Thursday, July 21, 2016

Pitstop: Cavez


I was first introduced to Cavez (pronounced Caves) the project of Australian based singer/songwriter Bryce Hutchings through Jacob Borg of Jinja Safari's solo project Berlin Bar Hounds back in November of 2014 with a simple appeal to listen to his demo for a song "Idealistic Desire" and promises that the man's voice was amazing. He wasn't wrong. I was instantly taken with the track and the only thing that  really kept me from writing about it was the fact that I remained largely unable to host it here. But I was gobsmacked nonetheless and even reached out to Hutchings to see if there were plans to release more than single, stunning demo. Hutchings promised more to follow and fast forward to today where Hutchings has let free "Famili'ar", his second demo.

From "Idealistic Desire" which easily recalls the sparse beauty of Bon Iver circa For Emma, Forever Ago, Hutchings' pretty much offers up all we need to know. His lyric sprawl is slow and deliberate, his vocals aching and effective in their rawness, and his fingerstyle guitar work understated but nimble.

While "Familiar" arrives with a similar bare bones approach, it's notably warmer both in sound and delivery. "Familiar" ends up being more of a vocal showcase for Hutchings instead of an overtly lyrical one. While not rushing headlong into pop conventions, "Familiar" features much more animated performance and swifter build than the glacial pacing of "Idealistic Desire".

It's not much but the combination of "Idealistic Desire" and "Familiar" highlight Bryce Hutchings' versatility as both a songwriter and performer. They may just be demos but they're absolutely enthralling in simplicity and approach. No one but Hutchings can quite say what they'll end up sounding like ultimately but they manage to be more engaging than some many layered works from other artists. Hutchings displays a wealth of talent in these two demos and my hope is either that he doesn't wait to long to offer up another or that he takes a similar plunge as his friend Jacob Borg and begins working on and releasing music in earnest. No one can say but until we know more about Hutchings' Cavez project we do at least have these two stellar demos which showcase a beguiling singer/songwriter with an incredible vocal presence.



You can listen to "Idealistic Desire" here.



Thursday, July 14, 2016

Listen: Kishi Bashi - "Say Yeah"


When violinist Kishi Bashi finished touring behind his brilliant sophomore record Lighght, he reached sort of an impasse. Where does he go from here? Where 151a was steeped into vibrant psychedelics and blindingly bright chamber pop, Lighght leaned more into his jazz fusion and baroque pop influences. The records represented not only where K Ishibashi wanted to go creatively but also functioned as a sort of sum of his parts rounded out by his collection of string quartet reworks. But that question of what to do next wasn't merely a creative question. After so much time on the road, K's personal life was on the brink of collapse. It was enough to inspire a whole new approach to his normal composition style and dictate a heretofore unseen straying from the norm. "Say Yeah", the first single from his upcoming third album Sonderlust, is not only the introduction to Kishi Bashi's stylistic change but also a lyrical one.

Though Kishi Bashi has for the majority of his career thus far let his violin and loop pedal root his music, "Say Yeah" features a bit more synths than fans of his might be used to. It's a somberer take on his normally effervescent pop but one that highlights Ishibashi's versatility as an artist. "Say Yeah" combines Kishi Bashi's stars-in-your-eyes romance with a bit of realistic appeal, a disco groove, and a bit of the jazz fusion influence from Lighght.

On "Say Yeah" Kishi Bashi trades his characteristic sense of fun and whimsy for a sound that's a lot more human and rooted in reality and the result is electric. Ishibashi's talent for writing memorable hooks is alive and well but by rooting them in his own real emotion, he ensures its sincerity and infuses the crying-on-the-dancefloor track with a winsome sense of intimacy. It's a welcome return for Kishi Bashi that provides a bit of shading to the increasingly larger than life musician.



Kishi Bashi's third full length album Sonderlust is out September 16th on Joyful Noise Recordings. You can pre-order the record now as well as listen to a revealing interview Kishi Bashi gave on All Songs Considered.

Sur Back - Kitsch EP (2016)


From the opening trumpet fanfare of her first single "Jane Eyre", I knew Jupiter, Florida based singer/songwriter/producer Sur Back was going to be the type of artist that would be thrilling to watch grow. Not because Caroline Sans had a lot of growing to do but more her ideas - in the case of "Jane Eyre" a fearless dive into complicated meter, were sure to get more fascinating over time and with additional input. While I knew producing was an underrated labor of love where slight, incremental progress could be measured in years, I still let myself hope that Sans' debut album was soon to follow. Ultimately the wait wasn't too torturous and this year, a little over two years after the official release of her first single, Sans' debut EP Kitsch is out and well worth the wait.

Kitsch with its four tracks allows itself to be brief but that hardly blunts the force of its arrival or the sharpness of its construction. Sans has established rather early with "Jane Eyre" and second single "Occam's  Razor", which opens the EP, a tendency towards luxurious craning vocals that belie the simple utility of her production. Sans' approach favors deft over decadence; sparsity over the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach without sacrificing lushness. Kitsch is a collection of smooth, flowing songs that highlights the talent of Sans' one-woman show as "Pastel" and album ender/title track "Kitsch" feature perfectly deployed strings that catapult her songs to peak emotional effectiveness. But "Kitsch" with its slavic romance feel and sultry slow-burning delivery and "Pastel" do impressively different things with their strings. On "Pastel", Sans' strings are merely a part of din; an elegant textural choice in the climactic cacophony of its race to the finish instead of the deflating sighs towards quiet entropy in "Kitsch".

Kitsch may be brief but functions as an utterly thrilling introduction to Caroline Sans and the movement and classical music inspired vision that informs her work as Sur Back. Each song on Kitsch functions separately as a sort of expressive mood piece tailor made for the soundtrack of the listener's life. Sans' maximalist tendencies are obscured by the effortless stitching together of multitudinous layers result in visceral images presented with beguiling ease. None of the EP's four tracks resemble Sans' first single "Jane Eyre" (the only song not to make it on the EP) and Kitsch is all the more better for it - pushing Sans' in exciting and largely unexpected new directions for the listener. With plans for a new EP percolating no one can really tell where Sans is off  to creatively but if her continued growth resembles anything like the  lead up to Kitsch it's bound to be incredibly entertaining, wonderfully cinematic, and entirely worth the wait.



Sur Back's debut EP Kitsch is out now.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Listen: Genders: "Life Is But A Dream"


Following Maggie Morris and Stephen Leisy since their days as members of Portland foursome Youth has been a wonderful journey of sorts. Though Youth was shortlived, their output - a double A side and their June EP was enough to make enough of an impression that listening to their new band Genders was a given. While it was a bit of a wait after the announcement of the band until those not able to catch them around Portland could see them, Morris and Leisy have made the wait worth it - releasing a series of  placeholders before finally releasing their debut full length Something To Get You By at the tail end of 2013.

"Life Is But A Dream", the first single from Genders' upcoming Phone Home EP shows that they're not that kind of band that's content to stay in place. Whereas Something To Get You By reveled in a sort of garage psych hinterland, "Life Is But A Dream" pulls from the band's dreamier, more atmospheric moments and chases that lead to a refreshing new sound. Morris and Leisy pair their guitar with omnichord and synths, respectively while Katherine Paul's insistent drumming translates rather well outside of the fuzz of their previous efforts. Considering the more laidback surfer rock vibe of Youth and Something To Get You By's "Golden State", Morris and Leisy are no strangers to a less hectic vocal delivery but "Life Is But A Dream" pairs the casual delivery with the blistering, intricate guitar work of their debut. It's a noteworthy blend, one that highlights the band's versatility as well as their ability to take what worked previously show that it works surprisingly well in new context. The result is a slice of dreampop that's not entirely content to go down smooth; As Morris and Leisy's guitar work occasionally providing jagged edges that elevate the track above mere delicate pop confection.



Genders' new single "Life Is But A Dream" is out and available for download this Friday with their Phone Home EP out later this year.

Listen: Golden Suits - "Is It Wrong"

photo by Sammy Goldfien
When Fred Nicolaus made his solo debut back in 2013,  I had a lot of expectations. Expectations established from years of listening to his former band Department of Eagles. Golden Suits, both the new moniker Nicolaus elected for his new venture and the album named  after said moniker managed not only to exceed all my possible expectations but highlight in retrospect Nicolaus' strengths as part of the Department of Eagles duo. Golden Suits was an album of accomplished songwriting, polished chamber pop, and agile indie rock beaming with sincerity and established without a shadow of a doubt that Nicolaus' deft lyricism was on par with Daniel Rossen's despite Nicolaus' slight detour after their hiatus.

On "Is It Wrong", the first taste of what's next after Nicolaus' heart-on-his-sleeve debut, Nicolaus obfuscates the literary influences in favor of a much more straightforward delivery and leans into his more traditional rock influences over the crispness of  the arrangements of the debut. Where Golden Suits tracks' seemed meticulously and pristinely crafted in its entirely, "It It Wrong" is built around its colossal choruses; where Golden Suits was steeped in the heartbreak of what could be and never would, "It Is Wrong" radiates with positivity even in the face of uncertainty. Nicolaus approaches both the songwriting and composition of "Is It Wrong" from such a dynamically different place than his debut and the result is a song that pushes the sound of the debut forward but not into completely uncharted territory. "Is It Wrong" is the incremental progress that happens when life goes on, different in ways but not wholly divorced from it's source material. Happy is a decidedly good sound for Nicolaus and Golden Suits and "Is It Wrong" has my interest piqued in what more of that would sound like. Here's hoping it's not too long before Nicolaus delivers.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Listen/Watch: Christopher Tignor - "Shapeshifting"


