10/22/2017

Review: Stuck in November - "First Visit to Camp Telepathy"

Stuck in November - First Visit to Camp Telepathy
(2017 Self-Released)

A good majority of Bandcamp records tuck little worlds into shoeboxes, populating their cardboard confines with Easter basket grass and suburban tudors carved from individual-sized cereal boxes. Their songs barely graze the two-minute threshold, wrapping around your neck like a scarf with lo-fi static cling.

Stuck in November aren't satisfied building mere dioramas. They look up and out of the much larger box they've been placed in by giant hands, peeking over the edge into a world beyond theirs: a Felix-the-Cat-shaped clock ticks on the wall across from whatever desk or nightstand the Bangalore-based math-rock trio is trapped atop. Squat, autumnal-colored coffee mugs await their use in a glass cabinet beside it, and there's an ever-present rustle of windchimes that ride in on October drafts, often accompanied by the nimble guitaristry of a tenant practicing in another room.

My extended metaphor aside, Stuck in November's mostly-acoustic sophomore EP really does sound like a topographic or atmospheric view that's too vast to take in. I mean, just look at the cover art: it reminds me of those Dorling-Kindersley reference books filled with overhead maps of Star Wars locales, or maybe the poster tri-folded into a video game strategy guide. You can't help but try to project yourself onto the page, or in this case, into the music. 


Averaging at about 5 minutes each, the four instrumental songs that add up to First Visit to Camp Telepathy are landscapes. as conversely chaotic and ordered as nature itself. Ultra-technical guitar riffs sprout from the thicket, no two alike. Music boxes swell up like lens flares and accordion trills wobble with Wes Anderson's preciosity. Drums crunch like twigs underfoot. You'll spot familiar timbres, but won't hear them played the same way twice--their shading's tweaked by the Sun's angle, presenting Stuck in November's arrangements as blinding reflections in the bursting optimism of opener "PSJS" and sleepy dusk shadows on closer "Monster".

Ambitious as First Visit to Camp Telepathy may be, it's not quite an adventure. It's instead a normal day spent in a magical, very abnormal. universe. No matter how strange the ramshackle harmonies that compose the record are, the EP is inviting from start to finish: it's something to come back to when you're feeling as small as the contents of a shoebox.

10/16/2017

Premiere: Jaded Juice Riders - "Deathsurf"

Jaded Juice Riders - "Deathsurf"
(2017 Spirit Goth)

*Chords like the growl of urethane wheels against a concrete bowl. Snares like the steady beat of UV rays against a pale neck.*

Summer's long over, but nobody alerted Irvine, California's Jaded Juice Riders. "Deathsurf," our second preview of the noise-pop quartet's upcoming Bowl Cut LP via Spirit Goth Records, drips with the residual humidity of 2009's endless July. 

Look: there's the walkie-talkie crackle of Wavves' self-titled debut sweating on a glass of Kool-Aid; here's Beach Fossils' tubular melodicism wriggling like hot blacktop in the distance. There's something oddly satisfying about the beach-pop sub-genre that takes me back to a time when I had longer, greasier hair and a greater insecurity about my future: then, it was only the ordered simplicity of a staccato guitar riff over a droning bassline that could make me feel at ease.

Now, the sound hits me in a way that getting a Facebook message from an old high-school friend might. I'm anxious to be confronted by my awkward past, but comforted by the commanding presence of JJR's wildly bendy lead guitars and the slacker-rock groans that echo behind them. 

"Go where you go / yes we know" sing the Juice Riders. Where they know I'm going, even I don't know. For now, I'm surfing on a wave of fuzz-riddled, dreamy ambiguity while bopping my head (one eye suddenly once again covered with murky-blonde hair) to the driving snares. 

Bowl Cut drops October 26. Pre-order a digital, vinyl, or tape copy here.


10/13/2017

Review: ruru - "SLEEP"

ruru - SLEEP
(2017 Self-Released)

Here's the sound of the near-future zeitgeist: a year-and-a-half removed from Chance the Rapper's Coloring Book and five years deep into Mac Demarco's pop-cultural ascent, the time is just about ripe for us to appreciate a re-imagining of jazzy R'n'B this solidly inventive, sophisticated, and fun. 

Following up her debut Sounds of the Mundane EP, which reveled in the warmth of Northwestern twee-folk acts like Lois and The Softies, Filipino singer-songwriter ruru drapes her once-sparse arrangements in a musty thrift-store jacket. There's a whiff of jazz-inflected nostalgia in SLEEP's sherpa lining, but what's it nostalgic for? The taut grooves and woozy twang of Al Green's more downbeat cuts? The homey folk that phases into the background as night falls on your Animal Crossing town? Hall and Oates? 

