Monday, February 29, 2016

Radiation City - Synesthetica (2016)

For much of their existence Portland indie pop outfit Radiation City has plowed forward with a release schedule that's downright impressive. While your garden variety indie band generally takes at least a year or two between albums (if not, the results are usually quite honestly unbearable), Radiation City has released a new collection of music pretty much annual from the release of their debut The Hands That Take You. That is until they didn't. After releasing their sophomore full length Animals In The Median, a record that capitalized on much of Radiation City's early potential, they took a break. What fans didn't know at the time was that the band was in crisis. Lizzy Ellison and Cameron Spies, the band's chief songwriters and couple at the heart of the band temporarily broke up and the band was more or less on the outs. And that's when the band's metamorphosis into the kind of band that can put out a record like Synesthetica began. Ellison and Spies got together to recapture that old magic - unsure even if anything would come out of it. The results were fruitful enough that the duo saw the need for a change as they took true and properly leadership of the band to chase this newfound creative rabbit trail. It led them to John Vanderslice and then back to Portland with a brand new mission. This was the band's renaissance.

To the uninitiated, the band essentially blowing themselves up for a phoenix-like return is hard to glean from the sound of Synthestica. Its sounds like a very natural progression from Animals In The Median. The band plays around with their genre influences to create those similar sort of updated retro-pop. The band describes much of Synesthetica's creation as giving in to the surreal and perhaps that true. They continue a trend for surreal song subjects and lyrical choices they began far before Synesthetica but this album finds the time to be occasionally raw and honest. While a good pop album essentially functions both as presentation of the artist's identity while also providing ample room for projection - Synesthetica indulges in quick moments of beguiling sincerity.

"If this is the end/Then I would like to say" Ellison measuredly coos before trailing off in album stand out "Sugar Broom". The chorus continues the thought sure but that intro where Ellison seems to be really thinking about the right words that might save or end everything feel incredibly lived in. The fact that it's one of the catchiest songs on the record does nothing to dull the effect. "Separate" functions as an effective counter. Ellison's "I know, I know/You would need to go/You would end it all to show you hold the reins" trades off with Spies more ambiguous offerings and it's both a marvelous encapsulation of disconnect both lyrically and tonally. Ellison more serious chorus steamrolled by Spies' conversational but barbed replies.

"Butter" sees Ellison laying it all on the table: "This is not an open invitation, it is an open wound/this is not the result of being patient, this is not making a move/You are not flying through a window, you are not covered in bruises/I am the one, the one that gets the beat up, feet up to cover the moon". It's probably Ellison at her most sultry and yet, it's unflinchingly honest. It's a natural build - acknowledging that precipice point several song before "Sugar Broom" acknowledges it but with less room for backpedaling.

Much of Synesthetica's appeal is that for all intents and purposes it's not as heavy of a record as you all the backstory would lead you to believe. Not armed without that knowledge, it comes as a nimbly, effortlessly, and narratively vague as some of Radiation City's best songs. But what makes Synesthetica such a dynamic album is that they're able to pair the songs that acknowledge their murky pasts and not so certain futures with songs and hooks that are positively delightful and enjoyable. Where there's a "Butter", there's a "Oil Show", where there's a "Sugar Broom" or "Separate", there's "Juicy" and "Come and Go". Radiation City are under new management and under the influence of perhaps its most effected members, they balance the serious with the fun, the biting with the playful, and soothe those moments of brazen, unrepentant honest with the occasional foray into nonsense. Radiation City may be airing their dirty laundry with Synesthetica but they make sure you get to see their favorite bits - the vibrant colors and textures of their wardrobe that shine through the occasional grit and grime.

