Cassette Corner: Restaurnaut - "FAHF 2"

Restaurnaut - FAHF 2
(2013 Kerchow)

For the second day in a row, here’s another taste of California DIY, and like the zine I reviewed yesterday, Restaurnaut’s new tape, FAHF 2, more closely resembles Olympia, Washington’s off-kilter twee vibe than the crunchy garage-punk that California has been churning out lately. It’s pretty evident that frontman Nick Dolezal looks to Calvin Johnson’s many music projects for insight; both of the songwriters have a penchant for clunkily played, twangy guitars, and each delivers lyrics in an overly forceful tone, slowly sounding out each syllable with booming force. What sets Restaurnaut apart from Calvin and the K Records scene is his use of synths and samples. While just about every iconic K Records band limited themselves to guitar and drums, Dolezal is rather creative with his arrangements without sacrificing his lo-fi ethic. His tracks on FAHF 2 include clanging keyboards like those on “Don’t Feel Lonely Like The Rest” and gravelly noise loops on “Into The Star World”. He even mixes his vocals differently on each track. They’re especially abrasive on the closing track, “Arrow”, which happens to be my favorite of the 5 included on the tape. Not only does the song include some of Restaurnaut’s best lyricism, (“I’ll treat you like the last Egyptian Pharaoh”), but it also veers into some sonically adventurous territory. It spans four and a half minutes, an unheard of amount of time for the lo-fi genre, and features blasts of distortion in its chorus. In Beach Boys-eque fashion, a sample of an archer pulling back his bowstring accompanies the word “arrow” in the song’s second verse. The McDonald’s yellow cassette includes a good 15 minutes worth of old-school DIY, and it’s in a limited edition of 25 so don’t pass up your chance to get one!


Zine Review: Goofbook

R.L. Wallace - Goofbook issue 4
(Gonk Publishing 2012)

If you’ve heard any of R.L. Wallace’s cassette tapes, you’ll have a good idea of what his zines are like: gritty and minimalist, but ultimately charming. I’ve received a few publications from Wallace over the past year, but my favorite by far is Goofbook, a low-key look into Wallace’s day-to-day life told through scribbly pen-and-ink drawings and short, typewritten captions. Wallace draws himself as some sort of cross between a bear and a hamster, and Goofbook chronicles the confrontations between his optimistic, often naive, avatar and the apathetic attitude of the nameless characters he encounters. In contrast to Wallace’s simple features, the other people portrayed in the drawings are frightening creatures that resemble aliens. Though these strange characters are sketched in greater detail, the three lines that make up the protagonists’ face convey much more expression, not unlike Charlie Brown’s face. Wallace’s writing is easily relatable and he slips plenty of good music references into the artwork. Fans of King Cat Comics will dig Goofbook. It also kinda reminds me of Hyperbole and a Half. Send $2, a tape or something of that nature to:
R.L. Wallace
2700 White Ave. #3
Chico, CA, 95973
(Don’t forget to ask for Goofbook!)


Review: Cedar Falls - "Esla"

Cedar Falls - Esla
(2013 Self-Released)
"Bathes a smattering of seemingly unrelated influences in shoegazey fuzz."

Here’s a release that takes me back to the origins of the Half-Gifts music blog. I named the site after the fourth and final track of the Cocteau Twins’ oft-overlooked 1995 EP called Twinlights. Though the band is most known for their ethereal (and rather liturgical) take on dream-pop, the brief release relegates their usual shoegazery to be a supplement to acoustic arrangements, and the dramatic change in sounds pays off: though piano, acoustic guitar and strings are at each song’s focus, the residual shimmer that brews in the background is what makes Twinlights so memorable. That background effect is resurrected on Elsa, the debut album by Long Island’s Cedar Falls. It takes cues from a smattering of seemingly unrelated influences and bathes them in shoegazey fuzz and reverb adding up to one gorgeous EP.

“There” is the first track to include vocals, which hide among twangy, vaguely dissonant pluckings that recall Slint’s tinny guitar tone on Spiderland. It’s nice, but seems to be a bit of a buffer, countering the unchallenged beauty that circulates through “Isolated Roads”, which channels Neutral Milk Hotel’s fuzz-folk. “Julia”, however, is my personal favorite selection from Esla, and is perhaps the sleeper track of the bunch. The synths that breathe life into the song sound like a slowed-down sample of Paul McCartney’s “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime”. Declan Diemer’s vocals have a surprisingly “pop” accent to them, a rather welcome inclusion on such a mellow album.


