Monday, August 24, 2015

Listen: The Lost Cavalry - "Fine Afternoon"

After exploring abandoned arctic observation stations, archaeological digs, and big top circuses, The Lost Cavalry's Mark West turns his feats of lyrical grandeur inward. "Fine Afternoon", the latest Lost Cavalry tune since their debut full length Three Cheers for the Undertaker was released back in 2013, forgoes the fantastical elements West is fond of for a bit of far more intimate place-setting. It's a break up song but one that's true to West's songwriting proclivities and is anything but expected.

"Fine Afternoon", with its delicate finger-picked guitar and swelling melodic flourishes, concerns itself with that rare instance where a breakup ends amicably on both sides. It's a slice of upbeat but not quite exuberant folk pop that proceeds at the pace of it's thematic rationalizations. Nothing is at all rushed and even when the rest of the band enter to join West in stirring harmony, there's a gentleness that keeps it from coming across as a overwhelming surge; a sweeping sense of happiness. "Fine Afternoon" doesn't paint with enough sadness to be full on bittersweet but it doesn't allow itself to ascend to stratospheric highs either. It's happiness is measured but still deeply felt.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Listen: Saintseneca - "Sleeper Hold"

photo by Nick Fancher
One of the most popular misconceptions in music seems to be the expectation that the space between albums is reserved almost exclusively for an extreme reinvention of a band's core sound. True, there's something refreshing about an artist who continuously pushes themselves to incorporate elements to keep challenging themselves but most of the development of a band's sound happens in slight increments not leaps and bounds. Columbus' Saintseneca has been slowly evolving their group sound for years and years from member to member. As the figurehead of the crew and arbiter or its creative vision, singer/songwriter Zac Little has had

In a sense "Sleeper Hold", the band's latest single from their upcoming album Such Things continues on a path charted as early as their 2013 debut full length Last. But ultimately "Sleeper Hold" focuses in on the poppiest moment of Dark Arc and both isolates and expands them. That's how you end up with these galvanizing, bliss-inducing harmony laden choruses. Zac Little and Maryn Jones tag team the vocal duties and in doing so provide the band's normal timbre play reserved for their multitude of stringed instruments.  In the same way that it's almost more of the same, it's a different approach to the band's absolutely infectious brand of folk pop as the group intentionally try to build on those elements. And with the focus being on these knee-jerk moment of pop euphoria, it's easy to miss the fact that Zac Little's songwriting remains at an absolute high able to embed these complicated philosophical questions into his song while drawing little attention them. It's smart lyricism that doesn't insist on how smart it is and is all the more better for it. Instead these little phrases pop out at you in a way that's exciting enough to make you deep dive into the song's less surface elements.

Saintseneca's forthcoming record Such Things is out October 9th on ANTI- Records.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Listen: MaryLeigh Roohan - "My Friends"

I first encountered singer/songwriter MaryLeigh Roohan through her affiliation with the short-lived Capitol region supergroup of sorts Babe City. By aligning herself with Meg Duffy of Hand Habits and Olivia Quillio, it was pretty much a given that I would pay attention and yet, somehow I managed to completely sleep on Roohan's solo endeavors. Since Babe City was started and then disbanded in 2012, Roohan has certainly kept herself busy and next month will release the fruits of labor from some of that time in the form of her new album Living Alone.

Upon listening to the first single (aside from Roohan's cover of Nancy Sinatra's "Bang Bang"), I noticed a certain similarity between Roohan and Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner. Not in a sound-a-like sense but merely in the way Roohan's voice rises from the churning darkness of her own creation. "My friends all say know me, it's not true"/"my lovers think they know me, it's not true" Roohan sings and it's the kind of lyric that in less talented hands can stray towards the melodramatic. But with Roohan's pure vocal force and a well-timed modulation applied it's given anthemic resistance. It's mired in insecurity but also in that of an intimate self-knowledge. "Now, all I am is the backwards memory of a backwards man" sings at the song's oddly uplifting sounding climax and it becomes clear, the toss and turn between those moments of self-doubt right after heartbreak, of the feeling that something's wrong with you to make bad romantic choices continuously. And yet Roohan doesn't treat it like a moment of weakness. It's an epiphanic moment of inner knowing that pushes the track towards its brightest highs.

MaryLeigh Roohan's new five song album Living Alone is out September 25th. Pre-order is available now via the artist's Bandcamp.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

White Reaper - White Reaper Does It Again (2015)

When Louisville foursome White Reaper burst onto the scene last year with their self-titled debut EP they were an refreshing melange of old school punk with updated synth pop. The fact that their EP just barely clocked in at 15 minutes was an impressive enough feat considering most modern bands would much rather say too much with psychedelic deviations than say too little and keep with the true punk riot spirit. But White Reaper's debut proved that they were more than just a cover band - able to imbue their brief but brilliant with just the barest hint of an infectious hook to get you to press play again and again. Their songs were short and sweet but instantly memorable and on their debut full length White Reaper Does It Again, White Reaper attempt to do just that: to capture the lightning in a bottle once again

The biggest surprise of White Reaper Does It Again is perhaps that it's so damn listenable. For a band that fuses together garage rock, punk, and synths, there's a startling sense of easy listening that works pretty incredibly for the band. Make no mistake White Reaper stills rips, they just do so melodically and without getting in each other's way. The songs are given some breathing room but their rapid-fire intensity doesn't dissipate for a moment. The vocals are crystal clear and simple to the point of springing immediately to mind but not banal enough to bore you to death and their sound expands to encompass vintage indie rock illustrated most aptly in their Strokes-esque "On My Mind". Another surprise of White Reaper's debut full length is that as it colors in the sketches of their self-titled debut EP, there's little attempt for the band to posture as tough guy punks with songs like "Make Me Wanna Die", "I Don't Think She Cares", or "Sheila" proving they're not above emoting in a way that's decidedly non-whiny; an antithesis to many of the bands masquerading as punk rock groups these days.

The inherent political spirit of punk rock is missing in White Reaper's music as the band extrapolate on the seemingly mundane. White Reaper aren't total outsider music but engage in broader,more universal appeal. Their music is influenced by the Ramones and the Clash but not beholden to it and White Reaper manage to turn a rebellious sneer not towards society or the establishment but towards their own relationships. It's not overt though. But White Reaper capture the twentysomething experience throughout White Reaper Does It Again as they tackle everything from breakups, crushes, doubts and heartache with an invigorating lack of drama.  

While White Reaper was the real introduction to the foursome's brand of fuzzy punk pop, White Reaper does an excellent job of following up on that potential in a way that's not merely replicating what worked well for them on the EP. White Reaper Does It Again moves briskly but not for lack of something to say. White Reaper are a band that never overstays it's welcome and their debut full length is a pitch perfect encapsulation of that; getting to the point efficiently but without sacrificing entertaining musical dressings.

White Reaper's debut full length album White Reaper Does It Again is out now on Polyvinyl.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

All Around Sound-Off No. 5: Cemeteries

My introduction to Cemeteries came more or less by strange chance as I found myself sweet talked into attending a Portals x Stadiums & Shrines CMJ showcase that ended up being the then Buffalo based musician's last stop for CMJ before hopping back in the van and headed back home. It was a serendipitous set - with me so enthralled by Cemeteries that I looked him up and struck up an online correspondence.

Soon after I started getting occasional updates from Kyle Reigle about a new record he was working on. Little breadcrumbs here and there until finally, three years after those first cryptic messages about the album, Reigle finally released Barrow, the follow up to his 2012 debut album The Wilderness.

An album whose period of gestation seemed to encompass their very length of our friendship, it seemed only right to reach out to Reigle in his new Portand digs to sate my curiosity about it and after a bit of missed connections, we finally arranged for a perfect time to have a talk the new album and catch up.

Dante (All Around Sound): I saw you for the first time in October of 2012 and we started talking after that. So pretty much for as long as I've known you you've been working on this new record.

Kyle Reigle (Cemeteries): Yeah because that was when The Wilderness first came out. It was in October of 2012 so pretty soon after is probably when I started working on it, yeah.

Do you think you could take me through the timeline of this record? Because you've been working on it for three years.

Kyle: Yeah. I knew after The Wilderness that I wanted to do something different with more synths which is why I think I ended up doing Camp Counselors. Basically The Wilderness came out and it turned out to be more of a rock record than I wanted it to be so I wanted to do something more laid back, a lot of synthesizers, a little more eerie and stuff which eventually turned into Huntress from Camp Counselors. But I just kind of hacked away at it for three years. The difference between Camp Counselors and Cemeteries is Cemeteries is mostly live instruments, Camp Conselors is mostly synthesizers and computers and stuff like that so that was really easy for me to make at the time I made it. It was really tough for me to do another Cemeteries album because I didn't really have the equipment or anything. So I just started writing it - I wrote like 10 songs probably starting in November of 2012 and I had them all ready and when I finally out here [to Portland] I got a practice space and everything and thought I finally have enough equipment to make it. So I started working on it and half of those songs I scrapped and I wrote new ones here.

You scrapped half of them? So what are the ones you had from New York and what are the ones you wrote in Portland?

Kyle: "Sodus" was one of the first songs I wrote. I wrote that I think in November right after The Widerness came out. "Our False Fire On Shore", which is the last song, I wrote around that time. And "Can You Hear Them Sing?". I think the rest of them I had actually written in Portland.

So all the synthier songs you wrote in Portland?

Kyle: "I Will Run From You" I had written a version of that in New York and it was a lot more fast and punky in a weird way.


So that changed a lot and I rewrote the whole entire last half of it. But only really three songs made it from back then and the rest of them I wrote out here. Or at least changed older songs and made them...better.

You've been posting B-sides and demos lately and I was wondering if any of those songs morphed into the songs from Barrow?

Kyle: Yeah, I did that little EP over last summer, I think, and that had a few songs on it like "Iroquois" and all that. The only one on that that was actually going to be on Barrow was the song "Heathens" - that kind of acoustic-y song but it didn't really fit and I didn't want to do something acoustic and folky really. Because The Wilderness had some folk vibes, there was some acoustic guitar and things like that. I didn't really want to do that with Barrow. I kind of knew immediately I didn't want that on there and so I just released it. The rest were kind of like I was bored and made random songs.

So "Sodus" was the longest song you had from that period that actually made it onto the record- 

Kyle: Right after I did CMJ and The Wilderness came out and all of that I basically - Jonathan, my other friend Andrew and I went to a cottage in Fair Haven which is a big inspiration for the record. We stayed there for about a week. I went up there with the idea to write some songs and that's when I wrote "Sodus" and "Our False Fire on Shore" was there.

How many iterations did it go through before it ended up album ready?

Kyle: That song? I definitely had the intro and the verse. How they are on the album is how I wrote them. I recorded a demo of it - I think I just did it on my phone so it doesn't sound very good or anything but it was originally just kind of a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-ending kind of thing with it. But then I realized I really liked the verse, didn't really like chorus, so then it kind of turned into how it is now where it's kind of two songs. Like the first half is that repeating verse and the bells come in and everything and the last half is that different part which I added later. I don't remember when.

While you were recording this record - you mentioned that [The Wilderness] didn't really come out the way you had wanted it to - you started Camp Counselors. Was Camp Counselors how you had intended The Wilderness to sound like or was it a way to free yourself up creatively so you go back to this record? 

Kyle: It was kind of a way to free myself up. It was kind of a lot of things. I did The Wilderness - I didn't even intend to really make a record with that. I had done a few little things like that cover of that Neon Indian song which got me a little attention and then I made "Summer Smoke" which really isn't that rock-y, it's just kind of low and drawn out but people picked up on that a little bit and that's when Lefse [Records] contacted me and wanted to do a record. And I was like "Yeah! Yeah...I mean I'm working on stuff." And there was a lot of songs on this other record that I put other that I liked, well that I liked then I don't anymore, called Speaking Horrors. I redid "Leland" from that and "Young Blood" and a few other things.

Speaking Horrors isn't online anymore, right?

Kyle: Yeah, I took that off. I'm not really happy with that anymore. So The Wilderness ended up really cohesive for a first official record. I'm happy with that aspect of it but it had three older songs, some new songs, it didn't totally really all fit. And the single "The Wilderness" and the song  "Roosting Towns", it's definitely like a more upbeat record. So when I finished that I was like I want to do something a little more laid-back, slow burn which Huntress ended up being. But Huntress was also the result of not having the equipment to a new Cemeteries record and my friend Seth had passed away and I was going through a really weird thing and I wanted to just make songs. So I made that really fast as a kind of little intermission thing I guess. Then the tour happened because of that which took up more time and it ended up taking three years to finish this other album.

I mean the tour wasn't all bad though. Did it help you out in any way?

Kyle: Oh yeah, the tour was amazing. It was one of the best times in my life. I mean you and I had been friends so at that point you knew that I was kind of miserable in New York and everything so to get out and do that was really helpful for me. And then to move out here has been ten times more helpful. I'm definitely just in a better place.

It's weird that you say The Wilderness was upbeat because it was inspired by all of this wanting to move out of your super small town, right? 

Kyle: Yeah. I guess just making that album was a coping mechanism for the boredom that I had there. The cabin fever I was getting.

So that's been weird because The Wilderness I wrote under those situations and here I like where I am now. It's been weird to write ...happy? I don't know.


My music isn't any more optimistic or anything.

No, it's darker. 

Kyle: Yeah.

But strangely not. The subject matter is darker. There's brighter synth tones and stuff.

Kyle: Yeah, there's a lot more piano and I didn't want it to sound super dark or creepy. Even though it does at times. I feel like there's moments that are really light.

I feel like it's more eerie than dark. Like eerie is "I feel uncomfortable" and dark is "Oh no, things are bad".

Kyle: Yeah, it never gets bad. If anything it's like something's not right.

There's always this kind of menace that creeps in except like "Sodus". I'm pretty sure people die then, right?

Kyle: In "Sodus"? Yeah. I know I said The Fog by John Carpenter was an influence and that song is essentially a remake of that movie but in song form.


So you're working on this record and you did Camp Counselors but then you started Snowbeast [Records] and you started doing your Halloween compilations and then after you moved you started helping out with Track and Field [Records], right?

Kyle: Right.

You've been putting out songs pretty consistently while you've been working on this record.

Kyle: Yeah. Consistent for me at least.

How did you balance having to finish this record with creating new songs that are completely out of the realm of this record that you're working on?

Kyle: Yeah I just put off a lot of stuff. Barrow was originally supposed to come out...I mean I kept telling Jonathan, my roommate and who I run Snowbeast with, "Yeah it's gonna be out in May". *laughs* Like last May not this May.

I've been hearing that it's almost done forever.

Kyle: Exactly. Well, it was almost done back then but I was like "You know what if I took this long I'm going to take a little more time with it.". Which I'm glad I did. There was a version of it that was done in November that I sent out to some people and everyone really liked it but the more that I sat with it I was like "I can make these changes". I'm glad I did that because some of the songs changed completely.

So you thought you were done with it last November and you've been working on it since then?

Kyle: Yeah it was done last November and I basically went back and worked on it this winter a little more. I finished it, I think, in April. And I had to get it mastered and figure out what I was doing with it and everything.

