Monday, February 18, 2019

Listen: Wye Oak - "Evergreen"

photo by Shervin Lainez
Though diverging life paths have found them almost on completely opposite sides of the US, Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack have hardly let that deter their work together as Wye Oak. While they released their fifth full length album The Louder It Calls The Faster It Runs just last year, that's hardly kept them from offering up more new music and much like Civilian preceded their previous Adult Swim Single "Spiral", Wye Oak are offering up a new track for the Adult Swim Singles Program in the form of "Evergreen". A mere few weeks old according to Wasner, the track tackles a period of seasonal depression as Wasner struggles to align what she knows in her mind and how she feels in her body. Wasner concerns herself with the bits and bobs of holiday preparation and post holiday recuperation. "Evergreen" is essentially a rallying cry - gentle but firm with herself, that trying is the only thing you can do. Force isn't an effective strategy in matters both emotional and psychological and Wasner, armed with that hard won knowledge, sets about building herself back up slowly but surely purely by trying. "Evergreen" is a placid tug of war between the churning maelstrom of depressive thought and the shining beacon of self awareness and self worth. Much like "Lifer" or "It Was Not Natural", it's a delicate piece of emotion-laden songcraft that succeeds by virtue of sincerity and patient composition even as Wasner and Stack chase dynamic highs and lows.  

Listen to "Evergreen":

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Listen: Emily Reo - "Strawberry"

photo by Brian Vu
It's been awhile since we've heard from Brooklyn based singer/songwriter Emily Reo and part of that is intentional. Since the release of her debut full length album Olive Juice in 2013 and the release of a 7" single for the enchanting "Spell" in 2016, Reo has been hard at work both working on an engaging follow up as well as lending her talents to a number of bands like Orchid Tapes labelmate Foxes in Fiction, Nadine, and Speedy Ortiz offshoot Sadi3. She's been incredibly vocal about the long and somewhat arduous journey between Olive Juice and now and how "Spell", the halfway point between, addresses Reo's mental health. "Strawberry", the first single from Reo's forthcoming album Only You Can See It, seems in tone to be the anthesis of "Spell", where "Spell" luxuriated in synth tones eventually allowing Reo's digitized voice to swallowed up in a wash of noise, "Strawberry" is a downright pop confection. Where Olive Juice was inspired by video games, pastels, and feelings of love, "Strawberry" instead is rooted in the very real concerns of the modern woman. But Reo is enough of a pop connoisseur and a skilled songwriter to know that the bitterest pills go down easy with a tiny bit of a distraction. Reo lists a multitude of things that not only she but pretty much every woman have to endure on a fairly daily basis - from the dangerous to the merely irritating: from street harassment to mansplaining.

Reo dresses her points up in buoyant, swirling synth tones and minimal amount of vocal effects, delivering her lines with a pitch perfect mix of righteous indignation and wry humor. "The days I've patiently waited while things I know are clarified or debated". Though her list of offenses are plentiful, "Strawberry" isn't just Reo griping about men but instead a call for women to be treated as equals. She also addresses how women are put down in the music industry - consistently asked if they're just someone's girlfriend at their own shows. "Strawberry" is a song about basic dignity and respect. To the point that Reo devotes a break down to it: "What do you deserve from me? N-O-T-H-I-N-G.". But while "Strawberry" is certainly an antithesis to "Spell", the building up of chorus and adlibs and verses and the layering of them all at the song's climax certainly recall Reo's previous single with Reo's "I can't feel anything" instead transfigured into an apt "I don't owe you anything".

Emily Reo's upcoming album Only You Can See It is out April 12th on Carpark Records. You can pre-order the record now.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Listen/Watch: Bayonne - "Drastic Measures"

photo by Jackie Le Young
Austin multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer Roger Sellers has been creating music for practically his whole life while actively releasing it for the better part of a decade. Originally releasing his intricate minimalism-inspired loop-centric pop under his own name, when he re-released his album Primitives under the moniker Bayonne, things really started to take off for Sellers. In a way that has certainly left a mark on the man as his upcoming album, his second under the Bayonne moniker, Drastic Measures is about life on the road and balancing that with some sort of sense of healthy, normal life. While previous singles "I Know" and "Uncertainly Deranged" focused on what time on the road does to your creativity and relationships, "Drastic Measures" strikes a similarly bittersweet chord as the track bursts with exuberance all the while serving as an apology of sorts to Sellers' hometown friends and family that he never has a chance to see. It's incredibly clear Sellers is enjoying his life as touring musician - seeing sights he might not see if he was simply confined to Austin but as exciting as a drastic and constantly changing world is, Sellers pines for the simple comfort of home: of being surrounded by his loved ones. It's not a particularly new feeling - singer/songwriters have been tackling this subject for ages but the feeling is new to Sellers and he imbues in the track a refreshing sense of self - kaleidoscopic colors, heartfelt vocals, and instantly ear-catching melodies, all hallmarks of his work as Bayonne and beyond but handled with the deft touch of a deeply talented multi-hyphenate.