Cassette Corner: Log Across the Washer - "Pancakes"

Log Across the Washer - Pancakes
(Crash Symbols 2013)
Pancakes' warm jazz production and quirky songcraft keep it timeless
Releasing an album that weighs in at twenty-plus tracks is risky business, and it usually results in either a fascinating collection of brief song snippets that hold up on their own or an overindulgent mess. Luckily, taking a cue from Guided by Voices’ bag of tricks, Tyler Keene’s psychedelic solo project Log Across the Washer falls under the former category on his new tape, Pancakes, by varying his delivery dramatically over the hour long album, but holding each track together with a vintage jazz vibe (Keene cites John Coltrane as an influence). Though you might be tempted to lump Log Across The Washer along with other current jazz and funk influenced acts like Mac Demarco and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Keene seems to live in a bubble that prevents him from devoting too much of his attention to imitating a certain artist or scene. Pancakes’ warm production and quirky songcraft keep it timeless, and it’ll certainly hold up in just about any music fan’s cassette collection.

Pancakes opens with “On the Swinging Stairs”, appropriately titled considering its guitars, which seem to violently wobble and bend at random. Keene’s multi-part harmonies and use of the trumpet on this track recall Kevin Barnes’ clever arrangements on mid 2000’s Of Montreal LPs. Tinny, dissonant organ carries the weight of “Electric Blanket”, an avant-funk jam with one of the most addictive hooks on the album, featuring warbly falsetto. Things get a bit more understated on Side B, opened by “So The Story Goes”, a track free of any sort of the screwball experimentation that accents most of the tape. Its guitars are metallic and narcotic and Keene’s vocals lower to the soothing whisper one might expect to hear from Yo La Tengo. There’s a lot of untapped potential hinted at in the B Side, and hopefully Log Across the Washer Builds off the side’s triumphs.



Cassette Corner: Stars Are Insane/Monogamy Split

Stars Are Insane/Monogamy - Split Cassette
(Rok Lok Records 2013)
A noisy split tape that's full of surprises; marks a turning point in the Stars are Insane Discography.

It’s kind of odd that Long Island resident Mike Andriani, who releases bedroom-recorded noise rock under the name Stars are Insane, would choose to put out two split EPs in the span of a month, but after scrutiny of each of them, it seems apparent that this was a very logical move. His last output, the December installment of Rok Lok Records’ 2012 cassingle club, was a major outlier compared to the rest of his discography. Most noticeably, it was comprised entirely of ambient instrumentals, but more importantly, it marked a major sonic change in Andriani’s instrumentation. Though there are lyric-less tracks on just about every Stars are Insane release, these felt more like stand-alone songs rather than outtakes and experiments. The fuzziness of his guitar tone evoked the faint grittiness and bright shimmer of the ocean rather than the sludge and scattered pollution one might find sitting at the bottom of a lake.

His two late-2013 EPs separate that recently adopted style from his older, and arguably more accessible alt-folk material. His cassette split with Monogamy, which I’ll be dissecting tonight, focuses more on the former, while his lathe-cut record release with Morgue Toad prominently features his more traditional-sounding material. His first track to appear on the Monogamy split is “When We Saw Mountains”. It opens with a majestic, new age-y keyboard loop that’s quite worthy of the track title. Short lashes of crunchy electric guitar act like timpani drumrolls would in a symphony. The keyboard takes a backseat in the following track, “Cars Pass Me By”. Once again, the track is adept at illustrating its title. A subtle drone in the background creates a grim darkness that set the mood of a lonely, late night drive. The track actually makes me feel more like I’m in the backseat, because its repetition promotes passive listening. I lie back on the chilly headrest and watch as the cars (represented by delayed guitar notes) woosh by, blurred through the rain-soaked back window.

In stark contrast to the A-side, the opening track of Monogamy’s half of the split is fueled by industrial aggression; its drums are booming and metallic and screeching mechanical sounds skitter high above. Though it’s tough to dig through the song’s steely surface, when you do you’ll find that there’s a hidden shoegaze gem buried below the noise. Its melody is simple but effective, and is very much in tune with Shivering Window’s less-is-more mentality. “Remain Lingering” hits the listener with another surprise, opening with pleasant solo piano that leads into velvety saxophone. Paired with D Alfred Lyons’ odd vocal delivery, it sounds a lot like Modest Mouse’s “Think Long”. As a final testament to Monogamy’s unpredictability, a short hardcore/powerviolence cut concludes his side of the split.