Was there a specific moment of "Oh my god, this record is done. I have to get it out!"?

Kyle: Yeah. There was a moment - because I mixed it all too. Produced and mixed and everything. The only thing I didn't do was master it. Warren did that. But there was a point where I was working on it after it was all recorded trying to get the final mix and I would be like "Yeah this is good but this one guitar note is a little loud" or "This is good but this drum part isn't as effective as I want it to be". So there was definitely like a month of me combing it and combing it and one day I was just like fuck it I need to get it off my hands because it was putting too much stress on me. And that's when I gave it to Warren and he did the master for it.

Well it ended up turning out that you're really proud of it so it's good that you took it out of your own hands.

Kyle: Yeah. So I have a tough time listening to anything that I do...


I've listened to it a couple times: when we got the test pressings in on vinyl I listened to it again on that, we just got the tapes in and I listened to those to make sure everything sounded good. And I'm still like "Oh yeah, this part is really cool". Or this or that. I like it a lot.

So before this record, before Barrow, you had this distinguisher that Camp Counselors was kind of your dancier, synthier project that was inspired by horror movie soundtracks for Huntress and Cemeteries was kind of a dream pop thing. But Barrow kind of dips into all these things I thought of as Camp Counselors stuff - especially like "Empty Camps".

Kyle: Yeah. "Empty Camps" - that pulsating synth line is very Camp Counselors. Oh there's a lot of moments on the record that are pulled from that. I think because when I made The Wilderness I hadn't really dipped into that yet, I didn't really know how to, I hadn't really worked with programming synthesizers or things like that. I was just like "Oh I'm gonna make a guitar album". But when I worked with Camp Counselors it was like "Oh I really like doing this" and to like throw in the guitar and live stuff over it like I did on Barrow is a nice little blend. I think I'll keep kind of combining the two. I'm still going to keep doing Camp Counselors stuff.

Have you thought about what they mean separate from each other? What kind of makes them unique now that you're blending? 

Kyle: Yeah. I feel like the vocals are pretty different on both of them.

They're both pretty indistinguishable...

Kyle: The Wilderness definitely started with my vocals as part of the instrumentation. There would just be a lot of "ooo"'s, a lot of holding notes out. I definitely explored that more with Camp Counselors. I added a lot of echoes and did a lot of effects on my vocal and made it kind of this other weird thing. And then Barrow, I think I tried to tone that back a little and do more melodic stuff like "Empty Camps" is probably the most straight-forward vocally that I've ever done. It's got this melody, I'm really happy with how that one turned out. So I feel like Cemeteries is going to start going more into melodic songs and Camp Counselors will still be this weird shit that I don't know if people are going to like but I do so I'm just gonna keep making it, I guess.

So the record's done. It's done, it's out there, it's over. What are you doing now? You're probably super burned out from working on a record for three years, right? What's your game plan?

Kyle: I can't stop working on stuff. I'm still working on a lot of stuff.

...You're working on new songs?

Kyle: Yeah. The reason that Barrow took so long as it did even when I moved out here - because when I moved I wasn't lined up with a job or anything so I worked on it a lot when I first got here but we also didn't have a practice space so I didn't have a place to record drums or loud guitar. We lived in an apartment in the city so you can't really record that stuff but around May of last year we got this space and I started putting the final touches on it. But then I found a job - a 40 hour a week job, so I was trying to finish it while working that But I basically set it up that I'm not working right now. I'm about to go on another tour with Jamison for Teen Daze. Yeah, I stopped working like a week, week and a half ago. I'm leaving for tour September 1st I want a month off, I put my two weeks in and left my job right around the time I released Barrow so I'm just gonna celebrate that and work on some other stuff. But yeah all I've been doing the last week and a half is writing and recording new stuff. It's not gonna be another three year wait basically on any another project. If anything they'll probably be a couple records in the next couple years from different projects that I have.

