Thursday, May 5, 2016

Listen: Bloody Beach - "Mezcal Letters"


While I was introduced to Norwegian singer/songwriter/guitarist/everyman Chris Holm primarily through his work as a member of Norwegian orchestral pop outfit Young Dreams, it wasn't long before I discovered the man has his hands in many different pots. His solo effort Kilos melding Young Dreams balmy tropical-infused lushness with sample-laden electronic pop and old school indie rock. And then there's Bloody Beach, in which Holm plays bass, which takes that same sunny musical escapism and pairs it with psych rock.

"Mezcal Letters" is the first single from their five piece's upcoming sophomore record, the follow up to their Nabovarsel debut Bloody Beach Pirate Radio Presents, and pretty much continues in the group's self described tropidelica (both a portmanteau and catch all for all of the groups' combined musical interests in surf and psych rock, dub and afrobeat). "Mezcal Letters", produced by Holm's Young Dreams' bandmate Matias Tellez, curbs much of Bloody Beach's initial punkiness (established in first single "Quembo Que?") in favor of a much more fluid take on tropical pop. While the band has been known to skip around around in terms of sound and tone, there's no denying there's a certain appeal in "Mezcal Letters" consistency. It's smooth, featuring vocal hand-offs from Arne HÃ¥kon Tjelle and Chris Holm, and a bit less chaotic than the dance rock of their debut full length but none of that energy is lost. "Mezcal Letters" for its veritable pleasantness, is still very much a jam. That energy just seems to be more concentrated into some tight-knit grooves and some exciting instrumental flourishes. Considering the quintet's history of experimentation, there's no telling where the group will end up going on their sophomore record but if there's more like "Mezcal Letters" on it, you can certainly sign me up.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Listen: Andy Shauf - "The Worst In You"

photo by Colin Medley
As Saskatchewan singer/songwriter Andy Shauf gets closer to the release of his new album The Party, we're thankfully getting more and more glimpses of the finished product. While first single "The Magician" introduced us more to the sound of the record - namely Shauf's sort of Bacharach arrangement, "The Worst In You" actually places us at The Party in question where we're introduced to some of its guest.

"The Magician" may not have taken place at the party itself (or if it does, it's not as implicitly stated as "The Worst In You"), but turns out it sets the tone for the record. "The Worst In You" is a lightly arranged slice of folky chamber pop that can't quite shake its air of melancholy. Our first glimpse into the party's guests isn't much of a pleasant one - after arriving at the party, the narrator finds himself assuming the worst after separating from his date at a party. Shauf excels at rooting his songs is a sort of naturalistic candor that keeps his songs from spinning into drama. "The Worst In You" pits a normal human response against introspection. Or rather they function hand and hand, the narrator jumps to conclusions but never acts upon them externally. And it's to Shauf's credit that he's able to make an almost entirely internalized narrative so engaging.



Andy Shauf's sophomore album The Party is out May 20th on Anti- and Arts & Crafts in Canada.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Listen: The Heligoats - "Little Gain"


Ever since stumbling upon them more or less by accident back in 2011 via their NPR Tiny Desk Concert, I've been pretty much in love with The Heligoats. There's a hell of a lot to love about The Heligoats but perhaps the number one reason is singer/songwriter Chris Otepka who manages to channel his spirit of curiosity into a style of lyricism that's built brick by brick, molecule by molecule without draining any of the magic out of it. That and the man has a knack for going on unexpected narrative that are equal parts impressively creative and clever. Take The Heligoats' most recently released album Back to the Lake, surprisingly enough the band's first concept record, which details a camping trip that goes increasingly wrong. 
While the album is full of Otepka's natural, occasionally heightened realism, Otepka let's himself get really weird to often humorous results. But in between tales of mundane disappointments - crappy camp food, running out of said crappy camp food, getting lost and missing domestic luxuries, Otepka along with many returning members from previous record Back to the Ache manage to create songs that transcend the concept. 

Take "Little Gain", a short little ditty that can neatly exist outside of the album's increasingly harrowing misadventures. One of my favorite things about Otepka has been in his rather beautiful emotionally resonant and sort of universally applicable turns of phrase. "I can't find the time, it's gotta be somewhere" he croons it's as delightfully witty as Goodness Gracious' "Water Towers On Fire". It's a song that chooses heart over wit however as Otepka essentially gives himself a musical pep talk. It has a more universal appeal than some of Back to the Lake's other offerings and yet, it still fits in pretty well. Especially after the sort of buried relationship drama in "Camping Trip from Hell" and "Snakes, Jellyfish, Sandcastles" and before the Freudian dream epic of "Two Cycle Engine". It's delicate but triumphant with just little bit of bite that hints that things don't quite resolve the way you expect. It's another example of how effective of a songwriter Otepka can be - eschewing the verbose for the visceral.  


The Heligoats' Back to the Lake is out now on Greyday Records. You can buy the album through the band's Bandcamp.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Listen/Watch: Living x Habitat For Etheric Felines - "World's Room"


Earlier this year I had the pleasure of being introduced to the tropical-infused psych pop sounds of Bergen based producer Lucas de Almeida's project Living. They have relatively little amount of music to their name, but it explores a sort of delightful music escapism constructed with  deft hand. de Almeida filling out the ranks to transform the band into a trio and their most recent journey to SXSW bodes well for their future, they've most recently released a collaboration with Habitat for Etheric Felines, a Philadelphia based artist collective, that they've been working on for quite some time and answers a question I was sure to have somewhere down the road - what would Living sound like outside of their elected pop template? The result, World's Room, is a self-described audiovisual adventure featuring 25 minutes of music composed by Living. So until Living gear up to release more new music (they are currently on their debut US tour in the Pacific Northwest), this is a worthwhile pitstop.



Monday, March 14, 2016

Listen: Andy Shauf - "The Magician"

photo by Geoff Fitzgerald
Though I had seen his name around a couple times, it wasn't until I had met a member of his backing band (then on tour with Teen Daze) that I sought out the music of Saskatchewan singer/songwriter Andy Shauf and discovered it was right up my alley. Shauf is a talented multi-instrumentalist, providing all of the instrumentals from guitar, drums, bass to piano and clarinet on his records and last year's The Bearer of Bad News reveals Shauf as an equally gifted songwriter with a knack for musical worldbuilding and imaginative narratives in the vein of Randy Newman or Harry Nilsson.

"The Magician", the first single from his upcoming ANTI- Records debut The Party, is pretty much all the proof you need that Shauf is the real deal. While The Bearer of Bad News was written more or less over a period of 5 years with Shauf narrowing down the 11 song tracklist from 100 songs, Shauf approached the The Party differently - writing and rewriting a set of 15 and selecting 10 for the record and abandoning his original plan to record with a band abroad in favor of in studio in his native Regina where he played and recorded everything himself with the exception of the strings.

"The Magician" is a bit of soft focus pop rock that somehow manages to pack together a hell of a lot in compositionally without feeling overstuffed - a pensive piano with the metered consistency of a ticking clock, underlying understated guitar, and soaring clarinet lines and ornamental string flourishes. And yet much like his lyricism, it's manages to handle everything with a tight precision that feels effortless sleek. Little words and phrases turn "The Magician" into a fascinating character study perhaps as direct result of Shauf's lyrical economy. Shauf is not a verbose songwriter, and does an impressive amount of heavy lifting through efficiency. "Just a shaking hand without a concrete plan" Shauf croons and it's pretty much the most revealing tidbit he offers about the song's focal point and the only one he really repeats as it functions as the de facto chorus alongside a stream of poppy "do"'s. "The Magician" is an absolutely spellbinding pop gem that manages to captivate from it's very first melody and leaves you wanting to know and experience more. That bodes incredibly well for the rest of Shauf's narrative collection The Party.



Andy Shauf's The Party in out May 20th on ANTI- worldwide and on Arts & Crafts in Canada.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Listen: Carter Tanton - "Through the Garden Gates" ft Sharon Van Etten

photo by Jeff Maksym
After being inspired to try his hand at electronic pop through his time with Lower Dens culminated in 2013's They're Flowers under the Luxury Liners moniker, Carter Tanton is returning both to releasing music under his own name and to releasing it in the more singer/songwriter tradition of his previous album Freeclouds. On Jettison in the Valley, Tanton's back to his old stomping grounds and he makes the most of it by featuring an old collaborator in Marissa Nadler and new one in Sharon Van Etten. Although Nadler takes a much more prominent role on the album than Van Etten featuring on lead vocals for the title track, Van Etten settles for much less subdued features trading bars with Tanton on "Twentynine Palms" and backing vocals on "Through the Garden Gates".

