Thursday, September 15, 2016

Listen: Genders - "Never Belonged To You"

As Portland indie rock quartet Genders continue to unveil bits and pieces of their upcoming Phone Home EP one thing is becoming abundantly clear: unlike their debut full length Get Lost which was a culmination of years of playing and writing songs together, Phone Home appears to have a more definite theme. Not that Get Lost lacked the cohesion of a good album - it's songs all fit together if not lyrically than definitely in style but the time in between records has given the band a much more focused narrative.

"Never Belonged To You" essentially picks off right where first single "Life Is But A Dream" left off. However where "Life Is But A Dream" dipped into dream pop, "Never Belonged To You" is a much clear cut rock jam.  Where "Life Is But A Dream" relied on synths for textural padding, "Never Belonged To You" features Maggie Morris and Stephen Leisy's interlocking guitars. There's a push and pull both narratively and compositionally. Morris' lyrics turn from vague introspection to a downright warning: "Setting you up/gonna knock you down" before launching into the chorus and the guitars rise up like walls around her heart. "But I never belonged to you/I never belonged to anyone" Maggie coos and the lack of bite makes it a much effective siren call. Narratively Morris leaves you wanting more, never quite explaining why you're not good enough or even attempting a cathartic capitulation. Instead the band take up the task of crafting a satisfying conclusion as they embark on instrumental break that teases and expands the tracks main riff.

Genders' Phone Home EP will be out later this year.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Listen: Flock of Dimes - "Everything Is Happening Today"

Though she's been making music as half of Wye Oak with Andy Stack for the better part of a decade, Jenn Wasner's has her hands in many creative pots. Five years ago she released "Prison Bride", the first single under her solo moniker Flock of Dimes and while she's added a couple singles to the mix (as well as forming Dungeonesse with Jon Ehrens), she's returning again to the project and giving it a bit more attention.

Wasner may have kept her projects separate from each other but there's no denying the effect each has had on the others: after exploring her love of pop unabashed love of pop with Dungeonesse, Wye Oak returned with arguably their most pop-centric record in Shriek. But Wasner's solo project has been slowly undergoing a metamorphosis over the years. Finally readying a batch of tunes in the form of debut full length If You See Me, Say Yes, "Semaphore" and new single "Everything Is Happening Today" hardly resemble the bombastic, glitchy debut of "Prison Bride". The production is sleeker, if not necessarily glossier, and Wasner imbues the project with clarity and narrative depth.

Lyrically "Everything Is Happening Today" resembles "Watching The Waiting", the lead single from Wye Oak's recent non-album Tween, in its emotional inventory. That's hardly a coincidence seeing as they were both written around the same time Wasner relocated to Raleigh from Baltimore. But while in the Wye Oak track Wasner essentially relives her past failures unable to change the outcome, "Everything Is Happening Today" leverages the knowledge of those failures with an appreciation of the experience. It's beguiling both in its refusal to wallow in heartbreak pop tropes and a delightful sense of life-affirming hopefulness. Wasner sings of fragility with vulnerability but there's an unmistakeable strength that carries the track to its resolved chorus of "Everything that ever was is happening today".

Flock of Dimes' debut full length If You See Me, Say Yes is out September 23rd on Partisan Records. You can preorder the record now.

Listen: Living - Risen

photo by Simen Peder Aksnes Aarli
After being introduced to Living, the Norwegian pop trio helmed by producer Lucas de Almeida, earlier this year I've been eagerly awaiting their promised new single. "Cerulean" was a bath of warm dream pop that recalled both fellow Norwegians Young Dreams and balmy chamber pop of Los Angeles' Princeton in equal measure. I was hooked. And now after much waiting, the trio are offering up another new track as well as news of an EP planned for October. So the wait begins anew.

The first thing you notice about Living's new single "Risen", aside from its tabla samples, is it takes the sense of patient ease of Living's previous output and really doubles down on it. Aside from occasionally pairing things down to just the tabla, "Risen" luxuriates in its own vibrant, layered melodies. For the majority of its nearly six minute run time there's a sprawling sense of ad infinitum; waves crashing along the shore without need for conclusion. Its build toward its climax is subtle as Lucas de Almeida does a few laps around the pool before kicking things up a notch: his swelling vocals ultimately ushering in tabla-less coda. "Risen" is Living at their most subdued; almost balladic as they trade its infectious pop hooks for experimentalism and emotion. While "Florahedron" and "Cerulean" featured a sort of call-and-response with the self as well as significant instrumental breaks, "Risen" relies largely on its vocals to set its course.

Living's fourth single "Risen" is out now on Brilliance Records.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Pitstop: Armel Dupas

My introduction to the music of French pianist/composer Armel Dupas was due to the strange sense of serendipity that's become pretty commonplace in some of my most unexpected and most treasured music discoveries. A matter of happenstance found us sat next to each other at the record release show for Christopher Tignor's latest album Along A Vanishing Plane. At the bar with time to kill, Dupas struck up a conversation that went from stories of how we came to be at this particular concert to our musical interests and endeavors and an easy rapport ensured that we checked in after each set to discuss what we had just witnessed. Earlier in the evening Dupas shared that he was a musician and his interest in the pedal setups and gear of opener Patrick Higgins and of Christopher Tignor had me resolved to check out his music before he even offered information on where to find it.

What struck me immediately about Dupas' music, especially that of his most recent effort Upriver, was an incredible subtlety; a lightness of touch and a refreshingly sense of minimalism. Dupas' melodies are beautiful and free flowing but carry an ephemeral air. His use of electronics is sparse but effective often used for color than an actual composititional focus until its climatic use in "Sometimes I Need Some Time" and the interlude "Epilogue". Though Dupas has trained in jazz, his music transcends the genre while still applying skills and techniques he gained from it. Dupas has cited Nils Frahm as an influence but at times on Upriver, he more recalls Japanese pianist/composer Mashashi Hamauzu and his impressionistic lilt. Like Hamauzu, Dupas makes incredible use of space and silence as his melodies expand out like questions confidently asked and patiently awaiting their answer. The album effortlessly flows from one piece to another but not without each making a noteable impression. From sprightly opener "Les Plaines De Mazerolles" to the only vocal track "Aujord'hui il a Plu" to meditative closer "Upriver" no one song is the same but the album grows in such a way that none seem out of place and its end is wonderfully cathartic.

Armel Dupas is a gifted pianist, yes. But Upriver demonstrates a knack for arranging a rewarding musical voyage that's thrilling both in actual practice and its potential. Dupas evades easy definition while offering a collection of pieces that a brilliantly original. Upriver is a pristinely plotted soundtrack of nocturne's that's enjoyable and exciting in its presentation: effortless in delivery and engaging in its composition.

Armel's debut solo album Upriver is out now on Jazz Village.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Listen/Watch: Sylan Esso - "Radio"

After numerous updates that they were working on a new record, Durham, NC based electro pop duo Sylvan Esso are finally offering up a taste of their work in the studio with new single "Radio". "Radio" marks the first new bit of music we've heard from Sylvan Esso since they released "Jamie's Song", the track they wrote for Radiolab last year. But while "Jamie's Song" was somber ballad, "Radio" finds Sylvan Esso picking up right where they left off with their debut self-titled record and offering another winsome high energy dance jam. Nicholas Sanborn continues with his delayed gratification style of production as he stacks several layers on top of each other, slowly building the base before Amelia Randall Meath enters. It's a radio-friendly 3 minutes (no doubt intentional given its title and subject matter) but "Radio" seems longer than that and at the same time way too short. Sylvan Esso are in peak form: infectious, engaging, and fun while the production is delightfully simple.

Sylvan Esso are releasing a 12" featuring "Radio" and another track titled "Kick Jump Twist" on November 18th via Loma Vista Recordings. You can pre-order it now through Sylvan Esso's site. The duo will also be playing several dates where they've promised to play new tunes so catch them on the festival circuit if you can. They'll be playing Hopscotch next week, The Meadows and Treasure Island in October. Full list of tour dates are available at their site.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Listen: Young Dreams - "Of The City"

After releasing their impeccable debut album Between Places back in 2013, Norwegian power pop outfit Young Dreams more or less got immediately to work on their follow up before scrapping it and returning to side projects and solo efforts while other ideas percolated.  Guitarist Chris Holm put out his debut record Kilos as well as worked on/recorded new material with his other band Bloody Beach while multi-instrumentalist Matias Tellez produced several tracks on Sondre Lerche's seventh studio album Please as well as Lerche's Despite The Night EP and forthcoming follow up record. But after some time away the sextet are back with brand new single "Of The City".

While Young Dreams has largely rooted itself in a summery indie pop sound, Between Places and its supporting singles reintroduced the band as a far more arrangement heavy incarnation than their debut singles "Flight 376" and "Dream Alone, Wake Together". "Of The City" instead focuses in on the band's tropicalia and psych rock influences for a particularly groovy jam. It's a nimble gallop rooted more in synth tones than the band's previous efforts without completely redefining the band's core sound. The orchestral flourishes are more ornamental in nature and the Rune Vandaskog led track avoids layered vocal harmonies in favor of much more straightforward vocal delivery and interlocking grooves but the band's sense of musical escapism is alive and well.  Considering it was originally meant to feature choir and orchestra on the band's discarded effort, the rework of "Of The City" finds Young Dreams leaning more into dance and rock elements than the chamber pop of Between Places without losing any of its balmy breeziness. It's a decidedly different approach than originally intended but the finished work is a testament to Matias Tellez production talents. There's no
telling if the newly recorded replacement album will follow "Of The City" all that closely stylistically but it's a hell of a comeback that's guaranteed to help satiate fans until Young Dreams release their new album next year. Until more details roll out, welcome back Young Dreams.

"Of The City" is out today via the band's own new label Blanca Records.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Listen/Watch: Jinja Safari - "So Much"

Earlier this year Australian jungle rock quintet Jinja Safari officially announced their break up following a hiatus that led to many of their members pursuing side projects in earnest. While a series of singles released last year were thought to be the last songs we'd hear from the fivesome, they just announced that later this month they'll release their final album together: a double album called Crescent Head named after chief songwriters/co-founders Marcus Azon and Pepa Knight's hometown.

"So Much", the latest single from the upcoming double album features a side of the band rarely seen: melancholic and introspective. It curtails the band's normal riotous energy in favor of taking stock of where they are. Few bands get to end the band completely on their own terms like Jinja Safari usually  disbanding due to in-fighting or external pressures but the band's choice to end things amicably has allowed them to do this victory lap of sorts.

The accompanying video cementing that by featuring footage of the band traveling and performing together over the years. It's not an entirely new angle for the band that's used similar footage intermittently in their music videos (last year's for "Find My Way" spring immediately to mind) but it gains a new sense of poignancy by showing the band never stopped having fun both with each other and their audience. It's not hard to see why the band returned to studio to whip up a brand new batch of songs in appreciation.

"So Much" works wonderfully as a send off as the band close this chapter and embark on different journeys - musically and otherwise. Thankfully for fans/listeners, it's not the very last we'll hear from the quintet before they turn their attentions elsewhere.

Part 1 of Crescent Head is out August 17th with Part 2 out August 24th.