12/15/2014

Top 10 Albums/EPs of 2014 Pt 1 (Albums 10-8)

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10. Quarterbacks - Quarterboy
(May 2014 DBL DBL WHAMMY)

Though not intended to be anything more than a collection of his acoustic demos, Quarterboy just might be the defining installment in Dean Engle's Quarterbacks discography, soon to be 4 albums deep. The Quarterboy demos are stripped of the frenetic punk energy injected into the "official" versions of the songs, laying bare the true emotion that lies beneath their chipper, fast-paced exterior. The spacious, echoey arrangements of the demo for "Sportscenter" bring out melancholy hinted at in its more abrasive counterpart, better setting the tone for the narrator's submission to the unchanging passage of time. The moody one-two punch of "Center" and "Pool" is one of the year's most gut-wrenching musical moments, two honest meditations on young love and the conflicted feelings, awkward exchanges and regret that ultimately come with it. There's an overwhelming sadness in Engle's voice and in the fuzzy, acoustic warblings that seep from his guitar that will consume all who listen to Quarterboy: it's the sonic equivalent of the feelings of embarrassment that hit you while lying a wake at night, remembering every little stupid thing you've said since elementary school.

RIYL: Elliott Smith, Beat Happening, Lois

9. Kool A.D. - Word O.K.
(March 2014 Self-Released)

The self-proclaimed "best rapper in the world", Kool A.D. is Victor Vazquez, the former half of hip-hop duo Das Racist, a visual artist whose work is a psychedelic fusion of Keith Haring and Ub Iwerks, and above all, a post-modern prophet. In our current pop-cultural climate which acknowledges the absurd, self-aware genius of artists like Lil B and Tim & Eric, it's high time for Kool AD's work to garner more recognition. The material on his most recent mixtape, Word O.K. serves up dry wit in spades, but not haughtily so. Vazquez's laid-back flow pairs nicely with his deadpan sense of humor, delivered with the deft conveyance of the class clown: self-referential and intelligent but often charmingly blunt and immature, laughing at his own inside jokes mid-track. It's not just the lyricism that'll keep you coming back for more; the jazzy production that flows lazily through the tape just adds to Kool AD's relaxed aesthetic, especially on the sleek opener "Open Letter". If you listen to any track off Word O.K. though, let it be "Tight". Its sour, slippery beat provided by chillwave maven Toro y Moi establishes a seedy atmosphere to match the acerbic lyricism of Vazquez and his features, Lakutis and Mr. MF'in Exquire.

RIYL: Lil B, Danny Brown, Le1f


8. Sarrasine - EP1
(July 2014 Self-Released)

Weaving strident lead guitar through a buttery weft of fuzzed-out chords and warbly bass, Argentinean shoegaze outfit finds just the right balance between beauty and abrasion. The album compiles just about everything I love about everything I love about 90s music. Evident in their debut release, EP1, is the proto-grunge bombast of Dinosaur Jr's Green Mind and Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream, the jangly charm of Sarah Records, the weighty nothingness of Slowdive. It's a must-have download for dream pop diehards that's stunning from start to finish.

RIYL: Sonic Youth, Brighter, MBV

12/14/2014

Jon Prokopowitz Interview

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Jon Prokopowitz

Your bandcamp page, "Money House Blessings" is home to many releases under different names. Can you tell us a little about your music and your different projects? How did you get started?

So I've been fixated with the ease of home recording and music making since high school. Even though I didn't realize it then, the internet coupled with open source and stock recording software has made it wildly simpler to create and distribute music for free. Now the concept of owning a label doesn't necessarily mean you mail out CDs or tapes, it could be just a collective of artists on a bandcamp page. That's a bit what I was aiming for with MHB, but at first I was thinking of having other people be a part of it. Now it's ended up as a sort of faux record label- bar one of the projects on the "2k14 Mixtape" called N@ Geo (some tracks my dude Carson made), the rest is all of my doing. The reason it does sound like a fake record label is because the sounds vary greatly from project to project. I can put a lot of hours and time into a project like Coral Florist, or I can make long mix tapes of reworkings of bad pop songs like the Dusk .FM series. That option to create something from scratch or to play with something I find is freeing. Plus there's no money involved, so I can make whatever I want.

In addition to the label, you also run a webstore called BADPLANT. Can you tell us about that?

