8/19/2017

Single Review: Routine Death - "Demo Tracks"

Routine Death - Demo Tracks
(2017 Self-Released)

What makes Austin, Texas such a hotbed for Gothic sounds? With average temperatures sitting snugly in the mid-90s all summer, the Lone Star State doesn't seem like the ideal place to dress exclusively in shades of black. To my knowledge, -- which is admittedly limited to Google searches -- Austin's not architecturally dominated by grotesque or Bauhaus aesthetics. Even on a historical level, I associate the city more with the mid-00s post-rock produced by Explosions in the Sky, This Will Destroy You, and Balmorhea than anything remotely similar to what Factory Records produced in its heyday.

Maybe it's just a coincidence that many of my favorite Goth releases of the past few years have emerged from Austin's local scene. Two darkwave-y bands that have fared quite well on my year-end top 10 lists call the city home. Captive, whose Black Leather Glove LP wheezes with pneumonic synths and clattering snares, have been quiet as of late, but still regularly find rotation in my iTunes library on the strength of cuts like "The Fool" and "Endless Lust". Sacred Bones signees Institute are more prolific, effortlessly churning out classic post-punk records that feel equally indebted to Minutemen and Joy Division. If shoegaze duo Routine Death drop some studio material as strong as the two demo cuts currently hosted on their homepage, they might very well earn a spot among my favorite Texan gloom-slingers. 

A-side "The Impossibility of Paying Our Debts" spins like an early Captured Tracks single, winding a looped guitar riff -- soggy with reverb -- around trashed percussion. Lisa Zozaya's vocals ring out as if they were shouted into the depths of the sort of absurdly spacious sewer tunnel only seen in video games and cartoons. They're tinny residue molding on steel walls; clinging to the blank space between chords. Every tone in the track feels more implied than perceived. Maybe you've peeped them through a veil, or eavesdropped with a cupped ear pressed against the door. 



Flip-side "Star Alliance" is -- as its title suggests -- even more spaced-out than its predecessor. Fried melodies pop and sizzle like bacon grease against droning chords, sounding something like the Velvet Underground blasted on a Beats pill by a discourteous passenger on the bus. Zozaya stretches syllables across several bars, sending wriggling noodles of human emotion out into the cosmos. The song never really works its way into a discernable groove, but doesn't need to: "Star Alliance" is a space unto its self, its boundaries and levels of gravity shifting like tides. Don't try to find your footing. It isn't there.

Looking for a perfect solar eclipse-viewing soundtrack? Prepare for this Monday by streaming and downloading the single here.

8/13/2017

Review: Sweat Enzo - "Full Grown Cats"

Sweat Enzo - Full Grown Cats
(2017 Self-Released)

Sharing a hometown with seminal proto-grunge outfit Dinosaur Jr., Amherst, Massachusetts' Sweat Enzo taps into their native city's aural wellspring, tucking twangy chord progressions into a sheet of tape-hiss so warbly you'd swear Sweat Enzo time-traveled to 1985 to record in Lou Barlow's basement. Full Grown Cats is the trio's 12th official release and their most streamlined pop effort since 2015's Talking Rock. For first-time listeners, it's the best intro to Sweat Enzo's sound you'll find on their Bandcamp page.

Intro cut "Deer In the Headlights" gallops along to the limp of its rhythm guitar before transitioning into a country-fried solo that hearkens back to Dinosaur's pre-Jr. discography. Frontman Elliot Hartmann drags his raspy vocals through plots of distortion like a tiller takes to soil, upturning residual fuzz in his wake. "Living in the Moment" sits on deck, ready to raise the tempo and trade in its predecessor's dissonance for jangle-pop warmth. Here, Sweat Enzo tap into the jittery folk-rock groove splattered across the surface of Meat Puppets' Too High to Die, sprinkling their own splashes of mumbled harmony and funk organ into the brew. It's by far Full Grown Cats' catchiest tune -- one that I can't help but skip to when bumping the record.

"Alright, Casey" is a look at Sweat Enzo at their most instrumentally solid. George Gerhardt and Gage Lyons lay down a peppy stadium-rock rhythm to make room for Hartmann's parabolic swoops of guitar. There's a glimmer of J Mascis' groaned chorus on Dinosaur Jr.'s "Start Choppin'" that peeks through the track's muddy mix, but Sweat Enzo's chops and knack for songcraft shine just as brightly.

Though it lacks a single as immediate as past hits like "Questions" and "Leavin'", Full Grown Cats is Sweat Enzo's most consistent release to date. If you're seeking more of the sunbleached tones wielded by Barlow, Galaxie 500, and Guided By Voices, look no further.

8/08/2017

Review: Unable to Fully Embrace This Happiness - "The Morning Sun + The End of the World"

Unable to Fully Embrace This Happiness - The Morning Sun...
(2017 Self-Released)

Though the full title of UTFETH's first official album can't be contained by the horizontal confines of this blog post, the Austrian powerviolence trio seems to have no trouble squeezing 14 tracks' worth of scorched imagism/existentialism into an 18-minute timeframe. The Morning Sun rises from a series of split-releases and compilation tapes, spackling over any breathing room or vain experimentation with fast-drying static. Every square inch of aural space that exists within UTFETH's trusted dictaphone recorder is clogged with noise. The listener stands at the other side of a steel wall, peeking through a porthole as the band's gelatinous aggression presses against the glass, writhing as if undergoing a chemical change -- sometimes the mass adopts the vague lumpiness of a chugging blast beat or is tinted the pale green of a sickly clean guitar riff, but it always maintains its thick, uniformly ferocious texture. Think of bread dough so yeasty that it rises uncontrollably, threatening to burst out of the oven.

