Monday, July 9, 2018

Listen: Rubblebucket - "Fruity"

photo by Amanda Picotte
Considering the fact that Annakalmia Traver and Alex Toth of Rubblebucket have not only been touring pretty consistently but also putting out a decent amount of singles for the past couple years ("Donna", "If You C My Enemies"), it entirely escaped my notice that it has been approximately four years since Rubblebucket's last full length record Survival Sounds. Part of this may be due to the fact that last year both Traver and Toth put out records with their side projects Kalbells and Alexander F as well as putting out a Rubblebucket EP that it seemed very much like the band had taken no time off at all.

But aside from keeping busy with side projects (Toth even started another band - a solo project by the name of  Tōth that saw him turning to the guitar), the band had been hard at work on a follow up to 2014's Survival Sounds. "Fruity" is the band's first official single from the record and it is characteristically groove-inflected if not more subdued than longtime fans might've expect. It's a introspective piece that doesn't forget to be interesting about promises broken and how time just kind of marches on regardless. "I've said I'll make it to the party but I've got a lot going on" Kalmia Traver coos atop a mellow wave of synths and pulsing drum hits. As the song goes on, it becomes clear it's not just about fear of missing out or upholding some weird social contract but about finding room for yourself when you've been accustomed to operating as a unit. "I let you wrap your body into mine until we're one thing" and "I gazed at your face for too long until my own was gone" Traver sings, recounting promises she's made before offering an apology "I'm sorry, Fruity, but I must find the Earth again". Despite its incredibly dance-y dressings "Fruity" is a breakup song but also a love song. For all of the utterances of promises made and broken, shifted, and suspended; there's a promise that never is. The love contained in "Fruity" is a pure and genuine one that'll remain post-breakup just in a different form.

Rubblebucket's fifth full length album Sun Machine will be out August 24th on Grand Jury. You can pre-order the record now.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Listen: Mr Twin Sister - "Jaipur"

photo by Jennifer Medina
Though not a particularly political band, New York experimental pop outfit Mr Twin Sister has managed to throw a great deal of their energy behind efforts they believe in: playing a benefit for  Hurricane Maria relief for Puerto Rico last Fall and the donation of proceeds from their previous single "Poor Relations" to the Standing Rock Sioux's fight against construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016 that it's hard not see new single "Jaipur" (named after the capital city of North Indian state of Rajasthan), as a similar though not exactly congruent political statement. It's hardly overt but there's a sense from the name itself and the the melange of instruments that appear that it's meant to be a celebration of diversity. Andrea Estella's lyrics are characteristically vague - universally applicable as she makes an appeal to be a kinder, stronger person. Less disco-fueled than any of their  self-titled sophomore full length, there's no denying the dance element that keeps the whole track shuffling along as a toe-tapping pace. Subtlety is the name of the game and Mr Twin Sister manage to stack their layers of strings, saxophone, and varied percussion with an impressive amount of clear precision that gives Estella's emotive vocals seemingly limitless room to crane and soar.

There's no telling if "Jaipur" is indicative of something larger (like the follow up to 2014's Mr Twin Sister) or meant to be a standalone single like "Poor Relations" and "The Erotic Book" but it's a delightful entry into their oeuvre that blends earnest songwriting with pretty straightforward dance pop sorcery.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Listen/Watch: Ohmme - "Icon"

photo by Maren Celest

When I was first introduced to Chicago based experimental duo Ohmme last year from fellow experimental duo Ahleuchatistas, I was immediately taken not only with their impeccable vocal harmonies but the effortless blend of abrasive, dissonant guitar parts and the gentle flow of their vocal lines. Ohmme's ability to methodically blend disparate parts into something incredibly engaging as well as challenging, made me fall hook, line, and sinker for their unique band of meticulously crafted experimental rock pop.

Considering my introduction to them laid in the dark pop jangle of "Woman", the first thing I noticed in the pastel-colored music video for Ohmme's new single "Icon" was not just the visually brightness but also tonal one. The guitar lines are cleaner, Sima Cunninham and Macie Stewart's vocals lighter in tone and delivery. It's slightly surprising considering Ohmme largely rooted themselves in darker palettes on their debut EP. But intensely capable as both songwriters and composers, Ohmme's decision to turn the lights on in "Icon" doesn't take away from the fact that the duo are skilled purveyors of intricate rock pop.

