5/20/2015

Interview: Anime-core label Mecha Yuri

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Interview // Thomas Chan, founder of Mecha Yuri

For those readers who haven't heard of Mecha Yuri, could you give a little background on the label and its origins?

back in 2011, i used to frequent an online forum mainly used for discussing nintendo games and cartoon network shows and junk like that. looking back, every member there was probably a bored pre-teen. we had factions, and me and a few other members who all shared the same interest in music decided to form a group called "HarmoniCanadianReckords" or HCR for short. our first release was an album simply named "Skype Sessions", where me and another member attempted to record a live album inside a skype call, occasionally adding another person to the call as a 'guest musician'.

later on, we began to collaborate more seriously, and the idea of an 'online band' took off in our heads. we would chat almost 24/7 over skype and exchange raw recordings through dropbox. the HCR bandcamp soon became a place for all of us to host different mini-projects, albums and eps under different artist names.

How did things evolve from HCR into Mecha Yuri?

somewhere in the middle of 2013, we decided that a rehaul was needed if we wanted to ever be taken seriously. we picked the name "mecha yuri" because it was a deconstruction of /mu/, the music board on 4chan: "/m/" being the 4chan board for mecha, and "/u/" being the board for yuri. "mecha yuri"

at first, "mecha yuri" wasn't all too different from HCR. it was only still the same three core members - Radical McKickflip, the OMNIPRESENCE, and myself - releasing on the label. over time, i decided to invite other musicians i knew either from real life (RLg) or various spots on the internet like tumblr, soundcloud and twitter (i know who you are and you are nothing, tekkaman, etc.) to release material on the label. after a few releases, like minded musicians noticed what we were doing and started to submit projects for us to release.

Do you have any specific criteria for the releases you put out on ur label? What sort of sound or overall aesthetic do you strive for with ur label?

i used to jokingly say to artists who wanted to release on the label that their music just had to be "anime". at first, we were aiming for an aesthetic that was inspired heavily by anime, japanese pop culture, and the "tumblr-esque" image edits you see on the internet.
anime is definitely still a huge influence on the artists on the label and the music we put out. for example, a few of our artists come from the "lolicore" scene; a genre which at it's roots is essentially anime-samples overtop of fast paced breakcore.

HIGH IMPACT SEXUAL VIOLENCE and Cute Fills, two indie rock bands who've released on our label also fill this "anime"-vibe: a lot of their songs are inspired by anime or manga. genre-wise, we're completely open to anything pop or experimental.

How do you come across the projects that you've put out music for? Do you actively seek out new stuff or do they come to you?

it's a bit of both actually! most of the artists we've released for are people i've met previously through twitter or past-compilations or whatever. a few artists, such as cute fills and mock off, i found through soundcloud or bandcamp and contacted personally to ask to release something of theirs. and on super rare occasions, i'll get a message from an artist who wants to offer something for us to release. this happened when Renjā, who i was already a fan of, messaged me out of the blue asking if we'd release their new album. i didn't even know that he'd heard of my label.

Speaking of Mecha Yuri's internet presence, I've seen a few online live shows that the label has hosted. How do you go about organizing one of those?

all of our online live shows were hosted through "tinychat", a video chatroom service. a little disclaimer though, the idea of an online show using tinychat came from SPF420, and the amazing shows they host. basically, all a musician has to do to perform is broadcast themselves through their webcam and microphone. planning is pretty simple: you just have to make a schedule and find people willing to play during a timeslot. all the artist - and the viewer - has to do is visit our tinychat URL. we've hosted a few shows this way, my favorite one being the launch party for the chao garden compilation we hosted with ecchiparty. sadly, i missed most of it, but the whole thing lasted over eight hours. apparently Bo-en and Clover and Sealife (formerly Space Boyfriend), two of my favorite musicians, showed up in tinychat to watch. and my friend goliad dunked some hoops during their set. bummed i missed that, haha.

Have you gotten the chance to see any shows irl?

totally! the last show i went to was teen suicide opening for Alex G right here at the Smiling Buddah in Toronto. it was a bit crazy because my friend rodrigo, who makes music under the name "RLg", played the same venue's basement after being invited by our friend MJ, who makes music as "Five Star Hotel" , who was on a mini-tour coming from Detroit. this summer i'm already planning to see death grips, yung lean and ryan hemsworth.

Hemsworth is so good!



