Half-Gifts Issue 13 Out Now!

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Issue 13 headed to the presses! Interviews with Proverbial Bag of Cat Sick, SMUT, Terre Noire, Kill the Intellectuals and High Sunn - plus tons of reviews!!!!


Review: Foliage - "Truths"

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Foliage - Truths
(2015 Human Sounds)

Maybe I'm a little too young to feel nostalgic, but there's something about Foliage's debut LP that sends me back to the first half of 2012, around the time I first started this blog. Age 14 was what I consider to be a pivotal point in my life, one marked by change and anticipation. I attended a small Catholic school populated by about two-hundred students, few of whom lived anywhere near me. Though at the time, like most kids, I was beginning to discern what sort of person I was and what sort of interests I wanted to pursue, I felt more limited than ever. The world of shoegaze and art had been opened up to me via the internet, yet I had no means of getting physically within range of it without a driver's license or connections. I spent much of my time waiting for things to happen - field trips, birthdays, school dances. Life is pretty boring as a 14 year old and you have to set up benchmarks, events to look towards to get you through the week. Not surprisingly, I associate many of the bands I listened to at that age (Wild Nothing, Craft Spells, Airiel) with a feeling of anticipation. While being ferried to school or a friend's house in our grey minivan, while waiting to be picked up, while squandering free time over the weekend, chillwave-y bedroom pop was playing in the background. 

Hearing Truths for the first time was like finding a box of old toys in the attic or scanning a yearbook. Wrapping my conscious in a cloak of reverb, the album revived old emotions, some pleasant, some of them cringe-inducing. Foliage's M Joseph Walker has the uncanny ability draw pathos from his listener, creating an atmosphere that is both airy and impactful. He'll loop droney guitar riffs for just long enough to let you to snuggle up in their warmth, and then suddenly you'll be hit by a chill inducing chord change or twinkly, chorus-laden melody. The precision of his craft is staggering. Walker's vocal delivery reminds me of Justin Vallesteros' echoey croon as Craft Spells' frontman. They add yet another layer of woozy ambience to an already dreamy album, one made to drift off to in the passenger seat, gazing out the window. 


Single Review: Seventeen Years - "yas"

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seventeen years - yas
(Self-Released 2015)

Seventeen Years has become a fixture of sorts on this blog, appearing in compilations, end-of-the-year lists and even on a special Half-Gifts tape release in early 2014. Over the course of the past 16 months, the incredibly prolific dream pop outfit has amassed three albums' worth of shoegazey post-punk. What once was the solo project of Kansas City's Tony Freijat has blossomed into a trio; the result is an even more polished and hard-hitting version of the immersive nu-gaze "brand" that the Missouri-based songwriter has established so deftly. Yas, the first full-band demo recording that the project has to offer, feels like a theatrical preview of things to come. It's brief, incisive, and features the signature elements of Freijat's previous work that I've come to love. There's the krautrock-y bassline, the brilliantly shimmery lead guitar, the nearly wordless vocals, the linear strong structure that culminates in a crescendo. The fingerprints he leaves all over his work are as undeniable as Kubrick's "one point perspective", Wes Anderson's pastel color pallet, a Hitchcock cameo appearance. If anything, this demo is an improvement on what Seventeen Years has been already been doing perfectly and quietly since the project's inception.


Single Review: Juan Wauters and Carmelle - "Wearing Leather, Wearing Fur"

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Juan Wauters / Carmelle - Wearing Leather, Wearing Fur
(2015 Captured Tracks)

Instrumentally comprised of little more than acoustic guitar and the occasional garnish of melodica, Wearing Leather, Wearing Fur makes the absolute most out of its bare-bones construction. The track a 15 minute-long, ever evolving piece of outsider folk that deals with identity and fitting in – themes that neither of the songwriters is a stranger to - trading verses and instrumental solos seamlessly. Wauters of The Beets takes the role of guitarist, laying down the wonky arpeggiation that is instantly recognizable as his own, unobtrusive yet charmingly twangy. Carmelle Safdie of the Beachniks adds some variety to the mix with her melodica and harmonica. Carmelle kicks things off on the vocal end with a catchy, almost chant-like tune about taking pride in one's self, a punker version of a song you might here on Sesame Street or Fraggle Rock. It's the most accessible portion of the record and the perfect way to ease into into the goofball atmosphere that the duo seem to effortlessly conjure. Juan’s subsection towards the center of the piece, I’ll call it “She Might Get Shot”, is my favorite moment of the record, featuring some great vocal harmonies and a killer melodica solo.


