7/22/2014

Record Label Roundup: 1980 Records


On Friday I had the pleasure of attending Pitchfork's Music Festival in Chicago, marking not only my first trip north of Columbus, Ohio but also the first time I've gotten the chance to explore a true music fest to its fullest. I came to Union Park to witness the throbbing, industrial dance epics of Factory Floor and The Haxan Cloak's hissing intensity wrought of bassy minimalism, but it turned out that the record fair that took place in the tennis courts was what made the day most memorable. Hidden among American Football beanies, "Rad Dudes" trading cards and Vampire Weekend records were rare treasures: out-of-print LPs, small-run cassettes, even entire labels I'd never heard of before! My favorite discovery: Chicago's own 1980 Records. They're a non-digital cassette label, a bold stance to take in a bandcamp-driven DIY climate, but that makes them all the more special. Such an ethic invites potential listeners to take risks, to buy a copy of something they've yet to hear, to check out a booth peddling unfamiliar music, to judge a tape buy its cover. The label's name doesn't evoke an abstract nostalgia, it truly embraces the magic of old-school record collection, the allure of the unknown. I took home a handful of selections from 1980 in my backpack. I'll write about a few of my favorites.

Miki Greenberg - Piano Music

What I really enjoy about 1980 Records is that they can honestly claim that they put out all kinds of music. In perusing the label's discography you can jump from bruising hardcore punk to anthemic psych-pop to relaxing, yet engaging tape's worth of piano solos. As you can guess from the title, Miki Greenberg's 1980 Records offering is the latter of the three. Intelligent and often upbeat, Greenberg's pieces evoke the chipper bounciness of 18th century chamber music, Satie's spareness and sometimes even the fauvist abstraction of Schoenberg throughout the album. It's a surprisingly fun listen that's as artful as it is pop-conscious ---Greenberg has cited the Beatles and the B-52s as influences in other projects he's worked in. If you liked Aphex Twin's work in the Marie Antoinette soundtrack, you'll probably dig this.

The Clams - Self-Titled

Sure, The Clams might be your friendly neighborhood garage-rock band, but under that lo-fi exterior hides an immensity that could fill a stadium. Their self-titled tape opens with a bang: wailing lead guitar atop a trudging rhythm section. It's a bold move, essentially opening your album with a three minute amalgamation of towering guitar licks, but it's worth listening to for the transition into "Jim Song", a song that is initially sparse and folky, but borrows the intensity of its predecessor for its thrilling climax. In a way, The Clams mimick Godspeed You! Black Emperor here, balancing quiet, restrained sections with enormous instrumentation in the chorus of the track. The rest of the album channels Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees, bringing a surfy psych rock assault to the table. Totally tubular stuff!

F*ck Everlasting - Kenswick Cycles

I love a good cassingle, especially a hardcore punk cassingle! The whole tape is just over two minutes, and makes great use of its time. It reminds me quite a bit of the raw fury heard in Minor Threat's first two EPs. Loud and fast punk that focuses on delivering a knockout blow of fuzz and little else. Each side of Kenswick Cycles is bassy and dizzyingly furious, yet somehow also catchy and memorable.

7/17/2014

Cassette Corner: Order Anura

Order Anura - Order Anura
(Self-Released 2014)

In the biological field of taxonomy, the Anuran order includes all types of frogs and toads, which would explain the amphibious artwork printed on Order Anura's debut cassette cover, as well as the project's Bandcamp profile picture, clipped from the pages of the popular Frog And Toad children's book series. In a way, the name also illustrates the music that wafts from Ivan Heemskerk's apartment: cold and dewy, far removed from the influence of the rest of the world. Liquid organ melodies drip from morning leaves into the a crystalline basin of reverb, while Heemskerk's misty vocals bubble to the surface, coated in hiss. It is processional music that echoes through an empty cathedral, one that occupies a plane of reality that we do not. There are no bodies to absorb it, no obstacles for it to bounce off of. It is alien and haunting, in the vein of another keyboard-pop favorite of mine, Bevo Francis' Sun City Welcoming. Following the brief, but powerful set of seven original tunes on Order Anura is a spare and surprisingly emotion-inducing cover of "Overworld" from Gargoyle's Quest, a Game Boy title from 1990. Perhaps one day, Heemskerk will team up with California's Morgue Toad to create the ultimate collection of amphibious lo-fi melancholia.

