With each new release, Welsh noise-pop quintet Joanna Gruesome approaches a perfect balance of their penchant for charming, twee-core hooks with their potential for unbridled punk abrasion. Their latest single, "Last Year", gives listeners a sneak peek at their upcoming LP, Peanut Butter. On the strength of fiery, distorted chords and blasts of trebly percussion, the track immediately roars to a start. It's as if a large dose of Perfect Pussy's chaotic, avant-punk energy was injected into the opening salvo of Joan Jett's "Reputation". At around the 50 second marker, the band's heavy wall of distortion dissolves into a vaporous refrain that reminds me of the breezy chorus of Juliana Hatfield's "Nirvana", the eye of the tune's hurricane of gritty grunge riffage. Though "This Year" doesn't have quite as powerful a grip on me as their 2012 single "Sweater", it's still a top-tier cut from a band that produces twee-punk hit after twee-punk hit.
Laundromat - God Bless the Laundromat + All Who Wash Within It
Listening to just about anything released by Unread Records and Tapes gives me the odd sensation of being a trespasser. The label's back catalogue visually and sonically shares an aesthetic of intimacy; each cassette is sloppy, raw, and sounds as if it was recorded on the spur of the moment. It reminds me of the iPhone voice memos and 90 minute cassette tapes I've filled with song ideas and outtakes over the years, discarded recordings I'll uncover months later, often conjuring distinct sights and sounds of the day I committed them to tape (or mp3). That's the feeling I get when I pop an Unread tape into the deck. It is as if I enter the mind of its respective artist, peering through keyholes of locked doors and viewing slivers of memories. It is both an intimate and voyeuristic experience. One of the recent Unread releases I've most enjoyed is the re-issue God Bless The Laundromat and All Who Wash Within It, a collection of home recordings that are just over twenty years old. Jittery, upbeat indie rock in the vein of Sebadoh and fIREHOSE, the album is skeletal in construction (the tracks are brief - many are instrumental) yet cozy and intimate. The trio's simple combination of clean guitar, drums and occasionally keyboard is surprisingly explosive; each song is hammered out with a sense of urgency. The three band members seem to race to finish their part first, making sharp turns, starts and stops along the way. You can picture them recording the album as you listen to it thanks to the raw, yet still rather clear recording quality. God Bless is packed end to end with fast-paced jams, as fun to listen to as it probably was to record.
acab rocky - truce
It's been nearly a year since I reviewed acab rocky's debut album, sara, yet the project has already gone through such a dramatic shift in tone and timbre that it feels as if I'm reviewing a completely different band. While the trio's early material was dark, brooding, and lo-fi, acab's new output is a crystalline cross between midwestern emo and Green Mind-era Dinosaur Jr, woven from gossamer threads of bendy lead guitar. The album's opening cut, "Matches" lays down a base of reverby chords and twangy flecks of acoustic guitar before lunging headfirst into its first verse. The lyrics are nearly whispered in front of a backdrop of fuzzy ambience: gravelly, yet still gentle enough not to conceal the vocals. Later, an American Football-esque riff cuts through the atmosphere, sending the track back in time into the late 90s with its post-rock tone. Both "Nursery" and "Jane" each remind me of the soundtrack to Welcome To the NHK; each is minimal, relaxing and filled with a rich feeling of nostalgia. The latter even incorporates some Slowdive-ian shoegazery. It's always interesting to see lower-fi bands transition to a studio environment; acab rocky does so the right way on true.
Half-Gifts + Start-Track - Valentine's Day Compilation
Comprised of fuzzed-out twee punk, nostalgic Midwestern Emo vibes and goofy avant-pop in the vein of Ariel Pink, this Valentine's Day compilation is a match made in lo-fi heaven. Curated by the creative team of Jude Noel (me) of Half-gifts and fellow Bandcamp blogger Filip Zemick of Start-Track, the compilation is packed with bummer vibes to soudtrack your February 14th.
Ghost in a Sundress is the ambient folk project of Ian Wang, a Manchester-based teenager who works in a pastel-goth pallet of dark, dreamy textures. His debut tape is out now via Little L Records.
Your new album feels very frosty and desolate, was it recorded during the winter? Can you tell me a bit about the album's creation?
That's definitely a mood I was shooting for, but in truth I was recording on and off throughout all of 2013. Iin fact, perusing through the old files, I started writing half the songs in summer. But, more than anything, making the record was just a slow crawl from one month to the next. I rely pretty heavily on looping in almost all the songs, so each one started from a basic musical motif which gradually blossomed throughout the year; everything was incremental. I was writing and recording in between schoolwork, holidays, etc., so I'd chip away at a song now and again until, bit by bit, it seemed like I had a finished product.
Which artists most influence your work?
This is tricky, because the stuff I was listening to at the time would've been very different to the stuff I listen to now. An obvious one is Department of Eagles: their song "Ghost in Summer Clothes" is where I got my name from (with "summer clothes" changed to "sundress"). I really admired that song's mishmashing of samples with recorded material, and their music has always had a certain eerieness and intricacy to it that I wanted to emulate. A lot of ambient music to contributed to that as well; Secede and Grouper are the two artists that come most obviously to mind. Increasingly, though, I've become an indie pop fan, something which you might here on tracks like I Fall in Love Too Easily. The rich complexity of a band like The Motifs, and the loneliness of Belle & Sebastian's earlier records, have been big influences.
How did you come up with the song titles? Is there a theme or story to the album?
I don't think there is a story or theme so much as there is an atmosphere. Listening to Impressions is more or less listening to me figuring things out, unsure of what I wanted to do musically. I didn't even know how to write a lyric, let alone string a narrative together. But, from the get-go, I had an idea of the mood I wanted to create with my music, which is part of the reasoning behind my name - something nocturnal, wintry, haunting, but with an undercurrent of frailty and compassion. "Heartbroken Ghost Choir Blues" more or less sums it up, though the EP as a whole is a little less maudlin than that. Otherwise, I just picked titles that fit the songs. I felt like it was more important to capture a sense of what the song felt like to me as an individual unit, rather than forcing some kind of thematic link between the titles.
Which song is your personal favorite off "Impressions From a Ghost"?
lt;"It Never Rains Around Here" is definitely the one I'm most proud of. I look back on that track and I find myself unsure of how I even managed to make it work; there are so many interlocking parts that I can barely keep track. It's definitely my most technically impressive track. That being said, "I Fall in Love Too Easily" has to be my overall favourite. Partly for personal reasons - it was the first time I figured out I could make pop music and keep it in line with the ambience and ghostliness I wanted to evoke, and the first time I realised that recording my own voice might not be such a bad idea after all - but mostly because I just think it's a nice pop song.
How did you get hooked up with Little L Records?
I was actually incredibly lucky to get on to Callum's label. Zack Stewart, a friend of mine who makes music under the moniker Bluelily (he'll also be putting out an EP with LLR later this year), showed Callum my music and we got in touch. There were some delays along the way, but Callum's always been incredibly open and dedicated and hard-working, and he always makes sure the artist gets the smoothest release possible. I never expected my first release would get this level of attention and it's entirely thanks to him. I really appreciate the work he's doing.
If you could collaborate with any artist, who would it be?
The Diskettes. They were a twee pop band from Vancouver who were around in the mid-2000s but, tragically, split up after only two albums. Bandleader David Barclay has gone on to be part of other projects, but The Diskettes had a way of painting these incredibly vivid scenes - beaches, campfires, seaside towns - through what were generally pretty plain-spoken pop songs. They never really did anything electronic the way I do, but there's a lot of creativity and affection in that band's music, contrasted with a sense of precariousness and a distinctly wintry mood, that I feel like would mesh well with my own music, particularly as I lean more towards the poppier side of things myself.
What do you enjoy doing besides making music?
I guess it would be cop-out to say listening to music? Like a good chunk of my generation, my free time is almost entirely wasted on the internet. I try and read as much as possible, both journalism and literature (and, ahem, wikipedia), but most nights end with me downloading pictures of cute animals or obsessing over my last.fm charts or having a marathon of Taylor Swift videos, or something like that. I'm also a dab hand at Minesweeper.
Universe Neko-ko + Lovely Summer Chan - Froth on the Daydream
(2014 Loom Records)
My friend Tony sent me a Facebook message with a link to this single earlier this week, and ever since then I've been unable to go very long without cueing up its bandcamp page for yet another listen. A collaboration between two Japanese dream-pop artists, Froth on the Daydream summons the swirling rock ambiance of Ride and Slowdive yet still bears a touch of proto-grunge crunch in the vein of Yuck or even Juliana Hatfield's early 90's band Blake Babies. The single's title track is densely layered in shoegaze guitaristry; shimmering chords and staccato riffs twist and tangle like vines. Lovely Summer Chan's are a beacon of light piercing the instrumentation's moody twee-pop overgrowth, making for a track that resembles a crossbreed between Dinosaur Jr and Cocteau Twins. The b-side, "Divine Hammer" (a nod to The Breeders perhaps?), is a bit faster paced than its counterpart and is possibly more satisfying, carried by catchy lead guitar and its addictively dreamy chorus.