Yes! As well as making music I also make a lot of art and I skateboard. A few years ago I was on blogspot with a site called The Jersey Deli, it was all photos and posts about skateboarding around my area in North Jersey. It had fizzled out a little bit, but soon I got heavy into zines. One of the first ones I made was called Badplant, and it's a skateboarding/diy/art project in an 8 page zine. At this time tumblr became a thing, so I made badplantzine.tumblr.com. Eventually I wanted an online marketplace to put up things me and friends were selling, so I made badplant.storenvy.com. All of it's about having fun and getting stoked.

What other zines are you into?

I wish my collection was bigger, but I do have some favorites. Booger Brie makes amazing drawings and has a bunch of zines out, Later Dudes and all the hamburger eyes stuff, Fun Fun Fun skate zine is rad, Karate Foot, Skate Jawn's a good local skate zine from the tri state area. My friends have made some amazing one-offs- Pizza Party by Brian Cordes, Maris by Carson Cooper, and some fun skate and music related ones by Euan Lynn. And duh Half-Gifts.

You covered an Ariel Pink track for the Half-Gifts Halloween Compilation. Why did you choose that song to cover? What other bands are you into?

Yeah dude, I love Ariel Pink. In that same vein I can get into people like R. Stevie Moore or Martin Newell, there's something about a good pop structured song that isn't recorded in a professional studio, and is self aware that it's a pop song.
As far as other music, it's always tough. I've been doing an online radio show for the past 30 weeks, so I'm constantly sniffing out new stuff. I do have all time favorite groups and people I've really dug into over the years, but it's just the tip of the iceberg as far as the amazing things that floats around out there. So some newer music, TOPS, Punks on Mars Ariel Pink, Chairlift, Yeasayer, Neon Indian, Mac DeMarco, Gang Gang Dance, James Ferraro, Sam Mehran and Outer Limits Recordings, Software Blonde and Adeodat Warfield, Sun Araw, Tallest Man On Earth, Thievery Corporation, Zonotope… Then there's older stuff like Steely Dan and all Donald Fagen's music, DEVO, Cleaners From Venus,  MF Doom, Talking Heads, Spike, Zappa, Pat Methany, Wu, The Rippingtons, Värttinä, and for some reason I really like Fleetwood Mac. Some of those groups I feel like almost every thing they've made is spot on, which is rare.

Awesome, digging that list! What other stuff are you into besides music and skating?

I create a lot of things, like art wise. I like painting and drawing, I screen print on skateboards, sculpting's really fun. I post all that on my main site jonprokopowitz.com. Other things I'm into, I like learning about what other people have gathered about the unseen nature of this place. People could label it paranormal, but the nature and possibilities of dimensions and planes, and what people have found about energy and techniques like meditation or lucid dreaming. Condensing it further, ideas about life, death, and creation. I think it's good to think about these things, what makes sense and what doesn't. I'm not saying the internet has the answer to everything, but it does creates a peer-review system where evidence in favor or against these controversial topics is readily available. I think there's a lot of misconceptions out there, but gradually people are starting to learn and focus on the right things in life. It all starts with questioning and conducting thought experiments. We just gotta get that spark to want to know what's going on and what's actually important.

Your bandcamp makes reference to Pajama Sam and Lego Island. What are some of your favorite old-school PC games?

Yes! We have the funniest connection with that. So I grew up in a time where a home PC was beginning to become a standard thing, so naturally I got games and played them often. Through my grade school and library I was introduced to stuff like the jumpstart educational series, the Magic Schoolbus games, Kidpix, Mavis Beacon Typing games, Math Blaster, etc. I also had fun games like you said, Pajama Sam, Lego Island, Lego Racers 2, so many pinball games, Extremely Goofy Skateboarding, among others… I think one of my favorite I got free with a box of cereal- Dirt Track Racing Sprint Cars. That was my favorite game because the in game physics weren't exactly right, so you could race the track backwards and try to slam a car, but if you did it right your car would launch spinning high into the air. That was really fun to me, I don't know why. It's funny how those crappy weird environments from the games get stuck in your head though. I don't play any video games now, so those fake experiences are still stuck in my memory. Especially with beautifully bizarre games like pajama sam, the feeling of being in the game is what lasts. It's like reading a book, but not really.
 

