Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Listen/Watch: Quetico - "Jeanne"


After the release of Man Alone, the debut album of experimental electronic jazz project Quetico last month, Durham based percussionist and keyboardist Yan Westerlund has released a music video for one of the album's first two singles "Jeanne".

The basketball themed video arrives just in time for the continuing NBA playoff finals and features a veritable who's who of North Carolina musicians as would be basketball professionals playing an intense game of ball that takes a turn for the surreal after Westerlund takes a tumble mid-game. From Sylvan Esso's Nick Sanborn as the referee, musical collaborators Mark Paulson and Phil Moore from Bowerbirds and Zach Hegg, Matt Peterson and Matt McElroy from Canine Heart Sounds as the players, it's a downright family affair.

"Jeanne" with its sense of carefree breeziness but also bright coloring makes it just the sort of soundtrack for the feel-good sports movie Westerlund and friends essentially make. Purely instrumental, the tracks on Man Alone rely mostly on the feelings they invoke both in Westerlund and the listener for maximum effectiveness and "Jeanne" is one that exudes an effortless sense of ease, positively radiating calm and is equally suited to the music video's more serious game-focused opening and its celebration of love and friendship at its end.


Man Alone, the debut album from Quetico is out now. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Listen: Boio - "Ball"

Photo by Jonah Rosenberg
My introduction to Brooklyn based experimental pop duo Boio happened, very much like Boon, in two parts. Firstly through our two bands being booked to play together. I was taken by their brand of energetic, infectious songs but there was very little in terms of consumable output post-show, an EP with four songs and outtakes entitled Sleep appearing and subsequently disappearing from the band's personal Bandcamp as they geared up for an actual release, and though I meant to keep up with the band, it wasn't until a year later that I saw them again.

Boio was already a strong project capable of delivering instantly catchy melodies but in the year since I've seen them, the band had made some changes namely in the presentation of those same songs that had won me over so easily. Already high energy, the duo somehow ramped even that up so that their live shows were something that had to be experienced to be truly understood. Finnegan Shanahan previously juggling guitar, violin, and viola, instead focused solely on guitar and the various sounds he could pull from it while Robby Bowen elevated his drum kit to a full on percussion laboratory with a number of different knick knacks and homemade tools providing a broader sonic palette to match Shanahan's array of sounds.

Last week, Boio released a new track "Ball", one that hints of a future album in the works and one of my person favorites to watch them perform live. Another one of their avant pop jams - it's an encapsulation of their experimentation, their pop sensibilities and their talent as musicians. "Ball" like much of Boio's oevre treats lyricism as both a jumping off point and a brush by which to paint their diverse aural tapestries and timbre exploration. It starts simple enough with effected guitar, chugging drums, and Bowen and Shanahan's mellifluous harmonies. It's a particularly scenic track that establishes the duo's hamonic language and textural interplay from the forefront and essentially sees how these two constants persist under duress even as Bowen and Shanahan are the cause and pursue it doggedly. The chorus "You drive the pool around the world" becomes an experience not wholly akin to semantic satiation but a phrase with no real meaning whose repetition imbues it with such. It persists through its various utterances and dynamic delivery - spoken, sung, shrieked, split up, and reconfigured, enjoying as rich of an exploration as Boio invest in its instrumental elements and insuring this particular ear worm burrows deep. But then "Ball" is such a delightful five minutes, listeners are sure to welcome its insistent catchiness.

Listen to "Ball":

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Pitstop: Quetico


Since art pop collective the Bowerbirds essentially went on extended hiatus after the release of their third full length The Clearing following the building of an at home recording studio and the birth of Phil Moore and Beth Tacular's son, I've often wondered what the other members of the duo turned moresome. The most obvious was Moore's casual glide from The Clearing's synthier moments into the electronic pop of his Tushka moniker. Perhaps the most delightful surprise was the discovery of drummer/percussionist Yan Westerlund's new project Quetico.

Outside of his work with Bowerbirds, I've largely been familar with Westerlund as a backing member of a number of other Triangle area bands like Lost in the Trees, Mount Moriah, the Rosebuds, but also Westerlund's collaborative project Canine Heart Sounds (who also make up the backing band for his fellow drummer brother Joe Westerlund's Grandma Sparrow project), Quetico was my introduction to a project with Westerlund fully at the helm and his debut album Man Alone are the fruits of that particular labor.
With percussion based projects on the rise and those in particular that blend percussion with electronics like Ian Chang, Greg Fox, and Max Jaffe, Westerlund's subverts expectation through neither relying too heavily on electronics or purely on what he himself can do. Westerlund handles a great deal of what you hear from electronic and standard drum kit, various electronic keyboards, and piano but also enlists Matt Douglas on baritone and alto saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinet with Matt Peterson from Canine Heart Sounds and fellow former Bowerbird Mark Paulson assisting live.