While the classical music realm and the ever growing world of technology have more often than not been at odds with each other, there are a growing number of artists who have recognized the creative possibilities that embracing technology affords them. Violinist/composer/software engineer Christopher Tignor is one of those artists. From his earliest recording projects Slow Six and Wires Under Tension, Tignor has made software a valuable part of both his composition and his performance process; the mathematical precision of classical music theory elevated by the science of Tignor's tech. That intersection is where Tignor's art lives. "Shapeshifting", the first taste of Tignor's upcoming double LP/video album Along a Vanishing Plane, both continues in that tradition and breaks away from it. Along a Vanishing Plane was recorded curiously enough without any of the overdubs or loops that you would attribute to a musician like Christopher Tignor. Instead Tignor relies on his trusty violin and the software for his latest round of compositions.

The first thing you hear in "Shapeshifting" isn't the violin, however, but a tuning fork and triangle. The strike of metal against metal, chiming out in the space of Hudson NY's Second Ward sets off a chain reaction when Tignor brings the tuning fork against the bridge of his violin to resonate. Tignor's custom built software registers the tuning fork resonating against the bridge through the violin pickup and spits out the piece's first melodies. If that wasn't enough, Tignor controls the flow of the melody through pedals and whether the tuning fork sets of the melody or his actual playing does via pizzicato. It all sounds rather academic in theory but Tignor never lets the piece get bogged down with the science. The software is programmed but largely Tignor is behind the wheel, directing where melody climbs or descents based on his feeling in the present moment. The presence of a bass drum and cymbal, essentially weave its way to fabric of the piece and keep it from getting too atmosphere. The constant percussion ensures everything moves forward and quickly, not letting the innovation rest on its own laurels.

In "Shapeshifting", Tignor takes use of the tuning fork, which might appear gimmicky, and elevates it to a timbre focal point and instigator. Tignor has never been one for gimmicks so his commitment to the tuning fork both as a means of percussion and to set off the software erases all doubt. "Shapeshifting", much like it's name implies, is about the journey. Its subtle crest into a prevalent percussion galvanized groove before allow itself to slowly cyclically unravel towards nothingness. It's a piece far more about composition and method than it is virtuosity and it's all the better for it, captivating with its ephemeral melodies that still manage to make a fascinating lasting impression..





Along a Vanishing Plane, Christopher Tignor's new visual album, will be out September 16th on Western Vinyl.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Pitstop: Lofty Stills

photo by May Xiong
The Internet is strange and marvelous thing. While an effective tool for seeking out new music and following promising new leads, it's also responsible for those strange moments of happenstance that introduces me to new music writers and new acts purely based off of an mutual interest. That's essentially how I came into contact with Luke Culbertson of Lofty Stills. After sending a series of tweets out into the ether about my incredibly mixed feelings about the new Night Beds material, Culbertson casually engaged as a mutual fan of their work and we would chat intermittently about where our heads were at at different stages of our consumption of the new Night Beds record. It was some time before I even found out Luke was a musician and that's probably for the best. If Luke had actively tried to promote his material to me from the get go, I most likely wouldn't have checked it out. Only when it was offered as kind of an afterthought, was my interest piqued.

So of course it was a funny thing that I found Culbertson's project Lofty Stills to be incredibly reminiscent of early Night Beds and Winston Yellen's friends from his time in Colorado Springs Lovelier Other. But there's more to Lofty Stills than being a Night Beds soundalike - meshing a twangy sound with a smooth dream pop tapestry, Culbertson's project continues a tradition of folk oriented bedroom pop with production that belies the simplicity of its creation and that Yellen has since abandoned in favor of electronic experimentalism. Culbertson's arrangements are lush without overwhelming Culbertson's delicate emotive tenor; his vocal harmonies doing the majority of the heavy lifting. Lofty Stills' songs arrive and leave in majesty vocal flourishes flooded with raw emotive force and yet there's no doubt Culbertson crafts his songs with meticulous precision. It's production is svelte but not too polished, spotlighting the roots in folk and country over Culbertson's electronic know how. His use of samples like Connee Boswell's "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" in "How Wrong I Was" a subtle compliment instead of a jarring distraction.

Culbertson's self-titled EP is a stunning collection of songs brimming with beguiling intimacy and winsome sincerity and musicianship. In fact, the only problem I can seem to find with it, in my growing number of repeat plays, is in its brevity: Culbertson's song have almost depressingly short life cycles flowering and withering like a spring ephemeral. Here's hoping there's more from Lofty Stills to come and soon.



Lofty Stills' self-titled EP is out now and available to stream/download via his Bandcamp.