The longest track on the album, second only to "Jettison in the Valley", "Through the Garden Gates" finds Tanton doing a lot with a limited focus. Inspired by his time in England and long walks that inspired introspection, "Through the Garden Gates" captures that feeling of expanse but funnels in into looking back at the end of a relationship and taking a sort mental and emotional inventory. As often as Tanton lets himself indulge in fantastical what-if's, he's quick to course correct: "Ask the truth about a million times, still fucked up when we get back".

On "Through the Garden Gates", Tanton offers up a surprisingly intimate portrait than in his previous works. Part of that is through his lyrics which both pull you in and keep you at a reasonably safe distance but also in his vocals which are fraught with wistfulness.



Carter Tanton's Jettison in the Valley is out now on Western Vinyl. You can order the record here.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Lucius - Good Grief (2016)


"Inspiration feeds off of the deepest scars"

A somewhat offhanded lyric in the rather upbeat number "Almost Makes Me Wish For Rain" about regarding happiness with suspicion somehow functions as the thesis statement for powerpop outfit Lucius' latest offering Good Grief. It worked surprisingly well for their breakout album Wildewoman and the quintet has decided to double down on the blues to motivate themselves to overcome the sophomore slump. Considering the years Lucius spent not only refining and augmented their core sound as a must-see Brooklyn band but also taking the time to put out their debut full length record as a fivesome, the fact that they've managed to finish up a fully polished second helping in only two years and a cross country move is certainly unexpected and undoubtedly impressive.

 First single "Born Again Teen" while arguably the catchiest of the quintet's infectious retro-infused powerpop happens to be a rarity on Good Grief. With band members Jess Wolfe and Dan Molad dating and eventual marriage led to the band being compared to Fleetwood Mac, the band has elected to really just go full on Rumors for Good Grief. It's a record that's so wonderfully honest in how it regards relationships - the ecstatic highs demonstrated by the aforementioned "Born Again Teen" and "Something About You", the turbulent in "What We Have (To Change)" and "Gone Insane" and the heartbreaking ballad in "My Heart Got Caught On Your Sleeve".  It manages to engage in moment of rich, emotional honest while never really forgetting that it's a pop record. It this way it resembles the self-titled debut album of former tourmates and friends The Head and the Heart - songs deceptively upbeat in arrangement with underlying emotional complexity. Chief singers/songwriters Jesse Wolfe and Holly Laessig are on a role here and their vocals are the key to really selling most of these slice of life scenes - imbuing the necessary drama and emotional resonance. Take "Go Insane", a frenetic look at words said that escalate a disagreement to an all out explosion. Wolfe and Laessig's main calling card is their perfectly in sync harmonies and the fact that they allow themselves to slip out of it as they properly illustrates those moments where things get out of control and you're carried by pure vitrol. Wolfe and Laessig devolve in an aggressive shout match, their vocals fraught with abrasive tension and harsh to the ear and it's jarring as hell but so incredibly effective.

While Lucius has always made it a point to spotlight Wolfe and Laessig to the point that they're often the focus in press photos, they're bold colors and matching outfits, that it's easy to forget that Lucius is continuing to come into its own as quintet. The production of Good Grief, helmed by Dan Molad, is absolutely impeccable making up for some of the occasion wonkiness on Wildewoman, and the band is astounding rare form nailing the genre-shifts with effortlessness. Which is no easy feat. Going from the dance-pop of "Almost Makes Me Wish For Rain" all the way to the rootsy folk of album closer "Dusty Trails", Lucius covers a considerable amount of ground but manage to internalize those influences and personalize it in a way that it never quite feels like the jukebox style of retro pop that's increasingly popular.

Good Grief is a triumph of Lucius' continuous stylistic synthesis and earnest, engaging songwriting. It might not've been the easiest path from the critical success of Wildewoman to this new batch of songs but it's a testament to the magic that awaits when you put in the work and love what you do to the point of potential madness. No one who's ever heard them would mistake their success for a fluke but Good Grief is a indicator that Lucius is capable of wonderful amounts of growth that can still contain the sound they've been working at since their earliest days together.



Lucius' latest album, their second in their current incarnation, Good Grief is out March 11th on Mom + Pop. You can order the album here and stream via NPR's First Listen until its release.