8/28/2015

Review: ἡσυχασμός - "δι' ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι"

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ἡσυχασμός - δι' ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι
(2015 Self-Released)

Inspired by the Greek Orthodox tradition of hesychasm - a system of prayer comprised of careful repetition, silence and total solitude - δι' ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι is a cavernously eerie drone record, a mosaic of fractured field recordings and piano loops that, minimal as the composition may be, can elicit a multitude of emotions that stem from isolation. Act one of this tripartite dronescape, for instance, opens quite unnervingly, as samples of hollow, metallic tones form a rather surreal ambience, yet as this sonorous sample gives way to a slowly building wall of powdery ambience, this creepiness gradually gives way to comfort. The highlight of part one, however, is its beautiful centerpiece, an echoey piano solo, awash in reverb, that resembles are darker, grittier reboot of Eno and Budd's Plateaux of Mirror; with each piano key pressed, the listener witnesses the life of a droning note - it is born, it contributes to the composition and it slowly disintegrates, scattering its atoms into a cosmos of reverb. 

Part two's center of focus is still the piano, but its tone is much more clean than in part one. Despite the lack of reverb, a surreal atmosphere is still created through the manipulation of the recording, giving this section of the record some pluderphonics flavor. Act three is the album's strongest section, though, an amorphous drone of shimmering choir samples that gives way to a minimal coda played on the organ. A chiaroscuro soundscape that that demands attention despite its sparse arrangement, δι' ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι is a masterful ambient effort that by no means overstays its welcome at 30 minutes.

8/22/2015

Shojo Winter - "Eternal Snow"

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Shojo Winter - Eternal Snow
(Rok Lok 2015)

Shojo Winter's debut cassette EP is perhaps the strangest shoegaze release you'll hear all year, an ultra lo-fi dreampop effort that suffocates trebly, gothic lead guitar under a blanket of punishingly loud bass and drums, forming an igneous mass of crusty noise that is comparable to black metal, or perhaps even noisy dark ambient compositions. Imagine the sound of your car's tape deck slowly warping, then eating a copy of Cocteau Twins' Head Over Heels as you slip into highway hypnosis. All elements of the album - from frontman Patrick Capinding's sleepy intonations, to Kevin McVey's weighty basslines to the endless splashes of percussion that benignly crash like ocean waves - work as a whole to form a mind-numbing drone. The effect is pulled off most successfully on the EP's eponymous closing cut, which, in a beautiful way, is nearly devoid of melody or rhythm, but rather, it acts as a single viscous unit that oozes into the listener's ear, wrapping their conscious in an impenetrable cloak of bassy post-punk vibes. Embrace the coziness of total emptiness. Enter the the realm of Eternal Snow

8/17/2015

Review: Woody Grant - "Summer Songs"

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Woody Grant - Summer Songs
(Self-Released 2015)

Today marks the conclusion of the last summer I'll experience before I officially become an adult, but interestingly enough, I don't feel too bummed about it. Though my three months off from school have been well-spent going for walks around the neighborhood, starting my first-ever job, hitting up Taco Bell on the regular and beating a couple Pokemon games, to look back on this chapter of late-adolescence is like trying to accurately recall a vivid dream after waking. Sure, there are certain themes and motifs that can plucked from my memory, but it seems as if many specifics have evaporated, causing my recollection of the summer as a whole to compress into one wall of sensory debris. Perhaps this is the reason so many "summercore" acts, (Beach Fossils, Ducktails, Wild Nothing) opt to work in an impressionist pallet of vague lyricsm and shoegazey instrumentation. Their muse - the three months sandwiched in the middle of each annum - is reflected by their sound. Few have matched the breezy, transient vibes of summer quite as well as Woody Grant has on his appropriately titled Summer Songs EP. Shimmering riffs swelter under a humid layer of reverb while abrasive vocal harmonies seem to crowd the mix with their distorted warmth. Mourn the end your summer vacation with Woody Grant's latest record - especially if bedroom pop outfits like Woods and WAVVES make frequent appearances in your music rotation.

