Shilpa Ray’s “Portrait of a Lady” Feels Ever More Relevant Day By Day

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photo by Ebru Yildiz

 Written and recorded over the past couple years and completed/released in late April of this year, Shilpa Ray’s Portrait of a Lady (Northern Spy Records) feels like it was created for this precise moment in time with 12 songs that come across like 12 chickens come home to roost in a world full of cocks—the portrait of an lady navigating a society fast backsliding into hypocritical quasi-Victorian morality and unrestrained Wild West-style savagery with a bunch of entitled-but-still-insecure straight cis white guys running the show or trying to anyway but then Shilpa Ray might rightfully reply that’s how it’s nearly always been…

…and this record could just as easily be titled Portrait of the Early 21st Century Crisis of Masculinity and the Catastrophic Consequences For All Involved but that’d be an inelegant and needlessly defeatist title for an album that’s neither of those things and that moves from the personal to the political and vice-versa with elegance and determination across a series of character studies ranging temperamentally from a feral-level ferocity to blurry-eyed wistful resignation and from clear-eyed righteous fury to fuck-it-all gallows humor…

…like on the Shirelles-meets-Liz-Phair-meets-Beach-House classic-girl-group-worthy power-ballad-of-disempowerment not so succinctly titled “Heteronormative Horseshit Blues” which is kind of a "Subterranean Homesick Blues" for icy blonde Hitchcock heroine types who realize they no longer give a shit about the patriarchy, in other words it’s a vivid, heart-rending song featuring lines like “how I’ve dreamed of dropping my snatch in the Staten Island landfill / so I’d no longer be a slave to biology / though I could conquer the fate of a snatchless women / why must every move I make be a defense against you?” drawing upon bonkers imagery and emotional reckonings and simmering/sublimated musical backings to fully inhabit the mindstate of the song’s desperate protagonist…

…a song narrated from the perspective of self-willed alter-ego Doris Daydream and sung to another alter-ego named Danny LeDouche both of whom depicted by Shilpa Ray herself in the music video directed by Amos Poe with characters that appear to have walked straight out of a Cindy Sherman photograph but real-to-life in terms of the “power dynamics and conforming gender rolesat play in abusive relationships but which often hold sway in more “normative” relationships as well…

…and with the music carrying equal weight in bringing these vivid scenarios and emotional states to life through a mix of barbed slow-burn sociopolitical torch ballads and furious torch-the-joint rock-n-roll rave ups (see "Manic Pixie Dream Cunt" for an example of the latter) with no shortage of ’80s-style-sparkling-synth-driven-new-wavery-but-with-a-Lene-Lovich-level-of-edginess tossed into the mix too like all of the sudden you’re watching one of those artsy strip club numbers from Flashdance and if you don’t believe me just play “Lawsuits and Suicides” in tandem with the dance sequence above and tell me Shilpa’s song isn’t a Jennifer Beals-worthy bop, but a bop that acts as an exposé of male ego and mentally abusive gaslighting behavior which taken together may seem like more weight than a single song can hold but Portrait of a Lady is full of examples to the contrary…

…ranging from the glam-damaged, piano-led melodicism of the incels-in-training-themed “Charm School For Damaged Boys” to the pulverizing fury of  “Manic Pixie Dream Cunt” to the Weinstein-and-Kavanaugh-eviscerating stripped-down-dream-pop balladry of “Straight Man’s Dream” (“spend your seed / across the houseplants / of some hotel bar”) to the Susan Collins-eviscerating lighter-waving-ballad-cum-dancefloor-filler “Bootlickers of the Patriarchy” and really you just can’t beat these song titles…

…so if you’re looking to get your fix of a contemporary artist who’s something like Lou Reed meets Lydia Lunch meets Asha Bhosle meets Billie Holiday meets Patti Smith meets Nick Cave meets Pirate Jenny but for the 2020s (I’m making this all up as I go along of course@) then you’re in luck and btw Shilpa Ray just played a show with Lydia Lunch so there ya go (not making it up!) so check out Portrait of a Lady if you haven’t already because that’s what it’s all about. (Jason Lee)

