Half-Gifts Issue 16 + New Year's Comp OUT NOW

Includes an in-depth look back at my favorite records of the year and a handful of guest retrospectives done by my friends.


Review: Chestnut Bakery - "Diaries"

Chestnut Bakery - Diaries
(2015 BoringProductions/Full Label)

The internet has mysterious ways of bending the dimensions of time and space, most interestingly in terms of culture/subculture - in the realm of music it offers such a glut of material for enthusiasts to chew on and digest via Bandcamp/Soundcloud/Discogs that the areas and ideas within this cultural dominion that I focus on seem to be in a constant solvent state. This acidic breakdown encourages scenes to fracture into tiny pockets of influence, creating an accessible space for bold individuals to experiment with new sounds and letting fans get to know band members better as individuals (to the point where New England jangle-pop outfit Real Estate houses three solo artists who released material this year). Rapid as this solvency may be, there is always a gluey, adhesive force of equal power that scrambles to attach the scattered debris back to the Cultural Web, building infinitely smaller, more niche nodes within the web's outer border, keeping its fluctuation of size in check. This regeneration forms fascinating, small-scale collectives like Full Label, a Cantonese digital-only imprint dedicated to reviving the elegantly fragile indie-pop of early 90s UK-based label Sarah Records. The latest (and most polished) twee transmission from the Guangdong province is Diaries: the debut effort of Chestnut Bakery that's as warm and feathery as its cover art and band's name suggests. It's western-influenced guitar pop that's actually a  improvement over its British source material - a modern marvel that it exists and a greater on that I'm hearing it from the comfort of my own home a hemisphere away.

The quartet hails from Shenzhen, China's equivalent of Silicon Valley, and has dubbed themselves "the most 90s shoegaze band in [the country]", a claim that they back up with substantial evidence: Diaries acts as a sampler platter of late 20th century dream pop textures. The band uses a generous hand with reverb on "Saturday Afternoon", flooding the atmosphere with glistening guitar while letting its nimble basslines handle the brunt of expression - the gentle twang of strummed six-strings paired with frontwoman Rye's hushed delivery recall a creamier version of The Sundays' prickly punch of c86 pop. 7-minute centerpiece "Moon Palace" explores the dreamy psychedelia of Slowdive - perhaps even Julee Cruise(?) - slowly building from a muffled, phase-shifted drone to a post-rock fireworks display of explosive lead guitar theatrics. "Tunnel Party" and "Cream Soda" ratchet up the distortion, crafting Melberg-ian punk soundscapes. Though much of Diaries is noticeably derivative, I find the amount of the Cultural Web's surface area that it covers to be quite impressive: though Chestnut Bakery holds firm to a single guitar tone and overall aesthetic, no two songs of theirs sound quite alike. That's what makes Diaries such a satisfying and polished debut. Definitely worth a listen and multiple replays. 


Retrospective: Earl Sweatshirt - "I Don't Like..."

Earl Sweatshirt - I Don't Like        I Don't Go Outside
(Columbia 2k15)
Whether under or above ground, hip-hop was dripping in gloomy melancholia in 2k15, and none of the year’s releases personifies the genre’s funereal sub-aesthetics more than Earl Sweatshirt’s IDLSIDGO – his flow brusque and his self-production ramshackle. Tinny kick drums squelch like death rattles while the occasional piano sample or splash of chord organ whines in the background. Dark ambient loops haunt “Grief” like a wintry draft through the crack between a window’s pane and sill. Chopped-and-slowed jazz trickles through clumsy percussion on “AM // RADIO”. The record’s instrumentals are centered more around the empty spaces they leave behind than the sounds they create. Earl seems to emerge from these empty shadows rather than jump into them with enthusiasm – he lives inside the beats. Each new track is a vouyeristic look into the worlds he inhabits. They’re high-school diorama projects. We peek through the portal and catch him mid-breakdown on “Grief”, an introspective, realistic portrayal of anxiety that finds Earl “stranded in a mob”, retreating from the crowd of “snakes” to take refuge in a Xanax canister. He prays for his phone to break on “Faucet”, a track birthed from the tension between Earl and his mother after leaving home as a teenager. He and RATKING’s Wiki reminisce about childhood on the aforementioned “AM // RADIO” before Earl expresses his apathy towards his raving cult fanbase. This record is a perfect portrait of the sort of anxiety that stems from the vast interconnectivity of our day-to-day lives, be it online or in real life. The distinction between the two is getting blurrier, anyhow. In an interview with Pitchfork back in 2013, Earl expressed his disgust with Twitter, but to this day he’s quite active on the site. For the socially anxious, the pull away from social interaction is often weaker than the forces that pull us back into the realm of communication. IDLSIDGO demonstrates that feeling of frustration, of bitter aloneness perfectly. I am part of the first generation to have no memory of a time when the internet was not in widespread youth and I'm looking quite forward to analyzing more of the sort of art that stems from this new paradigm.


Retrospective: Belle and Sebastian - "Fold Your Hands..."

Belle and Sebastian - Fold Your Hands Child You Walk Like a Peasant
(2000 Jeepster)

Belle and Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch has the uncanny knack for writing Salingerian coming-of-age tunes that grow alongside the listener. I’d first encountered the Scottish twee-pop outfit’s work in my early elementary school career through my parents’ small but gem-riddled CD collection that followed our family on minivan expeditions to school or church. Even among the likes of Cocteau Twins’ Heaven or Las Vegas or a Simon and Garfunkel hits compilation, it was Belle and Sebastian’s If You’re Feeling Sinister that always demanded my attention, its cover a brooding, bruised red and its title vague and cryptic. The music swirled in my dreamy child mind, Guaraldi-esque jazz arrangements accompanying the cozy imagery of “foxes in the snow”, “boys on bikes” and the uniformed valor of high-school track and field stars. They bobbed and danced through my imagination like shadow puppets across a blank wall, magical and innocent. One of my most vivid childhood memories – age 8 - places me in the living room of my current home, empty, save for a television and a Gamecube that sprouted from the wooden flooring like an art gallery installation. My sister and I played Kirby Air Ride as mom and dad maneuvered couches and mattresses through the front door. All the while, I whispered the lyrics of the album to myself. Nothing felt so comforting.

As I aged, the album’s warm, flannel-ly imagery became somewhat tainted as teenage world-weariness seeped into my bloodstream. I began to see the “sinister” nature that loomed beneath the façade of its woodland animals and schoolyard rhymes. Murdoch’s songwriting dealt with dejection, deviancy and experimentation as much as it did the excitement of a snow day or the hum of insects on a muggy summer evening. It was all-encompassing, microcosmic even. There’s a quotable lyric tucked away in the liner notes of Sinister for by someone of any age or mindset.

Perhaps it’s the childhood nostalgia I reflected on back in issue 15 of my zine, a fear that I’ve grown up too fast, that sends me back to Belle and Sebastian in 2015. The twee playfulness that oozes from Murdoch’s tunesmithery allows me a sense of childlike wonder, while there’s enough rich subtext to keep my late-teenage mind properly stimulated. Lately, I’ve been revisiting the band’s 4th effort, Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant, 15 years after its original release date. It may lack some of the consistency and coherence that makes Sinister so legendarily satisfying, but it makes up for it in creativity and sheer pluck. Most notably, it contains standout cut “The Model”, which charges forward on nimble harpsichord melodies and a groovy rock n’ roll rhythm section. But there are many other highlights. Guitarist Stevie Jackson strums out an awkward-yet-tender ballad on “Beyond the Sunrise” while cellist Isobel Campbell lends her feathery vocal to “Family Tree”, a lovely bit of chamber-pop doo-wop that leads into the record’s triumphant closer, “There’s Too Much Love”. Though often overlooked, Fold Your Hands is a beautifully collaborative effort that stands up strong in a B+S catalogue filled with hits - it's the sort of record that may not top a list of your all-time favorites but will always remain a constant in your rotation, sneaking into your conscious when it's most needed


Taking Submissions For Christmas Compilation Vol 3

It's that time of year again! This year's holiday season will mark the third anniversary of the Half-Gifts Christmas Compilation and the series' most interesting installment to date - this time around, rather than collecting your covers of traditional Christmas tunes, I'm looking to curate a collection of ambient soundscapes that clock in at 90 seconds or less. Whether your track is a sound collage, field recording or vaporwave loop, just make sure it's laced with winter frost and falls within the time limit. Get creative and try to bottle the essence of December in your compositions.

Deadline for submission is December 21. Email me at jude.noel3@gmail.com when you have something to send my way!


Review: Alex Bleeker and the Freaks - Country Agenda

Alex Bleeker and the Freaks - Country Agenda
(2015 Sinderlyn)

I have plenty of love for the dreamy, folk-tinged "bourgeois-pop" that Martin Courtney and Matt Mondanile crank out at a robotically consistent rate when they're not working on new Real Estate material, but I do find it a shame that the sideline venture of the band's bassist, Alex Bleeker, is often overlooked by fans. Rather than searching for influence in the twinkling lead-guitar constellations of Pavement's Terror Twilight or the cigarette-stained mustiness of 70's soft rock records, Bleeker's quintet of Freaks seek to reclaim the sound of The Grateful Dead's American Beauty, seasoning the mix with just enough airy shimmer to satiate jangle pop die-hards. Their latest output, Country Agenda, is an act of careful sonic surgery that extracts the "jam band-iness" from the jam bands of yore, transplanting them into the instantly-recognizable, reverby songcraft of Captured Tracks affiliates like Mac Demarco and Wild Nothing. 

The Freaks are at the top of their game on "Portrait", a cavernous cut that seems to effortlessly form an all-consuming atmosphere of post-rainstorm summer mugginess - peals of slide guitar and splashes of jazzy keyboard drip like condensation down the edge of an unobtrusive rhythm section that provides just enough space for the sneakily pretty vocal harmonies that surface in the tune's infectious chorus, but it's outliers like the bluesy "Honey I Don't Know" and "Turtle Dove", a gospel groove that provides the record some goofy anti-gravitas, that make this record such a joy to re-visit again and again. I wouldn't consider myself a Dead Head by any stretch of the imagination, but to detect their influence incorporated into an indie rock record without a speck of irony is quite refreshing, especially at the tail end of a year teeming with post-modern pop pastiches. Country Agenda is the late evening cooldown after months of gorging myself on the futurist pop of A.G. Cook and Le1f - it's beautifully sincere.


Single Review: Wild Nothing - "TV Queen"

Wild Nothing - "TV Queen"
(Captured Tracks 2015)

Jack Tatum's 6-year career as the frontman of Wild Nothing serves as a model of artistic progression done the right way in indie rock. He seldom strays from the core influences and timbres employed in past ventures - the amorphous goth-pop gloom of GeminiNocturne's shimmering devotion to Rumors-era Fleetwood Mac; the forceful new-wave elegance found throughout much of Empty Estate - and continues to shuffle them back into his deck of ideas, adding new cards along the way. "TV Queen" deals listeners the better hand of the two tracks Tatum recently released in anticipation of his forthcoming LP, Life of Pause, and seems to borrow some inspiration from the mixtape of smoky Italian lounge music he posted on his soundcloud page last year. The tune is somewhat sour, coating cyclical string melodies and splashes of guitar in an acidic chorus effect. This tartness is offset, however, by mellow-yet-solid bass and lazily played saxophone that floats in the backdrop. "TV Queen" offers the satisfaction of an after-dinner dessert - patient with the build-ups to the emotional high of its chorus. The song is filled with flavor but not over-stuffed with clutter. 


Review: Beauty Camp - La chaleur de l'amour

Beauty Camp - La chaleur de l'amour
(2015 Self-Released)

Talk about your descriptive album titles: few phrases could sum up the most recent effort of French psychedelia triumvirate Beauty Camp as succinctly and accurately as La chaleur de l'amour - "the warmth of love". Though its sound centers heavily around the traditional recipe for krautrock (lumbering basslines, tight rhythms and gobs of reverb), Beauty Camp takes care to define its own trademark take on the subgenre that culls textural influence from the guitar tone of early 90's noise rock icons like Sebadoh and Sonic Youth, makes great use of sudden starts and stops to make for fractured, unpredictable songcraft, and employs keyboard in place of bass guitar to craft brooding, Doors-ian atmospheres that slowly pull listeners into the void - a surprisingly cozy and inviting void, that is. The record's fifth and self-titled cut is its most satisfying, evolving from a funky surf-pop ditty into a a towering wall of post-rock shoegazery. Its successor, "Bonne Pioche" also scores points for originality, pairing infectious guitar/steel-drum harmonies with a shuffling beat. It's a fun closing tune that reminds me of the theme song from Nickelodeon's Doug. Overall, this is a fascinating EP that re-creates the sound and atmosphere of a good house show.


Review: Blossoming Mums - "Dithering Mornings"

Blossoming Mums - Dithering Mornings
(2015 Night People)

There is a beautifully organic quality to Blossoming Mums' debut tape on Night People Records - it's as if the nebulous tufts of shoegazey ambience weren't generated by heavily reverberated guitar and warm keyboard pads, but were instead exhaled photo-synthetically by some alien breed of plant. Airy chords dissipate into the aether, warmed by trellises of noodly lead guitar and wordless mantras whispered by Massachusetts residents Robert Robinson and Amanda Freeman. Though Dithering Mornings is best consumed whole - amorphous and narcotic - it reaches its aesthetic peaks when it delves into Lynch-ian territories: "Words of Birds" sounds like your neighbor's hushed karaoke version of the Twin Peaks theme (the Julee Cruise version!) seeping through the paper-thin walls of your apartment. The dissonant intro to "Window Watching" even recalls "Laurie's Theme" from John Carpenter's Halloween score. "No Hands" is also worth multiple replays, a droney take on Real Estate's signature surf-folk approach to indie pop.


Review: Tokyo Karan Koron - "Go Nin No Entertainers"

Tokyo Karan Koron - Gin Nin No Entertainers
(Specific 2015)

Settling in the same remote sonic territory as high-energy outliers like Fang Island and Of Montreal, Japanese quintet Tokyo Karan Koron cleverly weave elements of prog, new wave and math rock into their sensory assault of maximalist pop. On the surface, Gin Nin No Entertainers, the band's sophomore LP re-issued earlier this year by French imprint Specific, is a colorful and aggressively catchy assortment of quirky indie-rock; a closer listen reveals layers of complexity and avant-garde experimentation so deftly woven together that it's tricky to recognize their presence. Itinerant melodies leave dissonant comet tails beyond the horizon line of "16 no Beat"'s bouncy, vaguely punk rhythm section while splashes of calliope-like keyboard tint the landscape with a pastel filter; this depth of sound wielded by the band provides plenty of room for smooth - yet drastic - shifts in tone and texure. As tension builds, the tune assumes a hedonistic, carnival-like atmosphere which explodes into a blinding kaleidoscope of Paisley positivity.

Each song on the Gin Nin No Entertainers houses its own balance of free-spirited fun and emotional catharsis - the brief moments that offer rest between the fragmented ideas and strange melodic tangents become the album's most memorable. The flimsy strand of twangy notes - played in tandem on keyboard and lead guitar - that bridge the gap between the sections of sludgy abstraction and nebulous pop on "Yubi De Kiss Shiyo" is my personal favorite of these. Like the interludes on Deafheaven's Sunbather, the short segments of minimalist ambience that act as calming pauses between blistering hurricanes of expressionist rock bear as much emotional weight as the songs they bookend. Gin Nin No Entertainers is a verdant garden filled with variety and fresh creativity that practically begs the listener to jump in and explore.


Review: Barlow/Naked Ant - Split

Barlow + Naked Ant
(2015 Self-Released)

As close to a physical manifestation of the DIY Ethos as I've ever come across, this cassette collaboration between two of my favorite garage rock outfits is a match made in post-internet heaven. Back in late 2014, Ethan Oliva - frontman of veteran shoegaze trio Barlow - dropped the titles of a few of his own songs into the Bandcamp search bar to check up on their streaming stats. Among the results lurked an impassioned cover of Barlow's "In The Air" recorded by New Jerseyan high-schooler Ben Spizuco. Though faithful to the tune from which it sprang forth, Spizuco's rendition of "In The Air" retains the signature charm that accents the entirety of his own discography - it's as raw as rock gets, unapologetically leaving splatters of sonorous mic feedback audible among a tight weave of trebly chords and a few (sometimes clumsy) lead guitar riffs. It was a perfectly punk tune made up of imperfect takes, the product of a single musician whose efforts could stand up proudly next to his those of his influencers. Impressed by the cover and flattered to witness the influence of his music firsthand, Oliva gave Spizuco a shout-out on the Barlow Facebook page.

Flash forward to November 2015: Spizuco has formed a fuzz-pop trio of his own, Naked Ant, and has joined forces with his heroes on a self-titled split tape. On the A-side of the magnetic rectangle, Barlow invites listeners to help clear out their attic, dusting off old unfinished demos. Vocals are added to instrumentals like the Hüsker Dü-esque "Ride" and "I'll See You", a brief power-pop ditty carried by hyper-melodic lead guitar that would make J Mascis proud. Alongside a handful of brand new recordings that resemble Isn't Anything-era MBV, there are a smattering of skeletal song-sketches that comprise my favorite section of Barlow's end of the split. "Down There" bobs buoyantly on the crest of a tinny guitar loop while "For All Time" coats arpeggios with warm layers of ambience that resemble the cry of a Kricketune. 

Naked Ant's side of the tape is chock-full of experimentation and infused with the fun of jamming in the garage with one's friends. "School of Thought Graduate" makes use of mistakes in mixing and mastering to maximize shifts in dynamics and texture, making for a tune that ferries listeners down into the murky depths of an ocean of reverb only to send them rocketing toward the surface on the strength of powerful cymbal crashes and muscly chords. The band ventures into a combination of blues and 70s soft rock on "Sailing On The Delaware" and even delves into some slinky free improvisation on closing cut "Lisa". My favorite Naked Ant cut from the tape, though, is perhaps its most unassuming, coyly concealing the alien timbres hidden beneath its surface. "The Wait For September" starts out as a traditional acoustic strummer that hearkens back to the early efforts of Sentridoh, but slowly morphs into a haunting piece of avant-garde wizardry: distant growls of feedback pass through the mix like transient phantoms. Beautifully spooky.

Check out Barlow's side of the tape here and Naked Ant's side here 


Single Review: Blessed Gloom - "Chemistry"

Blessed Gloom - Chemistry
(Self-Released 2015)

Rising from the still-warm ashes of his defunct project 17 Years, Blessed Gloom is the latest creative endeavor of Missouri's resident dream-pop mastermind Tony Freijat. Post-rechristening, Freijat has plucked the choicest elements of sound from his back catalogue (noodly basslines tinged with icy reverb; post-punk rhythms; filtered, distant vocals) and sandwiched them between traces of 90s pop-rock and anthemic guitar riffs that could easily fit into a shonen anime's opening song. Poured into a mold of sleek, vaporous production that's - in a way - cloud rap-esque, this metamorphic layer of atmospheric bliss solidifies, emerging a polished and punchy slab of high-fidelity shoegaze.


Review: Swords/Drahla - "Split"

Swords/Drahla - Split
(2015 Self-Released)

My most memorable Bandcamp finds tend to be those free of the cult of indie-rock personality, quietly lurking in the depths of the "bedroom pop" and "shoegaze" tags. I've always enjoyed that the internet has given artists the ability to don goofy and surreal new identities, and sometimes I feel that the the most powerful persona to project is the complete lack of one. When band photos, interviews and twitter accounts are often a click away, to be faced with nothing stops me in my tracks. Even after piecing together the few scattered scraps of digital documentation I could uncover surrounding this gritty morsel of lo-fi pop, the only sort of background I can give you on this split cassingle is that it was recorded somewhere in the United Kingdom, divided between two mysterious projects that appear to consist of the same members. I don't know their names, and I'm completely OK with that. Their music speaks for itself in strange and beautiful dialects. 

Swords' side of the tape pairs an odd coupling of funky rhythms (tinny drum machine and bouncy bass) with nebulous pulses of brass-like keyboard. In a way, it reminds me of a more eerie version of Wild Nothing's newer material - at times it even gives off some strong Ariel Pink vibes. Billy Corgan-esque vocals definitely have me leaning towards the Wild Nothing side though. Though Swords' offerings are catchier, Drahla's are a bit more captivating and creepy. "Stereo Maze" plods along on a dissonant guitar riff and a spooky synth melody that resembles a goofy sound effect that might appear in an early 00's PC game for kids. "Ethernet" is a surprisingly delicate tune, forming a dreamy soundscape from crunchy drum hits and fuzzed-out keys.


Review: Walk Home Drunk - "Toulouse Moon"

Walk Home Drunk - Toulouse Moon
(Pantypop 2015) 

When he's not whipping up whirlwinds of pop brutale as the guitarist of French punk trio The Last Drop, Daniel Selig adopts the name Walk Home Drunk, crafting introspective nuggets of wiry guitar rock with the help of his friend Jérônymous Bouquet on drums. Their third EP and most recent effort, Toulouse Moon, is a terse, punchy collection of post-punk tunes that fuse the glum grunge attitude of early Dinosaur Jr with the bouncy, smartly-layered twang of The Libertines. Selig's charmingly laconic vocal delivery floats ghost-like between warbly lead guitar riffs and rumbling power chords. Though minimal and - save for a few blasts of distortion - fairly clean, it's these twangy and often dark six-string arrangements that turn out to be Walk Home Drunk's most expressive feature. The motorik percussion and hushed singing act as the mortar that holds them together. The duo's sound blends most impressively on "Old Rules" - buzzsaw chords smoothly transition into tapestries of creamy krautrock melody, forming a tunnel that fully envelops the listener. Everything is moving forward at all times.


Half-Gifts Issue 15 + "cocoon" Compilation Out Now

Half-Gifts issue 15 includes interviews with BarlowNaked AntMa Turner and Funeral Advantage, as well as reviews of recent album releases, japanese soda and a novelty fast-food product. It also comes with a rad digital compilation album, comprised of fall-themed music made by half-gifts readers. You can stream that below. 

Order your copy of the zine HERE


Review: Ryan Hemsworth and Lucas - "Taking Flight"

Ryan Hemsworth and Lucas - Taking Flight
(2015 Secret Songs)

Taking Flight is to trap music what Beat Happening’s self-titled debut was to punk – a thorough re-imagining of the genre that replaces brutish masculinity with lovably juvenile emotion and off-kilter experimentation. While Washington’s Beat Happening built their aesthetic upon amateurish guitar chords and intentional mistakes, Hemsworth and Lucas, hailing from Canada and Seattle respectively, utilize spacey ambience and dreamy samples to accompany chopped-up slivers of hip-hop percussion. Taking Flight is a record that focuses on empty spaces – it mixes and matches traditional tropes of dance music to, paradoxically, create music that is rarely danceable. Instead, the EP acts as a sonic space heater, slowly filling your mind and soul with warm vibez. “Long Time” weaves a Yo La Tengo-esque drum loop through a waft of dreamy flutes and slap-chopped acoustic guitar. It’s not too far removed from the production on Drake’s Nothing Was The Same, come to think of it. Closing cut “You Remain” takes a bit of Travi$ Scott influence in its avant-trap approach, pairing ultra-bassy vocaloid groans with flecks of glitched-out dial-up tones.


Review: Loud and Sad - "unknown species"

Loud and Sad - unknown species
(2012 Greenup Industries) 

Though abstract and, at times, impenetrable, this record’s worth of ambling banjo riffs and electronic noodling is surprisingly accessible. To listen too closely, to try to take a deconstructive approach to unknown species is a mistake – the record is too unstructured, too organic to pick apart and analyze. Separated, these minimal arrangements of twangy pluckings, manipulated loops and ambient noise are rather clumsy and strange, but combined, they are sublime.

The Pennsylvanian duo fashions ecosystems of sound; the most immersive of these worlds appears halfway through unknown species’ B-side on “Beth”. Whispery hums of what I think is an oboe traverse like wispy clouds above an empty Archean earth, in anticipation of the ethereal guitar loops and percussive tectonic rumblings that later enter the picture. Each track is the birth of a new planet, abandoned as quickly as it is lovingly created. Such is the nature of improvisation. We humans can produce staggering beauty as accidentally as we can generate anything. It’s these haphazard masterpieces, moments of extemporaneous brilliance that are the rawest and most organic works of art one can absorb. This is experimental performance at its finest – primal, yet refined.



Review: Real Swell - "Adults"

Real Swell - Adults
(2015 Self-Released)

On the surface, Real Swell's most recent album appears to be yet another tape's worth of fuzz-laden twee, but attentive listening reveals the marbled blend of textures and influences that doesn't so much break the bedroom-pop mold as it does create a unique, heterogeneous recipe within that said mold. Kris Lavin, the head chef behind the London-based solo project, starts with a flaky pie crust of Teen Suicide's signature no-fi aesthetic, dripping with reverby angst. Within the crust sits a gelatinous pool of nostalgic flavors, from Ariel Pink's tongue-in-cheek glam goofiness - appearing quite prominently on the bouncy punk tune, "Puppy Party" - to antiquated cuts of synth pop like "Computer Dreams" and "Gifts", both of which bear a striking resemblance to Yazoo, the early 80s new wave duo comprised of Vince Clarke and Alison Moyet. There are also quite a few tracks that throw back to the inception of Brooklyn's Captured Tracks label, employing the wiry guitar tone often associated with acts like Blank Dogs, Beach Fossils and Christmas Island. Adults' 16 tracks are filled with screwball experimentation and charm, making for a release that grips one's attention throughout. Despite the record's consistency, its title track is a standout cut by far, trudging forward with moaning keyboards that bear the haunting spookiness of a Merrie Melodies soundtrack. 


Upcoming Autumn Compilation // Submissions Wanted

I've been in the mood to curate another Half-Gifts compilation lately, finding much inspiration in the gradual shift from summer to autumn and the metamorphosis that this seasonal change activates. The transformation isn't limited to the changing hues of the leaves that act as an autumnal canopy above my neighborhood - it's evident in many other facets of life. Plastic tombstones and faux wrought iron fences sprout from front lawns in anticipation of Halloween. Students' spirits are reined into the cozy mundanity of class schedules and hour long lectures. Band t-shirts develop a symbiotic relationship with unbuttoned flannels. Although these changes on their own are subtle, the fall is a period of constant flux. My aim for this compilation is to harness these vibes and create the perfect companion to the autumn months ahead, which, if you weren't aware, begin today. If you have the idea for a tune that fits with the theme, drop it in my inbox at jude.noel3@gmail.com by October 10. All genres are acceptable!


Single Review: DIIV - "Dopamine"

DIIV - "Dopamine"
(2015 Captured Tracks)

Though only three years have passed since the release of DIIV's much-anticipated freshman effort, Oshin, I feel as if I'm witnessing the band's resurrection. Though in the realm of music, a couple of years is by no means a great stretch of time, that time span between the band's full-length debut and the surprisingly quiet unveiling of "Dopamine" marks a signifigant epoch in the lives of both myself and frontman Zachary Cole Smith. For me, these three years have been pivotal in my own character development. Post-Oshin, I've entered college, felt more confident in my own opinions regarding art and have begun to feel like a truly independent person. It's as if DIIV's first two LPs act as rough bookends for my entry into teenagerdom and exit into adulthood. For Smith, the span has been a much more tumultuous period, but no less transformative. Since 2012, he's written and scrapped over 100 songs, faced conflict with multiple band members as well as an arrest in late 2013. Though new songs were often added to and/or dropped from the band's live setlist - like any dedictated member of DIIV's cult-like fanbase, I check regularly to see if any new live footage has been uploaded to Youtube - I felt as if the sequel to Oshin would never come. Even when I finally got the chance to catch a DIIV set in late 2014 at a Lexington Urban Outfitters, it felt more like I was attending a farewell tour, despite the wealth of new material on display.

At the tail end of this three year wait, "Dopamine" feels a bit anticlimatic, yet it is wholly satisfying, the sort of tune that doesn't grab your attention on your first listen, but worms its way into your subconscious, becoming a regular fixture on morning busrides and walks between classes. It's as beautiful as anything the Brooklyn krautrock quartet has dropped to date, cozily wrapped in buttery reverb and propelled by distant motorik percussion. Centered around a hypnotically repetitious lead guitar riff, "Dopamine" slowly gathers noise and distortion, building up to a triumphant burst of shoegazey fuzz in the outro, a satisfying conclusion to my ascent into adulthood.


Single Review: Meishi Smile - "Pastel"

Meishi Smile - Pastel
(2015 Zoom Lens)

If its lead single and cover artwork are indications of what's to come, Meishi Smile's sophomore LP, ...Belong is bound to be the Los Angeles producer's most human effort to date. Though Meishi's shoegazey synth tone is still as present as ever - frost-tipped, conversely noisy and cozy - the overall vibe of the production has changed significantly. 2012's Lust seemed to exude sterilized forms of emotion, crudely projected by the silicone facial features of advanced artificial intelligence. It always felt to me like the sort of music that might blend into the background as a muffled hum over the PA system in a futuristic Urban Outfitters. It was like the ultra-danceable, Utopian counterpart to the Blade Runner score: one can detect the ghost of humanity behind a steely veil of synths.

The most recent Meishi Smile single seems to be a sort of prequel to Lust; man and machine work as a single unit. Atop a dreamy, 80s-pop inspired arrangement, Garrett Yim's vocals are the most prominent they've ever been, albeit bombarded by a smattering of grainy filters and effects. The combination of brittle shoegazery and vocals that seem to take cues from power electronics is brilliant. Meishi's lyrics are also much more human, but surprisingly depressing, using blood, veins punctured by an IV drip and pale white flesh to paint a grief-stricken soundscape. Pastel's world of flesh and blood is fraught with heartache, but it is the parallel to Meishi's older work that is needed to fully realize his vision of intense emotion and beauty in the digital age.


Review: Naomi Pop - "Self-Titled"

Naomi Pop - S/T
(2015 Self-Titled)

Their name a tongue-in-cheek nod to Captured Tracks' fuzz-rock outfit Naomi Punk, - and possibly to Iggy Pop as well - Bostonian quartet Naomi Pop's debut cassette is an eloquent depiction of teenagerdom that feels as if the band's future selves are writing in Updikean remniscience of their formative years. Frontman Ben Wiley muses upon bike rides, "Halloweens and birthday cakes" in the album's opener, "Farewell Navigator", a wiry garage rock tune that drapes trebly chords around sinewy basslines and shuffling percussion. The song creates a utopian, sun-drenched suburban atmosphere that's as cozy as it is catchy: it does a splendid job of setting the mood for the rest of the record. Sandwiched in the center of the tape is perhaps the record's strongest cut, "Daydream", a quaint slice of bummer-pop hewn of a doo-wop chord progression and twinkly lead guitar. The tape's final two tracks venture off into some Minutemen/Of Montreal territory, pairing twangier instrumentation with goofy lyricism, capping off an extremely fun and ultra-catchy release that fits perfectly into the eclectic Z Tapes catalog.


review: happy hell - "focus on the better things in life"

happy hell - focus on the better things in life
(2015 Captain Crook)

I can't help but think of this happy hell tape as a very botanical album; though by no means is it comparable to a vibrant bouquet, focus on the better things in life certainly does conjure the image of a lush tangle of greenery deep in the center of a forest, perhaps obscuring some hidden treasure or mystical portal to another world. It's not just the wonderfully expressionist cover art that gives off this vibe: the music itself feels very alive. Nimbly plucked acoustic guitar riffs branch off of each other, forming tapestries of ambling, vine-like melodies while mellow droplets of electric piano nourish the guitar arrangements, adding some jazzy flair to this emo-folk effort. The peak of the album lies two-thirds of the way through, on "maybe in the future i'll say something to you". Fusing Midwest math-y instrumentation with some Sentridoh-esque bummer pop vibes, the cut is charmingly melancholy, delivering the sort of hazy warmth that fans of Julia Brown and Alex G will enjoy. 


Review: ἡσυχασμός - "δι' ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι"

ἡσυχασμός - δι' ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι
(2015 Self-Released)

Inspired by the Greek Orthodox tradition of hesychasm - a system of prayer comprised of careful repetition, silence and total solitude - δι' ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι is a cavernously eerie drone record, a mosaic of fractured field recordings and piano loops that, minimal as the composition may be, can elicit a multitude of emotions that stem from isolation. Act one of this tripartite dronescape, for instance, opens quite unnervingly, as samples of hollow, metallic tones form a rather surreal ambience, yet as this sonorous sample gives way to a slowly building wall of powdery ambience, this creepiness gradually gives way to comfort. The highlight of part one, however, is its beautiful centerpiece, an echoey piano solo, awash in reverb, that resembles are darker, grittier reboot of Eno and Budd's Plateaux of Mirror; with each piano key pressed, the listener witnesses the life of a droning note - it is born, it contributes to the composition and it slowly disintegrates, scattering its atoms into a cosmos of reverb. 

Part two's center of focus is still the piano, but its tone is much more clean than in part one. Despite the lack of reverb, a surreal atmosphere is still created through the manipulation of the recording, giving this section of the record some pluderphonics flavor. Act three is the album's strongest section, though, an amorphous drone of shimmering choir samples that gives way to a minimal coda played on the organ. A chiaroscuro soundscape that that demands attention despite its sparse arrangement, δι' ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι is a masterful ambient effort that by no means overstays its welcome at 30 minutes.


Shojo Winter - "Eternal Snow"

Shojo Winter - Eternal Snow
(Rok Lok 2015)

Shojo Winter's debut cassette EP is perhaps the strangest shoegaze release you'll hear all year, an ultra lo-fi dreampop effort that suffocates trebly, gothic lead guitar under a blanket of punishingly loud bass and drums, forming an igneous mass of crusty noise that is comparable to black metal, or perhaps even noisy dark ambient compositions. Imagine the sound of your car's tape deck slowly warping, then eating a copy of Cocteau Twins' Head Over Heels as you slip into highway hypnosis. All elements of the album - from frontman Patrick Capinding's sleepy intonations, to Kevin McVey's weighty basslines to the endless splashes of percussion that benignly crash like ocean waves - work as a whole to form a mind-numbing drone. The effect is pulled off most successfully on the EP's eponymous closing cut, which, in a beautiful way, is nearly devoid of melody or rhythm, but rather, it acts as a single viscous unit that oozes into the listener's ear, wrapping their conscious in an impenetrable cloak of bassy post-punk vibes. Embrace the coziness of total emptiness. Enter the the realm of Eternal Snow


Review: Woody Grant - "Summer Songs"

Woody Grant - Summer Songs
(Self-Released 2015)

Today marks the conclusion of the last summer I'll experience before I officially become an adult, but interestingly enough, I don't feel too bummed about it. Though my three months off from school have been well-spent going for walks around the neighborhood, starting my first-ever job, hitting up Taco Bell on the regular and beating a couple Pokemon games, to look back on this chapter of late-adolescence is like trying to accurately recall a vivid dream after waking. Sure, there are certain themes and motifs that can plucked from my memory, but it seems as if many specifics have evaporated, causing my recollection of the summer as a whole to compress into one wall of sensory debris. Perhaps this is the reason so many "summercore" acts, (Beach Fossils, Ducktails, Wild Nothing) opt to work in an impressionist pallet of vague lyricsm and shoegazey instrumentation. Their muse - the three months sandwiched in the middle of each annum - is reflected by their sound. Few have matched the breezy, transient vibes of summer quite as well as Woody Grant has on his appropriately titled Summer Songs EP. Shimmering riffs swelter under a humid layer of reverb while abrasive vocal harmonies seem to crowd the mix with their distorted warmth. Mourn the end your summer vacation with Woody Grant's latest record - especially if bedroom pop outfits like Woods and WAVVES make frequent appearances in your music rotation.


Single Review - GIRL PUSHER - "OKAY OKAY"

(Memory no. 36 Records 2015)

There's always something gratifying about being able to aesthetically connect with a band you admire; maybe in an interview they cite your favorite movie as a source of creative inspiration, or perhaps there's an obscure reference hidden in their lyrics that only you and a chosen few happen to recognize. Sometimes, though, it is that same sort of spiritual bond that can lead me to discover a new band. For instance, another pair the same of black Vans high-tops that make a cameo appearance on the cover of GIRL PUSHER's EP2 often makes an appearance in my own wardrobe, and it was a sudden glance at this unassuming pair of kicks that led me from the depths of Bandcamp's "lo-fi" tag to the EP's official page. Only one cut off of the release ("OKAY, OKAY") is streaming at the moment, but it is certainly enough to encourage me to give the site a peep tomorrow, when the record is slated for its official unveiling. The aforementioned tune is a coarse slice of synth-punk, its ominous synths bubbling below a drum machine rhythm that is surprisingly clean for such an industrial song. With the addition of vocals that sound like they were shouted from the top of a soapbox through a cheap megaphone, "OKAY, OKAY" ventures into riot-grrrl-meets-cyberpunk territory, as if Zach Hill and Flatlander produced and album for Pussy Riot.


Review: The Choo Choo Trains - "Foggymotion"

The Choo Choo Trains - Foggymotion
(2015 Meat n Tatty)

A textbook example of original-wave twee pop, The Choo Choo Trains' sophomore effort, titled Foggymotion adheres devoutly to the paper-thin, often endearingly clumsy timbre of Tiger Trap, Beat Happening, and even The Magnetic Fields (circa Distant Plastic Trees). While in terms of jarringly lo-fi sound quality, the London-based trio could easily draw comparisons to acts like Julia Brown or Jackie Trash, but it's their employment of doo-wop inspired chord progressions and bluesy riffs that set them apart from their "tweemo" contemporaries. For example, opening track "Things You Do" utilizes a Spector-ian arrangement of tinny percussion, a groovy bassline and translucent guitar chords that coat the rhythm section like watercolors, blending with echoey, delicate vocals to form a sound that would fit surprisingly well in the rotation of the Beach Boys Pandora station that plays all day over a Bluetooth speaker at the popcorn/candy store I've been working at over the summer. Now that I think about it, perhaps my newfound familiarity with the Ronnettes and the Shirelles has really turned me on to the Choo Choo Train's reverby rock 'n roll twang. Aside from the smattering of c-86 influenced tunes, there are a few outliers clumped in the middle of the record: "Unlucky" is a rickety waltz that glides on a bouncy beat and rather dark piano chords. "The Sky" borders on Doors-era psychedelia, pairing organ drones with gritty lead guitar licks. If you have to check out any cut off the album, though, let it be "Margo T and Me", an addictively catchy tune that sounds like a cross between the McTells and the Shaggs. 


Review: Marcel Foley - "Songs About Life"

Marcel Foley - Songs About Life
(Self-Released 2015)

Ever since I founded Half-Gifts at age 14, I've made a concentrated effort to scour Bandcamp and Soundcloud for the work of fellow teenage creatives - I've found that for many younger people interested in art, their formative years are fraught with nervous creativity and a raw, unbridled passion that seems to fill in the gaps left by a lack of virtuosic talent or equipment to help them polish their craft. Out of all forms of teenage art, though, I find music to be the most fascinating to study. There is a sense of urgency that almost universally can be found in the discographies of young artists, a creative force that is responsible for many of the most prolific Bandcamp pages I've seen (Kill The Intellectuals, High Sunn Alaris O'Heart). This time in a kid's life, especially in recent years, is often primarily influenced by a struggle to make the most of their childhood's last gasps while still looking towards the future - from a high schooler's perspective, it feels like one's whole livelihood hangs in the balance of even the most minute decision. When you're constantly reminded of your push to adulthood, it can make you hyper-aware of your artistic footprint on the world, goading you to fill up your iPhone's Voice Memo app with sloppy, lo-fi demos, to experiment with noise music, to try anything to join the ranks of your favorite artists someday soon. Few artists are as possessed by this spirit of teenage creativity as much as Californian journalist/producer Marcel Foley, founder of Marcel's Music Journal and a budding experimental composer. In addition to boasting an impressively diverse back catalogue of reviews, Foley also has a treasure trove of well-composed IDM and ambient music stashed away on his Bandcamp account, the sort of page that begs to be explored again and again. 

Standing out among his intimidating discography is Songs About Life, an album's worth of greyscale electronica that pairs off-kilter yet punchy rhythms with gloomy clouds of drone-y synth tones that float benignly above the tumult. Opening cut "Spiner" acts as a happy medium in between the grainy chillwave lull of Com Truise's "Brokendate" and the manic 8-bit frenzy of Flying Lotus' "Kill Your Co-Workers", lacing a squelchy beat with tinny chimes and a frission-inducing chord progression, dripping in VHS-tape grime. It's a solid demonstration of Foley's greatest strength: the ability to seamlessly combine textures to form a warm, engrossing ambience that the listener can curl up inside like a heated blanket. He pulls off this harmonic convergence most beautifully on "Flache Face", icing a layer cake of skittering percussion with glassy keyboard riffs that sound both jazzy and trancey. Most addictive, though, are the heavier moments on Songs About Life, employing a pulverizing D'n'B beat to join forces with a spooky looped pad progression to form a cut that pounds at one's consciousness like a dream-poppy jackhammer - it demands one's attention. I just started a playthrough of Pokemon X and Y the other day, and I've chosen Songs About Life to act as my soundtrack to the game. The two have proven to match quite nicely, as both the game and this album have both mastered a strange balance between coziness and up-tempo action. Definitely check this release out if you're into Flying Lotus and old Warp Records releases.


Issue 14 Out Now!

Half-Gifts issue 14 includes interviews with San Bernardino jangle-pop project Foliage and two local record stores; Sugarcube and Torn Light. This volume also includes a look at the most exciting record labels of 2015 and, as usual, plenty of album reviews. GET YOUR COPY HERE


Review: Alaris O'Heart - "Self-Titled"

Alaris O'Heart - Alaris O'Heart
(2015 Alien Tapes)

Californian bedroom-popster Alaris O'Heart has quietly released some of the most innovative and well-composed lo-fi music over the past two years, masterfully synthesizing elements of late 00s freak folk, drone and even hip-hop to extract cinematic grandeur from his humble arrangements for guitar and keyboard. His recent self-titled cassette, pressed by southwestern imprint Alien Tapes, functions as an introduction to O'Heart's discography, (maybe even as a best-of album), exhibiting the full breadth of his abilities as a composer. "Bird", for example, replicates the bustle of Philip Glass' Music In Twelve Parts - handclaps, layered vocal harmonies, percussive rhythm guitar, liquescent keyboard riffs and faint glockenspiel tones all seem to hustle separately toward their own destination, directionless, moving as pedestrians on city sidewalks rather than as one unit marching to a motorik beat. "Cough Drops" brings O'Heart's music into Flying Lotus territory, chopping up nearly concrete walls of jumbled piano tones with trill hi-hats and a hollow snare. "The End" makes for a more conventional closer to the tape - O'Heart's usual frenetically played piano notes are herded into chords atop stomps and claps - until layers of ambience consume the track, morphing into a Sigur Ros-ian cosmos of swirling beauty, capped off with a sample from Finding Nemo. All in all, Alaris O'Heart's new tape resembles Sung Tongs-era Animal Collective covering the Juno soundtrack; it's a primal take on twee-pop that provides some much-needed variety in the lo-fi pop tape scene.


Review: Dean Blunt - "Babyfather"

Dean Blunt - Babyfather
(Hyperdub 2015)

With each new Dean Blunt release, I become a bit more certain that the enigmatic, UK-based producer is the 21st century's Beat Happening. Just as Calvin Johnson's influential twee-pop trio offered a primal and lovably puerile answer to the dark post-punk sound that prevailed in the early to mid 80s, Blunt crafts a unique brand of vaporous R&B from off-kilter drum machine rhythms and woozy, repetitious samples, acting as a raw, "DIY" parallel to the "future pop" sound of SOPHIE, Holly Herndon and to a certain extent, even Death Grips. His latest output is free .zip file of 9 unreleased tracks, but by no means is Babyfather a mere addendum to last year's Black Metal. Rather, it seems to be a bit of a stylistic return to Blunt's pre-Redeemer era, with a more rhythmic, poppy twist. Save for the album's Velvet Underground-esque intro, Black Metal's minimal guitar compositions are exchanged for bleak, chopped-up samples of 80s synthpop and modern hip-hop as well as the occasional airy casio patch. As usual, Blunt's vocals are the highlight of the of the compilation, as passionate as a clumsy karaoke performance yet unmatched in their suave sense of aplomb. Accompanying them is a collection of some of his most satisfying production to date, highlights of which include "Rachel Cut", a melancholy Macintosh Plus/MF Doom hybrid, the almost arrhythmic groove of "Coco" and Babyfather's haunting, jazzy coda, "Gass". Though not rewarding a listen as Blunt's post-pop masterpiece, The Redeemer, Babyfather makes for yet another impressive addition to the sound collagist's discography.


Review: Wavves x Cloud Nothings - "No Life For Me"

Wavves x Cloud Nothings - No Life For Me
(Ghost Ramp 2015)

This surprise collaboration between two of the nation’s finest purveyors of fuzzy pop-punk is somewhat of a return to each respective project’s lo-fi roots. Wavves’ Nathan Williams lays down his signature brand of rhythm guitar, sharp and psychedelic, creating a gritty foundation for Dylan Baldi to erect his wiry lead guitar riffs on top of. Willams’ distorted six-string assault blends impeccably with Baldi’s prodigious hook-writing ability on cuts like “Come Down” and “No Life For Me”, but the album’s most successful moments stem from its two lone solo cuts. “Such a Drag” is a classic Wavves track, reveling in its own summery slacker vibes while Baldi’s hyper-melodic “Nothing Hurts” borrows from both Blink-182 and the Beach Boys to form No Life For Me’s beautiful closing cut. Those who come back for repeat listens will be rewarded, as there's much to appreciate and re-discover packed within the album's 21 minute confines - the transitions between William's blaring, jaggedy verses and Baldi's minimal, yet maximally catchy chorus on "How It's Gonna Go", the strange, diverse strata of garage rock textures that makes up "Hard To Find", the droning, Doors-ian keyboard that accompanies the intro of "Nervous" - together it makes for an album that is as lovably fractured and poppy as Of Montreal's Skeletal Lamping. 


Single Review: ilill - (......)"

ilill - (......)
(Self-Released 2015)

As the title of Ilill’s demo tape might suggest, the Japanese emo-violence outfit is a band of few words, preferring to let their instrumentation do the talking save for a few well-placed primal screams. The first of the two tracks on the demo, “She”, is a throwback to the math-y flavor of 90’s post-rock that I love to search for in boxes of used 7” records. Sludgy bass oozes like lava atop complex rhythms while hypnotic lead guitar arpeggios fill the air like noxious smoke. Just as the listener begins to succumb to the track’s narcotic drone, buzzsaw chords and a blastbeat usher in its explosive coda. “Il” maintains the level of energy carried over from the end of its predecessor, springing immediately to life on the strength of breakneck percussion and frenetically played riffs. (......) is a solid first look at ilill, giving us a look at the full breadth of the band's ability to weave interesting melodies and textures at any pace.


Singles of the Year (so far) Part 4

1. A Grave With No Name - Orion

AGWNN's gradual evolution from molten, nearly formless noise pop to lush folk-rock has been fascinating to witness over the course of the UK-based solo act's six-year lifespan. Each installment in the project's discography acts as a scrapbook photo of sorts, from the lovably primal Mountain Debris to the angst-riddled Whirpool and most recently, to Feathers Wet, Under the Moon, a mature and rather "professional LP. Trimming the tape hiss and quirky experimentation that accents his usual output, frontman Alexander Shields instead invokes an alt-country ethos that recalls Lambchop, Red House Painters and The National's early output. "Orion" is the new album's standout cut, gliding on proto-grunge fuzz, plodding bass and twangy lead guitar. Shields' ability to pen heart-wrenching hooks is on full display, and it's especially evident in the transition from verse to chorus, trading crunchy rhythm guitar for gloomy, clean arpeggios. 


Singles of the Year (so far) Part 3

4. Black Baron - Watch Me Sleep

Perfecting the formula for the sort of fuzz-laden punkgaze purveyed by bands such as Perfect Pussy and the now-defunct Blank Dogs, Black Baron's latest album, Abject Skin, is an incredibly immersive experience, allowing the listener to surf its wave of distortion rather that attacking them with a wall of sound. "Watch Me Sleep" is a great example of the Canadian quartet's ability to do so, submerging shimmering, staticy rhythm guitar in a bath of reverb, giving the whole tune a rather distant quality. It feels as if you've arrived late to one of the band's gigs and you're hearing the echoes of their performance through a thin wall. This raw sound quality adds to the intensity of Black Baron's chugging post-punk energy; all elements of the recording session are captured, down to the squeak of the bass drum kick.

3. Jamie xx/Popcaan/Young Thug - Good Times

Though it's somewhat of an outlier among the droney, introspective neo-rave cuts that make up In Colour, Jamie xx's collaboration with Young Thug Jamaican dancehall star Popcaan bolsters the brighter end of the producer's color pallet with bouyant percussion, twinkling steel drums and motown vocal samples. Young Thug contributes some of his finest bars yet to the track, his animated and rather melodic delivery pairing perfectly with the vibrant beat. Though brief, Popcaan's verse acts as an extremely danceable bridge, allowing the listener to cool down after subjecting themselves to Thugger's incendiary verses. "Good Times" could easily prove to be one 2015's catchiest pop songs.

2. Spector - All the Sad Young Men (Danny L Harle Remix)

Danny L Harle's remix of this brooding bit of gothic post-punk is perhaps the most impressive demonstration of the PC Music collective's almost supernatural ability to turn even the most melancholy song into an astoundingly catchy bubblegum-pop tune. Harle extracts Fredrick Macpherson's Ian Curtis-inspired croon from the track, pitching it high enough to become almost inhuman sounding. He then surrounds the vocals with staccato stabs of glistening synthesizer in the foreground and a few flautal riffs that only serve to add an extra kick of overwhelming sweetness to the remix. Harle's take on "All the Sad Young Men" easily rivals A.G. Cook's "Beautiful" for the title of my all-time favorite PC Music production.


Singles of the Year (so far) Pt. 2

7. Crying - Patriot

New York chiptune trio Crying has the uncanny knack for injecting incendiary potential energy that lurks beneath their twee, poptimistic 16-bit instrumentals, set to burst at just the right moments. "Patriot" is the band's most explosive track to date, draping twinkly GameBoy synths in a heavy coat of roaring guitar chords and Elaiza Santos' overly-distorted vocals. Each element of the recording vies for your attention and blends into the homogenous wall of sound. "Patriot" seizes its listener's conscious, sending it on a thrill ride's worth of corkscrews and sharp turns, making the song's three minute duration feel much more brief. Make no mistake: Crying's chiptune arrangements aren't a gimmick. Rather, they're crucial to the band's kaleidoscopic, unpredictable sound.

6. Denzel Curry - ULTIMATE

Like OG Maco, Rae Sremmurd's Slim Jimmy, Young Thug and most other major innovators in the "new wave" of hip-hop, Denzel Curry's vocal presence on any given track is unmistakable, and never has he sounded more authoritative than on "ULTIMATE". Employing a more menacing take on his delivery from 2013's "Threatz", Curry delivers his bars in the form of a guttural roar, only pausing to put careful emphasis on the connective phrases he wedges between verses. Ronny J's grimy, hypnagogic production composed of distorted percussion and a creepy steel drum melody pairs extremely well with Curry's verses, making for a track that is relentless in its aggression. "ULTIMATE" resembles a a darker, more sinister version of Rae Sremmurd, or perhaps a poppier Death Grips, and hopefully the song gives us an early look at what the landscape of underground hip-hop will look like over the next few years.

5. Elvis Depressedly - No More Sad Songs

Stripping away the warbly phase and tape crunch that characterized much of his earlier output, North Carolinian lo-fi pop purveyor Elvis Depressedly (a.k.a Mat Cothran) lays the inner clockwork of his signature sound bare. "N.M.S.S." is composed of little more than guitar apeggios, cello and snapping in place of drums. Minimal and melancholy, it revels in its own stark simplicity and culminates in a beautiful keyboard solo.


Singles of the Year (So Far) Pt. 1

10. Second Hand Flower Shop - Pump and Computer

Though Oscar Boyle's predilection for frail, musty ambience and minimalist composition is as evident as ever, the British songwriter's flavor of somber lo-fi folk, once heavily inspired by the signature psychedelic twang of the Elephant 6 Collective, is now lightly seasoned with the twinkle of midwestern emo. "Pump and Computer", the main single off of Oscar's sophomore album as Second Hand Flower Shop, is a dreamy bit of bedroom folk that floats like cirrostratus; scattered piano tones act as a thin, icy crust around translucent guitar pluckings. There's a beautiful lack of form on display here. There's no percussive rhythm to hold the tune together, letting the guitar amble aimlessly while improvised piano leads float and dance like specks of dust, illuminated by morning sun between venetian blinds. Boyle's lyrics are more spoken than sung at times, especially near the song's chaotic coda, similar to the bedroom-orchestral closing section of Julia Brown's "I Was My Own Favorite TV Show".

9. Marching Church - King of Song

Robed in ego and opulence, Elias Ronnenfelt rises from his throne to a Bowie-esque fanfare of howling saxophone and a funky new-wave rhythm section. Brandishing his microphone as a royal scepter, he drunkenly struts back and forth across the great hall, singing his own praises, detailing his own rise to power, bellowing and moaning, and basking in his own glory. Elias' work as Marching Church is a stark contrast to the dark, sparse arrangements of War or the sinewy post-punk charge of his better-known project, Iceage, and it's a welcome one. Under the new name, he unleashes his inner animal spirit, not creating a character for himself, but unearthing an extravagant, slightly villainous alter ego.

8. 813 - Damn Yeah

Speaking of extravagance, Russian future-pop producer 813 treats his recent single as an ice cream sundae constructed by an elementary schooler, drowning his already sugary instrumentation in syrupy, saccharine toppings and sauces. Ultra-poppy synth stabs are sprinkled with bell-like leads and choppy, kawaii vocal samples, making for a pastel-toned sensory overload that resembles a trap-influenced carousel calliope. PC Music just might have some competition.


Single Review: Beach Moon/Peach Moon - "Kite Without A String"

Beach Moon/Peach Moon - "Kite Without A String"
(Paper Trail 2015)

Cloning the the warm, sedimentary guitar tone of the early 90s that's especially present in the droney garage-pop inflection of Pavement, Butterglory and Yo La Tengo, Beach Moon/Peach Moon bridges the gap between the detatched, sarcastic indie rock ethos of the past with the introspective melancholia that dominates today's bedroom pop scene. "Kite Without A String" is the title track of the project's forthcoming LP, blanketing minimal percussion in warm, buttery guitar riffs. Frontman Robert Prisco's vocals sound muffled by their cloak of cozy post-rock instrumentation, reminiscent of Elvis Depressedly's warbly, strained delivery. Composition definitely takes presence over lyricism in BM/PM's work however, as about two-thirds of Kite Without a String consists of instrumental improvisation; peals of distortion ring out like firework bursts in the night sky as trebly, tremolo-picked leads act as faint constellations. Though the album has yet to be officially released, Kite Without A String's title track is sure to make for a stunning closer.


Half-Gifts Cruel Summer Compilation Out Now


Review: Ryan Hemsworth - "RYANPACK (volumes 1 and 2)"

Ryan Hemsworth - RYANPACK (volumes 1 and 2)
(2013, 2015 Self-Released)

Resting cozily between SOPHIE's rubbery, sugarcoated synthscapes and Yung Gud's vaporous textures in the spectrum of forward-thinking electronic production, Ryan Hemsworth's body of work seems to be the product of a hip-hop alchemist. I often imagine the Canadian beatmaker hunched over a cauldron looking somewhat like Gargamel, pouring flasks of chiptune, new-age, and pop-punk influences into his signature atmospheric cloud-rap brew. If there's any selection from Hemsworth's discography that displays the full breadth of his creativity and experimentation, it's his ongoing "RYANPACK" mixtape series, of which the second installment was released this week. Each pack includes 10 tracks worth of lovably goofy remixes that share an aesthetic that can be compared to J-Pop, chillwave, even Cocteau Twins at times.

Hemsworth's inaugural RYANPACK, released in 2013, is a rawer, but perhaps more imaginative predecessor to this year's mixtape. Acting as a survey of the producer's influences and quirks, RYANPACK volume 1 gives its listeners a taste of his fondness for sparkling glockenspiel, reverby vocals and lush, often orchestral arrangements. Hemsworth's beat for Que's "OG Bobby Johnson" replaces the original tune's sinister combination of throbbing bass and phantasmal synths with shimmering steel drums and breathy, chopped-up vocal samples. It's a wonderful example of his ability to take even the grittiest, most aggressive song and morph it into something cuddly and lovable. His "Game Boy Advance Remix" of "Kush Coma", cloaks Danny Brown's unhinged, dynamic delivery in a wearable blanket, comfy slippers and warm vocaloid melodies. The mixtape culminates in a hilariously melodramatic version of "Real Talk" by R. Kelly.

In addition to remixes of recently released tracks by Drake and Chicago's criminally underrated Sicko Mobb, RYANPACK volume 2 bizarrely makes a foray into pop-punk. Track 3 is a bouncy version of Blink-182's "Feelin' This": Mark Hoppus' and Tom DeLonge's vocals are nearly buried beneath a heavy layer of tremelo while Hemsworth laces the tune with light touches of tinny synthesizer. This stunt is pulled off most successfully on Hemsworth's version of "Plane vs Tank vs Submarine" by Tiger's Jaw, which employs skittering percussion and trellises of electric piano.


Review: Krispy Kareem - "Cadillac"

Krispy Kareem - Cadillac
(2015 Third Floor Tapes)

In the age of the internet, geographical location doesn't seem like it should play much of a role in my perception of an album. Music scenes today are more bound by their aesthetic or fanbase (cloud rap, /mu/core, etc.) than by a shared birthplace: by simply frequenting certain websites or projecting the right image, fans can be absorbed into spheres of influence that bring them closer to their favorite bands. If there's one specific location in the United States that I could confidently associate with a certain sound, it's Philadelphia. Home to acts like Alex G, Euphoria Again and Roof Doctor, the city seems to have patented its own strange brew of fuzz-punk that incorporates elements of folk, psychedelia and late 90's emo. Krispy Kareem is one of the newest Philly-based projects to borrow from this pool of influences, delivering a crunchy, slightly country-fried version of the city's signature sound. "Top Hat" floats on math-y riffage while my two favorite cuts on the album, "Hasselhoff" and "Hope + Stoffer's", appropriate elements of surf-pop to supplement their Pavement-esque sound. 



(Self-Released 2015)

Lo-fi elevator-core in the jazzy vein of Mac Demarco, SPILL's debut EP lives up to its title: it's a fun, nostalgic and cozy record that may not be the most filling release on the market, but is certainly a reliable choice that's perfect for those who need a quick fix of twangy slacker-pop. The EP's opening title track is a bit of a throwback to the hypnagogic sound of Ducktails and Julian Lynch. Combining a grainy twee-pop aesthetic with smooth bossa nova rhythms, the song would fit right alongside any of K.K. Slider's instrumentals that are scattered throughout the Animal Crossing soundtrack. SPILL's sound grows funkier as the EP progresses; "Lucky Day" pairs reverby lead guitar with a meaty bassline and skittering percussion while "Vitamin" throws watery organ pulses into the mix. TV DINNER is a brilliant and brief  morsel of fuzz-pop that you can file under "lo-fi easy listening".


Interview: Anime-core label Mecha Yuri

Interview // Thomas Chan, founder of Mecha Yuri

For those readers who haven't heard of Mecha Yuri, could you give a little background on the label and its origins?

back in 2011, i used to frequent an online forum mainly used for discussing nintendo games and cartoon network shows and junk like that. looking back, every member there was probably a bored pre-teen. we had factions, and me and a few other members who all shared the same interest in music decided to form a group called "HarmoniCanadianReckords" or HCR for short. our first release was an album simply named "Skype Sessions", where me and another member attempted to record a live album inside a skype call, occasionally adding another person to the call as a 'guest musician'.

later on, we began to collaborate more seriously, and the idea of an 'online band' took off in our heads. we would chat almost 24/7 over skype and exchange raw recordings through dropbox. the HCR bandcamp soon became a place for all of us to host different mini-projects, albums and eps under different artist names.

How did things evolve from HCR into Mecha Yuri?

somewhere in the middle of 2013, we decided that a rehaul was needed if we wanted to ever be taken seriously. we picked the name "mecha yuri" because it was a deconstruction of /mu/, the music board on 4chan: "/m/" being the 4chan board for mecha, and "/u/" being the board for yuri. "mecha yuri"

at first, "mecha yuri" wasn't all too different from HCR. it was only still the same three core members - Radical McKickflip, the OMNIPRESENCE, and myself - releasing on the label. over time, i decided to invite other musicians i knew either from real life (RLg) or various spots on the internet like tumblr, soundcloud and twitter (i know who you are and you are nothing, tekkaman, etc.) to release material on the label. after a few releases, like minded musicians noticed what we were doing and started to submit projects for us to release.

Do you have any specific criteria for the releases you put out on ur label? What sort of sound or overall aesthetic do you strive for with ur label?

i used to jokingly say to artists who wanted to release on the label that their music just had to be "anime". at first, we were aiming for an aesthetic that was inspired heavily by anime, japanese pop culture, and the "tumblr-esque" image edits you see on the internet.
anime is definitely still a huge influence on the artists on the label and the music we put out. for example, a few of our artists come from the "lolicore" scene; a genre which at it's roots is essentially anime-samples overtop of fast paced breakcore.

HIGH IMPACT SEXUAL VIOLENCE and Cute Fills, two indie rock bands who've released on our label also fill this "anime"-vibe: a lot of their songs are inspired by anime or manga. genre-wise, we're completely open to anything pop or experimental.

How do you come across the projects that you've put out music for? Do you actively seek out new stuff or do they come to you?

it's a bit of both actually! most of the artists we've released for are people i've met previously through twitter or past-compilations or whatever. a few artists, such as cute fills and mock off, i found through soundcloud or bandcamp and contacted personally to ask to release something of theirs. and on super rare occasions, i'll get a message from an artist who wants to offer something for us to release. this happened when Renjā, who i was already a fan of, messaged me out of the blue asking if we'd release their new album. i didn't even know that he'd heard of my label.

Speaking of Mecha Yuri's internet presence, I've seen a few online live shows that the label has hosted. How do you go about organizing one of those?

all of our online live shows were hosted through "tinychat", a video chatroom service. a little disclaimer though, the idea of an online show using tinychat came from SPF420, and the amazing shows they host. basically, all a musician has to do to perform is broadcast themselves through their webcam and microphone. planning is pretty simple: you just have to make a schedule and find people willing to play during a timeslot. all the artist - and the viewer - has to do is visit our tinychat URL. we've hosted a few shows this way, my favorite one being the launch party for the chao garden compilation we hosted with ecchiparty. sadly, i missed most of it, but the whole thing lasted over eight hours. apparently Bo-en and Clover and Sealife (formerly Space Boyfriend), two of my favorite musicians, showed up in tinychat to watch. and my friend goliad dunked some hoops during their set. bummed i missed that, haha.

Have you gotten the chance to see any shows irl?

totally! the last show i went to was teen suicide opening for Alex G right here at the Smiling Buddah in Toronto. it was a bit crazy because my friend rodrigo, who makes music under the name "RLg", played the same venue's basement after being invited by our friend MJ, who makes music as "Five Star Hotel" , who was on a mini-tour coming from Detroit. this summer i'm already planning to see death grips, yung lean and ryan hemsworth.

Hemsworth is so good!


i know right

Tell us a little about your own music!

heck yea! i've recently decided to change my artist name to "for airports". a reference to brian eno's "Ambient 1: Music for Airports" and the crazy nostalgic and sentimental feelings i have about airports and travel in general. i've only released two songs under that name; two tracks for compilation albums from The Worst Label and après-MIDI. i'm still working out a style for what i want my new music to sound like, but if i had to describe it i'd say something dumb like: "layered and atmospheric-feeling lo-fi pop built mainly around altered samples of my own guitar and vocals".

my main musical influences off the top of my head are Baths, who taught me that  electronic music production can be meticulous, melodic, emotional and beautiful and MEISHI SMILE, one of the co-runners of ZOOM LENS label, and one of their earlier projects "nono.". a dream of mine is to release a project on ZOOM LENS one day.

What sort of labels should fans of Mecha Yuri's aesthetic look out for?

definitely The Worst Label!! They're our closest net-label friends; a lot of artists who have released with us have also done releases with them and they're just super amazing overall. Canata Records is a great net-label based in Tokyo that I admire a lot. And we have a lot of close ties and similarities with labels like Pure Aesthete, AMBLIS RECORDS, Magic Yume Label, Hope Sick Cola and Senzu Collective.