Monday, December 11, 2017

Listen: Palm - "Dog Milk"

Although the bulk of Philly based rock pop experimentalists Palm's ouevre relies on the interplay not only between guitarist/vocalists Kasra Kurt and Eve Alpert but all four members of the band in general, "Dog Milk", the second single from Palm's upcoming sophomore full length Rock Island, takes the method to its compositional and technical climax as Alpert complements Kurt's lead vocals with both melodic and rhythmic asides.

Album opener and first single "Pearly" introduced fans to Palm's new experiments with electronics and synths and "Dog Milk" continues right along in that regard as drummer Hugo Stanley joins in with Kurt's MIDI triggering as well as accompanying his already pretty full-bodied percussion with electronically prepped drum beats. Though the band has accessed a broader range of sounds mainly through the use of effects pedals, the band's use of electronic further blurs the already hard-to-believe multitude of sounds the band are able to pull from their instruments.

There's been no shortage of experimentation in Palm's short but notable history as rock experimentalists and yet still "Dog Milk" serves as an incredible combination both of the band's far more recent leaning into their pop sensibilities as well as the insertion of electronic elements into their songs. It's a perfect storm of their incredibly engaging technical pop rooted in their mathy dressings as the band continue to pave their own way with increasing original takes on genre bending rock music. The occasional harsh abrasiveness of their debut full length Trading Basics has given way to much more tuneful efforts in their Shadow Expert EP and "Dog Milk" proves that there's still plenty of room to explore in this more accessible sound as the band create an incredibly full track that expands their textural palette in exciting new directions while also incorporating elements of what makes Palm such an interesting band to listen to: namely their technical precision and propensity towards rhythmic complexity.

"Dog Milk" might be Palm's poppiest track to date but it is also their most subversive as the band complicate would-be descriptors even further. Palm have never been a band easily described by labels but "Dog Milk" and Rock Island are shaping up to trip up longtime fans as they explore new creative avenue and jerry-rig an impressively pleasant brand of Frankenstein-ed guitar pop that borrows elements from all manner of music to bold establish itself as wholly separate. It bodes especially well not only for their eagerly anticipated sophomore record but also for the foursomes continued creative output.

Palm's full length sophomore album Rock Island is out February 9th on Carpark Records. Pre-order available now.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Listen: Renata Zeiguer - "Bug"

Despite the fact that Brooklyn based singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Renata Zeiguer's last official release was her Horizons EP under her moniker Cantina (while releasing a series of bedroom demos intermittently after), it really hasn't been that long since you've heard her. From featured vocals on "Santa Carina" on Vensaire's final release JANUS back in 2015 and more recently, violin on Cassandra Jenkins' Play Till You Win, or back up vocals and strings on Landlady's The World Is A Loud Place, Zeiguer's been a quiet contributor to a lot of my favorite songs and albums all the while plotting the next course for her solo material. Enter "Bug", the first single from her debut full length album Old Ghost.

With "Bug", Zeiguer continues to offer up more of her delightfully melodic indie pop. Reclaiming Cantina as a project by her own name, "Bug" is a wonderful reintroduction full of clean melodic lines and similarly uncluttered harmonic layers. Zeiguer's songs have always balanced clear-sighted unfettered melodies and lush arrangements and "Bug" is no different as Zeiguer's vocals are largely unencumbered by her compositional aims. "Bug" is surprisingly spacious and free given Zeiguer's propensity for sudden bursts of textural complexity but that also highlights her winsome lyricism which continues to be dynamic in its originally and the unique timbre of her feather light vocals. A gifted composer as well as musician, Zeiguer knows her voice the best and her arrangement seek to elevate instead of muddle it. "Bug" is a swift moving slice of breezy guitar pop with subtly deployed pockets of rich textural depths. Zeiguer's solo debut has been a long time coming and "Bug" shows that she fully intends to make the most of it.

Renata Zeiguer's debut full length Old Ghost is out February 23rd on Northern Spy.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Listen: Cosmo Sheldrake - "Mind Of Rocks" ft Bunty

photo by Simon Wolf
While English singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist and producer Cosmo Sheldrake's previous releases "The Moss" 7", and his debut EP Pelicans We have established Sheldrake as an exceptionally talented songwriter, producer, and musician, "Come Along", the first single from Sheldrake's upcoming debut full length record The Much Much How How and I, displayed an ability to balance subtle minimalism but also incredible pop maximalism that was enough to get me properly excited for Sheldrake's full length debut and second single "Mind Of Rocks" continues to demonstrate Sheldrake as an incredibly versatile creator as well as upend all expectations of what to expect on the upcoming full length.

