Interview: The Great Mistakes

The Great Mistakes are a self-described "cat-punk" trio from Cincinnati, employing ukulele and cello in their instantly accessible folk pop sound. Their recently released debut single, "I Don't Blame You", shares many qualities with other similar acts that I enjoy, namely Jayber Crow and Mrs. Mole. 

Half-Gifts: How and when did The Great Mistakes form? Did all the members have a common interest in the same type of music?

Spencer Peppet: The Great Mistakes formed kind of by accident. My school does a coffeehouse-style performance called the Beat, and last year I decided that I was going to play some of my songs. I wanted a bigger sound than just me and my ukulele, so I asked Nathan and Grace to play. We ended up having a lot of fun and decided to continue as a band. We do have common music interests, though. They're prominent influences on our own music, especially The Velvet Underground, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Mountain Goats, Joanna Newsom, and Cat Power.

You played a show at Everybody's Records this week, how did that go? Have you performed anywhere else? 

Our Everybody's show is my favorite show we've played so far! We had a great turnout, and we were the youngest band to play over the series of live music Saturdays. It was a lot of fun, and I'm really happy we had the chance to play there. We've played shows at the Beat and at Music on the Green in Terrace Park, and we have more shows coming up!

Speaking of live music, what local bands have you seen play?

Local bands are really fun, especially when it's a high school band. My favorite non-high school local bands are Wussy and WHY?, they're both amazing. As for high school bands, Nathan is in another band called Sophie's Dream and they're great. We've seen The Wonderful Sadists, Olivia Frances, Banducci and the Wheels, Greek Myth, Jake Kolesar, Andrew Boylan, and the Social Rejects' Club.

Your Facebook and Bandcamp pages describe The Great Mistakes as a "cat punk" band. A genre tag search only brings up the song "Bounty Hunter" by Mardou. What is cat punk?

"Cat punk" started as kind of a joke, and it started with our first name. We were the Aristocats for a while, then changed to The Great Mistakes. We like to stay true to our feline roots, you know? We've continued using the tag because it still fits the music. It makes sense with the way the songs sound.

You have released two songs as a part of your digital single, "I Don't Blame You". Any plans to record any of your other songs?

We're currently recording our first full record! It's very exciting. We've been spending lots of time in Nathan's basement getting the sounds right. It's minimal, with the cello drone and big sweeping build-ups. The record is called "High School." 

What are your favorite non-musical things to do?

Well, we eat a lot of Indian food. Nathan enjoys quoting the Iliad at length, Grace likes cats, and I read a lot of books. Kundera, Salinger, Diaz, and a bunch of others, Nathan introduced me to all the best ones. Grace and I both do theatre as well, she covers all areas and directs along with acting. Most of our interests are literary or musical.

What are your goals for this year?

The main goal is to get the recording sounding as good as possible, and then to become the Velvet Underground.


Review: Linus Nordmark - "Songs"

Linus Nordmark - Songs
(Self-Released 2014)

Could Linus Nordmark's debut album signal a return to the former glory of Bandcamp's "dream pop" tag? Using only the most rudimentary pop components, the Swedish solo artist's material is a lovely look back at shoegaze circa 2011, the scene responsible for my love affair with reverb and fuzz. Liquescent droplets of clean guitar splash against a solid, glassy pane of throbbing keyboard drones. The drum machines are cold and mechanical, trimmed of any flourish or hint of improvisation. Existent only to propel warbling bass tremors forward, they are beautiful in a strictly utilitarian way. It's quite similar in texture to Craft Spells and The Wake. 

In a 16-song album that's shoegazey from start to finish, it's Nordmark's vocals that carry much of the weight of the music, ranging from a post-punk monotone to a dramatic new-wave howl. He chooses to open with one of his poppiest tunes, "The Fall", a bouncy song laced with interweaving guitar melodies and swelling keyboards. "Happy Place" is another pop gem, but is a slower track, void of any percussion. It's carried by plodding bass and spindly lead guitar, and could be mistaken for a demo track by The National. The greatest triumph on Songs, however, is "Isolate Me", featuring a towering chorus and blistering guitar riffs. Hopefully Nordmark releases more music soon, as I'm already a major fan of his after just downloading his album this morning.  


