Review: "The Telephone Projects Makes Love With Bear Creek"

The Telephone Projects/Bear Creek - Split
(2013 Self-Released)
"Booming, vacuum-like drones weigh on the listener with the pull of the abyss"

In my opinion, there's nothing that can quite match the curious combination of Casiotone keyboard, fuzzy tape deck hiss and buckets of reverb. While harnessing the energy of these classic elements of bedroom pop, The Telephone Projects and Bear Creek manage to bypass a few of the tired tropes of the lo-fi keyboard genre, forming a collaborative effort that's unnerving and beautifully cavernous. Rarely does such an enormous sound come from such minimal instrumentation.

On your first listen, you'll probably most enjoy The Telephone Projects' half of this split release. Bringing his gravelly voice and a deep, elegiac ambience to the table, Brennon Manning's funereal pop delivery acts as a dark counterbalance to the glut of pleasant sounding, yet sterile keyboard projects that have appeared in the past couple years, like that of Hearts Bonfire and Secrets. Booming, vacuum-like drones seem to weigh on the listener with the pull of the abyss, giving one the dizzy feeling you get when looking over the side of a cliff. It's so inviting to gaze into the keyboard abyss on the album's highlight, "Luigi's Haunted Mansion" that you might miss out on the way the upbeat rhythm of the track is tamed by brooding lyrics and dark, low-fidelity distortion.

The Telephone Projects' side of the split transitions seamlessly into Bear Creek's, each hissing with the same amount of background grime. Musically, though, each band offers a completely different brand of songcraft. Bear Creek's sound is sporadic, and mostly instrumental, weaving spooky ambient jams on his piano and acoustic guitar. The two shoegaziest selections to be found here, "Freeway Fears" and "This Is How I Feel Sometimes" borrow a spaced-out, underwater tone from Sigur Ros; buoyant chords are complimented by weighty plunk of piano keys and the after-buzz of guitar strings. This album's surreal vibe makes for good Halloween listening material. You might want to consider playing it while passing out candy tomorrow.


Introducing: Jackie Trash

After hearing and reviewing their recently released debut ep, wow so sad, I decided to learn a little more about Jackie Trash, the Canadian lo-fi duo consisting of Linus Taylor and Sam Wells. Read the interview below.

·     Jackie Trash is a nearly perfect name for a lo-fi band. How did you think of it?

Linus: I just made it up out of nowhere. It’s fun sounding. If Jackie Trash was a person I’d imagine she’d be a trashy no wave princess. Also if I get tired of the name I can just change it to Jackie sad or Jackie crash or Jackie fast or whatever and it’ll be pretty much the same.

·    Where did you record your debut EP "wow so sad"?

Linus: Pretty much all of it was recorded in my room except for maybe some drums and guitar on sleepy cat. The fidelity on every song is a bit different because other than idiot they were all recorded with different tape recorders. I have two 4 tracks and a bunch little handheld cassette recorders and boomboxes.  We did honey ghost live to one of the little ones.

·    What bands directly influenced your sound? Any non-lo fi bands?

Linus: It changes a lot, usually because I am directly influenced by whatever I am listening to when I’m writing, which is something I have no control over it. This summer when wow so sad was written I was really in love with the first and last Beat Happening albums Of Montreal (the early demos and Cherry Peel) and the first Softies EP. I was also listening to the new TWIABP album and starry cat a bit. Mat Cothran and Salem have had a big influence on the way I write keyboard based songs. Frankie Cosmos’ why am I underwater was probably what I was listening to most though at the time, she’s a wonderful songwriter and everything she writes sounds effortless.

·    Why did you decide to put Sopranos samples in a couple songs?

Linus: I was pretty obsessed with that show when I found the sample for idiot. Finding good vocal samples invariably puts me in a good mood. I don’t know I just think a good vocal sample can set the mood for a song or contrast in a way that is funny or beautiful. I bought a reel to reel tape recorder and it was full of these 50 year old recordings of teenage girls covering pop songs interspersed with the droning voice of a bored housewife. Listening to that was pretty strange and beautiful. Now though I pretty much just look for samples that are funny and tongue in cheek, a really boring melodramatic vocal sample can ruin a song for me.

What's pop music like in Canada?

Linus: There isn’t much of scene of a pop scene around where we live except for some bands that we love really dearly like woolworm and open relationship. The first Destroyer album is also a total classic plus Drake and Blank Banshee have put out great albums pretty recently.

