Review: Naps - "Happy All The Time Forever Always"

Naps - Happy All The Time Forever Always
(Bridgetown Records 2016)

Save for a basement show, the Apple Store's playlist full of Plasticine chillwave or an unobtrusive stock tune layered beneath a dish detergent commercial, it's rare to interact with music in a way that doesn't envelop its listener in a tight, impenetrable plane of isolation. A car radio's speaker system creates a literal wall of sound on wheels that trembles at the force of its own bass pulse - a good pair of earbuds constricts its wearer's sense of sound to the inside of their head, as if each rubber-tipped bulb were plugged directly into consciousness itself. As important as physical space is to the active listening experience, it is a dimension of sound not visited as often as it should be, perhaps only considered when sending a lead guitar riff into the left speaker to widen the mix of a jangle-pop song. 

That's what makes Naps' new tape on Bridgetown Records so disorienting, so alien, despite the whispery minimalism of the compositions it houses. Glassy synth tones jump from bud to bud like little bolts of static shock tumbling through a laundry bin full of socks. Asthmatic peals of distortion are the distant grunts of a dial-up modem waking from sleep. Happy All The Time Forever Always feels like a trek through a wasteland inhabited only by obsolete consumer electronics, the sound of their whirring gears and tinny dial tones filling the desert air like the twittering of birds or the cries of nearby Pokemon. This cozy sense of digital desolation is actually quite reminiscent of Aphex Twin's and Squarepusher's contributions to the Marie Antoinette soundtrack - a meditiative throwback to IDM ambience, slap-chopped and scattered through all 360 degrees of one's field of hearing. Naps' music is understated, yet adventurous and exciting - it's a bubble of retro electronic dreaminess that is both translucent and impassable. 


Review: James Ferraro - "Human Story 3"

James Ferraro - Human Story 3

If Eno composed Music for Airports, then Los Angeles-based artist James Ferraro may well have penned the muzak that billows through Lego Island's heliport. Skimming the kitschier smooth-jazz elements off the foam of his signature hynagogic pop brew, Ferraro's latest consumer-dystopian soundscape looks to the symphony rather than elevator interiors or unexplored crannies of
Soundcloud for aesthetic inspiration; his cinematic score for Human Story 3 evokes the populist grandeur of Copland, Glassworks' futurist tumult and perhaps most notably, the sort of canned MIDI charm that soundtracked the CD-ROM copy of Reader Rabbit that I used to play on the library computer in grade school.

Opening movement "Ten Songs For Humanity" feels like a spiritual successor to Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man": a bombastic humanist statement smuggled into the post-human world, meant to be streamed and enjoyed from the comfort of a comment section. There are no musicians on the stage, no bodies in the seats - to listen through a pair of earbuds is to be in direct communion with the the composer himself, the distraction of others' presences eliminated. It is an intimate void. The fleshiest entities housed within Human Story are its ageless, sexless voices that resemble the fractured documentary interview clips that litter Reich's and Korot's Dolly - Ferraro's pitch-shifted vocals don't so much set a narrative for his piece as they do act as a means of conversation with the audience. Ferraro urges "millenials and boomers" alike to look beyond hyper-individualization via smartphone innovation and highly customize-able latte purchases as a means of progress, and to redirect such technological advancements towards the public sphere. The Human Story ahead is a personal struggle between technology and a sense of self, an exploration of the final frontier beyond space itself and into the intangible nuances of human interaction.

It's the 21st century's answer to Vangelis' space-age synth tapestries - science fiction music that's as ambient as it is brimming with potential energy. Trembling ripples of Hans Zimmer tension pool beneath new age piano condensation on "GPS and Cognition"; "Anthropoceniac" is an ant farm full of scuttling Rococo flute riffs that vaguely remind me of those that inhabit "Peter and the Wolf"; community college commercial minimalism pervades all. Whether an alternate universe counterpart to the final installment of Toy Story or the third version of a large scale MMORPG, Human Story 3 is an excitingly uncertain vision for the future that just so happens to make for a surprisingly pleasant listen.