Radiation City's third full length Synesthetica is out now via Polyvinyl. You can order it in a variety of different formats here.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Listen: OHIOAN - "Bad Altitude"

Though I'm sure he's not the only one, one of perhaps the most famous musicians to address the growing issue of mountaintop removal in/for coal mining has been Kentucky singer/songwriter/cellist Ben Sollee. In fact it was a central theme on Dear Companion, his collaborative album with Daniel Martin Moore released back in 2010. Despite the attention, it's a looming problem with no resolution achieved and that's where OHIOAN's Ryne Warner comes into the picture. Six years after the release of Sollee and Moore's Dear Companion, a record that was very popularly received, mountaintop removal is still leading to the deteriorating of the Appalachians and Warner is sick of it resulting in concept record EMPTY/EVERY MT.

"Bad Altitude", from OHIOAN's upcoming record, is an introduction to Warner's set of Americana protest songs. The record's concept - taking many of the instruments popular in folk/country music in the Appalachian region (banjo, dobro, jawharp, and dulcimer) and pairs them with African scales and modal tunings to recall the deserts of North Africa and the American West (where Warner now lives). The result is a sort of deconstructed folk punk; an uncharacteristically aggressive Americana. At nearly 8 minutes "Bad Altitude" gives itself ample time to develop. Sustained notes on banjo and utilization of space create a sense of expansiveness necessary to Warner's musical world building as it recalls both the wide uninterrupted expanses of the desert plain and Warner's Appalachian Desert. Electric guitar interrupts the sparse banjo lines and ultimately jettisons the track into an assertive fervor it retains for much of its forward plod and colors Warner's sardonic lyricism.

OHIOAN's EMPTY/EVERY MT is out May 13th on Gold Robot Records. Pre-orders are available now.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Mothers - When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired (2016)

Considering that Athens, Georgia's quartet Mothers grew around singer/songwriter Kristine Leschper's solo endeavors, the choice to open their debut album When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired with the sparse, emotive "Too Small For Eyes" seems particularly inspired. For many it'll be first introduction they get to Mothers and the album opener is as close to the band's 2013 incarnation featuring solely Leschper as you're bound to get. "Too Small For Eyes", begins with a simple mandolin accompaniment that slowly but surely builds with each stanza until at the height of Leschper's insecurity laden lyrics there's the lushness of string section to confidently support Leschper's inner narrative. Though not quite to the effect as "Too Small For Eyes", When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired often pairs Leschper's narratives at their most cerebral and their most small with complex arrangements. And yet, the album isn't just a musical pity party in 8 parts. Songs like "It Hurts Until It Doesn't", the second song on the album and proper introduction to the full band, or "Nesting Behavior" reveals Leschper as balanced songwriter - unafraid to offer up her own flaws and doubts but also point out those of others.

Much of When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired relies on the juxtaposition of narratives, as the songs often form telling pairs building off each other's conflicts and resolutions. "It Hurts Until It Doesn't" acknowledges Leschper's character faults, only to surge forward in the fiery kiss-off of "Cooper Mines". "I felt your love for a little while but never had the guts to give myself up" Lescher laments in "It Hurt Until It Doesn't" while her retort of "What I have to give is small but at least I can admit it" in "Cooper Mines" is practically dripping with venom. And yet, Leschper proves herself capable of traversing those very same tonal differences in the course of a single song like "Nesting Behavior", definite album highlight "Lockjaw", or on somber album closer "Hold You Own Hand". Leschper see-saws between melancholy, steely determination, and resigned acceptance over the course of the album in a way that realistically recalls both the deterioration of a relationship, wrestling with your own self-doubt, and also the clarity gleaned from experience and time passed.