Sam: Definitely not as much of it as in the states, but we’ve got some great artists woolworm from Vancouver is a really killer pop emo sort of band, Chad Vangaalan is an awesome experimental singer songwriter, and Mac Demarco although a little corny writes some beautiful pop ballads

Are you going to put out a tape?

Linus: Yeah we are going to do really small of run of hand dubbed wow so sad tapes which will be really beautiful and unique and all a little different. If those sell out we will probably put up some beautiful transparent orange cassettes for sale. However, we still need to figure out shipping costs etc… so that’s all still in progress…

·    What was your first brush with lo-fi music?

Linus: When I was in sixth grade I bought a Tascam 4 track so I could record little personal songs. My only instrumentation was a couple toy keyboards I bought from Value Village and I would hole up in my room and record tracks like that. I was recording all my drums from MTV music generator on PS1 and doing all my vocals on a karaoke mic. Sadly, the input jack broke pretty quickly. It’s pretty funny to think I was doing pretty much the Casiotone for the Painfully Alone thing in sixth grade (albeit pretty terribly). The first lo fi music I ever listened to was Teenage Jesus and the Jerks though which I still love to this day.

Sam: Uh, my first brush with a really lo-fi aesthetic would probably have to be woods early works back when they were still called woods family creeps, as well as some local bands like weed, and open relationship, but I’ve been into hardcore for a long time and that’s all pretty lo-fi

How many tapes do you own? Which are your favorites?

Linus: I only have three right now The Blue Album by Weezer, Philosophy of the World by The Shaggs and Poochy by Open Relationship. My dc snuff tape is in the mail.

Sam: How many tapes do you own? Which are your favorites? I have maybe 30 or 40 tapes I have a lot of favorites I guess my weed – gun control cassette is the one I listen to the most, but I also love my Nine Inch Nails stuff and I have like 10 or 15 local or semi local crust bands tapes that are pretty rad.

If you got the chance to record any of your four songs in a studio which would it be?

Linus: I wouldn’t re record any of them in a studio but I would add cello, violin and female vocals to idiot (if that was possible). I would also probably turn the coda in sleepy cat into a half tempo sluggish jam like Pill Friends does on Rituals or Sonic Youth does on Schizophrenia.

·    Are you planning on recording any new stuff this year?

Linus: Yeah wow so sad is made up of a bunch of tracks that don’t really fit on the full length we are working on but my friends convinced me were too good to throw away. The only exception being idiot which I just recorded on a whim in one night. Hopefully we can put something out this year but it’s hard because i’m really busy and 99% of my gear is broken so it’s hard to get over to Sam’s house to record.


Issue 6 Out Now

New issue of Half-Gifts out now! Two different covers this time around, and it features interviews with Treebeard - Music, Noise, and WordsSecond Hand Flower Shop, Smiling Strange and Plastic Indians. Also reviews of Mentalease and Leopold Zimmerman.


Cassette Corner: Failed Mutation - "Demo 2013"

Failed Mutation - Demo 2013
(Not Normal 2013)
"Adds a thick film of lo-fi grime to the sound of Zero Boys and "Nervous Breakdown" era Black Flag."

Slightly less aggressive than their imposing band name and gruesome Shel Silverstein-esque artwork would suggest, Milwaukee's Failed Mutation make their demo debut with eight tracks of female-fronted hardcore that adds a thick film of lo-fi grime to the sound of Zero Boys and "Nervous Breakdown" era Black Flag. I consider it somewhat of a "pop" release for the Not Normal label, less explicit and abrasive than what they've released in the past couple of years, but feel that the shift of focus from sheer brutality to a trebly, streamlined punk approach is a much needed, though most likely temporary, change of pace.

Though growling bass and breakneck percussion is what draws me to the hardcore genre, I'll admit that at times that it can be hard to tell one band's instrumental assault from another's. That's why a great vocalist is key when it comes to catching my full attention in the realm of punk rock. Musically, for example, neither Minor Threat nor the Circle Jerks deliver the most intricate instrumentation, but Ian Mackaye's raspy shout and Keith Morris' wide-eyed howl always seem to stick with me. Failed Mutation's lead singer, whose name is not listed on the Not Normal bandcamp page, has a similarly memorable vocal style, borrowed from the riot-grrrl stylings of Bikini Kill and the Beachniks, which fit quite nicely in an 80's hardcore setting. Make sure to check out "Time To Stand", a cover of a song by J Mascis' and Lou Barlow's first band, Deep Wound. 