7/15/2014

Linden Pomeroy To Debut New Album Saturday; Details Below

Linden Pomeroy - Hypnos
(2014 Little League Records)

Judging by the two singles already released from it, Hypnos, the debut album by British slowcore singer-songwriter Linden Pomeroy, is sure to live up to its title and then some. The name is taken from the Greek personification of sleep, a supernatural being that lurked in the underworld, hermit-like in a cave surrounded by opium poppies. Pomeroy wields a similarly somnolent power present in his music, creeping and sinister. He's shared the album's opener, "Chokehold", which stumbles persistently along on its own spindly legs, as well as "Russian Dolls", a minimalist lullaby that recalls The XX. Hypnos is slated for release on the 19th via Little League Records on cassette, vinyl and digital formats. Check out the track list below:

1. Chokehold 2. Dirge 3. Empress 4, Starlings 5. Russian Dolls 6. Overboard 7. Opium 8. Implosion 9. Insufficient 10. Something New

7/13/2014

Review: Indian Bummer - "Bummer Wars"

Indian Bummer - Bummer Wars
(Self-Released 2014)

When he's not fronting his goth-tinged noise pop trio, Acab Rocky, or sitting behind the drum kit for Jackie Trash, Canadian lo-fi all-star Sam Wells channels his creative energy into Indian Bummer, his solo side project devoted specifically to "cool music for [his] friends to hang out to". There's nothing particularly weighty about anything on the latest Indian Bummer album, sonically or thematically, but that's the beauty of it. Bummer Wars goes down easy like a Pixy Stix: 8 tracks' worth of pure sugar pleasure, grainy against your tongue. It burns off quickly, but at around a minute per song, repeat intake isn't a problem at all. The album's opener, "Bud", and "We Don't Hang Out Anymore", its immediate successor, bear the velvety, melt-in-your-mouth texture of Belle And Sebastian's mid-90s masterpiece, If You're Feeling Sinister. Wells strumms peppy acoustic chords, matched by smoggy tufts of electric guitar on the former; the latter is marked by a homogenous, gooey ambience set in motion only by sparse snare hits, which makes me think of a vat of chocolate ice cream being churned by whirling metal fins. "I Need A Car" is driven by the blotchy leads that drip over the tinny combination of twangy strumming and the buzz of a hi-hat, a breezy track that I can never truly grab onto before it gets away, however beautifully spare it is. Indian Bummer is an intense sugar high sure to get you through the doldrums of summer, minus the calories! 

7/10/2014

Review: Gingerlys - "Jumprope"

Gingerlys - Jumprope
(Shelflife 2014)

There doesn't seem to be any active label that puts out dreamy, indie-pop bliss quite as consistently as Shelflife Records. The Portland-based imprint has quietly pressed records for some of my favorite purveyors of reverb soaked and jangle-frosted songcraft, from the smoky lull of The Radio Dept. to the cozy yet calculated electronica crafted by Thieves Like Us. The latest addition to the label's impressive roster is a rookie prospect that shows heaps of potential. Brooklyn tweegaze outfit Gingerlys first showed up on the radars of seasoned Bandcamp hunters with the release of their 2013 demo EP, a handful of jittery acoustic tunes laced with the tender whispers of vocalist Maria Garnica, which often seemed to verge on glossolalia, and the airy howl of her keyboard. The band's debut for Shelflife, a 4-song record titled Jumprope, brings the lo-fi demos to life, surrounding the raw, vulnerable tracks with full, fleshy arrangements. Now a quintet, Gingerlys pack a sprightly punch recalling Heavenly's 1993 "P.U.N.K. Girl" single, only more heart-meltingly pretty. In the studio, tracks like "Jumprope" and "Better Hearts" are more abrasive, but pleasantly so. The keyboards are icy, the lead guitar riffs warm and jangling. "Summer Cramps" displays Gingerlys at their best, brittle guitars, a prominent, growling bass and a ska-like refrain. One might call Jumprope a one-dimensional EP, but when that single dimension of mid tempo pop is this cozy and beautiful, who really cares? Jumprope is a must-have for twee diehards and casual fans alike.
 