Maybe nostalgia's not even the right word for it: the term entails a sadness and longing for something unrecoverable that I and my fellow post-Millennials aren't used to: we can conjure pictures of an old Happy Meal Toy or an episode of a favorite TV show at a moment's notice, no matter when it may have been released. The historical place of a pop-cultural artifact dissolves into the pool of our close ancestors' existence, leading us to create artistic works that can cull influence from twenty or thirty years of creativity. To us, that amount of time doesn't even seem that long. If it's documented, we can access it.


So SLEEP emerges from that sense of ambiguity. It caulks the little crannies that exist between decades, like the earthy color pallets of the late seventies to early eighties and the Reagan era's new-wavey spillage into George H.W. Bush's presidency. ruru takes their most interesting aesthetic elements, slips them into a glass slide, and then places them beneath the lo-fi lens of a twee-pop microscope. Each of the record's seven tracks is a cute little prokaryote, flagellating to its own funky rhythm.

If SLEEP were a sandwich, its bread would be the best part. Opener "when you're away" and closer "lil lonely" are slices of that expensive sprouted-wheat bread from the supermarket: Tempurpedic-soft, texturally-engaging, and maybe a little sweet/beery from sitting on the kitchen counter for too long. The former is the record's lowest-fi affair, spreading gummy keyboard chords on a cracker-thin drum loop. ruru sets up a lyrical diorama of an overcast day: gloomy cottonball clouds hang from thread tendrils above suburban milk cartons. "I'm a pathetic eclectic," she sings, sounding vaguely similar to Crying's Elaiza Santos. "Tell me what you're up to today." The latter's a jazz-pop dream, rattling off wah-pedaled Rhodes piano melodies that could fit nicely into a Father beat while leaving space for ruru to imagine a "Teletubby October", doused in reverb. 

In between the slices, the quick cut "seventeen" stands out, sliding nimble maj7 chords into a jaunty rhythm like a Belle and Sebastian record played too fast. "sepanx" is also worth a listen, if not just for its fantastically spaced-out guitar noodling.

Smashing just about every sonic concept that's cool (or is about to be cool) into one digestible record, ruru's SLEEP is the sound of the moment but looks beyond it too. It's definitely a year-end list contender for me, and I doubt it's the last project I'll hear from her. Bump this record before ruru's impending cult following convinces you to do so. 

10/08/2017

Review: Bayu and Moopie - "I Won't Have To Think About You"

Bayu and Moopie - I Won't Have To Think About You
(2017 A Colourful Storm)

How do you categorize a release like this? Curated by the two DJs--(Bayu and Moopie)-- who run Australia's A Colourful Storm record label, I Won't Have To Think About You is a bashful sidestep away from the imprint's other industrial-techno offerings, trading gurgly synths and four-on-the-floor kicks for jittery guitar chords and invariably guileless female lead vocals. Considering the side gigs for each of the LP's masterminds, it wouldn't be a stretch to call this disc a DJ set: though its 12-track setlist lacks seamless transitioning, there's rock-solid textural cohesion that glues the body of work together. As the loud, thwacking snares of The Ampersands' "Affected" spill into Pearly Gatecrashers' citric post-punk melodies, you'd swear the two bands were composed of the same members. 

I Won't Have To Think About You honestly might be more akin to a compilation than a seamless mix. Though the tunes Bayu and Moopie spin span three decades' worth of twee-pop tradition, they've all blown in on the same coastal breezes of Melbourne and Sydney, Australia. The record's a scrambled family tree, tracing the sugar-rushed dissonance of early 80s acts like Maestros and Dipsos to the Shapiros' heaving sighs and plunging chords, which blurred their brief mid-90s career with the condensation of Young Adult fiction's melodrama: warm breaths into a palm, cupping your chin; a scribbled note, folded into a square passed across the classroom; muffled music seeping through cheap gymnasium speakers; the damp smell of yellowed paper glossing a too-realistic cover illustration. 

There are incestuous branches that span the tree, too. Bart Cummings, founder of Library Records, is credited as a member of four bands on the album. The best of these is The Cat's Miaow, whose opening track "Not Like I Was Doing Anything" pairs frontwoman Kerrie Bolton's wavering vocals with equally anxious arrangements. In this canvas, there are strokes of The Magnetic Fields before Stephen Merritt took over their vocal duties. A closer look also reveals the wrist-wriggling urgency of Johnny Marr's guitaristry and splotches of Belle and Sebastian's heaping cuteness. The song's a solid primer for what's to come: quick, catchy, and casual. Think of the comp as an off-the-cuff conversation--"I don't mind," sings Bolton, sounding as wistfully detached as The Sundays' Harriet Wheeler. "It's not like I was doing anything."

