Review: Cool Dog - "demo"

Cool Dog - Demo
(Self-Released 2014)

For a lo-fi enthusiast like myself, when it comes to a hardcore demo, the more garbled, fast-paced and unintelligible it is the better. No band I've reviewed on this blog has fit that bill more adeptly than Minneapolis powerviolence duo Cool Dog. Everything about their debut has this improvised, cobbled-together vibe that I can't get enough of. For one, the band's name, Cool Dog, has this minimalist, nearly-nonsensical ring to it, reminding me of brutalist architecture. If the name Cool Dog were a building, it would be a square heap of grey concrete with vaguely rectangular holes cut in it for windows and doors. It may not be polished, but you have to appreciate its creator's boldness. The same goes for the cover art too, refusing to state the band name or an album title. The cartoonish roadkill, stamped onto a blank piece of paper, fulfills its purpose: to provide a picture to look for when scrolling through albums on your iPhone, but scrapes off any excess pretension.

Equally minimal and brutalistic is the demo itself. There are only two instruments in the band, drums and a baritone guitar, which allows for a deeper, grittier distortion than a normal guitar would allow. There isn't even any bass guitar. Cool Dog subsists on the bare essentials. Recorded to tape, I assume, the two instruments together form a full-on noise wall. Blasts of feedback and gnarled power chords become a near-drone, only to be pushed along by the drums, which can become a bit buried beneath the static. The vocals are unintelligible yelps that crest above the noise. In short, Cool Dog's demo is an intense effort that, if nothing else, makes me want to hear these guys live, or at least a studio recording. 


Cassette Corner: Kevin Hein - "Gauze II"

Kevin Hein - Gauze II
(Baro 2014)

Tucked between the J-card and clear plastic case of my copy of Kevin Hein's Gauze II was a small slip of paper, about the width of two fingers, professing his massive love for 80's dream-pop purveyors the Cocteau Twins. Having named Half-Gifts after one of their songs, I was excited to add this tape to my school morning rotation. The Twins' influence was evident even in giving the cassette's packaging a quick once-over. The cover art's abstract wisps resembled those adorning the sleeves of Heaven or Las Vegas and Victorialand, and barely pronounceable song titles like "Maelstrom Pale Malachite" were definitely Twins-ian. As one might expect, so was the music; though there was no vocalist to match Elizabeth Fraser's signature glossolalia, the lengthy guitarscapes were very remniscent of Robin Guthrie's, laced with citrus-y chorus and a soggy dose of reverb, the airy drones floated like a raft in choppy water, unaltered, but tossed around by undulating waves. Below this, on a couple of tracks, drum machine loops dove deep into the abyss of sludgy residual sound. Hazy and beautifully monolithic, these drones have a hypnotizing quality. As I've said of many ambient albums I enjoy, Gauze II makes good background music to stare out of car windows in the dark to. And at nearly twenty minutes of material, it's the perfect length to last me from the driveway to the school parking lot.


Single Review: Cumbres Carrascosa - "Nevertheless Introductory"

Cumbres Carrascosa - Nevertheless Introductory
(Beko Disques 2014)

Nevertheless Introductory is the debut digital single by Cumbres Carrascosa, solo project of Canary Islands-based songwriter Miguel Camara, and was recently released via Beko Disques, a French label that celebrates shoegaze. Despite the highly international nature of this single, it's able to hit surprisingly close to home for me with the inclusion of a cover of Sub Society's "A Lot Less". It's likely you haven't heard of this track, which is because it's a cut that will only be recognized by those who have religiously reviewed "Hokus Pokus", the skate video released in 1989 by board company H-Street. Though the tape isn't by any means a household name, it to this day maintains a cult following, and those who hear the song will instantly be reminded of Matt Hensley's part in the video. Like many bands featured on "Hokus Pokus", Sub Society embodies the ethic of the late 80s SoCal DIY scene: fuzzed-out punk that resembles a twangier Descendents. "A Lot Less" is carried by its murky bass-line and a repetitive three chord progression. It's a bit sloppy, but tough to get out of your head. The Cumbres Carrascosa version of the track is a major departure from the original; it's driven by airy synths and a plodding drum machine, yet it holds firm to Sub Society's minimalist approach to pop. The a-side, "Warm", borrows its sound from both post-punk and new-wave, dark monotone vocals against swirling synths and warbling guitar riffs. It could be mistaken for an early 4AD or Factory records 7". Even if you're not a fan of late-80's skate culture, I think you'll still dig this single, given you're a fan of the KVB, Zola Jesus or Lust For Youth.