Review: Kodiak Fur - "A Cool Machine"

Kodiak Fur - A Cool Machine
(2016 Self-Released)

If Chance The Rapper's Coloring Book is evidence of a shift towards gospel-influenced meta-modernist aesthetics in hip-hop, the latest 4-track EP by Miami's Kodiak Fur could be considered a similar omen of forthcoming sincerity in synth pop. A Cool Machine finds the quartet harvesting the ripest fruits from late aughts chillwave acts like Com Truise and Small Black, future funk's waviest timbral offerings and vaporwave's retro-futurist appropriation of elevator music tropes: the resulting bumper crop of influence is a polished retrospective of buzz-band era indie electronic acts stripped of their polaroid-filtered irony. 

The record's timeless sense of ambiguity is conveyed most effectively via "Right Now", equally evoking the pop melancholia of Pet Shop Boys, Washed Out's sultry wisps of silicone ambience and the occasional splash of smooth jazz riffage that might have frosted a late 90's INOJ single. The viscous blend of R+B dreaminess is solidified by a chunky bassline that wouldn't feel out of place on a DJ Mustard production, adding a bonus fourth panel to the tune's decade-spanning triptych of inspiration. "Run The Night", co-produced by fellow Floridian SKUFL, acts as the bombastic antithesis to "Right Now", layering spacey melodic pyrotechnics across the pitch darkness of the tune's consumptive bass while Albert Vargas' cozily muffled vocals pass by traffic heard through your bedroom window before drifting to sleep. It's the sound of distant combustion, as explosive as an M83 anthem,and as powerfully gloomy as a Travis Scott banger. A Cool Machine covers ambitious territory with few gimmicks employed; it's effortlessly cool, immediately resonant.


Review: Peaches Davenport - "The Ducks (A Snake In The Grass)

Peaches Davenport - The Ducks (A Snake In The Grass)
(Self-Released 2016)

Michigan's Peaches Davenport has proved a fixture on this blog since the 2014 release of THANK YOU JOB SQUAD - a patchwork effort of short, lo-fi vignettes ranging from itchy blankets of musique-concrete to the Elephant 6-inspired baroque pop of "Dog Hair Sweatpants", which topped my list of the year's best singles. The record was unstably dense, an infinite point of noise and compact melody threatening to implode, its glassy keyboard chords filling mixes like smoke rising to a ceiling while percussion clattered like dropped boxes of silverware. JOB SQUAD was dangerous, flammable and painfully pretty. 

Davenport's chosen successor to TYJS, titled The Ducks, is shockingly spacious in comparison, a pastoral landscape dotted with animal noises and delicate folk orchestration that forms a retroactive missing link between The Beach Boys' SMiLE Sessions and Animal Collective's Sung Tongs. "Frankie's Farm" acts as this album's version "Dog Hair Sweatpants", a frenetically played cut in the vein of Beirut around which the rest of the record orbits. Staccato staples of twangy acoustic guitar are fired into an overgrowth of poly-rhythmic percussion hammered out on laundry bins. Wordless vocal harmonies snake through the air like vines. It's a humid conservatory of abstract folk.

"Black Black Moon" is The Ducks' relatively conventional outlier. Peaches' vocals, (usually spookily similar to those of Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes), are pitched up to a phantasmically high octave, forming the eerie twee atmosphere that pervades much of Alex G's discography. It's like a haunted construction site, the whispers of this ghost choir echoing against a steely scaffold of acoustic fingerpicking that slowly crumbles into an outro of ambient ruins. Closing tune "Lemon Pink Bayou" might be the release's best, gloomily draping a veil of mandolin atop an amorphous piece for cello composed by Clark Pang. There's a cinematic sense of sense of despair that makes the song feel like a cliffhanger ending, leaving me wanting for yet another installment in the Peaches Davenport filmography. The Ducks is a polished follow-up to THANK YOU JOB SQUAD that holds firm to the project's fauvist pop ethos: whatever the opposite of a sophomore slump is, this is it.


