Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Listen/Watch: Living x Habitat For Etheric Felines - "World's Room"

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of being introduced to the tropical-infused psych pop sounds of Bergen based producer Lucas de Almeida's project Living. They have relatively little amount of music to their name, but it explores a sort of delightful music escapism constructed with  deft hand. de Almeida filling out the ranks to transform the band into a trio and their most recent journey to SXSW bodes well for their future, they've most recently released a collaboration with Habitat for Etheric Felines, a Philadelphia based artist collective, that they've been working on for quite some time and answers a question I was sure to have somewhere down the road - what would Living sound like outside of their elected pop template? The result, World's Room, is a self-described audiovisual adventure featuring 25 minutes of music composed by Living. So until Living gear up to release more new music (they are currently on their debut US tour in the Pacific Northwest), this is a worthwhile pitstop.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Listen: Andy Shauf - "The Magician"

photo by Geoff Fitzgerald
Though I had seen his name around a couple times, it wasn't until I had met a member of his backing band (then on tour with Teen Daze) that I sought out the music of Saskatchewan singer/songwriter Andy Shauf and discovered it was right up my alley. Shauf is a talented multi-instrumentalist, providing all of the instrumentals from guitar, drums, bass to piano and clarinet on his records and last year's The Bearer of Bad News reveals Shauf as an equally gifted songwriter with a knack for musical worldbuilding and imaginative narratives in the vein of Randy Newman or Harry Nilsson.

"The Magician", the first single from his upcoming ANTI- Records debut The Party, is pretty much all the proof you need that Shauf is the real deal. While The Bearer of Bad News was written more or less over a period of 5 years with Shauf narrowing down the 11 song tracklist from 100 songs, Shauf approached the The Party differently - writing and rewriting a set of 15 and selecting 10 for the record and abandoning his original plan to record with a band abroad in favor of in studio in his native Regina where he played and recorded everything himself with the exception of the strings.

"The Magician" is a bit of soft focus pop rock that somehow manages to pack together a hell of a lot in compositionally without feeling overstuffed - a pensive piano with the metered consistency of a ticking clock, underlying understated guitar, and soaring clarinet lines and ornamental string flourishes. And yet much like his lyricism, it's manages to handle everything with a tight precision that feels effortless sleek. Little words and phrases turn "The Magician" into a fascinating character study perhaps as direct result of Shauf's lyrical economy. Shauf is not a verbose songwriter, and does an impressive amount of heavy lifting through efficiency. "Just a shaking hand without a concrete plan" Shauf croons and it's pretty much the most revealing tidbit he offers about the song's focal point and the only one he really repeats as it functions as the de facto chorus alongside a stream of poppy "do"'s. "The Magician" is an absolutely spellbinding pop gem that manages to captivate from it's very first melody and leaves you wanting to know and experience more. That bodes incredibly well for the rest of Shauf's narrative collection The Party.

Andy Shauf's The Party in out May 20th on ANTI- worldwide and on Arts & Crafts in Canada.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Listen: Carter Tanton - "Through the Garden Gates" ft Sharon Van Etten

photo by Jeff Maksym
After being inspired to try his hand at electronic pop through his time with Lower Dens culminated in 2013's They're Flowers under the Luxury Liners moniker, Carter Tanton is returning both to releasing music under his own name and to releasing it in the more singer/songwriter tradition of his previous album Freeclouds. On Jettison in the Valley, Tanton's back to his old stomping grounds and he makes the most of it by featuring an old collaborator in Marissa Nadler and new one in Sharon Van Etten. Although Nadler takes a much more prominent role on the album than Van Etten featuring on lead vocals for the title track, Van Etten settles for much less subdued features trading bars with Tanton on "Twentynine Palms" and backing vocals on "Through the Garden Gates".

The longest track on the album, second only to "Jettison in the Valley", "Through the Garden Gates" finds Tanton doing a lot with a limited focus. Inspired by his time in England and long walks that inspired introspection, "Through the Garden Gates" captures that feeling of expanse but funnels in into looking back at the end of a relationship and taking a sort mental and emotional inventory. As often as Tanton lets himself indulge in fantastical what-if's, he's quick to course correct: "Ask the truth about a million times, still fucked up when we get back".

On "Through the Garden Gates", Tanton offers up a surprisingly intimate portrait than in his previous works. Part of that is through his lyrics which both pull you in and keep you at a reasonably safe distance but also in his vocals which are fraught with wistfulness.