Single Review: chocofriendz - "golf"

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chocofriendz - golf
(Self-Released 2015)

I have always had a fascination with catalogues of demos and collections of B-sides. There's a sort of voyeuristic thrill that comes with breaking into one of Guided By Voices' "Suitcases" of scrapped demos or eavesdropping on Brian Wilson as he coaches his team of session musicians and sound engineers between takes in the recently issued Smile box set. This brief soundcloud single posted by mysterious producer Chocofriendz provides me with a similar feeling of intrusion. I, the listener, am handed not one, but two variations on a tune titled "Golf". The first of these is an instrumental version of the song, a bit faster and more upbeat than its successor. Two arpeggios played on a charmingly lo-fi keyboard trade places with one another, slowly drawing in more instrumentation, as if the two chords that make up the core of the song were magnetic. Small high pitched trills perch atop the crest of each of each undulating keyboard pulse while bassy piano notes fill out the lower end of the recording. The song is repetitive in an entrancing way, a sort of combination between Penguin Cafe Orchestra and the Norune Village Theme in Dark Cloud. It is cozy and whimsical: if Wes Anderson dabbled in anime then this could easily soundtrack the result. 

The second version of the song is a bit slower and darker in mood. Choco whispers pitch shifted poetry about "green grass" and "abandoned golf carts" above the keyboard drones, creating an haunting atmosphere that's creepy in a surprisingly comfortable way. As the song fades into a Sailor Moon sample, I feel as if I'm transitioning from awakeness into a dream.


Review: High Sunn - "Sweet Dreams"

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High Sunn - Sweet Dreams
(2015 Self-Released)

I started Half-Gifts shortly after my fourteenth birthday, and ever since then I've made it a point to scour the internet for albuss released by fellow teenagers. In a way, music made by young people is some of the most honest, intimate and raw material that I've listened to. Many older songwriters devote a good portion of their lyricism to looking back at major turning points in their formative years: first loves, failures, friends, that sort of thing. Though there's nothing wrong with reminiscence, I find that I prefer to hear these themes come straight from those who experience them first-hand. High Sunn's Sweet Dreams is a great example of what I'm talking about; it's the brainchild of 15-year-old Justin Cheromiah, a curious blend of surf-pop guitaristry that recalls Beach Fossils' most recent album, Clash The Truth and Teen Suicide's angsty, lo-fi vibe. The resulting product is the most delightfully depressing summer-core album in recent memory. Upbeat, twangy riffs are paired with peppy drum machine beats and Cheromiah's reverby, shouted vocals, tinged with an emo-revival attitude. "Life" is my favorite of the 6 songs: breezy chords are stitched together by a bubbly bassline. Cheromiah's vocals are starkly melancholy above such a summery, carefree instrumental, providing for a fascinating contrast in mood. It's been a while since I've heard a beach-pop album that's captured my attention as well as Sweet Dreams has. It has definitely provided me with a renewed interest in the sub-genre as well as some listening material for the warm months ahead. 


Review: Not - "What Has Become of the One That I Love?"

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(2015 Self-Released)

Rarely does an album encountered by chance while perusing new releases on Bandcamp connect with me so immediately. I came across Not's newest full-length effort while browsing under the "shoegaze" tag this morning and it has been on repeat as I browse Facebook and eat granola from a plastic Ninja Turtles container. The solo project of Sacramento-based guitarist Peter Eckles, Not weaves intricate tapestries composed of looped riffs and buttery reverb that send meditative pulses of aural warmth into the listener's ear like an oscillating space heater. Imagine a percussionless Explosions In the Sky that takes cues from Bon Iver and ambient projects like Reedbeds and My Own Retard.