You have more than two now? You have more than two? Did you start another one?!


Kyle: There's a third thing that I'm working on. It's not just a solo thing.

Well that's a way to distinguish it. Is there another Camp Counselors record in the works?

Kyle: Yeah. I've been working on, just over the last couple years, songs for that. The cool thing about that is once I get an idea for the songs I can just kind of finish them on my laptop. That's why I like that project so much. It's a lot easier to make and to complete. So I'm probably just going to work on that on tour when I have nothing else to do but read books and look at the road for 8 hours.

Question from pretty much anyone who knows you: When are you going to make a horror movie soundtrack?

Kyle: *laughs* Whenever I make a horror movie or whenever somebody asks me to. That's the dream. That's what I want to do.

You're pretty much there. Barrow is pretty much a horror movie soundtrack over 8 tracks. 

Kyle: Yeah, that's kind of what I was going for. I even threw around the idea of filming a short 49 minute thing to coincide with the record but that was just too much work. Someday maybe.

In Barrow the songs are kind of self-contained. Well there's kind of weird stuff that happens in a song and a different weird thing will happen in another song. Is there a particular way you got to have those little stories being told? Did you sit down and think of what this story would be or did it just kind of come when you were working on the songs?

Kyle: You mean how I like call back on other stuff in other songs?

Yeah. I mean there's this overarching story but each individual song calls back to that sometimes but not all the time. There's different stuff that happens. 

Kyle: Yeah, I could definitely map out the story. And I kind of explain the story from different perspectives. The whole basic idea is that this witch was burned in this small town and then 100 years later she's returning to punish the sins of the people's forefathers that killed her. In a weird way that's kind of the overarching thing but I also don't really like to say that because there's so many other little ideas in there.

Oh yeah there's definitely different things happening.

Kyle: Yeah there is. The first song "Procession" is an instrumental and goes into "Nightjar" which is essentially about this woman. But then it goes into "Luna" where there's kind of this idea of these people know this happened to this woman and they're sacrificing things to her in the lake because she kind of embodies the lake around this town now. And if they don't keep doing this she'll return in some form whether it's like a storm and drown out the town so they're trying to keep her at bay and keep her happy. That's what "Cicada Howl" is about too. About these young kids that are recruited into this. But then then there's "I Will Run From You" and "Empty Camps" which is kind of its own separate story still set in the town but has nothing to do with anything else.

So it's like a little vignette. This town is just plagued by many, many, many dark things. 

Kyle: Right. Yeah. It's basically like something happened 100 years ago. Some people know about it, some don't but other things are happening as a result of it. There's definitely like the main storyline but I didn't want to do 8 songs all about the same thing. So I kind of introduced different ways and different perspectives to the story.

I kind of got that feeling. Did you sit down and physically map it out? Or was it just kind of the lyrics that you made drifted that way?

I changed a lot of the lyrics over the course of it. That's another thing I did differently. I spent a lot more time on lyrics this time around. Usually those are more of an afterthought for me. Just "this word sounds cool or that" but I actually wouldn't like certain things and would rearrange them and map it out and try to figure out references - there's references to other songs in other songs. I think in "Sodus" I say "Can you hear them sing?" and there's the song "Can You Hear Them Sing?"

And in "Empty Camps" you have a reference to "I Will Run From You". With one of the lyrics actually being "I will run from you".

Kyle: I know you've been asking - I'm going to post up the lyrics at some point soon.

I tried to sing out a little more on this album and pronounce words better. There's a delay on the vinyl and that's mostly because of the plant that's doing the vinyl.They have a huge backup but I did get everything in a little later than I should have because I just wanted to make the packaging perfect but the back - there's no insert but the whole back cover has the lyrics on it in a really cool way. I'm really excited about it because I didn't really get to do that with The Wilderness.

When is the vinyl copy of the record coming out? Do you know yet?