8/13/2015

Single Review - GIRL PUSHER - "OKAY OKAY"

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GIRL PUSHER - OKAY, OKAY
(Memory no. 36 Records 2015)

There's always something gratifying about being able to aesthetically connect with a band you admire; maybe in an interview they cite your favorite movie as a source of creative inspiration, or perhaps there's an obscure reference hidden in their lyrics that only you and a chosen few happen to recognize. Sometimes, though, it is that same sort of spiritual bond that can lead me to discover a new band. For instance, another pair the same of black Vans high-tops that make a cameo appearance on the cover of GIRL PUSHER's EP2 often makes an appearance in my own wardrobe, and it was a sudden glance at this unassuming pair of kicks that led me from the depths of Bandcamp's "lo-fi" tag to the EP's official page. Only one cut off of the release ("OKAY, OKAY") is streaming at the moment, but it is certainly enough to encourage me to give the site a peep tomorrow, when the record is slated for its official unveiling. The aforementioned tune is a coarse slice of synth-punk, its ominous synths bubbling below a drum machine rhythm that is surprisingly clean for such an industrial song. With the addition of vocals that sound like they were shouted from the top of a soapbox through a cheap megaphone, "OKAY, OKAY" ventures into riot-grrrl-meets-cyberpunk territory, as if Zach Hill and Flatlander produced and album for Pussy Riot.

8/07/2015

Review: The Choo Choo Trains - "Foggymotion"

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The Choo Choo Trains - Foggymotion
(2015 Meat n Tatty)

A textbook example of original-wave twee pop, The Choo Choo Trains' sophomore effort, titled Foggymotion adheres devoutly to the paper-thin, often endearingly clumsy timbre of Tiger Trap, Beat Happening, and even The Magnetic Fields (circa Distant Plastic Trees). While in terms of jarringly lo-fi sound quality, the London-based trio could easily draw comparisons to acts like Julia Brown or Jackie Trash, but it's their employment of doo-wop inspired chord progressions and bluesy riffs that set them apart from their "tweemo" contemporaries. For example, opening track "Things You Do" utilizes a Spector-ian arrangement of tinny percussion, a groovy bassline and translucent guitar chords that coat the rhythm section like watercolors, blending with echoey, delicate vocals to form a sound that would fit surprisingly well in the rotation of the Beach Boys Pandora station that plays all day over a Bluetooth speaker at the popcorn/candy store I've been working at over the summer. Now that I think about it, perhaps my newfound familiarity with the Ronnettes and the Shirelles has really turned me on to the Choo Choo Train's reverby rock 'n roll twang. Aside from the smattering of c-86 influenced tunes, there are a few outliers clumped in the middle of the record: "Unlucky" is a rickety waltz that glides on a bouncy beat and rather dark piano chords. "The Sky" borders on Doors-era psychedelia, pairing organ drones with gritty lead guitar licks. If you have to check out any cut off the album, though, let it be "Margo T and Me", an addictively catchy tune that sounds like a cross between the McTells and the Shaggs. 

8/02/2015

Review: Marcel Foley - "Songs About Life"

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Marcel Foley - Songs About Life
(Self-Released 2015)