What Has Become of the One That I Love? opens with "Little Ghost", a brief, haunting overture composed of gelatinous guitar feedback that does a good job of easing one into the album's pensive, dreamy state. Following it is my favorite of the eight improv sessions, "Gone", a minimal piece that pairs delicate pluckings with peals of howling slide guitar. It's wonderfully emotive for something so simple. "Spring" is another choice cut, fast paced and catchy compared to the rest of the album. It is rather densely composed of melodies that wrap around each other like tangly vines, an overgrowth of guitar noodlings. The release ends with a twenty minute opus, "On the Bank", rhythmically driven by a frantically played chord organ, reminding me of Daniel Johnston's early work. Layers of feedback squalls and speckled notes are added until the song melds into one abstract wall of sound, a gorgeous crescendo of oblivion to round out an inpressive release.


Single Review: Jessica And The Fletchers - "Air Balloon Road"

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Jessica + The Fletchers - Air Balloon Road
(Self-Released 2015)

Fittingly christened after an early Sarah Records compilation, "Air Balloon Road" is perhaps the ultimate twee-pop tune. It's pure pleasure compressed into a manageable two-minute portion of aural cotton candy: sweet, airy and ephemeral. Each instrument is inundated with reverb, from the hazy, distorted rhythm guitars to the liquescent keyboard riff that opens the track. There are some beautiful, echoey vocal harmonies that remind me of christmas carols or a spaced-out version of the Archie's. Though Jessica and the Fletchers' new single is, on the surface, a droning mass of lo-fi fuzz, it is a lovely, catchy song that will please c86 purists and bandcamp browsers alike.


Split Review: Flowers Taped To Pens/Bread Club/Beds/Skull Kid

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FTTP/Bread Club/Beds/Skull Kid - Split
(2015 Driftwood)

This split single is perhaps the defining release in the Driftwood Records discography: it's intimate, glazed with a crunchy coat of tape hiss and jam-packed with twinkly post-rock riffage. Oh, and most importantly, it's loaded with the moody, skramz-y vibes that the label's cult following craves. The first band to enter the ring in this fatal four-way is my personal favorite Driftwood act, Flowers Taped To Pens, a trio from San Diego. Their offering to the split release, "I Suppose It's Just Our Nature" is perhaps their best yet, pitting the signature shrieks of Connor and Ethan Sgarbossa against soaring, intricate guitaristry, culminating in a majestic crescendo of screamed vocals and tremolo picking. Following FTTP is a much more subdued, yet no less satisfying Bread Club cut. Atop instrumentation that vaguely resembles that of mid-career Dinosaur Jr is a lovably twee vocal delivery, another odd musical pairing on the split that works surprisingly well. It's the record's most accessible cut that builds up to a lovely three-part vocal harmony.

Leading off the B-Side of the record is Beds' appropriately-titled "Sweet Dreams", a somber tune carried on the strength of an impressively expressive dual guitar attack. It's the airiest and most calming of the four songs, wrapping the listener in a veil of spacey atmospherics. Pittsburgh's Skull Kid round out the split with distorted lead guitar, aggressive percussion, and powerful harmonies. If you've yet to cop any Driftwood Records releases, this 4-way split is a great place to start.


Single Review: Bloomshock - "Best Left Unsaid"

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Bloomshock - Best Left Unsaid
(Self-Released 2015)

Bloomshock is one of the hidden gems I'll dig up unexpectedly on a late-night Bandcamp excavation - the sort of discovery that keeps me coming back to the site in pursuit of home-recorded treasure. The New Jerseyan solo project has hammered out an amazing total of sixty-four releases over the past year and a half,  working at a dizzying rate that even eclipses that of lo-fi workhorses Guided By Voices, who just happen to be a major influence on his work. Perhaps lost in an endless sea of grunge-tinged, fuzzed-out bands that look to 90s DIY as a major influence, Bloomshock is a criminally underlooked project that is easily the most accurate impression that period of music, borrowing Pavement's penchant for droney rhythm guitar, Dinosaur Jr's fuzz fetish and the unmistakeable vocal delivery of GBV's Robert Pollard. "Best Left Unsaid" is the best installment in the project's deep singles discography, its title track a ramshackle tune that floats on reverb-soaked chords and infectiously jaunty bass. The b-side pays tribute to Bloomshock's predecessors, including a fleshed out re-imagining of a Guided By Voices demo (an improvement over the original, in my opinion!) and a twangy Sentridoh cover. If you dig this single, check out the solo act's latest LP, Amherst.