Single: seventeen years - "ocean slut"

seventeen years - "ocean slut"
(Half-Gifts Records 2013)

"ocean slut" is the third track off of the forthcoming EP, Teased Hair, by seventeen years, the solo project of Daytime Party's Tony Freijat. The track opens with a rumbling post-punk guitar riff that is soon blanketed by heavy, crackling fuzz. Freijat's vocals are filtered and understated like those of Cole Smith from DIIV. There's even a hint of early 2000's emo that's a bit more prevalent in other tracks on the EP. This tune is sneakily catchy, and will slowly worm its way into your current list of favorite songs. Listen below.


Single Review: Roof Doctor - "Dad"

Roof Doctor - "Dad"
(Maggot House 2013)

With the creamy saxophones that so defined their last album out of the picture, Roof Doctor's former brand of twangy prog-rock is confined to the recurring guitar riff on their new single "Dad". It ventures into territory that's a little foreign for the Philadelphia five-piece, airy emo that resembles fIREHOSE if it were fronted by Lou Barlow. Mark Harper's blunt and endearingly monotone vocals trudge through distant feedback and harmonics delivered by a mechanical, motorik rhythm. A piano bursts brilliantly through the mix midway through the track, and although the instrument is often used to add fragile beauty to a song, it sounds surprisingly aggressive on "Dad". The song will be included on Roof Doctor's upcoming LP, Freedom Mobile Home, and suggests a fresh direction for the band. Listen below.


Interview: Baby Ghosts

(Drawing by Caroline Noel)

I recently had the chance to interview 3 members of Utah anime-punk unit Baby Ghosts about Adventure Time, Bikini Kill and supernatural encounters. Check out the questions and answers below.

How did Baby Ghosts form, and what bands served as inspirations? Also, your lyrics almost always speak of death but in a rather lighthearted way. Why is this?
Bret (Drums, vocals): We just really wanted to start something fun. There were some lineup shuffles near the beginning, but everything has been solid for a few years now.
I would say that, for me, I think about death constantly, in a lot of different ways. Writing a lighthearted song about death is a coping mechanism for me. People might say that it's insensitive, but it helps me, and I hope it helps other people be a little less afraid and anxious as well.
Katrina (Bass, vocals): I wasn't around for the very beginning, but I heard that Baby Ghosts was influenced by the Raveonettes. I think some of the songs in the first album reflect that. As for the lighthearted references to death and serious topics, I think we don't like to come off as a serious band. We have much more fun playing live and I feel more freedom in writing when we incorporate humor into our songs.
Karly (Vocals, Guitar): Baby Ghosts is fun! That's why it started. That's why I wanted to join when I got the chance and that's why I still do it! If it comes off as light-hearted its because that's the way we all see it, I guess.
I heard you guys are working on a new album, what are the details on that? Did the Ghost In A Vacuum EP give us a hint at what's to come, or will the new material take a vastly different approach?
Bret: The new album definitely sounds a lot more like Ghost in a Vacuum than the first album, though there are still some songs that would fit right in on Let's Always Hang Out... Still, there might be a few songs that are different from anything. We're hoping that our progression of song writing makes sense. As much I don't think it matters to cater to your listeners, I also don't think it helps to put out music that sounds like a completely different band. This album sounds like everything else we've done, but maybe a little more... beautiful?
Katrina: Ghost In A Vacuum's variance in songwriting is definitely something that will come up again in the new album. We all have distinct styles which will come together in the new release to create a really well-rounded album. I think we're all really excited to have an album that will better represent ourselves. 
Who does the artwork for your releases? I really dig the album covers.
Bret: Our friend Naomi Martin has done the majority of our art so far, including the covers of every release to date. She's genuinely great.
You guys played a Halloween show as Bikini Kill. What was that like? Did you cover "Outta Me"? That's one of my all-time favortie tracks.
Katrina: DUDE, I love Outta Me too and I actually suggested we play that one but it got cut. Bummer, because it's so beautiful. But Halloween shows are about really capturing the essence of the band in one set so we definitely had to go with the more upbeat, in-your-face stuff. Overall the set went really really well. It was so fun, especially since the crowd was really into it and singing along. I told Karly at the end of the set that even if she had forgotten any of the words, she could've given the mic to any of the girls in the crowd.
If you ever do another Halloween show, whose songs will you cover?
Karly: I would love to do something like Blondie or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs but those bands might be too serious for us. Not that Bikini Kill isn’t serious THEY ARE. Maybe by serious I just mean that their songs are more difficult??  
Bret: I don't know. Pat and I joked about doing HEART. That would be fun, but also stupid.
How did you guys make the video game for your website? 