Carter Tanton's Jettison in the Valley is out now on Western Vinyl. You can order the record here.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Lucius - Good Grief (2016)

"Inspiration feeds off of the deepest scars"

A somewhat offhanded lyric in the rather upbeat number "Almost Makes Me Wish For Rain" about regarding happiness with suspicion somehow functions as the thesis statement for powerpop outfit Lucius' latest offering Good Grief. It worked surprisingly well for their breakout album Wildewoman and the quintet has decided to double down on the blues to motivate themselves to overcome the sophomore slump. Considering the years Lucius spent not only refining and augmented their core sound as a must-see Brooklyn band but also taking the time to put out their debut full length record as a fivesome, the fact that they've managed to finish up a fully polished second helping in only two years and a cross country move is certainly unexpected and undoubtedly impressive.

 First single "Born Again Teen" while arguably the catchiest of the quintet's infectious retro-infused powerpop happens to be a rarity on Good Grief. With band members Jess Wolfe and Dan Molad dating and eventual marriage led to the band being compared to Fleetwood Mac, the band has elected to really just go full on Rumors for Good Grief. It's a record that's so wonderfully honest in how it regards relationships - the ecstatic highs demonstrated by the aforementioned "Born Again Teen" and "Something About You", the turbulent in "What We Have (To Change)" and "Gone Insane" and the heartbreaking ballad in "My Heart Got Caught On Your Sleeve".  It manages to engage in moment of rich, emotional honest while never really forgetting that it's a pop record. It this way it resembles the self-titled debut album of former tourmates and friends The Head and the Heart - songs deceptively upbeat in arrangement with underlying emotional complexity. Chief singers/songwriters Jesse Wolfe and Holly Laessig are on a role here and their vocals are the key to really selling most of these slice of life scenes - imbuing the necessary drama and emotional resonance. Take "Go Insane", a frenetic look at words said that escalate a disagreement to an all out explosion. Wolfe and Laessig's main calling card is their perfectly in sync harmonies and the fact that they allow themselves to slip out of it as they properly illustrates those moments where things get out of control and you're carried by pure vitrol. Wolfe and Laessig devolve in an aggressive shout match, their vocals fraught with abrasive tension and harsh to the ear and it's jarring as hell but so incredibly effective.

While Lucius has always made it a point to spotlight Wolfe and Laessig to the point that they're often the focus in press photos, they're bold colors and matching outfits, that it's easy to forget that Lucius is continuing to come into its own as quintet. The production of Good Grief, helmed by Dan Molad, is absolutely impeccable making up for some of the occasion wonkiness on Wildewoman, and the band is astounding rare form nailing the genre-shifts with effortlessness. Which is no easy feat. Going from the dance-pop of "Almost Makes Me Wish For Rain" all the way to the rootsy folk of album closer "Dusty Trails", Lucius covers a considerable amount of ground but manage to internalize those influences and personalize it in a way that it never quite feels like the jukebox style of retro pop that's increasingly popular.

Good Grief is a triumph of Lucius' continuous stylistic synthesis and earnest, engaging songwriting. It might not've been the easiest path from the critical success of Wildewoman to this new batch of songs but it's a testament to the magic that awaits when you put in the work and love what you do to the point of potential madness. No one who's ever heard them would mistake their success for a fluke but Good Grief is a indicator that Lucius is capable of wonderful amounts of growth that can still contain the sound they've been working at since their earliest days together.

Lucius' latest album, their second in their current incarnation, Good Grief is out March 11th on Mom + Pop. You can order the album here and stream via NPR's First Listen until its release.

All Around Sound Is Turning Six! Day 3: dimestore saints

It is pretty fitting that Sam of dimestone saints and I have varying accounts about how we even met each other. And they reveal a bit about our personalities but mostly they differ because we have different ideas of the moment we regarded the other person as notable. Since mine is actually correct, I'll share mine first. I was introduced to Sam inadvertently on Twitter when he was retweeted into my timeline by Kyle of Cemeteries for being one of the vocal few to actually be talking about the new Cemeteries record Barrow. Considering the only person I talked to about the new Cemeteries record had pretty much been the man who made the record, I took immediate notice and gingerly tapped the follow button. Instead of talking about the record that made me take notice of him in the first place, I merely interjected on occasion about seemingly random things Sam was talking about at the time. The very modern model of a casual friendship developed much like two students might chat about nothing in particular until class starts on the first day of school.

I am not the most trusting in other's taste but Sam was able to win me over in a surprisingly short amount of time. Not due to our tastes aligning on anything in particular - though our mutual appreciation of Cemeteries and Daughter certainly did help. But what ultimately convinced me that Sam was the real deal was just his rather impressive work ethic. dimestore saints updates pretty consistently and the bands and artists Sam elects to talk about aren't the same ones everyone's eating up on Pitchfork and Stereogum. That in and of itself was winsome to me as so many bloggers in an effort to make a name for themselves or attract page views and the like, often write about more well known artists. Many of the artists Sam writes about are relatively unknown to me before he writes about them and the more "popular" artists he writes about he does so with passion and care. Ultimately what I like about Sam is that we approach music writing from similar mentalities.

