Cassette Corner: Proto Nova - "Modern Renaissance Man"

Proto Nova - Modern Renaissance Man
(Hair Growth/Kerchow 2014)

Maybe it's just the fact that I've been on a Depeche Mode/Pet Shop Boys fix lately, but I feel like Proto Nova's debut EP could easily be titled The Best Synth Pop Jams of the 80s. With cozy production and spacious minimal-wave instrumentation, each song on Modern Renaissance Man plays like the product of a one-hit wonder, buoyant synth pulses floating over flickering hi-hats and shuffling snares. Each of these tunes, however, comes from a single source, making the effort as a whole all the more impressive. "Beautiful Person" is the most immediate tune of the bunch; its soaring melodies trudge forward as if they were running in the shallow end of the swimming pool. Proto Nova's vocals are monotone, but delightfully so, their reverb-y residue blending perfectly with the dreamy soundscapes they reside in. "Watch Me Move" is another winner. It's layered with multiple synth loops, each sparse but contributing to a tapestry of nostalgic bliss. It's ultra-remniscent of Depeche Mode's "Just Can't Get Enough", very dancey, but still artistically sound. Well suited for cassette, Modern Renaissance Man brings together the experimental and poppy sides of early synthesizer explorations.  


Record Label Roundup: 1980 Records

On Friday I had the pleasure of attending Pitchfork's Music Festival in Chicago, marking not only my first trip north of Columbus, Ohio but also the first time I've gotten the chance to explore a true music fest to its fullest. I came to Union Park to witness the throbbing, industrial dance epics of Factory Floor and The Haxan Cloak's hissing intensity wrought of bassy minimalism, but it turned out that the record fair that took place in the tennis courts was what made the day most memorable. Hidden among American Football beanies, "Rad Dudes" trading cards and Vampire Weekend records were rare treasures: out-of-print LPs, small-run cassettes, even entire labels I'd never heard of before! My favorite discovery: Chicago's own 1980 Records. They're a non-digital cassette label, a bold stance to take in a bandcamp-driven DIY climate, but that makes them all the more special. Such an ethic invites potential listeners to take risks, to buy a copy of something they've yet to hear, to check out a booth peddling unfamiliar music, to judge a tape buy its cover. The label's name doesn't evoke an abstract nostalgia, it truly embraces the magic of old-school record collection, the allure of the unknown. I took home a handful of selections from 1980 in my backpack. I'll write about a few of my favorites.

Miki Greenberg - Piano Music

What I really enjoy about 1980 Records is that they can honestly claim that they put out all kinds of music. In perusing the label's discography you can jump from bruising hardcore punk to anthemic psych-pop to relaxing, yet engaging tape's worth of piano solos. As you can guess from the title, Miki Greenberg's 1980 Records offering is the latter of the three. Intelligent and often upbeat, Greenberg's pieces evoke the chipper bounciness of 18th century chamber music, Satie's spareness and sometimes even the fauvist abstraction of Schoenberg throughout the album. It's a surprisingly fun listen that's as artful as it is pop-conscious ---Greenberg has cited the Beatles and the B-52s as influences in other projects he's worked in. If you liked Aphex Twin's work in the Marie Antoinette soundtrack, you'll probably dig this.

The Clams - Self-Titled

Sure, The Clams might be your friendly neighborhood garage-rock band, but under that lo-fi exterior hides an immensity that could fill a stadium. Their self-titled tape opens with a bang: wailing lead guitar atop a trudging rhythm section. It's a bold move, essentially opening your album with a three minute amalgamation of towering guitar licks, but it's worth listening to for the transition into "Jim Song", a song that is initially sparse and folky, but borrows the intensity of its predecessor for its thrilling climax. In a way, The Clams mimick Godspeed You! Black Emperor here, balancing quiet, restrained sections with enormous instrumentation in the chorus of the track. The rest of the album channels Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees, bringing a surfy psych rock assault to the table. Totally tubular stuff!

F*ck Everlasting - Kenswick Cycles

I love a good cassingle, especially a hardcore punk cassingle! The whole tape is just over two minutes, and makes great use of its time. It reminds me quite a bit of the raw fury heard in Minor Threat's first two EPs. Loud and fast punk that focuses on delivering a knockout blow of fuzz and little else. Each side of Kenswick Cycles is bassy and dizzyingly furious, yet somehow also catchy and memorable.