Bret: So I actually made about 95% of it by myself (My friend Adam drew a handful of monsters, but that was it). I made it on a site called mygamebuilder.com. It took me almost exactly a year to complete, and now it's just stuck on that site. It was a very helpful place for someone like me (who knows nothing about programming, animation, drawing, anything), but it sucks that the game just sits there and doesn't work half the time because their site goes down. Whatever, it was the only way I could have made it happen. 

Katrina: I made an 8-bit heart with a real cute highlight on top. That was probably my greatest contribution.
You've put out separate releases on cassette, CD and vinyl. Which was your favorite to work with?
Bret: Cassettes are fast and cheap, so it's nice being able to print something right before you need them. Vinyl sounds the best. I'm pretty over CDs at this point, but I don't really care. I think our releases have all been put out on only one format apiece, and I think we'll just end up doing it like that forever. Variety is fun!
You guys like Adventure Time right? What's your favorite song from the show? Also, have you seen the new Cartoon Network show called Steven Universe? It's made by some of the same folks and it's rad.
Bret: The best song is definitely the song BMO sings to Finn and Jake when they are fighting (season one, I think). It's the episode where they have movie night and try making a movie together. I haven't seen that show, and I will check it out the next time I get bored. Have you seen Bravest Warriors or Puppycat? Also made by some of the AT people. You can watch them both on youtube.
Katrina: I haven't watched Steven Universe yet but I have heard great things. Also, it's the first show on Cartoon Network to be completely created by a woman (the genius Rebecca Sugar), which is rad.
Karly: I love the friends song that BMO sings but I also really love the song at the end, during the credits. It’s a modified version of some real bands song and I always forget how good it is until the end of an episode.
Do you believe in ghosts?
Karly: I was scratched by a ghost once! I was on a ghost hunt in Brigham City and had A LOT of layers on and when I got home I had a weird burn/scratch down my arm! I’m not really sure about ghosts, but that story is true, I had a weird burn scratch. Id definitely think it could be true.
Bret: Honestly, not in the slightest. But even though I believe almost strictly in science and dislike mysticism, it's important not to dismiss things. I like ghost stories and the possibilities of spirits, friends, jerks, and demons coming to haunt you, but I don't worry about the reality of them. Maybe that's why we can write so many songs about ghosts without a second thought. What they hell are THEY gonna do?
What bands are you currently into?
Bret: Ummm, the new Mind Spiders is pretty cool. Definitely Big Eyes - Almost Famous. Peach Kelli Pop just came through, so I am still on a kick of all her music. And I still listen to the new Anamanaguchi album any time I get in my car.
Katrina: Waxahatchee, Slutever (yes that's their name), Austra, Anamanaguchi, Paul Baribeau...just lots of stuff ya know?
Karly: Bleached, ALL DOGS, Waxahatchee. Lots of girl voices lately I guess. Fun stuff!


Cassette Corner: Mumblr - "White Jesus / Black God"

Mumblr - White Jesus / Black God
(Fleeting Youth 2013)
"Stops, starts and bucks like a rodeo bull in attempt to toss the listener off its back"
Mumblr's White Jesus / Black God, to be released on Fleeting Youth Records next Tuesday, is a cassette re-issue of the band's first two EP releases, which are said to have given birth to Philadelphian "fuzz punk", hence the bizarre choice of album artwork. To be honest, I hadn't heard any of Mumblr's material prior to popping this tape in my deck, and having read that the quartet tagged themselves with the aforementioned fuzz punk genre, I prepared my ears for yet another Wavves clone. Surprisingly, the sounds that actually came from the deck quickly worked to erase any preconceived notion I had about this release. "Holy Ghost" opens White Jesus, the first half of the double EP, with an atmosphere of suspense, as sparse chords and small bursts of percussion create a tension that seems to stick around for the entire A-side. Nick Banks' distant falsetto surfaces alongside warm, jazzy lead guitar, its calming presence clearing the air for the auditory assault that soon follows. The band takes on an explosive post-grunge sound that stops, starts and bucks like a rodeo bull in attempt to toss the listener off its back. This isn't normally what I'd find myself really getting into, but the album really challenged me to break out of the rut I'd been in, listening almost solely to folky lo-fi music.

