Review: Fear of Moose - "Green Lions"

Fear of Moose - Green Lions
(2016 Self-Released)

There's much capacity for chaos in the fallible physical realm. Free will and feedback make it so easy to distort a once-sterile tone, to extend a leg and trip up a 4/4 beat's steady stride, that it's disappointing to watch supposedly trangressive genres like post-punk and no-wave struggle to catch up to the dissonant contortion of post-internet projects like Arca and Oneohtrix Point Never. As satisfying as Institute's hypnotic drone and Captive's frosty gothic synthscapes can be, no post-punk release in recent years can match the brain-kneading abstraction of Fear of Moose's Green Lions in terms of sheer originality. Smearing discordant textures and swampy hues across a misshapen canvas, the record injects the trebly aggression of early Factory Records output with Animal Collective's penchant for rhythmic overlap and the danceable atonality of Autechre.

Green Lions opens inconspicuously - the first half of "Elevator" is a rollicking jangle-pop tune that recalls the rickety rock 'n roll of New Zealand's early 80s Dunedin Sound scene. Grumbles of chunky power chords stumble over snare drum speed bumps, chirping melodies circumnavigating bass lines like the figurative birds that circle the skull of a concussed cartoon character. Midway through the two-minute track, the crunchy morsel of sunshine pop gives way to a spacey post-rock jam in the vein of Built to Spill that gradually melts into a pitch-shifted fondue. 

As the EP progresses, things get increasingly weird. "54 Cards" hides behind the facade of a wiry new wave jam, later revealing itself to be a char-grilled blob of swirling synthesizers. "Suspension", the record's most successfully quirky cut, recalls the jazzy flutter of Minutemen and Talking Heads. Two guitars battle for space on either side of the speaker system, volleying twangy riffs like table tennis smashes atop cymbal splashes. Green Lions reaches peak surrealism on "Dream Room", drowning out its Twin Peaks avant-lounge groove with ear-splitting layers of screeching amp interference.

If you're seeking some post-punk to keep you in spooky spirits post-Halloween, then look no further than Fear of Moose.


Review: Cycling - "Release"

Cycling - Release
(2016 Self-Release)

Even the sweetest twee-pop tune becomes a knotted morass left sheltered beneath a favorite winter hat for too long. For Cycling, acquiring a day's worth of harmonic hat hair is all part of the creative process. I like to imagine the anonymous individual behind the Massachusetts-based solo project incubating the embryonic tissue of dreamy folk soundscapes beneath a knitted cap while bored at work or school, then struggling to keep the wriggling mass of inspiration firmly planted atop his head while making the commute home, a December frost blanketing a windshield or Greyhound window. He ducks into a secret passageway concealed by inconspicuously stacked stones in a city park, descending a makeshift wooden stairway lit by torches that leads to a warm burrow, furnished by an already-stoked fireplace, a plush recliner and a tape deck that sits on the side table adjacent to the chair. Cycling collapses onto the leather seat, then removes his headwear to reveal a tortuous tangle of woozy freak-folk ambience. He produces a Rubber-Cushion hairbrush from his left hip pocket, and attacks his snarled follicles, forming manicured fragments of bedroom pop bliss in the process.

While many songs within the genre begin as minimal singularities that expand into impenetrable walls of fuzz, much of the content on Cycling's Release mirrors the reverse of the Big Bang - tracks like "Sappho" and "Sunshine" are born as chaotic galaxies of sound that are gradually squeezed into whispery folk molds. The former is a short 30 seconds' worth of fingerpicked guitar that feels like a re-arranged cover of Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" while the latter is a bustling six-string cityscape cradling cute keyboard swells that inflate like birthday balloons attached to a helium tank. "Trace" buzzes like a sleeping appendage that refuses to move after a midday nap, its shoegaze chords twitching to the rhythm of an awkward drum machine's stumbling strides. Xylophone riffs loom benignly in the distance. Closer "Keep Bleeding" is a heart-wrenchingly tense re-imagining of Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love" that acts as a satisfying, cathartic coda to the EP that houses it.

Release is the cataclysmic heat death of its own solar system, an explosion of warmth and sincerity that's as hypnotic as the bluish glow of a newly-stocked fridge. 


Review: Toon Town - "The Great Dissolve"

Toon Town - The Great Dissolve
(Self-Released 2016)

One might expect a band named after Disney's now-defunct MMORPG venture from the mid-aughts to fall more in line with the polygonal, artificially flavored bubblegum bass of PC Music, but such presumptions will be instantly obliterated upon streaming Cincinnati psych punk duo Toon Town's debut EP release, The Great Dissolve. Despite Midwestern origins, Toon Town funnels muscled Texas blues riffs through a garage rock sieve that lends much of its waterlogged warble to Thee Oh Sees. 

At the top of the order, "I Don't Wanna Lose" emerges from its ominous dust cloud as a single serpentine riff that writhes with increasing violence, a jittery snare shuffle in tow. This dehydrated tension quickly comes to a head, erupting into Byzantine tangle of arid riffage and basement-show blast beats. The tune adopts the form of a Gothic outlaw country tune, splattering a sanguine canvas with the sickly forms of Bela Lugosi and a sun-like moon. 

The country-fried couplet that follows "I Don't Wanna Lose" scales back the aggression to conjure a more desolate atmosphere. The record's title track is filled with angular, yet ethereal guitaristry: the residual stain of regret left behind by the crepuscular murder scene that opens the EP. "Cha Cha to the Moon" leaves things unresolved - its eerie dissonance serves as a dangling intermission, a sinister sunrise that promises a new day's worth of sweltering DIY punk.


Review: More Future Suffering - "(Unsend/Untitled)"

More Future Suffering - (Unsend/Untitled)
(Personal Escape 2016)

Despite the project's name, More Future Suffering's ghostly lo-fi atmosphere is quite suited to the Midwestern weather of the present, a chilly Autumn shower of late-90s emo riffage that's as comforting as the rattle of rain on vinyl siding, tacit guitar phrases forming hilly protrusions in a cheesecloth veil of reverb. The solo outfit's latest venture, (Unsend/Untitled), takes the form of a chapbook left on the bus stop's bench, its construction paper pages bound with a strand of red ribbon and covered with post-rock prose poems. The tape's untitled opener rolls the wistful indie-pop simplicity of Suicide Squeeze Records' earliest pressings into a Play-Doh sphere in soft palms, a compact ball of dreamy haze that appears textureless, but is eerily gritty and squash-able to the touch. Blustering acoustic guitar chords float past one another like languid clouds on their morning commute, yawning Major 7ths curling up next glistening add9s. From a picnic blanket below, a single snare surveils their migration, imagining a sky full of avian Michelin Men. 

Track 2 kneads the Play-Doh into crust while the snare naps in the shade. Tufts of chords are spun into threads of buzzing ambience, knit into a sweater dotted with fingerpicked nubs. This pullover is later tossed into the dryer on the following cut as about 40 cents worth of loose change rattles around in the spin cycle. The bathroom floor rumbles to the beat of a somber freak-folk groove. 12-minute outro "Sailor Song" captures the faint howls of distant construction equipment descending on the nearby stripmall as the afternoon sky fades into darkness. 

A sleepy throwback to Sentridoh's Winning Losers and Modest Mouse's Sad Sappy Sucker, (Unsend/Untitled) is an aural space heater that oscillates, leaking nostalgic vibrations into the living room air.


Review: Moon Racer - "Moon Racer"

Moon Racer - Moon Racer
(2016 Self-Released)

Named after the winged lion who governs The Island of Misfit Toys, Durham's Moon Racer composes effervescent keyboard melodies that stagger about on wobbly footsteps like those taken by the stop-motion puppet cast of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Her self-titled tape release is a haunting, understated affair: 3 tunes worth of gritty casio chord progressions dotted with warped melodies that peek from the sand like pink bits of beached clam shells. Reverb-soaked vocal harmonies salted with Tascam fizz wash ashore, turning stretches of coastline to gloomy mush.

"Starry Up" plows a traversable path through a blizzard's deposit of cottonball snow on the morning roads, a drum machine loop's snare splashing through fuzz like a tire that sends a swell of slush onto the sidewalk.

The spoon exhumes a mummified square of Shredded Wheat from its burial mound of added sugar piled at the bottom of a milk pond.

"Song of the Mogwai" looks to the mid-80s for its influences in puppetry - it's sleepy and minimal enough to have been parroted by one of Steven Spielberg's animatronic Gizmo marionettes, huddled around the keyboard that sits on the desk in your dimly lit room. 

Channeling the spirits of two family films set during the Christmas season, Moon Racer's new tape is a rainbow string of incandescent bulbs whose light ricochets off of the surface of the crust of ice that blankets your front lawn.


Review: Bon Iver - "22, A Million"

Bon Iver - 22, A Million
(2016 Jagjaguwar)

Many thanks to my university's  newspaper, The Northerner, for hosting my latest review - you can peep it in full here!


Review: Night Auditor - "Midnight Cultures"

Night Auditor and the Fam - Midnight Cultures
(2016 Kerchow! Records)

Parked beneath the watchful glow of a ketchup-red Arby's sign, you spy on your friend through a transparent window as he asks the Circle K manager for a restroom key and a roll of powdered Donettes that resembles a white, shrink-wrapped caterpillar in his closed fist. The headlights of station wagons huddling up to gas pumps fill the mid-October night with a warmth more imagined than felt. Each parked car is an astronaut tethered to its rectangular craft by a black, rubber rope, floating in a weft of crisscrossing beams that span the visible spectrum of light. Midnight Cultures rattles the passenger seat you've tilted back with the recliner handle. 

Night Auditor is the experimental pop project of California's Hilal Omar Al Jamal, his 4th release and first full-length project Midnight Cultures taking the form of a genre-bending mixtape that's as grime-caked as it is gaudy.  Its A-side is a woozy, undulating mass of viscous funk, tinged with fluttering improvisations and the screwball sort of lo-fi potpourri produced by Kerchow Records labelmates. Night Auditor slaps a watery, fuzzed-out filter on Of Montreal's bookish brand of post-RnB, traps it in a subtle, shadowy border of Memphis horrorcore production on "Bebe" and "Wonder", then highlights the soundscapes with optimistic twee-pop vibes on an atmospheric cover of Karen O's "The Moon Song"

Your gaze traces the sinister pen scratches etched across the face of the bathroom stall. Webs of exposed hardwood peek from the blue paint, their angles and splinters as sharp as the blinding light of an artificial bulb from above. It claws against sleepy eyes that struggle to stay opened. A JanSport slumps against your left calf, the unwrapped pack of powdered sugar pastried jutting from its front pocket.

Midnight Cultures' B-Side assumes an anthemic aesthetic that recalls the blog-rock of the late-aughts while still holding firm to the mixtape's off-kilter beatcraft. Opening track "Lovelslaves" funnels distorted Dinosaur Jr. riffage through the bouyant maximalism of Arcade Fire circa Reflektor. "I Get Lifted" evokes a more dissonant incarnation of Prince, threading twisty-straw melodies around meaty chunks of raspy rhythm. "Need That Dough" and "Heart of Grime" close the set with a one-two punch of skeletal jazz pop.

Midnight Culture is an innovative and ambitious effort that's just as easy to appreciate in an ambient sense as it is to lose one's self in deconstructing and understanding. Fans of Lil Ugly Mane, Prince and Madlib alike will find Night Auditor's strange concoction fascinating and/or satisfying. 


Single Review: Thought Tempo - "I Can Fila"

Thought Tempo - "I Can Fila"
(2016 Zoom Lens)

Slot machines are programmed to play the three notes that make up the C major triad, (C, E, G), and no others. To shake the hand of the one-armed bandit is to become a single percussionist in a symphony of strangers, neatly arranged columns of shoulders and obscured neck-napes hunched over spinning fruits like Cistercians in the Scriptorium solemnly transcribing their texts. Whether sinking coins into a cruise ship's slots, filling an empty hall with the scrapes of a pen's tip against vellum, or even adding the rumble of an engine to rush hour traffic, entering into a state of technological communion with those in close proximity transforms the self into the unwitting instrumentalist in an industrial dronescape. 

I imagine Thought Tempo's "I Can Fila" to be the concentrated tones of mass-transit clamor and unheard earbud transmissions broadcast within it captured by a yet-to-be invented vocoder, then re-arranged into an imposing construction of stainless steel footwork. It's the fossilized remains of Kraftwerk's "Autobahn" discovered within an outer wall of your local Internal Revenue Service branch's new cyberpunk office building.


Review: Happy Doghouse - "Above the Stars"

Happy Doghouse - Above the Stars
(2016 Secret Songs)

While much of the internet's DIY scene works to carve out their own intimate lo-fi crawl spaces as a means of combating the sense of smallness that streaming services' glut of choice can impose on fledgling projects, Korean shoegaze outfit Happy Doghouse combats the vastness of the Web with stadium-rock grandiosity. The self-proclaimed puppy-punks' sophomore EP is spaciously arranged, a low-gravity chamber housing milky trails of space debris, muscled right-and-left hooks of colloid guitaristry and resonant trap percussion that wouldn't feel too out of place on a Bones mixtape. Leadoff tune "don't give me grapes" is sturdy and skyscraping, a slow-burning anthem that plays like the festival EDM remix of a track from Beach Fossils' Clash the Truth: despite its timbral roots in twangy twee-pop, Above the Stars is a record that fits snugly alongside the airy future-bass aesthetic of Ryan Hemsworth's Secret Songs label.

"Throw My Ball" exudes the whispered fragility of a particularly contemplative scene in a Rankin-Bass Christmas special, breathy vocals piercing a translucent layer of strings and glassy keys. It feels as if a janitor had unwittingly placed a large space-heater in the center of the icy, vacuum-like installation that is Beach House's Bloom. Happy Doghouse's sound is colossal in scope, but as inviting as a stoked fireplace and the smell of muffins in the oven. 

Above The Stars is a shoegaze void that's anything but void of warmth - it's a leap of faith into an eternally hot shower.