Review: The Glass Eyes - "The Ocean's Over There"

The Glass Eyes - The Ocean's Over There
(2017 Self-Released)

The Ocean's Over There is an index of outros. Though most of the LP's nine tracks span two or more minutes, The Glass Eyes' recent crop of folk-rock output is marked with a sense of conclusion. Fragmented phrases that feel as if they've been harvested from a larger yield of lyrics are stretched like chewed gum across climactic soundscapes. It's this constant, sustained catharsis that makes the Chicago trio's new record so replayable. Each song begins in medias res or later, sparing introductory filler while doubling down the sort of emotionally-charged chorus-craft and experimentation usually reserved for crescendos. There’s a constant hint that what you’re hearing is a small fragment of an unheard whole. So many indie rock acts are compared to Neil Young that I've gone to great lengths to avoid bringing up the Canadian singer-songwriter's name whenever I can. It'd be impossible to review The Ocean's Over There, however, without doing so. "This music's really good! / Those dudes can play! / That song sounded like Neil Young," reads The Glass Eyes' Bandcamp bio. All three quoted statements are true, especially the last. Inaugural tune "Hey" fuses Young's penchant for sitar-like tapestries with the atmospheric crunch of mid-90s acts he inspired: the song's title is chanted over a cloud of psychedelic warble, which subsequently bursts into a flurry of overdriven feedback that drifts from Built to Spill to Dinosaur Jr. on the fuzz spectrum. Frontman Chris Jones' vocals - twangy, in the way that Mark Mulcahy's anti-southern drawl resounds - are absorbed into the sponge of guitars. As the instrumental feeds on its nutrients, it continues to grow in intensity. The same "Hey" and the same riff are repeatedly hammered into tape, each iteration slightly more more sincere than the last. "Hey" is a greeting, then a cry for attention, then a plea to stop. "Hey / I'm only trying to be." "Spend It Alone" is even more frugal with its syllables, draping its four-minute arrangement in seven unique words. Hollow synths that screech like rusted machinery do much of the track's talking, scuffing the surface of each layered harmony. Jones resembles Amen Dunes here, his chants spookily dissonant as they contort and fade into the nocturnal air. The Ocean's Over There hits peak folksiness on "Boxing", imbuing Fleet Foxes' sacred woodland atmosphere with a groovy optimism. It gives the impression of mystic grandiosity while staying grounded in garage rock grime. Like much of The Glass Eyes' music, it's suggestive of something greater, just enough to seize your curiosity.


Review: Kieran Daly + Robbie S. Taylor - "OST"

Kieran Daly + Robbie S. Taylor - OST
(2016 Psalmus Diuersae)

Cinema magic. The straight-to-VHS kind. 

Cybertwee composers Kieran Daly and Robbie S. Taylor chef up revelatory ambience for Reagan-era adventure on their debut collaborative effort, OST, aiming their aural flashlight at the 10-speed mountain bike that weaves through neighborhood lawns, synchronized swatch watches, and the occasional extraterrestrial encounter. Hollow bleats of synth brass and a pliant bassline's bounce urge the cast into action, deconstructing The Yellowjackets' RnB-tinged jazz fusion into a spillage of retro-chic playthings scattered on James Ferraro's studio floor. 

On OST's A-side, Daly stacks stabs of MIDI programming like blocks in a wriggling Jenga tower. Curdled keyboard drones flirt at rhythm, stepping on the toes of slap bass licks in their stream-of-conscious dance. "Boss' Brake Solo" and "Extra Movable Fuj World" are feeble scaffolds, their recurring gusts of clammy dissonance filling wide-open vacancies: each structure's decrepit construction is made apparent as they buckle in the breeze. Hold on for dear life - don't let the minimalist motifs lull you into comfort.

Taking his turn on the B-Side, Taylor pumps OST's gas pedal, corralling his bite-sized ideas into nuggets of expressionism. Each composition on the latter half of the record is marked by its sense of urgency: alternating keyboard notes speedwalk across the shopping mall floor in their ergonomic trainers on "Sheets of Sand", avian flute-trills goading the listener into the dissonant hustle of "Cutscene: Boonies", a climactic chase scene illustrated by frenetically-mashed harpsichord and melodramatic swells of Earthbound-esque chiptune. 

Released exclusively through Psalmus Diuersae's bare-bones website, Daly and Taylor's improvised horseplay is perfectly tailored to its medium of distribution. It is content to be a curious ripple in a massive body of data; a cryptic .rar file to be unzipped, consumed, shelved in your iTunes library, and re-discovered months later only to re-affirm its strangeness. While I still greatly enjoy collecting odd 7" records salvaged from bargain bins, there's an equally alluring sense of wonder that lies dormant in the stray .mp3 file. Maybe sometime in the near future, in reaction to the ubiquity of streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music, the forsaken Blogspot pages of the late 00's peddling their rips of screamo demo tapes and forum threads devoted to trading Animal Collective bootlegs will prove just as hip as making the drive to your local record store. Perhaps you've stumbled upon this review years from its publication date only to browse Psalmus' virtual vinyl crate, admiring its dreamy eggshell backdrop as you grab a .pdf, an .mp4, and few .zip files for your future perusal.

Long live the download.

Snag OST here: http://psalm.us/ost.html


Review: Communions - "Blue"

Communions - Blue
(2017 Fat Possum)

When are we not in communion? In spite of the Internet's omnipresence/omnipotence, much of my web-surfing takes place under the cover of digital tabernacles: niche structures waterproof enough to thwart the shower of data trickling down my phone's screen. Buckets of rainwater collect what is useful to me and filter out the pollution.

The subculture; the group chat; the social media echo chamber - these are the places we gather to assume identity in the digital sphere. We are huddled tribes toasting s'mores on the campfires of our user-generated content. If anyone is familiar with the sectarian nature of the netscape, it should be Danish quartet Communions. Emerging from the then-trendy Scandinavian collective Posh Isolation in 2014, the post-punk outfit benefited from a sizeable buzz generated by the backing of label founder/Iceage frontman Elias Ronnenfelt and their blog-ready brand of lo-fi grit, squeezing icy squalls of garage rock into tight sonic containers. From the blurred resolution of their Cobblestones EP to the faceless figures that graced the covers of their discography, Communions' output seemed to come from a place of remoteness: the stylish impersonality of online demi-stardom.

That's what makes their first full-length LP, Blue, such a refreshing effort: raising previously-closed venetian blinds of fuzz, Communions make the dramatic nosedive into clarity suggested by aquatic album artwork that bears a heavy resemblance to Siouxsie and the Banshees' The Scream.

While Blue may visually suggest the sound of Goth's industrial conception in the late-70s to early-80s, its 11 tracks are more spiritually in tune with The Cure's "Just Like Heaven" than "A Forest" - it's an idealistic, bright-eyed explosion of power pop that revels in lyrical ambiguity. Martin Rehof's ductile vocals rocket from the springy surface of opener "Come On, I'm Waiting", slicing through constellatory new-wave riffage:

"I've been up and I've been down / I've been lost and I've been found.../Turn me into Blue"

Communions flaunt their newfound accessibility on the following cut, "Today", recalling the wiry indie-pop of Phoenix and The Strokes. Ambitious lead melodies are gravitationally pulled back to manageable heights by gloomy acoustic chords, forming a ripple of optimism that bubbles at the tune's surface. 

Blue is best at its most unabashedly cheesy. Cases in point: the lovely little flute-like synth that strings the bridge of "Eternity" to its chorus, the blues-rock twang that peppers "Midnight Child", and especially the churchbell trills of guitar that open "She's a Myth". Though not a groundbreaking project, the record is teeming with enough anthemic energy to stay in rotation for months to come. It's a giant leap from fragmentation to singularity - from communion to ite, missa est!


Review: mt. marcy - "tied together"

mt. marcy - tied together
(2017 Self-Released)

The car keys claw their bookshelf roost. Your ritual slice of sprouted-wheat toast scoffs with disapproval as the butter knife drags a pat of butter across its coarse skin. Windshield wipers wrench a night's worth of frozen accumulation from your field of vision. 

Mornings are a litany of scrapes, and Pittsburgh's Mt. Marcy is devoutly connected to their AM ambience. His newest EP release, Tied Together, irons out the lo-fi wrinkles of earlier jazz-sampling hip-hop efforts, trading jaunty slabs of piano-based crunch for more breathable folk-pop pastures. "for sure", for example, is composed of little more than meditative acoustic guitar loops and the field-recorded clatter they accompany, yet it communicates a potential vastness. It's a song you can step out of the house to. It holds the door for you.

"sometimes" is a little more intimate than its forerunner. The sounds of swishing corduroy pants and throat-clearing form a canvas for its guitaristry, glued together with dots of harmonics that suggest the post-rock constructions of Acid Aura, or Unwed Sailor's The White Ox

mt. marcy saves his best for last on "talking to you", taking to the keyboard to flesh out his stringy arrangements. It's effortlessly calculated, like the careful way one drives to work without giving much through to the traffic. tied together is static music for the autopilot spirit: life-affirmingly unchanging.


Review: Chad Johnson - "Rollin'"

Chad Johnson - Rollin'
(2016 Self-Released)

"Two" seems to stumble at the starting blocks, its shuffling drumroll ironing out the wrinkles of its pace as it reaches for the baton. Wheezing from behind, a pair of guitar leads croak like nasal congestion, joined at the ankles, extending this wand at the peak of a three-legged stride. The track's pathos is derived from the dividing line drawn between the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat: it's tragically pretty, like a picturesque blooper.

Named for the Cincinnati Bengals' now-retired wide receiver formerly known as Ochocinco, New York solo outfit Chad Johnson owes as much atmospheric credit to grass-stained autumns as it does to the athletic endeavors they house. The project's sophomore EP, Rollin', is driven by a rare blend of technical ability and heart, churning out its batch of jazz-infused riffs with the deceptive sense of ease that flutters on the surface of Mac Demarco's discography. 

Prefacing the aforementioned "Two" is "Hard To Find", a breezy, lounge-influenced tune that sandwiches its blurred reminiscence with meandering solos that seem to lazily stroll about the neighborhood as a dotted line reveals their roundabout path. It's a session of stretching before the race that follows. Breathe in, breathe out.

Closing number "Sorry" channels the beach-rock optimism of Dent May, pasting hooks to metronomic drum beats with a thin layer of keyboard buzz. Chad Johnson's starry-eyed refrain - "you don't have to stay / it'll always be ok" - slowly fades into the tides of cassette degradation. It's the sound of blind faith and sincerity running dry; the dehydration of a spirit clinging to the moisture of saliva.

get your popcorn ready


Review: Shivver Cliffs - "The Hills Cast Shadows"

Shivver Cliffs - The Hills Cast Shadows
(2017 Self-Released)

Do it big for ambition's sake. 

Reclaiming a sense of self-indulgent scale brandished by the blog-rock wave of the mid-00s, Missouri's Shivver Cliffs ascends to the lofty idealism of Sigur Ros and Broken Social Scene's art-pop bombast while at the same time harnessing the sort of desolate dark matter that fills the landscapes of Bjork's Medulla. The Hills Cast Shadows is the project's first official release, a 7-track LP that doesn't waste time with pleasantries or first impressions. Album opener "Drift Close In" weighs in at a hefty 11 minutes, eroding from a monolithic crawl of cinematic strings to the fragmented remains of Star Wars droid warble. Midway into the track, Shivver Cliffs emerges from the synthesized rubble, a twangy bass and faint piano mouthing spacey riffs as they whisper clipped phrases into an echoing mic. Trudging your way through a blizzard of harmony, these verses, though distant, feel like a signal flare; a sign of help on the horizon.

"repair the puzzle
of broken windows on your floor" 

The bizarro-folk swell of "Ain't No Mountain Can't Crush My Home" finds The Hills Cast Shadows at its most ambitious. Dissonant slide guitar riffs are warped into sourness around their resonant acoustic framework, steering the cut into uncharted territory. Sparkling treble drips from stalactites. Unseen insects skitter across granite walls. Shivver Cliffs peaks miles from civilization, contrasting anthemic heights with subterranean ambience.

The Hills ends with its most accessible offering: "Television Dreams". Looping stray noodles of plucked improv, the closer is is knotted together by the occasional vapor of rhythm tapped out on a drum machine. This is the sort of music you could inhale, wintry drainage rattling in your chest. Clouds form on each frosty breath.

"I'm bathing later every single day
Using shower handles as my crutch"