Tony Bennett, For the News Tribune
Windhand's been a buzz band for a while, at least in doom-rock circles, but their albums have all seemed to be missing something that made them something more than just a slightly-above-average group. They've had the sludgy tempos, the woody distorted-guitar tones, and the obsession with all things occult, but the songs were lacking focus, and the band's albums were overlong and too samey from moment to moment.
It's curious that Gaelynn Lea would call her new record "Learning How to Stay," because she's been doing quite the opposite, it seems, what with her new appetite for touring. In the time since winning an NPR contest that brought her tons of attention, she has turned into a road dog, in fact. She's all over the world doing shows and hanging out with indie-rock stars. In only a few short years, Gaelynn Lea has entered the Gaelynn Lea business, big time.
At this point, Fugazi has been away about as long as they were around. It's been over 15 years since the seminal Washington, D.C., punk band called it quits, yet their influence and status as pioneers hasn't waned. In every rock band today, there's a bit of Fugazi's influence, even if it's only indirectly. The band's aggressive, danceable mix of dub, punk, classic rock, experimental goofery and whatever else is still pretty unique, and only they could do it the way they did it.
What is this, a tribute band? Actually, let's start there — just what defines a "tribute band," anyway? It's, of course, usually a group that commits to playing the catalog of one specific artist, and they also do as much as they can to look like that band. But what if you're a band that just basically exists to regurgitate the work of other artists and present it as your own thing? What are you, then? If you're paying tribute but playing original music, what are you? Well, you're Static Panic.
The thing about rock and roll is: if it's good, it's good. It doesn't matter if you're trying to sound like someone from 40 or 50 years ago — it's not necessarily about innovating as much as it is about achieving a certain feeling of power and a touch of mystery. It's about the spirit of the thing, the craft. Rock and roll is like a house or a car or a lawnmower or a hat — it doesn't matter that it's the newest design. It matters whether it works for the user. It's utilitarian.
The last few years have been busy ones for Mitski Miyawaki, who records and performs under her first name. Her third record, 2014's "Bury Me at Makeout Creek," was an impressive pairing of her stirring, emotional vocals and gritty, guitar-based indie rock that seemed to indicate a future full of Weezer-esque grunge-pop glory, but the follow-up, 2016's hilariously-titled "Puberty 2," veered away from distorted guitars to a degree.