Review: Melrose - "Melrose"

Melrose - Melrose
(Self-Released 2016)

I cap off my Thanksgiving break with fresh pair of buds in my ears, lapping the track around the high school's decomposing gridiron - moribund brown with offseason underuse. The weather is mild enough to shed my Columbia windbreaker, but the layer remains zipped, phone nestled in its left abdominal pocket. A rubber tendril yoking me to my headphone jack lazily bounces to metronomic footfalls. The Softies, The Sundays, and Melrose score this afternoon stroll, an aural barrier of indie-pop warmth to combat the windchill of November's last Sunday.

Bear-hugged by the compression of a handheld tape-recorder's microphone, Melrose's debut EP is a languid trickle of viscous indie pop transfused from the veins of Portastatic and Julia Brown. Dampened with Midwestern romanticism, ambling leads venture across a blank cassette canvas, occasionally crossing paths en route to nowhere in particular. "Outcomes" and "Dollhouse" are particularly aimless in their excursions, casting minimalist guitar lines into a murky lake and disregarding the nibbles on the other end. Like a quick handful of banana-almond granola scooped casually from its plastic pouch or the final five minutes of a morning shower, these tunes are fleeting moments of comfort that I return to for their cozy concision. Though simple and understated, their beauty is self-evident and accessible. Let Melrose steep in a mug of hot water and sip it through December.


Accepting Submissions for 2016 Half-Gifts Christmas Compilation

It's been some time since I've curated a Half-Gifts compilation album, but clawing my way out of a sweet potato casserole-induced coma has imbued me with enough holiday spirit to begin work on a new Christmas mixtape. As per tradition, the compilation's tracklist will be entirely crowdsourced - submissions from fans and friends of the blog will be accepted regardless of genre or skill level as long as they fulfill the criteria listed below.


1. Songs must be submitted to jude.noel3@gmail.com in the form of a .Wav/.AIFF/.FLAC file.
2. Songs must be no longer than 6 minutes.
3. Songs must have some sort of thematic relationship to winter or the holiday season.
4. Cover songs happily accepted.

Submissions will be accepted until Dec. 17th, 2016


For inspiration, here are some links to Christmas comps past:



Reissue Review: zxz - "zxz"

zxz - zxz
(2009 Going Native)

At some point in my early childhood - around the time I began to attend first grade, I believe - I began to experience long-term bouts of insomnia brought on by nightmares I'd experience almost nightly. The most memorable installment in this Criterion Collection of night terrors was an ongoing conflict between myself and a sentient VHS player. I'd find myself confined in a vacant living room - one with windows locked from the outside and without doors. An unmarked videocassette would protrude from the tape player's parted lips like a jutted tongue, taunting me. As if in a trance, I'd approach the appliance only for it to hastily swallow the magnetic box, its guts churning with the rumble of worn hardware. The television's screen would brighten, and as the shadows of figures materialized, I'd shield my eyes with a forearm in a panic, bathed in the tube's spectral blue light while furiously mashing the EJECT and STOP buttons, only for the cassette's sickly, detuned soundtrack to increase in volume with each press until it reached unbearable levels. I'd never muster the courage to sneak a glance at the TV's broadcast - its bass snarls and fricative synth whispers were enough to spook my young self. 

Perhaps the grainy cover art that accompanies zxz's self-titled effort on Going Native Records, speckled with incandescent bulbs and burnt-orange lens flares, is the dream world's motion picture I'd averted my eyes from all those years. Its tape-warped melodies and minimal constructions certainly do recall memories of the nightmares' soundscapes, sonorous wheezes of glassy keys that leak post-nasal drip onto aural Polaroids of the sky taken at various times of day. Instrumentally similar to Julee Cruise's contributions to the Twin Peaks soundtrack, the record is a spring-reverb comforter with barbed burrs of atonality clinging to its fuzzy surface. It's an after school Halloween special scored by Arnold Schoenberg and John Carpenter - subtly unsettling yet saturated with sadness.