Ever since I founded Half-Gifts at age 14, I've made a concentrated effort to scour Bandcamp and Soundcloud for the work of fellow teenage creatives - I've found that for many younger people interested in art, their formative years are fraught with nervous creativity and a raw, unbridled passion that seems to fill in the gaps left by a lack of virtuosic talent or equipment to help them polish their craft. Out of all forms of teenage art, though, I find music to be the most fascinating to study. There is a sense of urgency that almost universally can be found in the discographies of young artists, a creative force that is responsible for many of the most prolific Bandcamp pages I've seen (Kill The Intellectuals, High Sunn Alaris O'Heart). This time in a kid's life, especially in recent years, is often primarily influenced by a struggle to make the most of their childhood's last gasps while still looking towards the future - from a high schooler's perspective, it feels like one's whole livelihood hangs in the balance of even the most minute decision. When you're constantly reminded of your push to adulthood, it can make you hyper-aware of your artistic footprint on the world, goading you to fill up your iPhone's Voice Memo app with sloppy, lo-fi demos, to experiment with noise music, to try anything to join the ranks of your favorite artists someday soon. Few artists are as possessed by this spirit of teenage creativity as much as Californian journalist/producer Marcel Foley, founder of Marcel's Music Journal and a budding experimental composer. In addition to boasting an impressively diverse back catalogue of reviews, Foley also has a treasure trove of well-composed IDM and ambient music stashed away on his Bandcamp account, the sort of page that begs to be explored again and again. 

Standing out among his intimidating discography is Songs About Life, an album's worth of greyscale electronica that pairs off-kilter yet punchy rhythms with gloomy clouds of drone-y synth tones that float benignly above the tumult. Opening cut "Spiner" acts as a happy medium in between the grainy chillwave lull of Com Truise's "Brokendate" and the manic 8-bit frenzy of Flying Lotus' "Kill Your Co-Workers", lacing a squelchy beat with tinny chimes and a frission-inducing chord progression, dripping in VHS-tape grime. It's a solid demonstration of Foley's greatest strength: the ability to seamlessly combine textures to form a warm, engrossing ambience that the listener can curl up inside like a heated blanket. He pulls off this harmonic convergence most beautifully on "Flache Face", icing a layer cake of skittering percussion with glassy keyboard riffs that sound both jazzy and trancey. Most addictive, though, are the heavier moments on Songs About Life, employing a pulverizing D'n'B beat to join forces with a spooky looped pad progression to form a cut that pounds at one's consciousness like a dream-poppy jackhammer - it demands one's attention. I just started a playthrough of Pokemon X and Y the other day, and I've chosen Songs About Life to act as my soundtrack to the game. The two have proven to match quite nicely, as both the game and this album have both mastered a strange balance between coziness and up-tempo action. Definitely check this release out if you're into Flying Lotus and old Warp Records releases.

7/28/2015

Issue 14 Out Now!

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Half-Gifts issue 14 includes interviews with San Bernardino jangle-pop project Foliage and two local record stores; Sugarcube and Torn Light. This volume also includes a look at the most exciting record labels of 2015 and, as usual, plenty of album reviews. GET YOUR COPY HERE

7/21/2015

Review: Alaris O'Heart - "Self-Titled"

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Alaris O'Heart - Alaris O'Heart
(2015 Alien Tapes)

Californian bedroom-popster Alaris O'Heart has quietly released some of the most innovative and well-composed lo-fi music over the past two years, masterfully synthesizing elements of late 00s freak folk, drone and even hip-hop to extract cinematic grandeur from his humble arrangements for guitar and keyboard. His recent self-titled cassette, pressed by southwestern imprint Alien Tapes, functions as an introduction to O'Heart's discography, (maybe even as a best-of album), exhibiting the full breadth of his abilities as a composer. "Bird", for example, replicates the bustle of Philip Glass' Music In Twelve Parts - handclaps, layered vocal harmonies, percussive rhythm guitar, liquescent keyboard riffs and faint glockenspiel tones all seem to hustle separately toward their own destination, directionless, moving as pedestrians on city sidewalks rather than as one unit marching to a motorik beat. "Cough Drops" brings O'Heart's music into Flying Lotus territory, chopping up nearly concrete walls of jumbled piano tones with trill hi-hats and a hollow snare. "The End" makes for a more conventional closer to the tape - O'Heart's usual frenetically played piano notes are herded into chords atop stomps and claps - until layers of ambience consume the track, morphing into a Sigur Ros-ian cosmos of swirling beauty, capped off with a sample from Finding Nemo. All in all, Alaris O'Heart's new tape resembles Sung Tongs-era Animal Collective covering the Juno soundtrack; it's a primal take on twee-pop that provides some much-needed variety in the lo-fi pop tape scene.