Live Review: Feldi/Forest Management @ Cincinnati Public Library

(photos by Steve Kemple)
Feldi and Forest Management
January 15 2014
Cincinnati Public Library

Wednesday marked my third visit to the Cincinnati Library for their monthly experimental music series. Each time I attend, the experience becomes increasingly surreal; the setting is just as, if not more important than the music for these shows. The performers set up on long white tables that one might associate with dented cash boxes and high school basketball ticket sales. Behind them is a glass window wall, providing the audience a view of the city and its inhabitants. I mentioned this in my last library review, but I think it's worth mentioning again that they, unknowingly, become performance artists. Like silent film stars, their gestures and expressions become comically exaggerated when detached from their words. The audience is lovably neurotic, and I feel like I fit in. Everyone is there simply because they love to consume art in all of its various forms.

I arrived midway into the soundcheck of the first act, Feldi (aka George Feldick), a self-proclaimed noise collagist from Norwood. To the untrained eye, he may have appeared to be setting up a yard sale. A toy guitar lay face-up next to a miniature blue accordion. A red shopping bag, which I later learned carried tapes, slumped over. A small television faced Feldick, broadcasting something I could not see. His music was created with a loop pedal, which was used to layer noises in the three collages he created over the course of his 15 minute set. He would first lay down a grimy foundation composed from a distorted cassette, and then proceed to cloak it in the hazy drone of his accordion, twangy guitar sound effects and a breathy whistle from a wooden recorder that he produced from his jacket pocket. It was gorgeously woozy. Behind him was a projection of a short film called Fake Fruit Factory, a pastel-toned close up look at manual labor, demonstrated through extreme close ups and the gossip between workers. The music and movie paired so well that I assumed that Feldick was sampling the audio from the clip in his set, but he assured me he wasn't. He mentioned it might have something to do with the sound intermingling with the light flowing between the projector and screen. I thought it may have also had something to do with the human brain's desperate need to make sense of foreign sensations, using any connections it can find in attempt to rationalize them.

Between sets, Ellen Atkinson gave a short presentation about a play written during the French Revolution called "The Meeting of August 10th", which she recently translated into English. The play gave insight into the propaganda and numerous festivals of the revolution, which were eerily reminiscent of those of ancient Rome. The dialogue was supposedly meant to be sung, and it was jokingly suggested that the crowd of EMATL regulars compose music for their own production of "August 10th". That doesn't sound like a bad idea. I actually think Robespierre would have appreciated such a performance! Only at the library will you catch an academic lecture between two bands, and it works surprisingly well.

The final act of the night was Forest Management, made up of one John Daniel, who traveled from Cleveland for the show. His setup was more sparse, but also a bit more organized than Feldi's. A laptop, a pedal and a portable tape deck made up his entire arsenal. His music was just as minimal as his table, but was also extremely beautiful. It reminded me of Pulse Emitter's ambient epic, "Forest Mountain Valley". Looping, textureless synths melted into each other while being dragged downward by heavy, growling bass tones. Nature sounds seeped from his tape deck, and he managed to create a wall of noise by fiddling with the cable between the deck and the speakers. In contrast to Feldi's chaotic and unpredictable performance, this one was composed with precision, and repetitive loops created a trance-inducing aura that was both sleepy and compelling. That's what made it so surprising when Daniel threw back a few orange Tic Tacs mid-set. He was so quiet and focused while performing, that it was striking to see him momentarily break his concentration just for a few pill-shaped candies. That instant was definitely the highlight of the show for me.


Review: Flowers Taped To Pens/Nevasca/American Memories/DayCare

Flowers Taped To Pens/Nevasca/American Memories/DayCare Split
(Ozona Records 2013)

Finding a sufficient balance between beauty and violence can be a difficult task, but can make the difference between a song that's perfectly striking and one that's overly saturated with one particular feeling. Each of the four bands on this split tape display mastery of achieving this sonic equilibrium, lobbing lightweight, crystalline guitaristry to be belted out of the park by abrasive crescendos. It's fascinating to have four takes on the rising DIY screamo/twinkly scene all on one release, and even more so considering that there is still a great diversity of sounds contained within the confines of the genre. 