Review: i-fls - "nightmare is not decade"

i-fls - nightmare is not decade
(2016 Self-Released)

Like a sentence poorly deciphered by Google Translate or a Diet Coke's lingering tinniness, i-fls' transient synth-pop jingles re-create fond adolescent memories that alight sweetly on one's tongue with a tinge of bitter artificiality. The latest installment in the Japanese solo project's 19 album discography, nightmare is not decade, is structurally its most polished effort to date, yet the record is still texturally awash in the same spin cycle load of translucent keyboard pads and subterranean four-on-the-floor kicks employed in previous releases. It's somewhat of a stretch to deem this murky blend of faded electronic pulses "lo-fi", but there is certainly an intentionally muffled tone that pervades nightmare, one that recalls the bruised trickle of ambient drum 'n bass that seeped from the freckled speakers of the block-shaped TV set in my bedroom while I spent grade-school evenings weaving through Super Monkey Ball mazes. Each tune is decked out in memory-foam armor, the impact of their percussive hits cushioned by a wall of warm bass.

It's this conflicting sense of nostalgia that makes me imagine i-fls hovering over Ziploc'ed peanut butter sandwiches at a cafeteria lunch table with American Football's Mike Kinsella and Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian, reflecting on formative Christmas mornings and knees scraped on November playground gravel. Standout track "Erudite Tanida" is dusted with the lunch's residual WonderBread crumbs, these flecks of distortion worming their way into a bubbly house rhythm, phantasmal melodies spread across its surface with a plastic knife. "Witch House Maki" remains at home sealed in twist-tied plastic, its crisscrossing chiptune melodies as crusty as the heel of a loaf. Even the uptempo shoegaze groove of "Sanrio" feels doughier than the plastic Eurobeat that inspired it.

i-fls' ethereal soundscapes are incidental music for the dreams that squeeze between your morning alarm and its snooze-buttoned successor. They are, at times, tough to grasp or remember, but conceal nuggets of great profundity.


Review: Död Mark - "Drabbad Av Sjukdom"

Död Mark - Drabbad Av Sjukdom
(2016 YEAR0001)

Crashing on the sonic futon of Scandinavian brethren Iceage and Lust For Youth, Sadboys founding fathers Yung Lean and Yung Gud eschew cloud rap sorrow for darkwave conviction. The Swedish pair's latest project, Död Mark ("Dead Ground"), is a weighted vest of strepococcal bass-groans and hammered drum machine beats that pulls the listener towards the dehydrated earth at their feet. Gud's lush dream-pop soundscapes have become arid no-wave wastelands in which Lean struggles to breathe, his one-autotuned flow now a parched yawp.

Död Mark's debut LP - titled Drabbad Av Sjukdom - could be mistaken for an early post-punk release in the sickly vein of Crispy Ambulance or Cabaret Voltaire; Gud's detuned, glassy synths are wrung through a gauntlet of automaton rhythm, hefty kick drums and rattling snares descending on raw melodic ore with the dull, percussive indifference of worn factory equipment. "Misstag" is a particularly industrial track, bolstered by primal drum hits that make me feel as if my inner ear is being probed by their electronic pulsations. Whirring sirens and metallic screeches populate their futurist backdrop.

Midway through Drabbad Av Sjukdom is the record's most traditionally punk undertaking, and its second-strongest cut, "Isobel". Gravelly power chords are poured out onto blast beats as Lean adopts a convincing impression of Britain's late-70s Oi! punk scene, dripping globules of hollow monotone apathy into his microphone. It is only bested by "Min Dag", a gloomy deconstruction of first-wave pop-punk that masks skeletal Blink-182 riffage through a lo-fi filter that recalls that of Dirty Beaches.

"Benzo" and the album's title tune are each indebted to Sadboys' traditional sound. The former laces languid trap beats beneath sludge metal chord-progressions and Final Fantasy string arrangements while the latter shares a deep-fried crunch with Lean's "Miami Ultras".

Though in terms of genre Drabbad Av Sjukdom is a major departure from Sadboys' previous discography, the record is a logical successor to Yung Lean's Warlord - it is cathartic, desolate and distorted-yet-dreamy. Even next to Warlord and Bladee's lachrymal Eversince LP, Död Mark's output stands confidently, a unique take on proto-gothic aesthetics that's just as innovative as the collective's surreal trip-hop ambience.


Review: Pastoralia - "Demo"

Pastoralia - Demo
(2016 Self-Released)

Angel Hair riffs lie heaped beneath a film of bubbles, frayed like used dental floss by an astringent chorus-pedal effect. Philadelphia's Pastoralia brings pliant stretches of warbly guitars to boil and cooks them to al dente texture. Pockets of breathability are sifted through a sieve of analogue crunch, leaving behind the springy bed of skin-soft shoegaze that forms the dream-pop duo's debut demo-tape. 

Inaugural number "Forget" tiptoes forth on a skittering beat as flautal wisps of keyboard weave their way through mesh walls of twangy chords. Pastoralia's brand of twee is as fleshy-yet-translucent as the disembodied facial features that appear on their demo's cover art; it is intimate, yet brittle to the touch. Vocals are delivered with a sort of hushed conviction, waxing emotive but restrained enough to avoid shattering the fragile instrumental shell that houses them. 

"History"is a slithering mass of reverb slime that moves with the languid griminess of Dinosaur Jr's "Thumb". Overdriven Casio keys grind against folky strumming, this friction leaving the track with a sandpapered exterior. Eerie instrumental "Haze" - which could be mistaken for a vaporous demo from The Cure's Head on the Door sessions - follows. Despite the lack of vocals, it's the strongest tune of the trio, perhaps taking influence from the sweatered sound of an Orchid Tapes compilation.

Graze in pastoral fields of dream-matter.


Interview: Zack Theriot of Shinonome Labs

Founded just over a month ago, Louisiana-based cassette label Shinonome Labs has wasted no time springing into action. Over the course of October, the imprint has pressed three solid releases ranging in genre from cozy chiptune collages to prog-tinged math rock to char-grilled skramz. To find out what sorts of ideas and aesthetics were driving Shinonome forward, I shot a few Facebook messages to the Labs' resident mad scientist, Zack Theriot.

Did any particular event or conversation spark the idea to start putting your friends’ records on tape? How many cassettes had you planned to press in advance before kicking things off with Sakuragaoka’s All of It?

I guess what really kicked off the idea for a label was when I dug out my tape player after organizing my desk space in late September; I noticed I could probably try recording/dubbing tapes from my PC just by using an aux cable. I had a bunch of old church cassettes my grandmother gave me and started experimenting a little with that, surprisingly enough it worked out really decently. Around the same time I was wanting to do a physical Sakuragaoka release and also had an idea to try to book small acoustic shows at my house and call the space "Shinonome Labs" after Nano and Hakase's house from Nichijou, but then I realized that I'm bad at booking and then little bits of every ideal kind of mixed into an idea to start a small label. My partner runs a small music blog called Short Circuit Media (pls check it out!), so my plan ended up being to make just a small semi-esoteric tape label as a sister project to the blog. I took a lot of influences for the groundwork of how it'd be run by labels like Ritual Tapes, Girlfriend Tapes, Deep Sea Records, and Lo-Fi by Default. Just kind of a small thing, but relay personal and true to DIY and lo-fi ideals. At first I just intended on releasing the Sakuragoaka tape and just ask around about releasing other things by friends or by projects I admired and luckily a couple fell into my lap all in a short time so I've been able to stay decently busy. I really love it so far.

The trio of tapes that forms Shinonome’s current discography is quite diverse in terms of genre. What aesthetic unifies the music backed by the label? 

My aesthetic identity is mostly just to stay very down-to-earth, very informal, and very true to DIY. I want it to be really obvious that this is something I do in my bedroom for fun, it's never intended to be a business model. It's more of an expressive thing. And every release on the label, I feel at least, expresses the same ideals throughout. Like, all these artists have less than 200 Facebook likes. They're not very prolific, but I feel like have sounds I love and feel that need to be expressed and are deserving of release and audience. They're all recorded/mixed/mastered by the artists or by friends of the artists, same with the art or j-card design or even any small promotion or anything like that is handled mostly autonomously by the artist. And that's an ideal I've always identified with. So, even though all the releases may be of different genre or core aesthetic, they stay unified in that they're all grounded in personal, lo-fi, DIY music that stays true to itself and I feel that those qualities unify itself within the staticy lo-fi aesthetic I aim for with the label. The goofy little tagline I use "lo-fi, with love" kind of embraces that as well.

Where do you get your cassettes?

I get them from either tapes.com or duplication.ca
Duplication has a much larger selection of shell colors, but being housed in Canada means it has higher shipping rates and longer shipping times. Tapes.com is a little cheaper and better on shipping but is more limited in colors.
The clear variant of the Sakuragaoka tapes are actually just clear blank Sony tapes I bought from a Walmart in 2012 and found in my closet when I was searching for my player.

My order from your label came packaged with a few Pokemon cards and a sticker - what sort of inserts might customers expect alongside their tape?

I LOVE getting little nifty trinkets from mail orders, so naturally I really wanted to do little things like that when I started the label up. This is my major Girlfriend Tapes influence because I love their packaging and how every order comes with specific little items depending on the order. Every tape will come with a Pokemon card (because I also love Pokemon) and a sticker. Some tapes might have a coupon code for the webstore included to take off 30% of their next order or remove shipping costs or something. I usually throw more label stickers and 2 or 3 more cards in the package and also some other miscellaneous items as well, be it patches or buttons or some other random label/band stickers or something that I find lying around. I also include a personal thank you note with every order.

Where do you plan to take Shinonome in the future? Are any upcoming releases in the works? 

I plan to just keep making more tapes! I currently have a few releases in talks, some coming really soon and some still being completed ranging from noisy post-rock to twinkly emo to instrumental hip-hop.

Could you tell me about the creative process behind the Sakuragaoka tape? The collaged combination of vocal samples and chiptune tones is so cinematic, yet comforting.

Sakuragoaka actually has a really interesting history that mostly just boils down to: "I just kind of fucked around".

I like late 2014/early 2015 a friend made a weird hip-hop EP influenced by Wicca Phase in like two hours where his moniker was "beachsmoke". So a few friends and I kind of took that and made a jokey little aesthetic driven electronic music collective called smokeclan, where every member's name was a five letter word plus smoke. We had beachsmoke, ghostsmoke, glasssmoke, chibismoke, and I was hellasmoke. My plan was to make chiptune with anime voice samples kind of influenced by Slime Girls and the voice sampling The Brave Little Abacus does. The way I do it is, instead of doing it the correct way by using a tracker program like LSDJ, I write all my parts on a guitar and program them using a guitarpro tabber and then export them to midi and convert them to bitsynth sounds using this freeware program called GXSCC. It mostly starts as a drum loop and one repeating progression and then I add and remove layers to it and chop up a vocal sample from an anime and games I like and organize it in a way I find impactful and then mix everything. In February 2015 my only output towards smokeclan was Velvet (my three track ode to the Persona series) and then I never did anything with it for over a year until I started dabbling in making chiptune again around March. I was having a lot of fun with it, so I decided to make it dedicated project renamed Sakuragaoka since the smokeclan joke ran its course. During the summer I played one live show as Sakuragaoka and reorganized the two EPs I had out with some added interlude tracks to make all of it entirely seamless and that was the order I used for the tape so that way I could release all of the material I had all in one swoop instead of releasing the two EPs separately. It's honestly bullshit because I just make tracks one at a time when the mood hits and it only takes me two hours or so per track but I find it super fun.

What music outside of the Shinonome universe are you spinning these days?

My go to listening since June has been going back and forth between Friend Edit's "Your Favorite Songs" and Passing a Starfighter's "Duplex". Friend Edit is like The Killers type post-punk revival stuff and Passing a Starfighter was super good local Louisiana emo (rest in peace). It's gotten to a point where I have to listen to them in succession because they've both been such essential releases to me lately. I've also been rediscovering my love for Japanese alt-rock lately so I've been listening to a ton of The Pillows, Number Girl, noodles, Judy and Mary, Asian Kung Fu Generation, Bump of Chicken, Mass of the Fermenting Dregs, and Kinoko Teikoku.

What do you do when you’re not composing music and/or pressing tapes?

I mostly just watch cutesy anime shows and play JRPGs, which, if it isn't blatant, is where most of my naming sensibilities come from.  I've been doing a rewatch of Non Non Biyori lately because it's super comfy and really brings in the coziness of the fall season for me.
I've also been getting back into Runescape so anyone hmu if you wanna help me compete Shield of Arrav.

Also, if I can, I'd like to give a shout out to Cass Carlisle, Jonathan Hope, Conrad Gagnon, and Chris Gelpi aka Yung Daki aka Chris Chris aka DJ Yuri Fanfic for being my infinite inspirations and to all my friends for being my support.