The music video, directed by Elijah Alvarado, makes humorous reference to this newfound stylistic change as Cunningham and Stewart clad in their dark clothing navigate an aggressive brightly colored birthday party thrown for a dog by its owner attended by suit clad guests with balloons for faces. Cunningham and Stewart smile and make polite conversation but a casual eye-roll here and there and frequent attempts to dodge the guests let you know they're interactions are more out of social obligation than enjoyment. Though all of their reactions to the birthday good boy and its owner seem genuine. All the time Cunningham and Stewart sing about a nameless protagonist's appetite for destruction with a penchant for dark conversations topics who ties to portray herself as softer and more ladylike.

Then halfway through, the guitar shifts tone and Cunningham and Stewart are bathed in dim colors and red light. Earlier instances of balloons being popped become more obvious as the duo beginning delighted popping balloon much to the horror of the balloon-faced guests. Not only is it hilarious but from its very opening lyric - Ohmme and Alvarado ensure "Icon" syncs both in visual and musical  compositional. The song's frequent disgruntled references to balloons becomes a significant part of the video's aesthetic and Ohmme flirt with new sound styles pairing breezy melodies and textures with dynamic tonal shifts. It's a great offering at what they duo are capable of and should properly excite anyone who hears the new single or sees the video about their new album Parts which is out later this year.

Parts, the debut full length record from Ohmme, is out August 24th on Joyful Noise Recordings. You can pre-order the record now.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Listen: Mothers - "BLAME KIT"

photo by Tonje Thilesen
Since the release of their debut album When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired as well as their subsequent move from Athens, Georgia to Philadelphia, I've wondered what is next for Mothers, the project of singer/songwriter Kristine Leschper. The answer is given in "BLAME KIT", the first single from the quartet's forthcoming sophomore record and ANTI debut Render Another Ugly Method. I've always considering Mothers at their most experimental and technically complex to be reminiscent of  fellow Philly rockers Palm (unsurprisingly they've toured together) and "BLAME KIT" sees Mothers diving deeper into their most innovative impulses. While When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired was a delicate tightrope walk between Leschper's crystalline vocals and emotive narratives with the band's intricately layer math pop, "BLAME KIT" sees the band as a unit shift into overdrive: Leschper's usually unadorned vocals arrive through a thin layer of effects and momentarily suspending her languorous delivery in favor of a swifter. But Mothers are a band that revels in dynamic options and the initial fervor subsides for a syrupy slow-down.

Though on their debut, Leschper sang freely of emotional reckonings both within herself and directed towards others, a smaller thread throughout (even offered in opening track "Too Small For Eyes") is Leschper's interest in the body both as a concept and a vessel for ideas. "BLAME KIT" and Render Another Ugly Method expands that into a full on thesis and in its more sedate second half "BLAME KIT" finds Leschper cooing "Not the first time I've watched her body expand a human times it's size to contain everything". Leschper treats the body as a Universe unto itself, containing multitudes that render things outside of it rather inconsequential and yet "BLAME KIT" sees Leschper seeking to establish the idea of a societal measure of things like guilt and blame. This juxtaposition of radically different ideas is nothing new for Leschper and Mothers.

Mothers' itself is a band of composed of conflicting ideas and methods - the solo stylings of Leschper not entirely excised from its DNA, the band balances moments of collaboration and artistic isolation. The intensity of many of Mothers' prog-reminiscent breakdowns often existing without Leschper's vocals. "BLAME KIT" and Render Another Ugly Method essentially seek to expand and collapse distinctive dissonances.   

Mothers' sophomore full length album Render Another Ugly Method will be out September 7th on ANTI-, you can pre-order it now. The band will be touring pretty extensively this Summer opening for Japanese Breakfast and Lucy Dacus before embarking on a headlining tour this Fall. You can check dates on Mothers' official website here.

Listen: Saintseneca - "Frostbiter"

photo by Nick Fancher
Aside from the odd show and a brief tour opening for Philly outfit Hop Along, Columbus, Ohio folk rockers Saintseneca have been laying rather low. These things happen though: a band retreats to their homelife to resume the act of actually living like normal people and also work on newer music. "Frostbiter", the new single from Saintseneca's new forthcoming album Pillar of Na, gets the band back together to once again ruminate on life's offerings. "Frostbiter" follows previous singles "The Wandering Star", "Moon Barks at Dog" and "Book Of The Dead On Sale", but has both the distinction of being the first to actually be confirmed on the new album ("Moon Barks At Dog" will also be on Pillar of Na according to the tracklist) and also to represent a much more obvious stylistic shift for the band since previous album Such Things. "The Wandering Star" saw the introduction of more electronic elements to the band's already pretty eclectic blend of instruments and "Frostbiter" continues to lean into it.

