The Dig

From the beginning, The Dig have been a classic band's band, and a true collaboration: three longtime friends, three songwriters, two singers in a true dual frontman setup, all individuals but all woven more and more tightly together as they have evolved. In a world that rewards drama, reckless moves and often-overwrought narrative twists, The Dig have bucked that trend by focusing on, well, the work: writing song after song to cast off more than they keep, and keep only the best. The Dig do a lot, and they do it the right way — building brick by brick, writing constantly, touring steadily, and most crucially, pushing themselves creatively to make better and better records. Which brings us, of course, to Bloodshot Tokyo, a record rich with ambition and a bright, irresistible ease.

"In the past I think we've tried to create a mindset of writing 'for The Dig'", says guitarist/keyboard playing Erick Eiser, "so as to create something cohesive. This time I think we really freed ourselves from that, and just wrote." They made the most of their interconnectedness as a way to push themselves forward, writing what singer and bassist Emile Mosseri describes as "elaborate demos" for most of the songs. Arrangements were fully worked out, ideas were explored and re-explored before they sat down to record. Emile continues, "It's not hard to write songs separately, but there's a thing that happens where I'll sometimes have the other guys in my head, even when I'm writing by myself. So in a way, we're kind of always writing together even when we're writing alone. We all grew up playing in different bands together since we were little kids, and have toured with and were inspired by all kinds of different bands for years. I feel like writing this record was the sum of all those years. It's the most wide spanning stylistically and colorful of our records, and also sounds the most like us."

The result is a tremendously confident record, and one that's far punchier than its predecessors. Even with veritable piles of songs to choose from, it feels oddly apt that Bloodshot Tokyo opens with the brief snippet that is "Ordinary Mind". It is a sparkling, hugely inviting riff and a refrain that paves the way, just a small fragment too good to let go of. "Jet Black Hair" follows and is an undeniable A-sider, putting the band's pop instincts front and center, never shying away from the groove but never weighed down by it, either. Lead single "Simple Love" moves stealthily, winking to just a little something retro but dancing across genres in an exhilaratingly modern way. As a band, The Dig made a choice to turn somewhat from the more ambient sounds of their earlier songs, using those tones as texture to drive songs with other foundations, rather than making it the focal point. Drummer Mark Demiglio, The Dig's relative newcomer, brings a modern pop counterweight to The Dig's moodier side, and it shows. Songs like "Pool of Rotting Water" underline that change, going downright beat-driven with just the right amount of glam for a band that is, at its heart, very much a rock band. And what of the records return to love as a theme? Singer and guitarist David Baldwin explains, "there are elements of both a falling in love and a break up album for sure. I think the songs we picked all generally came from so many different phases and mindsets, there might be different stages in a relationship juxtaposed into the same song. Certain songs may come off like breakup songs but were written while in the peak of a relationship. A kind of regret from the future that hasn't happened yet."

No band escapes talking about its influences, but its particularly telling that The Dig's members often come back to The Kinks, Harry Nilsson, Betty Harris, Parliament, even Bach — artists who worked in the canon of their eras' pop music, but always with an eye toward upending pop's expectations, fraying the edges, getting weird. Baroque structures and subtle nods pop up throughout , in the low end of "Bleeding Heart" or the keyboard swirl of "Simple Love", and they permeate the art surrounding this new collection, as well.

Everywhere you look these days, there are "I could do that"-type cynics. But could they, really? And if they did, could they keep the same wide-eyed spirit The Dig has had for years, since the band's two singers formed their first band as kids? The songs that make up this long-player have a magic borne from that dedication, where tremendous work and discipline meet a lifetime of collaboration and a joyful, insatiable love for songwriting. As it relates to one band's rock record, it may seem strange to point out how cynical the world happens to be right now, but it takes dedication and a deep well of talent to do it like The Dig do it, and do it so well.

Nico Yaryan

How far would you go to be with the one you love? And what would be enough to tear you apart?

These are the questions that led Nico Yaryan down the long, arduous, but beautiful road that would ultimately lead to his debut album, What a Tease. Rife with both celebrations of and elegies for his star-crossed romance, Tease introduces Yaryan as a new voice, one that has arrived only to deliver an uncomplicated tale of complicated transcontinental love.

Before all of this, Yaryan began as the son of Northern California hippies, a creative kid who cut his musical teeth on drums and midi samplers, digging through dollar-record bins and dreaming of producing hip-hop beats worthy of his idols, like J Dilla and DJ Premier. He would pass a few cavalier years of adolescence and early adulthood (as he tells it) "sort of sidetracked, working retail jobs, and skateboarding, and riding bikes, and drinking, and being a kid." But that changed the day Hanni El Khatib, a close friend from high school, came looking for a tour drummer.