10/02/2017

Premiere: Power Animal - "Light Elating Everything"

Power Animal - "Light Elating Everything"

Haunted house concept: this year, we can do without the corpse paint and corn syrup blood. I'll flick the lights on and serve the ghoulish tenants warm cider in shallow mugs around the old Tudor's fireplace. The shaggy beast that once lurked in the boiler room sits pretzel-legged and picks at the wall's flaking paper, grinding the wafers of yellowed floral print between his talons. He says his whole life he's felt like a fraud. Like no matter how hard he tries -- however well he hides -- he's never been able to believe that the screams he elicits from trespassing humans are genuine.

"They're only screaming out of pity," he says, taking a sip that leaves the hair on his upper lip wet with McIntosh tartness. "I only got this job because my pop's been in the haunting business for years; he knew a guy who knew the guy that runs the house. But I've never, like, really been scary. This job belongs to someone else, I'm sure of that. But I don't have the courage to quit."

---

Song concept: Power Animal's house is mostly haunted by the lightbulb flash of self-actualization, though it isn't out of the ordinary for a bedsheet ghost to wander though its halls. Supplementing his transparent synthesizers with phantom howls, the Philadelphia-based solo act chops and re-arranges these spooky soundscapes into a ecstatic push forward.

Though Hampson's hip-hop production does dabble in the lo-fi textures and whispery deliveries that populate Bandcamp's vast emo scene, his newest single, "Light Elating Everything" feels more indebted to Empire! Empire! I Was A Lonely Estate than any other project that's operated within the sub-genre: it's an exorcism of self-destructive thoughts, looking back on sad times through wiser lenses.

"The light's gone out in some corners,"  he speaks more than sings, "but the light has been shown some places, too."

The crackling samples; the fluttering hi-hats; the trills of screechy synth-pop melody -- they all add up to leaves on the sidewalk and candy wrappers in your shorts pocket. Bonfires in the backyard.

"I regret every disappointed breath up to 2005...you have always been the light elating everything."

---

Briefing: Good Wind Pt. 1, Power Animal's first record since 2012's Exorcism, comes out on Nov. 10th via Human Kindness Overflowing, a label that donates 50% of its profits to charity. This particular release's proceeds will go to Emergent Fund, an organization formed in response to the 2016 election that supports grassroots movements formed within marginalized groups.


        .-""""-.
       / -   -  \
      |  .-. .- |
      |  \o| |o (
      \     ^    \
       '.  )--'  /
         '-...-'`

9/08/2017

Review: Earth Boy - "My Sword Was My Devotion"

Earth Boy - My Sword Was My Devotion
(2017 Self-Released)

Earth Boy shares a name with one of the standout tracks on DIIV's debut LP, Oshin, only it bears a space dividing Zachary Cole Smith's original titular portmanteau. Though the two projects share a penchant for staccato guitar riffs and exorbitant amounts of reverb, it's that all-too-important space between "Earth" and "Boy" that separates their sounds. Despite watery mixing techniques and sleeptalk vocals, DIIV's songcraft stands firmly entrenched in post-punk grime, stomping divots into loamy bass as it charges forth in a permanent beeline towards nowhere in particular. It strives for kinetic beauty, inherently present in motion, dissolving as quickly as the band stops to catch its breath. DIIV's boy and its earth are in constant contact, even if they're not aware of each other.

Earth Boy's relation to the planet is more peripheral -- the Washingtonian singer-songwriter floats in the exosphere, surveying the terrain below and doing his best to translate the blurred topography to sound. Guitars, keyboards, and creaky drum machine loops each occupy their own niche in the space between artist and globe, orbiting loose rhythms like a ramshackle solar system. The best tracks on his latest EP, My Sword Was My Devotion, accentuate that disjointed atmosphere, eschewing lo-fi genre conventions to create chilly soundscapes that feel like cold fall days. "I'm Sorry I Misunderstood" sounds like a late-90s Aphex Twin track covered on toy instruments: sampled snare breaks scramble into position while sleepy keyboard chords rise from their sleep, stretch, and yawn across multiple bars, woken up by churchbells in the distance.

"Untitled" acts like an extended bridge in the center of a larger, unheard song: it gives the listener a peek at scrapped grandiosity while sticking to the cozy smallness that makes My Sword so charming. Here, a sluggish guitar refrain navigates undulating waves of bedroom pop fuzz, proceeding slowly on a limp. It's tempting to make comparisons to Pavement, but I'm most reminded of Yuck -- especially their brief period fronted by Daniel Blumberg. Earth Boy's falsetto sounds like a faraway cry for help and a whisper in your ear at the same time, and the lyrics are just as emotionally ambiguous: "I don't want to go out / I want to stay inside my house / without you I don't know if I'll be alright".