Appropriate given the subject matter, Sellers' music video for the track, directed by RUFFMERCY is awash in vibrant colors - placing a performing Sellers among a collage of varying places, constantly changing, rearranging. Nothing is particularly static but Sellers is the constant - performing with a sense of jubilant satisfaction with a backdrop of dizzying visuals meant to invoke Sellers' experiences on the road and intense touring schedule.

Drastic Measures, Roger Sellers' sophomore album under the Bayonne moniker, is out February 22nd on Mom + Pop. You can pre-order the album here.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Listen: Thelma - "Take Me to Orlando"

photo by Grace Pendleton
Though I was introduced to her both in name and moniker at Waking Windows Portland 2017, it wasn't until almost a year later when she appeared as one of the openers  at the Brooklyn date of Molly Drag's Thumper album release tour that I was actually able to experience the bold, idiosyncratic stylings of Thelma's Natasha Jacobs. Immediately I was reminded of Regina Spektor and Fiona Apple, not necessarily because Jacobs has sought to sound like them but because of the particular way Jacobs ensures her vocals are indelible piece of her songs' multitudinous layers and exploratory timbres. "Take Me to Orlando", the first single from her upcoming sophomore album The Only Thing, is an excellent introduction to Jacobs' impressive vocal control as she performs flutters, leaps, shrieks, and squeaks. Jacobs employs the full range of her voice - switching between a coquette-ish whisper and a fuller voice - even if Jacobs never entirely changes registers. It's simultaneous furtive and confident - the sort of playful seduction employed when you're already attached.
Inspired by Virginia Woolf's Orlando, Jacobs' wrote "Take Me to Orlando" with both her own isolation and imagination in mind as she recovered from thyroid cancer and managed the chronic pain of her Ehlers-Danos syndrome, Jacobs writes and sings to an imaginary lover, her very own Orlando. Jacobs' plays with a theatrical sense of grandeur, aided in part by the inclusion of a string section, as she imagines a relationships build on mutual trust and understanding, pure in its illusion but aware of its design. Jacobs is able to conjure up an incredibly engaging dream world with surprisingly little effort - and not entirely exhausting a hell of a lot of her vocabulary to do so. Instead doing so through composition and omission. The core of "Take Me to Orlando" is not any of the details like how or why but instead just the feeling of wholeness and wholesomeness Jacobs' effortlessly portrays.

Thelma's sophomore album The Only Thing is out February 22nd. You can pre-order it through her Bandcamp here.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Listen: Gabriel Birnbaum - "Stack The Miles"

Well here is a pleasant surprise.  Although Brooklyn rockers Wilder Maker more or less just released their strongest album to date in Zion, singer/songwriter Gabriel Birnbaum somehow found the time and wherewithal to pursue a solo project. It is perhaps less of a surprise considering I knew he played one or two solo sets within the past year but not being present at those, I figured the sets consisted of stripped down Wilder Maker songs, song experiments and the like. Instead Birnbaum was playing actual songs he'd written and recorded, forming an entirely different band to record them even though he while premiering the song solo.

"Stack The Miles" is the first taste of Birnbaum's self-titled solo project and an album that'll be out in the new year. With Wilder Maker, Birnbaum already established himself as lyricist uniquely capable of wringing tension and a sense of drama from the mundane through longform narratives and shorter, more pop-oriented affairs, so "Stack The Miles" seems like a victory lap of sorts from the sort of elevated New York City narratives that comprised Zion, beginning with a pulse-quickening guitar riff Birnbaum's natural booming baritone is subdued, his lyrics a captivating mix of distinctly detailed lines and brooding impressionist watercolors. "Stack The Miles" is a song of interesting juxtapositions - a pervasive sense of quiet even as Birnbaum enlists Wilder Maker/Sam Evian's Adam Brisbin on bass, guitarist Will Graefe, and drummer/percussionist Jason Nazary to ensure the song is stacked with a multitude of sounds. The constant strum of a guitar gives the track a sense of perpetual motion even as it moves with both a casual lilt and the artful precision of a migrating flock of birds.