Interview: KINESTHETI@C (Jared VanMatre)

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HALF GIFTS: Your newest material is jarringly abstract - very different from much of the stuff you were releasing a year or two ago. What influenced your shift in sound?  

JARED VANMATRE: recently my attitude towards everything has gone from being conservative and cynical/oppositional to fluid and excited and giddy. i'm not sure what started this transition but i've been very hyper creative and full of admiration for things I previously had distaste for and it's been fantastic. like I truly think everything is enjoyable on a certain level when you are driven by creative energy. i've just been in like discovery/exploration mode and it's been really manic and fun

I've definitely noticed what you mean with that last point. Some of your recent output like "Jack My Swag" has taken interesting perspectives on genres that may people don't consider artistically, such as dubstep or bubblegum pop.

yeah recently I've been into EDM textures because I think it's amazing that for a little bit something as avant garde as dubstep was popular and that a large group of people at one point identified with wild amelodic digital fm sounds. i'm so ready for that kind of thing to become an object of nostalgia. it'll be weird and fun.

also my move to EDMish stuff also has a lot to do with the fact that I got a little bored with striving for historical depth and instead wanted to make really in your face in the present type stuff. music that makes you feel accelerated. i think getting into ryan trecartin had a lot to do with that lol.
oh and getting into trecartin was also important to me in the way that it made me realize that it's possible to make significant things without being oppositional and critical. that's huge for me and i'm glad that happened to my personality.

i just felt sick of being like cynical and listening to music that was mad at something you know? 80% of the time i'm making something i'm just having fun and exploring what i can do and what i can make myself feel and remind myself of. 

i want to be everything.

I'm also a very goofy person and i've been embracing that with my music and art and it's been liberating.

Where does the creative process begin when working on a new track? I've definitely felt a goofiness in the samples you use, what do you look for in a good sample?

i kinda start with anything like sometimes it will be a rhythm i've been tapping out all day, a melody that's been in my head, an idea of a style i want to achieve, a space i want to sculpt, a situation, a feeling, whatever. Like earlier today I was making a song with the idea in my head that I wanted to make music that you would hear Halloween themed midi library page with like lighting bolt/cobweb graphics

as far as samples it's just stuff that i enjoy the sound of lol. usually it's clips of music/audio from a youtube video/recordings i've made that have little melodic/textural moments that sorta arouse my ears or whatever. like that little einsteins trap remix the singing in that is amazing and it sounds kinda half autotuned/half  untouched and it's really pretty sounding and i used that in my roller coaster tycoon 3 beat 

lately i've noticed that a lot of good moments in music have sounds that imitate animal cries or some shit like that. i love thinking about the psychoacoustic side of things i think that's super cool. like the other day at school it hit me that the reason boards of canada's wobbly pitch sound is so sad is that it sounds like whining/crying

oh wait this is kind of off topic but something i want to say about my music is that recently i've been very influenced by my gradual coming-to-terms-with my homosexuality and unmasculine-ness and also thinking a lot about love and having boyfriend lol

and friendship! and cute things.