12/07/2014

Top Five Singles of 2014

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5. Captive - "The Fool"
(February 2014 Self-Released)

"The Fool" is a harmonic convergence of all the elements that make the post-punk genre so attractive. Muscly snares, plated in industrial distortion and slicked with reverb usher in the track's driving rhythm section. A repetitious bassline, chugging along somewhere in between a hiss and a growl, sets the drum hits in motion as whirring synths and an acetic lead guitar riff join the fray. Working like clockwork, these elements of gothic pop all fittingly come together to supplement the song's mantra-like reflection on the natural order of the world. "First the Stone / Then the Plant / Animal, and then the Man". Something about the song and its timeless minimalism make it feel simple yet very fashionable, like a well-tailored Oxford.

For fans of: Blank Dogs, The Cure, Joy Division


4. A.G. Cook - "Beautiful"
(June 2014 PC Music)

If minimalism was a virtue that marked "The Fool", then so too is it the defining characteristic of A.G. Cook's "Beautiful", and just about all of the releases shelved alongside it in the PC Music discography. The difference is that while the former's minimalism highlights a feeling of bleak desolation, the PC Music collective uses that ethic to manufacture an aesthetic similar to that of a Wes Anderson film: pastel-toned, orderly and cozy, almost exaggeratedly so. Here, A.G. Cook's dream-poppy take on EDM lives up to its title, yet also feels just a little surreal, as if it were the background music in a Tim and Eric sketch. If anything, the track reaches uncharted territory in the dance music genre by stripping it back to its most basic roots.

FFO: Crystal Castles, SOPHIE


3. Institute - "Salt"
(August 2014 Sacred Bones)

Perhaps no single embodies the noisy, sinister vibe of the Sacred Bones label than "Salt", an amalgamation of hardcore punk and gothic pop in the vein of Misfits or Skeletal Family. The Texan quartet weaves gnarled riffage atop pummeling percussion, a suitable accompaniment for Moses Brown's signature growl, rabid and indecipherable.

FFO: The Men, Drunk Injuns, Black Flag

2. The Snow - "Memory Loss"
(April 2014 Captured Tracks)

It's a collaboration between members of Beach Fossils, Wild Nothing and Holograms - how could "Memory Loss" not make this list? The track, released on vinyl as a special Record Store Day exclusive, combines the best elements of each project involved: Beach Fossils' surf-y bass lines, Wild Nothing's jangling lead guitar and the angsty howl that Andreas Lagerstrom injects into Holograms' high-octane brand of post-punk. Together, they capture the sort of signature melodrama present almost universally throughout 80's music, whether it be on the radio or deep in the underground.

1. peaches davenport - "dog hair sweatpants"
(August 2014 Self-Released)

Taking influence from the shambolic brand of freak-folk popularized in the nineties by members of the Elephant 6 collective, peaches davenport is the brainchild of 15-year-old prodigy Cole Wharton. Nestled in the center of his project's surreal, highly experimental debut album  is "dog hair sweatpants", a breezy pop tune that sways back and forth clumsily on off-kilter rhythms as if it were a long-legged spider waltzing about on its spindly appendages. Acoustic guitar is percussively strummed to match the beat of the drums as they are consumed by brassy arrangements and bombastic keyboard melodies that remind me of the churchbells that can be heard in the distance on the hour while playing Animal Crossing for GameCube. Wharton's warbly vocal delivery reminds me of Kevin Barnes' in his early of Montreal discography. In its unabashed weirdness, the song is majestic, even anthemic. Rarely have I heard music this simultaneously alienating and inviting. 

11/29/2014

Review: Hollow Boys - "Believe In Nothing"

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Hollow Boys - Believe In Nothing
(2014 Bridgetown Records)


Recorded in the heart of last year's harsh winter, Believe In Nothing is cloaked in gloom from its nihilistic title to the album art's murky, purple hue, reminding me of a psychic-type Pokemon card. It is the second LP in as many years, conceived by Minnesotan trio Hollow Boys, and is an impressive progression from the streamlined drone-pop delivery of their debut to a lush blend of Rough Trade jangle, voluminous shoegaze and a theatric delivery that recalls The Smiths; possibly the Misfits at times. "Spellbreaker" pits a creamy c86 guitar riff against a gravelly bassline. The two grate against each other, converging into a wall-of-fuzz chorus, complete with a triple-vocal harmony. "Melted" oozes into sludgier textures, its dissonant chord progression slathered in reverb and distortion. Overall, the effort is a sizeable portion of late-80s casserole: a combination of all my favorite indie-rock archetypes of that era crammed into one serving. It's a delicious combination that'll have you reheating the leftovers for repeat intake.
 