Review: Lung - "Bottom of the Barrel"

Lung - Bottom of the Barrel
(Self-Released 2016)

I've always found bowed string instruments to be a welcome and underused supplement to an otherwise traditional punk roster of noisemakers: there's the gloomy fusion of mumbled basslines and fiddle wheeze on New Bloods' lone Kill Rock Stars effort The Secret Life, Los Campesinos' orchestral twee-pop squeals and the ectoplasmic melodies that float through Tattle Tale's "Glass Vase Cello Case". As much of a pleasant surprise the occasional viola riff can prove in such a context, it proves rarer that entire punk outfits are built entirely on a bowed foundation - Cincinnati-based duo Lung is a band that just does that: their debut demo tape, Bottom Of The Barrel, grates sandpaper drones of heavily distorted electric cello against a spare grindstone of motorik patterns and well-timed blast beats. Kate Wakefield's frenetic arrangements form bassy sheets of no-wave noise, filling out their soundscape with impressive depth despite their lack of instrumental support. The demo's title tune conflates a fragile weft of 50's doo-wop harmonies with a volcanic layer of sludgy bass tones that seem to scuffle with their adjacent bursts of percussion that accelerate and stop at will, It refuses to let its listener settle into any sort of groove, texturally, emotionally or rhythmically, and instead opts to send them rolling down a mound of sonic bricolage. It's by no means a comfortable listen, but it's an overwhelmingly exciting and intense collection of ideas hurled at the microphone at once. Equally energizing is closing cut "Peaches", a more straightforward hardcore track built upon sinuous chords and equally dizzying vocals. Lung's demo tape is fast-paced, disorienting and original - everything a good DIY punk record should be.


Review: Underwater Escape From The Black Hole - "Precognition"

Underwater Escape From The Black Hole - Precognition
(Hacktivism 2016)

For an EP that swaps genres more often that it changes chords, Precognition is an intensely focused effort: a dense mass of powdery ambience that seems to comprise the whole gamut of futurist dream-pop aesthetics, sometimes dystopian, sometimes hopeful. UEFTBH opens the tape with a 3 minute venture into Animal Collective's neo-tribalist vision, pressing a thin, absorbent layer of foamy synthesizer against a puddle of spilled reverb - "Highway" is painted the bruised purple that forms beneath applied pressure on a Tamagotchi's LCD screen, a warbling wilderness of 8-bit chirps and silicone foliage. It's one part "My Girls", one part Music For Airports. "Begin" builds its brutalist structure upon a foundation vocal loop reminiscent of vaporwave's Gregorian epimone, its robotic imperative draped in feathery black metal guitaristy and trip-hop percussion. 

One can even recognize the sort of neo-retro timbres employed by Com Truise on standout cut "Altered Landscape", slamming Chapterhouse-esque shoegazery against a textureless PVC pipe bassline. Precognition lies somewhere between a late 80s sci-fi movie's intro music and its chase scene score - it's as soothing as it is energizing, as spacious as it is oppressive.


Review: Gang Wizard - "Now Departing Critter Country"

Gang Wizard - Now Departing Critter Country
(Unread Records and Tapes 2016)

Gang Wizard's latest cassette release, (or anything dropped on Pittsburgh's Unread Records and Tapes imprint for that matter), is more an archive than an album - it's a Xeroxed inventory of avant-rock meditations, clipped tape loops and the occasional splinter of proto-grunge griminess. Long Beach's 20-year-old improv collective Gang Wizard boasts a discography of 40+ releases, each of which feels like a scanned PDF file of a W-2 form or a journal article hiding in some university database - tracks are organized in a stoic, seemingly random fashion. 10 second interludes flank 10 minute jams and volumes fluctuate enough to keep my index finger close enough to my laptop's volume control to prevent a jump scare or small-scale heart attack. Gang Wizard's tapes are cryptic and adventurous little collections of data that are meant for evaluating and sorting through - as much of the fun lies in the process of listening as in the listening itself.

Their latest output, Now Departing Critter Country, occupies the same sort of timbral territory as Sonic Youth's Confusion Is Sex or one of Racoo-oo-oon's sorely-overlooked tapes on Night People Records, dropping instant mashed potato flakes of chiming lead guitar atop needle-like feedback squeals and ominous bass plods. "Aquire" oozes with tension-inducing campiness, its frantically-mashed keyboard melodies dotting a canvas splashed with marching band percussion and grating chords. The minute-long "Drought Gorge" is the record's strongest cut, pairing bluesy riffs with a Pavement-esque backing track, producing the extemporaneous charm of an H-Street video soundtrack. "Stark Match" creates a dark nightscape tinged with bell-like tones, setting up for closing tune "Mining Droid", a nearly half hour slab of free jazz crunchiness.

