Review: Orange Cake Mix - "At The Record Shop"

Orange Cake Mix - At the Record Shop
(Why the Tapes Play 2016)

It's the grade-school notebook you find rummaging through your dresser drawers, riddled with absent-minded doodles and penciled tessellations that meander across its wide-ruled pages. Mostly improvised and scrawled onto 4-track tape, Orange Cake Mix's At the Record Shop is a gallery of charming song sketches, terse and skeletal, that revel in their own raw spontaneity. Recorded at the turn of the millennium, Jim Rao's lo-fi transmissions sound neither dated nor overly hip - they instead lie in a snug middle ground between Sentridoh's percussive folk strummers and the emogaze of Teen Suicide - the tape is chock-full of tinny lead guitars that melt atop warm vocal harmonies. Imagine the fusion of a higher-fi Barlow and a twangier Mac Demarco: Orange Cake Mix is timeless, unobtrusive and perfect for zoning out to in the late evening.

Fuzz-soaked space rock drones like "Movement of Light" and the woozy "Space I'm In" are the tape's best first impressions, but lately I've been returning to the handful of new-agey synth-scapes that litter the record. "Theme From Certron" crackles with retro sci-fi fuzz, sending aqueous tones out into a reverb abyss while "Casio Drone" swirls with Atari sound effects like a Van Gogh night sky. Acting as the glue that holds At The Record Shop together, these atmospheric meditations give the listener room to breathe admist the smattering of fractured ideas. It's a beautiful mess that's a joy to traverse.

The cassette edition of the album comes in a sturdy cardboard sleeve, hand-painted polka dots gracing its cover. You can grab your copy here


Review: Chocofriendz - "hi ANGEL"

chocofriendz - hi ANGEL
(2015 Self-Released)

I've reviewed quite a decent portion of Chocofriendz's prolific output over the years, and for good reason: the warm, woolly textures that seep from his keyboard speakers blend impeccably with his skeletal compositions like a sweater over a friendly ghost. Acutely minimal and intense, his songcraft resides on the fine line between powerful emotion and lovably cornball sentimentality that transports me back to my early childhood, more specifically reminding me of the sort of books and VHS tapes that would have filled me with a strange mix of sadness and warmth at the time (Where the Red Fern Grows, this weird Christian educational videotape about talking donut puppet, the Sesame Street Christmas Special...). Imagine a less cynical/angsty take on Teen Suicide's "Haunt Me (3x)" and you'll get the picture - there's something scarily pure and honest about Choco's music that makes it difficult, yet rewarding, to confront.

His latest effort, hi ANGEL, is a musical take on the Magical Realist literary tradition, carefully cutting heroes and anthropomorphic creatures from the modern Western mythological canon - (children's literature, cartoons, video games) - and pasting them into an eerily barren simulacrum of suburbia. To the tune of glassy keyboard drones, Fritz the Cat, Maisy Mouse and characters from Sailor Moon materialize like cel-shaded phantoms, haunting the "empty swimming pools" and "abandoned golf carts" of Choco's hometown. Jean Baudrillard suggests we visit imaginary worlds like Disneyland to create a distinction between the imaginary and the real - to reassure ourselves that the world outside its borders is free of the childishness of our past selves. hi ANGEL acts as a reverse-Disneyland of sorts, a pair of magic goggles that let the juvenile flights of fancy jammed deep into one's conscious free from the junk drawers they were left in. If the puerile bedroom pop of Beat Happening and Daniel Johnston appeals to you, you'll adore this record.


Single Review: Suicide, Part 2 - "SP2"

suicide, part 2 - love letters drenched in gasoline
(Self-Released 2015)

Much of my blog's content to date has been plucked from the murky depths of Bandcamp's "new arrivals" section, an imposing wall of data that convenes a ragtag bunch of polished full band recordings, solo demo tapes and half-hearted vaporwave records alike. The listener may sift their search for hidden gems through a filter of genre tags, but the quest for new and exciting sounds is mainly left up to the internet archaeologist behind the keyboard: Bandcamp's biggest limitation - its tough-to-navigate search function - is actually what brings me back to the site day after day for another plunge into the abyss. Thinking about it that way, perhaps my Bandcamp habit stems from the same crevices of the brain that fuel a gambling addiction. The new morning brings a department store window's worth of album covers to scrutinize, each a portal to a miniature universe that orbits around its creator, the artist, and to select one over the other is a gamble. Some expeditions produce little result, and some uncover hidden works of concentrated beauty. The thrill of the hunt is just as satisfying as the discovery of art, yet perhaps a bit more fleeting.

In recent months, however, I've been more drawn in to the world of Soundcloud when tracking down material to quench my thirst for new art. While Bandcamp is mainly inhabited by mid-fi cassettes pressed by suburban garage bands and 4-track recordings slaved over in upstairs bedrooms, Soundcloud offers a glance at other colors on the spectrum of self-released music. Side by side sit sleek remixes of pop tunes, fuzzed-out song sketches strummed out on acoustic guitars often recorded to cell phones and an unbelievably enormous glut of cloud rap mixtapes. While Bandcamp's appeal lies in its seemingly infinite yet impenetrable wealth of material, a trip to Soundcloud offers a more fluid search for music (albeit one that focuses more on singles than full records) - an explorer of the site can search through tunes that an artist has liked or reposted in addition to their uploaded sounds. A look through my friend Aaron's "liked" tracks, for example, can lead me to the woozy, grime-influenced hip-hop production of London-based beat-maker MISOGI, which in turn introduces me to Suicide, Part 2, his twee-pop project that blurs the distinction between hi-fi and lo-fi. 

With the help of his friend Teddy, (who uploads cloud rap and Spooky Black-esque R+B to his own Soundcloud), MISOGI is able to seamlessly introduce the textural ideas explored in his previous work to the shambolic c86 punk of Boyracer. "Dead By Christmas", the first of the two halves of their debut self-titled EP, starts with an initial layer of growling power chords and mumbled vocals that are gradually buffeted by crisp, vaporous bass and minimal digital percussion. Deceptively simple, the cut manages to construct a catchy single of anthem proportions out of a small handful of carefully crafted musical ideas. A trebly lead guitar riff (which sounds as if it were recorded to an old Nokia TracFone) joins the fray a third of the way into the song, adding a beautifully fragile layer of crunchiness to the nervous ball of musical potential energy. The combination sparks a chemical reaction - "Dead By Christmas" explodes into a powder of shoegaze dreamdust - the result is frission-inducing.

B-Side "Love Letters Drenched In Gasoline" fuses a guitar riff strangely reminiscent of Blink-182's "What's My Age Again?" with the glistening, glassy production of Wild Nothing's Golden Haze, resulting in a hard-hitting take on old-school gothic pop - the lead solo that concludes the song is wonderfully expressive, triumphant yet tinged with melancholy.

Melodic, well-produced and infectiously catchy, DS2 will delight cloud-rap diehards and shoegazers alike.


Review: unhappybirthday - "Schauer"

unhappybirthday - Schauer
(2015 Night-People)

They may share a name with the second gloomiest track on Strangeways Here We Come, but this German jangle-pop trio much more closely resembles the sinewy punch of New Order than the Smiths' somber rockabilly grooves when it comes to their Manchesterian influences. Wafer-thin layers of grainy synths and percussive, shimmering guitar chords add a delicate contrast to blunt, sturdy basslines, all glued together by detached vocals that recall Robert Sumner's stoic mumble. Filtered through the trebly hiss of an old four-track recorder, unhappybirthday puts a unique, crunchy spin on 80s dream pop - the same consistency as a handful of Pringles and just as easily consumed. Schauer's interestingly brittle mix is quite reminiscent of Sarah Records' Field Mice - perhaps the record's even closer in tone to late 80s twee pop than to post-punk? Unhappybirthday make the already blurred lines between the two virtually indistinguishable. 

Despite its uniform coat of reverb-laden twang and wobbly bass, there's a wealth of ideas and rich songcraft throughout Schauer - there are straightforward strummers like "Taipeh" that resemble the soupy shoegaze of Minks' 2011 debut Beyond the Hedge, kaleidoscopic neo-psych transmissions ("Keanu") and even "Elephant", a slow burning alt-rock tune à la Yuck or Smashing Pumpkins. Despite one or two missteps that fall flat, this tape is loaded back to front with infectious riffs and lovely impressionist textures. 


Review: Earth Boys - "Welcome 2 Earth"

Earth Boys - Welcome 2 Earth
(2015 1080p Collection)

Don't get it twisted: there's nothing noticeably terrestrial about this collaboration between minimalist graphic designer Julian Duron and "techno fantasy" producer Michael Sherburn. That's not to describe it as "atmospheric", though. The four cuts of austere normcore house pressed to the  vinyl grooves of Welcome 2 Earth are plenty grounded, rooting sublimed vapors of smooth jazz and gooey keyboard chords to a surface of prominent and slightly lo-fi, (but by no means grimy), break-beats, four-on-the-floor kicks and lumbering basslines - combined, the resulting product is a conflation of chilled surreality and blunt percussion that prevents the listener from drifting too far off into dreamland.

When I say that the record isn't terrestrial, what I do mean is that the planet that gravitationally holds Earth Boys' music together only resembles the planet pulling us towards us core to a certain degree - a flawed imitation of sorts. Perhaps this quatrain of narcotic club jams refers not to the Earth that's likely pulling you towards its core, but to a close virtual simulation of it. Welcome 2 Earth wouldn't feel too out-of-place in the background of a Sims game, suave but non-threatening; inviting, yet sinister in a lonely, empty sort of way. Maybe it's a distorted reflection of the Earth, viewed through the retinal mirrors of the two Boys in question à-la Neon Genesis Evangelion. The sphere on Welcome 2 Earth's cover is too vague and colorless to tell for sure. But it's this strange ambiguity that gives Earth Boys' sound such a strangely fascinating aura - it exists in grey areas, in the shadows of emotion and feeling. The pretty trellises of saxophone and pointillist synth melodies on "Spring Fling" feel more hollow than morose. "Catch Life" resides somewhere between intensity and spaciousness. There are no real absolutes. The emotions evoked by Welcome 2 Earth are frightening, but at times relaxation-inducing. What they are not is familiar, however common the sounds that construct them may be. If you're down to feel some post-human gloom and zone out to some grade-A old school techno, give Earth Boys' new material a spin.