"When granddad died, I got his knife//I cleaned the kitchen and I didn't know why" singer/songwriter Zac Little drawls above a stark, atmospheric hum before the chorus arrives with beats, the entrance of the rest of the band and featherlight vocals from new member Caeleigh Featherstone. Saintseneca songs have always reveled in a sort of pervasive melancholy before giving way to more exuberant arrangements but "Frostbiter" luxuriates in its sparsity. A rumination on memory, "Frostbiter" finds Little offering a series of seemingly unrelated anecdotes with fairly minimal arrangements before the chorus gives way to a recording of a woman and child talking. It's a more experimental composition but one that ultimately doesn't forget the band's propensity for catchy pop hooks. The electronic touches are treated as a spice instead of part of the main course.

Saintseneca's fourth full length album Pillar of Na is out August 31st on ANTI-. Pre-order is available now. The band will also embark on a headlining tour later this year to support the album, you can check dates here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Listen/Watch: Wilder Maker - "Drunk Driver"

photo by Chris Weiss
Earlier this year when Brooklyn based rockers Wilder Maker announced their third full length album Zion with the rambunctious first single "Closer To God", I was pleasantly surprised at the return to form of sorts from singer/songwriter Gabriel Birnbaum and co. after their "New Streets"/"Only Child" 7" they released last year. While Wilder Maker can hardly be considered a particularly rowdy bunch, their songs generally are delivered with a touch more grit than the marvelously sun-kissed jam of the non-album single. "New Streets" arrived not only with a delightful sense of ease but also highlighted how great the band are at crafting scenic narrative with a definite pop sensibility. With "Closer To God" however, the band turned their sights toward encapsulating not just the city they all call home with its various bevy of easily pursued vices but also to the slow burning place-setting narrative structure that defined much of their earlier career as disciples of longform pop songcraft with the twist being an ability to condense the longform aspect without losing any of their storytelling capability.

"Drunk Driver", the second single from the band's upcoming album, shifts the energy away from the turbulence of "Closer To God" towards something a bit more introspective. Lead by Katie Von Schleicher, "Drunk Driver" is a testament to narrative restraint. With a title like "Drunk Driver", the listener immediately conjures all sort of expectations of what the song will be, where it'll go and the band subvert them effortlessly. "Drunk Driver" starts as a trickle - Gabriel Birnbaum's guitar and Von Schleicher's keys delicately setting the scene before the vocals even enter. Von Schleicher does a great deal of foreshadowing from the jump: "Those who rise on handouts sit on paper thrones//It just takes on lit match instead of time to fuck 'em in their hearts". They're delivered with a casualness that belies their ominous nature as Von Schleicher coasts from moment to moment and lessens the tension by virtue of not speeding to the point. Like a guessing game with too many rounds, the secret seems less imperative the longer it's not just freely given.

And then excellent songsmiths that they are, there's a colossal shift in energy like a damn breaking and Von Schleicher's words come as the deluge. Her detailed descriptions of the city take on less of a sense of wonder with more of a distraught agitation and beleaguered weariness and then it comes - slight and subtle enough that you almost miss it: "I loved her with no thought for me as reckless as a drunk driver exhales and turns the key". Wilder Maker manage to subvert expectations so resolutely and masterfully while still delivering an exceptionally engaging song. Smaller details and moments like Von Schleicher's pained "Oh God" and the group's repetitive "And the band plays on" building tension before the band just let's it all go.

Zion, the third full length album from Wilder Maker, is out July 13th on Northern Spy Records and is available for pre-order now.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Night Beds - Dear Jewell, EP (2018)

After the release of their sophomore album Ivywild, Night Beds, the project of Colorado born Nashville based singer/songwriter Winston Yellen went into a sort of silent, working hibernation. Between the release of debut full length record Country Sleep and Ivywild, Yellen had essentially decided to trim the fat and embarked upon a new music journey with only his younger brother Abe in tow. Styling himself after producers like his longtime favorites Kanye West, Flying Lotus, and J Dilla,  Yellen's music became less obviously folk oriented and way more inspired by R&B and hip hop. It was a move that confused longtime fans but one that was smoothed over by the fact that Yellen's voice - highly emotive and rooted in narrative sincerity, is incredibly versatile. When I was finally able to catch Night Beds live at CMJ 2015, it was an entirely different beast than I expected. Live instruments like guitar, drums, and bass swapped out in favor of sample pads and the like. Tracking Winston Yellen down after the performance, he noted a few of our exchanges on the Internet about Night Beds' new sound (mainly my hesitant acceptance of it) and hinted at a possible return of some of those other elements.