Cassette Corner: Order Anura

Order Anura - Order Anura
(Self-Released 2014)

In the biological field of taxonomy, the Anuran order includes all types of frogs and toads, which would explain the amphibious artwork printed on Order Anura's debut cassette cover, as well as the project's Bandcamp profile picture, clipped from the pages of the popular Frog And Toad children's book series. In a way, the name also illustrates the music that wafts from Ivan Heemskerk's apartment: cold and dewy, far removed from the influence of the rest of the world. Liquid organ melodies drip from morning leaves into the a crystalline basin of reverb, while Heemskerk's misty vocals bubble to the surface, coated in hiss. It is processional music that echoes through an empty cathedral, one that occupies a plane of reality that we do not. There are no bodies to absorb it, no obstacles for it to bounce off of. It is alien and haunting, in the vein of another keyboard-pop favorite of mine, Bevo Francis' Sun City Welcoming. Following the brief, but powerful set of seven original tunes on Order Anura is a spare and surprisingly emotion-inducing cover of "Overworld" from Gargoyle's Quest, a Game Boy title from 1990. Perhaps one day, Heemskerk will team up with California's Morgue Toad to create the ultimate collection of amphibious lo-fi melancholia.


Linden Pomeroy To Debut New Album Saturday; Details Below

Linden Pomeroy - Hypnos
(2014 Little League Records)

Judging by the two singles already released from it, Hypnos, the debut album by British slowcore singer-songwriter Linden Pomeroy, is sure to live up to its title and then some. The name is taken from the Greek personification of sleep, a supernatural being that lurked in the underworld, hermit-like in a cave surrounded by opium poppies. Pomeroy wields a similarly somnolent power present in his music, creeping and sinister. He's shared the album's opener, "Chokehold", which stumbles persistently along on its own spindly legs, as well as "Russian Dolls", a minimalist lullaby that recalls The XX. Hypnos is slated for release on the 19th via Little League Records on cassette, vinyl and digital formats. Check out the track list below:

1. Chokehold 2. Dirge 3. Empress 4, Starlings 5. Russian Dolls 6. Overboard 7. Opium 8. Implosion 9. Insufficient 10. Something New


Review: Indian Bummer - "Bummer Wars"

Indian Bummer - Bummer Wars
(Self-Released 2014)

When he's not fronting his goth-tinged noise pop trio, Acab Rocky, or sitting behind the drum kit for Jackie Trash, Canadian lo-fi all-star Sam Wells channels his creative energy into Indian Bummer, his solo side project devoted specifically to "cool music for [his] friends to hang out to". There's nothing particularly weighty about anything on the latest Indian Bummer album, sonically or thematically, but that's the beauty of it. Bummer Wars goes down easy like a Pixy Stix: 8 tracks' worth of pure sugar pleasure, grainy against your tongue. It burns off quickly, but at around a minute per song, repeat intake isn't a problem at all. The album's opener, "Bud", and "We Don't Hang Out Anymore", its immediate successor, bear the velvety, melt-in-your-mouth texture of Belle And Sebastian's mid-90s masterpiece, If You're Feeling Sinister. Wells strumms peppy acoustic chords, matched by smoggy tufts of electric guitar on the former; the latter is marked by a homogenous, gooey ambience set in motion only by sparse snare hits, which makes me think of a vat of chocolate ice cream being churned by whirling metal fins. "I Need A Car" is driven by the blotchy leads that drip over the tinny combination of twangy strumming and the buzz of a hi-hat, a breezy track that I can never truly grab onto before it gets away, however beautifully spare it is. Indian Bummer is an intense sugar high sure to get you through the doldrums of summer, minus the calories! 