7/07/2014

Whitman Announces Upcoming Album, Shares Video



In the new music video for his song "Golden Days", Californian singer-songwriter Whitman (aka Christopher Payne) sits among rotting garbage in an alley while reminiscing on, or perhaps just imagining, an overcast day spent listening to tapes and catching some waves at the beach, a band of bikini-clad models in tow, a rather surrealist take on the kitschy machismo often seen in lite beer advertisements. The juxtaposition of despondence and decadence pairs well with the woozy, frail atmosphere of Whitman's brand of baroque pop. It's a visual and auditory treat, a video that just might be enough to tide me over for the release of his upcoming album, Restoring Darkness, dropping on Cassette, Vinyl and CD on December 30th via Folktale Records. Check out the cover artwork and track listing below!

Whitman - Restoring Darkness

1. Darker Days
2. Departure
3. Blister
4. Portland
5. Last Summer
6. Dust
7. Golden Days
8. Hope
9. Dresden

You can pre-order the record at folktalerecords.com


7/04/2014

Interview: Martin Newell of The Cleaners From Venus


Martin Newell is the prolific and outspoken frontman of DIY-pop icons The Cleaners From Venus. Stretching over a thirty year period, his body of work is vast and consistently satisfying, from the humble homemade cassette releases of the early 80's to Return To Bohemia, a brand-new effort slated to be released on CD on July 7th by Soft Bodies Records. Also, considering the thorough re-issue project of Newell's early material, it's a great time to be a Cleaners From Venus fan, and it's easier than ever to dive into his colossal discography. I had the pleasure of sending him a few questions, answered below.

The new Cleaners From Venus music video, "Imaginary Seas", is a wonderful pairing of live-action footage and watercolor paintings. Who was behind the underwater artwork and what was the process of filming it like?

Jodie Lowther and Rob Britton must take the credit for this. Jodie is an animator, artist and filmaker, working very much in a the same tradition as The Cleaners from Venus have for many years now: with more inspiration than budget. If you treat financial and technical restriction as 'a cage to be brilliant in' you can get some very good results. I was amazed by how well the vid went with the track. We did a brief morning's filming up here with two phones and a camcorder. It was quite painless actually for such a beautiful end result.

 "Imaginary Seas" is one of two singles that have officially been released from your upcoming album, Return To Bohemia. What should listeners come to expect from this new effort? What is the significance of the album's title?

A Return to Bohemia? I had a bit of a bad year for health last year. Two eye operations and a freak seizure which almost killed me. As I was recovering, it occurred to me that perhaps over recent years, despite my alleged rock'n'roll life, I'd actually become quite grown-up and responsible. Lying around last summer in a dark room for a fortnight, I thought, "When I get out of here. I'm going to do what I used to, just record music and write songs..take some time off and be nice to myself. I'd become rather a workaholic, I suppose. I needed to get back to what I was in my early 20s...and yet with the guile and experience of middle age.
I wanted to make yet another of my 'front room Rubber Souls.' I always try to do that...but this time, I think I really have.

Captured Tracks has recently re-issued a great portion of your discography over the past few years, which is actually what led me to discover your music in the first place. What has it been like to look back at your body of work as a whole?

It's been an extraordinary experience. Captured Tracks have done a brilliant job. They're very good people to work with. They're a strange cocktail of friendly enthusiasm and ruthless efficiency. If I'd had a record company like when I was in my mid 20s, I could have conquered the universe. Looking back at the old records, I can't believe I did so much in what was, actually only about a ten-year period. Some of the tracks are clumsy, lo-fi and shoddily recorded it's true...but so many great ideas!  For a long time, I looked back at that period affectionately, but with the view that they were actually only the sketch books of a still immature artist. Now, I sometimes, think, " Wow. How can I get that back again?"  The truth is, it was the soundtrack of me struggling through life on a small budget, but with a lot of hope in my heart, If I didn't make it really big at that time, I think it's been a very good thing, because I'm still as enthusiastic as I was then...maybe more so.

Much of your earliest material was originally released on homemade cassette tape, a release format that has regained popularity in some circles in recent years. What was it like putting out your first few releases? What inspired you to start making music?

