5/26/2016

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.

5/22/2016

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. 

5/17/2016

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.

5/14/2016

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. 

5/09/2016

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.

5/04/2016

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.

4/29/2016

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.

4/23/2016

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...

4/18/2016

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.



4/12/2016

Review: Ghost Orchard - "Bliss"

Ghost Orchard - Bliss
(2016 Orchid Tapes)

Think of Bliss as a spiritual and sonic successor to Starry Cat's eponymous debut record - taking cues from the feline's sedimentary production style, Michigan's Ghost Orchard smashes as many tectonic layers of crusty riffage together as he can squeeze between splashes of distant percussion. Atop a primordial layer of droning bass and scuffed-up power chords lies a marbled deposit of murmured lyrics, dreamily strummed acoustic chords and a squeeze bottle's worth of twee keyboard that reminds me of that chocolate sauce that hardens atop ice cream, forming a brittle, tasty crust. 

The baker's dozen of tracks on Bliss are brisk and ephemeral - though taken as a whole, the record is uniformly covered in an impenetrable enamel of fuzz, each individual cut acts as a peephole into its own magic realm - "4th of July" is as shimmery as a Lite-Brite summer sky and as skittish as the teen angst below it; "Don't" bounces blinding UV ray melodies off December snowbanks; my personal favorite song off the record, "October 2013", paints a barren post-halloween landscape, Tootsie Pop wrappers tumbling down a shadowy sidewalk. There's a year's worth of mixtape and playlist fodder stashed into this record - it's worth keeping around for a long time.

4/07/2016

Review: The Loner(s) / Drive Me Home Please

The Loner(s) / Drive Me Home Please - Split
(2016 Bangkok Blend)

There's a lovely contrast that gravitationally binds the two sides of this comfy twee-pop cassette - beneath their shared cloak of low-fidelity gloom is a tonal dichotomy between The Loner(s)' mumbled obscurity and Drive Me Home Please's cramped intimacy. The former act, hailing from Rochester, New York, eases into his half of the untitled split tape with gentle acoustic fingerpicking that dissolves against a pane of fuzz like a early winter snowfall that refuses to stick to the pavement - it's a morning's walk to school, as nebulous and muffled as a weary, post-coffee consciousness and warmed by a Marshmallow Coast sweater of keyboard - the tattered remains of December optimism. "I Wanna Get Addicted To Painkillers" continues The Loner(s)' trickle down the veins of suburban decay, poking icy needles through a thin layer of frantically strummed power chords. The A-Side's closing cut, "How To", delves into a sing-song chord progression that recalls the twang of Pavement, accompanied by a cute sliver of landline phone-key synth that drives the song forward - its vocals are softly intoned as if to avoid waking someone in the adjacent room.

On the flip side - Drive Me Home Please (also based in Rochester) composes more minimal synthesizer arrangements that are delivered with a sharp sense of confidence despite its bedroom-pop trappings. The opening cut pairs a barebones piano intro with an anthemic chorus caked in noise - the clean vocals feel jarringly present, like a ear-tickling whisper spoken just a bit too loud. DMHP's self-titled second cut resembles an emo take on southern gospel chord organ songcraft, its warm drones laced with post-punk riffage. The tape concludes with its most adventurous effort, "Apple Cider Vinegar": seven minutes worth of American Football post-rock that slowly builds to a crescendo that never comes - it's wonderfully trance inducing and, in its latter half, subtly heart-wrenching.

Terse and texturally diverse, this split is consistently solid and deserves a few early morning spins on the way to work or school - it's music for waking up to.


4/02/2016

New Release: HG010 - Chocofriendz - "hi ANGEL"


"The warm, woolly textures that seep from chocofriendz' keyboard speakers blend impeccably with his skeletal compositions like a sweater over a friendly ghost. Acutely minimal and intense, his songcraft resides on the fine line between powerful emotion and lovably cornball sentimentality that transports me back to my early childhood, more specifically reminding me of the sort of books and VHS tapes that would have filled me with a strange mix of sadness and warmth at the time (Where the Red Fern Grows, this weird Christian educational videotape about talking donut puppet, the Sesame Street Christmas Special...). Imagine a less cynical/angsty take on Teen Suicide's "Haunt Me (3x)" and you'll get the picture - there's something scarily pure and honest about Choco's music that makes it difficult, yet rewarding, to confront." - Half-Gifts

3/30/2016

Single Review: Chris Cohen - "Torrey Pine / In a Fable"

Chris Cohen - "Torrey Pine / In a Fable"
(Captured Tracks 2016)

Cohen's 2012 solo debut, Overgrown Path, was an understated masterwork, steeping the most delicate fruits of 70s soft rock in a cauldron of soupy psychedelia - the Deerhoof drummer's curious blend of jazzy rhythms, distorted-yet-feathery snowbanks of guitar and a dash of Lychian ambience proved as charming and adventurous as well-written children's literature. Playfully pretty and enticing as his freshman outing proved to be, I couldn't help but shudder in fear to uncover two new Cohen singles uploaded to the Captured Tracks soundcloud stream. Overgrown Path has, since its quiet release nearly 4 years ago, felt like an alcove of willful obscurity, a hidden treasure meant to stand on its own. Would a new effort only end up added weight to his lean, crisp discography? If the two singles leading up to his forthcoming LP, As If Apart, are any indication of the future, my fears are all for naught.

The longer and more familiar-sounding of the two tracks is "Torrey Pine", opening with a tinny drone of warm organ that is slowly enveloped by a creeping blanket of dissonant electric piano and breezy guitar chords - it's just as spacey as Cohen's older material and perhaps a bit more biting thanks to its tight percussion and funky bassline. Its companion, "In a Fable" feels a bit slinkier, carried by a shuffling 70s lounge beat and sporadic peals of trebly lead guitar - it wouldn't feel out of place on the most recent effort by labelmate Wild Nothing, Life Of Pause. Captured Tracks Records has noticeably been shifting from its traditional 80s post-punk sound to a 70s soft-rock revivalist aesthetic - with releases as strong as those churned out by Mac Demarco, Wild Nothing and Cohen, I can't help but welcome this change with open arms. Listen to "Torrey Pine" above and "In A Fable" below.

3/23/2016

Review: Nadir Bliss - "and you say"

Nadir Bliss - and you say
(2016 Girlfriend Tapes)

This quaint little 3-track tape by Mississipi's Nadir Bliss is one of the most inventive sprouts to shoot from the crusty suburban soil of Bandcamp emo, revelling in the scene's lo-fi Midwestern coziness while thematically shattering its tired tropes. As crudely illustrated by the EP's Microsoft Paint-ed artwork - and you say is a ray of positivity poking through the mire of teen angst. Though lyrically, Nadir Bliss tends to dip into tertiary swirls of esoteric gloom, his snappy twee arrangements (one part Belle and Sebastian, one part Dinosaur Jr., one part early Of Montreal) are bursting with glittery optimism, always moving forward on the strength of motorik rhythms and a nearly Dada-ist sense of creativity that keeps the tape snappy and fresh. "Payback", for example, is a ramshackle parade of Elephant 6-inspired craftiness, slide whistle streamers and confetti-stripped riffs raining down on construction paper floats that carry tired, raspy vocals to the comfort of an unmade bed. Closing cut "It's Hard To Remember" exhales a tuft of AnCo-esque ambience (circa Feels) that floats above distant post-punk drums, refracted through the wrong side of a one-sided window. Occasional piano chords are our only reference markers through this fog.

and you say is sloppy, cynical and a bit hard to follow, but like Lil Yachty's Lil Boat Mixtape, it finds a source of perpetual positivity in its own shortcomings. It's fashionable and futurist; more importantly, it's fun!

3/18/2016

Half-Gifts 4th Birthday Special: All-Time Top 5 Cocteau Twins Tracks


5. "Sea, Swallow Me" feat. Harold Budd (The Moon and the Melodies, 1986)

Ushering in the Twins' oft-overlooked collaborative record with New Age keyboardist Harold Budd is perhaps the most frission-inducing album opener I've ever heard, (save for, perhaps, the formless immensity of The Cure's "Plainsong"). Budd sets the track in motion, steadily pumping the rusted pedals of a reverb-y piano arpeggio that drags a Christmas sleigh's worth of heavily distorted, jingle-bell guitar trills and searing cracks of whip-like snares. Simon Raymonde drips a melty, igneous bassline between the small cracks of Robin Guthrie's wintry wall of guitar, forming an amorphous shoegaze slush, stretched in repose on the sidewalk, reflecting the glossolalic glow of Elizabeth Fraser's vocals, at their most abstract and erratic on this album. "Sea, Swallow Me" is a chaotic tempest of dreamy/frustrated emotions, each flowing on their own current, navigable only by distant flares of percussion.


4. "Iceblink Luck" (Heaven or Las Vegas, 1990)

"Iceblink Luck" is the band's most immediate pop single, Guthrie's grainy guitar raining down upon a tinny post-punk bassline like dollar store fireworks on the Fourth of July, Fraser sending wobbly strands of harmony into the night sky. Its inclusion in Jeremy Klein's part of Birdhouse's 1992 skate video Ravers makes it all the more iconic.


3. "Bluebeard" (Four Calendar Cafe, 1994)

One could consider Four Calendar Cafe a brief venture into the shimmery twang of late 70's pop country, spreading acid swaths of pedal steel guitar across a meadow of airy acoustic chords. Serving as the record's most upbeat outlier, "Bluebeard" houses complex, dizzying layers of vocal harmony that meld into a living ecosystem of shouts and whispers - strangely, Fraser seems to be providing a monolithic ambience to support Guthrie's trebly licks, rather than the other way around. This reversal of roles proves successful, producing a memorable oddity in the Twins' already-esoteric catalog.


2. "Cico Buff" (Blue Bell Knoll, 1988)

Teeming with tropical rhythms and sparkling waves of guitar, Blue Bell Knoll is my most revisted Cocteau Twins album for good reason: it's the perfect blend of vivacity and droney meditation. Take standout cut "Cico Buff" for example, its pensive shoegazery ballooning with potential energy, waiting to burst until its crescendo of distorted riffage and Fraser's aggressively pretty intonations.



1. "Half-Gifts" (Twinlights, 1995)

My official introduction to the Twins still provides the same goosebumps raising vibes that it did through the speakers of my family's grey minivan on drives to church, Kroger or the library when I was an impressionable grade-schooler. From its funereal chord progression to its swells of strings to Fraser's raw, wavering delivery, the acoustic version of "Half-Gifts" on the rare Twinlights EP is hauntigly spare, a rickety framework of the Twins' former sprightliness, their eventual breakup looming in the shadows. Gothic melodrama it its finest.