Despite the lack of Sheldrake's own vocals in favor of the heavily featured Brighton based artist Bunty, "Mind of Rocks" continues to weave Sheldrake's intricate production with his ever curious use of field recordings. Panamanian bats, a Scottish gale, and one of Sheldrake's beat-boxing lessons is but a few of the sounds he builds the track on. While Sheldrake hasn't shied away from being non-featured on vocals before - see "Rich" from Pelicans We which featured Andreyah Vargas, a friend of Sheldrake's, the different in the two tunes lays in the fact that the vocals in "Rich" still largely depended on Sheldrake's skillful deployment of Vargas' pre-recorded vocal samples. The result was a sort of chopped up effect that fit perfectly with the cacophonous bolder smashing Sheldrake utilized as the backbone beat of the track. "Mind Of Rocks" sees Sheldrake giving up some of the control for Bunty's more svelte, freer vocal performance. It's a track that relegates Sheldrake almost entirely to a producer role which he's proven exceptionally gifted at so far. Even as he brings in veteran composer/producer and fellow field recording enthusiast Matthew Herbert as co-producer.

And yet, there's no denying "Mind Of Rocks" is far less lush and complicatedly layered than some of Sheldrake's previous efforts - especially the multitudinous first single "Come Along" from his upcoming full length debut. But sparse - or sparser than he's been recently is refreshing and definitely provides an effective showcase of Bunty's vocals.

Cosmo Sheldrake's debut full length The Much Much How How and I is out April 6th on Trangressive with pre-order available now.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Listen: Palm - "Pearly"

While Philly based rock pop experimentalists Palm released their Shadow Expert EP earlier this year, they've already had the follow up to both it and debut full length record Trading Basics firmly prepped. So much so that fans of theirs who caught them on their most recent tour promoting the EP heard many of these new songs. "Pearly", the album opening track and first single from their upcoming record Rock Island, essentially bridges the gap between Shadow Expert and this new record, in that while it features the quartet's trademark complexity - both in rhythmic figures and time signatures, it keeps in line with much of Shadow Expert in dulling much of the harsh, abrasiveness of Trading Basics.

"Pearly" also finds the band introducing new elements to their already multitudinous layers - namely in the addition of synths. Guitarists Kasra Kurt and Eve Alpert have largely experimented with the expectation of guitar sounds in the pursuit of their mathematical art-pop so much so that you're not entirely sure the synth sound isn't just a guitar run through some cool effect. But outside of Palm, Kurt has been experimenting with electronics (as evidenced by his split Nino Tomorrow with Ada Babar released late last month) and that experimentation has found its way into Palm. Even with the addition, the synths are treated as more of another color to paint with instead of point of primary focus especially as Kurt essentially sets and forgets the synth sample and accompanies Alpert in their trademark angular guitar interplay.

"Pearly" is wonderfully dreamy - featuring Alpert as the lead singer as she spins lyrics at once fragmented and mysterious: "I can feel elimination coming/what to do, I look around at nothing" Alpert begins and the existential crisis contained therein is at odds both with the collected calm of Alpert's delivery as well as Palm's buoyant accompaniment. 

But Palm have always been a band of contradictions and duality, and "Pearly" is no different. It's a song of complements as vocals operate both in the more textural sense Palm have always regarded them as well as giving an indication of what "Pearly" is about. But Palm don't make it easy and the lyrics are playfully tossed and turned in the wave-like lilt of Palm's unexpectedly smooth instrumentation. Where Palm might normally infuse jolts of energy through the use of jagged guitars or a rush of harsh noise, the differing element lies in Alpert's vocals which rise to climatic sighs.

Palm's sophomore full length record Rock Island is out February 9th on Carpark Records.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Listen/Watch: Young Dreams - "Cells"

Though it was essentially an salvaged outtake from their abandoned sophomore full length record, "Of The City" hinted at a brand new direction from the orchestral pop sextet Young Dreams. Though it made use of organs and strings, there was a reliance on synths and they were utilized far differently than they were on the band's debut Between Places. And when they released r&b tinged single "Sinner (I'm Sorry)" earlier this year, the potential direction of their new album was once again up in the air.

"Cells" however finds the band at a sound that is perhaps far more sustainable for a full record. Another indicator that the band has largely left behind the symphonic layering that defined much of their debut, instead "Cells" finds Young Dreams drawing closer to those psych rock grooves that inspired them do a Tame Impala rework. But unlike "Sinner", the musical direction doesn't seem as far of a leap away from their original sound than it ends up being. "Cells" certainly doesn't lack for experimentation but elaborates more on the band's previous ventures in tropicalia and psychedelica. "Cells" is a laid back soak in the sun very in line with Young Dreams' normal sun-kissed musical escapism but is much more than a traipse down Young Dreams sounds past. Much like how the titual "Young Dreams"/"Flight 376" and "Expectations"/"Dream alone, wake together" singles informed the direction of Between Places, those same building blocks serve as a sort of alternate timeline here. One that relies more on the band's immediately presentable skills than in Matias Tellez's incredible production talents. Not that Tellez's production is missing on "Cells" but unlike "Sinner" and even "Of The City", they're reigned in and honed in a bit more. Though Tellez utilizes a number of percussive effects and samples as well as synths, they're treated with a lighter touch than the previous singles. Also Rune Vandaskog's vocals remain largely untouched by effects unlike the persistent autotune that they were run through before.

"Cells" is a picture of a subtler Young Dreams. Where Between Places captured these incredible emotional reflections and paired them with grand arrangements and intricate layers, "Cells" finds a bit of a balance between what the band can accomplish live and what works in the studio. It's the first song (and potentially the only one that'll actually be on the upcoming sophomore record) that you can actually imagine the band playing live even as it dips into it's electronic moments. 

"Cells" is an incredibly catchy work of pristinely plotted psych-infused pop and one that highlights just what makes Young Dreams work so well as a unit. They don't need orchestral flourishes to define them; what they have instead is an tight-knit precision and a pursuit of sounds and colors that make their hometown of Bergen sound a little brighter.

Watch the lyric video for "Cells":

Young Dreams' sophomore full length record Waves 2 You is out January 12 via their own Blanca Records. You can pre-order the album now through their new Bandcamp page.


Friday, October 20, 2017

SOFTSPOT - Clearing (2017)

One of my favorite qualities of Brooklyn art pop outfit SOFTSPOT is how they experiment with their sound. While the band arrived with a full realized and unique sound on debut full length record Ensō, instead of resting comfortably on that particular sound they've expanded: going from two members to their current four, adding in the incredible insistent drumming of Bambara's Blaze Bateh and the svelte synths of Jonathan Campolo of Pill, each album since their debut has been a veritable redshift - a musical "yes and..." statement that rather than negating what's occurred before simply seeks to build upon it.

The result of another of the North Carolina retreats where singer/songwriter/bassist Sarah Kinlaw and guitarist Bryan Keller Jr emerged with much of Ensō and MASS, SOFTSPOT emerged from the chrysalis of both touring and the retreat once again with a newer sound - one that positions them at their most accessible. Clearing, the band's third full length album, is rooting firmly in the pop element. Much of what makes SOFTSPOT truly special can be still evidenced on this record: its diverse aural tapestries, unexpected lyrical subjects and narrative choices, and Kinlaw's vocal elasticity.

On Clearing, SOFTSPOT makes the most of the official addition of Campolo and constructs songs of seemingly limitless lushness. Whether it's the intense, of album opener "Maritime Law" or , SOFTSPOT build entire worlds with astonishing swiftness. The songs pull you in instantly with either their expansive, full instrumentation or their confessional-like intimacy. At times dream-like and incredibly visceral at others (often times within the same song), SOFTSPOT illustrates the theme of connection through both a lucid clarity and dreamy, subconscious intuition.

On "Helen" and "Habits", Kinlaw explores the dangerous and pitfalls of pursuing connections that no longer exist as the subjects of these songs surrender to lives to reminiscing and reliving golden memories with lovers that are no longer there. Though both are expressions of grief much like Ensō's "Half a House", Kinlaw explores them in drastically different ways, "Helen" from an outside perspective as she tries to convince the titular Helen to leave her room and rejoin normal life and "Habits" from the perspective of someone wrapped up in their loss who gives up more and more of time to trying to imagine life with the departed.

In addition to Kinlaw slipping into different characters and shifting various perspectives, Clearing seeks Keller also contributing vocals/lyrics and his contributions "Touch and Go" and "Whale Song" approach them from an male perspective of what is expected and what can actually be offered and how that ultimately ties into the quest for an engaging connection.

While much of Clearing is perhaps a reaction to a lack of a proper connection or a response to what happens when a powerful connection is severed, occasionally on the record there are moments which illustrates the surge of electrifying possibility that happens when a positive relationship is received: enter "Abalone" and to a lesser extent "Heat Seeker", arguably the most pop heavily cuts on the record. "There is a pull between the endless love that comes from me", Kinlaw sings as "Abalone" begins and it's a pretty intense feeling both to describe and to feel as Kinlaw describes how the what is irrelevant when the how is what is absolutely brimming with love. "It isn't in the way you move, it's the way you simply stood and took my hand" Kinlaw sings in probably one of the song's most climactic moments and it perfectly encapsulates the intensity of feeling that's she's looking to convey.

Clearing also sees a culmination of an often used reference to water. While Ensō paired many of its various reference with either an incendiary delivery or actual mentions to fire, Clearing is rooted firmly in its aquatic element: the push and pull of the waves seeming directing the very flow of the album as Kinlaw from the albums very beginning weaves a through line of water as a force greater than almost every force but love. It's the most prevalent of nature exerting a direct influence in the lives of the album's multitude of characters but where water was a cleansing agent on Ensō, its role on Clearing is both as an actual threat to contend with like the stormy, menacing "Maritime Law" or as a fathomless mirror of the album's subjects own capacity to feel and to love. 

SOFTSPOT are a band with a fiercely distinct sound but one of their greatest strengths lies in how malleable they allow themselves to be. No one SOFTSPOT album sounds the same as the one that proceeded it but there is still an unmistakable oneness to them all. Clearing reveals more facets to SOFTSPOT as Keller takes up both songwriting and vocal duties, the band properly incorporates its former touring members, and the band pursues a bolder sound through reveling in their vulnerabilities. Clearing is a remarkably open album. It is open and sincere and full of very real reactions and responses even as it presents them in occasionally more palatable dressings than they might've been presented on a previous album. But SOFTSPOT have always operated on a point between experimental musicianship and an inescapable pull of either frenetic guitar riffs or ear-catching pop melodies and tied them together with innovative songwriting. Clearing is no different and though it pushes their sound forward towards the end of the pop spectrum than previous releases there's, they band haven't dialed back the other qualities. Clearing is a powerful document from a band utterly comfortable in their own skin, it's not afraid to try dressing a little differently. 

SoftSpot's third full length album Clearing is out now on Arrowhawk Records.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Listen/Watch: Friend Roulette - "(This Is Why I Hate) Clocks" (ThrdCoast Blue Room Session)

When last I heard from Brooklyn experimental chamber pop outfit Friend Roulette earlier this year, they were taking a break from their trademark genre-bending to release an EP of ballads written by their friend, Texas musician Matt Sheffer, in the form of the appropriately titled Matt Sheffer Songbook Vol. 1. It was a far different change of pace from the off-kilter pop fans of the band have come to expect and yet, not without their brand of strange and wonderful whimsy. While the sextet prep a brand new EP to released later this year, they had the chance to participate in ThrdCoast's Blue Room and recorded a live session for a brand new song that'll be on their forthcoming I Want Out EP.

"(This Is Why I Hate) Clocks" finds the band swinging back towards their more characteristic influence in psych rock, art pop, and jazz. Singer Julia Tepper leaves her violin behind in favor of sprinting vocals as the band start at a full on gallop while John Stanesco switches from bass clarinet to EWI (electronic wind instrument). But Friend Roulette has always been a band that favors dynamicism and the track shifts tempos and sections frequently: going from the all out power pop of the introduction into hazy psychedelics for the chorus. As the song proceeds the distinction between the two sections blurs and they blend into each other until the lyrics from the faster section take on the elasticity of the chorus. It's a subversion of typical songcraft as instead of starting slow and picking up speed and ending on a climactic high, the band instead elongate their phrases all the while never dumbing down the instrumentals. Also Friend Roulette are a band that make the most of their time in the studio adding elements that might not necessarily be possible to perform live so it's very likely this version of "(This Is Why I Hate) Clocks" will sound mighty different from its later studio version.

Friend Roulette's I Want Out EP will be out later this year on Pretty Purgatory.