Well, when I was a 19 or 20 year old Glam rocker, I just wanted to make records, be a pop star and meet girls. Actually, I'd loved music since I was a very little boy and since first seeing the Shadows and a bit later The Beatles on TV before I was ten, I kind of knew that this was going to be the job for me. I'd made records before I started putting out cassettes. The cassette thing came about because having dealt with the people in the London music industry, I just thought they were a bunch of bastards and decided not to deal with them. I thought that maybe , with the invention of the 4 track portastudio, now I had a cheap means of recording myself, that maybe I could make my own records and just sell them myself. What we didn't have were the means of distribution or promotion. I still concluded however, that if I sold only one or two hundred of my own things, it was still better than selling two hundred thousand records and having to deal with those soul-less bastards. I thought at the time that DIY cassettes would destroy the music biz as I knew it. I wanted to be one carcinogenic cell on the carcass of that dinosaur. In the end, the Internet destroyed them. The music biz is only just beginning to reconfigure itself. Soft Bodies and Captured Tracks are two examples of new rather more human face of the music biz.  

 Do you approach songwriting any differently now than you do then?

I'm a sly old wolf of a songwriter. I've been writing songs since I was 14 years old and am absolutely at the top of my game. There are not many songwriters working today of whom I will say, "Yeah. I could learn a bit from him / her." There are still plenty in the past who scare me though.

I love song-writing. I don't think it can be work-shopped or taught, as such. You must listen to it. You must do it. There are some real twats out there making money from teaching songwriting and most of them, I could write off the table. It may sound arrogant but that is how it is. The fact that I am unapplauded in music biz circles is more to do with my unwillingness to engage with the Big Dinner and Awards brigade. I don't care about them. I don't respect them. Why would I care about their judgements. Who are they, exactly?
And then they (all your favourite rock 'rebels') smile nicely, say thank you and put on bow ties. Bow ties! The  sartorial equivalent of a swastika, the bow tie is.  The industry awards the industry. The mugs...

What music are you listening to these days? 

A load old old 1960s pop. Zombies, Hermans Hermits, lots of Hollies. Radio 3 Late Junction
Marin Marais..early baroque sort of stuff. Loads of continental songwriters. Jazz: Art Pepper, Stan Getz Vince, Guaraldi. Oh, and a really great merseybeat / doo wop band from Liverpool called The Chants. Check out a track called Sweet Was The Wine.  

Besides music, what else do you enjoy doing and taking in?

I got rid of my TV two years ago. It was like having a shit-pump in the living room. Now I just watch films and Family Guy, I just love that! So witty, inventive and strange. I cycle round country lanes a lot. Oh, I forgot I'm a poet and columnist for various papers Best of all at present I'd like to plug Mule TV. Google Mule TV/Facebook. I'm doing a year of trying to crash the Eurovision Song Contest. We're on show 4 at the moment. If they won't let me in, I'm going to hold my own on video and write and perform all the entries. That includes dressing up as German woman if necessary.

Check out another sample of the new record from the Soft Bodies Records Bandcamp page. You can pre-order the CD there as well:


6/29/2014

The Meme Friends Anthology Vol 1

The Meme Friends Anthology Vol 1
(Self-Released 2014)

Though 4chan's /mu/ board is notorious for heated and often hostile debate concerning the depth and legitimacy of whatever "post-avant jazzcore" band is burning up the the blogosphere, the community has come together to create a project that's entirely its own: The Meme Friends. Over the past few weeks, user CtrAltDel has curated three compilation albums completely crowdsourced by fellow /mu/tants. His process is efficient and fun; the first step in creating a Meme Friends album is to give it a title and to name its ten songs. They're chosen based on a lottery system. For example, a reply to the thread numbered 47890833 (the number increases by one each time someone posts on /mu/) would become the third song's title. Then, a poll is taken to choose cover artwork, which is always culled from the pulpy pages of Archie Comics. 10 musicians are then given the chance to record a track that fits with the album's predetermined theme, but they must do so in an extremely short amount of time. This assembly line system of music creation evokes Warhol's screenprints of Pete Rose and Campell's Soup Cans. The Meme Friends are 2014's answer to pop art, an improved answer to the generic cookie-cutter electronica and drone that make up much of soundcloud and bandcamp.