11/23/2014

Review: Ariel Pink - "pom pom"

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Ariel Pink - pom pom
(4AD 2014)

It's been fifteen years since West Coast weirdo Ariel Pink released Underground, his first dispatch of scuzzy, saccharine pop; a garage/glam crossbreed tinged with a sardonic delivery borrowed from the last gasps of the eighties. Since then, in all honesty, not much has changed. Fast forward to 2014, and that same brand of warped, low-fidelity psychedelia is just as present on his newest double LP, pom pom. The difference: a recent interest in Pink's work has wormed its way into the foreground of the indie music scene on the strength of his 2010 effort, Before Today, an album of re-recorded, "cleaned up" versions of his most accessible material. The album was met with incredible acclaim, but in the context of Ariel's career, was perhaps too immediate, too grounded in reality. pom pom is a return to the elements of his early material that make him so intriguing as both a musician and character: an exaggerated, Bowie-esque delivery, unconventional song structure and nostalgic pop vibes.

Besides Pink's manipulation of sensationalist music journalism to promote his album, perhaps the sudden interest in Pink's unique sound can be attributed to the postmodern aesthetic that has rapidly injected itself into the indie music scene. The PC Music collective has deconstucted dance music to its most spare components, exploring its inner workings at a minute, almost scientific level. 'Based' rappers like Yung Lean, Lil B and Kool AD don't so much break as they do ignore the rules of hip-hop. It's only natural that Ariel Pink's exploratory efforts would spike in popularity. pom pom's whimsical opener, "Plastic Raincoats in the Pig Parade" is an example of a song that's teeming with such an atmosphere. It's intricately constructed, yet does not take itself particularly seriously; its chiming keyboards and ecstatic, juvenile energy can be compared to children's music made by acts like The Wiggles, but such a timbre pairs extremely well with his penchant for over-the-top songcraft, peppered with trippy sound effects and dramatic shifts in mood or texture.

While pom pom has its strong pop singles, the feathery "Put Your Number In My Phone", for example, it's the album's most adventurous moments that steal the show. "Dinosaur Carebears" is classic Pink, a lengthy composition that splices together jagged pieces of fractured musical debris, from the unnerving cry of a circus calliope to a spacey reggae rock groove. "Exile On Frog Street" is a warm prog-pop number that hearkens back to late 60s albums like Pet Sounds and Their Satanic Majesties Request. Whether it's beauty, depth or fun you're looking for, you will find it in pom pom.

11/16/2014

Review: Moral Guest - "Mooral Gest"

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Moral Guest - Mooral Gest
(Self-Released 2014)

Bedroom pop artists take note: this is how lo-fi is done right. Moral Guest's most recent EP release is a sort of throwback to the beach-pop explosion of 2010. The project runs sparkling guitar melodies through layers of muck and reverb, finding a middle ground between post-punk and shoegaze. The first of Mooral Gest's three tracks, "Let Me Down", begins with a chunky surf-rock bassline, its blunt force tempered by a buttery, repetitious riff, laced with a slight phase effect to give the track a swirling timbre. Distant percussion and detached, nearly spoken-word vocal delivery join the droney instrumentation, making for fast-paced slice of guitar pop tinged with a hint of melancholy. 

The song is followed by the more ethereal "Wild Man", much spacier than its predecessor. The guitar tone is glassy, with notes played in a high register. The vocals are so buried in reverb that they're impossible to hear, coming out in a breathy warble that vaguely recalls Jack Tatum's tender intonation on Wild Nothing's debut album. "Do You Feel It?" rounds out the EP, slowing things down considerably, stewing in dreamy vibes and grimy distortion. Mooral Gest is a beautiful, fleeting hit of grimy dream-pop that makes good use of its short length. 