Maybe it's even possible to make comparisons to Earl Sweatshirt's last LP. Both Earth Boy and Sweatshirt revel in their hermetical lifestyles, nestled in a protective layer of tape hiss. And both keep their songs brief, frugal with the syllables and heavy on emotion. My Sword clocks in at just 6 minutes, but it doesn't skimp on the impact. It's an innovative effort that's texturally brittle but packs a punch.

9/03/2017

Reviews: Dent May / Kei Toriki

Dent May - Across the Multiverse
(2017 Carpark)

It's been 4 years since I caught Dent May's set at the now-defunct Boomslang festival, hosted by the University of Kentucky's campus radio station WRFL. I'd only recognized the singer-songwriter's name from the back catalogue of Animal Collective's (also extinct) record label, Paw Tracks, but I trusted the judgement of the imprint's founders enough to give the guy a shot. 

The eighty-or-so attendees and I -- heads still swimming in residual reverb from performances by Fielded and Idiot Glee -- spilled out onto the balding lawn of Al's Bar in time to see May, dressed in a floral button-down and John Lennon shades, wander onto the stage flanked by his three-piece backing band. The music that followed them seemed to flow from some hidden source behind the platform: impossibly complex and otherworldly. Aqueous keys trickled through a funk-rock sieve as the frontman paced the stage like an active sleepwalker, climbing to the top of stacked amps as he waxed Brian Wilson about rent money and party dresses. The spirit of chillwave, ready to ascend into the subgenre afterlife, was housed in that lawn -- it was a sermon of the mount, the mount in question taking the form of a pillar of amplification equipment. Unsuspecting passersby broke out into dance. I'm not the biggest live music fan, but I can say with certainty that what I experienced was just a hair short of magical -- I still think about it to this day. 

And as soon as the presence was with us, it was gone. All that was left was the humidity on the back of my neck. That, and the copy of his then-latest LP, Warm Blanket, which I snagged from CD Central before heading home. It had its transcendent hooks and its haunting Beach Boys melodies -- it worked its way into car-trip rotation and became one of my favorite records of the year 1. It still never quite lived up to what I took in that summer Saturday though. Warm Blanket lived up to its title, not to the tropical climate he brought with him to the stage.

Evident in the design of his new album's sleeve, which happens to be the work of Boomslang poster painter and Kesha cover artist Robert Beatty, May's attempting to recapture the palm tree sway of his live sound, or at least to hearken back to the hardbound surfaces of Choose Your Own Adventure gamebooks.

Definitely some stylistic resemblance here.


Across the Multiverse at times comes close to doing so: it's a mixed bag of decent, yet too-familiar tunecraft and some very high points. The record's title track, a collaboration with Frankie Cosmos(!), is its loftiest offering. The pair distantly mutter their lines into italo-funk arrangements, pausing to let strings and horns rattle off a few dreamy phrases. The song's squelchy little synth solo taken into consideration, it's the sort of track that'd sit nicely in a Katamari OST: upbeat, esoteric, and twee.

"Take Me To Heaven" is pretty tight, too. With its stuttering piano chords and falsetto vocals, I can't help but think that it's an attempt at writing an Elton John song with gratuitous synthesizer slathered on top. Weird stuff, but it works.

Though I respect that it samples the screech of a dial-up modem, I can't really get into "Picture on a Screen": the concepts of transhuman love and uncanny valley are starting to feel played-out, especially when Wild Nothing's done it better in a similar style on "TV Girl". May feels more at home stretched across the heavens of the physical realm, looking at the breadth of the Earth from above on "I'm Gonna Live Forever Until I'm Dead" or declaring love for celestial spheres on "Distance to the Moon".

May's lyrically always reaching for a cosmic largeness that's always beyond his reach, just like I feel looking back on the improbable beauty of the 2013 setlist. Until time-travel or interplanetary transport are feasible, this record will do for each of us. It's pretty and idealistic -- simple and wide-eyed -- lovely and worth your time.

Kei Toriki - Childhood Memories EP
(2016 Otherman Records)

Though it lacks vocals and traditional song structures, it could be argued that Kei Toriki's 2016 Childhood Memories EP contains atmospheric/idealistic cues comparable to Dent May's. Simulating wonky math-rock rhythms with sampled drumbreaks, the guitarist plucks his way to cinematic heights, aided by wails of chiptune synth. Smash all these elements together, and you've got the hyper-melodicism of Anamanaguchi married to Explosions in the Sky's somber tunefulness. Childhood Memories hustles its way to stone-faced nostalgia, tossing in some headbop-inducing percussion and catchy riffs along the way. 

Texturally, intro track "Blue" is my favorite offering here. It leans more Toriki's post-rock tendencies than his affinity for ambient IDM, delicately weaving electric leads into looped, glistening chords. "Muqaevi_Oqulivi" takes the top spot overall, though. It's laced together with staccato jazz solo and filled out by some suprisingly tasteful future-bass backing. 