Half-Gifts Classic: Polaris - "Music From the Adventures of Pete and Pete"

Polaris - Music from the Adventures of Pete and Pete
(Mezzotint 1999)
"Rivals the soundtrack of John Hughes' Pretty In Pink in terms of stand alone playability"
Even if you've seen an episode or two, you may not have realized that The Adventures of Pete and Pete, a short lived program on Nickelodeon that aired in the mid nineties, played many then-obscure bands as background music that have now achieved semi legendary status, including the Magnetic Fields and shoegaze act Drop Nineteens. Despite the outstanding musical lineup that rivals the soundtrack of John Hughes' Pretty In Pink in terms of stand alone playability, the fictional band that sometimes appears in the Petes' neighborhood, Polaris, is the one that sticks in the minds of loyal fans.

Fronted by Miracle Legion's Mark Mulcahy, Polaris' genre-less garage band feel is a perfect match for the show's low key, vaguely offbeat vibe. Their sound, like Pete and Pete, still feels fresh to this day due to its timeless spirit and brazen simplicity. Simple chord progressions only serve to Mulcahy's chiming lead guitars, which shower and fizzle like the emissions of a 4th of July sparkler. His twangy, slightly acidic accompanying vocals add a bit of abrasion to the buttery instrumentation provided by the backing band, but it only improves the already solid base of each track. Polaris' knack for harmony and production can cause any song, even one about summer, to evoke the feeling and mood of late Autumn, which in my opinion, is the perfect season for creating sonic and lyrical imagery. In fact, much of the show seems to be set in the fall, as evident in the ever-present flannels and Little Pete's red hunting cap.

"Hey Sandy" is the first song on the album and Pete and Pete's theme song, an upbeat tune with glistening guitar and bouncy rhythm that serve as a lively introduction to both the compilation as well as the show itself. It's highlighted by a soaring guitar solo that melts in your inner ear, and it's one of the few theme songs I've heard that translates from the small screen to speakers. Don't stop there, though, as the best cuts off the soundtrack are buried three-fourths of the way through like "Coronado II", which takes a less callous take on Dinosaur Jr's alt-rock delivery. Things even slow down for the baroque-pop infused "As Usual". Even if you haven't seen an episode of Pete and Pete (which you should do sometime soon), give Polaris a listen. For a band featured on a Nickelodeon series, they're outstanding.


Review: jackie trash - "wow so sad"

jackie trash - wow so sad
(Self-Released 2013)
"Its appeal lies in its extemporaneous aura"
Using all-lowercase song titles, found tape sounds and blown out home-recorded vibes, Arizona's jackie trash delivers everything I look for in a tumblr-era emo band and seems to do so effortlessly. The trio's debut, wow so sad, meshes the more rock-minded approach to lo-fi that appears on Modest Mouse's Sad Sappy Sucker with A Grave With No Name's simple melancholy, resulting in an impressive first effort that could rival Julia Brown in variety and organic emotion. It's the kind of release that you come back to often, but aren't sure why. Perhaps its appeal lies in its seemingly extemporaneous aura. Each song on wow so sad sounds like it was patched together on the fly, and small hiccups and muddled bits of sound give the tracks some nice touches of character.

The singer for jackie trash, (his name is Linus is think?), sounds like Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins, and it really shows on the two cuts I listen to the most on wow so sad, "Sleepy Cat" and "Trampoline". The first is the most accessible of the two, and it resembles Built to Spill in its shouted chorus and wobbly keyboard. Its sound on the surface is charmingly whimsical, veiling the surprisingly large amount of force that lies beneath the band's twee stylings. "Trampoline" is a more somber track, giving the album a bit of gravitas. It carries with it a surprisingly catchy piano riff that lasts the first few verses. Though a bit all over the place, wow so sad is an album worth downloading and at only about five minutes long, it has a lot of replay value.


Review: The Caring Babies - "Gold Friends"

Caring Babies - Gold Friends
(2012 Robot Octopus Vs. Zombie Teddybear)
Twee synth-pop with a charmingly strange delivery.

