Half-Gifts issue 14 includes interviews with San Bernardino jangle-pop project Foliage and two local record stores; Sugarcube and Torn Light. This volume also includes a look at the most exciting record labels of 2015 and, as usual, plenty of album reviews. GET YOUR COPY HERE
Alaris O'Heart - Alaris O'Heart
(2015 Alien Tapes)
Californian bedroom-popster Alaris O'Heart has quietly released some of the most innovative and well-composed lo-fi music over the past two years, masterfully synthesizing elements of late 00s freak folk, drone and even hip-hop to extract cinematic grandeur from his humble arrangements for guitar and keyboard. His recent self-titled cassette, pressed by southwestern imprint Alien Tapes, functions as an introduction to O'Heart's discography, (maybe even as a best-of album), exhibiting the full breadth of his abilities as a composer. "Bird", for example, replicates the bustle of Philip Glass' Music In Twelve Parts - handclaps, layered vocal harmonies, percussive rhythm guitar, liquescent keyboard riffs and faint glockenspiel tones all seem to hustle separately toward their own destination, directionless, moving as pedestrians on city sidewalks rather than as one unit marching to a motorik beat. "Cough Drops" brings O'Heart's music into Flying Lotus territory, chopping up nearly concrete walls of jumbled piano tones with trill hi-hats and a hollow snare. "The End" makes for a more conventional closer to the tape - O'Heart's usual frenetically played piano notes are herded into chords atop stomps and claps - until layers of ambience consume the track, morphing into a Sigur Ros-ian cosmos of swirling beauty, capped off with a sample from Finding Nemo. All in all, Alaris O'Heart's new tape resembles Sung Tongs-era Animal Collective covering the Juno soundtrack; it's a primal take on twee-pop that provides some much-needed variety in the lo-fi pop tape scene.
Dean Blunt - Babyfather
With each new Dean Blunt release, I become a bit more certain that the enigmatic, UK-based producer is the 21st century's Beat Happening. Just as Calvin Johnson's influential twee-pop trio offered a primal and lovably puerile answer to the dark post-punk sound that prevailed in the early to mid 80s, Blunt crafts a unique brand of vaporous R&B from off-kilter drum machine rhythms and woozy, repetitious samples, acting as a raw, "DIY" parallel to the "future pop" sound of SOPHIE, Holly Herndon and to a certain extent, even Death Grips. His latest output is free .zip file of 9 unreleased tracks, but by no means is Babyfather a mere addendum to last year's Black Metal. Rather, it seems to be a bit of a stylistic return to Blunt's pre-Redeemer era, with a more rhythmic, poppy twist. Save for the album's Velvet Underground-esque intro, Black Metal's minimal guitar compositions are exchanged for bleak, chopped-up samples of 80s synthpop and modern hip-hop as well as the occasional airy casio patch. As usual, Blunt's vocals are the highlight of the of the compilation, as passionate as a clumsy karaoke performance yet unmatched in their suave sense of aplomb. Accompanying them is a collection of some of his most satisfying production to date, highlights of which include "Rachel Cut", a melancholy Macintosh Plus/MF Doom hybrid, the almost arrhythmic groove of "Coco" and Babyfather's haunting, jazzy coda, "Gass". Though not rewarding a listen as Blunt's post-pop masterpiece, The Redeemer, Babyfather makes for yet another impressive addition to the sound collagist's discography.