There are times when your daily mundanity is interrupted by something so absurd that it can only be explained by a parallel universe, or a "glitch in the matrix" of some sort. I was walking home from the bookstore today, when, (I'm not kidding you here!), I passed a middle-aged man in what sort of looked like a pilgrim costume being ferried down the street in a 70's convertible stretch limo. In the front seat were a bodyguard and chauffeur; his vanity license plate read "MAFIA". I was confounded, how could this have been real? Who could this man, escorted around like some third world dictator, be? My theory: he's an inter-dimensional meme deity sent to earth to deliver the new Meme Friends album to us. The surrealist and rather anachronistic nature of this morning's encounter certainly matches the vibe of the project's most recent compilation, Meme Disco Is Now a Genre and You Can't Do Anything About It. The album is just slightly unsettling. I'm not saying it's abstract beyond recognition. In fact, it's perhaps overly vivid. I'm assuming that none of the artists creating "meme disco" grew up during the 70s. It's perhaps false nostalgia, romanticized disco as we imagine it to be. Made manifest, these imagined vibes are off-kilter and vaguely unsettling, creating an atmosphere that would make David Lynch proud. Not to say that the music isn't rad. "Nice Meme >:)" shuffles along on one of the slinkiest bass lines I've ever heard, breathing out vaporous pockets of synthesized sound, a single vocal snippet is sampled, grainy and warbly as if emitted from an old VHS tape: "Let's go to the sunshine / Let's go to the bay". "We Know What Happened To Impostor Jones" is a live recording of a lo-fi keyboard jam; its performer laces piano solos atop canned drum beats. An astute listener can hear his hands shuffle to press various buttons on his instrument. Despite the rawness of the recording, the track hits hard. Chords bounce off the rubbery rhythms, and the occasional mistake in recording adds to the song's soul. A few novelty tracks add a bit of spice to the mix. "Oh Sh*t I'm Dancing It" weaves a disco instrumental with the vocal track from Death Grips' "Takyon", while "Go To Bed John K" floats in a loose, improvisational bubble, chugging along in a prog-rock groove. It's the most varied and accessible installment of the Meme Friends trilogy, and a great entry point for anyone new to the project.

The middle child of the trilogy is Q: Are We Not Memes? It's classified as the project's "summercore" record, heralding the beginning of the season. It begins with "Claiming This", a noisy electronic track that juxtaposes a creamy keyboard melody against grating industrial whirrs and growls. It sets the tone for the album: it's breezy, beaded with sweat and bleached by the sun reflecting off the sand, but it also contains rather sinister elements as well. "My Bucket Has A Hole In It" repeats its playful, kindergarten synth riff for 2 minutes before devolving into a throbbing breakdown, stomping menacingly as dissonant steel drums clank out a groove. "Diarrhea Is Fun", I have to say, is the most original cut of the bunch, a heavily reverberated emo take on Animal Collective's Sung Tongs (an album which, sadly, I mention in every review). The compilation is complete with "I Don't See It", which reminds me of one of those Warp Records tracks you hear in the background of [Adult Swim] bumpers. It's the most album's most polished track, rounding out the Meme Friends' most unified effort. Its predecessor, the band's self-titled debut, heavily drone influenced, and has a sort of satirical vibe at times. It opens, ironically, with "Claiming Track 2", a spacey ambient tune that samples Papa Roach's "Last Resort", which I find hilarious. The album flows very nicely; it's heavily drone-influenced, and could function as an alternate soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey. The 10 minute epic, "Big Guy", is perhaps the greatest track in the Meme Friends' discography, and, honestly, one of the best of the year, its percussive keyboards slicing through flaky ambience. Overall, the release is the hardest of the three to get into, but perhaps the most satisfying.

Listen to "Meme Disco" below, and visit thememefriends.bandcamp.com for more!

6/27/2014

Cassette Corner: Field Medic - "P E G A S U S T H O T Z / a book worth reading"

Field Medic - P E G A S U S T H O T S / a book worth reading
(2014 Self-Released)

For a tape release, this double EP by San Fransisco solo act Field Medic is surprisingly polished and timeless. Though backed by minimal instrumentation, often limited to a single guitar track and occasionally a drum machine, frontman Kevin Patrick's fusion of airy chords and a prominent, often jarring vocal delivery recalls the raw brilliance displayed by three of my favorite singer-songwriters: Neil Young, J Mascis and, particularly, Colin Meloy. The opening track of P E G A S U S T H O T S, "Gypsy Dead Girl", takes a particularly Neil Young-influenced approach to forming its atmosphere: an ambling drum machine rhythm that reminds me of Young's "Helpless" carries the song's slacker-folk construction of spacey strumming and harmonica. While many lo-fi artists bury their vocals in fuzz (which, I'll concede, can sound very cool), Field Medic's are stand out boldly, as if acrylic paint atop watercolors. The tape's titular track is somewhat of an outlier, coated in a strangely psychedelic coat of fluttering, Sung Tongs-y guitar, but its experimentation only accents rather than distracts from the meat of the song, which has one of the EP's catchiest hooks. The only weak spot of P E G A S U S T H O T S is "I Swallowed Five Silver Dollars". It feels like a rehashing of "Gypsy Dead Girl", and makes for a less satisfying end to the EP than "A Pikture of U" might have delivered.