Leschper's narratives are offered with such a natural plain-spoken grace, they're easily able to inspire visceral reactions from their lived-in universal experiences. And yet, Mothers are able to dress some of those experiences up in a way that ensures the album functions as more than just mood music. Much of When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired is filled with a pervasive sense of melancholy, but it's also a record that let's both Leschper and the band celebrate their victories both minor and major. Leschper shifts through tenses, places herself both apart and among her most personal moments and the rest of Mothers: guitarist Drew Kirby, bassist Patrick Morales, drummer Matthew Anderegg, and even producer Drew Vandenberg aid in the journey. There's something to be said for the effectiveness of the singer/songwriter confessional but Mothers attempts to and ultimately succeeds on When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tried to pair the stirring heart of Kristine Leschper's deeply honest songwriting with the attention-grabbing forward momentum of a tight-knit rock band willing to experiment and explore. It's a fascinating sort of alchemy that puts Mothers in a league of their own able to synthesize style and substance in way that's unique and enjoyable so. When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired is a texturally complex, emotional powerhouse and hopefully just the beginning for Mothers.

Mothers' debut album When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired is out February 26th on Grand Jury. The album is now streaming as a part of NPR's First Listen here and you can pre-order it via Mothers' Bandcamp, Grand Jury, or if you order via your local record you get a specially made limited edition zine in the States and a demos and cassette recordings bonus disc if you're aboard. Lots of options to own this stunningly beautiful gem of an album.

Listen: Night Moves - "Carl Sagan"

With all the bands inspired by Carl Sagan's Cosmos (Yellow Ostrich's appropriately named final album Cosmos springs immediately to mind), it's hardly surprising to find that Minneapolis outfit Night Moves are among them.  Album opener "Carl Sagan", the second single from their upcoming sophomore record Pennied Days, continues in Night Moves twangy, swaggering take on indie rock by taking things down a notch or two from "Denise, Don't Wanna See You Cry". While the first single set its lovelorn pining at a quick step, "Carl Sagan" proceeds in increments and questions seemingly without answer.

"Am I fool to ignore them? How else shall I go on? Am I a fool to expect that someday I'm gonna be be gone?" John Pelant croons and it's easy to see how those questions apply both on a smaller and grander, more cosmic scale. Inspired by Pelant and Micky Alfano going through a Cosmos phase, Pelant uses the metaphor loosely giving it a sense of universal appeal. Pelant's songwriting here errs on the side of minimalism, engaged in a sort of lyrical Tetris that finds him subbing in seemingly unimportant words in a surprisingly effective manner. The lyrical sleight of hand is aided by the extensive amount of instrumental breaks Night Moves indulge in on "Carl Sagan" as they pair slide guitar with immersive organ and synth textures that updates the band's take on 70s psychedelic folk rock.

Night Moves' sophomore record is out March 25th on Domino. You can pre-order the album digitally here or on CD/LP here which comes with a bonus EP. Also, they'll be embarking on a pretty expansive US tour so make sure to catch them play the new cuts live and in person. Most dates are available for pre-order this Friday.

Night Moves US Tour Dates
Thurs April 14 || Minneapolis, MN || First Ave
Sat April 16 || Chicago, IL || Schubas Tavern
Mon April 18 ||Toronto, ON || Drake Hotel
Tues April 19 || Montreal, QC || Le Divan Orange
Thurs April 21 || Philadelphia, PA || Boot & Saddle
Fri April 22 || Brooklyn, NY || Rough Trade
Sat April 23 || Boston, MA || Great Scott
Sun April 24 || Washington, DC || DC9
Mon April 25 || Columbus, OH || Rumba Cafe
Tues April 26 || Indianapolis, IN || The Hi-Fi
Wed April 27 || Madison, WI || The Frequency
Fri May 6 || Seattle, WA || Sunset Tavern
Sat May 7 || Portland, OR || Doug Fir Lounge
Tues May 10 || San Francisco, CA || Rickshaw Stop
Wed May 11 || Santa Barbara, CA || Velvet Lounge
Thurs May 12 || Los Angeles, CA || The Echo
Fri May 13 || San Diego, CA || Casbah
Sat May 14 || Phoenix, AZ || Rebel Lounge
Wed May 18 || Austin, TX || Sidewinder
Thurs May 19 || Houston, TX || Rudyards British Pub
Fri May 20 || Dallas, TX || Double Wide
Sat May 21 || Kansas City, MO || Tank Room
Sun May 22 || Omaha, NE || Reverb Lounge

Friday, February 19, 2016

Listen: Bruising - "Honey"

Depending on what you're expecting Soundcloud's related artists algorithm can either be wonderfully inspired or woefully off base. And yet whichever one the algorithm decides to be that day, there's no denying that there lies a potential to find something completely unexpected but exactly what you were looking for. And that is exactly how I stumbled upon Leeds duo turned quartet Bruising.