I really feel that on "Call Me Up" and "Can I Borrow Your Pencil".

yeah lol! i want to do that more it was very engaging and felt natural. i'll be unnatural with my creativity sometimes but that's not a bad thing to me it's just a way of transporting to differrent areas of context/style or whatever. different points of view

Do you find PC Music as an aesthetic influence on tracks like those? There are a few similar motifs.

yeah! when i found pc music i was so ecstatic because it was like unlocking something that's been inside of me this whole time that i forgot about!

i really identify with their aesthetics and their way of functioning

i mean that's kind of how it feels every time I find something i like a lot

like i remember when i first heard boards of canada, when i first listened to Replica, when I first watched I-Be Area, when I first saw the artwork for james ferraro's releases, when I first listened to government plates, etc.  it all felt like that

it's like finding things i strongly identify with to a certain degree or things that make me realize there's more untouched areas to explore

like i said earlier, my main motivation as an artist is i want to be everything

That being said, what sort of sounds do you hope to explore in the near future?

recently i've been wanting to work more with performance and the idea that certain sound elements, especially ones that convey "depth" or like specific context/intensiveness, exist when you aren't trying to get them deliberately and are results of outside variables. like some of my favorite albums sound a certain way because that's the equipment the artist had or that's the place the artist recorded or that's the time of the year the artist produced it or something
you know what i mean? i'm kinda having trouble wording it but i want to try to work with that
cause i spend a lot of time focusing on how i can sculpt my sound with software tweaks and i'm getting bored with that

i want to like play some intruments and use obscure daws or something. i also want to make music in different places instead of my bedroom because my environment has a huge influence on me. oh and recently i've kinda got back into Celer and artists like celer and i'll probably make some stuff like that. I actually did, i'll link you https://soundcloud.com/jrdvnmtr/the-moment-the-stem-is-pulled

That last thing you said is really interesting. What sort of effect does environment have?

environment can like change the way I function and look at things. like my internal point of view/attitude is often a reflection of wherever i'm at at the moment and i usually don't realize it.
like the other day i played with toys for the first time in like years and i made some sculptures and it was amazing because creatively i felt so un-me and fresh i need to do that kind of stuff more often. I kind of unwittingly limit myself by just sitting at my computer and making things

I've noticed some people on soundcloud have rapped over your beats.

yeah i think that's amazing. listening to them blows my mind. i'm really ecstatic that i'm at a level where artists want to collab like that

Who would you most like to collab with someday?

i want to be in a ryan trecartin film lol! looks like buckets of fun also i want to collab with a dog or a cool wild animal or like I want to collab with someone and make a garden with them and idk take pictures of the garden and use it as album art "Kinesthetiac's Garden Album" coming to theaters summer 2020


Review: EasyFun - "Deep Trouble"

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EasyFun - Deep Trouble
(PC Music 2015)

With each passing day, our world creeps toward pure artificiality. Thanks to the internet, friends, family and total strangers are just a few keystrokes away. Though this can make it easy to communicate with any person we choose from just about anywhere in the world, it can, conversely, make us further removed from those that we believe we're familiar with. Thanks to social media, one can attempt to engineer their own personality: an introvert can surround their self with a like-minded online subculture in order to feel more accepted - a narcissist can spend hours taking the perfect photo of themselves to upload to Instagram. Because we can selectively choose which glimpses of ourselves to project onto the canvases of Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook, being cool no longer has to come naturally; it just takes a little work. But as one trims their imperfections from their alternate online doppelganger, their artificial identity enters the uncanny valley. Like an android or a mannequin, a social media account closely resembles humanity, but is still recognizably synthetic to the point where it's exotic and strange. EasyFun's Deep Trouble, the newest release coming out of London's infamous PC Music collective, resides as deep in this valley as music can get.

Appropriately named after a Jeff Koons exhibition, EasyFun is perhaps the defining example of a PC Music project - an artificial pop outlet in the vein of Johnny Bravo from The Brady Bunch or BINKY, the pop group composed entirely of holograms which appears in an episode of PBS' Arthur. Deeply rooted in the pop-art tradition, EasyFun's sound feels as if it were scientifically broken down to its simplest elements and engineered for maximum pleasure: it takes the most basic building blocks of pop music and stretches them to playful, Fauvist extremes. The opening track, "Laplander", for example, is built from countless layers of shimmery, chopped up vocal samples and dreamy synths. It's majestic, injecting its listener with an intense feeling of adventure, of anticipation. An instrumental version of the track would make for great title screen music on a Nintendo 64 game. The whole EP is a textural feast for the ears and a scarily addictive rush of euphoria. I can't explain what it is about EasyFun that I love so much: it is just a perfect combination of simple elements: soaring instrumentals, tender, extremely kawaii vocals and most importantly, enough subtlety to have you noticing new timbres and sounds with each listen.