There's only one thing better than a glow-in-the-dark record, and that's a glow-in-the-dark record wrapped in a coloring book. You'd expect the combination of luminescent vinyl and blank cover art to be an indie-pop industry standard by now but, sadly, the only band to employ each in a physical music release is Vermont's The Caring Babies. Recently awarded the "Weird Band of the Week" award by the music blog Weirdest Band In the World, the duo is made up of singer/songwriter Matt Mazur and his puppet/doll friend named Redgei. If you think that sounds like the premise of one of those new psychedelic cartoons they make for toddlers, then you have a good idea of what sort of music The Caring Babies offer on Gold Friends: upbeat twee jams that sound like Belle and Sebastian guest starring on Yo Gabba Gabba. (Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure that actually happened) 

Despite the band's quirky demeanor, the four songs on this record are genuinely enjoyable, each built around jazzy keyboards and drum machines. Mazur's vocals add a human element to the largely electronic sound, a sort of yawned delivery that would feel at home among others featured in the Sarah Records discography. Each track has an overwhelmingly cozy vibe, and it might take a few listens to fully notice the subtle lyrical wit hidden by The Caring Babies' unique sound. Though the shortest of the four tunes at just under fifty seconds, "Rock a de Rock" is, musically, the choice cut of the 7" single, ending in a surprisingly Blank Dogs-ian guitar assault. It's a brief moment of post-punk ecstasy that ends far too quickly. Though not quite an artistic triumph, Gold Friends is sure to be a fun addition to your record collection. Buy it here: http://rovsztbrecords.blogspot.com/ (Note the actual record cover is not colored in like in the picture above)


Interview: DJ Frederick

Frederick Moe (aka DJ Frederick) is a zine creator and reviewer as well as an independent radio DJ.

1) Hi, thanks for agreeing to the interview. My first question concerns your freeform radio program Radio Thrift Shop. How do you record and produce each episode?

That’s an ancient DJ secret. Next question!

2) There often seems to be a theme or criteria that determines what music is played per broadcast. How do you select a focus? Which episode are you most pleased with? Where do you find your records?

To be honest, I wing it 90% of the time. I bring a huge canvas bag of music into the WSCS broadcast studio every Sunday & choose my playlist from there. I like to do segments called “What’s in the Box?” where I explore a box set (LP, 45 or cassette) and “Drop the Needle” when I play something I bought at a thrift shop that I’ve never heard & don’t know what to expect. I also do an occasional set called “Left Off the Map” highlighting an overlooked record. Most shows, I’m musically all over the map. I could play a blues 78 from 1928 alongside a lathe-cut post-rock 7”. Some shows I stick with psychedelic pop, or  jazz, or folk, and on rare occasions I do themed sets, like a set of records from 1949 about Hadacol, an over-the-counter cure-all medicine that was hawked back in the day by a radio station owner turned politician. I’m most pleased with all of the episodes – having the freedom to do what I love and no one to say “play this” or “you can’t play that”. Commercial radio makes me want to vomit. As to where I find my records … I’m an archeologist & go on crate digs.

3) What was your first experience with independent radio?

I walked into the studios of WUNH 91.3 in Durham NH in 1974 or 1975 (I can’t remember which year exactly – what they say about the sixties is also true of the seventies) and asked if I could be a DJ. Insanely, they said yes. Go figure. I played whole album sides and the b-sides of my 45 collection all summer long. It was great.

4) You are also very invested in zine culture. What made you want start your review site One Minute Zine Reviews? How many submissions do you receive a week?

I decided to review zines on my own because I had reached out to a couple of  zine review zines and no one seemed to invite my involvement. I’m not surprised because I’m an outsider in a world of outsiders. So I started writing a blog and a paper zine to spotlight publications that may not be well known, even within zine circles.
I receive anywhere from zero to five submissions a week and I review about 75% of those – the ones that I have something helpful to say about.

5) You have a few of your own zines as well. What are they about, and where could potential readers get hold of a copy?

My zines are mostly about pirate, shortwave and community radio and independent media, though in the past year I started writing perzines about my life. Antiquated Future and Pioneers Press distro some of my zines. I am so grateful for Joshua and Chask’e at Antiquated Future, they have supported my creative efforts from day one. Jessie and Adam at Pioneers Press are amazing too.

6) There seems to be a zine covering just about every topic. Is there any field of interest that you feel deserves a zine that doesn't have one yet?

