have one foot left on the ground. What we’re left with is something both magical and airy, yet bittersweet and even a little angry.

Hesitation is hidden all throughout their music, making that initial build-up to the optimistic chorus feel as much a struggle as an achievement. This is meditative neo-80s music to drive around with late at night, in the cold when the traffic lights blur together into impressionistic paintings, and you feel like being steely and contemplative like a protagonist caught between scenes.

Have You Heard… is a stream of song and band recommendations, many of which may be new to you. It’s also the kind of analysis that’s missing in a music industry obsessed with image and celebrity instead of the music itself.

Have You Heard… Marvin Gaye?

“What’s Going On”

by Gabriel Valdez

“Have you heard Marvin Gaye?” is a silly question. Of course you have. His songs are on the radio all the time. But have you sought him out lately, not to listen to in passing when tuning the radio or on the overhead speakers at a mall?

In the wake of Ferguson… “wake” isn’t even the right word because it pretends the moment has passed. In light of Ferguson, in its shadow, however you want to put it…please seek out Marvin Gaye.

His 1971 song “What’s Going On” talks about poverty, striking workers, violence in the streets, and a war in its second decade that no one wanted to be a part of in the first place. Whether the quality of Marvin’s musicianship or the quality of our country at the moment, the song is as relevant and compelling today as the day it was recorded.

“What’s Going On” was conceived by Four Tops member Obie Benson. He had witnessed an anti-war protest in which police had senselessly and violently beaten protestors. Al Cleveland wrote the song with Benson, and it was revised by Gaye, who wanted to infuse it with the emotion he felt when exchanging letters with his brother Frankie, a soldier trapped in the Vietnam War.

Once his brother returned home, Marvin reportedly told him, “I didn’t know how to fight before, but now I think I do. I just have to do it my way. I’m not a painter. I’m not a poet. But I can do it with music.”

“What’s Going On” may be about a moment in time, but it captures a struggle that surpasses that moment. It reminds us to each find our own way to fight. It’s a song that does the rarest thing – it recognizes the desperation in its listener, however deeply it’s hidden. It acknowledges that desperation and commiserates with it, and then asks, “What now?”

Have You Heard… Asgeir?

Songs of 2014 – “King and Cross” & “Summer Guest”

by Vanessa Tottle

I press myself hard because I have a shadow chasing me. I wish others could lift it for me, but have you ever tried lifting a shadow off the ground? I’ve lived with myself 25 years and I can only ever lift it momentarily. When I do, it’s often because of music.

I wallow in the darker shades – industrial, goth, aggro – because it’s harder to see your shadow in the dusk. I’m being asked to lead people now, often in other countries. That darkness gives me edge – I don’t take shit.

But when you’re in the field three weeks straight, dealing with mud and broken jeeps and some intern fracturing a fossil the earth itself couldn’t break despite millions of years at it…people don’t need my edge. They need someone who can help them pick their own dark shadows up off the ground. How can I do that when I can barely carry my own? If all I do is lend them dusk, I won’t even see where their shadow starts and ends.

If music is important for someone well-adjusted, and can still lend them greater peace or make them weep, imagine for a second what it means for someone who doesn’t know peace when they cannot stop crying.

Sometimes I am weak like that for reasons I can’t tell. Sometimes I am strong and unassailable for reasons I can’t tell. Music helps me find whatever I am missing in the moment.

Asgeir makes the music I play for beauty. It helps light the shadows for me. It helps me circle the evening campfire to make sure everyone is all right, to stay up late and make sure the rain doesn’t wash us out, to fix the jeep at 2 a.m. myself, to tell enough stories to the intern that she laughs and can go to bed with some peace.

This doesn’t say much about Asgeir, but it says everything I know how to say about his music. One in ten Icelanders owns his album, In the Silence, written with his elderly father. He doesn’t lift the shadows with happiness. This is not music that pretends to fix everything. There is a weary burden under its surface. That is how I understand it. “Happiness” isn’t the right word for Asgeir. “Serenity” is. He recognizes the shadows and sits down among them.

Sometimes I will play him softly late at night, when the weather is dry, so the whole camp can hear. I think they understand what I mean to say by this. When I listen to him in my headphones, I feel as if carrying my shadow is noble. When I play him to the camp, we feel as if helping carry each others’ shadows is noble.

Have You Heard… is a stream of song and band recommendations, many of which may be new to you. It’s also the kind of analysis that’s missing in a music industry obsessed with image and celebrity instead of the music itself.

Have You Heard… Dum Dum Girls?

Songs of 2014 – “Rimbaud Eyes” & “Lost Boys and Girls Club”

by Amanda Smith & Olivia Smith (no relation)

If Dum Dum Girls make you think of 80s rock, it’s no mistake. Echo pedals and sound walls of thick reverb are abused in the tradition of The Cure. Sharply defined guitar riffs are balanced on top of deliberate bass lines like Siouxsie and the Banshees. Vocals confine themselves to a limited range, taking a cue from Depeche Mode. Intentionally cliche lyrics bounce off terse gothic poetry references reminiscent of The Smiths.

Theirs is outwardly simple pop using complex methods based in Britain’s gloomiest musical period. Their songs don’t take you on a journey. They build a moody, mythic soundscape around the listener instead. They choose being relaxed and focused over being anthemic or epic.

Like a pleasant wine, there are subtler notes: Belle & Sebastian’s ironic harmonies, Pat Benatar’s dancy messaging, Bat for Lashes’ painterly idealism, Joan Jett’s airy insistence. You could call Dum Dum Girls a pastiche of all these influences, but they blend it all into their own, unmistakable creation.

