Review: Hypoluxo - "Taste Buds"

Hypoluxo - Taste Buds
(2017 Broken Circles)

Every time I've played Hypoluxo's Taste Buds on the aux cord, I've received the same reaction from my fellow passengers:

"Is that Beach Fossils? No, wait; that guy sounds like the dude from The National! Or Ian Curtis..."

Their confusion's warranted. It's not often you'll hear post-punk's signature monotone/baritone vocal delivery paired with shimmering, melodic guitars that sound this radiant, brushing up against surf-rock beats. The contrast between frontman Samuel Cogen and his backing band is stark, but it's one that pays off. Each of the four songs that make up the Brooklyn quartet's sophomore EP is its own emotional alloy, plucking sonic inspiration from the feelings that tangle in your head as you perform rote tasks like taking out the trash or showering. The songs don't descend from intense, unshakable events. They're comfy, but full of mystery.

It's more organic that way. Though Cogen's lyricism fluctuates from slight surreality to the familiar backdrop of everyday life, he remains firmly rooted within the sphere of real, human thought sans embellishment. Track 1, "Sometimes", doesn't mince words (or orchestration for that matter). The band rattles off extremely hummable guitar riffs, glistening with reverb and twang, as Cogen drips off-the-cuff sentiment into the mic: "Sometimes I get nervous / I get nervous when you yell at me / You can be so scary get so angry / At the things that I don't see."

Following the final verse, the song's bony fingers of melody unclench, opening the track up to no-wave improvisation. A thread of white noise knots through knucklebones as dissonant harmonics wriggle free. Cogen mumbles fairly decipherable syllables into the brew, as if reciting some evil incantation. 

The following song, "Cowboy Poet" is, as its title suggests, Taste Buds' most flowery offering. Conflating the anonymity of city life with the old west's gritty individualism, the band strikes up an equine gallop that morphs into a mechanical chug. Guitars sizzle beneath synthesized lens flares. Vocals soar over gloomy basslines. Closer "Dog Park" is my pick of the bunch, dropping droning chords over a four-on-the-floor thump. It's a breezy, free-associative piece that expands from its titular canines to memories of Cogen's mom's house. The song is aimless in the best way: as ambling as life itself. 

At 14 minutes, Taste Buds is a charming diversion that packs some memorable hooks and thought-provoking poetic license. It's a very replayable effort, and one that's timbrally unique enough to pop into your head from time to time. Even though the record's just a few months old, it already feels like a trusted friend. 


Review: Butterbeer - "Obliviate"

Butterbeer - Obliviate
(2017 BoringProductions)

I've yet to hear an installment in BoringProductions' discography that hasn't blown me away. Keeping their output uniformly jangly, the Chinese label has spent the past two years curating a signature sound that looks to the brittler textures of 90s dream-pop for inspiration: among its eight artists with official releases, there's a shared reverence for the warm shimmer of college rock groups like The Sundays and Blake Babies, varnished with the shoegaze-lite trebliness of Cocteau Twins' later works like Four Calendar Cafe.

A collaborative outlet for the frontwomen of Atta Girl and Chestnut Bakery (whose debut album was one of my favorite 2015 releases), Butterbeer is the best realization of BoringProductions' creative vision yet. Recorded in a bedroom roughly two years ago, it's a record that's as texturally snug as your favorite comforter, but feels too vast to be confined by the space it was recorded in. Snatching their carbonated guitar tone from records pressed by 4AD in their heyday, the duo form cozy pockets of energy that start off subdued, but quickly expand in surges of emotion. Each chord and vocal swell is a reverse tide, pushing you further away from the shore until you're surrounded by harmony.

Oblivate's opening couplet, "A Secret" and "Platform", is sung almost entirely in Chinese. Even though the lyrics might be lost in translation for English-speaking audiences, the pair of tracks form the record's most exciting one-two punch right out of the gates, rippling splashes of delayed guitar across drum beats that paddle across the transparent surface. Especially on the former of the two tunes, there are traces of old Airiel records bobbing at the crest of water: multi-instrumentalist Jovi's gelatinous chords wobble under the heft of Rye's drawn-out syllables, which linger like impossibly-dense fog. You can't help but be reminded of "In Yr Room" as distortion swallows the scenery with its arresting roar. 

Airiel's rippling instrumentation and patient vocal delivery on "In Yr Room" bears 
less-delicate resemblance to Butterbeer's crescendos.

Six tracks written in English follow. The best of these are backed by acoustic guitar, giving ample wiggle room for Rye and the instruments she's brought along to complement her verses. Butterbeer deconstruct The Cranberries' folk-rock arrangements to a miniature, lo-fi scale on "To The Stars". Washes of a keyboard's strings sample run through the skeletal tune's exposed circulatory system, biting like a winter draft that passes through your ribcage. Given the crushing gravitas conveyed by the instrumentation, it's surprising how childlike and sleepily cute the lyrics are. Butterflies are our friends and we’ll grow so many flowers," Rye sings. "All that we can hear is music and laughter". The scene set is so carefree it's hard to process: there's a sweet fantasy about it that feels very "Puff, the Magic Dragon" in a sincere way. 

"Another Sunny Day", which I'd heard previously on a label compilation, is another standout. The track's an ode to its titular band, who dropped a handful of singles in the late 80s via twee-pop imprint Sarah Records. Here, Butterbeer are true to their source material, hanging garlands of staccato guitar on a woozy chord progression. "I've decided to forget all about you," Rye sings offhandedly. As these unnamed mysteries disappear, so does the track: it's simple, catchy and gone in an instant. The perfect pop tune. 

If you've peeped a BoringProductions release in the past, you know what to expect: Obliviate is well-produced, accessible, and dreamy as anything you'll hear this year. Give the record a spin, and then check out the rest of the music available on the label's Bandcamp page. You won't be disappointed. 


Review: DJ Lucas - "Lucas' Mansion III"

DJ Lucas - Lucas' Mansion III
(2017 Dark World)

Weighing in at a beefy 22 songs, the latest project by Massachusetts native Lucas Kendall finds the rapper/producer oddly wedged in the crevice between laissez-faire Soundcloud experimentation and the inventive, Garageband-sourced sound that's landed him production credits for arthouse emcees like Wiki, Antwon, and even the wildly prolific CHXPO. 

When we last saw Lucas in late July, he'd turned in Unleash These Bangers, Too, his most polished and accessible effort to date. Outsourcing much of its production to fellow New England beat-makers, he paired his conversational storytelling and ear for dissonant, autotuned melodies with an incredibly diverse array of timbres. On "Arm/Leg," he reflected on his rural "farm kid" roots to the bounce of west-coast percussion. He was an emo R&B singer on "1 Phone Call Away," and a malfunctioning robot spitting over wonky Wii Sports jazz arrangements on "In My Element."

Sacrificing a bit of his populist appeal, Lucas takes almost total control behind the boards on LMIII, approaching sound design with his signature genre-twisting, iconoclastic attitude while dipping deeper into autobiographical waters than he has in the past. Early single "New Gear" laces a funky bassline with trills of slide guitar, imbuing the beat with a weird folk-rock flavor without delving into the gimmicky country-rap aesthetic one might have imagined based on my description alone. Lucas' blends of sounds don't often sound great on paper, but in practice they just work because they're true to his experience. The arrangements here are hazy and nostalgic: the perfect complement to Lucas' memories of basketball practices, summers spent growing up around UMass' campus, and his love for the local scene of weirdo-rappers he's held together as Dark World Records' unofficial figurehead. 

The record's most impressive cuts find Lucas playing the role of an indie rock songwriter, taking after his father, who fronted a few jangle-pop outfits in the 80s and 90s. While contemporaries like Lil Peep and Mackned are content to exclusively cull their samples from midwestern emo records, Lucas' production feels more akin to The Strokes' wiry guitar-pop. Despite its 808s and tinny hi-hats "One More Day" is a sundae-sweet love song that swells with hammond organ samples and malt-shop sentimentality. It's another track that's bizarre in theory, but plays out naturally: even as his voice warbles against wavering pitch-correction software, Lucas effortlessly draws an ooze of melancholia from his breezy chord progression, and the lyrics are just simple enough not to sound forced. It's far from his most technically proficient work, but it stands out as a truly unique composite of musical styles. 