Single Review: Joanna Gruesome - "Last Year"

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With each new release, Welsh noise-pop quintet Joanna Gruesome approaches a perfect balance of their penchant for charming, twee-core hooks with their potential for unbridled punk abrasion. Their latest single, "Last Year", gives listeners a sneak peek at their upcoming LP, Peanut Butter. On the strength of fiery, distorted chords and blasts of trebly percussion, the track immediately roars to a start. It's as if a large dose of Perfect Pussy's chaotic, avant-punk energy was injected into the opening salvo of Joan Jett's "Reputation".  At around the 50 second marker, the band's heavy wall of distortion dissolves into a vaporous refrain that reminds me of the breezy chorus of Juliana Hatfield's "Nirvana", the eye of the tune's hurricane of gritty grunge riffage. Though "This Year" doesn't have quite as powerful a grip on me as their 2012 single "Sweater", it's still a top-tier cut from a band that produces twee-punk hit after twee-punk hit.


Reissue Review: Laundromat - "God Bless..."

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Laundromat - God Bless the Laundromat + All Who Wash Within It
(Unread 2014)

Listening to just about anything released by Unread Records and Tapes gives me the odd sensation of being a trespasser. The label's back catalogue visually and sonically shares an aesthetic of intimacy; each cassette is sloppy, raw, and sounds as if it was recorded on the spur of the moment. It reminds me of the iPhone voice memos and 90 minute cassette tapes I've filled with song ideas and outtakes over the years, discarded recordings I'll uncover months later, often conjuring distinct sights and sounds of the day I committed them to tape (or mp3). That's the feeling I get when I pop an Unread tape into the deck. It is as if I enter the mind of its respective artist, peering through keyholes of locked doors and viewing slivers of memories. It is both an intimate and voyeuristic experience. One of the recent Unread releases I've most enjoyed is the re-issue God Bless The Laundromat and All Who Wash Within It, a collection of home recordings that are just over twenty years old. Jittery, upbeat indie rock in the vein of Sebadoh and fIREHOSE, the album is skeletal in construction (the tracks are brief - many are instrumental) yet cozy and intimate. The trio's simple combination of clean guitar, drums and occasionally keyboard is surprisingly explosive; each song is hammered out with a sense of urgency. The three band members seem to race to finish their part first, making sharp turns, starts and stops along the way. You can picture them recording the album as you listen to it thanks to the raw, yet still rather clear recording quality. God Bless is packed end to end with fast-paced jams, as fun to listen to as it probably was to record.


Review: acab rocky - "truce"

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acab rocky - truce
(Hacktivism 2015)

It's been nearly a year since I reviewed acab rocky's debut album, sara, yet the project has already gone through such a dramatic shift in tone and timbre that it feels as if I'm reviewing a completely different band. While the trio's early material was dark, brooding, and lo-fi, acab's new output is a crystalline cross between midwestern emo and Green Mind-era Dinosaur Jr, woven from gossamer threads of bendy lead guitar. The album's opening cut, "Matches" lays down a base of reverby chords and twangy flecks of acoustic guitar before lunging headfirst into its first verse. The lyrics are nearly whispered in front of a backdrop of fuzzy ambience: gravelly, yet still gentle enough not to conceal the vocals. Later, an American Football-esque riff cuts through the atmosphere, sending the track back in time into the late 90s with its post-rock tone. Both "Nursery" and "Jane" each remind me of the soundtrack to Welcome To the NHK; each is minimal, relaxing and filled with a rich feeling of nostalgia. The latter even incorporates some Slowdive-ian shoegazery. It's always interesting to see lower-fi bands transition to a studio environment; acab rocky does so the right way on true.