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Don Lifted’s Contour: “Positive Obsessions”

It's telling that the first track of Don Lifted's new album, Contour, is a cover of a song by electronica/low-fi/shoegaze phenom Alicks. That's because the album's tone is one of a deep, dark look inward — pioneering what may be considered a kind of hip-hop emo. Granted, not many emo records have lyrics like "Take pride in being a slave ... paid less 'cos I'm a n*gga," but such social commentary serves largely to set the stage for what is, at heart, an intensely personal work, evoking both the ennui of suburban life and the joys of a new romance.

The producer and composer, who uses his given name, Lawrence Matthews, when exhibiting his visual art, has always been intensely autobiographical. Those who witnessed his performance last year with the Blueshift Ensemble mostly saw his silhouette against a backdrop of home movies from his childhood. But the new album goes even deeper into his psyche.

"Contour is very much about a positive love and the beginnings of things," says Matthews. "Being out of high school and not knowing what the future is and having this youthful arrogance about a lot of things, love included. And obsession. [Previous album] Alero is about negative obsession. Contour is about positive obsession. Positive beliefs, and ideas about love and life, what things will be and what they can become."

Built largely on moody, ambient samples, punctuated with sparse, original guitar chords, the obsession conveyed is a particularly euphoric one, ostensibly focused on Matthews' girlfriend at the time. But it also captures the retrospective obsession one can feel for such happy episodes when those days are lost to the past.

"The album is a loop," Matthews explains. "There was a time period when I was really going through some stuff. I wasn't in a happy place. And I thought, if I could choose what heaven would be like, what time would it be? And it would be the time period of this album. You're falling in love for the first time, and it's perfect. You're graduating from high school. You're becoming an adult, but you don't have any of those adult responsibilities yet. You're just a kid, but you have a car and money in your pocket. There's this bliss to it."

Yet the true depth of the work stems from its exploration of how one hangs on to such blissful moments as life rolls on. Covering "The Open" by Alicks was deliberate because it "talks about being stuck and always being in that place, and telling another person, 'No matter what goes on, I'm gonna be here. I'll be in this place. Come and get me.' That's why I was drawn to that song and wanted to cover it. It opens up and ends the album in the same way. It loops into infinity, because this is not real life, this is art."

Recreating that place meant revisiting the physical geography of his past, to the point where some titles, like "5150 Goodman Rd.," simply evoke an address. "It's so place driven," he says. "Because I'm seeing streets and street lights and street names and people and places. I can go there and feel the same way I did in 2008 or 2009."

It's a hunt that continues to offer unexpected treasures. "I'm releasing a song with ThankGod4Cody on October 26th. Cody is a platinum-selling, Grammy-nominated artist and producer known for his production on SZA's Ctrl. And this is the first of a few extra singles that still exist in the same universe and time period as Contour."

But Matthews emphasizes that his ultimate goal is to move beyond that universe. "I use my past to inspire my future. Instead of letting this make me a bitter person, I explore the good and bad of it. And that allows me to close the door on something. Now that this album is released and done, I can move on to where my life is."

Kelley Anderson & the Crystal Shrine Play Shangri-La's 30th Anniversary
(image) It's fitting that this Thursday's celebration of Shangri-La Records' 30th Anniversary, at the Levitt Shell, will feature an artist whose first glimpse of Memphis was in the store itself. Kelley Anderson was a key player in the Nashville folk/country/punk group Those Darlins, starting about a decade ago, and, having first played here on Shangri-La's porch, felt such a strong affinity for Memphis that she ended up moving here permanently. In recent years, she's been known for the country/western/rock/pop sounds of her group, the Crystal Shrine. I asked her a bit about the evolution of the group, and where they're headed musically.

Memphis Flyer: It seems you'll have a bigger version of the band than ever at Thursday's show, with Jana Misener and Krista Wroten Combest on cello and violin, Jesse Davis on guitar, Seth Moody on keyboards, Andrew Geraci on bass, and drummer Matthew Berry. Is this a new lineup for the Crystal Shrine?