7/16/2015

Review: Dean Blunt - "Babyfather"

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Dean Blunt - Babyfather
(Hyperdub 2015)

With each new Dean Blunt release, I become a bit more certain that the enigmatic, UK-based producer is the 21st century's Beat Happening. Just as Calvin Johnson's influential twee-pop trio offered a primal and lovably puerile answer to the dark post-punk sound that prevailed in the early to mid 80s, Blunt crafts a unique brand of vaporous R&B from off-kilter drum machine rhythms and woozy, repetitious samples, acting as a raw, "DIY" parallel to the "future pop" sound of SOPHIE, Holly Herndon and to a certain extent, even Death Grips. His latest output is free .zip file of 9 unreleased tracks, but by no means is Babyfather a mere addendum to last year's Black Metal. Rather, it seems to be a bit of a stylistic return to Blunt's pre-Redeemer era, with a more rhythmic, poppy twist. Save for the album's Velvet Underground-esque intro, Black Metal's minimal guitar compositions are exchanged for bleak, chopped-up samples of 80s synthpop and modern hip-hop as well as the occasional airy casio patch. As usual, Blunt's vocals are the highlight of the of the compilation, as passionate as a clumsy karaoke performance yet unmatched in their suave sense of aplomb. Accompanying them is a collection of some of his most satisfying production to date, highlights of which include "Rachel Cut", a melancholy Macintosh Plus/MF Doom hybrid, the almost arrhythmic groove of "Coco" and Babyfather's haunting, jazzy coda, "Gass". Though not rewarding a listen as Blunt's post-pop masterpiece, The Redeemer, Babyfather makes for yet another impressive addition to the sound collagist's discography.

7/11/2015

Review: Wavves x Cloud Nothings - "No Life For Me"

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Wavves x Cloud Nothings - No Life For Me
(Ghost Ramp 2015)

This surprise collaboration between two of the nation’s finest purveyors of fuzzy pop-punk is somewhat of a return to each respective project’s lo-fi roots. Wavves’ Nathan Williams lays down his signature brand of rhythm guitar, sharp and psychedelic, creating a gritty foundation for Dylan Baldi to erect his wiry lead guitar riffs on top of. Willams’ distorted six-string assault blends impeccably with Baldi’s prodigious hook-writing ability on cuts like “Come Down” and “No Life For Me”, but the album’s most successful moments stem from its two lone solo cuts. “Such a Drag” is a classic Wavves track, reveling in its own summery slacker vibes while Baldi’s hyper-melodic “Nothing Hurts” borrows from both Blink-182 and the Beach Boys to form No Life For Me’s beautiful closing cut. Those who come back for repeat listens will be rewarded, as there's much to appreciate and re-discover packed within the album's 21 minute confines - the transitions between William's blaring, jaggedy verses and Baldi's minimal, yet maximally catchy chorus on "How It's Gonna Go", the strange, diverse strata of garage rock textures that makes up "Hard To Find", the droning, Doors-ian keyboard that accompanies the intro of "Nervous" - together it makes for an album that is as lovably fractured and poppy as Of Montreal's Skeletal Lamping. 

7/06/2015

Single Review: ilill - (......)"

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ilill - (......)
(Self-Released 2015)

As the title of Ilill’s demo tape might suggest, the Japanese emo-violence outfit is a band of few words, preferring to let their instrumentation do the talking save for a few well-placed primal screams. The first of the two tracks on the demo, “She”, is a throwback to the math-y flavor of 90’s post-rock that I love to search for in boxes of used 7” records. Sludgy bass oozes like lava atop complex rhythms while hypnotic lead guitar arpeggios fill the air like noxious smoke. Just as the listener begins to succumb to the track’s narcotic drone, buzzsaw chords and a blastbeat usher in its explosive coda. “Il” maintains the level of energy carried over from the end of its predecessor, springing immediately to life on the strength of breakneck percussion and frenetically played riffs. (......) is a solid first look at ilill, giving us a look at the full breadth of the band's ability to weave interesting melodies and textures at any pace.

