Review: The Meme Friends Anthology Part 2

The Meme Friends Anthology: Part 2
(4chan 2014)

Releasing 7 albums of consistent quality would be an extremely impressive feat for any artist or entity, yet the Meme Friends, a collective of electronic producers who frequent 4chan's Music discussion board, /mu/, make it look easy. As I explained in my previous report on the project's progress, The Meme Friends have an unusually systematic music creation process, essentially constructing a brand new album on a virtual assembly line over the course of a few hours each Saturday evening. The track names are chosen by lottery based on the number that appears over posts on the weekly thread, similar to the manner in which one can win concert tickets by being the 9th caller on on a radio show. The right to create one of the ten songs slated to appear on the album is claimed on a first-come, first-serve basis, and album titles and covers are voted on by contributors. Each new Meme Friends venture delves into a different genre, but as a whole, the project's discography maintains a cohesive aesthetic: avant-electronica that wouldn't feel too out of place in an Adult Swim commercial bumper, but could also feel just as at home on a spraypainted cassette tape, edition of 15.

Following the original trilogy of Meme Friends endeavors is their most adventurous effort to date, 中国の象形文字とくだらない90の広告 (Chinese Hieroglyphics and Shitty 90's Advertisements). An analysis of the vaporwave genre and the many different forms it can assume, it's a difficult piece of music that must be appreciated on the textural level; you can't just skim the melodic surface and expect to be impressed. It hangs like fog on an early morning drive to work, fatigue blurring the stretch of road in front of you, the "oldies" station reduced to noise in the background. "Crumb Dragon" does a great job of setting the tone. It opens with reverby, robotic voices which fade into a soupy blend of synths and sludgy percussion. Gradually, this sonic slurry is sucked into a whirlpool, speeding up until it reaches a point of singularity, eventually bursting into spacey nothingness, yet again rebuilding itself again, in the form of a distant guitar riff, complimented by chiming harmonics. It feels like a rebirth of the Meme Friends' universe, their signature style becoming more evident in their product. The original trilogy at times felt a bit overly loose, but  中国の象形文字とくだらない90の広告 is most definitely a tight effort, sour slowed down samples accenting each track. "Go Ahead" Parts 1 and 2 flow together particularly nicely, a chopped-and-screwed Washed Out track melting into an overdriven piece of swirling ambience. Though many Meme Friends fans including myself were rather disappointed by this album on the first listen, I've come to appreciate it over the past few weeks, embracing its quirks. 

Who Killed Archie Andrews? is the last Meme Friends album to reference the iconic comic book character in the wake of his tragic, fictional demise. The melodrama of 80s synth pop is employed to narrate the gloominess of Archie's final hours in the hospital, his life flashing before his eyes. The curtains open as ambient pads loom in the background as medical staff and witnesses to Archie's assassination speak about the room as our hero rests on the bed, barely conscious. It's hypnotic and spooky, transitioning well into its successor, "10 Below 90", made up of mournful synths which build up into a steadily cruising Kraftwerk-esque jam. My favorites from this album include "Running in the 80s", a funky number driven by its heavy bassline and "Fleeing the City" its most impressive cut, wielding knife-like synths like Com Truise.

Next up in the discography is somewhat of a novelty, but is nontheless rather enjoyable. Now That's What I Call GENERIC is a celebration of the cookie-cutter electronica that plagues youtube and soundcloud in the form of of soul-less FL Studios productions. "The Meme Friends F******* Suck" will be just about all you need to hear from this effort, a catchy club banger that samples the infamous "in me mum's car" vine. Though there are plenty of laughs to be had over the course of the album, it has the substance of a Tim and Eric episode. It's stupid fun, but a good time nonetheless. 

 Capping off the latest crop of Aeme Friends releases is Reason 333, perhaps the collective's magnum opus. Each producer seems to have felt most comfortable working under the album's ambient theme, as the effort flows beautifully, from the grimy, textural drone of "Es Mor Arete" to the progressive bombast of "No Flex Zone". It's as if 333 is one large track divided into 5 minute movements, exploring slippery chillwave timbres on "Green Back Money Making" while slipping into a new-agey slumber on "Bold And Brash". The album is cohesive on every level, in key, tone, delivery, tempo. It's a masterpiece of the Bandcamp age that will be difficult for this scrappy bunch of memers to top.

Give them a listen here: https://thememefriends.bandcamp.com/


Review: indianandajonas - "Outsider Music's Greatest Hits"

indianandajonas - Outsider Music's Greatest Hits
(Heavy Baby 2014)

Though I often try to listen to music in a mental vacuum of sorts - free of context or distraction - it's hard to ignore the backstory of indianandajonas' first and only release, Outsider Music's Greatest Hits. The CD contains a compilation of the duo's freak-folk improvisations recorded in their first year attending school at The University North Texas. The collection of recordings, nearly five years old, comprises an audio diary of loose, organic compositions, each captured in its own time and location, from the university practice room to an airport in Germany. Though the spontaneous nature of the album's nine tracks makes for a jarringly noisy effort, the two multi-instrumentalists overcome their lo-fi limitations with their knack for texture and attention to detail. 

Channeling the vibe of fellow Texans This Will Destroy you and Explosions in the Sky, indianandajonas impress me with their ability to keep lengthy compositions interesting without sacrificing a minimalist aesthetic. "The Waves of Norm in D" and "Texas" both cross the eight-minute mark and make up the core of the album. The former manages to sound ethereal despite its crunchy aesthetic, flecks of piano barely escaping the gravitational pull of throbbing guitar distortion. The piano then takes its turn at the helm on the latter track, slowly evolving in its bassy, Reich-ian drone, a harmonica cycling between two notes. The shorter songs remind me more of Panda Bear's Young Prayer, "Hey Ready" and "Robopatriot" teeming with Dadaist folk energy. OMGH is a fascinatingly organic effort that gets better with each listen, and it's exciting to see it finally get a physical release.


Cassette Corner: Mooncreatures - "Sand Maps"

Mooncreatures - Sand Maps
(2014 Balloon Festival)

Only a summer's passed since their sophomore outing, Gaslamps, but UK-based shoegaze outfit Mooncreatures has already returned with another dose of ambient pop. This time around, the duo have decided to press their tape on a brand-new label of their own, Balloon Festival, named after a track on their self-titled EP. The cassette's design is stunning, its black sleeve stark against the tape's shell - the neon green hue of a stick of mint gum. It's a fitting aesthetic considering the signature blend of dream-pop patented by the band; translucent, yet impenetrably minimal.

The vaporous lull of opening tracks "(sea cure)" and "Salt Sea" hangs foggily, forever expanding into obscurity against sparse percussion and distant vocals that echo like whispers in a cathedral. Taking cues from Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins, a glistening chorus effect lines the overcast ambience that seeps from Mooncreature's guitars. Following those two tracks is a surprising outlier in the duo's discography, a gnarled and distorted cut that captures the craggy tone often associated with Dinosaur Jr. and Superchunk. It's a welcome change that does a good job of splitting the album in two. If you've followed Mooncreatures over the past couple years, Sand Maps is a must-have release, further improving upon their unique brand of songcraft. If you haven't, this album is probably the best place to start, offering the most variety in the band's trilogy of tapes.


Half-Gifts Issue 10 Out Now

Issue 10 of Half Gifts has finally hit the printers! This edition includes interviews with Tobacco Magazine and Alex Calder (Formerly of Makeout Videotape) as well as the usual smattering of lo-fi, hip-hop, punk and shoegaze reviews. Buy it at https://half-gifts.bandcamp.com/merch/half-gifts-issue-10


Review: Michael Cera - "true that"

Michael Cera - true that
(Self-Released 2014)

The burgeoning "lo-fi revival", tinged with tape hiss and cozy twee sensibilities, is a scene that thrives on lowercase anonymity. In a few minutes' time, an album's worth of crunchy tape recordings can quietly be uploaded to Bandcamp without warning or hype. Its recognition or lack thereof is left solely up to the subculture's hardcore devotee's: those who bravely browse the site's tags by "newness" rather than "popularity". Listeners are often reeled in solely by word of mouth, making their success, in a way, more "pure" than that gained due to a backstory or persona generated by a PR firm in hopes of catching Pitchfork's attention. That's why it's pleasantly surprising for me to see Canadian actor Michael Cera drop a lo-fi release like true that so discreetly and so well, blurring the line dividing the world of celebrity and that which the rest of us live in. Without announcement of his own, Cera has put out one of the year's most charming DIY efforts: it's an album that evokes the warmth and whimsy often evident in the soundtracks of films he's starred in while also mixing in bold experimentation that recalls Modest Mouse's Sad Sappy Sucker

Aesthetically, the album covers large area, borrowing Belle and Sebastian's hushed yet hip jazziness, the shimmering twang of Neil Young, and even a bit of possible influence from Erik Satie's minimal and entrancing piano compositions. Cera's fragile vocals warble against brittle and glistening instrumentation, they are buoyant, bobbing up and down atop percussive strumming and watery splashes of piano on "Steady Now". "Ruth" could be mistaken for an early Elephant 6 Collective recording, intimate and delivered intensely, propelled only by the steady rhythm of spaced-out chords and the occasional pulse of buttery slide guitar. The more complete tracks are complimented by cute instrumentals. "2048" is an overwhelmingly chipper cut, its vibrant keyboard hum dances to handclaps and stomps. "Gershy's Kiss" is a quiet and soothing piano piece, the calms space between each note like the black alcove in the center of a candle's flame. If you enjoyed Alex G's DSU, released just a couple months ago, true that will blow you away.


Cassette Corner: How To Organize Your Life and Get Rid of Clutter

How To Organize Your Life and Get Rid of Clutter
(2014 Memorials of Distinction)

Recycling old tapes isn't a completely new concept. Since the dawn of cassette culture, fledgling garage punk bands and avant-garde experimentalists alike have, in true lo-fi fashion, engaged in the act of auditory hubris, blotting out hit singles, mixtapes and old sermons in favor of their own vibrations. It's a stark act of post-consumerism, and at times, I'm weak-willed enough to feel a twinge of guilt when I come in contact with such a product of iconoclasm. While How To Organize Your Life and Get Rid of Clutter, the first tape compilation released by British label Memorials of Distinction, is pressed onto a self-help cassette of the same name, it's extremely inventive in that in incorporates spoken word selections from the original audio into the album itself. Musically, the compilation is a cohesive mix of artists that share the same dreamy sonic pallet, yet no two bands apply them to the canvas in the same way. 

Opening the tape's A-side is Sophia Deville's "Hidden", a spacey track that isolates tender vocals in a vast, empty expanse of shoegazey warble paired with a slinking, exotic drum machine loop. Between it and its successor is the foreword to the self-help book, complete with canned applause. This sort of footage is not just used as an accessory though; it is what glues the compilation together and helps it flow, incorporating itself into the opening drone of "Lame" by Smiling Disease and is sucked into the tornado of noise that is sAtAnic rituAl Abuse's "Above Calvary". Sampling aside though, my favorite moments on the tape include Lizzard Bleach's surfy avant-punk and Mewlips' growly noise rock, which at times seems to be influenced by experimental hip-hop. Compilations can often feel a bit confusing and overly diverse in texture, but this particular one is perfectly cohesive.


Interview: venoSci

Name: Aaron Gelblat-Bronson
Location: Chicago
Genre: Chiptune/Kawaiistep

I just witnessed your set live at Ecchi Party, which was a live stream of you playing at your birthday party. How was your big day?

The party was a ton of fun! I had three of my other friends perform as well! The first was Discipline Jar, who is a noise artist, Nobility, a rapper, and DJ Dustoff/ScreenSavior who played a righteous deep house set. The party was a blast with a lot of good food and all of my best friends there dancing and going hard.

Also I'm an adult now, which is still sort of weird.

How did you first get into chiptune music? Any particular favorite artists?

I first heard about chiptune from this old magazine called "Anime Insider" which Wizard used to put out. They talked about a group called YMCK, which made NES style music. I looked them up and instantly fell in love. After that I found out about other artists like Tugboat, Anamanaguchi, and I Fight Dragons. It wasn't until a friend of mine my freshman year of high school showed me his LSDJ cart that I really felt a desire to start producing.

My favorite artists right now are Knife City, Slime Girls, Space Boyfriend, Snesei, Shoujo Eyes, and the always fantastic Anamanguchi.

When writing a song on Gameboy, where do you begin? Which song are you most pleased with so far?

Typically I start with an Chord progression in the bassline or the countermelody. After that i just sort of look at the notes I picked and write all the other parts out. I typically start with more of a particular sound in mind than a melody, but it quickly evolves. Also having 9+ years of classical training (oboe, but now bassoon) doesn't hurt from the music theory department.

My favorite songs right now are Bonafide Cutie off of my new album or, strangely enough, my Justin Bieber cover because the crowd reception to the latter is really hilarious and fun, and I'm really proud of the breakdown in Bonafide Cutie.

Tell us a little about your newest album, Picopop and Pocky. Who did the artwork? Will it get a physical release?

Ok, story time: 

Acen is this big anime convention that happens every year in Chicago, and this year I showed up and busked along with Snesei, Shoujo Eyes, and Volcano Themed Bathroom from Detroit. We drew a crowd and I noticed that my songs I was playing were not as dance-y as the other guys tracks and I felt my songs didn't really capture the fun spirit of these conventions I have been attending (this was my 7th Acen). So, I set out to write an Anime-powered super up-beat dance album inspired by the new friends and memories I had from that weekend. The first song on the album, Milkis, was actually written the week following that convention. 

About a month later I met some people in a chat for a Zoom Lens netlabel web show, and the dug my stuff so they asked be to play at an Ecchi Party, which I did. After that show, I asked on twitter if anyone was interested in doing remixes of my old songs for my new album. Many of the artists I had played with that night were interested, so I emailed them some stems of my songs, and the remixes came into being.

The artwork was done by Lady Fiona Buchanan of Sealand (by way of Chicagoland). She is a close personal friend of mine and IRL anime thug.

Right now I have about 20 home made physical copies that I'm gonna be selling or giving away at shows, but If enough people show interest, i might do a professional printing of it.

What's the best live set you've played so far?

My best is probably my set at my "201X" launch party, but my favorite is the one I played on my Birthday!

the 201X show was very tight and well mixed but it wasn't as upbeat. This one, was super exciting and fun, and I was less worried about making mistakes (which notably, I did make several of).

What non-chiptune music do you listen to?

I listen to a lot of non-chiptune artists, but most of it is either electronic or dance music. or K-pop.

Right now I've been listening to Kors K, Die Antwoord, Grimes, Blood Diamonds, Porter Robinson, Diplo, R.I.O. , Spazzkid, Super Junior, Big Bang, Yelle, Starfucker, Kitty Pryde and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.

Outside of music, what do you enjoy doing?

I play a decent amount of video games. Lately its been Melee/Project M, Wind Waker (again), and Mario 3D World on Wii U.

I like to go on hikes and explore. I used to rollerblade a lot, but I fell and hurt my arm recently so I'm staying off of those right now. I like to swim, I like to tell stories with my friends. 

I like to sleep and eat pop tarts and watch movies.


Review: Julia Brown - "An Abundance of Strawberries"

Julia Brown - An Abundance of Strawberries
(Self-Released 2014)

It seems strange that a release so understated could have had such an impact on the year's music climate. Julia Brown opened 2013 with their debut effort, to be close to you, an offering that wasn't quite long enough to be classified as an album considering its meager length (16 minutes), but was also too fleshed out, too complete to be recognized as a mere EP. to be close to you existed its own quaint, lowercase reality where punctuation and capitalization were optional and cellos melted into brute, acoustic strumming like hot fudge in a bowl of tape-recorded ice cream. Over the course of the year, many similar outings blossomed across Bandcamp's vast musical landscape, each of them beautiful and fragile in their own way. But none of them could quite live up to the chill-inducing warbliness that was to be close to you. As I waited for Julia Brown's follow-up album, An Abundance of Strawberries, to download, I wondered if even JB themselves could live up to their own lofty standard.

I like to think of Julia Brown's frontman, Sam Ray, as Charlie Brown searching for meaning in South Park's cruel, eternal winter. Somberly, he recites free verse over blustery instrumentals, drawing out the coziness in "the old stone church and kids selling coke". He meditates on the mid-2000's. His friend's older brother shows him his guns and pills on a snow day. He stares out the window on Halloween. The lyrics are beautifully observational; Sam's imagined hands stay rested in the front pockets of his jacket while he looks on, emotionally detached, but sensory-wise, he's absorbent. The scene is spit out at the listener, and it's up to him what to make of them as waves of twangy guitar and tape hiss crash in the distance. Instrumentally, An Abundance of Strawberries isn't as consistently breathtaking as to be close to you, but it is more varied and experimental. "Snow Day" pairs piano with a whirring drum machine, similar to Ray's work under the Ricky Eat Acid moniker. The title track features the band's lushest arrangement yet, marching band drums and droning ambience creating a hugeness unparalleled by any lo-fi song I've heard in recent years. Though I didn't find Strawberries as immediately satisfying as previous Julia Brown output, I think it just might be their finest work to date. Just give it time.