Single Reviews: Prima - "Devil" and "Open Up"

Prima - Devil
(2014 Birthday Tape)

In the DIY community, sometimes the magic of the singles leading up to an album can be lost or overlooked. What I've always enjoyed about following medium-sized labels like Slumberland and Captured Tracks is the buildup to a highly anticipated release, each new single and news item like a trip to your grandparents' house just before Christmas, a handful of fun presents to tide you over for the major haul you've been patiently waiting for. Who could forget those months before DIIV's debut record? There was a name change, a display of the many styles on the record, (there's a world of difference between "Doused" and "Sometimes"), even a single that was not used later. That energy of anticipation is evident on the Bandcamp page of New Orleans-based synth-pop project Prima. Over the past 3 months, the project has unveiled two singles, each a small work of art on its own. The first of these is Devil, a lo-fi look at goth-pop through a VHS lens.

The album artwork for both singles is lovely, and they each do a good job of capturing the essence of their respective releases. Devil's is unsettling; the blurry juxtaposition of an angel statue against an overcast sky forms a haunting vibe, made even more powerful by the soft, italicized band name and the Cocteau Twins-esque border. The three tracks on the single are all-too fitting. The intro to the title tune is a grimy, chugging rhythm, engulfed by synths that to me, would make a good soundtrack for a lazer tag arena. After "Melon", a brief industrial interlude, you'll hear the b-side, "Nearer My God To Thee". It sort of reminds me of the untitled single that came with copies of MBV's "Isn't Anything", flimsy ambient trellises surrounded by a cacophony of noisy samples and fractured beats.

Prima - Open Up
(2014 Birthday Tape)

The 2nd single from the upcoming album, which was just recently revealed to be titled "Staircase Anthem", is, as its artwork might suggest, more lighthearted than its predecessor, but still undeniably creepy. "Open Up", the title track, is a lot more melodic than what you've heard previously, carried by a shuffling drum machine that reminds me of Heavenly Beat. The vocals are reminiscent of 80s new wave pop groups like A-Ha and Tears For Fears, and the track concludes with a surprising dubstep breakdown. "Today (I'm Okay)", continues with the same mood and atmosphere, but with much darker lyrical content. It's actually the most beautiful and catchy track I've heard from Prima thus far, though its length makes it a bit inaccessible. Overall, Open Up is a very lovely single that acts as a contrast to the gothic vibe heard on Devil


Review: acab rocky - "sara"

acab rocky - sara
(2014 self-released)

Being the Dinosaur Jr. fan that I am, I can't help but wonder what might have become of the band had Lou Barlow not parted ways with J Mascis after recording Bug. Barlow's quiet, intense proto-emo found on Sebadoh's Bakesale, as well as the ultra lo-fi ethic he applied to his acoustic project Sentridoh, would have made a good pairing with Mascis' explosive sludge-pop, especially as each began to mature as songwriters. Though sara, the new CD release by Canadian duo acab rocky, has a vibe that fits in well with the new wave of lo-fi acts, there's something about the EP that reminds me of both Lou and J.

This resemblance first appears in "Interlude", an instrumental track that hearkens back to Dino's early cuts, ramshackle, yet sinister songs like "Gargoyle" and "The Lung". The rhythm guitar ripples, cold, with this really chilling vibe that leaves the listener with some degree of uneasiness. The weighty bass glides through the track like one of those vertically hanging roller coasters, making tight turns that push your head back into your seat. "Delusions" also has a very similar vibe, with an icy lead guitar riff straight out of a cheesy horror movie. The vocals are very prominent in the mix, a bit monotone against the droning chords. They're almost uncomfortably raw, as if being spoken to loud and too close to the listener. It's not a bad thing, though. It only adds to the creeping intensity of the album as a whole.

There are also moments unique to the band, though. "Mother" has a very placid shoegaze vibe, quiet pluckings and bobbing synth tones brewing in a vat of reverb. The vocals are very nice, a bit gritty but well produced. A couple of ambient tracks attach songs together, intermission has a distant, wailing guitar tone, pulled along by cello hums. For a 9 track release, acab rocky fits in a whole lot of ideas while still maintaining a sort of neo-gothic aesthetic. 


Interview: Pill Friends

Having upgraded from trio to quintet with the addition of Abi Reimold (guitar/vocals) and Erin Patricia (synths/vocals), Philadelphia's Pill Friends look to improve upon their stellar sophomore Birdtapes offering, Blessed Suffering. Check out my interview with frontman Ryan Wilson as well as a brand-new track below!

Jude: I really dug that Modest Mouse cover you did for the Maggot House session. I take it you're a fan? Is Lonesome Crowded West your favorite LP of theirs?

ryan: everything isaac brock released up until 2005 is incredible and each of those releases holds different prominent forms for certain periods, ive worshiped them all throughout middle and high school. ive been listening to building something out of nothing lately and i love every song except for medication thats the only song previous to good news that sucks lk the ending is good but the first part is annoying as shit i hate it.

One song on the album you put out over the summer, Blessed Suffering, that really stood out to me was "Mall Goth". It's easy to overlook, but I think it's really powerful and minimal and also includes some of my favorite lyrics of the release. How do you feel about the track? What's the story behind the lyrics?

mall goth is one of my favorites it's pretty much about learning to kill an old self for another destructive self and the longing for death. Its mainly a song about wanting to kill yrself but having other personal obligations. Mall goth refers to the oxford valley mall which is a museum of the early 2000s, it's all just nothing really

Is there a particular song that you've done that stands out as your personal favorite?

wearing my dead dog's skin and murder me for my sins.