7/01/2015

Singles of the Year (so far) Part 4

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1. A Grave With No Name - Orion

AGWNN's gradual evolution from molten, nearly formless noise pop to lush folk-rock has been fascinating to witness over the course of the UK-based solo act's six-year lifespan. Each installment in the project's discography acts as a scrapbook photo of sorts, from the lovably primal Mountain Debris to the angst-riddled Whirpool and most recently, to Feathers Wet, Under the Moon, a mature and rather "professional LP. Trimming the tape hiss and quirky experimentation that accents his usual output, frontman Alexander Shields instead invokes an alt-country ethos that recalls Lambchop, Red House Painters and The National's early output. "Orion" is the new album's standout cut, gliding on proto-grunge fuzz, plodding bass and twangy lead guitar. Shields' ability to pen heart-wrenching hooks is on full display, and it's especially evident in the transition from verse to chorus, trading crunchy rhythm guitar for gloomy, clean arpeggios. 

6/28/2015

Singles of the Year (so far) Part 3

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4. Black Baron - Watch Me Sleep

Perfecting the formula for the sort of fuzz-laden punkgaze purveyed by bands such as Perfect Pussy and the now-defunct Blank Dogs, Black Baron's latest album, Abject Skin, is an incredibly immersive experience, allowing the listener to surf its wave of distortion rather that attacking them with a wall of sound. "Watch Me Sleep" is a great example of the Canadian quartet's ability to do so, submerging shimmering, staticy rhythm guitar in a bath of reverb, giving the whole tune a rather distant quality. It feels as if you've arrived late to one of the band's gigs and you're hearing the echoes of their performance through a thin wall. This raw sound quality adds to the intensity of Black Baron's chugging post-punk energy; all elements of the recording session are captured, down to the squeak of the bass drum kick.

3. Jamie xx/Popcaan/Young Thug - Good Times

Though it's somewhat of an outlier among the droney, introspective neo-rave cuts that make up In Colour, Jamie xx's collaboration with Young Thug Jamaican dancehall star Popcaan bolsters the brighter end of the producer's color pallet with bouyant percussion, twinkling steel drums and motown vocal samples. Young Thug contributes some of his finest bars yet to the track, his animated and rather melodic delivery pairing perfectly with the vibrant beat. Though brief, Popcaan's verse acts as an extremely danceable bridge, allowing the listener to cool down after subjecting themselves to Thugger's incendiary verses. "Good Times" could easily prove to be one 2015's catchiest pop songs.

2. Spector - All the Sad Young Men (Danny L Harle Remix)

Danny L Harle's remix of this brooding bit of gothic post-punk is perhaps the most impressive demonstration of the PC Music collective's almost supernatural ability to turn even the most melancholy song into an astoundingly catchy bubblegum-pop tune. Harle extracts Fredrick Macpherson's Ian Curtis-inspired croon from the track, pitching it high enough to become almost inhuman sounding. He then surrounds the vocals with staccato stabs of glistening synthesizer in the foreground and a few flautal riffs that only serve to add an extra kick of overwhelming sweetness to the remix. Harle's take on "All the Sad Young Men" easily rivals A.G. Cook's "Beautiful" for the title of my all-time favorite PC Music production.

