Institute - Salt
(Sacred Bones 2014)
Though recent months have seen the New York label wading into safer sonic territories, New York-based post-punk purveyors Sacred Bones seem to be on the return to their former innovative stride. The close of 2014 promises new efforts by power electronics outfit Pharmakon and Sean Ragon's aggressive neofolk outfit Cult of Youth. Perhaps the best new addition to the label's illustrious discography is Salt, the first ever EP release by Texan art-punk unit Institute. Rooted in hardcore and tinged with gothic gloom, the band's dark punk energy recalls Skeletal Family and Soft Kill. The record's title cut is a gorgeously sour blend of chunky bass and tinny lead guitar. Moses Brown barks his vocals indecipherably, not unlike Teenage Panzerkorp's Bunker Wolf, adding to the track's droning potency. "Familiar Intensity" is another gem, its spooky melody carried by twin lead guitars. Listen to "Salt" below.
Bloomshock - Entheogen
Since late 2013, New Jersey based one-man-band Bloomshock has published a staggering total of 52 releases, ten of them full-length albums. Out of all current acts emulating the shambolic sound of early 90’s DIY, Bloomshock’s impression is easily the most accurate, employing a blunt, fuzzy guitar tone and an appreciation for early rock ‘n roll riffage to drive his prolific output. Entheogen is the best of his recent output of singles, its title track a twangy, infectious tune that recalls the dulcet pop energy of early twee. Imagine some c86 shimmer blended into Sebadoh's lo-fi snarl. It’s accompanied by two b-sides: a surfy instrumental jam that channels Dinosaur Jr’s “The Lung” and a cover of barlow*’s fuzz-gaze hit “In The Air”. Check it out below.
Mormon Toasterhead - Memory / Monument
(Rok Lok 2014)
Ben Klawans' prolific output under the pseudonym Mormon Toasterhead has been marked by nothing if not its atomospheric minimalism. His lyrics are vague and surrealist, often unsettling against sparse instrumentation, suspended in reverb like canned fruit in its own syrup. Unlike a lot of lo-fi music being released these days, it's not so much nostalgic as it is introspective. Klawans' music puts me in a droney, meditative state that feels transcendent and often spooky. It would only make sense to me that he'd dabble in ambient music. Monument / Memory is the second Toasterhead tape release to be composed entirely of instrumentals, and it's perhaps his most engaging work to date.
"Happy day...happy day...happy day, sweet...heart" drones the sampled voice that opens Memory, the first of the two cassettes that make up this double album. It rests in the "uncanny valley" between sounding either sounding robotic or human, reminding me of the sort of voice that might narrate the Sesame Street books on tape I listened to growing up, cheerful, soothing, but ultimately lifeless. It's accompanied by pentatonic, harp-like keyboard, wrapped in a misty drone, squeaky like a kettle that has come to boil. Much of the music on this half of the release is fragile and charming, with the tinny beauty of a music box's chime, or the score to a Pokemon title released on Game Boy Advance. A few weightier exceptions do exist, though. "White Rose" is a swirling piece of textureless ambience, watery synth pulses that could soundtrack the jellyfish room of an aquarium.
Monument opens in a more somber state with "Summer Rainstorm and I Lost My Toy Soldier". It's a bleak piece for solo piano, which sort of reminds me of the piano score that capped of the series finale Hey Arnold!. It's sad, chilling, and simple, fulfilling the Rok Lok Records formula perfectly. As I've stated many times before, Rok Lok does an impeccable job of keeping a uniform aesthetic throughout their release catalog, and Memory / Monument fits right in among ambient masterpieces like the Stars are Insane/Monogamy split or Love Letter's Gentle Memories. Also, the double album's packaging is beautiful, especially Monument's side, mimicking a retro wallpaper pattern. Mormon Toasterhead's new release will help enhance whatever emotion you're feeling at the time, and will stick with you long after the tape pops out of the deck.
Spencer Radcliffe/RL Kelly - Brown Horse
(Orchid Tapes 2014)
There's a cozy innocence that flows throughout Brown Horse, the split LP featuring lo-fi singer-songwriters Spencer Radcliffe and RL Kelly, enveloping the listener like a heavy blanket. It's the sort of innocence that's saddening, the kind you encounter when you read the books or watch the television shows you enjoyed in kindergarten, making you feel guilty and a little depressed for ever having allowed yourself to grow up. The raw, twee purity delivered on either side of the tape hit hard on an emotional level, perhaps without even trying to.
