Review: High Sunn - "Sweet Dreams"

High Sunn - Sweet Dreams
(2015 Self-Released)

I started Half-Gifts shortly after my fourteenth birthday, and ever since then I've made it a point to search the internet for albums released by fellow teenagers. In a way, music made by young people is some of the most honest, intimate and raw material that I've listened to. Many older songwriters devote a good portion of their lyricism to looking back at major turning points in their formative years: first loves, failures, friends, that sort of thing. Though there's nothing wrong with reminiscence, I find that I prefer to hear these themes come straight from those who experience them first-hand. High Sunn's Sweet Dreams is a great example of what I'm talking about; it's the brainchild of 15-year-old Justin Cheromiah, a curious blend of surf-pop guitaristry that recalls Beach Fossils' most recent album, Clash The Truth and Teen Suicide's angsty, lo-fi vibe. The resulting product is the most delightfully depressing summer-core album in recent memory. Upbeat, twangy riffs are paired with peppy drum machine beats and Cheromiah's reverby, shouted vocals, tinged with an emo-revival attitude. "Life" is my favorite of the 6 songs: breezy chords are stitched together by a bubbly bassline. Cheromiah's vocals are starkly melancholy above such a summery, carefree instrumental, providing for a fascinating contrast in mood. It's been a while since I've heard a beach-pop album that's captured my attention as well as Sweet Dreams has. It has definitely provided me with a renewed interest in the sub-genre as well as some listening material for the warm months ahead. 


Review: Not - "What Has Become of the One That I Love?"

(2015 Self-Released)

Rarely does an album encountered by chance while perusing new releases on Bandcamp connect with me so immediately. I came across Not's newest full-length effort while browsing under the "shoegaze" tag this morning and it has been on repeat as I browse Facebook and eat granola from a plastic Ninja Turtles container. The solo project of Sacramento-based guitarist Peter Eckles, Not weaves intricate tapestries composed of looped riffs and buttery reverb that send meditative pulses of aural warmth into the listener's ear like an oscillating space heater. Imagine a percussionless Explosions In the Sky that takes cues from Bon Iver and ambient projects like Reedbeds and My Own Retard.

What Has Become of the One That I Love? opens with "Little Ghost", a brief, haunting overture composed of gelatinous guitar feedback that does a good job of easing one into the album's pensive, dreamy state. Following it is my favorite of the eight improv sessions, "Gone", a minimal piece that pairs delicate pluckings with peals of howling slide guitar. It's wonderfully emotive for something so simple. "Spring" is another choice cut, fast paced and catchy compared to the rest of the album. It is rather densely composed of melodies that wrap around each other like tangly vines, an overgrowth of guitar noodlings. The release ends with a twenty minute opus, "On the Bank", rhythmically driven by a frantically played chord organ, reminding me of Daniel Johnston's early work. Layers of feedback squalls and speckled notes are added until the song melds into one abstract wall of sound, a gorgeous crescendo of oblivion to round out an inpressive release.


Single Review: Jessica And The Fletchers - "Air Balloon Road"

Jessica + The Fletchers - Air Balloon Road
(Self-Released 2015)

Fittingly christened after an early Sarah Records compilation, "Air Balloon Road" is perhaps the ultimate twee-pop tune. It's pure pleasure compressed into a manageable two-minute portion of aural cotton candy: sweet, airy and ephemeral. Each instrument is inundated with reverb, from the hazy, distorted rhythm guitars to the liquescent keyboard riff that opens the track. There are some beautiful, echoey vocal harmonies that remind me of christmas carols or a spaced-out version of the Archie's. Though Jessica and the Fletchers' new single is, on the surface, a droning mass of lo-fi fuzz, it is a lovely, catchy song that will please c86 purists and bandcamp browsers alike.


Split Review: Flowers Taped To Pens/Bread Club/Beds/Skull Kid

FTTP/Bread Club/Beds/Skull Kid - Split
(2015 Driftwood)

This split single is perhaps the defining release in the Driftwood Records discography: it's intimate, glazed with a crunchy coat of tape hiss and jam-packed with twinkly post-rock riffage. Oh, and most importantly, it's loaded with the moody, skramz-y vibes that the label's cult following craves. The first band to enter the ring in this fatal four-way is my personal favorite Driftwood act, Flowers Taped To Pens, a trio from San Diego. Their offering to the split release, "I Suppose It's Just Our Nature" is perhaps their best yet, pitting the signature shrieks of Connor and Ethan Sgarbossa against soaring, intricate guitaristry, culminating in a majestic crescendo of screamed vocals and tremolo picking. Following FTTP is a much more subdued, yet no less satisfying Bread Club cut. Atop instrumentation that vaguely resembles that of mid-career Dinosaur Jr is a lovably twee vocal delivery, another odd musical pairing on the split that works surprisingly well. It's the record's most accessible cut that builds up to a lovely three-part vocal harmony.

Leading off the B-Side of the record is Beds' appropriately-titled "Sweet Dreams", a somber tune carried on the strength of an impressively expressive dual guitar attack. It's the airiest and most calming of the four songs, wrapping the listener in a veil of spacey atmospherics. Pittsburgh's Skull Kid round out the split with distorted lead guitar, aggressive percussion, and powerful harmonies. If you've yet to cop any Driftwood Records releases, this 4-way split is a great place to start.


Single Review: Bloomshock - "Best Left Unsaid"

Bloomshock - Best Left Unsaid
(Self-Released 2015)

Bloomshock is one of the hidden gems I'll dig up unexpectedly on a late-night Bandcamp excavation - the sort of discovery that keeps me coming back to the site in pursuit of home-recorded treasure. The New Jerseyan solo project has hammered out an amazing total of sixty-four releases over the past year and a half,  working at a dizzying rate that even eclipses that of lo-fi workhorses Guided By Voices, who just happen to be a major influence on his work. Perhaps lost in an endless sea of grunge-tinged, fuzzed-out bands that look to 90s DIY as a major influence, Bloomshock is a criminally underlooked project that is easily the most accurate impression that period of music, borrowing Pavement's penchant for droney rhythm guitar, Dinosaur Jr's fuzz fetish and the unmistakeable vocal delivery of GBV's Robert Pollard. "Best Left Unsaid" is the best installment in the project's deep singles discography, its title track a ramshackle tune that floats on reverb-soaked chords and infectiously jaunty bass. The b-side pays tribute to Bloomshock's predecessors, including a fleshed out re-imagining of a Guided By Voices demo (an improvement over the original, in my opinion!) and a twangy Sentridoh cover. If you dig this single, check out the solo act's latest LP, Amherst.


Interview: KINESTHETI@C (Jared VanMatre)

HALF GIFTS: Your newest material is jarringly abstract - very different from much of the stuff you were releasing a year or two ago. What influenced your shift in sound?  

JARED VANMATRE: recently my attitude towards everything has gone from being conservative and cynical/oppositional to fluid and excited and giddy. i'm not sure what started this transition but i've been very hyper creative and full of admiration for things I previously had distaste for and it's been fantastic. like I truly think everything is enjoyable on a certain level when you are driven by creative energy. i've just been in like discovery/exploration mode and it's been really manic and fun

I've definitely noticed what you mean with that last point. Some of your recent output like "Jack My Swag" has taken interesting perspectives on genres that may people don't consider artistically, such as dubstep or bubblegum pop.

yeah recently I've been into EDM textures because I think it's amazing that for a little bit something as avant garde as dubstep was popular and that a large group of people at one point identified with wild amelodic digital fm sounds. i'm so ready for that kind of thing to become an object of nostalgia. it'll be weird and fun.

also my move to EDMish stuff also has a lot to do with the fact that I got a little bored with striving for historical depth and instead wanted to make really in your face in the present type stuff. music that makes you feel accelerated. i think getting into ryan trecartin had a lot to do with that lol.
oh and getting into trecartin was also important to me in the way that it made me realize that it's possible to make significant things without being oppositional and critical. that's huge for me and i'm glad that happened to my personality.

i just felt sick of being like cynical and listening to music that was mad at something you know? 80% of the time i'm making something i'm just having fun and exploring what i can do and what i can make myself feel and remind myself of. 

i want to be everything.

I'm also a very goofy person and i've been embracing that with my music and art and it's been liberating.

Where does the creative process begin when working on a new track? I've definitely felt a goofiness in the samples you use, what do you look for in a good sample?

i kinda start with anything like sometimes it will be a rhythm i've been tapping out all day, a melody that's been in my head, an idea of a style i want to achieve, a space i want to sculpt, a situation, a feeling, whatever. Like earlier today I was making a song with the idea in my head that I wanted to make music that you would hear Halloween themed midi library page with like lighting bolt/cobweb graphics

as far as samples it's just stuff that i enjoy the sound of lol. usually it's clips of music/audio from a youtube video/recordings i've made that have little melodic/textural moments that sorta arouse my ears or whatever. like that little einsteins trap remix the singing in that is amazing and it sounds kinda half autotuned/half  untouched and it's really pretty sounding and i used that in my roller coaster tycoon 3 beat 

lately i've noticed that a lot of good moments in music have sounds that imitate animal cries or some shit like that. i love thinking about the psychoacoustic side of things i think that's super cool. like the other day at school it hit me that the reason boards of canada's wobbly pitch sound is so sad is that it sounds like whining/crying

oh wait this is kind of off topic but something i want to say about my music is that recently i've been very influenced by my gradual coming-to-terms-with my homosexuality and unmasculine-ness and also thinking a lot about love and having boyfriend lol

and friendship! and cute things.

I really feel that on "Call Me Up" and "Can I Borrow Your Pencil".

yeah lol! i want to do that more it was very engaging and felt natural. i'll be unnatural with my creativity sometimes but that's not a bad thing to me it's just a way of transporting to differrent areas of context/style or whatever. different points of view

Do you find PC Music as an aesthetic influence on tracks like those? There are a few similar motifs.

yeah! when i found pc music i was so ecstatic because it was like unlocking something that's been inside of me this whole time that i forgot about!

i really identify with their aesthetics and their way of functioning

i mean that's kind of how it feels every time I find something i like a lot

like i remember when i first heard boards of canada, when i first listened to Replica, when I first watched I-Be Area, when I first saw the artwork for james ferraro's releases, when I first listened to government plates, etc.  it all felt like that

it's like finding things i strongly identify with to a certain degree or things that make me realize there's more untouched areas to explore

like i said earlier, my main motivation as an artist is i want to be everything

That being said, what sort of sounds do you hope to explore in the near future?

recently i've been wanting to work more with performance and the idea that certain sound elements, especially ones that convey "depth" or like specific context/intensiveness, exist when you aren't trying to get them deliberately and are results of outside variables. like some of my favorite albums sound a certain way because that's the equipment the artist had or that's the place the artist recorded or that's the time of the year the artist produced it or something
you know what i mean? i'm kinda having trouble wording it but i want to try to work with that
cause i spend a lot of time focusing on how i can sculpt my sound with software tweaks and i'm getting bored with that

i want to like play some intruments and use obscure daws or something. i also want to make music in different places instead of my bedroom because my environment has a huge influence on me. oh and recently i've kinda got back into Celer and artists like celer and i'll probably make some stuff like that. I actually did, i'll link you https://soundcloud.com/jrdvnmtr/the-moment-the-stem-is-pulled

That last thing you said is really interesting. What sort of effect does environment have?

environment can like change the way I function and look at things. like my internal point of view/attitude is often a reflection of wherever i'm at at the moment and i usually don't realize it.
like the other day i played with toys for the first time in like years and i made some sculptures and it was amazing because creatively i felt so un-me and fresh i need to do that kind of stuff more often. I kind of unwittingly limit myself by just sitting at my computer and making things

I've noticed some people on soundcloud have rapped over your beats.

yeah i think that's amazing. listening to them blows my mind. i'm really ecstatic that i'm at a level where artists want to collab like that

Who would you most like to collab with someday?

i want to be in a ryan trecartin film lol! looks like buckets of fun also i want to collab with a dog or a cool wild animal or like I want to collab with someone and make a garden with them and idk take pictures of the garden and use it as album art "Kinesthetiac's Garden Album" coming to theaters summer 2020


Review: EasyFun - "Deep Trouble"

EasyFun - Deep Trouble
(PC Music 2015)

With each passing day, our world creeps toward pure artificiality. Thanks to the internet, friends, family and total strangers are just a few keystrokes away. Though this can make it easy to communicate with any person we choose from just about anywhere in the world, it can, conversely, make us further removed from those that we believe we're familiar with. Thanks to social media, one can attempt to engineer their own personality: an introvert can surround their self with a like-minded online subculture in order to feel more accepted - a narcissist can spend hours taking the perfect photo of themselves to upload to Instagram. Because we can selectively choose which glimpses of ourselves to project onto the canvases of Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook, being cool no longer has to come naturally; it just takes a little work. But as one trims their imperfections from their alternate online doppelganger, their artificial identity enters the uncanny valley. Like an android or a mannequin, a social media account closely resembles humanity, but is still recognizably synthetic to the point where it's exotic and strange. EasyFun's Deep Trouble, the newest release coming out of London's infamous PC Music collective, resides as deep in this valley as music can get.

Appropriately named after a Jeff Koons exhibition, EasyFun is perhaps the defining example of a PC Music project - an artificial pop outlet in the vein of Johnny Bravo from The Brady Bunch or BINKY, the pop group composed entirely of holograms which appears in an episode of PBS' Arthur. Deeply rooted in the pop-art tradition, EasyFun's sound feels as if it were scientifically broken down to its simplest elements and engineered for maximum pleasure: it takes the most basic building blocks of pop music and stretches them to playful, Fauvist extremes. The opening track, "Laplander", for example, is built from countless layers of shimmery, chopped up vocal samples and dreamy synths. It's majestic, injecting its listener with an intense feeling of adventure, of anticipation. An instrumental version of the track would make for great title screen music on a Nintendo 64 game. The whole EP is a textural feast for the ears and a scarily addictive rush of euphoria. I can't explain what it is about EasyFun that I love so much: it is just a perfect combination of simple elements: soaring instrumentals, tender, extremely kawaii vocals and most importantly, enough subtlety to have you noticing new timbres and sounds with each listen.