A ton of great Philadelphia bands have cropped up lately, Mumblr, Roof Doctor, you guys. What's going on up there?

nothing except for mumblr, Alex g, and cough cool.

What's the best band you've seen that hasn't released any recorded music yet?

cold foamers and eleby. both are from philly and have eps or demos out now, but both bands are killing it so far from what ive seen of them. Cold foamers just released their first full length and it's the shit

For your next full album, are you going to go as lo-fi as you went on Blessed Suffering? 

the next album is going to be recorded and produced by scott stitzer (mumblr) who recorded blessed suffering and i cant say how the production quality will be determined because i honestly dont know. i mean i think it will be generally lofi but scott as a producer and pill friends have developed together from the beginning. he recorded our first demos when he had really just started to record other bands and in this last year scott has developed into a great producer and he continually just keeps getting better. we recorded some tracks at a studio here in philly on and off the past few months and everything fell into perspective for me, i dont want anyone else to record the next pill friends lp except scott.

Favorite Birdtapes release?

there isnt one bad birdtapes release in my bullshit opinion but all the splits that just came out (starry cat/boy crush, porches./lvl up, and alex g/rl kelly) are all incredible. my favorite song off any of them would be townie blunt guts by porches. at the moment though. Also new olive drab is about tocome out and Reid is pretty and it sounds great.

Worst album you own?

hymns w/ johnny desmond, i found a bunch of dumb records and this one was the worst, i love traditional hymns but i dont why this record just sucked like i hate his voice and makes me not like the songs which is bullshit

What's a suburban white trash christ?

suburban white trash christ is the emptiness of societal structure that one experiences growing up in a Christian dominated youth and finding no substance within it all


Review: Joplin Rice - "Spine Adagio II & The Prince"

Joplin Rice - Spine Adagio II / The Prince
(2014 Self-Released)

When it comes to reviewing folk-influenced music, I'll admit that my tastes can lean toward the lo-fidelity emo end of the spectrum. I find that many of the sleeker, more well-produced releases of the genre can resort to handclaps and predictable chord progressions to reel listeners in. Even an act with some underground cred can stoop to the level of The Lumineers when it comes to their songwriting. Joplin Rice's latest release, a double album titled Spine Adagio II / The Prince, circumvents these problems, delivering polished yet fuzzy pop that reaches toward the high standard set by Merge Records icons like Neutral Milk Hotel, Lambchop, even the lovable melodrama of Arcade Fire. Blend all those bands together with a generous helping of melancholia, and you have the essence of the songs crafted by this Lexington, Kentucky based singer-songwriter.

The Spine Adagio half of the release is the more approachable of the two, featuring more varied instrumentation and noticeably shorter song lengths. It seeks to immediately plunge itself into its observer: marching-band drums rumble in the distance while molten chords seep like lava through the speakers, a striking introduction to "Spitting Fire", the album's opening track. The pairing of a crunchy drone with driving percussion reminds me of a similarly effective opener, "Recharge and Revolt" by the Raveonettes. A trebly acoustic guitar peeks out from the crest of these waves of static, providing a greater sense of melody to the piece. Rice's raspy vocals spill into the bubbling sound soup, bleeding through the mic. If you've listened to Grow Horns, who I've previously reviewed, his voice might sound pretty familiar to Miles Urosevich's.

An overwhelming sense of sadness flows through Spine Adagio's veins. The guitars are accented with a shimmery finish, but are turned dark by bassy piano notes and booming drums. The lyrics reveal a fascination with bones, muscles nerves and what holds together and moves these parts, not unlike those on NMH's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. I find that it's not songs that I seek out while listening to the album, but moments. The keening keyboard in the middle of "The Pipes pt. 2", the constantly building tension in "Afterkiss" and the haunting, reverby vocals of "Cathedral".

The Prince delves into more experimentation than we saw on Spine Adagio, its respective opening track, "Ruins" lasting nearly eight minutes. It commences with sparse guitar noodling, phasing in and out of dissonance. It slowly pieces itself together, enough so that at around the two minute mark it can support lyrics. The sadness from the previous album is still present, perhaps even more so, in Rice's delivery. At the four minute mark, another change, as Spanish guitar chords rush into the mix, followed by heavy percussion. The Prince is less fuzz-drenched, but more nuanced than its predecessor, and I think it greatly benefits from that. Recommended tracks are "Reliquary", which shares a sort of Southern European vibe with The Decembrists, and "November 17th", which features a gorgeous farewell guitar solo. There's a lot to take in on this double album, but it's best to just jump in and embrace its immensity. Though it's a bit self indulgent, little time is wasted on Spine Adagio II / The Prince, making for a very commendable release.