The first of these bands to appear on the album is San Diego's Flowers Taped To Pens, offering up two tracks. "Ghosts in My Bed" opens with a pleasant degree of creaminess, as clean guitar pluckings wallow in a warm trumpet drone. Shortly after it starts, this melody eerily ceases, interrupted by a yelp. The full extent of  the band's angst-driven energy rains down from above, a warbly and surprisingly dreamy brand of hardcore supplemented by screamed vocals. Their second song, "That Same Street", is less fast-paced but is perhaps more intense. The guitars turn shaky loops in the air, wobbling and improvising their way through a spacious rhythm provided by distant percussion. The tension this instability creates threatens to snap at any moment, yet somehow manages to hold itself together for four full minutes.

Following Flowers Taped To Pens is Russian quartet Nevasca. Their sound is poppier and a little more accessible than the rest of the bands featured on this release, weaving complex, shimmering guitar melodies together over anthemic exuberance on standout cut "Leaving This Northern Town". The interplay between the male and female vocalists is stunning, and adds even more layers to a song that is already quite textured. "Memory Fails Me" is the mini-epic around which this split revolves, clocking in at nearly 7 minutes. It nearly tresspasses into post-rock territory; it's minimal, and instrumentally charged, resembling an emo Sigur Ros.

American Memories step up to the plate next, a lo-fi and rather streamlined skramz track. The vocals are in the spotlight on "Grave", crashing into the fuzzy walls of guitar and pounding drums. California's DayCare make their debut as the final band to appear on the split, providing the lone tune "I Don't Wanna Come Home". It's the most polished sounding of the bands here, emphasizing the raw screams over chiming guitar chords. There really isn't a weak spot on this whole tape, and a full listen is worth your while.


Interview: Lion House

In what may be 2014's most inspirational interview, Aaron Hurtado and Damian Fisher of Lion House teach us how to give it 100%, provide details on their upcoming EP and inform us of the Year of Versace.

Lion House is one of the youngest bands in a growing Kansas City scene. What was it like starting to play shows and beginning to record together?

Aaron: Well we all grew up going to the same highschool, so we were already pretty close friends. I was in a band with Austin my freshman year and then a band called Summer Handjob my sophomore year of highschool with Damian. So when things with Lion House started coming together, it was a pretty smooth ride.

Damian: It was really cool getting to go from being someone that watched to being a part of it, and it really helped like the idea of DIY because it used to be just a big thing. You just gotta go out and give a hundred percent everyday ;*

Where's the coolest place you've played a show? What's it like for the touring DIY band?

Aaron: The Lemp Neighborhoods Art Center in St. Louis, MO is without a doubt my favorite venue that we have played. I think in 2013 we made the trip up there either on tour or just for a misc. show 4 times. We have made a lot of good friends and heard a lot of good music at that place. And the owner Mark Sarich knows how to hold together his community. He makes sure to feed every band, and provide a place for them to sleep, as well as giving them the money that is made at the door. Touring DIY is almost never financially easy.

Damian: The coolest place has to be The Lemp Neighborhood Art Center in St. Louis. You walk in and there are all these couches and there is this huge St. Louis flag just on the wall, and Mark, the man who runs Lemp, is so welcoming it's crazy. Touring as a DIY band kind of sucks when you're a tiny band that no one knows about because it's supposed to be "Do It Yourself" or "Do It Together", but when half the people in this scene don't respond to you trying to book a show or help you book shows it becomes a stressful burden booking a simple four day tour, but it's still a lot of fun getting to be with your close friends all day erryday for however long you're on tour. Just gotta go out there and give a hundred percent ;*
Your list of tags on bandcamp includes 'shoegaze' and 'midwestern emo'. How do you combine the two genres? What bands do you consider influences?

Aaron: We kind of have found a happy medium between ambient noises and minor scales. I mean all four of us have way different influences musically, I think we can agree on one or two, but if we got into a real deep discussion about it, I'm sure someone would get injured. We've come close to that before. As for my influences, The Smiths, Joy Division, Foxing, Bon Iver, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Elvis, Deafheaven, and Cloakroom have all provided little attributes musically that I have really taken and added to my own style.