11/10/2014

Music Video: Cool Dad - "Self Hate Team"

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Cool Dad - Self Hate Team

Sum up Cool Dad's debut EP, sweet boys, in just a few words and you'd fish for terms like cozy, languid and nostalgic. Not much has changed since its July release date: the latest Cool Dad single, accompanied by a music video, is made of the same somber, entrancing stuff: minimal guitaristry, tenuous emotion and a warbly, fuzzed out aesthetic. The video is a perfect match, the tape-recorded documentation of a few hours out at the arcade playing air hockey and putt-putt, reminiscent of Daniel LaRusso's trip to Golf 'N Stuff in The Karate Kid. It's a brief shot of warmth and innocence to the system, a video sure to put its viewer in a snug autumn mood.

11/05/2014

Rayning - "Self-Titled"

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Rayning - Rayning
(Hacktivism 2014)

It's no coincidence that cover art that adorns Rayning's cassette debut closely resembles that of the Cocteau Twins' Heaven or Las Vegas. The Michigan-based solo project, fronted by Gerald Mckay, has nearly matched the alchemical blend of  ephemeral effects that compose the Twins' mythical dream-pop guitar tone. Like any good shoegazer, McKay finds a balance between noise and delicate beauty. His self-titled album opens with "We Are", which pits a gritty, lo-fi drum loop against an endless wave of guitar noise. Surprisingly, this abrasive combination, the lumbering percussion buried beneath layers of gnarled static, does not only sound pretty; it feels wispy and light. It encloses the listener's in its own atmosphere of noise, distortion and reverb, the heavy air swirling and undulating, never ceasing in its movement. McKay's distant vocals are delivered in a laid-back, almost absently, in a way that gives his music a Slowdive-ian timbre. "Necklace" and "If Only" two welcome outliers that appear on the release, more forceful, yet somehow more twee in nature than the songs they compliment. Rayning is an impressive debut that serves as a reminder that great shoegaze music is still being made in the 21st century.

11/02/2014

Interview: Falatek

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Tell us about your project. How did falatek get started? 

My name is Gregory Falatek. I went with falatek as my artist name because that’s what everyone has always called me. I’ve been making music off and on since my senior year of high school. I left college after two years and started taking music seriously. I’d say falatek officially started after I dropped out of school. 

Your recently released EPs, "V i d o r r a" and "s o i r e e" both greatly differ in sound from 
"r a v i". The first is very intimate and features a couple acoustic tracks and the second is very sample-heavy. In what direction would you like to take Falatek in the future?

I love slow, relaxing music. But at the same time, I like making something that can get people out of their seats. With Soirée I wanted to create a small soundtrack for a night out in the city circa 1985. But with Vidorra I wanted to make something you could listen to in the morning/while you sleep. Vidorra was created during a two hour studio session. I have so many musical interests so I like to make each project for a new time of day or new set of situations. I don’t want people to be able to predict what I am going to give them when I release a project. I want my listeners to grow with me. I’m still conscious of people who have supported me for years and I keep certain elements of my music the same. I want you to know it’s me when my voice comes on a record but I definitely don’t want you to know what I’m gonna say. I really like how my sound is progressing. It’s still amazing to me because everything started from a very hip-hop oriented place.

You have some live dates set up for this winter. What's the tour going to be like? Have you played any other show before?

This mini-tour is going to be great. I’ve done shows in the past but only during college when I was making underground hip-hop type records. I’m excited to perform the wide variety of music that I’ve created over the past year. Now, I have a vocal processor and new microphone. I’m about to buy a vocoder and projector screen for the winter show dates. Some of the venues have projectors so I would like to have all of my videos playing in the background. I’ve been working with a visual effects artist from The Netherlands named, Hidden Behind Leaves (@RotterdamRonin). If you haven’t seen any of the videos, check them out when you can. I think they will add a great aesthetic to the shows.

The production on "r a v i" was really stunning, and made the album an immerse experience for me, especially the cosmastly beat. How did you choose the beats, and how did you go about writing songs for each one?

I appreciate the kind words. I’m actually releasing an EP in 2015 that will be produced entirely by Cosmastly. There wasn’t much of a selection process for the beats. I have a lot of beats on my computer and I was recording so many songs last month. I ended up grouping Ravi and Soirée as they are because I figured everything sounded best this way. 

What music are you listening to these days? What else do you do that's not music related?

I listen to all types of music. I like searching through soundcloud to find new artists. I can’t stop watching The Killers live performances. I need to listen to Modest Mouse every day. Young Thug. Grimes is amazing. I really don’t do anything non-music related at the moment. But I’ve designed clothes throughout my life so I want to continue doing that in the future. I’d also like to get back into painting because I did a lot of drawing and painting during my childhood.