The second half of the tape, a book worth reading, is a more intimate venture. Its first offering, the title track, is a stripped-down tune, just Patrick singing over his guitar, but it's possibly the best song on the tape in terms of sound quality. It's a sharp contrast against the other two tracks that make up the EP, dusty demos recorded to cassette. Each of these contains beautiful, rich vocal harmonies which float upon skeletal fingerpicking. "Feel Like Dyin'" really reminds me of Johnny Cash's "Daddy Sang Bass", a track I used to dig in grade school. The country influence suits Field Medic well, making for a perfect surprise at the end of the tape (the two tracks aren't listed on the cassette cover's backflap). This double EP is a fun listen that's satisfying from end to end, filled with plenty of raw, mid-fi vibes.

6/23/2014

Review: Blackfire - "Too Late"

Blackfire - Too Late
(Mistake By The Lake 2014)

When it comes to noise music, for me, less is more, and it doesn't get much more minimal than Too Late, the newest vinyl release via Cleveland, Ohio's Mistake By The Lake label. It's a single-sided lathe cut record, containing a lone 12 minute composition by Blackfire, the collaborative force of Wyatt Howland, (better known for his murky, yet trenchant, work as Skin Graft), and Andrew Kirschner, the label's owner and a prolific noisemaker in his own right with a deep back catalog of claustrophobic, sputtering transmissions that sound as if they had barely been intercepted by a walkie-talkie, a sound that is alien, unsettling. Together, their new Blackfire venture is expressionist at heart, forgoing the brute, instant gratification of harshness for a narrative-driven construction. Too Late is quiet, but layered, intensely so. Its krautrock-like percussion, stark and repetitive, rolls along, collecting grime as if a lint roller. As the title implies, Too Late illustrates the bottled-up frustration and guilt one feels after failing to live up to a responsibility. It growls rhythmically, lurching like an upset stomach. Deep in the background of the piece, a thin, barely audible sonorous beam of high-pitched noise gasps for breath, shifting the record's mood from sinister to somber. Too Late reminds me of the locked groove at the end of Godspeed You Black Emperor's F#A#Infinity: a minimal loop that is extremely unobtrusive, but also very moving.

6/17/2014

Review: Alex G - "DSU"

Alex G - DSU
(Orchid Tapes 2014)

3 pressings' worth of vinyl pre-orders, write-ups in The Fader and Spin, and a handful of sneak-peek single releases later, what just might be the year's most hyped DIY album has at last been released into the world and the mythos surrounding the "internet's secret best singer-songwriter" becomes incarnate. Alex G's latest offering (and first album to be released on vinyl), DSU, is the embodiment of the classic underdog archetype. Philadelphia's Alex Giannascoli has slowly amassed a devoted cult following of lo-fi enthusiasts all from the comfort of his own Bandcamp page, which contains an rich back catalog dating back to January 2010. Each release bears a suave sense of effortlessness, a loose pop delivery delivered with a confidence that pierces through whatever layer of home-recorded fuzz coats each particular track. His music, his album artwork's blurry text imposed on vague, expressionist (and often impressionist) imagery, and his general persona are all understated, yet are undeniably cool, radiating with lowercase indifference. He's like a friend from school; the intimate nature of his recording and the abbreviation of his name suggest a casual companionship that will connect with just about any listener. 