Wavves x Cloud Nothings - No Life For MeThis surprise collaboration between two of the nation’s finest purveyors of fuzzy pop-punk is somewhat of a return to each respective project’s lo-fi roots. Wavves’ Nathan Williams lays down his signature brand of rhythm guitar, sharp and psychedelic, creating a gritty foundation for Dylan Baldi to erect his wiry lead guitar riffs on top of. Willams’ distorted six-string assault blends impeccably with Baldi’s prodigious hook-writing ability on cuts like “Come Down” and “No Life For Me”, but the album’s most successful moments stem from its two lone solo cuts. “Such a Drag” is a classic Wavves track, reveling in its own summery slacker vibes while Baldi’s hyper-melodic “Nothing Hurts” borrows from both Blink-182 and the Beach Boys to form No Life For Me’s beautiful closing cut. Those who come back for repeat listens will be rewarded, as there's much to appreciate and re-discover packed within the album's 21 minute confines - the transitions between William's blaring, jaggedy verses and Baldi's minimal, yet maximally catchy chorus on "How It's Gonna Go", the strange, diverse strata of garage rock textures that makes up "Hard To Find", the droning, Doors-ian keyboard that accompanies the intro of "Nervous" - together it makes for an album that is as lovably fractured and poppy as Of Montreal's Skeletal Lamping.
(Ghost Ramp 2015)
(Ghost Ramp 2015)
ilill - (......)
As the title of Ilill’s demo tape might suggest, the Japanese emo-violence outfit is a band of few words, preferring to let their instrumentation do the talking save for a few well-placed primal screams. The first of the two tracks on the demo, “She”, is a throwback to the math-y flavor of 90’s post-rock that I love to search for in boxes of used 7” records. Sludgy bass oozes like lava atop complex rhythms while hypnotic lead guitar arpeggios fill the air like noxious smoke. Just as the listener begins to succumb to the track’s narcotic drone, buzzsaw chords and a blastbeat usher in its explosive coda. “Il” maintains the level of energy carried over from the end of its predecessor, springing immediately to life on the strength of breakneck percussion and frenetically played riffs. (......) is a solid first look at ilill, giving us a look at the full breadth of the band's ability to weave interesting melodies and textures at any pace.
1. A Grave With No Name - Orion
AGWNN's gradual evolution from molten, nearly formless noise pop to lush folk-rock has been fascinating to witness over the course of the UK-based solo act's six-year lifespan. Each installment in the project's discography acts as a scrapbook photo of sorts, from the lovably primal Mountain Debris to the angst-riddled Whirpool and most recently, to Feathers Wet, Under the Moon, a mature and rather "professional LP. Trimming the tape hiss and quirky experimentation that accents his usual output, frontman Alexander Shields instead invokes an alt-country ethos that recalls Lambchop, Red House Painters and The National's early output. "Orion" is the new album's standout cut, gliding on proto-grunge fuzz, plodding bass and twangy lead guitar. Shields' ability to pen heart-wrenching hooks is on full display, and it's especially evident in the transition from verse to chorus, trading crunchy rhythm guitar for gloomy, clean arpeggios.
Labels: a grave with no name
4. Black Baron - Watch Me Sleep
Perfecting the formula for the sort of fuzz-laden punkgaze purveyed by bands such as Perfect Pussy and the now-defunct Blank Dogs, Black Baron's latest album, Abject Skin, is an incredibly immersive experience, allowing the listener to surf its wave of distortion rather that attacking them with a wall of sound. "Watch Me Sleep" is a great example of the Canadian quartet's ability to do so, submerging shimmering, staticy rhythm guitar in a bath of reverb, giving the whole tune a rather distant quality. It feels as if you've arrived late to one of the band's gigs and you're hearing the echoes of their performance through a thin wall. This raw sound quality adds to the intensity of Black Baron's chugging post-punk energy; all elements of the recording session are captured, down to the squeak of the bass drum kick.
3. Jamie xx/Popcaan/Young Thug - Good Times
Though it's somewhat of an outlier among the droney, introspective neo-rave cuts that make up In Colour, Jamie xx's collaboration with Young Thug Jamaican dancehall star Popcaan bolsters the brighter end of the producer's color pallet with bouyant percussion, twinkling steel drums and motown vocal samples. Young Thug contributes some of his finest bars yet to the track, his animated and rather melodic delivery pairing perfectly with the vibrant beat. Though brief, Popcaan's verse acts as an extremely danceable bridge, allowing the listener to cool down after subjecting themselves to Thugger's incendiary verses. "Good Times" could easily prove to be one 2015's catchiest pop songs.