Yes. We need a decent zine about harmonica playing!

7) Design-wise, what do you look for in a zine? Which are your all-time favorites?

Design isn’t as important as content. If a “zine” feels too slick I’m generally not interested. The more homemade the better. My all-time favorite zines are written by Chris Mikul from Australia – Bizarrism and Biblio Curiosa.

8) What bands are you into at the moment? 

Any band that doesn’t make me want to pound my head against the wall when I hear them – like “here we go, I’ve heard this song 10,000 times before.” I don’t have a favorite band or musician or even musical genre. Music is wonderful in all of its forms.

9) Outside of zines and radio, what else are you invested in?

Making bread (the edible kind), finding a job / income, taking a writing class, loving my family. High on the list for when I have money again is starting a cassette label to release music and/or spoken word recordings.

I also try to post regularly on my blogs. People can read my blogs at zinereviews.blogspot.com and intentionsfortheweek.blogspot.com


Review: Utter Failure - "Eroding Forces"

Utter Failure - Eroding Forces
(2013 86'd)
"There's a refreshing honesty present on this 12" record"
Though much of my hardcore punk intake is limited to the growling, raw sound of the late 70's and early 80's, Utter Failure's Eroding Forces, which seems to be heavily influenced by trebly pop-punk bands like Descendents and Face To Face, has cemented itself in my current vinyl rotation. There's a refreshing honesty present on this 12" record; it's a straightforward listen, carried by melodic chords, minimal lead guitar and driving rhythms. There's not much to get between the listener and the heap of memorable hooks enclosed inside each copy of Eroding Forces.

Most music fans agree that a band should spread its catchiest songs evenly throughout their albums, but I disagree. I think that an A-side loaded with potential hits keeps the listener fixed on the music for at least a solid ten minutes, leaving him or her with a lasting impression and a good stretch of deeper cuts to come back to later. The Cure's Disintegration or, more recently, No Paws' Healthy Men are great examples of such albums, and each are among my all-time favorites. Utter Failure does just this, kicking off Eroding Forces with the five best songs in their arsenal, highlighted by "I Won't Apologize", the A-side's shortest offering, which delivers an infectious chorus. It resembles a middle ground between the Descendents and their later offshoot, All. Coincidentally, like the two aforementioned bands, Utter Failure can at times stray into more upbeat lyrical territory ("Corner of the World"), which is not as strong as their traditional punk songwriting. My favorite song on the flipside of the slab, "Unchanged", takes a decent amount of influence from early hardcore, carried by weighty bass. Even if you're a hardcore punk purist like I am, you'll still appreciate Utter Failure's early 90's groove.


Review: Teen/Ragers - "Rick Neagan"

Teen/Ragers - Rick Neagan
(2013 Coffin Boner)
"A beautifully narcotic effect that lies somewhere beyond instrumentation."
No name is better suited for this Oklahoma City trio than the one that they've already chosen. Teen/Ragers' sound is fueled by pure adolescent angst. Tight, math-rock riffage takes center stage on their debut disc, Rick Neagan, allowing the band pinpoint control over the overall atmosphere of each track. They have an uncanny ability to shift in mood, tempo and dynamic at will as their fast-paced, highly technical guitaristry bleeds through a paper-thin layer of tape hiss like a fat sharpie marker. Though the blurred sound quality and unstable nature of the music itself may be at first overwhelming, you'll soon learn that they give the album a distinct charm, a dreaminess that doesn't necessarily warrant a shoegaze tag, but certainly does create a beautifully narcotic effect that lies somewhere beyond instrumentation.

Standout cut "Art Is For Pussies" effectively demonstrates just about all that I've mentioned above. Listening to the two minute track feels like buying guitar riffs in bulk; Teen/Ragers pack more original and intriguing guitar licks into 120 seconds than some bands include on a single album, sometimes sacrificing coherence, but never raw energy, just to fit them all in. Though quietly mixed, there's something in-your-face about the song, probably due to its screamed vocals and short dramatic breakdowns. "Punka Punka Punka" is as streamlined a song as you'll find on the short album consistently chugging forward on a surprisingly steady beat only to end with a nice touch of antiquated keyboards that remind me of Julian Lynch's "Rancher". Rick Neagan is beautifully aggressive, and a solid effort by a young band to watch.