Quetico is rooted, by admission of its genre tags, in r&b, hip hop, and jazz but there's moments like the soaring "Jeanne", the emotive expanse of "Father Lenny" or cascading "The Dark Waters" that seem deeply invocative of Westerlund's folk foundations. Man Alone essentially seeks to marry these folk and electronic dalliances with hip hop and jazz inspired rhythms and the result is something not entirely classifiable through genre alone. The fact that Westerlund felt the need to speak through so many different instruments in his compositions is pretty indicative of the complexity of influence, inspiration, and aspiration. Purely an instrumental project, piano serves as Westerlund's primary vehicle for establishing melodic ideas with synths more as means for exploration of timbres.



Though it's not entirely clear how long it took Westerlund to compose and record what would end up as his debut album as Quetico, it's a record that rests strongly on the merits of its musical ideas. At times recalling classical minimalism, while almost always imbuing each song with the sense of open air freedom reminiscent of folk, Man Alone is a testament to Westerlund's ability to navigate his various musical hats and offer up the ones most resonant with his selected style of delivery.




Man Alone, the debut full length album of Westerlund's Quetico project is out now. You can listen and down it via Bandcamp.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Listen: Toebow - "Bed In Breakfast"

Photo by Dave Herr
Last year the release of their debut Spirit Mane EP saw Brooklyn based quintet Toebow offering their self described brand of "cartoon rock" to more than those lucky enough to see them play one of their spirited live shows in their adopted hometown and now almost a year later the band are releasing their debut full length album Themes.

Since my discovery of them through word of mouth, their from-the-ashes association with the Vermont psych pop collective BOBBY, and as many live shows as I could possibly manage in the year between their EP and eventual album release, I have come to know Toebow as an incredibly reliable band with a unique vision. Part of the fuel for that lies in their collaborative nature and ability to follow almost every musical idea that comes their way to some sort of conclusion. This method of collaborative composition has led to guitarists and vocalists Martin Zimmermann and Nate Ulsh joking referring to themselves as an idea band.

Though she has since moved on, both to form her own project Uni Ika Ai as well as becoming a member of The Dirty Projectors, Maia Friedman is featured the first single as well as elsewhere on Themes. Considering how heavily group harmonies and intricate instrumental interplay factor into the band's core dynamic, "Bed In Breakfast" is a bit of a curveball; a mellow sunrise greeting number. Yawny and languid without remaining utterly static.

While "Bed In Breakfast" is a bit surprising in its restrained energy, some of the elements I've come to know from the band's live set are present: the harmonies, the vocal hand-offs, and the springy twang of Zimmermann's guitar occur in the subtler slow jam.

"Bed In Breakfast" much like the songs on Spirit Mane exists in a world of the band's own creation. The lyrics are presented without much exposition or extrapolation. With songs like "Starfucker" or "I'll Be Gone", Toebow is building its own mythology and the references don't receive much in the way of explanation. To Toebow's credit, they don't really need them. Much of Toebow's brand of playful, vibrant colored psych rock is about capturing a particular mood than narrative fortrightness and "Bed In Breakfast", with its bedhead lethargy feels like a downright lucid dream.


Toebow's debut full length Themes is out May 24th on Imaginator Records. You can pre-order it now. 

Listen: Offer - "Offer"

Photo by Gareth Kime
Late last year when Harry Burgess of Adult Jazz and Jack Armitage aka Lil Data premiered their collaborative project Offer with the pastoral hymnal reminiscent twelve minute debut single "Day Away", they teased more music on the horizon. Now nearly five months later, they've loosed eponymous single "Offer" which trades the meticulous unfurling craftsmanship of "Day Away" for a much more insistent slice of cacophonous experimental pop.

Where "Day Away" was narratively focused and every element of it's composition served to heighten the track's sense of drama, "Offer" is all lyrical coyness  and compositional grandeur. Trying to wrestle against and distract from its vulnerability with ear-catching pyrotechnics. Burgess quickly dispenses with the lyrics early - presenting nearly every iteration of bridge-hook-chorus before the song is even half over and that's when things truly get unpredictable. Armitage sets out a flurry of spectacular effects, previously building throughout the tracks verses and first and secondary choruses and Burgess' voice becomes but an other instrument for him to direct. They're pitched up, doubled, spliced, and otherwise affected to form a part of the track's sort of disorienting tension and compulsory catharsis. "I don't wanna offer it up to you, don't wanna offer to you" Burgess sings, trying to tramp down his feelings but Armitage's stellar production works as the response to Burgess' call as sounds zip and ping and are otherwise loosed. They never quite reach all out chaos but there's a measured sense of disorder: a lack of control without letting everything get completely away from them.

"Offer" and "Day Away" are complimentary, similar in theme if not tone and essentially having their development happen inversely. Where "Day Away" is a gentle crescendo into it's climactic moments - starting from nothing, peaking, and then ebbing away slower and slower until it's brassy fanfare brings things to a close, "Offer" is immediate, frenetic in its presentation without losing the polish on its production. "Day Away" aspired to folk ballad stature with each of its sounds intending to recall something more or less organic, "Offer" doesn't hesitate to utilize effects and sounds that are in no way meant to recall man-made ones.

Listen to the second single "Offer" now:


Thursday, April 4, 2019

Listen: The Dodos - "The Surface"

photo by Andy De Santis
Considering Bay area duo The Dodos released not only their seventh studio album Certainty Waves but  singer/guitarist Meric Long's own solo album Barton's Den as FAN last year, I thought it'd be quite some time until we've heard anything even remotely new from the band. And yet after touring behind Certainty Waves last year, Long was feeling particularly inspired and, with a brand new Recording King acoustic guitar, set about chasing said spark of inspiration while it lasted. "The Surface" is the result of one of these post-tour writing sessions.

The appeal of "The Surface" essentially lies in the fact that while one of the most consistent recording acts, the band revisited and challenged their own mythology on Certainty Waves. The result was a record that freed them from the confines of the band they thought they were - that other people had elected as their narrative and allowed them a freedom to experiment with form, instrumentation, and substance. And after a record of exploration, "The Surface" arrives to establish The Dodos likewise flourish under the simplest means as they do their most experimental. While the duo challenged their acoustic guitar and percussion persona on Certainty Waves, "The Surface" returns right to it. Beginning with a langouring prelude punctuated by bursts of chords and which self reference Long's bouts of writer's block, the entrance of Logan Kroeber's drums snaps everything into sharp focus; from cynical self-doubting melancholy to a more spirited probing inquiry. It's a rousing piece of percussive guitar pop not unlike many in The Dodos' oeuvre and yet, there's a freshness to it as it revels in it's own simplicity. It's a testament to the effectiveness of good songwriting and ode of sorts to introspection. "Where do we go from here? The question, it's not the one to answer." Long offers and while it may be incredibly demonstrative of The Dodos' own creative self-inquiry, it's almost universally applicable. What kind of question you ask frames the argument; yields different answers. "The Surface" doesn't intellectualize it to much but captures that very spirit of it

"The Surface", currently a one-off single, is available now as a digital single from Polyvinyl:


Thursday, March 28, 2019

Listen: Son Step - "Saucy"


I was introduced to Philly synth pop duo Son Step when I attended a fundraiser show for American Immigration Council they put on at Threes Brewing last May with Renata Zeiguer, Wilder Maker, and Zula. I went exceptionally familiar with Renata Zeigeur and Wilder Maker and had at least heard of Zula but Son Step were a total unknown to me and their set absolutely surpassed any possible expectations I could've formed. Jon Coyle and Joel Gleiser were essentially sat adjacent synth setups and created an immersive wash of kaleidoscopic melodies that held me completely transfixed until even after their set's final notes. They had mentioned that both the setup and the songs were mostly new and I was incredibly intrigued. Their songs were incredibly lush despite the fact that they were essentially stripped down. Though I haven't been able to see Son Step live again since but at the very least the duo have announced their third full length album Fossilillies, introducing it with "Saucy" recorded with former members Chris Coyle and Matt Scarano.

"Saucy" is an absolutely resplendent piece of multi-textured bliss pop. It's a buoyant, jubilant ode to thoughts and feelings that are utterly indescribable. And the duo don't really intend to try. Their lyrics evoke quiet little moments to create emotionally resonant echoes in lieu of actual explanation. Coyle and Gleiser's vocals are effortlessly intertwined into radiant harmonies, absolutely in line with the song's vibrant coloring and light-centered lyrics. Their vocals weave serpentine swaths, stratospheric arcs, and glance like skipping stones on sun dappled waters all the while they create effortlessly dreamy layered soundscapes to accompany them.



Fossilillies, Son Step's third full length album is out May 17th on Grind Select. You can pre-order the record now.