2. Spector - All the Sad Young Men (Danny L Harle Remix)
Danny L Harle's remix of this brooding bit of gothic post-punk is perhaps the most impressive demonstration of the PC Music collective's almost supernatural ability to turn even the most melancholy song into an astoundingly catchy bubblegum-pop tune. Harle extracts Fredrick Macpherson's Ian Curtis-inspired croon from the track, pitching it high enough to become almost inhuman sounding. He then surrounds the vocals with staccato stabs of glistening synthesizer in the foreground and a few flautal riffs that only serve to add an extra kick of overwhelming sweetness to the remix. Harle's take on "All the Sad Young Men" easily rivals A.G. Cook's "Beautiful" for the title of my all-time favorite PC Music production.
7. Crying - Patriot
New York chiptune trio Crying has the uncanny knack for injecting incendiary potential energy that lurks beneath their twee, poptimistic 16-bit instrumentals, set to burst at just the right moments. "Patriot" is the band's most explosive track to date, draping twinkly GameBoy synths in a heavy coat of roaring guitar chords and Elaiza Santos' overly-distorted vocals. Each element of the recording vies for your attention and blends into the homogenous wall of sound. "Patriot" seizes its listener's conscious, sending it on a thrill ride's worth of corkscrews and sharp turns, making the song's three minute duration feel much more brief. Make no mistake: Crying's chiptune arrangements aren't a gimmick. Rather, they're crucial to the band's kaleidoscopic, unpredictable sound.
6. Denzel Curry - ULTIMATE
Like OG Maco, Rae Sremmurd's Slim Jimmy, Young Thug and most other major innovators in the "new wave" of hip-hop, Denzel Curry's vocal presence on any given track is unmistakable, and never has he sounded more authoritative than on "ULTIMATE". Employing a more menacing take on his delivery from 2013's "Threatz", Curry delivers his bars in the form of a guttural roar, only pausing to put careful emphasis on the connective phrases he wedges between verses. Ronny J's grimy, hypnagogic production composed of distorted percussion and a creepy steel drum melody pairs extremely well with Curry's verses, making for a track that is relentless in its aggression. "ULTIMATE" resembles a a darker, more sinister version of Rae Sremmurd, or perhaps a poppier Death Grips, and hopefully the song gives us an early look at what the landscape of underground hip-hop will look like over the next few years.
5. Elvis Depressedly - No More Sad Songs
Stripping away the warbly phase and tape crunch that characterized much of his earlier output, North Carolinian lo-fi pop purveyor Elvis Depressedly (a.k.a Mat Cothran) lays the inner clockwork of his signature sound bare. "N.M.S.S." is composed of little more than guitar apeggios, cello and snapping in place of drums. Minimal and melancholy, it revels in its own stark simplicity and culminates in a beautiful keyboard solo.
10. Second Hand Flower Shop - Pump and Computer
Though Oscar Boyle's predilection for frail, musty ambience and minimalist composition is as evident as ever, the British songwriter's flavor of somber lo-fi folk, once heavily inspired by the signature psychedelic twang of the Elephant 6 Collective, is now lightly seasoned with the twinkle of midwestern emo. "Pump and Computer", the main single off of Oscar's sophomore album as Second Hand Flower Shop, is a dreamy bit of bedroom folk that floats like cirrostratus; scattered piano tones act as a thin, icy crust around translucent guitar pluckings. There's a beautiful lack of form on display here. There's no percussive rhythm to hold the tune together, letting the guitar amble aimlessly while improvised piano leads float and dance like specks of dust, illuminated by morning sun between venetian blinds. Boyle's lyrics are more spoken than sung at times, especially near the song's chaotic coda, similar to the bedroom-orchestral closing section of Julia Brown's "I Was My Own Favorite TV Show".