Now Departing Critter Country is an excellent fusion of the sinister atonality of Hanson Records and Dinosaur Jr's lick-laden fuzz-punk assault - though it borrows heavily from late 80s outlier outfits, it doesn't seem to quite resemble music from any time period, or this earth even. Gang Wizard resides on its own screenprinted plane.


Review: Autumns - "Das Nichts"

Autumns - Das Nichts
(2016 Clan Destine Records)

To trace Autumns' prolific, primarily cassette-based discography is to plummet into a sonic abyss. The Irish solo outfit's crepuscular latest effort - appropriately titled Das Nichts (The Nothingness) - is a seemingly endless Krautrock journey through a Wonka-esque tunnel of proto-industrial feedback. It's a stark contrast to the sloppy surf-poptimism of 2013's debut cassingle Keep On Singing: an eyeliner-smeared sophomore yearbook photo next to its toothy 6th grade counterpart. Frontman and sole project member Christian Donaghy is not shy about flaunting his avant-nihilist attitude, opening Das Nichts with a twenty-minute fuzz-rock jam shrouded in icy distortion and viscous reverb. An unchanging loop of automaton drum machine chops bars of dissonant guitaristry into individually wrapped noise slabs while Donaghy slips atonal yawps and howls through the holes of the track's chainlink uniformity. It's early shoegaze tinted with Factory Records abrasion and sifted through a retro-house house, not far removed the pulsating goth grooves of The Soft Moon. "Fed by Dominance" pairs its phase-shifting beat with a recurring tone that resembles a chirping bird - an outlier image among whirring, nocturnal synths that adds to the record's unnerving atmosphere. 

Das Nichts is a fresh take on classic punk and noise tropes that seems as suited for the dancefloor as it does the basement show - though it's quite an imposing listen, an open mind and a little patience should allow access to its alluring darkwave aesthetic. Autumns' new sound isn't for everyone, but it is unique and bold enough to become the obsession of a select few. 


Review: Chance The Rapper - "Coloring Book"

Chance the Rapper - Coloring Book
(2016 Self-Released)

I'd admittedly never paid much mind to Chance's output until the release of his collaborative mixtape with Lil B, Free. Recorded in a single, entirely improvised take, the 36-minute effort was endearingly sloppy, yet oddly introspective. Between corny one-liners and the occasional spots of accidental dead air surfaced the sort of fossilized memories and images that can only excavated by breaking ground in the subconscious: the surreality of grocery shopping as a minor celebrity, Chicago's public libraries and a recurring association between two Jordans (Michael and the Middle Eastern River). The tape was littered with the sort of esoterica that only improv can extract from one's most guarded crannies of their psyche - all the unbridled fun of an early Animal Collective live session plus the sort of off-the-wall self-referential humor that Lil B can effortlessly sprinkle into a project. 

In retrospect, Free feels like a preamble to CtR's latest mixtape, Coloring Book, a much more focused and polished venture that draws material from its predecessor's quarries of inspiration. More specifically, the passing references to Bible verses and Christianity are blended into a smoothie of pop-positivity without a trace of irony - the resulting beverage is an unflinchingly saccharine-yet-strange carton full of the sort of neo-sincere art David Foster Wallace predicted might crop up in direct response to the metareferential sarcasm that has felt omnipresent in recent years, especially in the form of abstract instagram memes and Adult Swim shows that are indecipherable to the uninitiated. Rather than cloak himself in the stoic monochrome many artists have opted for since circa 2014, Chance risks eyerolls posing beneath a peach-colored sunset on Coloring Book's digital cover art while flanking his half-rapped-half-sung verses with old-school gospel trimmings: choirs, trumpets, spoken word testimonials and all. 

Coloring Book opens in full bombast with "All We Got", featuring the Chicago Children's Choir and a cyborgian Kanye West hook that borders on glossolalia - Chance's flow is a frantic string of declarations: "I do not talk to the serpent / that's a holistic discernment" he shouts, before restating his intentions in more elementary terms (I might give Satan a swirlie). Mr West is just one of a few A-list features that appears in Coloring Book's constellatory credits list - Future, T-Pain and blog-favorite Lil Yachty appear to "testify" to the self-actualization of artistic collaboration over the course of the record, each adopting a persona much more optimistic than usual to match Chance's infectious joy. 

The mixtape's most satisfying moments are its cheesiest - the jazzy "Blessings" features a sound effects re-enactment of the fall of Jericho, references to Dragonball Z and minister/gospel singer Byron Cage. It's ultra poppy and a tad gimmicky, yet entirely lovable due to its unapologetic sincerity. "Angels" is a soul-tinged spin on the Chicago-based "bop" music of Sicko Mobb and DLow that's as danceable as it is cerebral. "How Great", featuring a solo performance by Chance's cousin Nicole, even breaks out the hymnal to paint Coloring Book's prettiest soundscape. 

Chance's new mixtape is perhaps the year's most innovative and cohesive release to date, striding confidently where Kanye and ASAP Ferg mis-stepped on their way to crafting "gospel hip-hop" records. Coloring Book's optimism is untouchable. It takes a bold sonic and lyrical stance without raising a sardonic shield to deflect potential groans and dismissals. Perhaps this album will pave the way for future meta-modernistic music; perhaps it will be remembered as a screwball outlier. Either way, Coloring Book already feels like a benchmark for hip-hop post-2k15 and a record that demands multiple visits to genius.com - it's addictively uplifting.


Review: Lobby Boys - "Changes"

Lobby Boys - Changes
(2016 Nervi Cani)

Equally as post-impressionist as they are post-punk, Italy's Lobby Boys smear their canvas of reverb with pointillist riffs and nebulous splashes of feedback bathed in fauvist radiance. Frontman Omar Aleotti is incredibly gifted at weaving nubbly neo-c86 textures that recall early 2010s acts like The Vivian Girls and The Art Museums - tinny drum machines take needle-like jabs at sheets of woolen chords dotted by sparkling twangs of lead guitar. "Changes" exchanges Aleotti's cirrus wisps of distorted vocals for a wordless precipitation of melody as benign and cozy as a warm sprinkle of rain. "Emily" is the muggy evaporation of this summer shower, a gloom-addled wall of billowing fuzz hovering above an off-kilter beat. Changes is a pleasant return to the nu-gaze formlessness of Wavves and Beach Fossils that's worth a late night spin. 


Single Review: Pink Banana Clip - "Lude Interlude"

Pink Banana Clip - 'Lude Interlude
(Night Flight 2016)

There are few compositions that can claim the intimacy and creative tension of a loop pedal improvisation - it is to lock one's self within the confines of a couple measures, slowly filling the room with a single droning chord and clipped trellises of melody. It's a sort of juxtaposition of ephemerality and permanence - the track itself records the specific, temporary feeling of its genesis, but posting it to Bandcamp makes it as indelible as the internet itself. It's a sedimentary slab of sounds, each layer soon overtaken by its successor yet still always present: a single mistake or sour note can ruin the loop strata. Using a loop pedal is like writing in haiku - it forces its user to be frugal with syllables, musical or verbal, and to hone in on the magic of the moment.

Pink Banana Clip's Bandcamp is a trading-card binder whose pocketed pages house a collection of such moments - the Virginian artist's latest addition to their deck is a 5 minute soundscape for the summer, a secluded greenhouse whose first movement drips with verdant keyboard strings and tropical beads of glockenspiel sweat. Three resonant piano notes act as the improvisation's gravitational focal point - they are distant churchbells calling to the listener, who seems to ignore their steady chime. The card's flip side acts as movement #1's late night counterpart, a feeling of safety and warmth as sinister thunder rumbles ominously in the background.

'Lude Interlude is an art installation you might stumble into while ambling through Bandcamp - it is a room you will visit briefly and may never return to, but the time you spend within its confines is arresting, painting its landscape around you. Pink Banana Clip invites you to share a memory: click "play" to enter their conscious.


Review: Ricky Mirage - "Manic Romantic"

ricky mirage - manic romantic
(2016 Self-Released)

Flying in the face of power-pop deconstructionists like Real Estate and, more recently, Wild Nothing, Chicago's Ricky Mirage opts for historical accuracy rather than trans-generational integration in his approach to the paisley-patterned overcast atmosphere of Todd Rundgren's early works. Brusque riffs of bluesy guitar interrupt the honeyglazed breakfast cereal hooks of "When You're Free", dissonant lead squalls and vaseline globs of AM radio organ coat "Brittle Trees" and the breezy "All I Need" is spurred to action by an unshakably funky rhythm section. Manic Romantic is Ducktails with extra oomph, Of Montreal sans its thesaurus-powered pretension - instead it seems thoroughly uninterested in pigeonholes or genre conventions, nearly perfectly replicating the velvet-lined tunecraft of the early seventies while sneakily smuggling more contemporary influence behind his veil of antiquity: opener "The Joy Of Cut Flowers" injects some subtle chillwave into its psychedelic orchestration as its 808s and glassy synth pads join the fray. "Have You Thought About Me Lately?" even opens with a brief snippet of AnCo-tinged electronica.

What makes Manic Romantic so satisfying, though, isn't just its retro aesthetic, but its crisp production and attention to detail. The vocal harmonies are nearly as warm as those of The Beach Boys' Smile-era and the compositions are intensely layered and complex, packed with hooks, addictive melodies and swatches of groovy, tie-dyed ambience. Though it doesn't break much new ground, Ricky Mirage's new album is a timbrally diverse feast for the ears and refreshingly sincere throwback to jangle-pop and soft rock alike.


Review: Henrik the Artist - "Friendship"

Henrik The Artist - Friendship
(2016 Activia Benz)

Never before has electronic music curled up so cozily, so confidently in the silicone depths of Uncanny Valley - Henrik The Artist's debut EP is a maximalist comprisal of long-discarded pop tropes, as hospitable to its listener as an old friend but revealed to be eerily artificial under closer scrutiny, covered in pore-less, rubbery skin. Henrik's the convincingly-built android in your future grandkid's 4th grade class, inviting the gang over for pizza bagels and video games in attempt to better assimilate into human culture.

The six tracks on Friendship are so, sleek, flawlessly produced and mind-bendingly catchy that it's hard not to feel a sense of traitorous guilt in enjoying them - human art is meant to conceal beauty in its flaws, knitting allure into tape hiss or cramming force into a distorted bassline. Henrik's music is scrubbed free of such blemishes - the only external flaw we can latch onto for reference is, ironically, Friendship's eerily transhuman perfection.  Malleable limbs of late 80s smooth jazz melody (à la The Rippingtons) dodge an industrial lattice of bubblegum percussion on rollercoaster buildups to gummy, spring-loaded drops that somehow drip with aggression without employing a single fragment of noise or friction - break down early 00s Eurodance to its most basic components, dye it with the cloyingly commercial pallet of festival EDM, coat it in a Pet Shop Boys laquer and you've re-created Henrik's sense of pop ethos. Maybe sprinkle some Aphex Twin mystique on top for increased accuracy. 

Revelling in exaggeration, Friendship is a bold work of sincerity: pretension-free art music that prides itself in accessibility. It's the most fun release of the year thus far, and likely 2016's most unappreciatedly surreal works. Relinquish your human sensibilities and enter the euphoric void.


Review: Airport - "Emily"

Airport - Emily
(2016 Memory No. 36 Recordings)

In the year 20XX, cinemas have been all but abandoned - new blockbuster films are made immediately available via Google's new subscription-based streaming platform for VR headset. Advanced soundproofing technology and 360° panoramic cameras now allow for a completely immersive theatrical experience. From the comfort of one's own home to the backseat of a minivan, those fortunate enough to own an Airport™ VR system can experience the thrill of total isolation - you slide the matte grey goggles over your brow, sending your viewing frustum into a state of total eclipse and force the silicone, anthill buds into their respective ear canals. You become increasingly aware of your breathing and heartbeat, your senses dulled. It's your thirteenth birthday and your first time strapping the thing on since carefully removing its twist ties and lifting it from its white plastic casing. 

Your index digit wanders your temple in search of a power button, eventually finding an indent on the Airport's™ surprisingly warm surface. Its innards begin to purr, sending friendly shivers through your whole body - the same finger edges toward the volume control to prevent an accidental jump scare. Luckily, the system eases into its main menu gradually, fading into a Nintendo-esque lobby housing grey, rounded cubes, stacked in rows and columns, bearing vague, geometric symbols. Dissonant sitar drones seem to pass by like extraterrestrial debris entering an orbit about your head. Using the control pad implanted on the headset's top left shoulder, you respond to a series of popups' interrogation: email, passcode, the usual. As your head turns, the questions' respective windows move with your field of vision, the sterile waiting room behind it slightly blurred.

Questions answered, you navigate through the Airport's™ digital streaming library until you reach Emily - you highlight the selection with your cursor, click and watch the film's thumbnail, a woman holding a wineglass behind a curtain of sunrise, slowly disintegrate in its state of digital solvency. For a few short seconds, all is black, as empty and warm as the center of a candle's flame. As soon as your eyes' rods and cones can adjust to the darkness, a slightly pungent peal of choral synth ushers in a brilliant burst of light, blasted through a cloudless atmosphere, ricocheting off the chrome construction of an imagined future - (the future of Jetsons utopias, of young adult fiction dystopias, of first person shooters: bustling, clean and sinister). Goliath robots stomp through city streets, hovering vehicles pass overhead, all is in a constant state of flux. Steel clashes against steel, unseen aircraft take off in the distance - Emily is the Futurist vision of Luigi Russolo set to the urgent, orchestral grandiosity of a Michael Bay trailer.


There's something about stepping into a simulation that makes it a childhood experience more exhilarating than any other - we feel small, but in control of our domain in Disney World; we can spend hours tweaking created characters in a video game; we tremble in awe while skirting past the shark tank at the aquarium. Airport's sophomore project, Emily, is the spirit of the simulation captured in pill form, forced down the throat of the the listener. Anthemic undulations of Spielbergian synthesizer are malleable jelly, molded by their surrounding tempest of stock sound effects - screeches, blasts and industrial din. The keening cries of keyboard are those of our consciousness exposed to this peephole glimpse of a reality just beyond it. Channeling emotive force I can't quite comprehend, Emily feels like a trailer for a coming apocalypse, a singularity of militarized beauty. This is music to charge into battle to, to reunite parent and child to, to detonate the enemy spacecraft to, to eat popcorn and don 3D glasses to...


Retrospective: Anything Box - "Peace"

Anything Box - Peace
(Sire, 1990)

Peace is a double anachronism - though quietly released in 1990 by a New Jerseyan trio of synth-pop aficionados, the record's echoing snares, tinny melodies and faux-British accents place it stylistically between the vibrancy of New Wave and the dark, automaton groove of Depeche Mode. Anything Box is an eerily accurate replica of its New Romantic forebears, a noirish fish in the tattered grunge waters of its own time, but ahead of the slew of Reagan-era revivalists that have spawned from labels like Captured Tracks and Sacred Bones over the past six years. It's this timelessly kitschy appeal that makes the outfit's music so lovable, so immediate - I heard Peace for the first time browsing the shelves of Sugarcube Records in Covington and fell in post-punk love at first chord. Though the record was unfortunately not for sale, I've spent the past 24 hours scouring YouTube for scraps of Anything Box's discography, uncovering nothing but pop perfection. 

In a way, Peace is a skeletal synth-pop simulacrum, extracting the essential building blocks of 80s pop and trimming the fat. The instrumental lattice of "When We Lie" is composed of little more than a plodding bassline and watery riffs sprinkled over a four-on-the-floor beat - structurally, it's nothing particularly groundbreaking, yet its melodic prudence and careful blend of spacey textures (which are strangely similar to those employed on recent Yung Lean efforts) make it minimally sublime. Perhaps Anything Box is to the 80s what PC Music's AG Cook is to the 00s - a deconstruction of pop tropes reconfigured into Rothko-esque sheets of color. Frontman Claude Strillo even channels Morrissey's signature melodramatic vocal delivery into a gloomy ballad reminiscent of The Cure circa Head On The Door on "Carmen", a cut that's addictively cheesy: it toes the line between sincerity and parody while remaining undeniably catchy.

Out of place today and even more so in its own time, Anything Box's discography is a misfit collection of elegant gloom that's criminally overlooked - post-John Hughes pop that floats idly in its own universe.