On the B-side, Umio's remix of title track "Childhood Memories" is a memorable showing. A high-school music classroom's worth of backing adds timbral depth to Toriki's work: a metronome and xylophone lead seamlessly into a farty hardcore drum-and-bass groove before the composition comes up for air. Piano enters the fray, then bassy swells of brass, and, finally, some strings and the aforementioned malletted percussion. 

Though the remixes make for fun playlist-fodder, the meat of the EP is a legitimately cool conceptual experience taken as a whole. It's great stuff to listen to while playing video games, if you're the type of person that prefers to provide their own soundtrack to a title. Download here.


1 May also inexplicably won "Best New Band" that year at China's Huading Awards. The only other international laureates of Huading Awards that year for anything other than film were Adam Lambert and Carly Rae Jepsen. The title of "Best New Band" has yet to be handed out again.


8/29/2017

Review: ОРУЖИЕ - "Quiet Facts about Angels"


ОРУЖИЕ - Quiet Facts About Angels
(2017 velcroheadrecords)

"No real modus operandi," reads velcroheadrecords' mission statement. "No hope, no refinement. Record it live and put it out on tape. 

There's urgency embedded in the Montreal-based imprint's creative process, but the finished product's anything but hasty. Composed entirely of improvised jams, the debut full-length tape by label founder ОРУЖИЕ (Russian for "weapons") is a meditative -- sometimes mindstate-altering -- effort that acts as a translucent eggshell, clouding our view of some violent chemical activity taking place within.

Maybe it's more effective to think of it as an old TV monitor's screen, sending pinpricks of static through your fingers as you press them against the glass, protecting observers from the greyscale horror beamed by its cathode ray tube. Distant enough from the camera to appear small, the foggy outline of a human form moves from pinky to middle finger, ducking beneath your palm and then slowly peeking through the empty curve between the thumb and forefinger. Its face is like smoke -- a mass of billowing darkness against the floral wallpaper of the living room it inhabits.

Quiet Facts about Angels resides in a middle ground between David Lynch's sputtering The Big Dream and the often-atonal drum machine grooves that John Carpenter composed for Assault on Precinct 13. That's to say that despite its minimal atmosphere, throttled by lo-fi crunch, the record is downright cinematic in scope. Since much of the music here seems to have been made on the fly, the songs on Quiet Facts are structureless, gathering grime and abstract narrative as they hustle forth at approximately 120 to 130 beats per minute. Layers are laid down and shaved off one at a time, flirting with climactic releases of tension but never reaching them.


The top half of ОРУЖИЕ's playlist is loaded with gritty low-end thump that all but drowns out the clattering rhythms that bloom from it. "hornets" sways side to side on its crushingly-dense trunk of growling synth, leaving just enough space for glistening pads and a post-punk guitar riff to push through the surface -- it's all pretty reminiscent of Throbbing Gristle, though maybe more danceable (in theory). It's followed by a welcome intermission in the form of "autumn (diary ii)" before "batteries (1.1)" usurps the soundscape. The cut girds its four-on-the-floor kick with syncopated lashes of steely snare while standard house hi-hats keep the rhythm regular. Dissonant bell-chimes ring in the distance, indicating an off-screen ritual held in some post-apocalyptic wasteland that formed mid-Industrial Revolution. Though it appears early on, this 3-track sequence is the heart of the album, showcases its full array of textures and moods.

"saturn 1.01.0" ushers in the tape's more traditionally pretty second half. Phase-shifted synths trickle down sheets of nearly-lifeless horn samples. Save for slap-bass, the beat's fairly hollow, staring at the listener stone-faced, yet picturesque. It's the most upbeat song on the tape, but it's tinged with a sense of defeat, sprawled out on a couch and covered in sweat as it catches a much-needed nap after a hard day's work. "In Dust" is a solid ambient closer, undulating sultrily as a Badalamenti score while taking on the corroded quality of a silent film's score.

Instrumentally, Quiet Facts is a huge step into new territory for the former frontman of early Bandcamp emo duo Jackie Trash, but aesthetically, it's not. Just like any Linus Taylor project, ОРУЖИЕ finds a delicate balance between hushed beauty and rowdy dissonance, making for an effort that's sometime's sleepy, sometimes unbearably aggressive, but always engagingly weird. 

8/25/2017

Half-Gifts Back-to-School Compilation out Now!