Kyle: They don't know yet, we've asked them but there's the delay. It's probably gonna be Fall. I'm hoping by the time I get back from tour in October. It shouldn't be any later than November.

It's a Fall record anyway. That's fine.

Kyle: Yeah. I'm definitely going to try to do something special for at least the people that have pre-ordered because I've been getting a lot of pre-orders for it and I feel bad making people wait that long. So I'm definitely going to make it something cool. I don't know what yet. Locks of my hair or something.


Or candy like how you do with Snowbeast. 

Kyle: Oh yeah, we're still doing that. We're still sending out candy.
Have you been on working on any of these songs with Jonathan? Have you tried to work out a live setup yet?

Kyle: I'm trying to. It's tough to get all of us together. We haven't even practiced in a couple months and he's busy working on his own stuff. He's got some pretty cool stuff coming out soon actually. I do want to. That's kind of why this third project is happening. I want to do stuff with other people but it's hard for me to do that sometimes. As much as I want to make music with another person I'm like "UGH but I like it this way".

Well you were a solo musician for so long.

Kyle: Yeah. It's kind of weird to not be like "Yeah do it this way or that way". It's definitely something that's bound to happen even if it's just a song or something but right now I'm just working on some other stuff. When I get back from this next tour I'm just gonna focus on live shows and writing new songs and getting a legit band together to play some shows.

Thanks so much to Kyle Reigle from Cemeteries for agreeing to sit down and chat cross-country about his brand new record, nearly three years in the making, Barrow. If you haven't yet you can check out my review of it here as well as stream/download it via Bandcamp or pre-order a physical copy in the form of vinyl or cassette from Snowbeast Records (fog grey LP/black and white cassette) or Track and Field Records (lake green LP)

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Night Beds - Ivywild (2015)

After a very strong debut in 2013's Country Sleep, Nashville based singer/songwriter Winston Yellen teased a new direction, an expanding of genre for his musical project Night Beds. It makes a strange sort of sense when you take into account that between the Every Fire; Every Joy EP and debut album and even between individual tracks on Country Sleep the only real consistency was Winston Yellen's voice. Country, folk, indie rock, dream pop, Yellen drew from genres in a way that was subtle but ultimately telling of his predilections - Yellen creates music on his own terms.

How Ivywild is received can say far more about the listener than Winston Yellen's musical project. When it was teased at the very end of last year with "Me, Liquor & God" a fair amount of hand-wringing could be done to define the track exactly as you wanted. Myself? I found it more in line with an interest in electro pop and the dreamier layered atmospheres of Night Beds' earliest released tracks. By Yellen's own admittance Ivywild is meant to be a full foray into R&B. Dilla, Kanye, Madlib, Jai Paul - these are the influences Yellen namechecked when explaining the album's creation and the rise of his brother Abe into a more active part of the composition process from drummer to producer and engineer. For many the jump may be seen as an out of nowhere leap; for Yellen it was a gradual process that required putting in the necessary work. Abe had to learn the gear, Abe had to learn how to translate musical thoughts into intricate tapestries that Winston could affix his journals of songwriting notes. It was a three year process of believing they were making music worth making - a much more failure prone endeavor than effectively stringing chords together as they embarked on a totally new musical adventure that effectively discarded all their previously learned skills. In addition to expanding their genre options, they expanded the band enlisting a wide majority of musicians to play.

As an album Ivywild is a strange beast - the album opener "Finished" is essentially your first introduction to the Yellen brothers pivoting, to a Night Beds defined by more than Winston Yellen; the introduction to the various players and moving parts on the album and it is an occasionally awkward one. Virtuousic romantic string passages, glittering synths, with Winston's growing build into a free-flowing ametric stream of consciousness delivery that ends with a sample and a rush of noise. Though Winston Yellen's voice is surprisingly well suited to its more electronic heavy new digs, there's something slightly off about how everything blends here in particular. By Winston's own admission Ivywild is as much of a showcase for his own musical ideas as they are for Abe Yellen who's been tasked with programming much of what occurs musically on the album. There's the occasional stumble in the form of not-quite-right timing issues and curiously utilized and deployed samples ("Eve A") but those moments are few and far between Abe's major winsome moments of creative climax ("On High:", "I Give It").