Damian: I don't know how we combined them, but for me it's all about the "feeling" of the song when you're playing it, and I think the shoegaze/emo thing allows the song to feel intimate more so than it would if we were a poppy bubblegum emo band. Some influences for me are Joie De Vivre, Pianos Become The Teeth, Funeral Diner, Funeral Advantage, Bon Iver, Explosions in the Sky, I Hate Myself, Mineral, Sore Eyelids, Suis La Lune, and Two Bicycles.

You have a proper debut release in the works, how is that coming along? What's your recording process like?

Aaron: We are currently getting material together and it is a lot of fun. Today was -21 degrees outside and Damian was persistent to get us to practice at 9 am to work on the new song. As for recording, we have not gotten that far yet. A studio will probably be our best bet when it comes to getting a final product that we will be proud to present to people.

Damian: It's coming along, we have really been dragging our feet awhile, but we're getting back into the groove of practicing at least once a week. Recording so far in Lion House has been us using like one microphone placed in the room and all of us playing our parts and hoping it doesn't sound too bad, so for this release we've all decided to actually go somewhere and have it recorded for us.
Besides music, what do you enjoy doing?

Aaron: Shit. I like to read, and write. I really enjoy J.D. Salinger. I eat a lot and work a lot. Oh and I do hang out with my beautiful girlfriend. The life of Aaron Hurtado is pretty boring.

Damian: I really enjoy reading J.D. Salinger. As for me, I don't have time for a beautiful girlfriend man. I just smoke cigarettes like a grandpa, in hopes that one day I will just become a cigarette. Just hanging out with friends, and lastly; sleeping forever (5ever). You just gotta go out there and give a hundred percent when you're trying to sleep

You guys are both in another band called Sex Groove, right? What's the story behind that?

Aaron: So I have this really rad friend Seth. Him and I have a few Highschool classes together, so like we get to walk around school and act too cool. Well Seth has this incredible voice, and like we were talking about making some music. One night, a bunch of us were hanging at Seth's house and I picked up the guitar, and Damian picked up the guitar, Seth started singing, and our friend brad grabbed the back of a computer chair and started smacking the shit out of that. Thus, Sex Groove was born, and by the looks of it, we are taking this band pretty serious!

Damian: I mean what he said. Aaron and I  live together so it's really easy to just be in bands together because we cuddle at night for warmth, but no because we know how the other person writes, so it's a breeze

Any future plans for that project?

Aaron: Ya, Sex Groove is writing some songs, and then a split with some pretty cool bands. After that we will see where the wind blows us. I can see Sex Groove touring and dancing all summer

Damian: Yeah what he said. I'm just in it for the Versace shirts

Back to Lion House, which of the songs on your bandcamp are you most happy with? Will any of them be on the upcoming release?

Aaron: Culo Sweatshirt is my favorite that we have on the bandcamp site. Mostly because one of my bestfriends was our drummer at that time. He passed away this past August so that song holds a lot of weight. Agape will definitely be on the new EP. I am not sure about the other demo honestly.

Damian: I think our demos of Agape and DJ will be on the new EP, but for me I'm most proud of Agape because it broke a little rut that Lion House was in with writing, and it just has a lot of emotion for me. But you just gotta go out there and give a hundred percent. Leave it all on the field. Honestly, I think the songs we're writing now are better than ever before so if you like those demos just wait till you hear the new stuff. ;*
What was your favorite LP of 2013? Who do you predict will drop 2014's best album?

Aaron: I have like a little tie. MBV - My Bloody Valentine, The Albatross - Foxing, and Deafheaven - Sunbather. As for 2014, that new 17 years album Teased Hair coming out in like 2 days is going to be too good.

Damian: I think other than Deafheaven's Sunbather, this was a year of just really good songs, but not incredible albums. For me Foxing's The Medic and Bit By a Bee pt. 2 are the jams, and the last half of Caravels Lacuna. Then Capsule dropped [A] and that thing is a hot little release. The internet has been saying Pianos Become the Teeth are recording, so if they release something that is probably going to be the best thing, but Empire! Empire! (I was a lonely estate) is finally releasing a follow up to What It Takes To Move Forward, so hopefully that takes the cake.