Various Artists - Kawasaki Processional
(2017 Half-Gifts)

8/24/2017

Single Reviews: chocofriendz / i-fls

chocofriendz - "goodbye"
(2017 Self-Released)

Today's doubleheader review catches up with two artists who are no strangers to this blog. Though they may hail from opposing lateral hemispheres of the globe, chocofriendz and i-fls are equally cloaked in digital mystery, coating their instrumentals in emotional longing, woozy synths, and the .jpeg artifacts of DeviantArt illustrations long-forgotten. 

The alphabetical former of the pair, chocofriendz turns in his most texturally enticing effort yet in the form of "goodbye", a track that culls back the New England bedroom popster's ambient keyboard pads in favor of acoustic guitar and fluttering melodica. In 2016, I imagined choco's oddly capitalized hi ANGEL LP as a dream set in a suburban simulacrum. Sustained chords stood still as mown grass collected dew overnight. Lyrical references to cartoon characters and heroes of children's literature loomed like ping-pong ball eyes, peeking out from inside a shadowy shrub as if to assert their magical-realist presence in the dreamer's mind. It wasn't the cool on the other side of the pillow. It was the placidity flowing through the down -- the threadcount -- and transferring into your skull via osmosis. 

Choco's new stuff isn't as philosophically complex as what's in his back catalog, but it doesn't need to be. On "goodbye", the composition speaks for itself. The notes land with more grit than they used to, plucked steel strings flopping against snares and errant keys. This track's the swamp behind the woods that surround hi ANGEL's suburbs. Here, what seem to be modular synths suck sloppily against the mud like shoes with extra grip. They croak like frogs in urgent need for flies. Choco is frugally cosplaying as Animal Collective circa Hollinndagain, muffling the harsher edges with quilted fabrics. He roughs it, setting up his blanket fort on your living room carpet, inviting you beneath the lean-to to roast riffs over a tin-can flame. You don't need an eclipse or cliffside view to get in touch with nature, you learn. You can let nature into your home -- let it ransack your fridge and crash on the futon. Flick the light and wish the track good night. It's too subtle to take in all at once -- this is the kind of work you need to sleep on, only to wake to an epiphany.

i-fls - no start point / earphone song
(2017 Self-Released)

Japanese producer i-fls dabbles in more polished textures than those that Choco employs, but his latest single release titled no start point / earphone song proves that the unlikely duo draw from the same wellspring of sentiment. Following the release of the project's twentieth album(!), the three-song record delivers a visual and aural aesthetic that i-fls fans will find familiar, but always welcome: layers of filmy Garageband synths creep across the surface of shuffling house rhythms, crisp and capacious as the blue photos that frame each cover artwork but raw as the ballpoint doodles pasted onto them.

Bonus cut "earphone song" is the strongest showing here. It's the most moderately-paced of the bunch, bouncing on quiet kicks and claves as a melody slowly-but-steadily finds footing while navigating the beat. Imagine ascending a shopping mall's massive escalator -- no top floor in sight -- surrounded by glass walls on either side. It's snowing, but the flakes melt against the ground, and somehow despite precipitation there's not a cloud in the sky. The atmosphere just erupts with flakes that dot the surface like cotton nubbles in a baby blue sweater. And outside the mall with plastic bags hanging from your forearm you absentmindedly twist the knit lumps in your pullover.

And your cheeks are red and cold.

8/19/2017

Single Review: Routine Death - "Demo Tracks"

Routine Death - Demo Tracks
(2017 Self-Released)

What makes Austin, Texas such a hotbed for Gothic sounds? With average temperatures sitting snugly in the mid-90s all summer, the Lone Star State doesn't seem like the ideal place to dress exclusively in shades of black. To my knowledge, -- which is admittedly limited to Google searches -- Austin's not architecturally dominated by grotesque or Bauhaus aesthetics. Even on a historical level, I associate the city more with the mid-00s post-rock produced by Explosions in the Sky, This Will Destroy You, and Balmorhea than anything remotely similar to what Factory Records produced in its heyday.

Maybe it's just a coincidence that many of my favorite Goth releases of the past few years have emerged from Austin's local scene. Two darkwave-y bands that have fared quite well on my year-end top 10 lists call the city home. Captive, whose Black Leather Glove LP wheezes with pneumonic synths and clattering snares, have been quiet as of late, but still regularly find rotation in my iTunes library on the strength of cuts like "The Fool" and "Endless Lust". Sacred Bones signees Institute are more prolific, effortlessly churning out classic post-punk records that feel equally indebted to Minutemen and Joy Division. If shoegaze duo Routine Death drop some studio material as strong as the two demo cuts currently hosted on their homepage, they might very well earn a spot among my favorite Texan gloom-slingers. 

A-side "The Impossibility of Paying Our Debts" spins like an early Captured Tracks single, winding a looped guitar riff -- soggy with reverb -- around trashed percussion. Lisa Zozaya's vocals ring out as if they were shouted into the depths of the sort of absurdly spacious sewer tunnel only seen in video games and cartoons. They're tinny residue molding on steel walls; clinging to the blank space between chords. Every tone in the track feels more implied than perceived. Maybe you've peeped them through a veil, or eavesdropped with a cupped ear pressed against the door. 