OMG

i know right

Tell us a little about your own music!

heck yea! i've recently decided to change my artist name to "for airports". a reference to brian eno's "Ambient 1: Music for Airports" and the crazy nostalgic and sentimental feelings i have about airports and travel in general. i've only released two songs under that name; two tracks for compilation albums from The Worst Label and après-MIDI. i'm still working out a style for what i want my new music to sound like, but if i had to describe it i'd say something dumb like: "layered and atmospheric-feeling lo-fi pop built mainly around altered samples of my own guitar and vocals".

my main musical influences off the top of my head are Baths, who taught me that  electronic music production can be meticulous, melodic, emotional and beautiful and MEISHI SMILE, one of the co-runners of ZOOM LENS label, and one of their earlier projects "nono.". a dream of mine is to release a project on ZOOM LENS one day.

What sort of labels should fans of Mecha Yuri's aesthetic look out for?

definitely The Worst Label!! They're our closest net-label friends; a lot of artists who have released with us have also done releases with them and they're just super amazing overall. Canata Records is a great net-label based in Tokyo that I admire a lot. And we have a lot of close ties and similarities with labels like Pure Aesthete, AMBLIS RECORDS, Magic Yume Label, Hope Sick Cola and Senzu Collective.
 

5/14/2015

Review: A Grave With No Name - "Feathers Wet..."

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A Grave With No Name - Feathers Wet, Under The Moon
(2015 Lefse)

I've taken great care to use the term "masterpiece" sparingly. With the overwhelming abundance of music available to me thanks to Spotify and Bandcamp, it can be easy to forget what it really means to be fixated on one particular album, for a band or artist to pull my attention away from all else for the duration of an LP. About once or twice a year, a record will catch me by surprise and remind me what greatness truly means. Over the past week, A Grave with No Name's newest release, titled Feathers Wet, Under the Moon has done just that. It's a captivating listen from start to finish, bringing together the defining elements of each installment in his original trilogy of albums: Mountain Debris' expressionist emphasis on texture, the eerie atmosphere that haunted Lower, and the slick-yet-distorted production on Whirlpool. Adding a substantial dose of dreamy twang that recalls Red House Painters or even Euro-folk acts like Hank Dogs and The Cranberries, Alexander Shields has made the AGWNN album that I've always dreamed of. Hearkening back to Smashing Pumpkins B-Sides like "Said Sadly" and "Blew Away", he coats his fragile, shoegazey lullabies with lush string arrangements that are, at times, tinged with the lovable kitsch of early-80s pop country, especially so on "Waltz", which features some beautifully crunchy lead guitar courtesy of former Yuck frontman Daniel Blumberg. Though sparse, droney tracks like "Your Ghost, By the Lake" and "I Will Ride a Horse" are wonderfully cozy and jarringly powerful, Feathers Wet... shines brightest when it cranks up the distortion, like the intro to "Orion", packed with proto-grunge riffage that takes cues from Dinosaur Jr, circa Without A Sound. Fine-tuning all the elements that have made AGWNN's work great, I can safely say that Alex Shields has created a masterpiece that showcases his talent for creating hazy, ethereal atmospheres that span numerous genres.

5/10/2015

Review: Elvis Depressedly - "New Alhambra"

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Elvis Depressedly - New Alhambra
(2015 Run For Cover)

"No more sad songs," Mat Cothran whispered over the lead single of his recently released LP, New Alhambra, "I love everyone I've ever known". His November release of the "n.m.s.s." video seemed to indicate a radical paradigm shift in store for his Elvis Depressedly project: out with gloom and despair that saturated his earlier work - in with a slightly more upbeat, (yet luckily no less lo-fi) sound. In the context of New Alhambra, "No More Sad Songs" feels like self-aware joke in an album that wallows in its own self-loathing. If anything, the new album is an updated, more polished version of the signature blend of crunchy, fuzzed-out timbres that Cothran has established over the past six years. 

Though New Alhambra might sound the name of a cult, a quick google search reveals that it's actually the former home of now-defunct pro wrestling promotion ECW. If author John Updike was known for "giving the mundane its beautiful due", then Mat Cothran should be known for extracting a creepy, phantasmal aesthetic from the same source. In keeping with this ghostly vibe, Cothran's material for the new album is airy and hollow: sour, twangy guitars squelch against a backdrop of tape hiss, watery keyboard pulses coat his music like a thin film, and, as usual, his vocals echo and phase into an endless void as if he's cartoonishly contacting us from the great beyond. Strings buzz like insects on "Thall Shall Not Murder", "n.m.s.s" and "New Heaven New Earth". The latter of those three tracks is my favorite on the whole album, driven by an eerie drum machine rhythm and swirling keyboard pads. Though not a radical departure from anything he's done in the past New Alhambra is the finest installment in the Elvis Depressedly discography.