6/22/2015

Singles of the Year (so far) Pt. 2

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7. Crying - Patriot

New York chiptune trio Crying has the uncanny knack for injecting incendiary potential energy that lurks beneath their twee, poptimistic 16-bit instrumentals, set to burst at just the right moments. "Patriot" is the band's most explosive track to date, draping twinkly GameBoy synths in a heavy coat of roaring guitar chords and Elaiza Santos' overly-distorted vocals. Each element of the recording vies for your attention and blends into the homogenous wall of sound. "Patriot" seizes its listener's conscious, sending it on a thrill ride's worth of corkscrews and sharp turns, making the song's three minute duration feel much more brief. Make no mistake: Crying's chiptune arrangements aren't a gimmick. Rather, they're crucial to the band's kaleidoscopic, unpredictable sound.


6. Denzel Curry - ULTIMATE

Like OG Maco, Rae Sremmurd's Slim Jimmy, Young Thug and most other major innovators in the "new wave" of hip-hop, Denzel Curry's vocal presence on any given track is unmistakable, and never has he sounded more authoritative than on "ULTIMATE". Employing a more menacing take on his delivery from 2013's "Threatz", Curry delivers his bars in the form of a guttural roar, only pausing to put careful emphasis on the connective phrases he wedges between verses. Ronny J's grimy, hypnagogic production composed of distorted percussion and a creepy steel drum melody pairs extremely well with Curry's verses, making for a track that is relentless in its aggression. "ULTIMATE" resembles a a darker, more sinister version of Rae Sremmurd, or perhaps a poppier Death Grips, and hopefully the song gives us an early look at what the landscape of underground hip-hop will look like over the next few years.


5. Elvis Depressedly - No More Sad Songs

Stripping away the warbly phase and tape crunch that characterized much of his earlier output, North Carolinian lo-fi pop purveyor Elvis Depressedly (a.k.a Mat Cothran) lays the inner clockwork of his signature sound bare. "N.M.S.S." is composed of little more than guitar apeggios, cello and snapping in place of drums. Minimal and melancholy, it revels in its own stark simplicity and culminates in a beautiful keyboard solo.

6/18/2015

Singles of the Year (So Far) Pt. 1

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10. Second Hand Flower Shop - Pump and Computer

Though Oscar Boyle's predilection for frail, musty ambience and minimalist composition is as evident as ever, the British songwriter's flavor of somber lo-fi folk, once heavily inspired by the signature psychedelic twang of the Elephant 6 Collective, is now lightly seasoned with the twinkle of midwestern emo. "Pump and Computer", the main single off of Oscar's sophomore album as Second Hand Flower Shop, is a dreamy bit of bedroom folk that floats like cirrostratus; scattered piano tones act as a thin, icy crust around translucent guitar pluckings. There's a beautiful lack of form on display here. There's no percussive rhythm to hold the tune together, letting the guitar amble aimlessly while improvised piano leads float and dance like specks of dust, illuminated by morning sun between venetian blinds. Boyle's lyrics are more spoken than sung at times, especially near the song's chaotic coda, similar to the bedroom-orchestral closing section of Julia Brown's "I Was My Own Favorite TV Show".

9. Marching Church - King of Song

Robed in ego and opulence, Elias Ronnenfelt rises from his throne to a Bowie-esque fanfare of howling saxophone and a funky new-wave rhythm section. Brandishing his microphone as a royal scepter, he drunkenly struts back and forth across the great hall, singing his own praises, detailing his own rise to power, bellowing and moaning, and basking in his own glory. Elias' work as Marching Church is a stark contrast to the dark, sparse arrangements of War or the sinewy post-punk charge of his better-known project, Iceage, and it's a welcome one. Under the new name, he unleashes his inner animal spirit, not creating a character for himself, but unearthing an extravagant, slightly villainous alter ego.


8. 813 - Damn Yeah

Speaking of extravagance, Russian future-pop producer 813 treats his recent single as an ice cream sundae constructed by an elementary school-er, drowning his already sugary instrumentations in syrupy, saccharine toppings and sauces. Ultra-poppy synth stabs are sprinkled with bell-like leads and choppy, kawaii vocal samples, making for a pastel-toned sensory overload that resembles a trap-influenced carousel calliope. PC Music just might have some competition.