CIMS Indie Fresh
Meg Duffy grew up in a small town in Upstate New York and they cut their teeth as a session guitarist and touring member of Kevin Morby’s band. The Hand Habits project emerged after Meg moved to Los Angeles; it started as a private songwriting outlet but soon evolved into a fully-fledged band with Meg at the helm. Hand Habits’ debut album, Wildly Idle (Humble Before The Void), was released by Woodsist Records in 2017. The LP was entirely self-produced and recorded in Meg’s home during spare moments when they weren’t touring. Wildly Idle (Humble Before The Void) is a lush, homespun collection of folk songs that found Meg in an exploratory state as an artist moving out on their own for the first time. Two years later, Hand Habits has returned with their sophomore album, placeholder, due out on Saddle Creek. To make this album, Meg chose to work in a studio and bring in collaborators, entrusting them with what had previously been a very personal creative process. Over the course of 12 tracks, Meg emerges with new confidence as both a bandleader and singer. This album is as tender and immediate as anything Meg’s ever written, but it’s also intensely focused and refined, the work of a meticulous musician ready to share their singular vision with the world. In 2018, as the wildfires raged in Southern California when Meg wrote the bulk of placeholder; the anxiety that came with living in L.A. during that time exposes itself throughout these songs. The flames that fuel placeholder occasionally billow out, but most often these songs are warm and comforting -- a space listeners can return to again and again when the outside world starts to overwhelm. Meg describes these songs as their most direct to date, crafted with clear intention, and unlike Wildly Humble (Idle Before The Void), placeholder doesn’t meander. As a lyricist, Meg is drawn to the in-between, and the songs on this new album primarily confront the ways in which certain experiences can serve as a stepping stone on the road to self-discovery. placeholder opens with the title track which on its surface is about a break-up. “Oh but I was just a placeholder/ A lesson to be learned,” a scorned Meg sings over a lush bed of twangy guitars. The blame quickly shifts, though, as Meg begins to take on partial responsibility for the partnership’s collapse: “Oh but now you are just a placeholder/ Blinded by desire/ Oh now you’re just a placeholder for someone wasting time.” Nothing in Meg’s world is as simple as black and white, right or wrong. An openness to nuance drives revelation in these songs. Instrumentally, placeholder can be situated alongside some of Meg’s folk-adjacent contemporaries like Angel Olsen or Big Thief, and the guitar work on this album proves that Meg continues to be one of the finest young musicians working today. placeholder is another entry in the Hand Habits songbook, but it’s also a valuable testament of our time. While placeholder inspires a sense of ease, simple questions rarely beget easy answers and Meg honors the indescribable joy and profound sorrow that comes with figuring things out, one step at a time.
Canadian guitarist Donna Grantis leads a five-piece group that is wholly unique in today’s music scene. Backed by an acclaimed rhythm section, Donna’s incendiary guitar playing is highlighted against the percussive rhythms of tabla master Suphala to create a sound described by the Star Tribune as, “New millennium jazz-rock fusion, sorta like Jeff Beck meets a post-modern Mahavishnu Orchestra.” Set to release her debut album, DIAMONDS & DYNAMITE, Grantis is best known for performing with Prince in his groups 3RDEYEGIRL and New Power Generation. As co-lead guitarist in Prince’s most rock heavy band (3RDEYEGIRL), Grantis was named one of fifty sensational female guitarists by Guitar Player Magazine: “Trading blazing solos with the late Purple One on a nightly basis, she proved her mettle, and earned a place in guitar history.” Grantis composed the title track to Prince & 3RDEYEGIRL’s 2014 release, PLECTRUMELECTRUM, which hit #1 on the Billboard Rock Chart. She toured with Prince throughout the UK, Europe, and North America, with notable performances including three nights headlining the Montreux Jazz Festival, headlining the Essence Festival at a sold-out Superdome in New Orleans, and a historic performance at The White House for President Barack Obama and family. Grantis has shared the stage with Pearl Jam, Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Janelle Monáe, and Kendrick Lamar.
In October of 2018, ten years after the launch of their hit HBO series, musical comedians Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement returned to HBO for the all-new comedy special. Live in London was taped before a live audience at the Eventim Apollo and featured the Conchords performing songs from the sold-out UK and Ireland edition of “Flight of the Conchords Sing Flight of the Conchords Tour.” The duo also performed the song on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in the fall of 2018. New Zealanders McKenzie and Clement debuted on HBO in 2005 in an edition of the comedy series “One-Night Stand,” returning to the network in 2007 for the debut season of their acclaimed, Emmy-nominated series “Flight of the Conchords,” which followed fictionalized versions of their lives in New York City. The duo also signed a worldwide deal with Sub Pop Records for their recorded music, going on to release the Grammy-winning EP, The Distant Future in 2007, followed by two full-length albums - their self-titled debut in 2008, and I Told You I Was Freaky in 2009. The Conchords have also enjoyed individual success. Clement’s film credits include the “Rio” movies, “Men in Black 3,” “What We Do in the Shadows” and “The BFG,” and he's also been seen in his role in FX’s “Legion.” McKenzie was the music supervisor for “The Muppets,” which won him an Academy Award® for Best Original Song for “Man or Muppet,” and “Muppets Most Wanted.”
The phantom zone, the parallax, the upside down—there is a rich cultural history of exploring in-between places. Through her latest, Titanic Rising, Weyes Blood, a.k.a. Natalie Mering, has designed her own universe to soulfully navigate life’s mysteries. Maneuvering through a space-time continuum, she plays the role of melodic, sometimes melancholic, anthropologist. Tellingly, Mering classifies Titanic Rising – which was written and recorded during the first half of 2018, after three albums and years of touring - as the Kinks meet WWII or Bob Seger meets Enya. The latter captures the album’s willful expansiveness (“You can tell there’s not a guy pulling the strings in Enya’s studio,” she notes, admiringly). The former relays her imperative to connect with listeners. “The clarity of Bob Seger is unmistakable. I’m a big fan of conversational songwriting,” she adds. “I just try to do that in a way that uses abstract imagery as well.” The Weyes Blood frontwoman grew up singing in gospel and madrigal choirs. (Listen closely to Titanic Rising, and you’ll also hear the jazz of Hoagy Carmichael mingle with the artful mysticism of Alejandro Jodorowsky and the monomyth of scholar Joseph Campbell.) “Something to Believe,” a confessional that makes judicious use of the slide guitar, touches on that cosmological upbringing. “Belief is something all humans need. Shared myths are part of our psychology and survival,” she says. “Now we have a weird mishmash of capitalism and movies and science. There have been moments where I felt very existential and lost.” As a kid, she filled that void with Titanic. (Yes, the movie.) “It was engineered for little girls and had its own mythology,” she explains. Mering also noticed that the blockbuster romance actually offered a story about loss born of man’s hubris. “It’s so symbolic that The Titanic would crash into an iceberg, and now that iceberg is melting, sinking civilization.” Today, this hubris also extends to the relentless adoption of technology, at the expense of both happiness and attention spans. But Weyes Blood isn’t one to stew. Her observations play out in an ethereal saunter: far more meditative than cynical. To Mering, listening and thinking are concurrent experiences. “There are complicated influences mixed in with more relatable nostalgic melodies,” she says. “In my mind my music feels so big, a true production. I’m not a huge, popular artist, but I feel like one when I’m in the studio. But it’s never taking away from the music. I’m just making a bigger space for myself.”