"I didn't have a drum set, and I wasn't playing actively at all," the 32-year-old remembers on a sunny afternoon, at a park not far from his now-home in Los Angeles. "But I was really stoked on what he was doing, and I was looking for the next thing. I always wanted to do music, I just didn't know what anymore. The lane I had been in...I didn't feel connected to it."

So he put his things in storage and set off, traveling the world with El Khatib and his bandmates for close to two years, not knowing that the experience would bring into his world two of his greatest loves. The first was the guitar, an instrument he'd been too intimidated to learn as a teenager but now could practice, eventually beginning to record his own music until, at last, he outgrew the touring gig.

"After a while, it wasn't really doing much for me," he says. "I wasn't creating, I wasn't contributing. It was always Hanni's thing, which is great — it was a good job! — but it wasn't mine."

The second, of course, was an unlikely romance that would change everything. A student from Amsterdam, she and Yaryan met through mutual friends as Yaryan toured through the Dutch city; they stayed in touch in the months that followed, and when he finally parted ways with the band, he decided to take a chance from which most would shy away: he returned to Amsterdam, and stayed for a month — at first.

"We fell in love," he says. "We were like, this seems really good, and I didn't want to leave, but I had to leave. So I went home."

But not for long — back in Los Angeles, Yaryan immediately looked for work to fund a return to Amsterdam, but his experience had only been in retail, an industry that doesn't take kindly to inconsistent schedules. He needed money that would bring him back.

"So I got a job at a pot farm."

With a handful of coworkers, Yaryan spent the better part of the next year, on and off, camping alone and trimming at a grow operation in Humboldt County, where marijuana farms are as plentiful as Sonoma's wineries.

"I would do it for one month, and then I'd go back to Amsterdam for another month," he explains. "Then I'd come back and I'd do it again; then I went back to her again."

The work was simple enough, but during those month-long stretches out in the woods, each solely funding the next plane ticket, and then the next, Yaryan was isolated, without any communication with the outside world and longing for a woman thousands of miles away. It was ideal work for someone whose heart already lies just out of reach.

Meanwhile, as their relationship unfolded in the face of geographical (and financial) adversity, so did – in between weed-clipping shifts, in a new home in Los Angeles, on overseas flights – the songs that would become What a Tease. Opening with the tattered allegory of "Old Gloria" and the lonely masochism of "You Belong to Me," the record lets more than a little darkness surface: the agony of watching yourself fuck up a good thing became "Just Tell Me"; the shifting nature of success informed "Dreamers"; mistrusting the nature of his love led Nico to "Witch Love." But throughout, there's an undercurrent of perseverance and determined tenderness, songs like the cavernous "Infinity" and, perhaps especially, album-closers "Your Love Never Lets Me Down" and "I'll Stay With You When You Die."

Though the hills and valleys of their often-long-distance romance might have brought endless complications, however, Yaryan is quick to reassure: Tease's songs themselves are anything but byzantine.

"What's that saying? 'Don't use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do'?" he says, recalling Mark Twain's classic salute to literary economy. "It's more interesting to me to work with heavy ideas or concepts that can mean a lot of different things, but try to make them as simple and memorable as possible."

So what happened next? you ask. Did they make it work? The more important question, perhaps, is whether you, too, would have the guts to try.

Boone Howard

Between 2008 and 2014, Boone Howard's band The We Shared Milk played 219 shows, released three LPs and two EPs, undertook a national and several regional tours, and became one of Portland's most-beloved underground acts. Then, in the fall of 2014, stifled by creeping domesticity and a musical format where meaning was lost in endless riffs, Howard subconsciously sabotaged his relationship, broke up his band, and drifted into a despondent haze.

In early-2015, Howard began writing demos in a freezing, dirty basement underneath the nicely decorated apartment he shared with his former love. Reckless behavior and his relationship's decline sparked a new outpouring of self-satirical and darkly-humorous songs. Supported by his closest friends (a supergroup including several of Portland's other best up-and-coming songwriters), he began to craft a new style with intimate, confessional lyrics and sweeping, dynamic orchestrations. The result, The Other Side Of Town, is Howard's most powerful and cohesive album to date: a deeply-personal meditation on romantic decline, unhealthy coping mechanisms, and the dichotomy of failure and rebirth.

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