Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Listen: Deradoorian - "The Eye"

I have a confession to make: I've never put as much stock in the Dirty Projectors as everyone around me ever seemed to. They were largely a band on the periphery of my interests doing cool things with cool people for cool people who were cool enough to be in the know. I first listened to them (and continued to return to listen to them) as more of an assignment in seemingly necessary musical assimilation than out of real desire. I've enjoyed some of their output (Looking at you "Stillness Is A Move" and the undeniably enjoyable Swing Lo Magellan) but never found myself as a diehard fan as I found most of my peers to be.

It was curiosity more than anything that led me to give former Dirty Projector singer Angel Deradoorian's solo project a test drive. What did her music sound like out of the context of a band whose function seemed to require so much focused cacophony? Enter Deradoorian's "The Eye" a track that's absolutely mesmerizing from the moment you hit play. It's music that pulsates with life as Deradoorian's vocals weave hypnotic serpentine patterns amid an increasingly complex psychedelic haze. "The Eye" is a musical optical illusion - Deradoorian going from one woman to many; textures going from simple but scenic to downright kaleidoscopic bursts.  Just when you feel a sensory overload coming on, Deradoorian shifts focus, playing with the notion of clarity as you're fed different subjects, as they enter your field of vision and Deradoorian's vocals act as the track's sole anchor. Even the percussive bassline is unpredictable - pulsing then spiking, a constant then elongated thrum morphing to Deradoorian's needs. And despite all this compositional interplay "The Eye" manages to somehow resemble a pop song for the entirety of its radio-friendly duration. That in itself is the most impressive feat - condensing her experimentalism to maintain your interest while she spins as many plates in the air as she damn well pleases.

Deradoorian's debut full length album The Expanding Flower Planet is out 8/21 on Anticon records

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Cemeteries - Barrow (2015)

Since the release of his debut album The Wilderness in 2012, Kyle Reigle aka Cemeteries has essentially been working on his follow up record. It's a process that led ultimately to another musical outlet in the form of electronic side project Camp Counselors, a tour with Teen Daze, and a cross country move with band mate and record label co-founder Jonathan Ioviero of Seismograph. And yet there's no denying upon listening to Reigle's follow up Barrow, a record nearly three years in the making that it was ultimately just the right amount of time needed for the album to properly gestate.

Barrow finds Cemeteries at a crucial juncture: not only has Reigle learned to follow his musical instincts more via Camp Counselors but much of the small town ennui that fueled The Wilderness is gone, replaced instead by a new appreciation and an almost nostalgia for his home now that Reigle's put a considerably amount of distance between it and him. Though most of the songs were written in Reigle's new Portland digs, Barrow is inspired in part by summers at his grandparents lakeside cabin in Fair Haven, NY. That and his borderline unhealthy relationship with horror films.

On Barrow, Reigle leans far harder into his horror movie love than he allowed himself to do on The Wilderness but which formed much of the backbone of the Camp Counselors record Huntress. From summer camp set horror films, to witches and vengeful spirits, and John Carpenter's The Fog, Reigle is in rare form on Barrow and allows a sense of malaise to permeate his lilting dream-like atmosphere. Much of Barrow's sense of unease resides in Reigle's use of space and primal percussion and the subtle turns of Reigle's supple gliding vocals that shift from delicately gorgeous to chillingly eerie and back again effortlessly. But even when Reigle's sings off death by burning, and bloody homicides, they're approached subtly and almost poetically. "In the night they'll find you all alone, with the color red surrounding your throat" Reigle sings on "Sodus".

There's several moments reminiscent of The Wilderness on Barrow. "Can You Hear Them Sing?" recalls "Summer Smoke" but for each moment spiritually linked to The Wilderness there are about five that are wholly new, and freshly invigorated. By allowing himself to toil in subjects not only of his own choosing but of his own infatuation, there's an odd sense of contendedness, Reigle doesn't allow his enthusiasm to run amok or distract from the moods he tries to convey but it's there, pulsating underneath his songs, galvanizing them forward to completion even if like 7 minute album ender "Our False Fire On Shores" they take their time with getting there. It informs the care Reigle pays to his songs like "Luna (Moon of Claiming)" and its slow build towards its majestic layered rush.

For a record as long in the making as Barrow, it avoids the trap of feeling like impatient rush job though Reigle's quiet enthusiasm. Part of this is no doubt due to the new perspective granted by viewing and working on the album from a new vantage point both literal and figurative. With its release Reigle was quick to thank fans for their support but Barrow is easily a work of internal triumph; a step towards musical self-actualization. Barrow feels like a record Cemeteries would have put out regardless of if anyone was at all interested and that is perhaps what makes it such a strong record for Reigle.

Listen to Cemeteries sophomore record Barrow now and download as pay-as-you-want or purchase a physical edition of either murky lake green from Track and Field Records or fog grey LP or black and white cassette from Reigle's own Snowbeast Records.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Listen: Oryx & Crake - "Holds Hand For Dry Land"

When last we left Atlanta chamber pop outfit Oryx & Crake they had left me lying in the fetal position after wave after seemingly unceasing wave of their lush, melancholic, synth-laden orchestral pop of their debut album Oryx + Crake. The band were positively delighted by my description of the album as "soulcrushing" but promised that their next venture would be a little more easy to stomach. That was nearly five years ago and true to their word Oryx & Crake have returned. If you were to judge an album by its cover, their sophomore record Marriage with its literal car wreck featured front and center would appear to promise more of the same. But Oryx & Crake aren't torturers nor are their all that tortured - "Holds Hand For Dry Land" sees the band extending an outstretched hand to raise you up and out of their emotional deluge.

"Holds Hand For Dry Land" begins with beats - beats that are positively dance-y before crescendoing synths signal the imminent arrival of the rest of the band. Cue the drums, the synth playfully weave around a grooving bass. "Get up off the floor and open up your crying eyes" Ryan Peoples opens comfortingly - "before they rust shut" the band adds in harmony. It's a moment that wouldn't be all that out of place in say a New Pornographers' song and yet here it is greeting listeners as the first preview of Oryx & Crake's new album. The back and forth persists, a celebratory "woo!" is shouted and it feels like at least to the uninitiated that this is a brand new band and Oryx & Crake have left the unshakeable encroaching gloom behind. But if Oryx + Crake has taught me anything it's constant vigilance, I know this band now. Oryx & Crake are comfortable with the toss and turn between the pleasant and the uncomfortable, making the listener work for those moments of peace at the peak of a downright funereal mountainside.

For all it's fun pantomining, "Holds Hand For Dry Land" holds deeper meaning under the harmonic cheer. It's a song about putting in the work. "We can't just survive off of our wedding cake anymore" Peoples' repeats. Just as your jamming along to the upbeat plod, the floor gives out. The affected mirth is gone. Everything slows down and the darkness percolates and assumes control. The band builds again from the ground up rising to a sort of restrained cacophony that echoes out into eventual silence. Oryx & Crake effectively condense an album's worth of striking mood music into one or two music moments here and it's tremendous. If you fell for their elegantly constructed rouse it's because you need to know the one rule for engaging in Oryx & Crake's emotional minefield: constant vigilance.

"Holds Hand For Dry Land" is a surprising and yet not so surprising turn for the band. The sextet (whittled down from a supporting cast of nine)  are putting their best foot forward and trying on some new looks while still managing to remain true to arguably the most impressive skill in their arsenal: their ability to make you feel. Making a song that's catchy is a skill not everyone can master, true but the far greater feat is creating a song that can do that as well as have meaning behind it. Don't let "Holds Hand For Dry Land" lead you into a false sense of security. Oryx & Crake are tackling some pretty heavy topics on their upcoming sophomore album and the fact that they have the ability to pair those themes with infectious melodies that's as dangerous as it is brilliant.

Oryx & Crake's forthcoming sophomore record Marriage is out 9/25 on Deer Bear Wolf Records.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Olivia Quillio - Get Down and Pray (2015)

Since the recording and release of her debut full length record The Bomb, Troy, NY based singer/songwriter Olivia Quillio has had a considerable amount of life shakeups: she fell in love, she had her heart broken, she survived. That might sound a bit dramatic but deep in the throes of heartbreak successfully completing that last part might not seem all that certain. With sophomore record Get Down and Pray, Quillio chronicles her year of emotional tumult and all the life lessons she's learned during and after. In that way Get Down and Pray proves a worthy successor to The Bomb; her intimate yet accessible brand of heartbreak pop leveled up by her maturity.

Beginning with an album version of "New Home", a track Quillio released the demo version back in 2012, it's given new breath on the album, more meaningful after Quillio's cross-country sojourn found her settling right back into her Upstate NY music community that served as the song's inspiration. "New Home" serves as Get Down and Pray's thesis statement - its seraphic harmonies almost at odds with the passionate fervor Quillio infuses in it. "Now matter how it unfolds, I will love you now - however I can" Quillio offers and effectively sets up the ebbs and flows of the album.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Get Down and Pray is that for all the negativity that spawned it, Quillio approaches the album with a beguiling lightness; there's no bitterness left in her. Quillio allows herself a full spectrum of emotions - practically beaming deliveries on "Stranger" and title track "Get Down and Pray" to offset those quieter introspective moments.

Where The Bomb delved into Quillio's jazz roots both in its supporting players and moments like "Weight/Wait", Get Down and Pray is a more effective synthesis of both her training and her interests from the downright soulful in "Righteous Arms/Honest Hands" and "The Warning" to the country swagger of "Held Back My Hair". Her love and talent for folk music wins though, pervasive throughout the album and aided by the presence/persistence of pedal steel and banjo.

There's no doubt that Get Down and Pray is a cathartic album. As far back as her earliest demos Quillio has displayed a commendable lyrical guile - able to articulately transform her own experience into something not only universally applicable but enjoyably so. Quillio arms herself with her vulnerability, her emotional honesty deployed with graceful aplomb. It's no surprise that while Get Down and Pray builds upon itself that it's most winsome moments are the most bare - songs like "Get You/Get Me", and stunning album ender "Your Truth" that pit Olivia Quillio against herself. They never fall completely in sob story moroseness and "Your Truth" stands out as the culmination of Quillio's heartbreak and disappointment. While it's more alluded to than deeply felt elsewhere on the album "Your Truth" is the levy breaking moment where what Quillio has learned hasn't superseceded the actual feelings that inspired them. It's an absolutely devastingly beautiful moment both standalone and for all the work that Quillio has done to lead up to that moment. If there was any doubt about Olivia Quillio's lyrical potentness, it's banished here, deeply felt from "I lost all my fear in the battle" and growing exponentially with her every subsequent narrative writhe and coo.

Olivia Quillio's sophomore record Get Down and Pray is available now. You can isten to it in its entirety/ buy & download via Bandcamp.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Listen: Cemeteries - "Sodus"/"Luna (Moon of Claiming)"

It's hard to believe that Kyle Reigle aka Cemeteries has essentially been working on the follow up to his debut full length album The Wilderness since its release in October of 2012. Sure, Reigle has had his fair share of distractors in the form of his synth-heavy horror movie inspired side project Camp Counselors, a North American tour supporting Teen Daze, and a cross country move to Portland but ultimately Reigle's been plodding away at his follow up with a patience that's certainly commendable.

And with his sophomore album Barrow recently announced, Reigle's left that patience behind, dropping not one but two songs from the album in rather quick succession. For as much as "Sodus" and "Luna (Moon of Claiming)" resemble The Wilderness-era Cemeteries, there's a fair amount of forward momentum both metaphorically and in actual practice. Reigle's knack for longform dreamy tapestries and foggy obscured vocals endures however. Where The Wilderness proceeded from icy chill to warming thaw "Sodus" and "Luna (Moon of Claiming)" more or less continue right on from the warmer textures and brighter sounds.

"Sodus" thrums along at a speed far quicker than the standard Cemeteries track and yet, enjoys the same characteristic blossoming. Reigle's vocals swoop and crane and hover in its upper register far above their less delicately traced arcs in counterpoint toward the consistent methodical plod both of the drums and its adjacent gleaming synth tone. There's scores of textural interplay but "Sodus" gains so much of its propulsion from its prevalent melodic lines even as it seesaws between sections.

While "Sodus" begins at a full-fledged gallop, "Luna (Moon of Claiming)" relies instead on a much more gradual acceleration. A solo echoing piano presents the track's pervasive theme before the much more standard guitar, bass, drum, and voice take up the melodic heavy lifting. Reigle leans deeper still into his horror movie soundtrack roots by introducing a vocal chant that lends itself to the otherworldly nature of his lyricism. "Luna (Moon of Claiming)" manages to simultaneously balance moments of eerie with those of artful majesty. Even with its seance vibe, Cemeteries still manages to create  a song of everlasting beauty with enjoyable pop elements and majestic sprawl.

It may have been a work in progress for the better part of three years but "Sodus" and "Luna (Moon of Claiming)" show that it's been three years well spent and Barrow might prove to be a work of significant improvement over Reigle's occasionally luxuriating debut. Cemeteries' sophomore record Barrow is out July 28th and will enjoy a dual release on Reigle's own Snowbeast Records and Track and Field Records.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Listen: Gracie - "Black Ice"

It's been awhile since we've heard anything from Brooklyn based electronic pop act Gracie and longer still since there was any official release to get worked up about. Since the release of his Work It Out EP in 2013, Gracie has undergone a change or two - namely in regards to the actual lineup as well as mostly focusing on one-off singles here and there.

While "Hood Rich" leaned a bit into the R&B influences everyone in Brooklyn seems to feeling these days, "Spilt Milk" and "Bunny Junction" served to reinforce that Gracie hasn't quite jumped the shark. Even if there's nothing really planned for them, they were proper benchmarks for Andrew Balasia's experimentation. "Black Ice" is simultaneously a return to form and a noteworthy exploration. There's a multitude of layers, threading electronic and acoustic elements together; carefully avoiding overwhelming the simple but memorable melodic idea. Not that anything really stands a chance at that - Gracie continues with one of his earliest musical signatures as the initial main melody finds a way to persist through the track's various diversions without really beating you over the head with the idea. It's slight, peeking out when there's plenty else going on to reassure you it hasn't been forgotten without drawing focus from secondary melodic ideas and the sparsely utilized effects.