Review: Gingerlys - "Jumprope"

Gingerlys - Jumprope
(Shelflife 2014)

There doesn't seem to be any active label that puts out dreamy, indie-pop bliss quite as consistently as Shelflife Records. The Portland-based imprint has quietly pressed records for some of my favorite purveyors of reverb soaked and jangle-frosted songcraft, from the smoky lull of The Radio Dept. to the cozy yet calculated electronica crafted by Thieves Like Us. The latest addition to the label's impressive roster is a rookie prospect that shows heaps of potential. Brooklyn tweegaze outfit Gingerlys first showed up on the radars of seasoned Bandcamp hunters with the release of their 2013 demo EP, a handful of jittery acoustic tunes laced with the tender whispers of vocalist Maria Garnica, which often seemed to verge on glossolalia, and the airy howl of her keyboard. The band's debut for Shelflife, a 4-song record titled Jumprope, brings the lo-fi demos to life, surrounding the raw, vulnerable tracks with full, fleshy arrangements. Now a quintet, Gingerlys pack a sprightly punch recalling Heavenly's 1993 "P.U.N.K. Girl" single, only more heart-meltingly pretty. In the studio, tracks like "Jumprope" and "Better Hearts" are more abrasive, but pleasantly so. The keyboards are icy, the lead guitar riffs warm and jangling. "Summer Cramps" displays Gingerlys at their best, brittle guitars, a prominent, growling bass and a ska-like refrain. One might call Jumprope a one-dimensional EP, but when that single dimension of mid tempo pop is this cozy and beautiful, who really cares? Jumprope is a must-have for twee diehards and casual fans alike.


Whitman Announces Upcoming Album, Shares Video

In the new music video for his song "Golden Days", Californian singer-songwriter Whitman (aka Christopher Payne) sits among rotting garbage in an alley while reminiscing on, or perhaps just imagining, an overcast day spent listening to tapes and catching some waves at the beach, a band of bikini-clad models in tow, a rather surrealist take on the kitschy machismo often seen in lite beer advertisements. The juxtaposition of despondence and decadence pairs well with the woozy, frail atmosphere of Whitman's brand of baroque pop. It's a visual and auditory treat, a video that just might be enough to tide me over for the release of his upcoming album, Restoring Darkness, dropping on Cassette, Vinyl and CD on December 30th via Folktale Records. Check out the cover artwork and track listing below!

Whitman - Restoring Darkness

1. Darker Days
2. Departure
3. Blister
4. Portland
5. Last Summer
6. Dust
7. Golden Days
8. Hope
9. Dresden

You can pre-order the record at folktalerecords.com


Interview: Martin Newell of The Cleaners From Venus

Martin Newell is the prolific and outspoken frontman of DIY-pop icons The Cleaners From Venus. Stretching over a thirty year period, his body of work is vast and consistently satisfying, from the humble homemade cassette releases of the early 80's to Return To Bohemia, a brand-new effort slated to be released on CD on July 7th by Soft Bodies Records. Also, considering the thorough re-issue project of Newell's early material, it's a great time to be a Cleaners From Venus fan, and it's easier than ever to dive into his colossal discography. I had the pleasure of sending him a few questions, answered below.

The new Cleaners From Venus music video, "Imaginary Seas", is a wonderful pairing of live-action footage and watercolor paintings. Who was behind the underwater artwork and what was the process of filming it like?

Jodie Lowther and Rob Britton must take the credit for this. Jodie is an animator, artist and filmaker, working very much in a the same tradition as The Cleaners from Venus have for many years now: with more inspiration than budget. If you treat financial and technical restriction as 'a cage to be brilliant in' you can get some very good results. I was amazed by how well the vid went with the track. We did a brief morning's filming up here with two phones and a camcorder. It was quite painless actually for such a beautiful end result.

 "Imaginary Seas" is one of two singles that have officially been released from your upcoming album, Return To Bohemia. What should listeners come to expect from this new effort? What is the significance of the album's title?

A Return to Bohemia? I had a bit of a bad year for health last year. Two eye operations and a freak seizure which almost killed me. As I was recovering, it occurred to me that perhaps over recent years, despite my alleged rock'n'roll life, I'd actually become quite grown-up and responsible. Lying around last summer in a dark room for a fortnight, I thought, "When I get out of here. I'm going to do what I used to, just record music and write songs..take some time off and be nice to myself. I'd become rather a workaholic, I suppose. I needed to get back to what I was in my early 20s...and yet with the guile and experience of middle age.
I wanted to make yet another of my 'front room Rubber Souls.' I always try to do that...but this time, I think I really have.