Kelley Anderson: It's not really a new lineup. The rock band that plays with me, I've played with them quite a bit, as well as with Jana and Krista. But this show is the first opportunity to finally put the whole band together: to have the rock band with strings added, and to have a little bit wider instrumentation. Because I have a really good rapport and history playing with Seth and Jesse. Those are my bros. And the same with Krista and Jana. We did the Harbor Town Amphitheater fund-raiser for the Montessori School last March, and we did that as a trio, and we've performed a couple other times as a trio. And then more recently, I've added Andrew Geraci and Matthew Berry as my consistent bass and drums.

This Levitt Shell show has been really instrumental in helping pull together some of those loose ends and really inspire me to get all of it together. I've been really focused on writing, and really focused on the music, and making art music, and not as much on delivery, or marketing, or publicity. You know, all of that business. It's so cool that Shangri-La asked me to play for their 30th anniversary, because one of the first shows that I ever played in Memphis was on the porch there. It may have been the first show Those Darlins played in Memphis, on the porch at Shangri-La. And that was 10 years ago. So I'm super proud of them for keeping everything running. I firmly believe in the importance of having a local record store in your community, and the ways the store supports the community and the way the community supports the store. It's an integral part of the music community in Memphis. I'm super proud of all the work that Jared McStay and John Miller and crew are doing over there.

You've been working with the Crystal Shrine for some time now. Has the sound evolved in new directions with all these players?

I'm exploring a lot of similar themes, such as redemption and guilt, oppression and liberation, salvation, grace, forgiveness. I've been recording some music over at High Low, so I've got some new stuff in the works. But no rush to get a ton of it out there. I just got two of the mixes mastered, and I've got the new track "Benny" uploaded to my Bandcamp site. All proceeds from the track go to Youth Empowerment through Arts & Humanities (YEAH!), an organization I founded in 2006 to amplify the voices of young people. It's the organization that provides the Southern Girls Rock 'n' Roll Camp.

I also do more experimental pieces, like this take on the folk song "Worried Man Blues." I loop the song on a nylon folk guitar and layer harmonies and manipulate the song using a 4-track and pedals. I performed it at Marshall Arts and my friend sent a video he took with his iPhone. Then I manipulated the video to reiterate the time travel aspect and duality of past/present idea I was trying to work out through the audio.

I'm just writing songs, and whatever the song needs is the instrumentation. I'm thinking of it kinda song first. It's got kind of a Southern psychedelic vibe to it. Kind of Spaghetti Western, like Morricone. I'm really interested in film and making music for films, and also using a lot of visual elements with music. In fact, film maker Brian Pera and I have a residency at Crosstown Arts starting next fall. We'll be using some of this material that I'm currently recording, and working on images and video pieces to go with it.

So was it a conscious decision on your part to move away from the sound of Those Darlings?

Not as much the sound of Those Darlins, because I still have all of those same influences. Everything from traditional country music to psychedelic rock 'n' roll to noise music and experimental forms of music. It was more a conscious decision to move away from the industry. Nashville's very much a music industry town, and Memphis is a music town. And I really wanted to explore music as an artist, and not think of it so commercially.

It's been useful for me to disentangle the two, and not think about commercial viability or how it's gonna get marketed, or any of that. Ultimately, I'd love for people to hear it, and use those opportunities in any way I can to support other aspects of the community, or lift up voices that are marginalized. And I think when you're not as focused on it commercially, sometimes that can allow you to do that more.

And Memphis has been really receptive and wonderful. There are lots of weirdos and people doing outsider art and music here. And I appreciate that energy and that undercurrent. And the amount of support that everyone has provided. There's so many opportunities to collaborate with people. More projects than you ever would possibly have time for. 

Part of that goes back to ten years ago, and Those Darlins playing in Memphis. I mean, Memphis really embraced us, whereas Nashville was just confused by us. So this really felt like a second home, and at times like a first home for us and for our music and for our vibe and energy. I recall always feeling very accepted here, and have been in love with Memphis for a long time. And so, getting to actually reside here and work and collaborate with other people in the Memphis music community has been a real blessing.

It's really special and an honor to collaborate with Krista and Jana. They're exceptional musicians in their own right. But the ultimate goal was always to bring it together under one roof, and have this larger instrumentation. This is the first gig opportunity that has provided the stage and the resources that would accommodate that size of a group. That band lineup doesn't really work at Bar DKDC, you know? And I can't say enough about Shangri-La sponsoring and underwriting the show and making those resources available.

