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.