It’s not rave music to pump you up before a game, but it is the music to put on repeat one lazy Sunday or for a long road trip. These are the kinds of songs that make you feel like your surroundings hold more depth and possibility.

Have You Heard… is a stream of song and band recommendations, many of which may be new to you. It’s also the kind of analysis that’s missing in a music industry obsessed with image and celebrity instead of the music itself.

Have You Heard… “Au Revoir” by Chancellor Warhol?

Songs of 2014 – “Au Revoir” by Chancellor Warhol

by S.L. Fevre

If Jay-Z is the Catholic Church of rap gods, old, opulent, and claiming to be the one and only true choice, then Kanye is Jesus. Kanye sacrificed himself to redeem the rest of the gangsta rap gods’ sins – champagne, bitches, guns. He killed the image by burning down his own.

Now, rap is a post-apocalypse of movements trying to build from the ashes. That’s not a negative. Rap is the only genre looking at itself and not liking what it sees. Its soul is being freed from a withering body. This year, rap started believing it can change the world again.

Have everything you’ll ever want? That’s too bad. Today, extravagance is a maladjustment, and boasting only assures others how ashamed you are.

“Au Revoir” opens by boasting about Chancellor Warhol’s stuff, like the “Look at all my shit” moment in Spring Breakers, but it’s not long before he’s confessing his sins (“If you did the shit I did you’d pray for a son, too”) and denying himself via REM (“I’m losing all religion, I think that’s me in the corner”). He tries to justify his excess to God:

“Please Lord forgive me for being Lord of the Flies
But I remember the days I couldn’t afford to buy,
Couldn’t afford to drive, couldn’t afford a ride,
I couldn’t afford the bus or the time passing me by.
Is it too much to ask to chill with model faces?
Ass in high-waisted, feeling they highly wasted.
Know it sound shallow for avant garde,
But I’m from Les Miserables where they learning to rob.”

He admits to God that he’s making up for lost time, and trying to make his earlier struggle feel worthwhile by rewarding himself with excess. This is directly followed with:

“Take the Tokyo Sonatas play em over Sinatras,
I’m trying to take all my sins and turn em in to an opera.”

Tokyo Sonata is the award-winning Japanese film in which an unemployed father pretends to remain employed in front of his family. Similarly, Chancellor Warhol is chasing icons in order to be one, trying to fulfill a gangsta rap image that’s a lie. What’s worse, he’s created this from personal experiences both real and imagined.

Juhi’s beautifully sung chorus keeps returning to challenge him:

“Time is forever, momentary bliss
Now how can you last with a heart like this?”

The closing repetition,

“Who’s gonna save me now
Cause I’m so underwater now,”

reveals how lost he feels in a world made up of image and disposable things – guns, cars, people.

Casey Culver’s exceptional music video reflects this when Chancellor Warhol boasts about all his possessions in the middle of a desert. At the end, he and Juhi wander populated city streets without making any human connection.

The words “Au Revoir” themselves don’t just refer to a character’s contemplation of suicide at the end. They say goodbye to a certain image and way of life in rap. Chancellor Warhol recognizes not just how badly mainstream rap has taught young men, but how much achieving that rap god image can take away from the artist himself. It’s time to retake rap before it kills itself, he says. I agree.

Have You Heard… is a stream of song recommendations, many of which may be new to you. It’s also the kind of analysis that’s missing in a music industry obsessed with image and celebrity instead of the music itself.

Have You Heard… “Boris” by Lo-Fang?


Songs of 2014

by Gabriel Valdez

Have You Heard? is a stream of song recommendations, many of which will be new to you. We’ll focus on the music of 2014 to start, and we’ll be highlighting a lot of smaller, more independent artists.

Let’s inaugurate this with the most terrifying song of the year, and one of the few for which I’ll ever give a trigger warning: “Boris” by Lo-Fang.

The excellent original song by female duet Boy was an Anais Mitchell-like descent into an inescapable moment. It became louder and more chaotic as it progressed, blurring the lines between consent and coercion. Where the plot and their relationship ends is up for debate.

In covering it, Lo-Fang switches the song’s perspective to that of the man, ditching nuance and lending a more directed sociopathy:

“Baby, aren’t you hungry?
I could give you codeine,
I could get my car keys.
Oh, what a cute dress,
right now it’s useless,
I heard your boyfriend’s out of town.”

The titular Boris’s intent becomes clearer, and the chorus “You should get out of town, too,” is no longer a mutual suggestion, but a threatening ultimatum. Where Boy’s original female perspective became a chaos of pressures and confused motives, Lo-Fang’s male perspective keeps control of the moment, using harmonies and a staccato violin-and-acoustic guitar duo as if weapons all aimed at the woman he’s coercing, manipulating, and finally kicking away as if a used piece of trash.

Released in 2013, but not widely available until this year, Lo-Fang’s “Boris” is a terrifying snapshot into a mentality that, between the Isla Vista shootings, the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling, and GamerGate, has contributed toward pushing women toward a second-class citizenship.

If it’s depressing that this is – to me – the song that most exemplifies the battles of 2014, it’s also reassuring that Lo-Fang (Maryland-based Matthew Hemerlein) can both capture and criticize a moment like this through such powerful music. It reminds me that art is still the best way to change people’s minds and open them to new perspectives.

Credit where credit’s due – Have You Heard? is Vanessa Tottle’s brainchild, influenced by Rock Paper Shotgun’s Have You Played? feature.