Captured Tracks has recently re-issued a great portion of your discography over the past few years, which is actually what led me to discover your music in the first place. What has it been like to look back at your body of work as a whole?

It's been an extraordinary experience. Captured Tracks have done a brilliant job. They're very good people to work with. They're a strange cocktail of friendly enthusiasm and ruthless efficiency. If I'd had a record company like when I was in my mid 20s, I could have conquered the universe. Looking back at the old records, I can't believe I did so much in what was, actually only about a ten-year period. Some of the tracks are clumsy, lo-fi and shoddily recorded it's true...but so many great ideas!  For a long time, I looked back at that period affectionately, but with the view that they were actually only the sketch books of a still immature artist. Now, I sometimes, think, " Wow. How can I get that back again?"  The truth is, it was the soundtrack of me struggling through life on a small budget, but with a lot of hope in my heart, If I didn't make it really big at that time, I think it's been a very good thing, because I'm still as enthusiastic as I was then...maybe more so.

Much of your earliest material was originally released on homemade cassette tape, a release format that has regained popularity in some circles in recent years. What was it like putting out your first few releases? What inspired you to start making music?

Well, when I was a 19 or 20 year old Glam rocker, I just wanted to make records, be a pop star and meet girls. Actually, I'd loved music since I was a very little boy and since first seeing the Shadows and a bit later The Beatles on TV before I was ten, I kind of knew that this was going to be the job for me. I'd made records before I started putting out cassettes. The cassette thing came about because having dealt with the people in the London music industry, I just thought they were a bunch of bastards and decided not to deal with them. I thought that maybe , with the invention of the 4 track portastudio, now I had a cheap means of recording myself, that maybe I could make my own records and just sell them myself. What we didn't have were the means of distribution or promotion. I still concluded however, that if I sold only one or two hundred of my own things, it was still better than selling two hundred thousand records and having to deal with those soul-less bastards. I thought at the time that DIY cassettes would destroy the music biz as I knew it. I wanted to be one carcinogenic cell on the carcass of that dinosaur. In the end, the Internet destroyed them. The music biz is only just beginning to reconfigure itself. Soft Bodies and Captured Tracks are two examples of new rather more human face of the music biz.  

 Do you approach songwriting any differently now than you do then?

I'm a sly old wolf of a songwriter. I've been writing songs since I was 14 years old and am absolutely at the top of my game. There are not many songwriters working today of whom I will say, "Yeah. I could learn a bit from him / her." There are still plenty in the past who scare me though.

I love song-writing. I don't think it can be work-shopped or taught, as such. You must listen to it. You must do it. There are some real twats out there making money from teaching songwriting and most of them, I could write off the table. It may sound arrogant but that is how it is. The fact that I am unapplauded in music biz circles is more to do with my unwillingness to engage with the Big Dinner and Awards brigade. I don't care about them. I don't respect them. Why would I care about their judgements. Who are they, exactly?
And then they (all your favourite rock 'rebels') smile nicely, say thank you and put on bow ties. Bow ties! The  sartorial equivalent of a swastika, the bow tie is.  The industry awards the industry. The mugs...

What music are you listening to these days? 

A load old old 1960s pop. Zombies, Hermans Hermits, lots of Hollies. Radio 3 Late Junction
Marin Marais..early baroque sort of stuff. Loads of continental songwriters. Jazz: Art Pepper, Stan Getz Vince, Guaraldi. Oh, and a really great merseybeat / doo wop band from Liverpool called The Chants. Check out a track called Sweet Was The Wine.  

Besides music, what else do you enjoy doing and taking in?

I got rid of my TV two years ago. It was like having a shit-pump in the living room. Now I just watch films and Family Guy, I just love that! So witty, inventive and strange. I cycle round country lanes a lot. Oh, I forgot I'm a poet and columnist for various papers Best of all at present I'd like to plug Mule TV. Google Mule TV/Facebook. I'm doing a year of trying to crash the Eurovision Song Contest. We're on show 4 at the moment. If they won't let me in, I'm going to hold my own on video and write and perform all the entries. That includes dressing up as German woman if necessary.

Check out another sample of the new record from the Soft Bodies Records Bandcamp page. You can pre-order the CD there as well: