Thursday, May 29, 2014

Hundred Waters - The Moon Rang Like a Bell (2014)

Between legs of extensive touring both here and abroad somehow Los Angeles via Gainesville art pop collective Hundred Waters found time not only to put down roots long enough to rest and heal but to craft and hone the collection of songs that would become The Moon Rang Like a Bell, their much anticipated debut self-titled effort.

The Moon Rang Like a Bell is far-cry from more of the same, both out of necessity and artistic intent. In gospel-tinged opener "Show Me Love", Hundred Waters shift away slightly for the genreless mass of their past selves and seem fully committed to conveying their influences a bit more clearly here. Or as clearly as the foursome are bound to be - there's no a-ha moments of definite artists/bands the band are paying homage to but merely psychic impressions of more focused and intentional incorporated vibes where they were currently lacking.

Hundred Waters have returned leaner and the new batch of songs reveal a far more elevated use of electronics. Where Hundred Waters obscured the line between electronic and organic sounds like a musical ouroboros, the distinction is far clearer here, the beats heavier, and surprisingly enough the booming, occasional dub undertones of Hundred Waters snuffed out almost completely.

One of the delights of the Hundred Waters album can be found in its pacing - finding the pitch perfect balance between atmospheric reveries and much more straightforward pop dalliances. Where Hundred Waters glistened with cosmic radiance, The Moon Rang Like a Bell sets its sights a bit lower; where the debut recalled the celestial and ethereal, the sophomore effort strives for more earthly pleasures - aiming for much more visceral responds than mere awe. While it's debatable if one album has more textural inlays than the other or is more accessible than the other, there's no denying the newer work doesn't allow itself to simply revel in its own beauty fusing it monumental music passages with an ever present forward motion and occasional dance-inspiring energy.

It is often the case of musicians creating music as art to create impenetrable or alienating works but that's never been Hundred Waters' Achilles heel. Hundred Waters are an all inclusive group of talented songweavers and its that openness that aids them on their follow up - where Nicole Miglis vocals threaten to get swallowed in the bray in such a way where their meaning might not be readily apparent, Hundred Waters ensure that there's plenty of other elements to clutch onto. Always making sure to give Miglis her due, there's certainly an abundance of sounds to distract the casual listener not necessarily from her vocals whose melodies ring clear as bell but the very meaning they're trying to convey.

The Moon Rang Like a Bell is an excellent follow up to an formidable debut. Hundred Waters' return manages to keep them sounding like one-trick ponies while establishing a justifiable development of an already impressively unique sound - essentially the hope for every band but Hundred Waters do so with celebrated finesse and awe-inspiring vision.

Hundred Waters' sophomore full length The Moon Rang Like a Bell is available on OWSLA now.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Listen: Cymbals Eat Guitars - "Jackson"

There are plenty of reasons to get excited about Staten Island rockers Cymbals Eat Guitars triumphant return. It's been three years since sophomore effort Lenses Alien was loosed upon us and well, it's about time, no? On "Jackson", the first single and album opener of their upcoming third record LOSE, Joseph D'Agostino makes rather quick work of reintroducing fans old and new to his nuanced delivery. Always striking the right balance between his brainy brand of songwriting and pitch perfect vulnerability, that's certainly at work here on "Jackson". D'Agostino's vocals are at the forefront of the brewing tumult, agile and serpentine while the track simmers and stews. "Jackson" is notably restrained and D'Agostino's vocals are truly the highlight, far more mobile than many of the bands parts.

That's not to say that the rest of the foursome or even D'Agostino's own guitar work aren't pulling their weight rather his vocals function not unlike their own instrument - separate and elevated from the din, reveling in their own intensity that often occurs before everything else follows suite. That's not an entirely new development but it's certainly of note as the instrumental achieves an introspective openness. "Jackson" surges forward with an melancholy air but it's far from a mopey affair - not quite full on balls to the wall rebelliousness but far from tame.

"Jackson" shows that Cymbals Eat Guitars still have the goods - providing interesting narrative choices with rock 'n roll grit. "Jackson" raises the emotional stakes without diminishing any of the band's well-earned badassery. A surefire sign of good things to come.

Cymbals Eat Guitars third album LOSE is out August 26th on Barsuk Records.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Listen: Sondre Lerche - "Bad Law"

One of the pitfalls of Norwegian singer/songwriter Sondre Lerche's pop-fueled oeuvre happens to be his strongest strength: his knack for upbeat pop numbers. It's manages to cloak the occasional foray into darkness and the abundantly negative. So much so that he needed an album like Phantom Punch to really prove his mettle; a declarative statement of maturation, loud and messy, monumental in its fervor. Since then, Lerche's been more subversive - the lyrics to some songs hidden underneath chipper pop melodies and stellar arrangements so that you really have to root around to discover them in Heartbeat Radio and his self-titled record.

Whether that was intentional or not, Sondre Lerche might very well be done with all that. Make no mistake, he's not abandoning his infectious brand of songsmithery but in latest single "Bad Law" and probably on upcoming full length Please, Lerche's letting the kinks in his armor show. "Bad Law" is inarguably catchy but rightfully embraces the chaos - filled with riotous flourishes in its dancey plod. But not even Sondre Lerche's groovy floorfiller can obscure the track's darker taint - the tell of a crime of passion, where love goes off the rails and surges right into unhealthy territory. It's a new arena for Lerche's love songs to duke it out in and it's pretty inspired. Lerche finds the perfect balance between his available choices - funky grooves granting levity to a rather dark tale of passion exploded with musical choices that certainly serve the narrative. The man's still a masterful songwriter if "Bad Law" is any indication, Please will see Lerche plumbing darker depths without wholly abandoning his sweet, tuneful pop. It's going to be a long wait until Fall.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Listen: Cold Specks - "Absisto"

If you were expecting more of the same on the follow up to London based singer/songwriter Cold Specks, you're in for quite the surprise. "Absisto", the first single from her follow up to 2012's I Predict A Graceful Expulsion is a cacophonous reinvention of sorts. A tumbledown of Al Spx's more pleasantly pliant sound, the tumult is quite appealing: placing her brassy vocals alongside brass calls and serpentine guitar riffs. Like presenting a lot of her characteristic sound in a funhouse mirror, Cold Specks warps and distorts the basic framework of her songwriting but essentially is the same artist at its core, capable of the powerful emotive surges albeit with a far more fiery delivery this time out. Clearly not afraid to fiddle around with her sound to achieve a refreshing alternative, it bodes very well helping Cold Specks avoid a slump.

Cold Specks' sophomore effort Neuroplasticity is out August 26th on Mute Records.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Listen: Steve Sobs - "Some Nights Last A Lifetime"

It might be my fascination with guitar wizardry and the fact that not too long ago I got the chance to see William Tyler weave some of the magic in the flesh that made me identify with "Some Night Last A Lifetime", the closing track from Brooklyn artist Steve Sobs aka Eric Littmann most recently released record Heavy Heart. Where the first single "Ugh" was an artful blend of synthetic and organic sounds with Littman's voice forging the dividing line - human but removed from too much emotion, instead "Some Nights Last A Lifetime" is heady rush of instrumental guitar. Littmann's distant drawl replaced by free form ambience - a layer of repetitive chiming electronics forming the base while guitars warble and bend atop; twangy but not quite reaching countrified dustiness. "Some Nights Last A Lifetime" is essentially another mood piece - trading the nostalgia of "Ugh" for a fleeting sense of aimlessness that never truly resolves itself, at least not all pleasant and tidily - Littmann ringing dolor from his instrument and transfiguring a beguiling clarity of ideas from a veritable sea of them.

Steve Sobs' Waaga Records debut Heavy Heart is out now.

(via Stadiums & Shrines)

Listen: Dyev - "It's Time They Know"

I'm a sucker for a good mystery. So when a link to Wilmington, Delaware artist Dyev showed up with little to no information, I was intrigued. That he had been written about by my pal Connor over at I Guess I'm Floating well, that just cemented my interest.

One of instantly noticeable things about Dyev is the seamless blend of a multitude of layers with a definite pop sensibility. That he can obscure the level of complexity of the song's construction with a laid back vibe is all the more impressive. "It's Time They Know" is all heart-pounding percussion and downright celebratory group vocals; all wide expanses, jittery clustered harmonies, and effortless cool. It's one of those songs that manages to nail it's lead hook and just bears down on what works. Not in a repetitive way- the inclusion of some samples makes sure it's not four minutes of basic consistency but it's the kind of tune that makes you marvel at it's construction; ponder its various gears and the thought process of its creator. While I doubt Dyev is willing to break apart his process any time soon, it certainly adds to the intrigue. "It's Time They Know" is so brightly-tinged and spacious, it completely throws the notion of bedroom pop. There's no introspection here - Dyev is ever the mysterious extrovert captivating by virtue of his pure ingenuity. Here's hoping it's not too long before more surfaces but if that's what the man needs to create so be it.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Listen: Grandma Sparrow - "Existential Mothersnakes"

With the release of the debut record from Joe Westerlund's Grandma Sparrow cleanly on the horizon, those who haven't had the chance to see Grandma Sparrow's wildly brilliant and artfully comedic live show get a bit of the unique experience in bits and pieces. First was "This Is My Wheelhouse" and album ender "Farewell Bolero" and today, arguably one of my favorite tracks gets its time in the spotlight: "Existential Mothersnakes". There's little explanation for the track itself or how it fits into the story of Grandma Sparrow's Piddletractor but that has very little to do with the enjoyment of it.

In fact a lot of the lyrics even in the context of the live show are eyebrow-raising, head-stratchers and the delivery is subtler on the album edit but there's no denying it's an infectious pop jam nevertheless. Grandma Sparrow and his cohorts go full out - there's strings, brass, soulful backing vocals that run counter to Westerlund's understated delivery, it's got pretty much everything you could ask for as Westerlund challenges the listener's sense of ear-catching. It's the kind of song that gets stuck in your head even as you're not exactly sure what you're singing a long to. Essentially making it the adult equivalent of those catchy children's infotainment shows.

Grandma Sparrow's debut Grandma Sparrow & His Piddletractor Orchestra is out May 20th on Matthew E. White's Spacebomb Records. The album is now streaming in full over at Spin so go ahead and take a listen.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Listen: The Dø - "Keep Your Lips Sealed"

After quite a bit of time recording it, hinting at it, and teasing it, Paris based duo The Dø are finally readying the follow up to 2011's brilliant sophomore effort Both Ways Open Jaws and if the first single "Keep Your Lips Sealed" is to be believed - it's going to be downright epic.

The single takes its cues from the more straightforward pop of Both Ways Open Jaws but is far more interesting to be in a simple retread . No, instead "Keep Your Lips Sealed" opens up like a chasm underneath you after Olivia Merilahti's initial and portentous delivery of the hook. Beginning that way, The Dø make it clear they intend to zig when they're thought to zag as the track turns into a downright blitz - martial percussion, sweeping melodies, and lithe expanse. That's before the verses enter and the track swings in a different direction - Merilahti's vocals purred low instead of cooed on high, rapid in delivery instead of fluid and flowing. "Keep Your Lips Sealed" is all about this juxtaposition, pitching forward to create a stream of climactic surges while the instrumentals give no real sign of stopping. In fact, the duo lay the groundwork so solidly that there could very well be more song if they'd liked but opted instead to keep it brief. Offering small doses of its wholesale infectiousness.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Kishi Bashi - Lighght (2014)

With the success of his debut album 151a firmly in the rear view, violinist/loop pedal wizard Kishi Bashi is stepping out with another collection of bliss-inducing psychedelic-hued orchestral pop songs in Lighght (pronounced just like 'light' and taking its name from minimalist poet Aram Saroyan's one word poem of the same name).

Though taking its structure more or less from 151a, Lighght is more than just more of the same and Kishi Bashi more than just a one-trick pony. Tracks like album opener "Debut - Impromptu" and Eastern flavored interlude "Impromptu No. 1", K. gets to flex his classical chops in a much more obvious way offering up compositions that though brief give a glimpse into Ishibashi as more than a consummate pop professional.

"Debut - Imprompu" rightfully sets the stage for Lighght's whimsical flight of fancy - a delightful bit of "Once Upon a Time..." before the catapulting flight of "Philosophize In It! Chemicalize With It!". Released earlier as a one-off single, the tune is remixed here adding more colorful deviations if that was at all possible.

Kishi Bashi has a talent for timbral play and musical world building that's both enviable and impressive. While layering is an integral part of Kishi Bashi's method, the fact that each part seems so beyond superfluous is a feat of real artistry. While expanding his own already characteristic sound, Kishi Bashi is able to imbue some of his evident influences namely those of jazz-fusion/prog rock variety to create absolute majestic moments ("Once Upon a Lucid Dream (in Afrikaans)").

On Lighght, Kishi Bashi's most playful moments are subtler than 151a, more lyrical centered than the more pop-centric clap-laden "Bright Whites" or "It Began With A Burst". On the whole, Lighght establishes Kishi Bashi's sense of restraint - the lyricism potent and poignant and on just the right side of seriousness. The grand music moments occasionally earthbound instead of the continuous rapid flight of its predecessor. That's not to say Kishi Bashi has clipped his wings but rather by spending more time grounded truly earns those moments when he allows the Earth to give way and the melodies to soar. By spending less time aloft, Kishi Bashi avoids a caricature-esque turn from seeking bigger and bigger music moments while adding additional layers of depth. It's exploration meets innovation, experimentation in brilliant technicolor shades that manages to be both forward-seeking and strangely centered; the very definitive property of Kishi Bashi's effusive charm.

Kishi Bashi's sophomore record Lighght is out May 13th on Joyful Noise Recordings. Pre-order available now. You can stream it via Bandcamp.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Sylvan Esso - Sylvan Esso (2014)

Nothing could have possibly prepared me for the glittering electro pop of North Carolina duo Sylvan Esso. On paper, the duo's very existence seemed well, like the most unlikely origin story: Amelia Randall Meath of Mountain Man teams up with Nicholas Sanborn, former Megafaun backing member for electronic fun times. Two talented folk musicians tackle a genre known for being inorganic. And yet that should've been the first hint that Sylvan Esso were up to something new; something wildly different. Sure, Sanborn's been making beats and the like under the moniker of Made of Oak for years. Sure, Meath's delivery on "Play It Right" is far more electric than its former harmony-laden confines. But those aren't the points anyone's making when explaining who/what Sylvan Esso is and to their benefit, they don't really need to be made.

On their self-titled debut, Sylvan Esso assert their existence in probably the best way possible - by the mere virtue of their existence. The voice of the duo (with the exception of the rare assisted backing vocal), Amelia Randall Meath's bound to get the majority of the praise (all well deserved) but it's clear that the work is definitely that of the innovative twosome. Nicholas Sanborn is trusted not only to man the samples but also to control Meath's vocals - to stack the layers on top of each other, affect and manipulate them. It's a hell of a lot of trust to give and one that Sanborn doesn't fail to earn. It's a relationship of effortless give and take; Sanborn's carefully constructed scaffolding provide the perfect home for Meath's vocals to coo, croon, and ultimately soar. At no point does it ever appear that either are doing the heavy lifting - Sylvan Esso is very much an equal venture, Sanborn and Meath's roles a delightful commingling of talents.

Sylvan Esso is impressive not only for it's sense of articulateness; of defining just exactly the band but also doing it so strongly. It's sort of a given that there's going to be a favorite or two among the selection of tracks and yet, the duo make the choice a hard one. Each song is a contender and they all seek to instill and motivate their obvious love of dance in them. The only exception is apt album ender "Come Down" which not only serves to remind us that every party - even the great ones must sometimes come to an end, but is perhaps the most stark and free of the album's ten tracks. It's the one that's more in line with the idea of two folkies playing around with electronics and even then manages to subvert it. It's oddly fitting that Sylvan Esso opt to end their collection of dancefloor decimators with a light and beautiful outro. One where the true dynamic is likely to misread - as Sanborn subtly makes way for Meath's shimmering glide. After an album of a riveting interplay between them, the duo know each other's strengths and aren't afraid to deploy them.

Sylvan Esso's debut self-titled full length is out May 13th on Partisan Records. You can stream it via NPR's First Listen here.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Pitstop: Grandma Sparrow

(photo by Samuel Dixon)

When North Carolina experimental folk stalwarts Megafaun announced the support for their very very brief stint of shows would be drummer Joe Westerlund's side project Grandma Sparrow few could possible fathom what that meant. Westerlund, always a radical, charming force behind Megafaun has channeled that very special energy into a project as innovative as innovative can be. While expecting Westerlund to no doubt revel in his folk roots, Grandma Sparrow exists on an entirely different labeless plane and is all the better for it.

 A sort of absurdist folk opera, Westerlund's Grandma Sparrow is the host of a demented children's show not unlike Peewee's Playhouse if all the characters were more or less played by the same character a la Eddie Murphy. Set in the mythical realm of Piddletractor, Westerlund's vision is a world with its own rules - rules that Grandma Sparrow reveal to you through a process akin to throwing a non-swimmer into the deep end of the pool and expecting them to swim. And yet, Westerlund has just enough faith that you'll pick it all up...eventually. Donning a series of whimsical hats, wigs, and distinctive personality traits, Westerlund seeks out and succeeds in creating a performance unlike any other. All the more refusing to let the audience be anonymous witnesses and drawing each and every person that Grandma Sparrow and faithful company could engage into their ridiculously genius little world.

The thing that keeps Westerlund's twisted tapestry from devolving into mere shock value has to do not only with the total sincerity and balls to the wall commitment of Westerlund and his co-conspirators but the fact that there is very much a highly realized musical component to Grandma Sparrow. More so than your standard pop act - Westerlund presentation is rife with compositional strengths; of repurposed theme and variations. Grandma Sparrow is wonderfully brilliant, and riotously hilarious without being totally baseless; a musical project that can delight on multiple levels without having to explain itself. It's rare to get fun music that is so methodical in its construction, so absolutely sincere in its delivery and well, so ridiculously insane. Westerlund explores the farthest reaches of his imagination while binding it to learned and practiced musical talent and artistic thought and the result is triumph on all fronts. A trip down a musical rabbithole that you won't quite want to go back up again.

Grandma Sparrow's debut full length Grandma Sparrow & His Piddletractor Orchestra is out May 20th on Matthew E. White's Spacebomb Records. Pre-order it now and you'll be glad you did.

Diamonds & Tapestries (2014) Excerpts from Carson Efird Westerlund on Vimeo.