Posts Tagged ‘Baltimore’

Co La

"Suffering (Tuesday)"


The first track I ever heard from Baltimore producer Co La was the eerie yet catchy “Deaf Christian.” I was struck by its originality, its use of sampling in a way that was on the one hand familiar, yet on another hand extremely innovative. Little did I know that this was only the tip of the iceberg. Co La’s new track, “Suffering (Tuesday),” takes everything I found remarkable about “Deaf Christian” and amplifies it, pushing even further the limits of the uncanny and the appealing, and how they can relate to each other. Given this surprising and swift progression forward, I eagerly await his upcoming album with my appetite activated and my expectations suspended.

Co La’s forthcoming album, No No, will be available on October 9th via Software.

Mother Moon

"Pieces of You"

mother moon

It was only a few months ago that Naked was getting gloomy with his latest full-length Hopeless. Now he’s back with fellow Baltimore mopers Mother Moon for a split EP that is “23 minutes of pure agony.” And in addition to sharing a city, Mother Moon and Naked also have a similar knack for taking ambient-leaning shoegaze and smearing it over with the metal genre’s dark pigments.

The second of the band’s two track contributions, “Pieces of You,” crunches and writhes and echoes before rolling itself over and showing you its true face. And what at first seems knotted and gnarled soon reveals itself to be rather beautiful and melodic. Its soaring vocals and reverb compliment each other nicely even as the track reverts back and forth between layers of pained distortion. The split is a shadowy release no doubt, but to call it pure agony seems a bit off the mark, especially when considering it ends on such a gorgeous note.

Soft Cat

All Energy Will Rise


If you listen to All Energy Will Rise—the latest LP from Neil Sanzgiri’s project Soft Cat—with ongoing distractions, it might slip by you pretty breezily. On the surface it’s a gentle, fleshed-out folk record: the kind of music that’s perfect for bleary-eyed Sunday mornings where all there is to do is drink coffee and mope around the house. That’s how I first approached it anyway—two eyes staring straight out the nearest window whilst sipping away in bed, allowing the luscious strings and soft croon found on “Somebody” to wash over me like a hazy daydream.

However, much like Sufjan Stevens‘ incredible recent album Carrie & Lowell, there’s a heavy weight lingering over the delicateness of All Energy Will Rise. However, where Stevens’s thoughts are laid down as instantaneously as hail hammering rooftops, Sanzgiri’s bury themselves into their respective pillows; curling up within the duvet and slowly emerging over a flurry of beautiful string arrangements, finger-plucked acoustic guitar and a glistening sense of melody.

It goes like this: a huge fire engulfed the building where three members of Soft Cat were living just after the release of their Lost No Labor EP, an artist-run gallery and performance space where lead electric guitarist Brendan Sullivan’s sister sadly passed away just a few months prior. The core of All Energy Will Rise‘s energy comes from the band channeling their losses into their music, and with this realization comes a key to a room that presents an entirely new view of the record.

I often struggle to relate to an artist’s handling of deeply emotional subjects, mainly because for now I’m incredibly lucky to only have experienced the heartbreak of failed relationships. So for me, the fact that All Energy Will Rise manages to take a deep sadness and transcend it into a blossoming beauty of an album is remarkable.

“Old Song” is teeming with despair, but it also lingers around in your mind like an old song your parents used to hum to you as a kid. This is in part what makes All Energy Will Rise so excellent—yes, you can lay around and feel sad to it—but you can also reflect with it, travel with it and engage with it in hundreds of different circumstances. The emotion is the foundation of the building and the melodies and instrumentation build the rest from there.

There’re a couple of instrumentals along the way that allow your mind to wander, and their inclusion introduces a change of pace that’ll be welcome to those who connect on a personal level with Sanzgiri, who puts his sorrow across tactfully through genuine, hushed vocals (“All Energy Will Rise”) and ambient-leaning, widescreen compositions (“Desert Eyes”). Fans of the aforementioned Stevens, and Father/Daughter label-mates Small Wonder will find a lot to love here—a mesmerising record of intricate, forward-thinking folk that’ll leave a hold on you for quite some time.

All Energy Will Rise is out now via Father/Daughter Records & Miscreant Records.

Soft Cat


Soft Cat

“Somebody,” the recent single from Soft Cat (a.k.a. Baltimore’s Neil Sanzgiri in collaboration with numerous others), sends me immediately back to the desk where I worked at as a teenager. It’s the first place I remember listening to music with my eyes closed, headphones on, tilted slightly back in my chair. Maybe it’s the quietly plucked pattern bustling underneath the track, and maybe it’s the careful string arrangement that drifts in and out, but there’s something in “Somebody” that makes me feel small, young, and ready to move along.

“Somebody” will be available as part of All Energy Will Rise, out April 7th via Miscreant Records and Father/Daughter Records.


Soft Cat - Week 2


Residency is a two-part journal entry brought to you by one of our favorite creatives.

This week, Neil Sanzgiri, a.k.a. Baltimore’s Soft Cat, contemplates self-love.

As I am writing this second week of my residency, I am sitting in a Spin Cycle (laundromat) listening to Gavin Bryars’s 1975 composition The Sinking of the Titanic, a beautiful repeating minimalist chamber piece that degrades over time. I’ve always appreciated laundromats as communal, meditative, liminal spaces for contemplation. I remember years earlier being at this same Spin Cycle reading Jean Genet’s Prisoner of Love. It seems somehow appropriate to return here to write this now.

It has come to my attention recently that in order to ever truly love someone, you must learn to love yourself first. On Saturday, I took a drive to North Point State Park in Baltimore to consider this thought. As I sat by the water on a cold winter’s afternoon, watching the sunset divide the clouds on the horizon like a simple orange stripe on the grey water, I wondered if loving myself is something I could ever truly do.

With all of the forms of escape that surround us, it seems almost impossible in our current socio-cultural climate to delve ever deeper into one’s psyche to discover who and what we are. We are constantly weighed down by distractions, whether from work or for entertainment, and pressured by external personalities all vying for validation. Mindfulness meditation teaches one to be fully present in each moment—to let the past and future flow through us as a rock in a stream. It teaches one to detach the idea of the self as an organism from the control and urges of the brain. Mindfulness has helped me in times of great stress or sorrow, yet it never fully reaches to uncover the deeper psychological truths residing in the back of my head. To treat each thought as just a thought, to remove any attachment from an emotional impulse—these are all incredible ways of gaining perspective from the dramas of contemporary life. Similarly, the Gestalt Prayer asserts one’s independence from the projections and internalizations of others while accepting the beauty of interpersonal relationships. A large part of why I love working with my hands for a living is having the time to focus my mind on my body’s movements in a repetitious manor to pay close attention to each moment in each movement being made. As a metalworker and woodworker, these actions become secondary and familiar, yet my mind remains focused.

Being fully present in each moment has its rewards, for sure. However, it is when one takes the time to really question one’s self that discoveries can be made. I’ve always strived to make the search inwards, yet to reject this search feels like a natural reaction. However, to question and to analyze why we feel the way we do is another form of being present and being conscious. Questioning one’s thoughts is another way of liberating one’s consciousness from the restraints of the mind’s natural impulses. Humans bury trauma as a means of survival, yet when it resurfaces it is very difficult to understand or comprehend. I feel so grateful to have music as a vehicle to express, question, and unravel the complexity of experiences, fears, and traumas I’ve witnessed.

A friend of mine recently lent me a copy of Judith Butler’s powerful Precarious Life. In the essay Violence, Mourning, Politics, Butler speaks of the vulnerability at birth of all humans as a unifying trait, and of the process of mourning and grief as a transformative and ecstatic experience. By losing someone, anyone, we are losing a part of ourselves—we are dispossessed of our autonomy. We are vulnerable to our emotions and vulnerable to our selves. We are vulnerable to our fears and our bodies. The ego must shatter before it can begin to rebuild.

I will admit blatantly that I by no means claim to really know how to love one’s self. It is an individual process that each person has to find, and it is by no means an easy process at that. But I do believe that if we slow down and concentrate on each moment, something is revealed in the process.

Read Soft Cat’s first entry here.


Soft Cat - Week 1


Residency is a two-part journal entry brought to you by one of our favorite creatives.

This month, Neil Sanzgiri, a.k.a. Baltimore’s Soft Cat, talks about why he loves to make shows happen.

On Sunday, Brian and Serra and I decided to visit one of three sights in Virginia, a state I generally take a trip to only when necessary. Between the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Pope-Leighey House, George Washington’s estate (known as Mount Vernon) and the caves of Virginia, we agreed the sunlit drive was the central experience we craved. It was clear that we all just wanted to spend more time together before they went back to New York, so it was of little importance which activity we chose. The Pope-Leighey was closed on Sunday, thus we opted for Mount Vernon. Brian and Serra converted the bed of Brian’s car into a cozy lounge for me to stretch out in while driving down I-95 south, one of my favorite highways. Serra read us a clickbait article on “How to not give a fuck.” After showing them some new tracks from my upcoming album, Serra started talking about the connection between music and religion and how she envisioned building a church-like structure where people could commune and experience music as such. We brainstormed some ideas and I told her I wanted to help make this happen.

The previous night, Brian played a show I booked for him in the space I live in called The Bahamas, co-run by Jake Lazovick and myself. It was a beautiful night. I baked a Massaman curry, roasted vegetable type flat bread with Brie on top for all us. Customarily when I have traveling guests playing at my house, I will cook for them. After I helped Brian unload his gear, we all got to know each other a little better over the pizza. Brian’s project is called Bois and this was only the second time we’d met. I’d been a fan of his music since our mutual friend David Courtright turned me on to it. We played together in Birmingham, Alabama on my tour with Mutual Benefit in September. Set up with his vibraphones against a backdrop of bright LED lights flashing in sync with his music, everyone in the audience was moved by his performance. I met Serra the night of the show and I later learned she was a sculptor and made the wooden installations at the Silent Barn—something I’ve always admired.

The night turned out to be a wild one. The show was a tape release for Christian from Smoke Bellow’s new tape label and included a secret performance by Dan Deacon. A large crowd of young kids who had heard about the show gathered at the foot of the stage to watch Brian play his Rhodes and soulfully croon to a mass of unsuspecting strangers. I was loosing my mind at the door trying to make sure everything was running properly and that we wouldn’t get shut down due to capacity. A bottle of Rioja helped to ease the stress. At the end of the night while him and Serra were falling asleep, Brian put on a live stream of a synthesizer that plays the weather called the Weather Warlock.

When we arrived at the Mount Vernon estate, none of us really knew what to expect. Brian had visited the tourist destination as a child and fondly remembered loving it. The first thing we saw was a flock of bright, fluffy, loving sheep. It was going to be a good day. We walked around the grounds looking at a map to guide us to various destinations, but decided to roam around the gardens and stables petting Washington’s sheep and trimming some of Washington’s kale. Eventually, we made our way to “the Mansion” where Washington and his company resided. Each room was painted with the brightest pigments available at the time, imported from Europe (as were most things Washington enjoyed). The exterior of the walls were made of stucco. By the time we got to the second floor, the entire building felt like it was about to collapse. The stair case slanted fairly significantly and it was obvious that the conservation used to keep the historical accuracy as tight as possible was a major pain in the ass to everyone involved due to the architectural defects unbeknownst to the designers of the time. We had a challenge among the three of us over who could ask the most questions and Serra was winning by a large portion. Finally I asked mine about how Martha Washington died, which the tour guide informed us that no one ever knew because no one would “lay a hand on Washington’s wife.” The house sat against an enormous view of the Potomac River where we ran around chasing Geese.

As we left the Mansion we spent the rest of our time touring the things we were most excited for, such as Washington’s tomb and the Slave Memorial. Above the tomb was a quote from the Bible basically equating Washington to Jesus, an idea that always stuck with me. We talked about how after Washington set up the two-term limit, the public wanted to crown him king. The Slave memorial was a somber experience as it should be. We debated the best ways in which the memorial could have been rephrased, noting the limits of the language carved in stone. Before we left I grabbed a handful of lavender from the garden to give to someone special back in Baltimore.

We stayed until close at Mount Vernon and realized the Pope-Leighey was only three miles away. Somehow we timed our visit to the house perfectly so that we were able to drive to the house past the gates and walk around the outside of the building and peek in the windows. The modest house was astonishing, and quite an interesting jump from the massive expanse of Washington’s estate. Brian explained that the design for this house was constructed as a solution to affordable middle class residences of the 1940s. Serra made the comparisons to Presbyterian churches, which I found very accurate. We sipped cider on our way to a restaurant to have delicious pho for dinner.

Looking at the National Monument from a distance as we drove back to Baltimore, I recalled the first time I met the Bellows kids. It was at their show in D.C. the night before I was going to play in Baltimore with them. Jake drove us down and we met up with them and David Combs of Spoonboy at Black Cat. After the show, David and Jake took us on a tour of the monuments around D.C. at 2 a.m. We lay down by the side of the National Monument with our feet touching the very bottom looking to infinity. The obelisk shape of the monument made the top vanish into the night and the whole thing looked like a walkway to the stars. After we were done with the monument everyone except Felix and myself ran down the wet, grassy hill towards the Holocaust Memorial with the bright street lamps casting a thick umbrella of light in the fog. I turned to Felix and remarked that this would be a moment I would always remember. We drove back to Baltimore where they were all staying with us at The Bahamas. Jake, Henry, and I talked vibrantly in the car about Arthur Russell and the meaning of punk.