"Black Ice" is Gracie at their most compositionally subtle. It's ear-catching and accessible but also fun and smartly arranged. How Balasia manages to spin an engaging pop jam out of taking a spill on a patch of ice is beyond me and yet, it's arguably one of Gracie's best tracks. Here's hoping there's more to come of this caliber from the newly minted duo.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Friend Roulette - I See You. Your Eyes Are Red. (2015)

Brooklyn chamber pop sextet Friend Roulette have established themselves as an innovative force in the NYC music scene long before their debut full length I'm Sorry You Hit Your Head even saw the light of day. With their unique instrumentation - violin, EWI, two drum kits in addition to the standard guitar and bass, their approach to songwriting in general - namely contorting their original demos into bizarre forms has led to Friend Roulette being that odd band whose releases I've found anticipating more than those of bigger, more well known acts. With their debut album behind them, Friend Roulette have essentially hit the ground running - turning out their Grow Younger EP and now their sophomore record I See You. Your Eyes Are Red. in about about the same amount of time to it took to successfully complete their debut.

While first single "Strange Girl" would be equally at home on either of their most recent releases for the rest of I See You. Your Eyes Are Red. experimentation seems to be the name of the game. In past releases Friend Roulette have managed to pair their characteristic quirk with infectious pop but for their latest record, the sextet aren't afraid to go full tilt weird. Where "Strange Girl" found Friend Roulette at the peak of narrative cohesiveness - "Dutch Master" with its abrasive jags, revels in the surreal. "Believe me Mister Officer, this cough is not a cold/blood running from my chin leads to my pretty pot of gold" Julia Tepper sings before the track is imbued with a slinky jazz groove. "Dutch Master" buoys between chaotic dissonance and fluid moments of melodic clarity often paired with absurdist lyricism. If Friend Roulette hadn't demonstrated themselves both as able lyricists as well as capable dream logic enthusiasts, "Dutch Master" probably wouldn't go down as easy as it does.

"Stoned Alone" follows and despite its sythy warble, manages to root its referenced drug with emotional resonance. The lyrics build on top of each other like lego blocks - each subsequent lyric revealing more of the adventure, while the band hits a R&B-esque groove not unlike their debut's "Lie". One of Friend Roulette's greatest strengths has always been their genre fluidity and in those little beats that are R&B reminiscent without being a full on deep dive, Friend Roulette manage to both fit in and rapidly distinguish themselves from the ongoing trend of indie R&B inclusion.

Assumed one-off Christmas single "You Drank All the Eggnog" finds its way onto the album to continue the album's many references to pot usage as it details sneaking off to get stoned to deal with your family during the holidays. It's a fun song that fits surprisingly well into an album released in June, as much of a snapshot of life events as a song without explicitly timed lyrics.

If "Up in the Air" continues Friend Roulette's power strutting away from the chamber pop descriptor through balancing its quieter moments with soulful climaxes, album ender "Warm Year" sees them returning to the label to demonstrate their subtle mastery over it. The longest track on the album "Warm Year" shifts between engaging instrumental interludes and less bombastic lyric flourishes while functioning as one of the album's most dynamic compositions.

I See You. Your Eyes Are Red. somehow manages to function as a deconstruction of the band while also highlighting exactly what worked so well for them so far. With this latest album it gets more difficult to actual describe the band and their sound while also cementing many of their growing trademark characteristics. I See You. Your Eyes Are Red. sits at a junction of the sextet's influences - its members' classical and jazz training effortlessly deployed without obscuring the band's love for pop music and uncanny ability to strike the most original path. It's all the more impressive when you take into account that several of the album's tracks ("Strange Girl", "Garden Tidings" "Warm Year") are old, some older than even their debut self-titled EP released it the spring of 2011. And yet, ultimately in returning to those songs are trussing them up just the way they want, Friend Roulette takes chief ownership of its past to define its future.

I See You. Your Eyes Are Red. is pivotal. It might be the last album where you can rightfully call Friend Roulette a chamber pop band - if not abandon all labels completely. It opens the band up to a multitude of possibilities that the they might but be canny enough to pursue. No one knows what the next step will look like for Friend Roulette but if their ability to metamorphose remains, I See You. Your Eyes Are Red. demonstrates that it will the the very least be an interesting one.

Friend Roulette's sophomore record I See You. Your Eyes Are Red. is out now on Goodnight Records and available to order here.