10/30/2014

Falatek - "r a v i"

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Falatek - r a v i
(2014 Self-Released)

r a v i, the sophomore effort of Los Angeles' Falatek, is perhaps the best American answer to the sort of vaporous, heavily autotuned pop exported most notably by Swedish cloud rap artists like Bladee, Thaiboy Digital and Yung Lean. If you're familiar with the music associated with the "Sadboys" and "Gravity Boys" cliques, you'll have a good idea of what to expect from Falatek: narcotic instrumentals that take influence from the surrealist, new age aesthetic of vaporwave, paired with a laid-back vocal delivery digitally effected to the point where it almost resembles the artificial speech of Japanese vocaloids. His sound blurs the line between hip-hop and R+B; many of the songs on r a v i would feel right at home alongside "Furthest Thing" and "Own It" on Drake's Nothing Was the Same. The crystalline production that permeates the album only enhances Falatek's ability to keep his listeners isolated in a bubble of sleepy, postmodern vibes.

r a v i puts its best foot forward with "late night", produced by Lexington, Kentucky's Manitee✌. It opens with aquatic pulses of electric piano that slowly help lower the listener into the album's serene atmosphere, as beautifully dark and desolate as the depths of the ocean, making for a jarringly intimate that forces the listener into a reverb-induced trance. Following it is "tears", a joke track of sorts that features 11-year-old rapper Lil Shark, who recently cashed in his 15 minutes of fame thanks to an online feud with SpaceGhostPurrp. Though Shark's look at rap culture through a 5th grader's eyes is pretty hilarious, it's kind of sad that it overshadows the stunning beat it accompanies, a shoegazey slow jam crafted by my current favorite producer, Cosmastly. "Robot City" is another standout track, including Falatek's tightest vocal performance to date as well as a infectious hook sung by Marblegarden. With an all-star lineup of American cloud rap artists, r a v i is a bedroom pop triumph with mass appeal, a "slo-fi" take on modern pop that stands tall next to its influences.

Half-Gifts Issue 11 Out Now!

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Interviews with MoneyHouseBlessings, Little League Records and Hacktivism Records
 

10/17/2014

Review: Institute - "Salt EP"

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Institute - Salt
(Sacred Bones 2014)

Though recent months have seen the New York label wading into safer sonic territories, New York-based post-punk purveyors Sacred Bones seem to be on the return to their former innovative stride. The close of 2014 promises new efforts by power electronics outfit Pharmakon and Sean Ragon's aggressive neofolk outfit Cult of Youth. Perhaps the best new addition to the label's illustrious discography is Salt, the first ever EP release by Texan art-punk unit Institute. Rooted in hardcore and tinged with gothic gloom, the band's dark punk energy recalls Skeletal Family and Soft Kill. The record's title cut is a gorgeously sour blend of chunky bass and tinny lead guitar. Moses Brown barks his vocals indecipherably, not unlike Teenage Panzerkorp's Bunker Wolf, adding to the track's droning potency. "Familiar Intensity" is another gem, its spooky melody carried by twin lead guitars. Listen to "Salt" below.
 

Single Review: Bloomshock - "Engtheogen"

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Bloomshock - Entheogen
(Self-Released 2014)

Since late 2013, New Jersey based one-man-band Bloomshock has published a staggering total of 52 releases, ten of them full-length albums. Out of all current acts emulating the shambolic sound of early 90’s DIY, Bloomshock’s impression is easily the most accurate, employing a blunt, fuzzy guitar tone and an appreciation for early rock ‘n roll riffage to drive his prolific output. Entheogen is the best of his recent output of singles, its title track a twangy, infectious tune that recalls the dulcet pop energy of early twee. Imagine some c86 shimmer blended into Sebadoh's lo-fi snarl. It’s accompanied by two b-sides: a surfy instrumental jam that channels Dinosaur Jr’s “The Lung” and a cover of barlow*’s fuzz-gaze hit “In The Air”. Check it out below.