Historian’s corner: Curious what The Deli had to say about Shilpa Ray and her music back in late 2014 in an actual print issue of the magazine? Curious what the hell a "print issue" is? Back in the day Deli scribe John McGovern observed that "Shilpa Ray has one of those voices that is simultaneously haunting and beautiful [and] her music does not cower or sneer in the face of darkness. It is mature, valuing the truth over appearing hip, and jaded. And that complexity is equally striking in her lyrics. Her songs have some seriously hard-hitting lines of the kind that will make you re-evaluate your life" and the more things change…


Red Scarves “DKHTBA”

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Alt Rock quartet Red Scarves have released a new single, their first since 2019’s Annuals, called "DKHTBA".

This is the work of Robby Kuntz (lead vocal, drums, piano), Braden Poole (guitar, vocals), Ayethaw Tun (guitar, vocals), and Ryan Donlin (bass, piano scratches, vocals)

The single proves that impressive art can be found in some our darkest moments.


Video Premiere: Cosmic Bull “Unless You Know People”

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We are proud to be able to premiere two new videos for the latest single, "Unless You Know People", from Cosmic Bull.

Chicago’s Cosmic Bull follows up their 27X2 EP (and the EP’s single "Joe Namath Moment") with two videos built around different versions of the new track "Unless You Know People," to be released on Friday, July 29.

"Unless You Know People" (Paul Von Mertens Production):

Paul Von Mertens gives a full-band compliment to Mark Vickery’s ukulele-based tune, and director Marjan Agicic gives the video a 20th-century music club vibe. Costumes and makeup by Lisa Osmon. Shot at Trigger Chicago. With appearances by: Mark Vickery, Ellis Clark, Meret Duvall, Tina Howell, Anna Maloney, Ary Paloma, Renee Ruffin, Temple Schultz, and Eve Simi.

"Unless You Know People" (Scott Tallarida at Trigger Chicago Production)

In this second version of "Unless You Know People," Scott Tallarida at Trigger Chicago puts a modern/futuristic production spin on the original Paul Von Mertens version. Director Marjan Agicic and costume/makeup designer Lisa Osmon add postmodern elements to the video. With appearances by: Mark Vickery, Ellis Clark, Meret Duvall, Tina Howell, Anna Maloney, Ary Paloma, Renee Ruffin, Temple Schultz, and Eve Simi.


Emblems “Everything Is Strange”

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Emblems have released a new album called Everything Is Strange via Sell The Heart Records and Outcast Tape Infirmary.

This is the Alt Rock of Matthew Stevens (Guitar/Vocals), Ian O’Brien (Drums), AJ Griffith (Bass), and Jared Cummans (Guitar).

You can catch Emblems at Livewire Lounge with Son of Abbey on August 26th and at Hideout on October 21st with Moving Targets.


Eye Candy “Angel”

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Eye Candy has released a beautiful new single called "Angel". This is the first new music from the Dream Pop artist since the release of his 2021 EP "Who Did He Tell You That To?".


Dendrons “New Outlook II”

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Dendrons have released visuals for the latest single, "New Outlook II", from their forthcoming album, 5-3-8, which is due out August 26th via Innovative Leisure.

The video was shot in Atlanta while the band was on tour and features animation from Arturo Baston.


zander raymond “Segment Of Rope”

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Artist zander raymond has released the lead single, "Segment Of Rope", from his forthcoming album, To Have Several Lives, which is due out on August 12th via Sound As Language.

The album is built around improvisation while utilizing modular synthesizers and open-source sound computers.

This is Raymond’s second album of 2022 following-up January’s separate in space.


LOCRIAN “The Glare Is Everywhere And Nowhere Our Shadow”

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Experimental drone trio LOCRIAN recently released the lead single, "The Glare Is Everywhere And Nowhere Our Shadow", from their forthcoming album, New Catastrophism, which is due out on August 12th via Profound Lore Records.

This is the first new music from Terence Hannum (synthesizers, vocals, tape loops), André Foisy (guitars, electronics), and Steven Hess (drums, electronics) since the release of their 2015 album Infinite Dissolution.