It's an album that recalls a lot of what has been popular in indie music for the past couple years without simply imitating it. That lack of imitation may lie more in the pair's inability to from a technical standpoint, it may not. There's really no telling here but there's no denying that even if Ivywild isn't they kind of album you expect, isn't the kind of album you would generally even like that it's an album that's at least interesting to digest. For an album where Winston Yellen works through heartbreak, heartache, and redefining of the self, there's those expected moments of somber introspection ("Me, Liquor and God", "Tide Teeth", "Melrose"), but also absolute dance-it-out abandon ("Sway(Ve)","[9_6] Slackjaw"), and curiously there's that rare moment where the Yellens forget all about their laptop pop aspirations, drop the beats, the synths, the autotone, and just let a moment fly with guitar and heart ("All In Good Time (I Get You Wrong Interlude)"). It's an album that takes those negative feelings and turns them outwards instead of inwards; converts the emotional to a physical reaction. Yellen's been hurt but he's not holding it in anymore but he's also not moping about it. Instead Winston and  Abe (and the collective of musicians they brought together) finds a way to imbue that melancholy with a bit of forward momentum; to stir not only your heart and soul also the body. It's an album of 16 songs perhaps meant to evoke the feeling of a mixtape where the number of tracks are almost irrelevant and what's truly important is showing off the project's talent and potential.

And just when you settle into a comfortable position with the electronic direction, a song like "Stand On My Throat" emerges to close out the album. All sense of premeditated cool evaporates and Winston returns to his greatest asset: the total arresting thrall of his vulnerable, heartstring-tugging vocals. The experimentation is over and a moment of true, earnest simplicity is how they choose to close this all out - a reward to fans of their old sound that hung around, a highlighting of what Winston really brings to the table to the newly initiated. "Stand On My Throat" is an effective synthesis of Night Beds' privileged position of having extra musicians on hand - brass contributing to the wellspring of feeling, the gradual ebb and flow that eventually gives way to an emotional deluge. Winston Yellen goes from a pleading whisper to an unrestrained insistent shout and the effects are more visceral than the album's previous attempts to be ear-catching. It's a blend of the organic and the electronic - easing in autotune in small bursts along twinkling piano, sweetly picked guitar. "Stand On My Throat" resembles what I had hoped an electronic leaning Night Beds might sound like and we're fortunate enough to receive.

Ivywild both marks an time of growth and uncertainty for the band. In releasing it, Winston Yellen gets a proper answer to three years of questions and assumptions: "Will people love it or hate it?" but also frees himself from the need to care. If he cared, it's probably not an album he would have made in the first place. To me it resembles far more of the electro pop acts like BANKS, Chet Faker or even James Blake than R&B but genre is a dying construct that no longer holds much bearing on what music will give us. What ultimately matters is that in Ivywild, Winston and Abe and all of their compatriots in this endeavor pursued an interest, an artistic impulse to its completion. There's no telling what the future of Night Beds holds (I hope it sounds a whole hell of a lot like "Stand On My Throat" or "Corner") but Ivywild shades a bit more of who Winston Yellen is as an artist and what Night Beds can or might continue to be. Experimentation is what keeps an band interesting enough to return to again and again and with Ivywild, Night Beds takes that almost to an extreme pursuing an interest almost completely at odds with who they had previously been decided to be. It's no doubt freeing and whether or not this is a small musical diversion or a full on declaration of intent, the deed is done and on their own terms.

Night Beds' sophomore album Ivywild out 8/7 via Dead Oceans. You can stream the album until its release date on NPR.