A couple tracks appearing on Side A take on a restrained tone. The chiming notes and loose rhythms on "Fuzz Punk", for example, act as a palate cleanser among the constant barrage of heavy instrumentation. Generally, though, the most brutal moments of the EP, like "3/4" are the most enjoyable, attacking like a more fierce Built To Spill. On the B-Side, Black God, demonstrates a faster-paced, more condensed take on the sound introduced in White Jesus, but interestingly enough, is less accessible than its counterpart. "Good Cop, Dad Cop" is the easiest to instantly jam to, with its filtered vocals and shambolic instrumentation. Actually, that particular cut does sort of recall Wavves' crunchy pop vibe, fitting its fuzz punk label quite well. White Jesus / Black God shows incredible depth for a cassette and certainly will leave fans wanting more. Preorder here.


Interview: Teen/Ragers

An interview with the three members of  math punk unit Teen/Ragers about the Oklahoma City music scene and attending concerts alongside their parents.

How did Teen/Ragers come about? What’s the main focus of the band? What major influences do you guys have in common?

Jake: The three of us wanted to start a new band together and explore the kind of music we think is fun to play. Fun and Friendship! Sagen has said in the past that Teen/Ragers is a bunch of happy people writing sad songs; but we don’t really know what what true sadness is. It’s just a logical way to take things to the extreme, and the expression of the raw performance is just really fun. There’s something about getting to be something you’re not that is really interesting. One weird hiccup. Obscurum per Obscurious. We don’t really write casual music, all the parts are completely intentional. To name a few common influences, father figure, Two Knights, Choirs, Native, Alta, and Algernon Cadwallader.

On your new album “Rick Neagan”, there's a nice lo-fi sound quality. Was that a stylistic choice, or does that just come from necessity? What lo-fi bands do you like?

Jake: Kind of both. Sagen recorded and mixed it so I’ll let him answer but I’ll tell you what we all wanted from this album. We wanted a true sound that we felt accurately represents how the songs sound live. We wanted it to be clearly heard and understood but did not want it so clean it sounds unauthentic. I write a lot of the lyrics to these songs apart from playing drums and they’re very personal to me. We recorded the songs the way we did because we could do it ourselves and it just so happened to sound great to us! Its all about context. These songs weren't written for the radio or even a stage, they were written for the back of a thrift store. Aidan: (List of influential lo-fi bands)
1 Footnotes
2 Midwest Pen Pals 3 Early Merchant Ships recordings 4 French In Van

Coffin Boner Records offers up tons of quality Oklahoma City punk music. What’s the scene like there?

Jake: I love the shows and bands that make up OKC’s ‘scene’. A lot of the DIY punk and emo bands I love are centered around a great local venue, Bad Granny’s. There is a lot of talent and creativity that comes through or thrives at this place. Its like the CBGB’s of OKC if you will.
Sagen: It’s a bunch of friends making bands and playing music for other friends. I feel like we make a healthy competition of trying to make the most kickin’ jamz. It’s a pretty fun way to hang out.

I heard there are many other projects made up of members of Teen/Ragers. What are they?

Jake: I also play drums in a ska band called Sunny Side Up. A punk band called Anti-Patterns and an emo band called Otters. I love all these bands although Teen/Ragers is my baby. Check em out on bandcamp or faceboook. More local DIY OKC music.
Sagen also plays drums for a badass instrumental math rock band called Shelton Pool. They just finished recording a new album with Aidan on bass! Check em out. Aidan plays guitar in Otters. He also plays bass in local bands Dave and Shelton Pool.
What was the first band you saw live?
Jake: The Queers at the conservatory in okc. Crazy night!
Sagen: Lynyrd Skynrd, actually. I have a pretty dad rock dad.
Aidan: My dad surprised me with tickets to a Green Day concert in the 7th grade. He had no idea what I listened to.
What do you do in your free time that doesn't involve music?
Jake: I also do art and work. I was an art major in high school and its really rewarding. ‘Do art, no problem’. I’m reading How Music Works by David Bryne and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Both are really good.
Aidan: As a music student with only really that as a talent, I don’t do much that isn’t music.
Sagen: I’m a physics student, so I end up spending most of my free evenings arguing about math with my friends.
Is there anything in the future for Teen/Ragers?
Jake: Us playing locally and writing more. We are planning on recording a split with one of our friends soon. We have a bunch of new songs we’re really excited to share! We are also talking about touring but nothing to announce yet. Keep an eye on the facebook~~~