95 Bulls invite you into the eye of the hurricane on “GO HOME”

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photo by Joel Henderson

95 Bulls come off more like 5 Tasmanian Devils on stage—in near perpetual motion, twisting and turning and thrashing about and headbanging and hopping in place, with Emily Ashenden in particular seeming to reside atop an invisible pogo stick shaking loose one guttural howl in the abyss after another from her compact frame, sounding not unlike a demon child in the throes of extended exorcism on songs like “Big Fight,” “Golden Tooth,” and “Big Fight” as heard below…

…meanwhile you got Kayla Asbell reelin’ and rockin’ over her keyboard like an exorcist coaxing malignant spirits out of her instrument and Zach Inkley thrashing his mop of dirty blonde locks in time to the beat forming a motion-blur halo like a guitar shredding Samson. And finally there’s the pummeling rhythm section of Dom Bodo and Zach Butler aka Butzz who together provide a center of gravity to the surrounding maelstrom, pushing the whole thing forward like a lurching kaiju monster stomping all over some unfortunate metropolis

…and yeah I just mixed about a half-dozen metaphors and similes but so fukking what-a’ cuz all these literary devices are in service of forming a tenuous order out of chaos (the music blogger’s mandate!) and “forming a tenuous order out of chaos” is an apt description for the music 95 Bulls whether encountered live or on their debut album GO HOME made up of nine hurricane-strength songs that’ll have you feeling like Dorothy after she got sucked up into the sky by a badlands tornado with only Toto to hold onto until she finds her way back home…

…and if you don’t get what I’m getting at just listen to “Trichotillomania” and tell me it’s not like getting caught up in a dizzying two-minute monsoon powered by gale force riffs and torrential rhythms and squalls of dirty guitar rampaging across your cranial cavity as Emily sing-shouts about “tearing all my hair out / tearing all my hair out / everything inside / is starting to wear out” and it’s no wonder she wants to go home

…or skip to 2:17 on the album-closing “Your Dad’s Watch” with its tipsy spinning top vamp that sounds like music you’d expect to hear emanating from a haunted merry-go-round ride or loop around to the opening track “Loud Mouth” with its piston-driven drumbeat and whirligig main melody (first heard on bass guitar) that sounds like it’s about to jump the tracks at a certain point (namely during the guitar solo) but keeps chugging ahead in circular motion until you’re woozy for the centripetal force and this is how so many of 95 Bulls’ songs hit me like a series of derelict funhouse rides where the greasy, gas-huffing carny keeps pushing up the speed to potentially dangerous levels… 

…which is not to mention the calliope-like organ tone with Kayla at times sounds like Ray Manzarek on Mandrex or the Three Boys In The Band who may or may not work as greasy, gas-huffing carnies in their off hours or Miss E’s carnival-barker style vocalization—part blues belter and part punk shouter—like Big Mama Thornton meets Poly Styrene and hey I just made an Emily simile (!) which is a perfect vocal quality for songs about sweaty-palmed anticipation and sweaty-palmed anxiety and getting caught up in a vortex between these and other conflicting impulses and attempting to work out the contours of it all as described below by Emily herself after the jump…

I think GO HOME is about the process of building boundaries. “Your Dad’s Watch” is an example of a story that, looking back, demonstrated this tendency to avoid uncomfortable situations for fear of “tapping out” or not amounting to some version of myself that would be able to handle it. I think all 5 of us play Chicken with ourselves a lot. In both “Trichotillomania” and “Young Love” there is a similar message of impatience. I’ve had a lot of recent frustration about where I am/my addictions messing up opportunities and that “loss of time” causes me to want to skip ahead, as fast as I can, to the end of almost every situation. Obviously, I keep learning that’s not how things work! “Trichotillomania” is about how that feels internally and “Young Love” is the struggle to try to softly communicate this similar frustration in a relationship.

…so best test out your seat belt and upper-body harness and settle in for the ride because with 95 Bulls at the controls it’s bound to be a doozy of a journey wherever they end up heading next…. (Jason Lee)