5/04/2015

Single Review: Jandergan: "Two Is Glue"

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Jandergan - "Two Is Glue"
(2015 New Branch)

For a debut single, Jandergan's "Two Is Glue" feels like the product of a band in its prime. An intricately crafted blend of shoegaze, midwestern-emo and the wiry riffage of late 00's indie rock (Phoenix, Two Door Cinema Club), Jandergan's sound is mature and nuanced, a constellation of spacey dream-pop guitar harmonies that unfurls before the listener on a canvas of reverb. Jandergan's serene, summery brand of psychedelia evokes Cosmic Rough Riders' "Life In Wartime", a hazy slice of folk-rock accented by twinkly harmonics. The Lexington, Kentucky scene is one of the most underrated in the country, and Jandergan, alongside acts like Jovontaes and Idiot Glee, is yet another reason to keep an eye on the woozy psych-pop that the college town has been a hotbed for in recent years.

Review: Hacktivism Records - "Bedroomcore Vol 1"

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Hacktivism Records - Bedroomcore
(2015 Hacktivism)

When assembled correctly, there's nothing better than a good cassette compilation of shoegazey bedroom-pop, and Hacktivism's coast-to-coast assemblage of lo-fi anthems and ambient explorations is one of the finest comps I've gotten my hands on. Each tape comes packaged in a turquoise Norelco case that would fit right into Odd Future's signature color pallet. The album artwork really evokes the spirit of the "bedroomcore" revival: primal self-expression that is, strangely enough, deeply rooted in the internet era's remarkable ability to provide a space for artists within the genre to congregate. "Bedroomcore" is both a rejection and celebration of modern technology, using the cheapest, most archaic means of production available to present your music to anyone, anywhere on an easily accessible digital platform like Bandcamp. All facets of the scene are represented on this comp: there's a lovely piece of Wild Nothing-y jangle pop provided by Dear Tracks, Sob Story's haunting shoegaze tune that makes use of Japanese vocaloid software and even a crunchy keyboard cover of a song from Steven Universe that closes out the tape. Every song on Bedroomcore is a hit in its own right, making for an essential addition to any tape-head's library



5/01/2015

Review: Kinesthetiac - "Self-Titled EP"

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Kinesthetiac - Kinesthetiac EP
(2015 Sad Alan)

In the mid-2000s, Animal Collective introduced a raucous, neo-tribalist aesthetic to the rather sterile, whismsical brand of indie rock that dominated the scene, peddled by NPR-core acts like The Shins, The Decemberists and Grizzly Bear. Dubbed “freak-folk”, AnCo’s fresh, exciting approach to the classic “campfire song” was an experiment in regression. Disposing of any notion of convention, the collective exposed the beast caged within indie-folk’s quaint, soothing aesthetic by stripping it down to stomps, chants and barbaric yawps, a cacophony of pure emotion. Today, Indiana-based producer Kinesthetiac’s new EP is part of a similar revolution challenging the conventions of electronic music. A self-proclaimed “next level gay furry internet persona post-modern expeditionist”, Jared VanMatre produces odd sound sketches that are often minimal in construction but always maximalist in their scope of expression. “Call Me Up” evokes the sonic color pallet of Fisher-Price reds, yellows and blues that I’ve often attributed to PC Music’s GFOTY. It’s straightforward, and jarringly childlike, its bleep and bloops reminding me of sound effects from a late-90s educational computer game, (maybe Freddi Fish, perhaps?). “@TheSarcasmTweets” is the album’s crowning achievement, its unpredictable rhythms accented by vocal samples that seem to have been run through a Slap-Chop. It’s sort of a cross between A.G. Cook and Spinee. Bookended by instrumentals like the funky “Deep Landscape” and “Clubhouse”, a bouncy jingle that features a cute whistle sample, Self-Titled is an undeniably fun album from start to finish and is one of the year's most re-playable efforts.

(excerpt from half gifts issue 13)

4/25/2015

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!!!!

4/18/2015

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. 

4/14/2015

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.

4/08/2015

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.

4/03/2015

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.

3/29/2015

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. 

3/22/2015

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

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Not - WHBOTOTIL?
(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.

3/18/2015

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.

3/12/2015

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.