9. Marching Church - King of Song
Robed in ego and opulence, Elias Ronnenfelt rises from his throne to a Bowie-esque fanfare of howling saxophone and a funky new-wave rhythm section. Brandishing his microphone as a royal scepter, he drunkenly struts back and forth across the great hall, singing his own praises, detailing his own rise to power, bellowing and moaning, and basking in his own glory. Elias' work as Marching Church is a stark contrast to the dark, sparse arrangements of War or the sinewy post-punk charge of his better-known project, Iceage, and it's a welcome one. Under the new name, he unleashes his inner animal spirit, not creating a character for himself, but unearthing an extravagant, slightly villainous alter ego.
8. 813 - Damn Yeah
Speaking of extravagance, Russian future-pop producer 813 treats his recent single as an ice cream sundae constructed by an elementary school-er, drowning his already sugary instrumentations in syrupy, saccharine toppings and sauces. Ultra-poppy synth stabs are sprinkled with bell-like leads and choppy, kawaii vocal samples, making for a pastel-toned sensory overload that resembles a trap-influenced carousel calliope. PC Music just might have some competition.
Beach Moon/Peach Moon - "Kite Without A String"
(Paper Trail 2015)
Cloning the the warm, sedimentary guitar tone of the early 90s that's especially present in the droney garage-pop inflection of Pavement, Butterglory and Yo La Tengo, Beach Moon/Peach Moon bridges the gap between the detatched, sarcastic indie rock ethos of the past with the introspective melancholia that dominates today's bedroom pop scene. "Kite Without A String" is the title track of the project's forthcoming LP, blanketing minimal percussion in warm, buttery guitar riffs. Frontman Robert Prisco's vocals sound muffled by their cloak of cozy post-rock instrumentation, reminiscent of Elvis Depressedly's warbly, strained delivery. Composition definitely takes presence over lyricism in BM/PM's work however, as about two-thirds of Kite Without a String consists of instrumental improvisation; peals of distortion ring out like firework bursts in the night sky as trebly, tremolo-picked leads act as faint constellations. Though the album has yet to be officially released, Kite Without A String's title track is sure to make for a stunning closer.
Ryan Hemsworth - RYANPACK (volumes 1 and 2)
(2013, 2015 Self-Released)
Resting cozily between SOPHIE's rubbery, sugarcoated synthscapes and Yung Gud's vaporous textures in the spectrum of forward-thinking electronic production, Ryan Hemsworth's body of work seems to be the product of a hip-hop alchemist. I often imagine the Canadian beatmaker hunched over a cauldron looking somewhat like Gargamel, pouring flasks of chiptune, new-age, and pop-punk influences into his signature atmospheric cloud-rap brew. If there's any selection from Hemsworth's discography that displays the full breadth of his creativity and experimentation, it's his ongoing "RYANPACK" mixtape series, of which the second installment was released this week. Each pack includes 10 tracks worth of lovably goofy remixes that share an aesthetic that can be compared to J-Pop, chillwave, even Cocteau Twins at times.
Hemsworth's inaugural RYANPACK, released in 2013, is a rawer, but perhaps more imaginative predecessor to this year's mixtape. Acting as a survey of the producer's influences and quirks, RYANPACK volume 1 gives its listeners a taste of his fondness for sparkling glockenspiel, reverby vocals and lush, often orchestral arrangements. Hemsworth's beat for Que's "OG Bobby Johnson" replaces the original tune's sinister combination of throbbing bass and phantasmal synths with shimmering steel drums and breathy, chopped-up vocal samples. It's a wonderful example of his ability to take even the grittiest, most aggressive song and morph it into something cuddly and lovable. His "Game Boy Advance Remix" of "Kush Coma", cloaks Danny Brown's unhinged, dynamic delivery in a wearable blanket, comfy slippers and warm vocaloid melodies. The mixtape culminates in a hilariously melodramatic version of "Real Talk" by R. Kelly.