I'm also very grateful to the Memphis music community, and to the Levitt Shell and people who have revitalized that space, and people that support live music there. And Shangri-La is a big part of that community. It's all very connected for me. And I'm very grateful to get to play on the same stage that so many historical, amazing musical acts have performed on. That's a real treat and a real honor.
Stephen Chopek Finds His Memphis Groove

Four years ago, the music scene lit up with news of a fresh face in town, hungry to play gigs. Stephen Chopek was clearly a drummer's drummer, having cut tracks and toured with Charlie Hunter, John Mayer, and Jesse Malin, among others. Any fears that this Jersey City native wouldn't get the Memphis groove were quickly laid to rest, and he has become a fixture with some of the great performers around town.

Says Chopek, "New York City was going through a lot of changes. So I was ready for the move, and it worked out great. I've worked with some great musicians: John Paul Keith, Amy LaVere, David Cousar. It's been fantastic as a drummer, and also in having the time and space to do my own thing, too."

That last comment is something you don't often hear from drummers. But even before his move south, Chopek was exploring his own thing — as a songwriter. Ultimately, it was part of his larger attitude toward personal growth.

"As a gigging drummer, sometimes you're creating things with people, and other times you're just learning somebody else's parts and playing gigs. Which is great fun, but there was something that was missing. Songwriting has helped me not just as a musician, but as an overall creative person, to have that balance of building something from the ground up, something I could direct on my own. As I go on in my career, and I grow as a human being, I'm seeing the importance of those situations that make you uncomfortable at first."

Now, with his third full-length album dropping Friday, it would seem Chopek has hit his stride. Begin the Glimmer is not a typical do-it-yourself clutch of demos. It sports one perfectly crafted tune after another. They're all built on a solid foundation of Chopek's acoustic guitar strumming, which nestles in with his drum parts so perfectly that each song churns forward with aplomb. The songs were painstakingly constructed, as Chopek layered bass, keyboards, and lead guitar over his basic rhythm tracks. With Chopek's plainspoken lyrics floating over it all, and everything kept in the kind of perfect sync only a drummer can create, the end result is a shimmering folk-pop gem that leaps from the speakers.

Some listeners may be familiar with two of the album's tracks, released earlier this year as a seven-inch single. While many of Begin the Glimmer's tracks are of a personal nature, the single's two tracks have a more historical bent. "The Ballad of Cash and Dean" is a kind of fantasia about two icons of the 1950s, Johnny and James. But the real period study is the A-side, "Radio Caroline," an exuberant celebration of American rock-and-roll hitting the United Kingdom.

"Radio Caroline was a pirate station in the early '60s in the U.K.," says Chopek. "It was a time when the BBC saw rock-and-roll as this crass fad. So Radio Caroline was this pirate radio station on a boat off the coast that played all the blues and soul that young people of the time were interested in. I first heard about it in interviews and things, and then I did some additional reading. There was something about it that resonated with me. Something romantic about their DIY ethos, championing this new music."

As a whole, the album's sparkle is a refreshing break from "the Memphis Sound," whatever that may be these days. But Chopek considers it part and parcel of his adopted home. "This is my first real Memphis record," he notes. "I recorded it with Harry at 5 and Dime; I mixed it with Doug Easley; I mastered the vinyl with Jeff Powell at Sam Phillips. And working with Doug, with his contribution to Memphis music, was really something. I'm glad I didn't know too much about him when I first started working with him, because I think there would have been an intimidation factor. I just got to know him as a person, and then slowly realized all the things that he had his hand in with Easley-McCain Studios: Sonic Youth, Pavement, Cat Power, the White Stripes, Wilco. All these things that were formidable in my development as a musician. So just getting to know Doug and working with Doug was a great Memphis experience."

Begin the Glimmer's record release show is Saturday, November 10th at Otherlands.

TsuShiMaMiRe: The Best Japanese Band You've Never Heard Of
(image) There is a long history of punk, tweaked pop, and no-wave music from Japan, and such bands are beloved in the Bluff City, to which hundreds of Guitar Wolf fans can attest. Shonen Knife is much loved also, going back to their shared gig with the Country Rockers at Maxwell's in the early '90s.

