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.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Listen/Watch: Jinja Safari - "Find My Way"

After releasing their debut full length self-titled record in 2013 (a record which has yet to enjoy a release further than their native Oz) and touring around it for much of the subsequent year, Jinja Safari entered a hiatus of sorts during which several of their members embarked on secondary musical adventures. Drummer Jacob Borg unearthed Berlin Bar Hounds, Marcus Azon teamed up with YesYou to form the much slicker pop outfit Cold Clinical Love, and co-frontman Pepa Knight out-paced his band members by releasing his debut Hypnotized Vol. 1 EP, a record which he was able to tour in support of several times before rejoining the rest of Jinja Safari for their much anticipated reunion.

With everyone's musical wanderlust more or less sated, Jinja Safari has returned with brand new single "Find My Way". While still employing much of the technicolor melodies Jinja Safari has built much of their tropical party pop around, there's hints of those other projects here - namely in Marcus Azon's more mainstream pop delivery on the verses. And yet with it's stratospheric swoops and positively resplendent harmonies in addition to it's assemblage of instruments, there's no doubt "Find My Way" is a Jinja Safari song through and through - a welcome addition to their catalog of eternal summer beach party folk pop. With it's first and oft repeated line of "Now I'll find my way back to you", "Find My Way" is a pretty apropos way to mark the band members re-invigorated return to each other and Jinja Safari's first new song in two years. Welcome back, Jinja Safari. You've got a whole lot of celebrating to do.

Get a sense of what hanging out with the globetrotting Aussies is like in their official video for the new single:

Friday, May 15, 2015

Listen: Sondre Lerche - "Despite the Night (Megamix)"

While hard at work on his follow up to last year's brilliant Please, Sondre Lerche understands the need to occasionally whet his fan's appetites. Ahead of his upcoming summer tour both in the US and in his native Norway, Lerche's dipping back into his unreleased song archives and combining one of his more recent tracks with his new-found enjoy of the all-mighty remix.

"Despite the Night",  a Please-era cutting room casualty, follows in the footsteps of party pop break up barnstormers "Bad Law" and "Legends" with its breezy melodies and effortless delivery masks an underlying disquiet. And yet despite its occasional dance-it-out vibe, "Despite the Night" finds Lerche more on the upswing than the shell-shocked and ruminating nature of most Please cuts. While Lerche avoided the tropes of your typical breakup record, its not hard to see why Lerche considered "Despite the Night" to be thematic inappropriate for the rest of that collection. There's a little too much light at the  end of the tunnel - "Despite the Night" plays off of serendipity and that feeling of uncertainty; but also new beginnings. "Despite the Night" is cautiously optimistic but also unabashedly fun. Maybe not to the point of "Bad Law" but it's a song that can be enjoyed based on Lerche' pop songcraft alone without the analysis of where Lerche's at emotionally in regards to the rest of Please. Distance will do that to you and something tells me Lerche's planned it just so.

Sondre Lerche's Despite the Night EP is out May 22nd and features a Trans-Atlantic smorgasbord of remixes from Bryce Hackford, Fancy Colors, Niilas, Stockhaus. Dates for Lerche's upcoming tour available for your perusal here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Review: Lady Lamb - After (2015)

While I received my crash course in Lady Lamb during her opening set for Typhoon's show at Webster Hall I was struck almost immediately with the absolutely visceral nature of Aly Spaltro's lyricism. But that's just one of the various facets I found in Spaltro's lyrics when I had time to actually sit down and digest. Spalto is a charming storyteller - often threading more than a song's worth of narrative together to create songs that deliver in a way you don't quite expect. You're struck more by the feeling than by the evident though behind the linked verses. In a way Spaltro's lyricism has always been characterized by a bit of the surreal so that when it was announced that After - Spaltro's follow up to her tremendous Ripely Pine I was surprised and wary. Surreal is often a descriptor for weaker lyricists with potential for growth whose songs are mostly typified by nonsense ramblings. It was a descriptor that was strange to see bestowed upon Aly Spaltro but found apt for lead single "Billions of Eyes".

Though "Billion of Eyes" is full of Lady Lamb's trademark charisma, it was the first time I noticed the disjointedness of Spaltro's lyrics in such a glaring way. Ultimately about feelings of tour - Spaltro tries to capture the spirit of how little things essentially make life on the road liveable from creature comforts to the kindness of strangers. Spaltro never really travels off that course but it's the rare moment where you get the feeling that this is material for at least two songs. It's less of a sense of being overstuffed but when Spaltro offers an anecdote about how her grandmother's sister was deemed a saint and moved to the Vatican, it's a jarring disconnect. Luckily the song is a poppy folk rock confection so it still goes down easy but it was a worrying introduction into Lady Lamb's surreal new album.