Bruising are a considerably young band, forming after guitarists Ben Lewis and Naomi Baguley bonded over a mutual love Perfect Pussy and subsequently expanding into a full band only last year but they've already managed to release what's bound to be one of my favorite songs of their career in the Beech Coma released double AA side "Emo Friends"/"Honey". While the bands have a couple other songs to their name, "Honey" is perhaps the most indicative of their potential. Gritty garage rock licks brush shoulders with Baguley's sweetly sung vocals in a sort of balancing act that pits the fiery guitars against the slow and steady vocal delivery. And yet there's a lot more at play than your standard messy rock jam - the guitar harmonizing with the vocals, the sudden pushes and pulls in tempo and mood. Bruising may be young but they're very clearly a sense of musicianship informing how only how they play together but arrange their songs. There's a surface catchiness to their songs but the additional layering of harmonies is the sort of thing that'll endure and hopefully carry on into their future endeavors.

While Bruising have essentially holed away to write more songs, here's hoping there's more where these came from. Until then, get ready to begin the ove affair with their double AA "Emo Friends"/"Honey" single released late last year.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Listen: Living - "Cerulean"

photo by Simen Peder Aksnes Aarli
There's something about the Bergen's climate - it's snowy winters, it's rainy every time else, that seems to inspire in more than one band, an overwhelming need to recall anywhere else. This sort of musical escapism is nothing new just look at artists like Chris Holm, Sondre Lerche, or Young Dreams whose music outright rejects that wintry chill for warmer textures. Bergen trio Living may just seem like another Scandinavian band dreaming of balmier climates but the lushness of their musical world-building make it clear this band dreams bigger than most.

"Cerulean" may only be the third single from the project helmed by producer Lucas de Almeida but arrives as fully realized and full of bliss-inspiring layering as the most seasoned dream pop purveyor. Similarly to Young Dreams' Matias Tellez, de Almeida draws from South American roots to authentically inform the tropicalia feel of "Cerulean" without relying wholly on it. de Almeida is no doubt a talented producer as he effortless blends samples with more organic sounds in a way where you're not really sure which is which while his vocals seem wonderfully suited to Living's vibrant color palette.

"Cerulean" is out now on Brilliance Records. Listen to their previous single "Florahedron" out late last year via Diamond Club.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Listen: Salt Cathedral - "No Ordinary Man"

It's been awhile since we've heard anything from Brooklyn via Colombia duo Julia Ronderos and Nicolas Losada of Salt Cathedral. Back in 2014, the duo rang in the year with b-side "Rainy Days" that both ushered in their shift from the rhythmically complex, experimental rock pop left over from their days as il abanico, introducing the newly pared down lineup, as well as wetting fans appetites for a brand new EP of songs they release later that year.

Which more or less bring us to now. Salt Cathedral have mainly stuck to playing shows since the release of their OOM VELT EP with very little promised in the way of new music. Until earlier this year when they announced a brand new song would be coming. "No Ordinary Man", the latest single from Salt Cathedral pretty much follows directly after pretty much any of the OOM VELT cuts in terms of production. But unlike the infectious, skittering "Tease", "No Ordinary Man" instead pulls both from the balladry and minimalism of "Holy Soul" and "Good Winds". Ronderos' emotive vocals has been the one constant through Salt Cathedral's various incarnations and they're rightfully spotlighted on the new track. Simplicity is the name of the game as the textural layering is kept to an absolute minimum, providing a harmonic bed of synths for Ronderos' vocals to soar over. That's not to say the band don't make the most of their newfound electronic leanings. Their touch is impressive light - going from lilting big drum beats to a quicker shuffling figures and subtle glitch effects in gradual shifts that doesn't draw attention from the vocal melodies.

"No Ordinary Man" is another pitch-perfect example of Salt Cathedral being able to embody the best aspects of electronic music in a way that's beyond simple copycatting. The band aims more at creating resonating musical moments than electronic grandstanding which helps root their genre shifts in sincerity and not just an attempt at trend chasing. Salt Cathedral has always excelled in balladry but here's hoping the ability to create interesting moments from simple arrangements follows continues past "No Ordinary Man" as the band hopefully release more new music this year.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Listen: Caveman - "Never Going Back"

photo by Philip Di Fiore
Brooklyn foursome Caveman have from their inception made music diametrically opposed to their chose band name. Where caveman recalls a rough around the edges, abrasive sound, Caveman are anything but; smooth undulating melodies, languid plod, and generally chill vibes. And maybe that's why "Never Going Back", the first single from their upcoming third album Otero War, hits so hard.

After two albums of gentle, dream pop, the harshness of the drum hits and guitar solo feels like a real invigorating step for the band. The band don't completely demolish their past work - "Never Going Back" slowly builds on the softly introduced introductory melody and the synths that characterized much of Caveman aren't far from the fray. But there's no denying a freshness in the band's newfound fervor, the band rushing forward instead of its normal expansive creep. There's no telling just yet if the band continue this way for the rest of the record but "Never Going Back" is at the very least an exciting step in a direction no one really asked the band to take; fusing what worked well for them in the increment growth between CoCo Beware and Caveman and lighting a bit of a fire underneath themselves. It's enough to peak my interest in the new album and hopefully yours too and hopefully it's not too long before the foursome reveal more cuts from the third album.

Caveman's third album Otero War will out this summer.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Listen: Left With Pictures - "Terra Firma"

photo by Jonathan Hyde
Well it's about damn time! After being consumed for the entirety of 2010 with their In Time project that saw British orchestra pop purveyors Left With Pictures writing/recording, and creating music videos for a brand new song a month and the subsequent release of the songs as an album, Left With Pictures essentially disappeared. Not entirely because they were active on social media (mainly to share thoughts of other's musical happenings they were excited about) and the odd show here or there while they worked on an all new album of songs. Finally 5 years later, they have an offering in the form of Afterlife.

While still not entirely certain of what happened in that five year span, "Terra Firma" sees Left With Pictures making a surprising leap into rarely charted territory - namely stripping away the strings that characterized their sound. If you're used to Left With Pictures vibrant melodies and orchestral flourishes "Terra Firma" is sure to be a shock to the system to find strings replaced entirely with synths. Unlike Left With Pictures past foray into synth pop "This Light", "Terra Firma" is a much more somber affair complimented by founding member Toby Knowles' bartitone.

And then halfway through the sparsely textured tale of loss, things take a turn. A synth return in place of the piano, the strings enter, and harmonies brighten up the rather dour narrative. It's due to this sudden forceful brightening; of harmonic, stratospheric highs that give the last verse the entirety of its power. Left With Pictures have always balanced artful arrangement with intelligent lyricism but "Terra Firma" seems like a leveling up of both for them. They're so concerned with the tale that they're weaving that pop hooks don't really occur but they're competent at not only songwriting but composition that the instrumental informs the lyrics before they even happen. The last minute or so of "Terra Firma" reward the patient listener with winsome moments of not-quite pop but enjoyable melodic/harmonic work nevertheless.

It may have been five years since their last batch of new tunes but "Terra Firma" displays that it's been five years well spent as Left With Pictures now marry the acoustic with the newfound interest in the electronic while also staying true to their smart chamber pop that got them noticed in the first place. Welcome back, Left With Pictures, we've missed you.

Left With Pictures third full length record Afterlife is due April 29th on Organ Grinder Records.