Radcliffe's side opens with "Green Things". The track starts off minimally, droning keyboard accompanying fingerpicked acoustic guitar, but these two elements, rather somber in nature, slowly build up to a striking crescendo, pluckings giving way to percussive strums and keyboard replaced by a medieval-sounding flute, which carries the song's melody. Moments like these are many on Radcliffe's half of the album, quiet and restrained escalations that give way to Dionysian appeals to emotion, often in the form of unbridled joy Each song contains just one or maybe two verses and a single chorus, following a songwriting structure often employed by post-rock bands. The mumbly, awkward vibe that opens "Tattoo" gradually glues itself together into an infectious chorus, cheery synths complimenting the staidly delivered mantra of "Saw your dad's yellow cupholder / when we're 25 years older / meet me in the parking lot / we'll hand it off", which is phrased like a jumprope rhyme. My favorite cut off the side is its keyboard-driven outlier, "My Song", a spoken-word tune that borders on twee hip-hop.
RL Kelly's half of the tape is more accessible, applying a more traditional structure to her craft, but losing no ground when it comes to beauty. Each track is composed of carefully layered acoustic guitar against often folky vocal harmonies. The twangy guitar parts that drive "Again" remind me of the sort of nuanced indie-rock being released by Up Records in the early 90s. "Wake Up" is my choice for the most satisfying song of the side, a minimal and tender tune in the form of words of encouragement to a younger kid who's been bullied by his classmates. Both Radcliffe and Kelly deliver their own take on lo-fi twee on Brown Horse, an effort that's reminiscent of both Belle and Sebastian and Built to Spill. If you dig warm, nostalgic vibes and fuzzy guitar-pop, this tape is your dream come true.
Nadnerb/Cool Dad - Sweet Boys 2014
"The greatest of statements is the understatement" is an aphorism I've often applied to my favorite lo-fi records, and it's an especially adept way of summing up the vibe of this particular split. Each of the Connecticut-based solo acts that share their space on Sweet Boys 2014 brings their own blend of minimalist garage rock to the table, but there's a single trait that bonds them together: simplicity. The whole album is brief, catchy and modest and no song overstays it welcome. Nadnerb and Cool Dad are frugal with their riffs, working each one to its full potential before the song's end. Cool Dad occupies the small overlap in the map of the lo-fi universe that houses the influence of Pavement and Blank Dogs. The power chords are guttural and chunky, complimenting wiry and slightly sour guitar leads. It's twee-pop at heart, but isn't afraid to employ a bit of punk-rock bite to get its point across. Nardnerb's aesthetic is a bit grungier, piling on the treble in the Dinosaur Jr-esque "Spells". "Slack Fresh" is a groovy surf-pop jam that wobbles and warbles like a Ducktails tune. Sweet Boys is chock-full of bummer-pop melancholia to get you through your autumn.
Brianna Kelly – Return to Black Cotton Mountain
Guest Review by Timothy "Treebeard" Adams
It's been said that Jesus has the best folk artists. This nine-track, mostly instrumental album is strong support for that statement. Hailing from the hollers of Northern Kentucky, but living in Cincinnati, Brianna Kelly has gained fans with her ethereal, lo-fi traditional folk with some tinges of bluegrass. This album (as of the writing of this review, only available only as “pay-what-you-want”) is beautiful, honest, life-affirming, and hits on a spiritual level that few artists do. Which includes that of times of pain and disillusionment along the journey, but without forsaking the path. I've spent a great deal of time listening to this album and consider it to be one of the best of the year. Skillful playing and songwriting, emotional honesty, and a lack of pretension are abundant. Even those with short attention spans won't find themselves skipping the instrumental tracks, which make sense in context and are very powerful. If you're someone who has been looking for spiritual music that's willing to express times where you just can't pray, then you need this. You absolutely need this. Stop what doing and download it. Now.
Sarrasine - EP1
Though Argentinian quartet Sarrasine may proudly wear their 90's noise-pop influences on their sleeves, their untitled debut EP feels surprisingly original, and just might be one of the freshest (or at least most well-produced) bandcamp releases of the year. It's not exactly innovative, borrowing Dinosaur Jr's incisive brand of fuzz and the saccharine jangliness of The Field Mice. It instead builds off of the foundation laid by shoegazers and twee-popsters alike, making for a noisy, yet lovely effort that is astounding in its textural diversity and overall depth. Although the debut is just five tracks long, it still packs heaps of towering dream-pop riffage, all but one song lasting over 5 minutes. EP1 is a titanic, meticulously effort that could very well draw a cult following someday.
"Juniper" opens the album ominously, a sluggish bassline squirming against tinny snare hits. As the track creeps forward, a wave of hissing feedback slowly envelops the rhythm section, making a space for the track's piercing, anthemic refrain. Though the chorus itself is wordless, it's extremely powerful, towering against a bassy, minimal verse. The vocals on the track are gentle and tender, a male/female harmony that hearken back to the frail beauty of a Sarah Records single. The EP's centerpiece, however, is "Cloudy-ah", carried by blasts of industrial percussion, grainy synths and wobbly guitaristry. It's a perfect blend of punk and ethereal shoegaze, not unlike the blistering twee-pop churned out by Joanna Gruesome. Sarrasine's debut is a brief, beautiful hit of noise rock that begs for repeat listens. Give it a shot below.
peaches davenport - THANK YOU JOB SQUAD
Though the album barely surpasses 22 minutes, Cole Wharton's debut effort under the pseudonym peaches davenport is an epic in its own right, an otherwordly work that claims possibly uncharted territory in the sphere of musical influence. There's certainly a cohesive aesthetic present throughout THANK YOU JOB SQUAD, it's just not one that's particularly classifiable. The album cover gives the listener a window into this reality. Wispy keyboards bookend the album, their tone a droney spin on the kitschy synths of an educational film meant to be shown in a physics classroom. They float lightly, but opaquely, they're dark clouds of ambient nothingness, reminding me of the Twin Peaks theme song, only more benign. There's no real sinister element to these pieces, composed solely of keyboard meditations and supplementary crackle. They just exist. They're atmospheric gases and the album inside is its own, weird little Edenic universe.
Though the album's instruments and elements of the songs themselves are pretty standard, I'm tempted to refer to THANK YOU JOB SQUAD as outsider art. There's meticulous, sometimes genius detail applied to the dizzying, offbeat energy that flows through the album. The arrangement of "Zounds! A Dog" is positively symphonic, the sort of care Kevin Barnes gives to each of his songs as of Montreal. Noise tracks like "Yoko" and "Ivan Hold Me" transition between the more accessible ones. The album is a surrealist dream that flows very well, but can be jarring in its obliqueness. The key to the album is "Dog Hair Sweatpants", a shambolic folk song that dances on a swaying rhythm, its brassy keyboards and breathy backing vocals making for a gorgeous and breezy tune that borders on bombast. If you respect the work of innovators like Dean Blunt and Sunset Rubdown, you'll fall head over heels for peaches davenport.
Danny Lango - When You Are Not Resting
For such a sparse and cozy album, it's surprising how much textural and rhythmic diversity is present in Danny Lango's latest tape offering, When You Are Not Resting. The Oklahoman singer-songwriter works in a tonal greyscale; his melancholy, droney arrangements loom ominously, just above the ground like a balloon nearly deflated. Despite the overcast climate that hangs over much of the album, it is home to a variety of textures. It feels organic and alive. Humid pulses of airy sound float aimlessly through a jungle of bustling percussion on the opening track, "Ten Killer". There's a sense of hushed urgency that pervades the track, reminding one of Yo La Tengo's skittish drone-pop delivery. While "Ten Killer" sets its focus on its intensely layered rhythm, a track like "Escape" feels much looser, calling gritty guitar chords to attention while a crunchy drum machine loops in the foggy distance. It has a certain wobbliness that reminds me of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, giving the tune charm and fleshing out the spacey atmosphere surrounding it. The album is constructed very meticulously, as each track bears a different focus and textural direction, yet the same cohesive mood sticks throughout. When it comes to hi-fi cassette music, When You Are Not Resting is an exemplary effort, bearing an otherworldly, slightly folky vibe that recalls the freak-folk whimsy of Woods and, at times, Wolf Parade's warbly, off-kilter energy.
Linoleum Dream - EP
"Ethereal" is one of the terms most often employed to describe recent shoegaze releases, and for good reason: 21st century new-gazers tend to borrow from the genre's more delicate aspects, its glimmering guitars and bouyant drone, yet they seem to forget about the brute force that a roaring wall of sound can deliver. There's a certain muscle evident in the meaty chords of Swervedriver's "Duel" and the pounding drums that open MBV's "Only Shallow" that is integral to the genre - even the Cocteau Twins knew the importance of balancing a smooth, velvety timbre with the occasional hit of abrasion or sour-ness. Oakland's Linoleum Dream hold firm to this virtue on their self-titled debut, spindly tangles of lead guitar giving way to an all-consuming storm of grim, metallic distortion and in-your-face percussion on the opening cut, "Iridescent". Dylan Burton's vocals are not sung so much as they are breathed, evaporating into misty nothingness, the masculine equivalent of Belinda Butcher's vague intonation. In true shoegaze fashion, the release is a 3-song EP, each track spanning 5+ minutes and reveling in its own dreaminess. For a dream-pop superfan like myself, Linoleum Dream is a breath of fresh air. Give them a try below.
I was recently given the opportunity to curate a mixtape for Mecha Yuri, a Canadian DIY label that specializes in sleepy bedroom pop, chill electronica and an overall aesthetic that takes its inspiration from Japanese culture. Influenced by the late night I spent selecting and mixing the tracks for the final product, ☁flying fortress☁ (01:38 AM) is a collection of sleepy, nostalgic music meant for quiet introspection. Give it a spin via Mecha Yuri's tumblr page!
The Meme Friends Anthology: Part 2
Releasing 7 albums of consistent quality would be an extremely impressive feat for any artist or entity, yet the Meme Friends, a collective of electronic producers who frequent 4chan's Music discussion board, /mu/, make it look easy. As I explained in my previous report on the project's progress, The Meme Friends have an unusually systematic music creation process, essentially constructing a brand new album on a virtual assembly line over the course of a few hours each Saturday evening. The track names are chosen by lottery based on the number that appears over posts on the weekly thread, similar to the manner in which one can win concert tickets by being the 9th caller on on a radio show. The right to create one of the ten songs slated to appear on the album is claimed on a first-come, first-serve basis, and album titles and covers are voted on by contributors. Each new Meme Friends venture delves into a different genre, but as a whole, the project's discography maintains a cohesive aesthetic: avant-electronica that wouldn't feel too out of place in an Adult Swim commercial bumper, but could also feel just as at home on a spraypainted cassette tape, edition of 15.
Following the original trilogy of Meme Friends endeavors is their most adventurous effort to date, 中国の象形文字とくだらない90の広告 (Chinese Hieroglyphics and Shitty 90's Advertisements). An analysis of the vaporwave genre and the many different forms it can assume, it's a difficult piece of music that must be appreciated on the textural level; you can't just skim the melodic surface and expect to be impressed. It hangs like fog on an early morning drive to work, fatigue blurring the stretch of road in front of you, the "oldies" station reduced to noise in the background. "Crumb Dragon" does a great job of setting the tone. It opens with reverby, robotic voices which fade into a soupy blend of synths and sludgy percussion. Gradually, this sonic slurry is sucked into a whirlpool, speeding up until it reaches a point of singularity, eventually bursting into spacey nothingness, yet again rebuilding itself again, in the form of a distant guitar riff, complimented by chiming harmonics. It feels like a rebirth of the Meme Friends' universe, their signature style becoming more evident in their product. The original trilogy at times felt a bit overly loose, but 中国の象形文字とくだらない90の広告 is most definitely a tight effort, sour slowed down samples accenting each track. "Go Ahead" Parts 1 and 2 flow together particularly nicely, a chopped-and-screwed Washed Out track melting into an overdriven piece of swirling ambience. Though many Meme Friends fans including myself were rather disappointed by this album on the first listen, I've come to appreciate it over the past few weeks, embracing its quirks.
Who Killed Archie Andrews? is the last Meme Friends album to reference the iconic comic book character in the wake of his tragic, fictional demise. The melodrama of 80s synth pop is employed to narrate the gloominess of Archie's final hours in the hospital, his life flashing before his eyes. The curtains open as ambient pads loom in the background as medical staff and witnesses to Archie's assassination speak about the room as our hero rests on the bed, barely conscious. It's hypnotic and spooky, transitioning well into its successor, "10 Below 90", made up of mournful synths which build up into a steadily cruising Kraftwerk-esque jam. My favorites from this album include "Running in the 80s", a funky number driven by its heavy bassline and "Fleeing the City" its most impressive cut, wielding knife-like synths like Com Truise.