Fortunately those worries were misplaced. On After, Spaltro takes full liberty with the narrative freedom a surreal venture gives her. "The vena cava, the most superior, the queen bringing blood into the chamber" is the first line uttered on After and appropriately sets up expectations for the album - namely to expect none. On "Vena Cava" and essentially all throughout After, Spaltro weaves between the mundane and the fantastical, between dreaming and waking state while also harkening back to Ripely Pine's signature moments ("Aubergine", "Crane Your Neck") more just in casual reference than any atempt to replicate their success. It's a subtle nod that establishes Spaltro's efforts to build upon her history instead starting completely from scratch each album cycle even as she embarks upon new methods of writing and production.

Spaltro hits a familiar note in "Sunday Shoes" which takes a grisly folk tale turn with a disarmingly sweet delivery. While her most violent moments where usually accompanied with an appropriate uptick in energy, "Sunday Shoes" proves that Lady Lamb doesn't always draw from the same well while also creating ones of the album's most devastingly beautiful moments.

Considering all Spaltro really had to do was just maintain, After more than delivers while containing enjoyable additions to Lady Lamb's rapidly growing catalog. Spaltro is growing comfortable with her riotous brand of folk rock without merely retreading is a commendable feat in itself. After is an album of considerable strength - of interesting, unique song structures and lyrical heavy lifting that's presented with a sense of effortlessness that still remembers to be ear catching and pleasant to listen to. While not particularly dense - After is the kind of album that rewards the listener with each subsequent listen as the reoccurring themes, repurposed ideas, and narrative links reveal themselves both the more and less you look for them.

Lady Lamb's latest album After is out now on Mom + Pop.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Listen: Pearl and the Beard - "Again Animal"

photo by Shervin Lainez
With the raucous power pop of "You" Brooklyn indie pop trio Pearl and the Beard ensured that the introduction to their upcoming album Beast every bit as triumphant as it deserved to be. The threesome were finally free from the confines of the studio, their record was successfully crowdfunded to completion, and they wasn't a tour date in sight. "Again Animal" find Pearl and the Beard in a slightly different place. Recently back from a slew of dates opening for Ani DiFranco, ready to embark on yet another with Pig Pen Theater Co, and with the details of Beast still more or less under wraps while they figure out how to distribute the damn thing "Again Animal" is a wonderful reminder that Pearl and the Beard are working their hardest and are here to stay.

The second song on the album immediately following "You", "Again Animal" dials down the sense of urgency but remains a similarly assured power pop confection. Where "You" functioned as showpiece for Jocelyn Mackenzie, "Again Animal" see-saws main vocal duties between Mackenzie and Emily Hope Price while bringing in Jeremy Styles for backing vocals and the resplendent harmonies of the chorus before turning his silvery falsetto loose in the song's climax. "Again Animal" is as much of an instrumental frenzy as it is a vocal one - built on Mackenzie's drumming, Styles and Price manage to find the perfect balance of percussive playing without losing any melodic power. There's a lot of arresting music moments to account for in "Again Animal" from its beautiful high-flying harmonies to its momentous surges.

Compositional dense but lyrically nimble, "Again Animal" is a multi-faceted track that shows off Pearl and the Beard at an obvious creative peak. That bodes well not only for the rest of Beast as each track proves itself even better than the one that preceded it but also for Pearl and the Beard in the long run. Here's hoping it's not too long now before Pearl and the Beard can show off their fancy new album and get to work on the next one.

Pearl and the Beard's third album Beast will be out later this year.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Listen: AURORA - "Running With The Wolves"

photo by Kenny Mckracken
After nearly a half year between her debut "Awakening" and second single "Under Stars" Norwegian singer/songwriter Aurora Aksnes aka AURORA is thankfully releasing songs with far more consistency. After beginning the year with "Runaway" AURORA announced her first official release: the Running With the Wolves EP. The title track of her forthcoming Glassnote Records debut continues the artful blend of Aksnes' folk-inspired narrative lyricism and grandiose pop choruses with just the right touch of synth tone exploration.

Similarly to "Awakening" and "Under Stars" "Running With The Wolves" relishes in its momental buildups toward expectation-shattering grandeur. But unlike past singles with utilizes a sort of trapdoor reveal, "Running With the Wolves" reaches its climaxes with a wave-like fluidity. AURORA's casual glide into stratospheric choruses are just as gradual as its descent from them. It's a subtle back and forth that speaks to the musicianship of those Aksnes has chosen to surround herself with; able to push and pull along with her intensity without distracting from Aksnes' twinkling vocals.

AURORA's Running With The Wolves EP is out now on Glassnote Records.