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.


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...


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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!


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.


Review: Lil Yachty - "Lil Boat the Mixtape"

Lil Yachty - Lil Boat the Mixtape
(2016 Self-Released)

Armed with an arsenal of alternate identities to rival David Bowie, the utter disregard for polish of Beat Happening's Calvin Johnson and a nasal delivery that eerily resembles the drawl of Aqua Teen Hunger Force's Meatwad, Lil Yachty boasts an impressively deep sense of artistic self-actualization for an 18 year old with a few hot tracks on his Soundcloud. Thanks to the inclusion of his infectiously sardonic "1Night" in a popular YouTube clip and the striking presence of his signature red beaded dreadlocks at Kanye's latest fashion show, the Atlanta-based rapper has enjoyed a rapid, nearly post-human rise to his 15 minutes(?) of online superstardom over the course of the winter, his output blooming from the screwball buds of "Ice Water" (which samples an ice cream truck) and "All Times" (a surreally autotuned cover of the Rugrats theme song) to the crimson flower of Lil Boat the Mixtape, released just in time for Spring. 

The tape wastes no time asserting its weirdness - after intro cut "Just Keep Swimming" opens with a snippet clipped from Finding Nemo, Yachty assumes the identity of Darnell Boat, setting the stage as a Rankin-Bass narrator of sorts. It's hard not to imagine Darnell as Rudolph's anthropomorphic snowman or the deliveryman from Santa Claus is Coming to Town as he pulls up an invisible chair, inviting listeners to lend him their ears. As it turns out, he's the proud uncle of two nephews: Lil Boat, an oft-giggling trap-rapper dripping in dry wit, and his more outgoing brother Yachty, who douses his autotuned glossolalia in reverb and positivity. It's this sonic duality that rests at the very core of the Boat/Yachty discography - though his vocals are far from pretty, Yachty maintains a commanding presence throughout the Lil Boat Mixtape thanks to his laid-back confidence and self-aware sense of humor. Whether he's warbling an clumsy falsetto atop the chiming melodies of "Minnesota" or dropping non-sequitur after non-sequitur a la Young Thug on the atmospheric "Up Next 2", Yachty exudes an undeniable sense of fun. Pleasantly surprised at his accidental/inexplicable ascent from "loitering at Wal-Mart" to grabbing the attention of tastemakers across the Web, our protagonist can't help but crack jokes at his own expense to prevent the swelling of his ego. The audience is encouraged to join in.

Even production-wise, the tape is brimming with character, filled with sparkles of twee-pop synth, J-pop samples and comically distorted basslines. Highlights include the flautal "Run", which loops the menu music from Super Mario 64 atop fluttering hi-hats and the aforementioned "Minnesota", its painfully catchy (not to mention staggeringly minimal) piano melody carrying its army of Atlanta features with understated grace. 

Though lacking in substance, Lil Boat the Mixtape is a testament to the rich stylistic creativity and lo-fi experimentation running rampant in Georgia - alongside like-minded artists like Future and Pollari, Lil Yachty is hip-hop's answer to the Cocteau Twins: beautiful, wordless vocals smeared across a canvas of abstract ambience. It's the future of pop music - niche crannies of soundcloud and bandcamp are the new outlets for buzz-worthy music, faster and vaster than the radio. Most importantly, wrapped in playful arrangements and Wes Anderson-inspired cover art, it's undeniably fun.


Review: Blithe Field - "Face Always Toward the Sun"

Blithe Field - Face Always Toward The Sun
(2016 Orchid Tapes)

When he isn't crafting surreal pop soundscapes under his own name, Chicago's Spencer Radcliffe paints equally strange ambient abstractions as Blithe Field. The project's latest full-length effort, Face Always Toward the Sun is a scattered pile of auditory Tinker Toys - though its quivering breaths of tinny synthesizer and nervous field-recorded clatter fit together like square pegs into square holes, Radcliffe continually finds new ways to play with these building blocks of sound, coated with chipped layers of tertiary-toned paint. 

Standout cut "Milkshakes In The Rain" is a simple construction, sturdy and symmetrical. Sprinkled with tape hiss and vinyl crackle, it forms a solid scaffolding of twangy guitar picking strong enough to support the elegant canopy of vocoder harmonies that drapes itself atop the composition as comfily as melted cheese on a burger or a housecat on a throw blanket. The track occupies the same musical territory populated by Reedbeds and Stars are Insane: it's impressionist sound painting. The closer I get to the thick dabs of pasty guitar and glistening Fisher-Price chimes - the more times this ambient carousel orbits my room - the more formless they get. A once-clear painting disintegrates into abstract brushstrokes that form new shapes.

I'm unzipping a soft, navy blue lunchbox in the cafeteria, reaching in and producing a plastic-wrapped 6-pack of impossibly orange peanut butter crackers. I feel thirsty. Or maybe I watch raindrops embrace and cascade down the van window. It's dark out. In the back seat, I strain my eyes to read the greyscale panels of newspaper comics and the night's chill makes my arm-hairs stand on end. When I get home I'll tear the foil off the baseball cards I slipped into the shopping cart at Target. This sound is pure - I feel like a child and I want to fumble at some sort of packaging with my fat fingers.

Radcliffe builds towering, avant-garde structures too. Pebbles of crunchy ambience shower onto a quiet, creeping piano riff - somewhere between Carpenter's Halloween score and an Erik Satie piece - looped ad infinitum. Gradually, this piano loop becomes completely buried and Radcliffe begins to employ heavy machinery to dig it out. Atonal synths rattle like chains and grind like rusty moving parts to pierce the stillness. "Secret Soda Machine" snakes along on an off-kilter rhythm, piping glassy bubbles into the undulating contents of a fishtank. Face Always Toward the Sun is brimming with tactile, evocative sounds, each tone a holder of childhood memories in this dusty musical attic.


Single Review: Shivering Window - "Days I've Lost"

Shivering Window - Days I've Lost 7"
(Juniper Tree/Rok Lok 2015)

Shivering Window's migration from the cozy confines of cassette tape to a record's vast, wax plateau is a bold move, but one that gives the Californian bedroom act's funereal songcraft some much-needed room to breathe. Those familiar with the project's prolific tape-ography will instantly recognize Matthew Gray's tenebrous blend of dissonant riffs, echoing vocals and itchy tape hiss, but will find it tough to ignore the slight upgrade in presentation. It's as if Gray has snowblown the top layer of lo-fi murk from the tinny hits of drum machine that poke through his droney wefts of shoegaze - a bassy field recording that resembles a school bus' morning grumble is the only cushion between voice, percussion and minimally arranged guitar meanderings on the single's A-side. 

Perhaps Shivering Window's most melodic effort to date, "Days I've Lost" patiently pairs a jittery, goth-folk verse with a surprisingly confident chorus that bears the vaguely folky twang that might haunt a Real Estate record.  It's subtly catchy stuff that might worm its way out of my subconscious and into my mind's radio one lazy summer afternoon a few months from now, sending me tearing through my record collection in hopes of remembering the title of the tune I just can't shake. 


Review: Khotin - "Baikal Acid" 12"

Khotin - Baikal Acid
(1080p 2016)

Adorned with a silicone sonic pallet and Clip Art-core visuals that eerily resemble the cover art of Dean Blunt's The Redeemer, Khotin's Baikal Acid is a hypnotically amorphous slab of greyscale house that will keep your noggin bopping at 120 BPM while hammering out your last research paper paragraph to the light of a desklamp. Buffing out any of the lo-fi abrasion that marked his ultra-dreamy back catalogue, the Canadian producer pipes airy synths into artificially-lit, sterile soundscapes; his new effort feels as pure as bottled water, a McDouble fresh off the assembly line or warm paper ejected from the copy machine - it's as if he takes an evening's post-thunderstorm chill and converts it into processed, digitized sound. Post-consumer transubstantiation. 

A-Side "Recycle" (followed by an ambient "Drift Mix" of the same cut) is the record's strongest showing, orbiting subtle puffs of spacey sound-debris about its axis - a creamy, catchy melody and a tumultuous bassline that dribbles over hats and flurries of claps. The title track pairs a more sinister, yet minimal, arrangement with a rhythm section that wraps the listener in 16th-note chain mail. Though it's tough not to groove to Baikal Acid, it's a record that seems primed for doing so in solitude - the synth arrangements that accompany Khotin's recent work are as calculated and somber as Gregorian chants. But it's that very ascetic aesthetic that makes them so charming and irresistible. 


Review: Wild Nothing - "Life of Pause"

Wild Nothing - Life of Pause
(2016 Captured Tracks)

Having undergone more identity crises than an angsty high-school sophomore over the course of his sonically diverse 6-year discography, Jack Tatum finds his once scrappily charming solo project in a state of cozy repose. Though as tinged with shimmering chorus and as bathed in reverb as ever, his appropriately-titled new record, Life of Pause, resembles the descent into a long-deserved nap, shedding the colorful bombast of 2014's Empty Estate and jittery jangle-pop tension of Gemini for a pair of 70's soft-rock pajamas. Tatum's tunecraft is lower in tempo, but noticeably at its most confident, draping towering mid-tempo scaffoldings in gaudy glam-pop orchestration and a sense of twangy warmth that recalls Fleetwood Mac. Even without the strength of hooks as instantly catchy as those found on "Summer Holiday" and "Golden Haze" before it, Life of Pause dazzles with lush instrumentation, more complex song structure and a veteran's keen patience.

Picking up where the Talking Heads-inspired flamboyance of Empty Estate left off,  Life of Pause is teeming with new ideas and timbres. Right off the bat, Tatum opens intro cut "Reichpop" with a thin fog of guitar feedback, penetrated only by a rainfall of marimba that could be taken as an homage to Toto's "Africa". Cuts like the piano-laden "Woman's Wisdom" even hearken back to Todd Rundgren's early 70's output, its funk bassline and meandering synths leading up to a Bee Gees chorus. "Japanese Alice", with its nimbly strummed, trebly chords and motorik rhythms most resembles Tatum's earliest work, but still manages to stay fresh on the strength of tight production and a breezy refrain that introduces the album's most predominant lyrical theme - "wax museum / uncanny valley", he whispers above glistening arrangements. Tatum, like many artists I've been taking a look at lately, is exploring the boundaries between reality and our digital semblances of it: "TV Queen" is a love song written to a figure behind the screen while "Alien" seems to deal with the distortion of personality/appearance that social media allows us. It's the aforementioned "TV Queen" that serves as the Life Of Pause's creative peak, lacing sultry strings and eerily echoing guitar riffs above the sort of grrovy basslines that are extremely prevalent throughout the record. It's punchy, melancholy and strangely entrancing. While it likely won't gain as many new fans as the sleek, accessible Nocturne before it, Life Of Pause is sure to be a treat for diehard Wild Nothing fans who have come to love Tatum's terse lyricism and crisp arrangements.


Announcing Half-Gifts Radio!

Join me every Friday at 3PM EST for an hour's worth of Half Gifts Radio. Each week I'll be spinning lo-fi, post-punk and shoegaze tunes while briefly discussing new album releases with my co-host Kyle Root. Episode 1 airs February 19th - don't miss out! FRIDAY // 3-4PM EST // norsecoderadio.com