Next up in the discography is somewhat of a novelty, but is nontheless rather enjoyable. Now That's What I Call GENERIC is a celebration of the cookie-cutter electronica that plagues youtube and soundcloud in the form of of soul-less FL Studios productions. "The Meme Friends F******* Suck" will be just about all you need to hear from this effort, a catchy club banger that samples the infamous "in me mum's car" vine. Though there are plenty of laughs to be had over the course of the album, it has the substance of a Tim and Eric episode. It's stupid fun, but a good time nonetheless.
Capping off the latest crop of Aeme Friends releases is Reason 333, perhaps the collective's magnum opus. Each producer seems to have felt most comfortable working under the album's ambient theme, as the effort flows beautifully, from the grimy, textural drone of "Es Mor Arete" to the progressive bombast of "No Flex Zone". It's as if 333 is one large track divided into 5 minute movements, exploring slippery chillwave timbres on "Green Back Money Making" while slipping into a new-agey slumber on "Bold And Brash". The album is cohesive on every level, in key, tone, delivery, tempo. It's a masterpiece of the Bandcamp age that will be difficult for this scrappy bunch of memers to top.
Give them a listen here: https://thememefriends.bandcamp.com/
Give them a listen here: https://thememefriends.bandcamp.com/
indianandajonas - Outsider Music's Greatest Hits
(Heavy Baby 2014)
Though I often try to listen to music in a mental vacuum of sorts - free of context or distraction - it's hard to ignore the backstory of indianandajonas' first and only release, Outsider Music's Greatest Hits. The CD contains a compilation of the duo's freak-folk improvisations recorded in their first year attending school at The University North Texas. The collection of recordings, nearly five years old, comprises an audio diary of loose, organic compositions, each captured in its own time and location, from the university practice room to an airport in Germany. Though the spontaneous nature of the album's nine tracks makes for a jarringly noisy effort, the two multi-instrumentalists overcome their lo-fi limitations with their knack for texture and attention to detail.
Channeling the vibe of fellow Texans This Will Destroy you and Explosions in the Sky, indianandajonas impress me with their ability to keep lengthy compositions interesting without sacrificing a minimalist aesthetic. "The Waves of Norm in D" and "Texas" both cross the eight-minute mark and make up the core of the album. The former manages to sound ethereal despite its crunchy aesthetic, flecks of piano barely escaping the gravitational pull of throbbing guitar distortion. The piano then takes its turn at the helm on the latter track, slowly evolving in its bassy, Reich-ian drone, a harmonica cycling between two notes. The shorter songs remind me more of Panda Bear's Young Prayer, "Hey Ready" and "Robopatriot" teeming with Dadaist folk energy. OMGH is a fascinatingly organic effort that gets better with each listen, and it's exciting to see it finally get a physical release.
Mooncreatures - Sand Maps
(2014 Balloon Festival)
Only a summer's passed since their sophomore outing, Gaslamps, but UK-based shoegaze outfit Mooncreatures has already returned with another dose of ambient pop. This time around, the duo have decided to press their tape on a brand-new label of their own, Balloon Festival, named after a track on their self-titled EP. The cassette's design is stunning, its black sleeve stark against the tape's shell - the neon green hue of a stick of mint gum. It's a fitting aesthetic considering the signature blend of dream-pop patented by the band; translucent, yet impenetrably minimal.
The vaporous lull of opening tracks "(sea cure)" and "Salt Sea" hangs foggily, forever expanding into obscurity against sparse percussion and distant vocals that echo like whispers in a cathedral. Taking cues from Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins, a glistening chorus effect lines the overcast ambience that seeps from Mooncreature's guitars. Following those two tracks is a surprising outlier in the duo's discography, a gnarled and distorted cut that captures the craggy tone often associated with Dinosaur Jr. and Superchunk. It's a welcome change that does a good job of splitting the album in two. If you've followed Mooncreatures over the past couple years, Sand Maps is a must-have release, further improving upon their unique brand of songcraft. If you haven't, this album is probably the best place to start, offering the most variety in the band's trilogy of tapes.