Havana in December

It’s warm and raining and the woman in the passenger seat of the cab offers me a cigarette. It’s unfiltered but I smoke it anyway. I’m sitting in the back of a baby blue 1950s Chevrolet leaving Havana.

I found myself most often drunk, wandering, lost, unafraid.

I saw Santeria—not being practiced, just reminders it was: a severed pig’s head
in a big plastic container on the street corner and live chickens crammed into a room where two men sat in folding chairs, looking outside, smoking cigars.

I thought about sacrifice. How little I know of it.

I met a bartender named Ariel who taught me how to Salsa between pouring mojitos. He took me into the bar’s walk-in freezer, then took me into his mouth like I was guava fruit. He said te amo, baby when he put me in a taxi at 2 A.M. I said it back and almost meant it.

I found ruin and salvation and I loved them the same.

A Look at Parquet Courts’ Dynamic Garage Rock

Parquet Courts is a 4-piece Brooklyn-based indie rock band. Their debut album, American Specialties, was a limited cassette release in 2011. They followed it up with their second album in 2012, Light Up Gold, which received a lot of critical acclaim. These releases established their place as a solid garage rock band with obvious roots in 80s punk, with heavy guitar riffs and lead vocals that are speak-sung (sometimes yell-sung).

The band released their third and fourth albums, Sunbathing Animal and Content Nausea, in 2014. Sunbathing Animals made its way onto the Billboard albums chart, just narrowly missing the top 50. An experimental EP, Monastic Living, came in 2015. Its a mostly instrumental project and plays with synths and electronic elements—a quite different direction from the band’s niche sound.

Their most recent album, which came out in February of this year, Human Performance, brings us back closer to the sound that listeners have come to expect from the band. The album is a little softer, mellower, less evocative of 80s punk and more reminiscent of 70s art rock. The title track “Human Performance” is a great example of that. At its core, it’s a break up song: a stoic recollection of a past relationship and the emotional trauma in the aftermath captured in deeply emotional lyrics.

“Those pristine days I recall so fondly
So few are trials when a life isn’t lonely and now if only
I’d never felt it, I’d never heard it
I know I loved you did I even deserve it when you returned it”

Human Performance is yet another great album for Parquet Courts: a band that knows their sound but isn’t afraid to experiment. And because of this, they’re guaranteed to continue to excite, inspire, and surprise.

Article originally published on next2shine.com.

Spirit Club is Back With “Room To Run”

Spirit Club, created by Nathan Williams (of surf-rock band Wavves), his brother Joel Williams and Andrew Caddick, is back with a new single. The track, “Room to Run,” is both ambient and rhythmic; at times lulling, then picking up with heavier guitar and drum riffs to fill out the melody. It features a billowing chorus with layered vocals lamenting on the need for the titular “room to run.” The killer track will be featured on their upcoming EP, a follow up to their 2015 debut Spirit Club.  Nathan Williams wrote on his twitter account @wavves, “it was an extremely tough album to record – all three of us were dealing with breakups so the tone of the whole record is very…sad/angry.” He also said that it was his first time working with producer Dennis Herring since Wavves’ arguably most-loved album, King Of The Beach. No dates have been set for the official release, but we’re stoked for it!

Article first published on next2shine.com.

First Look at Russ Erikson: 2016 Demos

Russ Erikson is the musical project of Kennan Banks, a singer-songwriter from the Charlotte, NC area. Russ Erikson’s 2016 Demos is a 6 track indie-folk EP released in early April 2016. They were all recorded in one take on Kennan’s iPhone. The lyrics, vocals, and acoustic melodies accompanying them mirror the way they were created: raw. In the most beautiful way.

Kennan says, “I’m really into music that is really personal. It’s sort of therapy for me. I would still make the same stuff I’m making and put it out there even if no one was listening.” But people should be listening. You can hear the heart Kennan puts into his music, like in the lyrics on the stand out track “When I was Young”:

“I’m on the Brooklyn Bridge and I’m looking down/ I would never jump but I get the appeal.”

His music is so personal and emotionally charged. You can hear it in his voice. The EP includes some covers, but the originals (“I Am a Father,” “When I Was Young”) are the biggest standout tracks. The emotion Kennan puts into his music bleeds out and infects the listener, urging them to feel or understand what he is saying. And that—along with Kennan’s obvious lyrical and musical talent—are what make Russ Erikson great.

After graduating from the University of South Carolina with a degree in film, Kennan adopted the name Russ Erikson (inspired by his middle name and the explorer Leif Erikson) to separate his music from his film, since he says his music is “so personal” to him. Kennan says that once he gets around 10 songs he’s really proud of, he will record them professionally and make an album.

Check out Russ Erikson Bandcamp above and be on the look out for new music from the up-and-comer.

This was first published on Next2Shine.

Yalikavak, I love you.

Last year, I spent the summer in Turkey. I just want to share some pictures I took of one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen: Bodrum (Yalikavak), Turkey.

It is all white-washed houses, bright pink and purple begonvil flowers growing. The Aegean Sea contrasts against the rocky terrain surrounding it. It feels small. It feels unreal. Here’s my proof that it is.

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Red Eye to Istanbul

I flew into Istanbul on a Sunday morning. The flight was nice in the way that I find all red-eyes nice. The opposite is also true.

I couldn’t see the ground below from my window seat, only wing. I watched the peach-colored horizon, a yellow haze above and purple below, deepen to a rosy glow in a matter of minutes. I love red-eyes for this. I love chasing the sunset across the sky. Not letting it happen to me–fall on me in Eastern Standard Time. I find some kind of liberation in it, though I recognize its futility.