DSU opens with a warm, droning guitar chord that will instantly remind lo-fi fans of Beat Happening's "Tiger Trap". The minimalist charm of Calvin Johnson and co., however, only acts as a base for "After Ur Gone", as the chord is overtaken by peals of groaning lead guitar. Giannascoli's vocals, whispery and soft, but not nervously so, fill the spaces between screeching guitar riffs with a refrain of "after you're gone / how can we tell them you're gone?". Held together by sturdy, motorik percussion, one could interpret the track as an anthem of sorts. The strength of repetition works well, as the song doesn't overstay its welcome at an inviting two minutes and twenty seconds. That's where Alex G succeeds and Beat Happening often fails. He has the ability to write well-constructed, catchy songs, but still has the humility to keep them concise. In my opinion, brevity is a virtue and Giannascoli holds dear to it. "Harvey" is the perfect example of such a short yet but powerful track. It's just a minute and a half, but it's teeming with life. The instrumentation is weightless, there's a magical quality to it. Emily Yacina's wordless guest vocals are otherworldy, hanging like a mist among ivy-like twirls of bendy guitar leads, tufts of keyboard and speckles of piano. Trebly cymbal crashes complete the evening soundscape like the shimmering glow of lightning bugs. The lyrics are abstract and mysterious. They bounce around, reflecting the instability of a dream's imagery. I'm pretty certain the title character, Harvey, is a dog who happens to be able to talk, which recalls "Animals", a track which appeared on his 2012 album Trick

I feel that there's a shared vibe between DSU and Pavement's Slanted and Enchanted. DIY ethos aside, there's a brittleness, a frailty of sorts, that exists in each. The albums are composed of beautiful, paper-thin instrumental surfaces that act as an icy surface for warbly, wobbly guitars to slide gracefully upon. Often, some elements deviate slightly from their beauty to give a song an unsettling aura, but not overwhelmingly so, as with the razor-like textures employed in "Axesteel". 

A few outliers exist in the album: The first of these is "Promise". A funky bassline, which sounds like it could be a part of the soundtrack to a dollar store VHS tape about Radical X-Treme Skateboarders, is paired with a rollicking rhythm. Keyboards bear much of the melodic weight on this track, bubbling and squealing like boiling water in a teakettle. "Boy" is infused with bluesy piano noodlings, making for a melancholy and fascinatingly textured track. Though it lacks some of the soul and twang evident in previous efforts like Rules, DSU is undoubtedly the best installment in the Alex G canon, and perhaps the Orchid Tapes library as well.






6/13/2014

Review: Ramona Forever/A Thousand Never Enough - "Split"

A Thousand Never Enough/Ramona Forever
(Epsilon 1999)

I always seem to find my favorite records in the most unlikely places, and for me, dollar bins of 7-inch vinyl have been teeming with short bursts of perfect pop. They're an often untapped resource of obscure, often uncharted forays into niche DIY scene, and they're often extremely interesting, if not satisfying, artifacts. With a Judy Blume reference on the cover alongside artwork that I believe is cut and pasted from the pages of Winnie the Pooh, it was love at first sight as my fingertips grazed the pulpy edges of this split between Ramona Forever and A Thousand Never Enough. The single's sleeve, cut from a grey, newspapery material, opened like a grade-schooler's math folder, split down the middle with pockets at the bottom. A lyrics booklet was tucked into the left side while the record itself rested in the other. Released in 1999, I couldn't help but wonder how long it had been since it was last played. The bands' cute and snappy monikers led me to hypothesize that they would take after the twee-pop of The Field Mice and Heavenly, but upon taking the record home with me, I was proven very wrong. The female-fronted quintet Ramona Forever adds a more frantic, fuzzy grittiness to Mineral's twinkly, calculated assault. It's the warm texture of late 90's midwestern emo infused with leftover scraps of Dinosaur Jr's sardonic proto-grunge, evident in the feedback squalls that open their side of the single, "The Pain of Letting Go". The vocals resemble a more polished version of Corin Tucker's for Heavens To Betsy. A Thousand Never Enough deliver two songs in the style of Sunny Day Real Estate, screamo vocals tempered by the twinkly stability of math-rock guitars. Though I haven't spun their side of the record as much as I have with Ramona Forever, I do have the suspicion I might find A Thousand Never Enough to be more substantial later on. This split single makes for a lovely physical artifact as well as a solid collection of tunes. If you ever come across it by chance, you'd be a fool not to buy it.

6/11/2014

Half-Gifts Issue 9 Out Now

Issue 9 includes interviews with Lillerne Tapes, Hollows, The Generation Execute and c86 veterans Close Lobsters. There's also 4 pages of reviews and a few advertisements.