It’s times like these that I really understand why I so desperately love putting together shows and helping bands from out of town. At times in my life when I have been so overworked and beaten down by my own failures, I constantly question why I host shows and book bands when I really should be concentrating on getting my own life together. I never take a cut from shows I book unless I know we are putting our space at risk. I’ve never personally received anything other than knowing I’ve worked my hardest to help fellow musicians out with something that they might have desperately needed. And now I know why I do what I do for other people. It’s not that I’m looking to trade shows or have them help me out on tour, but rather it’s because I know that the relationships I build through booking shows are so unique and specific to this type of community building. I’ll never forget when David played at my farmhouse to 20 people in the pouring rain, and I’ll never forget listening to his tape the very next day feeling that I had met someone special. I’ll never forget when AJ Woods expressed the most sincere gratitude when he played for 20 people in a church and called it the best show on his tour. I’ll never forget the countless shows that I’ve worked on for Stephen Steinbrink just so I can see his face and hear his laugh.

So please, even if you don’t get anything in return, throw a show. Clean out your kitchen or living room and invite your friends over and pass around a hat. Is there a band in town that needs your help? Throw a potluck! There are plenty of ways to make this happen and it is such a vital part of providing the strength to this music community. The chances that you will meet someone that inspires you more than anyone else you’ve ever met are very high.

Much love to Portals and everyone else working on building these bonds. 2015 y’all, lets make it happen.

Watch Soft Cat perform a new, unreleased song called “Somebody” for Portals here.


Drum set


Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: the January blues is a real curse that I personally struggle with year in year out. The post-Christmas period from say, around now until early February, is always littered with lethargy for me, and I often find myself freaking out aimlessly as I try to string any single day together from start to finish. Praise on to Baltimore’s Jake Lazovick, then, for his latest release as Sitcom, Drum set—a hilarious look at the mundanities that the days during January often throw right in our faces.

Though 18 tracks long, there are really only ten proper songs on Drum set, an album that was recorded “on a computer” with “samples, microphones and various objects.” The rest—aptly titled along the lines of “kick” and “tap”—are one-second samples of, well, exactly what it says on the tin. It’s extremely grin-inducing in a very tongue-in-cheek way, and this deadpan sense of humor and a knack for making the everyday seem so very far from ordinary are Lazovick’s real talents.

On “traffic is okay,” Lazovick sings of a day that “wasn’t so bad” in which he enjoys a quiet walk in the rain and, yeah, in which that traffic was pretty okay too. All this is executed via some sweet-sounding afro-caribbean vibes, eskewed electronic pitter-patter and a serious groove that even heads off on a whistling solo. It’s a wholly bright and brilliant song about what could be any mundane day in this gloomy first month, and it’s guaranteed to lift you out of a slump when you most need it. Not finding yourself throwing your hands up in the air when he proclaims, “Walking in the rain, ‘cause I looooove it!”? You’re not human, man.

This is a record that celebrates good jackets (that his mom also has: “inner fleece lining, it’s a classic”) via a badass boom-bap rap, tackles the eternal question of “how to draw” through far-out samples, and squares up to loneliness and isolation with a wicked sense of fun. Lazovick may have been intentionally slapdash in some of the elements here, but it’s paid off tremendously—at times it sounds like the soundtrack to a trail of thought that’s been captured spare of the moment, tapping into a side we all have that we can only wish to express sometimes.

So if you’ve got those January blues right now, and the cycle of days feels constantly monotone and devoid of any hope—let Lazovick cheer you up. There’s always dancing and enjoyment to be had out of the rain, there’s always a great jacket ready for you to rock in your closet. And hey, if all else fails, just take comfort in the fact that there’s someone else out there holding a pillow in front of their computer in silence.

Drum set is out now via Jake Lazovick’s Bandcamp.

Artist Mix

Soft Cat


Artist Mixes are an ongoing series of mixtapes curated by some of our favorite musicians.

This month, the Baltimore-based artist Soft Cat shares some of his favorite songs from his friends. Read his note below.

These are all people I have met or come across from touring in different cities across America. A few are Baltimore bands, but mostly I tried to pick people who haven’t been featured on Portals before. Most of these songs get stuck in my head routinely and I return to them when I’m feeling blue. This playlist goes great when you’re not feeling so well or have an upset stomach.


[00:00] • Stephen Steinbrink – “Sand Mandalas”
[03:23] • Spenking – “Bad Blood Bubble-Up”
[05:51] • Ever Ending Kicks – “Bleak or Bliss”
[07:56] • The Spookfish – “Wanderer”
[09:59] • Viking Moses – “Jahiliyah”
[13:17] • Liz Isenberg – “Your Underpants”
[16:15] • Hungry Cloud Darkening – “Moments Inside Cloud”
[21:00] • Holy Holy Vine – “Drive”
[23:28] • Vio/Miré – “Another Way of Looking at It”
[27:24] • Jake Lazovick – “Good Morning”
[33:06] • Small Sur – “The Salt”

Watch Soft Cat perform a new, unreleased song called “Somebody” for Portals here.