Even the classic Lucas ethos sounds fresh on LMIII. Free-jazz tune "Pretty Please" feels like a collage of quips cut from text messages, some of them too personal or esoteric to understand, others hitting home on a lovable, down-to-earth level. It's the sort of cut that makes you feel like you've been close friends with the artist for years -- die-hard Dark World fans will be all-too familiar with Lucas' desire to be a small-town hero, his baseball references, and his off-hand allusions to unexplained events from his past that we're not meant to know about. There's always some suble/mundane/charming aspect of his character to excavate from the lyrics: it's the kind of songwriting Genius.com was founded for.

Lucas' Mansion III is currently my second-favorite installment in the DJ Lucas canon, but it's primed to take the top spot soon. It's an effort meant to grow on the listener, concealing subtly brilliant lines and hooks that take patience to get into the groove of. Even if the consistency of the songs can be a little off sometimes, it's tough to get bored bumping his music: he's always tinkering with new sounds and packing them with honest, intelligent lyrical content.


Review: Smut - "End of Sam-Soon"

Smut - End of Sam-Soon
(2017 Broken Circles)

The last time I caught a Smut show, I was a freshman English major with bad skin, an asymmetrical haircut, and a taste for sweatshirts with sleeve-prints: the archetypal SadBoy. Mingling with the hazy smell of grilled peppers—the gig took place in a now-defunct anarchist taco joint—this newly-formed shoegaze outfit heaved to life like shifting tectonic plates, grating against continental drifts of distortion to the mid-tempo rhythms of mid-90s college rock. Taylor Roebuck's menacing vocals pushed through the fuzz like the cries of a human-guitar hybrid, adding their own layers of sediment to a heap of sound. There were guitar solos that resembled those videos of "crazy sounds in the sky" that you'll always find in the weirder subsections of Youtube. The sound was interplanetary; I could feel gravity's pull weakening in Tacocracy.

Afterward, the guitarist and the bassist showed me their Magic: The Gathering cards.

I've shaved my head since then, and it appears that Smut's trimmed off some of their noise-pop grime too. Though the trebly chords that inhabit the quintet's debut record, End of Sam-Soon, are tinged with some obligatory grit, there's a welcome spaciousness here that I hadn't heard on previous efforts. Roebuck's vocals do more than echo from the floor of a post-punk abyss: they're front and center on the new record, saving you a trip to the lyrics sheet and driving Smut's hefty hooks home.

And I'm not kidding when I say there are some killer choruses on this thing. "Blush" hits particularly hard, initially emerging with a Goo-era Sonic Youth stutter, slowly stretching like a rubber band until unsustainable levels of potential energy are reached. The resulting refrain feels like a succession of dramatic chord changes strung together like some sort of chord conglomerate, culminating with an an alt-country-fried guitar solo that sounds like Dinosaur Jr covering Uncle Tupelo. Roebuck's odd meters and poetic devices make the tune all the catchier: "all slipping and screaming and scrambling to shelter," she speaks, distantly, "the sweet summer swelter."

"Video Cell" houses some of my favorite guitar riffs on Sam-Soon. As Roebuck sings "eyes so sweet, just like TV," a static-y melody catches the hairs of your wrist like you've pressed your open hand to the television screen. It's crackly and cold, like Crunch bars in your pumpkin bucket. Like orange foliage underfoot. Like Burger King receipts on the station wagon's floor mats.

"Shuteye" is pretty great. too. It's the kind of song that tricks you into thinking it's sloppy and chaotic on the first listen, lacing a lumbering chord progression with screamed storytelling before revealing its inner viscera: delicately-plucked arpeggios coated with that classic 4AD tone. Smut's at their most traditionally punk here, but they're still able to let their distinct blue-purple dreaminess bleed through.

Smut it often billed as a post-punk band, but the shimmery, college-rock sounds on Sam-Soon are what keep me coming back for more. The record's solid balance between gothic gloom and twangy melodicism make this my favorite local release of the year. Keep Cincy music crunchy.