Buy it here: http://half-gifts.bandcamp.com/merch/half-gifts-issue-9

6/08/2014

Review: 90's bambino - "GRΔVΣWΔVΣ"

90's bambino - GRΔVΣWΔVΣ
(2014 Self-Released)

I love an album that cleverly disguises itself as a joke, shielding the beauty it contains with a layer of satire. Take GRΔVΣWΔVΣ for example, the newest mixtape by Brazilian rapper/producer 90's bambino. The cover art bears a slimy purple and green color scheme reminiscent of the background of a Scooby Doo title card, while some sort of hooded spirit that seems to be culled straight from the Castlevania NES game floats in the foreground, overturning oil drums filled with industrial waste in its wake. The song titles are definitely inspired by the Vaporwave genre's penchant for greek letters and references to obscure or niche facets of pop culture. The aesthetic of the album's visible, though ultra-rad, might be a tad gimmicky, but as I've stated before in reviews of Jackie Trash and Big Booty Bill and Da Fish, sometimes music coated in a layer of lowercase satire just might be incubating quality songs that actually contain quite a bit of substance.

GRΔVΣWΔVΣ, as the title suggests, finds 90's bambino experimenting with darker sonic textures than those heard on his last two mixtapes. The overall general aesthetic hasn't changed all that dramatically; bambino's signature beats, similar to the smooth, pillowy dream-pop backing tracks Yung Lean is known for rapping over (but perhaps a little more lo-fi), are still present, but this time are tinged with dark, groaning violin-like tones on "DVNGΣON MΔSTΣR" and a bouncy riff that you'd hear at a Renaissance fair on "≈Ω≈☾∆STING SPΣLLS≈Ω≈". Most of the time, the vocals are pitch-shifted so low that they're barely decipherable, adding to the album's sinister aura. My favorite track of the tape is "NΣCROMANCΣR", built around a repetitive hook that swoons with its string of wobbling, trebly synth notes. An added bonus: downloading the album gets you a free remix of one of bambino's tracks by HEARTSREVOLUTION.

6/03/2014

Review: Craft Spells - "Nausea"

Craft Spells - Nausea
(2014 Captured Tracks)

It's not often an independent label breaks the milestone of even one hundred releases, and it takes a truly exceptional one to leap from that benchmark with as much, if not more vitality and fresh output as it possessed in its more formative years. As Brooklyn imprint Captured Tracks gears up for its upcoming release, Craft Spells' sophomore album titled Nausea, which just happens to catalog number 200, they've marked a point at which fans look back at a prodigious label's history of nearly six years. Craft Spells is the perfect vehicle for such a trip down memory lane. Justin Vallesteros' dream-pop quartet, like many other Captured Tracks veterans such as Wild Nothing and Minks, has reached a healthy young adulthood. It is mature enough to curb inclinations toward extremes; Nausea neither naively clings to pop immediacy like a crutch, nor does it stoop to pretension. But that's not to say the album's maturity masks the charm and energy of its predecessor. Rather, it builds on the debut's coy, c86-inspired delivery by resting it atop a base of creamy baroque pop, a technique deftly employed by Jack Tatum on Wild Nothing's 2012 effort Nocturne. In further layering and reconstructing its sound, Craft Spells' former shyness becomes a Nausea, the panic of existence.

As Wild Nothing's soaring string arrangements took to illustrate the night sky on Nocturne and DIIV's liquescent guitars mirrored the uniform immensity of the Oshin, Craft Spells' Nausea comprises the land in the Captured Tracks landscape. The strings groan with a certain earthiness, forming a plot suitable to house the garden's worth of lush piano and vibrant pentatonic keyboard that Vallesteros' arrangements call for. In fact, I'd even say that the sparkling guitars that formed the core of Idle Labor in 2011 are often merely an accent to the solid, nearly-orchestral arrangements that appear throughout Nausea. The opening title track's electric piano throbs with a sort of nostalgic melancholia that pervades the album, the apathy that comes with growing older. We hear these touches of frosty sadness in the flautal keyboards that float over "Komorebi" and in the suave trip-hop soundscape of "If I Could". Combining the jazz-tinged danceability of Heavenly Beat, the crackly singer-songwriter warmth of Chris Cohen and the dreaminess of just about every artist on the imprint, Craft Spells' Nausea might just be what sets the tone for the next hundred Captured Tracks releases while still "crafting" its own unique image.