With the release of their latest EP Dear Jewell,, Night Beds are back and Winston Yellen has more love to give. The lead up to the EP has been defined by Yellen embracing the ephemeral nature of things. Nothing Yellen posts to social media is permanent - deleting much of the band's social media posts in favor of vague promotion. Any explanatory information Yellen provides gets wiped swiftly after it's posted when Yellen thinks enough eyes have seen it. And yet, the confessional nature remains on Dear Jewell,. In a now deleted post Yellen proclaimed that he had fallen in love with his manager and wrote some songs about it.

While Night Beds has always been defined by a pervasive melancholy, Yellen's blurred the lines between the intimately personal and what is narratively so. Yellen finds a kernel of emotionally resonant truth and builds and intricate tale around it. Dear Jewell, doubles down on the electronic, experimental R&B of Ivywild while leveling up the production. "Jade", the first track on the EP is a sumptuous groove filed with fragmented and obscured lovelorn lyrics. "Tell me what it's gonna take? You know that I love you" is Yellen's first line and the rest of the song twists itself back and forth between pining and the assumption that the feelings are obvious with actually vocalizing them. "Jade" is a surprisingly dance-y track for how much it wrestles with itself narratively. Lyrics are submerged in seas of reverb only to click into sharp focus at unexpected times like "All I do is party running from this heartache" in the song's outro.

The inclusion of a cover of The Cure's "Just Like Heaven" is curious if only for the rare moment of sparsity: Yellen's back to playing guitar. But the production is anything but obvious - dropping a full band in and out at specific times and throwing effects on Yellen's moment at unexpected times.

 "Velvet River", a co-production with Seattle based artist Lofty Stills, leans more heavily into their experimental tendencies than "Jade" as the lyrics are spouted, warped, and shifted to lead to the subsequent thought - the use of old movie samples and string flourishes is a move right out of Lofty Stills' playbook but it's no less effecting as it's used to highlight Yellen's impeccable vocals. Yellen is softer here, vocals unaffected amid lush arrangements and harmonies. It's a dip back into the dream pop well Night Beds originally pulled from and "Velvet River" as well as instrumental interlude "In The Shadow of the Shade) is a testament to the fact that Yellen is perfectly capable in that arena but the challenge of Ivywild and the more electronic-tinged songs are more compelling to him and Abe.

"Ever-After" is the continuation of Winston and Abe's collaboration with Lofty Stills' Luke Culbertson. "(Pt.1)" is a stellarly arranged waltz. It's a moment of brightness in an otherwise raging storm of complicated emotional tumult. It's the inverse of "Jade" in that while similarly upbeat, its lyrics are much more hopeful. Where "Jade" pushed and pulled with heartache, "Ever-After (Pt. 1)" seems to find the positive in sense of love. "If I found another, I could love her like no other man, someday" Yellen sweetly coos. It looks toward the future but the rest of the song is firmly situated on this particular person: "If I shut you up, fill my mind, trying to find - a thousand lights point to you/what's a man to do?"

"Ever-After (Pt. 2)" follows its saccharine counterpart with a bit of a reality check. The production snaps back towards the more obviously electronic and R&B elements as Yellen sings of heartache once more. Like "Jade" Yellen's lyrics are splinter and dive into pools of reverb but their main points resonate - where "Ever-After (Pt.1)" asked "If you love me, what could I need ever after", "Ever-After (Pt. 2)" offers that just love is not enough. The love contained with Dear Jewell, is a struggle. It's messy and a hell of a lot of work.

Dear Jewell, is a more clearly focused effort than Ivywild that balances Night Beds' musical adventurousness with a cast of skilled collaborators and balances their skills with those of Night Beds. It's also a collection  of songs that highlights all of Night Beds strengths. The production has tightened up, segues are smoother and each song is composed of incredibly winsome moments. Yellen's songwriting remains as effecting as it always has but the more polished production actively works to enhance it. Where Ivywild was the direct result of Winston and Abe's desire to switch up the Night Beds formula, time and experience has provided them with a defter hand at self-production and more confident presentation of ideas. Where Ivywild recalled a hip hop mixtape, Dear Jewell, seems like a more cohesive collection despite the stylistic shifts contained within. It's subtle when it needs to be subtle, bold when it needs to be bold, and as always bolstered by Winston Yellen's absolutely distinct voice.

Night Beds' Dear Jewell, EP is out now.