But I must confess, I've only just learned of TsuShiMaMiRe, and they may just be my new favorite band. Memphis should pay attention to them. Like Shonen Knife, they are a trio of women with a diehard DIY attitude, but their similarities with that band should not be overstated. While Shonen Knife played shambling, yet peppy, pop songs with amateurish gusto, TsuShiMaMiRe pack considerably more wallop.

Where the rhythms of Shonen Knife were pleasantly clunky, TsuShiMaMiRe rock hard. Their blasts of guitar distortion sync up with the bass and drums like a sledgehammer. Beyond that, there are myriad subtle touches that distinguish them from other screaming punk purists. Dynamic breakdowns give you a breather, only to crack your skull seconds later. On top of this, they layer some actual singing, eschewing de rigueur hoarse screaming for simple but effective melodies (and yes, screaming!). It's an irresistible combination. If the Buzzcocks had been women who relied on bigger walls of noise guitar riffs than were imaginable in the '70s, the result might be TsuShiMaMiRe.

But don't take my word for it. Check out this video and see if you can resist heading down to the Hi Tone tonight. Arrive early to hear A Thousand Lights (with the Memphis Flyer's Chris McCoy), the city's latest and best Stooges-inspired band, who made their well-received debut opening for My Life With Thrill Kill Kult in Nashville this past April.

Here and Now: Printmaking and the Political Present

Here and Now: Printmaking and the Political Present
Reception October 12, 5-7pm
Work on display through November 9
The Martha and Robert Fogelman Galleries of Contemporary Art
University of Memphis Art & Communication Building
Department of Art Rooms 230 and 240

"Here and Now: Printmaking and the Political Present" is an exhibition of prints by Memphis-based artists exploring social issues of our contemporary moment. Artists include Maritza Dávila, Vanessa González-Hernández, Nelson Gutierrez, Lawrence Matthews, Carl Moore, Joel Parsons, Jennifer Sargent, and Yancy Villa-Calvo. 

Master printmaker Maritza Dávila has led artists in a series of workshops formulating concepts and producing the prints that will be on view. Artists explore topics such as gentrification, climate change, gun violence, queer politics, immigration, education, and non-violent protest. The exhibition also contemplates the role of printmaking as a means of expression in our fast-paced, digital age.

The exhibition runs concurrently with "Freedom of the Press: Posters from Progressive Print Shops, 1960s-1990s," an exhibition organized by the Center for the Study of Political Graphics in Los Angeles, California. Both exhibitions will be on view October 8 - November 9, 2018.
BarrierFree Workshop/Panel Advocacy & Activism through Art Forms

BarrierFree Workshop/Panel Advocacy & Activism through Art Forms
Saturday, October 20, 10am-1pm
Art Museum of the University of Memphis

The workshop and panel discussion is offered to the creative local community as part of the Barrier Free: For Freedoms Project with the 50 State Initiative. Seating is limited. 

Topics to be covered:
Using your artistic voice for advocacy and activism.
Tools to give your art a shift to advocate for an issue you are passionate about.
Advice to create art provoking thoughts.
Mistakes active community artists have experienced.

10 AM - Networking and welcoming
10:30 AM- Concurrent workshops
12 PM - 1 PM - Panel discussion

Concurrent Workshops:
Vanessa Gonzalez, Visual Arts
Leslie Barker, Performing Arts
Andrea Morales, Journalism
Carl Moore, Digital Media & Visual Arts

Ekundayo, Hattiloo Theatre
Ned Canty, Opera Memphis
Virginia Murphy, Playback Memphis
Yancy Villa-Calvo, Barrier Free
Susan Nordstrom

Free and open to art students, artists, and creatives in the community.
Nasty Women Exhibit Memphis

Nasty Women Exhibit Memphis
Grand Opening Friday, October 19, 6-10pm
Open Saturday, October 20, 11-3pm
Closing Reception Friday, October 26, 6-9pm
South Main Artspace Lofts
138 St. Paul Avenue

Nasty Women Memphis is a group exhibition that serves to demonstrate solidarity among artists who identify as or support a Nasty Woman in the face of threats to roll back women’s rights, individual rights, and reproductive rights. Last time we were responding to the inauguration, now we respond to the confirmation of Kavanaugh.

50% of all proceeds benefit our local Planned Parenthood.
Additional information on this exhibit may be found at
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