10/10/2014

Mormon Toasterhead - "Memory / Monument"

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Mormon Toasterhead - Memory / Monument
(Rok Lok 2014)

Ben Klawans' prolific output under the pseudonym Mormon Toasterhead has been marked by nothing if not its atomospheric minimalism. His lyrics are vague and surrealist, often unsettling against sparse instrumentation, suspended in reverb like canned fruit in its own syrup. Unlike a lot of lo-fi music being released these days, it's not so much nostalgic as it is introspective. Klawans' music puts me in a droney, meditative state that feels transcendent and often spooky. It would only make sense to me that he'd dabble in ambient music. Monument / Memory is the second Toasterhead tape release to be composed entirely of instrumentals, and it's perhaps his most engaging work to date.

"Happy day...happy day...happy day, sweet...heart" drones the sampled voice that opens Memory, the first of the two cassettes that make up this double album. It rests in the "uncanny valley" between sounding either sounding robotic or human, reminding me of the sort of voice that might narrate the  Sesame Street books on tape I listened to growing up, cheerful, soothing, but ultimately lifeless. It's accompanied by pentatonic, harp-like keyboard, wrapped in a misty drone, squeaky like a kettle that has come to boil. Much of the music on this half of the release is fragile and charming, with the tinny beauty of a music box's chime, or the score to a Pokemon title released on Game Boy Advance. A few weightier exceptions do exist, though. "White Rose" is a swirling piece of textureless ambience, watery synth pulses that could soundtrack the jellyfish room of an aquarium.

Monument opens in a more somber state with "Summer Rainstorm and I Lost My Toy Soldier". It's a bleak piece for solo piano, which sort of reminds me of the piano score that capped of the series finale Hey Arnold!. It's sad, chilling, and simple, fulfilling the Rok Lok Records formula perfectly. As I've stated many times before, Rok Lok does an impeccable job of keeping a uniform aesthetic throughout their release catalog, and Memory / Monument fits right in among ambient masterpieces like the Stars are Insane/Monogamy split or Love Letter's Gentle Memories. Also, the double album's packaging is beautiful, especially Monument's side, mimicking a retro wallpaper pattern. Mormon Toasterhead's new release will help enhance whatever emotion you're feeling at the time, and will stick with you long after the tape pops out of the deck.

10/05/2014

Review: Spencer Radcliffe / RL Kelly - "Brown Horse"

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Spencer Radcliffe/RL Kelly - Brown Horse
(Orchid Tapes 2014)

There's a cozy innocence that flows throughout Brown Horse, the split LP featuring lo-fi singer-songwriters Spencer Radcliffe and RL Kelly, enveloping the listener like a heavy blanket. It's the sort of innocence that's saddening, the kind you encounter when you read the books or watch the television shows you enjoyed in kindergarten, making you feel guilty and a little depressed for ever having allowed yourself to grow up. The raw, twee purity delivered on either side of the tape hit hard on an emotional level, perhaps without even trying to.

Radcliffe's side opens with "Green Things". The track starts off minimally, droning keyboard accompanying fingerpicked acoustic guitar, but these two elements, rather somber in nature, slowly build up to a striking crescendo, pluckings giving way to percussive strums and keyboard replaced by a medieval-sounding flute, which carries the song's melody. Moments like these are many on Radcliffe's half of the album, quiet and restrained escalations that give way to Dionysian appeals to emotion, often in the form of unbridled joy Each song contains just one or maybe two verses and a single chorus, following a songwriting structure often employed by post-rock bands. The mumbly, awkward vibe that opens "Tattoo" gradually glues itself together into an infectious chorus, cheery synths complimenting the staidly delivered mantra of "Saw your dad's yellow cupholder / when we're 25 years older / meet me in the parking lot / we'll hand it off", which is phrased like a jumprope rhyme. My favorite cut off the side is its keyboard-driven outlier, "My Song", a spoken-word tune that borders on twee hip-hop.

RL Kelly's half of the tape is more accessible, applying a more traditional structure to her craft, but losing no ground when it comes to beauty. Each track is composed of carefully layered acoustic guitar against often folky vocal harmonies. The twangy guitar parts that drive "Again" remind me of the sort of nuanced indie-rock being released by Up Records in the early 90s. "Wake Up" is my choice for the most satisfying song of the side, a minimal and tender tune in the form of words of encouragement to a younger kid who's been bullied by his classmates. Both Radcliffe and Kelly deliver their own take on lo-fi twee on Brown Horse, an effort that's reminiscent of both Belle and Sebastian and Built to Spill. If you dig warm, nostalgic vibes and fuzzy guitar-pop, this tape is your dream come true.