Flip-side "Star Alliance" is -- as its title suggests -- even more spaced-out than its predecessor. Fried melodies pop and sizzle like bacon grease against droning chords, sounding something like the Velvet Underground blasted on a Beats pill by a discourteous passenger on the bus. Zozaya stretches syllables across several bars, sending wriggling noodles of human emotion out into the cosmos. The song never really works its way into a discernable groove, but doesn't need to: "Star Alliance" is a space unto its self, its boundaries and levels of gravity shifting like tides. Don't try to find your footing. It isn't there.

Looking for a perfect solar eclipse-viewing soundtrack? Prepare for this Monday by streaming and downloading the single here.

8/13/2017

Review: Sweat Enzo - "Full Grown Cats"

Sweat Enzo - Full Grown Cats
(2017 Self-Released)

Sharing a hometown with seminal proto-grunge outfit Dinosaur Jr., Amherst, Massachusetts' Sweat Enzo taps into their native city's aural wellspring, tucking twangy chord progressions into a sheet of tape-hiss so warbly you'd swear Sweat Enzo time-traveled to 1985 to record in Lou Barlow's basement. Full Grown Cats is the trio's 12th official release and their most streamlined pop effort since 2015's Talking Rock. For first-time listeners, it's the best intro to Sweat Enzo's sound you'll find on their Bandcamp page.

Intro cut "Deer In the Headlights" gallops along to the limp of its rhythm guitar before transitioning into a country-fried solo that hearkens back to Dinosaur's pre-Jr. discography. Frontman Elliot Hartmann drags his raspy vocals through plots of distortion like a tiller takes to soil, upturning residual fuzz in his wake. "Living in the Moment" sits on deck, ready to raise the tempo and trade in its predecessor's dissonance for jangle-pop warmth. Here, Sweat Enzo tap into the jittery folk-rock groove splattered across the surface of Meat Puppets' Too High to Die, sprinkling their own splashes of mumbled harmony and funk organ into the brew. It's by far Full Grown Cats' catchiest tune -- one that I can't help but skip to when bumping the record.

"Alright, Casey" is a look at Sweat Enzo at their most instrumentally solid. George Gerhardt and Gage Lyons lay down a peppy stadium-rock rhythm to make room for Hartmann's parabolic swoops of guitar. There's a glimmer of J Mascis' groaned chorus on Dinosaur Jr.'s "Start Choppin'" that peeks through the track's muddy mix, but Sweat Enzo's chops and knack for songcraft shine just as brightly.

Though it lacks a single as immediate as past hits like "Questions" and "Leavin'", Full Grown Cats is Sweat Enzo's most consistent release to date. If you're seeking more of the sunbleached tones wielded by Barlow, Galaxie 500, and Guided By Voices, look no further.

8/08/2017

Review: Unable to Fully Embrace This Happiness - "The Morning Sun + The End of the World"

Unable to Fully Embrace This Happiness - The Morning Sun...
(2017 Self-Released)

Though the full title of UTFETH's first official album can't be contained by the horizontal confines of this blog post, the Austrian powerviolence trio seems to have no trouble squeezing 14 tracks' worth of scorched imagism/existentialism into an 18-minute timeframe. The Morning Sun rises from a series of split-releases and compilation tapes, spackling over any breathing room or vain experimentation with fast-drying static. Every square inch of aural space that exists within UTFETH's trusted dictaphone recorder is clogged with noise. The listener stands at the other side of a steel wall, peeking through a porthole as the band's gelatinous aggression presses against the glass, writhing as if undergoing a chemical change -- sometimes the mass adopts the vague lumpiness of a chugging blast beat or is tinted the pale green of a sickly clean guitar riff, but it always maintains its thick, uniformly ferocious texture. Think of bread dough so yeasty that it rises uncontrollably, threatening to burst out of the oven.

Thematically, the record is much less unified. Tounge-in-cheek song titles intentionally clash with their more somber lyrical counterparts: autobiographical vignettes syllabically frugal enough to have been clipped from John Porcellino's King Cat Comics, Hopper-esque snapshots of UTFETH's native Klagenfurt, and the occasional imagined premise for a sci-fi novel. The band is at their best when they freeze striking-yet-simple images in time. Case in point -- the stuttering cacophony of "I Quit My Job So I Could Play More RPGs" tempered by a surprisingly tender verse. "Forming a crucifix while riding my bike / without using my hands". You'd never be able to parse that together just by listening, though. It's the impenetrable sound of the record that sends you scrambling for a lyrics sheet, luring you into intimacy with the listening experience. 