Narratively speaking, Birnbaum's still addressing themes of loneliness and beleagueredness but the venue's changed. Where Birnbaum filtered that into city life and instead it's the outskirts - towns, highways, and byways, that can swallow you up just as easily as the bustling city.  "Stack The Miles" is essentially a tour song but one where the road is a strange comfort but is too much unlike normal life that it's also cause for suspicion. It's a remarkably different take on the subject - artists usually longing for home for it's sense of stability whereas Birnbaum prefers home due to the balance of expectations. It's a bit cynical but also beautiful as Birnbaum sings "Too many miracles here and I can't no more of the good times I am done".

Listen to "Stack The Miles", the first single from Gabriel Birnbaum's forthcoming solo album:

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Listen/Watch: Offer - "Day Away"

It probably goes without saying but anyone who's encountered the music of Leeds experimental pop troupe Adult Jazz has probably been eagerly anticipating new music since their debut full length Gist Is dropped in 2014. Fans were given a brief respite in the form of their Earrings Off EP they released back in 2016 but other than that, the band has seemed to be in a perpetual state of creative gestation. And yet every once in awhile a sort of creative listlessness results in a new project or collaboration or cosigning of a new project from fellow Leeds University musicians.  First was "Other Life", a disco-fueled dance track crafted by Scottish producer Makeness featuring Adult Jazz's Harry Burgess on vocals, ambient project AEVA helmed by fellow university pal Dan Jacobs who also makes music as Glad Hand, and now Harry Burgess has teamed up with Jack Armitage of Lil Data for a forthcoming full length.

"Day Away", the first track from the duo's newly christened project Offer,  is a twelve minute long rhapsody inspired in part by Armitage and Burgess' Internet message-board born friendship and a near decade of frequent improvisations both at Leeds University and beyond with their last session resulting as a framework of sorts for their upcoming album. Burgess' voice - capable of impressive contortions and at times unflinchingly harsh, finds a wonderful sonic match with Armitage as they seem very much over the course of the song's duration to throw more and more things at it and see how Burgess' vocals fair. Burgess' vocals have always had a particularly elastic quality to them but Armitage pushes them more so with the use of a controller though not enough that they splinter from the realm of possibility. It's tension and release but a rather unexpected pacing of such - after much of the bustle and brashness of its beginning, the track gives way to a languorous, introspective quiet which Burgess infuses with virtuosity. It's a track that pretty much transcends the trappings of genre: constructed through electronic means but so sincere and human at it's core, buoyed between maximalist pop Dada and the truth-bearing spirit of folk.

Watch the video for "Day Away" featuring visuals from AEVA.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Listen: Tiny Ruins - "School of Design"

photo by Si Moore
On the first two singles "How Much" and "Olympic Girls" from Tiny Ruins' forthcoming record Olympic Girls, New Zealand singer/songwriter Hollie Fullbrook's narratives have seamless interwoven storytelling with a touch of the personal. A universal vagueness with just the right amount of intimate detail that might've lead listeners to ponder how much Fullbrook was pulling from fragments of her own lived experiences and echoing past conversations. "School of Design", the latest single from the album, takes a step back in a sense in the spirit of tracks like "Priest With Balloons" or "Jamie Blue" that favor pure storytelling but filters the experience through Fullbrook to imbue it with sincerity.  It's meticulous descriptive, the plaintive guitar adding to the mystery of immaculate but seemingly abandoned building Fullbrook explores both literally and figuratively in the song. While Fullbrook's descriptions are enough to immediately  the building in your mind's eye, it's the line: "And I was struck by a feeling, it's hard to describe" where the song truly blossoms. Fullbrook doesn't explain it, can't seem to even; and frankly she doesn't need to. "The urge to burst through the ceiling starts, raise glass to the sky" Fullbrook continues and it's such a poignant moment, descriptive in a purely external way that transmutes the cerebral to the visceral and renders the inexplicable into a shared experience.

Olympic Girls, the third full length album from Tiny Ruins is out February 1st on Ba Da Bing in the US, Marathon Artists in the UK/EU, Milk! in Australia, and Ursa Minor in New Zealand. You can pre-order the album now.