Thematically, the record is much less unified. Tounge-in-cheek song titles intentionally clash with their more somber lyrical counterparts: autobiographical vignettes syllabically frugal enough to have been clipped from John Porcellino's King Cat Comics, Hopper-esque snapshots of UTFETH's native Klagenfurt, and the occasional imagined premise for a sci-fi novel. The band is at their best when they freeze striking-yet-simple images in time. Case in point -- the stuttering cacophony of "I Quit My Job So I Could Play More RPGs" tempered by a surprisingly tender verse. "Forming a crucifix while riding my bike / without using my hands". You'd never be able to parse that together just by listening, though. It's the impenetrable sound of the record that sends you scrambling for a lyrics sheet, luring you into intimacy with the listening experience. 

"The Happy End Overshadows the Forthcoming Drama" is the most ambitious offering here, knitting two sheets of black metal chord-mashing together with sampled audio from Twin Peaks' second season, a funeral procession of fingerpicked arpeggios, and drum machine handclaps that are so out of place that they're somehow welcome among the brutality. The cloud of sound formed here is so opaque that I can't help but be reminded of Jules Feiffer's drawing of the Awful Dynne -- a demon from The Phantom Tollbooth that feeds on dissonant sounds. Ironically, the song's about silence, narrated by a hermit. "The only interactions are while grocery shopping", they screech. "Speechless forever.

The Awful Dynne

"Thank You Very Much For Gathering Today" is The Morning Sun's strongest instrumental showing, stripping away some scuzz to reveal its chord progression (which kinda sounds like something The Cure would've cooked up in the early 80s) before ripping into its hardcore beatdown. Closer "Just When I Thought I Was Done Being the Mediator" is a close second best, flirting with post-rock melodrama atop sparse splashes of percussion. Even the pair of sub-30 second songs hit hard enough to satisfy. Only "The Journalist" fails to really sock me in the gut, but even so, its lyrics are pretty evocative, weighing the possibility of a livestreamed suicide before presumably choosing not to. ("Fourteen pages by the end of the week / You never know what this server will spawn)

I've written about UTFETH in the past, and continue to listen for good reason. Smashing their impressive chops into a harsh lo-fi filter, they're as subtle as a brick wall and just about as heavy as one too. 

8/04/2017

Review: Great Grandpa - "Plastic Cough"

Great Grandpa - Plastic Cough
(2017 Dbl Dbl Whammy)

Great Grandpa's poppier than the sum of its parts, and all the more striking for it. According to their press kit, the quintet is the product of a "mututal love of noise and math rock", but the instrumentation of their inaugural LP, Plastic Cough, shows more fondness for the former. Hailing from Seattle, the band is often likened to the sound their home city's bygone grunge scene -- their towering fuzzscapes, however, shed the dissonance of Sub Pop's early 90s output for anthemic surges of determination. More indebted to Broken Social Scene than Nirvana, Great Grandpa whisk dollops of optimism into their bummed-out snarl. "In due time, I'm tryin' my best", offers Alex Menne atop a sizzling chorus, perhaps to make amends for the twangy desolation that prefaced it: "Got caught up in loose ends / All my friends are almost dead".

At its best, Plastic Cough goes for broke, tossing every hook, riff, and vocal acrobatic it can muster at a rumbling wall of distortion. Opener "Teen Challenge" is a case study in this kind of noise-rock maximalism. Revving its sonic engine on some Weezer-esque dissonance, the track's muted power chords gather enough energy to launch into a menacing chorus, allowing enough space in its static for Menne's yawp-y delivery to jut through. Imagine Crying's Elaiza Santos with a case of the hiccups that somehow manages to keep her on key. Subtract the band's chiptune melodies for an extra layer of bass that envelops everything in its path. Tack on a guttural guitar solo for gnarled emphasis. Whether or not you care to invite it in, "Teen Challenge" bores its way into your memory like trepanation. It commands attention.

The band's forays into higher tempos are also quite successful. "NO" earns its capital letter, splattering clashing colors of harmonic paint across a canvas of snares. The intro to closer "28 J's L8R" waxes midwestern emo before melting into a slogging gob of bubblegum sludge metal. "28 J's" is by far Plastic Cough's most impressive feat, fiddling with rhythm, dynamics, and spaced-out improvisation -- all the while lyrically indulging itself in corny humor and B-movie horror theatrics. Most of the record hits hard enough to re-visit many times, but it's this coda that I can't stop spinning. Here's to more a wildly experimental (yet still fun) Great Grandpa in the future.

Plastic Cough doesn't always hit the nail exactly on the head. The brief "Grounded" marches to an off-kilter beat that should pay off, but doesn't quite do it for me. "Pardon My Speech" winds itself through so many melodic contortions, you'll need a map to navigate them. Despite these rough patches, though, the album is often a blast to listen to -- occasionally, (especially on tracks 1 and 10), it flirts with classic status.