"The Happy End Overshadows the Forthcoming Drama" is the most ambitious offering here, knitting two sheets of black metal chord-mashing together with sampled audio from Twin Peaks' second season, a funeral procession of fingerpicked arpeggios, and drum machine handclaps that are so out of place that they're somehow welcome among the brutality. The cloud of sound formed here is so opaque that I can't help but be reminded of Jules Feiffer's drawing of the Awful Dynne -- a demon from The Phantom Tollbooth that feeds on dissonant sounds. Ironically, the song's about silence, narrated by a hermit. "The only interactions are while grocery shopping", they screech. "Speechless forever.

The Awful Dynne

"Thank You Very Much For Gathering Today" is The Morning Sun's strongest instrumental showing, stripping away some scuzz to reveal its chord progression (which kinda sounds like something The Cure would've cooked up in the early 80s) before ripping into its hardcore beatdown. Closer "Just When I Thought I Was Done Being the Mediator" is a close second best, flirting with post-rock melodrama atop sparse splashes of percussion. Even the pair of sub-30 second songs hit hard enough to satisfy. Only "The Journalist" fails to really sock me in the gut, but even so, its lyrics are pretty evocative, weighing the possibility of a livestreamed suicide before presumably choosing not to. ("Fourteen pages by the end of the week / You never know what this server will spawn)

I've written about UTFETH in the past, and continue to listen for good reason. Smashing their impressive chops into a harsh lo-fi filter, they're as subtle as a brick wall and just about as heavy as one too. 

8/04/2017

Review: Great Grandpa - "Plastic Cough"

Great Grandpa - Plastic Cough
(2017 Dbl Dbl Whammy)

Great Grandpa's poppier than the sum of its parts, and all the more striking for it. According to their press kit, the quintet is the product of a "mututal love of noise and math rock", but the instrumentation of their inaugural LP, Plastic Cough, shows more fondness for the former. Hailing from Seattle, the band is often likened to the sound their home city's bygone grunge scene -- their towering fuzzscapes, however, shed the dissonance of Sub Pop's early 90s output for anthemic surges of determination. More indebted to Broken Social Scene than Nirvana, Great Grandpa whisk dollops of optimism into their bummed-out snarl. "In due time, I'm tryin' my best", offers Alex Menne atop a sizzling chorus, perhaps to make amends for the twangy desolation that prefaced it: "Got caught up in loose ends / All my friends are almost dead".

At its best, Plastic Cough goes for broke, tossing every hook, riff, and vocal acrobatic it can muster at a rumbling wall of distortion. Opener "Teen Challenge" is a case study in this kind of noise-rock maximalism. Revving its sonic engine on some Weezer-esque dissonance, the track's muted power chords gather enough energy to launch into a menacing chorus, allowing enough space in its static for Menne's yawp-y delivery to jut through. Imagine Crying's Elaiza Santos with a case of the hiccups that somehow manages to keep her on key. Subtract the band's chiptune melodies for an extra layer of bass that envelops everything in its path. Tack on a guttural guitar solo for gnarled emphasis. Whether or not you care to invite it in, "Teen Challenge" bores its way into your memory like trepanation. It commands attention.

The band's forays into higher tempos are also quite successful. "NO" earns its capital letter, splattering clashing colors of harmonic paint across a canvas of snares. The intro to closer "28 J's L8R" waxes midwestern emo before melting into a slogging gob of bubblegum sludge metal. "28 J's" is by far Plastic Cough's most impressive feat, fiddling with rhythm, dynamics, and spaced-out improvisation -- all the while lyrically indulging itself in corny humor and B-movie horror theatrics. Most of the record hits hard enough to re-visit many times, but it's this coda that I can't stop spinning. Here's to more a wildly experimental (yet still fun) Great Grandpa in the future.

Plastic Cough doesn't always hit the nail exactly on the head. The brief "Grounded" marches to an off-kilter beat that should pay off, but doesn't quite do it for me. "Pardon My Speech" winds itself through so many melodic contortions, you'll need a map to navigate them. Despite these rough patches, though, the album is often a blast to listen to -- occasionally, (especially on tracks 1 and 10), it flirts with classic status.

7/31/2017

Compilation Submissions Open!


The impending autumn and the upcoming school year have put me in the mood to curate a new Half-Gifts compilation album. In the spirit of the season, I've decided to open up submissions for a fan-sourced effort that revolves around change and growth. If you'd like to record a song that fits this theme or already have material ready to submit, send an email to jude.noel3@gmail.com with the subject line "Compilation Submission". Tracks are due August 21 -- all genres and skill levels are welcome.

For inspiration, stream Half-Gifts' Christmas 2016 Compilation below: