Review: i-fls - "wasted"

i-fls - wasted
(2017 Self-Released)

Whatever i-fls has wasted, it's not time. By my own count, wasted is the twentieth album released by the Japanese solo outfit over the course of the past half-decade. That sort of rapid-fire output can be understandably daunting for first-time listeners -- awash in dreamy shades of blue and strewn with nearly-identical sketches of the project's stoic avatar, i-fls' Bandcamp page doesn't exactly lay out a welcome mat, signifying a proper entry into its body of work. It instead feels more akin to picking the lock of a virtual filing cabinet, only to discover a row of manila envelopes organizing a corporation's annual reports. Marked with identical Helvetica letterheads, each stapled document tells the story of year in its own language. Anyone can mull over statistics, but it takes an accountant's eye to arrange them into a narrative.

Like a connoisseur of Grateful Dead bootlegs or Guided by Voices records, I sift through i-fls' cabinet of files with an auditor's scrutiny. Though their tracks come uniformly clad in a haze of Garageband synths and faint percussion, it's the sense of familiarity I have with the project's music that helps me appreciate the subtlety in each new release. 

wasted, for example, is i-fls' most goth effort to date. Often melodies are more implied than performed, taking the form of the sugar-glazed shoegazery that might frost a Slowdive tune or a late-80s Cocteau Twins endeavor. Early standout "useless places" grooves alongside a sweeping three-note hook that wouldn't feel out of place woven into The Cure's Disintegration. Trashed snare drums and clattering hi-hats tame the gelatinous synth arrangements, keeping them stable enough for your mind to bounce on.

"kinako 2 b" makes a rare use of acoustic guitar, which plucks out a few clumsy riffs before dissolving into the usual i-fls recipe: throbbing keyboard pads, a minimal house groove, and wintry chimes. The raw buzz of steel strings is jarring against the album's fuzzy, subdued tones. Though only lasting for about 10 seconds, it's perhaps wasted's most memorable moment.

These moments of oddity concealed beneath a cloak of J-Pop ambience are what keep me coming back to i-fls' discography time and time again. That's not to say that their traditional tracks aren't worth checking out, though. "soutarou" fleshes out its five-minute span with PC Music percussion that forms carbonation bubbles on the surface of tangy synth stabs. Closer "like you" reaffirms the project's core strengths, lacing reverby drum hit into chillwave eyelets.

wasted is yet another solid addition to an extensive back catalogue of releases. It may not bring radical change to the table, but the album makes up for a lack of novelty with the same swirling dream-pop I've come to know and love. If you liked the Aria Rostami record I reviewed last week, you'll love this. 


Review: Alex G - "Rocket" / Twin Peaks S3E1

Alex G - Rocket
(2017 Domino)

On Sunday night, David Lynch's Twin Peaks returned to television after a 26-year silence. The crust of the cherry pie I'd eaten too quickly sitting next to my girlfriend's yet-to-be-touched slice, I sat fidgeting with anticipation, trying hard not to speculate on the unsettling images that David Lynch and Mark Frost may have culled from their dreams over the past two and a half decades. When it comes to exploring the subconscious, having any sort of expectation will leave you disappointed: it's the passive mind, dozing in its leather recliner, that's most vulnerable to the oscillating wail of police sirens tearing through the block or the dropped Playstation controller that rams against the upstairs floor. You have to lull yourself into innocence to be jolted awake. It's this push and pull between the mundane and the harrowing that drives the series. In seasons 1 and 2, Agent Cooper's frequent stops for coffee, donuts, and griddlecakes were punctuated with the occasional act of violence or jarring fissure between the physical and spiritual worlds. Often, the distinctions between these atmospheres were blurred. In an early episode, Cooper polishes off pastries with a gloved hand as he and his forensics team sift through a murder scene. One isn't sure whether to judge this as charming or downright disturbing. In reality, it's a little of both.

The first two episodes of Twin Peaks's revival toe this same line, cloaked in a somewhat new aesthetic. The titular town's inhabitants sip from paper cups in lieu of their former mugs. An aging resident opens a marijuana dispensary. The series' scope spans the entire country and looks greyer, more grizzled filtered through the Showtime Network's TV-17 rated lens. Twin Peaks now looks and feels like many of the newer series it has influenced, yet it is through this sense of familiarity that Lynch and Frost can sneak up behind their audience, slipping in an unexplained scene of a jet-black ghost apparating out of its jail cell and images of corpses that feel too intimate and contorted to be processed. It's horror that relies on your comfort to germinate.

On Friday morning, Philidelphia's Alex G released Rocket, his second major-label release following a slew of Bandcamp-exclusive records. The same ambiguous energy that accented Twin Peaks' reboot also was present in the new album's 14 tunes: G flirts with the alt-country haze that soaked the suspended chords of Uncle Tupelo's 1990 debut, No Depression, while holding firm to the comfy-yet-creepy idiosyncrasies that make his discography so alluring, so Lynchian. 

The blend of the old and the new is made immediately apparent. Intro track "Poison Root" opens with the bluegrassy twang of banjos, tempered by Alex G's usual tropes -- tense power chords and the sampled bark of a dog. Beneath the country trimmings, the core motifs that the singer-songwriter's fans have come to love are as present as ever: an almost divine connection with household pets, mumbled vocals that could be mistaken for moments of shyness or incantations, and the caffeinated jitters of tightly-wound instrumentation. Each of these elements are as pleasant as they are strange. Like the crullers and crime scenes of Twin Peaks, one is torn between Alex G's twee-pop sensibilities and sinister undertones.

Lead single "Bobby" is still my favorite of Rocket's many stabs at folk-rock. As fiddles buzz out their swooping melodies, Emily Yacina and Alex G recite a vague story of infidelity and heartbreak that feels thematically "country" while blurring its details enough to feel fresh. Narrators and concepts are dreamy abstractions that cling to conditional tenses. It's difficult to determine who's speaking to whom, or why. And it doesn't really matter in the end. Like most Lynch and most G, "Bobby" paces back and forth in its aural space, sweating over nothing in particular. It doesn't arrive at a conclusion, or even start to work towards one, but it still lets you taste the juicy fruits of a brainstorming session. It's about the journey, not the destination, ya know?

Stylistic outliers like "Witch" and "Brick" are also strong showings. The former is Rocket's second catchiest cut next to "Bobby", noshing on hollow choruses and tossing their wrappers into the wastebin as if to exhaust a desire to sound like Animal Collective and Guided by Voices at the same time. "Brick" is a total shock to the senses, far more rough and distorted than anything Alex G's put out in the past. Battered by a blown out drum machine and screeched vocals, the track resembles a version of Death Grips even more inspired by early-80s hardcore punk. On their own, these songs are oddities. Within the album, they're as removed as nightmares.

Like Twin Peaks, the experience of consuming and attempting to understand Rocket is concordant with sitting back and enjoy it. Though each could be considered a dense work, the only way to really "get" them is to sit back, relax, and exist in their presence as if taking in a waking dream.


Review: Aria Rostami - "Reform"

Aria Rostami - Reform
(2017 ZOOM LENS)

Bordered by bristly scrapes of percussion, Aria Rostami's Reform is a pulsating mass of disembodied voices, each individual vowel-sound flickering like the pale yellows of a scoreboard's bulbs. Though modeled on ZOOM LENS' signature nods to the refracted ambience of late-90s IDM, the San Franciscan producer's output is filtered through a more vibrant, optimistic lens than the steely output of his labelmates who often embrace brutalist cityscapes that toe the line between utopia and dystopia. 

Rostami's sound design is more inspired by nature than imposed by his own future-techno will. Reform's 10 instrumental cuts capture the echo of whispered melodies, bouncing off of dripping stalactites or dissolving into weaves of low-hanging foliage. It's intimate, not desolate. Opening track "Lowered Intentions", for example, recalls a more humid, habitable version of Aphex Twin's "Flim". Sampled oohs stew in their own residual reverb, nudged forward by the four-on-the-floor kick of an undulating house beat. The track is composed of just a few elements, but thanks to many-tentacled polyrhythms and the thick swoon of Rostami's vocoder drones, it makes for a vast, hypnotic introduction. 

The LP is at its most satisfying when it ventures into pure ambience, especially on "Thanks, Ben". Rostami's synths pace back and forth like droplets of new age piano as a digital slide guitar leaves contrails across the canvas. His composition borders on baroque, escalating the sort of coarse timbres that i-fls might use to orchestral heights. "Beauty Mark" is another highlight, sneaking spurts of echoing mall-core vocal chops between its shimmery arpeggios. It's sleek, stylish, and makes for an accessible focal point near the album's bottom half.

Its bountiful crop of synthesized fruit ripe for the picking, Reform is a summertime offering packed with atmospheric refreshment -- suprisingly colorful for a ZOOM LENS release, but also a surprisingly futurist next step for Rostami.


Review: Ducktails - "Daffy Duck in Hollywood"

Ducktails - Daffy Duck in Hollywood
(2017 New Images)

"God bless Donald Duck, Vaudeville and Variety", sang The Kinks on the title track of their 1968 LP, The Village Green Preservation Society, reminiscing on the thatched cottages and custard pies of British life in the pre-war era.

Never one to be upstaged in his love for anthropomorphic waterfowl, former Real Estate guitarist Matt Mondanile represents ducks licensed by both Disney and Hanna-Barbera on the cover of his new demo collection, recycling unfinished versions of his usual depictions of late-70s Americana. 

Taken as a whole, Daffy Duck in Hollywood is a blissed-out soundtrack to nothing in particular -- lush and unobtrusive as ferns in the lobby; inviting as the muzak that plays within it. Mondanile's rubbery jazz solos bounce off of soft-rock backing tracks like pinballs, lazily passing through lit gates and hitting their spring-loaded targets. On Rundgren-esque jam "The Patio", synths bob bouyantly to the rhythm of a solar-powered plastic flower that dances side-to-side on the windowsill. Grass-stained Wiffleballs dot the lawn like the heads of pimples. Wood-paneled station wagons pass by, their respective rumbles trailing off towards the freeway. 


"God save Tudor houses, antique tables, and billiards." The Kinks, 1968

"Sittin' in my treehouse, I can see the dogs. They run by past the Tudor on the corner." Ducktails, 2011


Ducktails and The Kinks are forever linked by their love for architecture, infrastructurally and sonically. Despite their prevailing lounge aesthetic, Mondanile's tunes often dip into the Kinks' Paisley patterns, especially on jangly tunes like side B opener "Emma's Trip". Daffy Duck's second half is much more diverse than its predecessor, exploring blown out shoegaze tones on "Carousel", gooey jazz beats like "San Gabriel Valley" that could easily fit into a Tyler The Creator record, and "Angel Wings", a Human League-influenced New Wave cut. 

Though not quite focused on a particular setting or place in time, Ducktails' new tape is the project's most nostalgic effort yet, honing in on the general feeling of reminiscence rather than the aesthetics that trigger it.


Interview: Group-Chatting with Stampeter

Stampeter - Connecticut DIY-Pop

Fresh off the release of the sad-punk outfit latest EP, "Too Many Boys", I met with the three members of Stampeter via Facebook Messenger to talk touring, workout playlists, and pineapple.

I just received your new t-shirt in the mail! Who designed them, and what made you/them decide on the Neon Genesis Evangelion theme?

Tom Fisher (drums): billie mae designed them and denny can explain why the theme was chosen.

Denny Notpuka (bass): i saw, u look so good in it! i had the idea bc we wanted to make shirts, I always rlly liked the look of those old gray fooly cooly shirts. our friend Billie Mae designed it we just sent them a frame from the anime to trace hehe, and Luca's friend Destiny printed it.
I love Eva, its one of my favorite anime tbh. Luca's seen it like halfway but they still loved Misato.

Luca Bartlomiejczyk (guitar/vocals): my friend Destiny Idalis Giusti printed the shirts, her company is De La Luna Creations.

What made you want to re-record so many older songs for Too Many Boys? How did you choose which ones to include?

Luca: well i just chose the best of the songs that we were actually playing live to record.
they were the most polished and my producer dawson goodrich felt that we could make them sound dif enough from the bedroom recordings to still sound good, but stick to what we already had in the sense of the concept.
there were only 2 songs that were already recorded but we felt they were good enough that they deserved to be polished.
the other songs on the album are just as old if not older, just never recorded until then.

How long had the live band been together before recording the record? How do you all meet?

Denny: the current lineup formed in March when luca asked me and tom to join, we've been writing new songs and makin it big full time yaknow?
tom drives half an hour to my house.
luca drives an hour from his house, or half from his school cuz hes a college boy.
we used to practice in my house but living with my grandparents. they couldn't handle the racket, so we practice at my uncles place that's a block down. he's always working and he's a contractor so he built his house but its like half complete so we just jam in the kitchen and be loud.

Luca: this lineup only happened after the record, before the record was devon covert on drums and jack dutt on bass.
but jack didn't even play bass on the album.

Denny: (devon plays in grass stains, a sick band our pals are in u should check out)
(promo for their new LP, tentative title "B. D. D.")
just putting that out there.

Besides Stampeter and Grass Stains, what bands around you are worth checking out? And what kind of bands in particular are coming out of the Connecticut scene? Did any artist in particular make you want to start writing/playing music?

Denny: i love this question!! always have thought of it in the shower.

Tom: uhhhh my favorite band for my entire childhood was coldplay and they got me started playing piano which got me into music as a whole and bands like teen suicide inspired me to write my own stuff.

Luca: for me personally i've been playing guitar and in and out of bands since i was 12 but what really brought me into this scene of music was meeting the people from my old band ellen degenerate namely judge russell from grass stains. he showed me a ton of music that i never heard of before and this underground scene that was new to me and i found it so cool that there was a whole hidden scene of music that i just hadn't been aware of. after that i started frequenting bandcamp and going to shows and stuff.
stampeter was not my first band but i think that having it be denny and toms first band experience makes it feel very new and fresh for me bc they bring so much drive and enthusiasm to the table and its really refreshing.
i would say right now that my main influences are bands in the scene who use powerful vocals/guitar and unique structures like hop along and two humans, bedroom pop bands like elvis depressedly and starry cat, folk punk bands like nana grizol and foot ox.
and i'm also trained as a jazz/blues bassist thru high school and that definitely influences the way i play.

Denny: what made me wanna start writing/playing/getting involved with music: when i was in 8th grade i stumbled upon pat the bunny's projects like ramshackle glory and wingnut dishwashers union, and they just blew me away by the lyrics and politics, it made me wanna find a scene (which i didn't find until like fresh/sophmore year lol).
i just found it really cool how someone from the area was singing about stuff that seemed big to my perspective, and was from vermont. how simple his music was (often just an acoustic and a very scratchy voice) but how much it spoke to me.
bands around us worth checkin out? hmm, DUMP HIM is from Western Mass and i really dig them, v cool punky punk but not punk punk.
Peaer was from Fairfield i think, they're making it big now but they moved to brooklyn but they still gig a lot here, I saw em on Friday
Prince Daddy & The Hyena is kinda localish, they're making it very big and i'm happy for them. we r opening for them. i'dd rec em if you haven't heard, and if you like a grinded version of weezer/btmi/green day with lots of weed jokes

Tom: two headed girl and carlos danger are the two best ones rn imo
also ice cream orphan is great

Tom, do you think Coldplay still influences your music in any way?

Tom: umm it's unlikely that they influence me too much besides maybe some song structures that i find inspiration in.

Is Stampeter your first band? What was the first show you played?

Tom: i did and kinda still do a folky lofi pop project called lifetime warranty. i started recording in freshman year and played my first show in the beginning of sophomore year.

Denny: stampeter is my first band, the first was at a pizza place we booked last minute bc our real first gig got dropped, and our second gig we were duped soooo...
it was good we were surrounded by pals.

A pizza place gig sounds ideal, to be honest. Doesn't get more Bandcamp than that. 

Denny: true the owner is super nice, i've been to a lot of gigs there. teen suicide even played there in 2015 hehe.
we played pool there a few nights ago.

What kind of pizza toppings do you usually order? How do you feel about pineapple?

Tom: i get cheese. i've never tried pineapple.

Denny: cheese, on that vegetarian wave ya dig? sometimes onions.
and i mean whatever, at that first gig toms friends from school got pineapple pizza and i got a slice bc i was really hungry. its okay. but it really doesnt compliment the pizza its just not a taste for me.

Luca: i love pineapple pizza fuck y'all.

Denny: easy i was neutral.

Luca: although i have to admit i don't usually get pineapple bc no one else likes it- my go to is olives and green peppers.

Where do you want to go with your music in the future? Do you want to keep improving on your new sound or do you want to try new stuff?

Denny: definitely improving, writing new stuff.

Luca: we've talked about this recently, our goal isn't really to get huge or anything but recently i booked TRextasy and they asked for $100 just to play and they also have been on bills with bands everyone knows like adult mom and stuff and they have audiotree sessions and that's like where i wanna be, i wanna be good enough to make a tiny bit of money and be a little known to the point where ppl love us in the scene and we don't have to beg for gigs but also that we can still get away with playing diy gigs.

Denny: in the future we're tryna play 1000 cap venues in long island with 311 and bon jovi.

Luca: short term goals tho, i wanna start solidifying new songs and putting out an EP this summer bc i'm so sick of playing the same songs ive played since i was 16.
plus denny and tom have been bringing some new songwriting to the table which i dig. so the songwriting in the future wont be solely centered around me.

Denny: the idea of fame gives me bad anxiety, i'm a v personal secluded person and its weird bc a lot of my identity in art is from my queerness which i'm not v open about sadly but i mean on a lighter note i'm cool if i can get pizza and no one recognizes me. if they do that's fine as long as its like a hello idk i sound pious.
fuck it just say hi to me whatever.

Luca: i've never thought about it too much bc it's so far out from where i am, not something i have to worry about now.
fame would be wild, but honestly if i had $$$ and fame i'd use it to donate a lot and buy a decent house for me and my girlfriend and our dogs.
i just wanna live a quiet life, and im very anxious about not having the money to do so bc im in such a strenuous career path.

What should I expect from the EP you plan to record? Also, where would you donate the money? And what kind of dogs?

Luca: i just wanna live a quiet life, and i'm very anxious about not having the money to do so bc i'm in such a strenuous career path. you can definitely expect a nod to the last album soundwise, but also a difference in songwriting and songs that are a little more punk than before.

Denny: like strong dog but longer.

Luca: now that i'm in college i'm so mellow but denny's songwriting is all angsty so there's gonna be some contradictions there. all my songs are gonna be about lifting weights and showing off my muscular physique.

if i could i'd just donate to lots of queer kids thru those tumblr gofundme's or to organizations that help queer youth, we want like five dogs of all different sizes and lots of plants maybe a garden.

So it's going to be a sad gym-core album?

Luca: im kidding about the gymcore.
imagine: i love my biceps baby, but not as much as i love you.

Denny: if u want gymcore check out fightsong.

Luca: no i've just been working out for like 3 days and i have this complex where i think i'm a fucking meathead now.

What music do you listen to when you work out?

Luca: straight up 2006 pop music.
jason derulo, beyonce, britney spears, like beat heavy pop music.
then for my cool down i listen to mellow indie  like pinegrove and ratboys.

Denny: at the gym i just listen to lil uzi vert.

What was the best year of your life, aesthetically or emotionally?

Denny: tbh? this year. last year was hell

Luca: from what i can remember this one, i mean my childhood was def better but out of my formative adolescent years definitely this one, i have a really great relationship, ive close to beaten mental illness, i'm starting to work out, i've been really trying hard at school, i recently quit my shitty job and im much happier working at the bakery with my mom again.
my only sources of stress rn are finals and sometimes my parents being controlling and stuff. they're kinda transphobic and coming out to them was a sad experience but now we just don't talk about it.

we're actually gonna be going on a small tour in july which i'm SO excited for.
we're doing like MA NY PA NJ, keeping it small rn.
over the winter break we're thinking of going west.

What's one piece of advice you'd give anyone reading this?

Denny: contrary to popular belief your pores don't have muscles that open up

Luca: i would say that uh the only way to make progress is to push yourself and work hard.
and not use ur downfalls as an excuse and instead overcome them as best you can, and you'll be proud of yourself rather than defeated thinking u cant do things, bc no matter what gets in ur way be it a disability or a setback it just means u need to work harder and go for what u wanna do regardless.
my mom taught me that bc she has physical disabilities that impact her in everyday life and she never stops grinding and tbh even tho im mentally ill, i dont either im always trying to get better and learn and do what i have to do regardless of the setbacks.

Never Stop The Grind- Muscle Milk

Denny: hm actually in general in life: know when to stop i guess.
be good to your friends, go vegetarian if you can.
i like that, luca.

grind hard play hard.


Single Review: Frankie Cosmos + Kero Kero Bonito - "Fish Bowl"

Frankie Cosmos x Kero Kero Bonito - "Fish Bowl"
(2017 Self-Released)

"small fish, stuck in a fish bowl / do you pine for the sea?"

Whether sung from the perspective of an adult lost in the asphalt and anonymity of city life, a child too preoccupied with lofty aspirations to dream of a world beyond homework, or an aquatic pet cramped in their glass vessel, one can expect the imagined narrator of any Kero Kero Bonito song to be confined to a tight, often lonely space, combating their sense of smallness with shimmery twee-poptimism. On "Fish Bowl", a standout cut from the British trio's 2016 debut record, Bonito Generation, frontwoman Sarah Bonito imagines the mundane existence of a goldfish as an extended metaphor for coming-of-age. Reading from the pet's short to-do list, she succinctly sums up the life of a domesticated animal, while also reminiscing on the carefree spirit of growing up: "swim around in a circle," she sings atop a vapor-funk instrumental, "come along when it's feeding time." 

It's not long, though, before Bonito's nostalgia reverts back to the present-day. "But when you find the ocean, how will you know where to go?" she asks. For a song upbeat and colorful enough to have been performed by a team of mascots on a children's television series, there's a stark sense of uncertainty present - a vibe that's especially relevant around graduation season. 

This feeling of hopeful apprehension is magnified in Frankie Cosmos' new cover version of "Fish Bowl", arranged for KKB's new series of remixes that will be wheeled out weekly over the month of May. Subbing grumblings of clean rhythm guitar and tinny keyboard in for the tune's original electronic textures, the New York singer-songwriter snaps a shot of Sarah Bonito's songcraft through her own indiepop filter, yielding half-peppy, half-glum results. 

Concluding with a stanza's worth of verses exchanged in English and Japanese by the pair of vocalists, "Fish Bowl" gives its listeners a view from each side of the glass: Cosmos' is refracted and fuzzy - Bonito's is sparkling; seen from the safety of a ceramic castle.