Aaron: Jude is the coolest kid. He makes my heart melt with his cute smile. Thanks for giving support to the small bands, what you're doing is helping out more than you know.

Damian: Thank you for asking us to do this, and dealing with our goofy responses. I went out there and gave a hundred percent, but Jude out there giving a 1000 percent, and everyone needs to know this the year of Versace

Cassette Corner: Tucker Theodore - "To Make the Sun Hurt"

Tucker Theodore - To Make the Sun Hurt
(Antiquated Future 2013)

To listen to fuzz-folk like the kind created by mysterious solo artist Tucker Theodore is a study in musical paleontology. Crumbling remnants of drone folk lie fossilized beneath jagged chords and wet, unidentified sludge, all melding together to form an impenetrable wall of earth. The ten tracks that compose Theodore's new tape, To Make The Sun Hurt, are hewn from this rock and left untreated, making for an organic, gritty texture that, ironically, brings out a softness, a vulnerability in the music. It's more shoegaze, than folk, really, because noise and tape grime make up much of the murky wall of sound that oozes from the listener's speakers. Imagine Woody Guthrie going avant-garde.

The first strums on the opener, "Shifting Dunes", disintegrate at the touch of an eardrum, leaving swirling dust in its place. Theodore delivers his lyrics in the form of a rattling croak, as if the parched surface of the song has dried up his throat. It all sounds so beautifully lifeless; each note and word is forced out, and even the instruments seem to be moaning from some form of dehydration. "The Way Home" is the only track that provides a bit of relief from the thick dust storm, allowing for some rhythm to push through the tempest. A synth or sample of some sort adds foreign texture to the mix, and one can even pick out individual pluckings rather than hearing them all at once. To Make the Sun Hurt is definitely an acquired taste, but it will most likely appeal to those who value rawness in music. 


Review: Crying - "Get Olde"

Crying - Get Olde
(Double Double Whammy 2013)

There's a fine line between gimmick and genius, and honestly, most of the "chiptune" projects I've heard fall under the former category, sculpting bland electronica out of nostalgia-inducing Game Boy sound effects. Though New York trio Crying make use of Nanoloop, a music creation tool built for the original Game Boy, it's by no means a mask for their sound, but rather a complement to their already powerful songcraft. Their first release, Get Olde, clocks in at around fifteen minutes and delivers whimsical, breezy pop throughout. The instrumentation is overwhelmingly upbeat, bursting at the seams with vibrant 8-bit color. It's pop-punk with an emphasis on the punk, not unlike Olympia, Washington's Tiger Trap. It can only be categorized by its emotion, really, and that's charming placidity. "Bloom", for example, is tinted with slightly crunchy, pastel toned guitars, which are overtaken by chiming synths that gave me a major flashback to the embarrassingly long hours I spent hunched over Pokemon: Leafgreen in grade school. The lyrics may come as a bit of a surprise though; they're a bit self deprecatory, adding a human element to the artificial cheerfulness concocted by the Game Boy. "Bloom" meditates on the frustration of being unable to drive a car (and ride a bike) properly, and "ES" discusses missed expectation. "Rat Baby" even concludes with a rather grim look toward mortality. ("If this is the pace at which I'm going, what will be left of me when I'm fifty-one?")

The way Elaiza Santos delivers her lines further adds to that humanizing element. They seem to be spoken offhandedly and fill the space left between bleeping chiptune tones. Similarly, I really respect their decision to include live percussion rather than a drum machine. Returning to the lyrics, there is one song that has a more lighthearted subject matter: Bodega Run. It's simply a story about ditching a band's show to buy Doritos, but it's told beautifully. And the music surrounding the verses is some of the catchiest you'll ever hear. Fuzzy power chords and riffs propel the sparkling synths, which bob, swell and explode at will. It's the greatest triumph on an album full of hits. Don't let the chiptune exterior fool you; Crying's debut is beautiful and complex.