When everything was black outside of my window, I ate the surprisingly good in-flight meal and  chased an ambien with a mini-bottle of dry white Turkish wine. Sleep eventually came (after a very uneasy trip to the water closet) but only in fractured bits. I am not a great sleeper in general which makes me exceptionally bad at sleeping upright in an airplane seat. Hence, my red eye ambivalence.

After however long, four hours maybe, the woman next to me tapped me awake. I immediately wished she hadn’t, but accepted the meal being handed to me from the flight attendant. I picked at the tray of fruit, cheeses, eggs, and vegetables and drank a cup of tea that warmed me up to the idea of being awake.

I opened my window blind to the same view of sky and wing, only now it was bright and blue and there were clouds below us in the distance. I put on a favorite album of mine, In the Aeroplane over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel, because I was in airplane, and we probably weren’t over the sea anymore, but we had been, so it felt appropriate. It’s an album that always feels good, and it felt exceptionally good then. I looked out the small, dirt-speckled window at the sky unfolding. There was about an hour before we touched down in Istanbul.

I remember the excitement–feeling refreshed in the way that red-eyes always make me feel refreshed, even despite the lack of rest. At this point, I have two months ahead of me in an unfamiliar, foreign, fascinating place. I thought about this without trepidation. I thought about how it felt right to be on this plane, right to be going, and about how long it’s been since I felt thatin the right place. It feels strange in the best way. The words, “how strange it is to be anything at all” flowed through my headphones and into my ears. Indeed. How strange. And how lucky.

Uptown in the Queen City

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From South Tryon green space

I’ve lived in a Charlotte suburb since I was four years old. Despite this, I didn’t really get to know the city until I was much older. Sometimes being so close to a place causes it to lose its novelty, even when there’s still so much you’ve yet to experience there. However, I’ve found plenty of things to love about Charlotte recently. In this post, I want to focus on my favorite street located right in the heart of Uptown: South Tryon.  Whether you’re rediscovering the city you’ve written off or exploring it for the first time, you’ll want to check out this street.

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Charlotte skyline from park behind Latta Arcade

If you’re an art lover, like I am, then South Tryon Street is where you want to be. Spend part of your day wandering through the expansive Mint Museum Uptown. Their website boasts, “the oldest art museum in North Carolina, and the art museum with one of the largest collections in the Southeast, The Mint Museum offers its visitors inspiring and transformative experiences through art from around the world via innovative collections, ground-breaking exhibitions, riveting educational programs, and profound scholarship.” Just next door is the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. While it’s by no means the NYC MoMA, it is absolutely worth a visit, especially if you’re a lover of contemporary art like me.

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Bechtler MoMA: South Tryon St

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Inside Mint Museum Uptown

Across the street, there’s a parking garage and a lovely little green space perfect for spending an afternoon. Grab a late lunch at the upscale, farm fresh restaurant Ratcliffe on the Green. Walking north on South Tryon, past the green and museums, you’ll come across the small french bakery Amelie’s. Try some of their loose leaf tea and a pastry. Not far from there is the indoor atrium Latta Arcade, which is full of cool little shops and has a pretty outdoor section lined with multinational restaurants and outdoor seating.

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tumblr_ngkzfpANEz1qcdn3uo1_1280 South Tryon green space

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Bonus tip: have lunch with a view at the Terrace on South Tryon Square! Pictured here is the business park from ground level.

South Tryon Street is one of my favorite streets in Uptown Charlotte. With tons to do, see, and eat, you can wander the streets for hours and keep discovering new things. If you’re visiting Charlotte for the first time, or rediscovering it again, don’t miss exploring South Tryon Street.

Wandering Washington

 The Pacific Northwest is my favorite part of the country. Just flying into Seattle-Tacoma airport reminded me why.

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I went to Washington State to visit my best friend, Lindsay. Lindsay and I met in first grade, and over the years she’s come to feel more like a sister than a friend. She moved across the country two years ago to go to college, and I only see her every several months. After taking the bus from SeaTac to Bellingham, I saw her waiting at the bus stop, got off with a big, stupid smile on my face, and ran to hug her. On the walk to her house, it was warm in the best way (not like sticky Carolina heat) and it felt like no time had passed at all.

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After getting settled, we headed to Lindsay’s favorite place, Larrabee State Park. We flew up long, winding roads with Lindsay’s boyfriend, Nick, driving and Lindsay’s roommate, her boyfriend and I squished in the back seat. We laid our heads back over the top of the head rests so all we could see were the tops of the trees and sky. Once we got there, we walked down a trail and over some rocks to get to the edge of the water, the Bay of Bellingham. It’s beautiful, clean, and wild. It was warm and the sky was clear.

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Lindsay being hella casualimage

A couple of days later, Nick, Lindsay, and I cross the border into Canada to visit Vancouver. My friend Kate from Ireland, who I met in Biarritz back in 2011, was there working for the summer and it’s a pretty short drive. Or rather, it should be a short drive. We didn’t bring a gps… go figure. But! We got there eventually. We went downtown and it was a great time. The next morning we headed back to Bellingham with massive hangovers and a couple belongings lost in battle. The only pictures I have seem to be fitting for the shit show that was our trip:

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Love Kate! Such a sweet, fun girl.
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Next stop on the Bellingham tour was a state park called Whatcom Falls. Again, it felt wild and unadulterated and gorgeous in the same way that so much of the Pacific Northwest does.

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My trip ended with my summer not far behind it. I couldn’t have asked a better way to end a great season of travel than with my favorite person in my favorite place. And now it’s back to just daydreaming of far away places for me.

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