In addition to remixes of recently released tracks by Drake and Chicago's criminally underrated Sicko Mobb, RYANPACK volume 2 bizarrely makes a foray into pop-punk. Track 3 is a bouncy version of Blink-182's "Feelin' This": Mark Hoppus' and Tom DeLonge's vocals are nearly buried beneath a heavy layer of tremelo while Hemsworth laces the tune with light touches of tinny synthesizer. This stunt is pulled off most successfully on Hemsworth's version of "Plane vs Tank vs Submarine" by Tiger's Jaw, which employs skittering percussion and trellises of electric piano.
Krispy Kareem - Cadillac
(2015 Third Floor Tapes)
In the age of the internet, geographical location doesn't seem like it should play much of a role in my perception of an album. Music scenes today are more bound by their aesthetic or fanbase (cloud rap, /mu/core, etc.) than by a shared birthplace: by simply frequenting certain websites or projecting the right image, fans can be absorbed into spheres of influence that bring them closer to their favorite bands. If there's one specific location in the United States that I could confidently associate with a certain sound, it's Philadelphia. Home to acts like Alex G, Euphoria Again and Roof Doctor, the city seems to have patented its own strange brew of fuzz-punk that incorporates elements of folk, psychedelia and late 90's emo. Krispy Kareem is one of the newest Philly-based projects to borrow from this pool of influences, delivering a crunchy, slightly country-fried version of the city's signature sound. "Top Hat" floats on math-y riffage while my two favorite cuts on the album, "Hasselhoff" and "Hope + Stoffer's", appropriate elements of surf-pop to supplement their Pavement-esque sound.
SPILL - TV DINNER
Lo-fi elevator-core in the jazzy vein of Mac Demarco, SPILL's debut EP lives up to its title: it's a fun, nostalgic and cozy record that may not be the most filling release on the market, but is certainly a reliable choice that's perfect for those who need a quick fix of twangy slacker-pop. The EP's opening title track is a bit of a throwback to the hypnagogic sound of Ducktails and Julian Lynch. Combining a grainy twee-pop aesthetic with smooth bossa nova rhythms, the song would fit right alongside any of K.K. Slider's instrumentals that are scattered throughout the Animal Crossing soundtrack. SPILL's sound grows funkier as the EP progresses; "Lucky Day" pairs reverby lead guitar with a meaty bassline and skittering percussion while "Vitamin" throws watery organ pulses into the mix. TV DINNER is a brilliant and brief morsel of fuzz-pop that you can file under "lo-fi easy listening".
Interview // Thomas Chan, founder of Mecha Yuri
back in 2011, i used to frequent an online forum mainly used for discussing nintendo games and cartoon network shows and junk like that. looking back, every member there was probably a bored pre-teen. we had factions, and me and a few other members who all shared the same interest in music decided to form a group called "HarmoniCanadianReckords" or HCR for short. our first release was an album simply named "Skype Sessions", where me and another member attempted to record a live album inside a skype call, occasionally adding another person to the call as a 'guest musician'.
later on, we began to collaborate more seriously, and the idea of an 'online band' took off in our heads. we would chat almost 24/7 over skype and exchange raw recordings through dropbox. the HCR bandcamp soon became a place for all of us to host different mini-projects, albums and eps under different artist names.
How did things evolve from HCR into Mecha Yuri?
somewhere in the middle of 2013, we decided that a rehaul was needed if we wanted to ever be taken seriously. we picked the name "mecha yuri" because it was a deconstruction of /mu/, the music board on 4chan: "/m/" being the 4chan board for mecha, and "/u/" being the board for yuri. "mecha yuri"
at first, "mecha yuri" wasn't all too different from HCR. it was only still the same three core members - Radical McKickflip, the OMNIPRESENCE, and myself - releasing on the label. over time, i decided to invite other musicians i knew either from real life (RLg) or various spots on the internet like tumblr, soundcloud and twitter (i know who you are and you are nothing, tekkaman, etc.) to release material on the label. after a few releases, like minded musicians noticed what we were doing and started to submit projects for us to release.
Do you have any specific criteria for the releases you put out on ur label? What sort of sound or overall aesthetic do you strive for with ur label?
i used to jokingly say to artists who wanted to release on the label that their music just had to be "anime". at first, we were aiming for an aesthetic that was inspired heavily by anime, japanese pop culture, and the "tumblr-esque" image edits you see on the internet.
anime is definitely still a huge influence on the artists on the label and the music we put out. for example, a few of our artists come from the "lolicore" scene; a genre which at it's roots is essentially anime-samples overtop of fast paced breakcore.
HIGH IMPACT SEXUAL VIOLENCE and Cute Fills, two indie rock bands who've released on our label also fill this "anime"-vibe: a lot of their songs are inspired by anime or manga. genre-wise, we're completely open to anything pop or experimental.
How do you come across the projects that you've put out music for? Do you actively seek out new stuff or do they come to you?
it's a bit of both actually! most of the artists we've released for are people i've met previously through twitter or past-compilations or whatever. a few artists, such as cute fills and mock off, i found through soundcloud or bandcamp and contacted personally to ask to release something of theirs. and on super rare occasions, i'll get a message from an artist who wants to offer something for us to release. this happened when Renjā, who i was already a fan of, messaged me out of the blue asking if we'd release their new album. i didn't even know that he'd heard of my label.
Speaking of Mecha Yuri's internet presence, I've seen a few online live shows that the label has hosted. How do you go about organizing one of those?
all of our online live shows were hosted through "tinychat", a video chatroom service. a little disclaimer though, the idea of an online show using tinychat came from SPF420, and the amazing shows they host. basically, all a musician has to do to perform is broadcast themselves through their webcam and microphone. planning is pretty simple: you just have to make a schedule and find people willing to play during a timeslot. all the artist - and the viewer - has to do is visit our tinychat URL. we've hosted a few shows this way, my favorite one being the launch party for the chao garden compilation we hosted with ecchiparty. sadly, i missed most of it, but the whole thing lasted over eight hours. apparently Bo-en and Clover and Sealife (formerly Space Boyfriend), two of my favorite musicians, showed up in tinychat to watch. and my friend goliad dunked some hoops during their set. bummed i missed that, haha.
Have you gotten the chance to see any shows irl?
totally! the last show i went to was teen suicide opening for Alex G right here at the Smiling Buddah in Toronto. it was a bit crazy because my friend rodrigo, who makes music under the name "RLg", played the same venue's basement after being invited by our friend MJ, who makes music as "Five Star Hotel" , who was on a mini-tour coming from Detroit. this summer i'm already planning to see death grips, yung lean and ryan hemsworth.
Hemsworth is so good!
i know right
Tell us a little about your own music!
heck yea! i've recently decided to change my artist name to "for airports". a reference to brian eno's "Ambient 1: Music for Airports" and the crazy nostalgic and sentimental feelings i have about airports and travel in general. i've only released two songs under that name; two tracks for compilation albums from The Worst Label and après-MIDI. i'm still working out a style for what i want my new music to sound like, but if i had to describe it i'd say something dumb like: "layered and atmospheric-feeling lo-fi pop built mainly around altered samples of my own guitar and vocals".
my main musical influences off the top of my head are Baths, who taught me that electronic music production can be meticulous, melodic, emotional and beautiful and MEISHI SMILE, one of the co-runners of ZOOM LENS label, and one of their earlier projects "nono.". a dream of mine is to release a project on ZOOM LENS one day.
What sort of labels should fans of Mecha Yuri's aesthetic look out for?
definitely The Worst Label!! They're our closest net-label friends; a lot of artists who have released with us have also done releases with them and they're just super amazing overall. Canata Records is a great net-label based in Tokyo that I admire a lot. And we have a lot of close ties and similarities with labels like Pure Aesthete, AMBLIS RECORDS, Magic Yume Label, Hope Sick Cola and Senzu Collective.