So when rounding up a group of passionate music lovers to help ring in another year of All Around Sound for its annual mix swap, Sam's inclusion was a given. The friendship was newer and the waters relatively untested but our similarities connected us.

Sam's side of the story:
Dante is presently my favorite Twitter curmudgeon, one of the few people I know who might actually rival me in outwardly grumpiness. One of our first conversations on the platform concerned classical music, though; Dante's background as a violinist, paired with a seemingly insatiable appetite for discovering and dissecting music, yielded a handful of recommendations that steered me back towards a familiar genre with a new frame of mind for consumption.
I suppose that classical music theme runs through this birthday mix a bit, but not intentionally. Lately, we've been trading thoughts on effects pedals (he's quick to extoll the virtues of equalizers, while I'll go to bat for multiple delays on the same pedalboard), but our common ground falls on loopers. I started stockpiling this mix with songs that were either constructed around loops or retain that quality, and fleshed it out with impressionable tracks often on heavy rotation in the early evening, when a majority of our correspondence seems to take place.
So I guess this mix is a combination of topics and times I associate with Dante. Maybe he'll tell me it's complete garbage, but I'm banking on at least a 60% approval rating, based on his inclined tastes. Six years is an eternity to run a website and not get burnt out; kudos to Dante and All Around Sound for weathering the storm. Here's to six more.

Thanks to Sam for contributing this year and for the good he does over at dimestore saints.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

All Around Sound is Turning Six! Day 2: Chill Mega Chill

My meeting Ian is essentially a direct result of Rafael from Heart & Soul and Dave from Stadiums & Shrines corralling me into my first experience with Portals via their Stadiums & Shrines and Portals initial collaborative CMJ showcase back in 2012. After experiencing what was heretofore one of the wildest, visionary musical experiences of my life, Portals became an important destination for my musical development and their participation at SXSW (unofficially) is one of the reasons I was lured there in 2014. I didn't meet Ian at the Portals showcase however. I met Ian as part of a larger mob of Portals kids roaming the streets of Austin that started a series of random coincidental encounters at other showcases, taco stands, and the like. It wasn't until after the festival, after the spell of booze and tacos was broken that ironically enough I felt I got to know Ian on an individual basis. In fact, I've never actually read Ian's old blog Cactus Mouth and while it features many artists I've like, I've never really paid as much attention to his cassette label Chill Mega Chill as I probably should. Despite our meeting at SXSW, our friendship was born less out of a desire for networking and more of realizing, through aligning music interests, that we'd come to like each other as people. And that's more or less how I approached Ian to contribute a mix for All Around Sound's birthday as as friend who's music taste I trust and enjoy and certainly wasn't disappointed.

Ian's words about his mix WASTELAND:
Genre movie scores had their heyday in the mid to late-80s, but their influence has certainly been seeing a resurgence as of late. The most prominent example of this is probably Disasterpiece's excellent score for It Follows that borrows generously from the past but twists the music in a way that brings it up-to-date. Other films like You're Next, Starry Eyes, and Turbo Kid have seen similar success bridging that decades-wide gap and it shows -- Mondo's vinyl-exclusive soundtrack for You're Next sold out in four hours. But this revival of sound isn't exclusive to film scores. There is a large crop of musicians dipping their toes in the waters of '80s genre film and applying its influence. Even the master himself, John Carpenter, has come out of music retirement and released an album, Lost Themes, whose sequel is soon to follow. For those who were never really into horror movies, maybe all of this doesn't mean much, but to those who were the geeky horror kid growing up, well, it's everything.

Thanks again to Ian for his contribution. Enjoy!

Monday, March 7, 2016

All Around Sound Is Turning Six! Day 1: Palm

Whether you're new to this here blog or you've been following for years, you may or may not know that this year All Around Sound is entering its sixth year of operation. While it doesn't have that sweet milestone feel like 5 or 10, any additional year of a blog running is pretty special. And so All Around Sound is turning six and like last year's milestone fifth year and the many years before it, I've sought fit to ring in the occasion with our annual celebratory mix swap.

I met Palm like I do most bands - completely by chance at a show while they opened up for the band I originally went to see. In this case I was lured to the BSP Lounge in Kingston by the mighty Buke & Gase almost two years ago now and Palm happened to be one of the two bands that were selected to open for them that night and unlike the other opener Celestial Shore I hadn't seen them much less even heard of them before that night. What followed was an explosion of technical but enjoyable noise rock. The fact that they were apparently playing all new songs that they hadn't even committed to recording yet while selling a cassette featuring older stuff pretty much sealed the deal on them and ensured that I went to see them every opportunity I had until they finally released their brilliant debut album Trading Basics last year.

When I set about brainstorming this year's contributors for All Around Sound's birthday, Palm seemed a natural choice if only to satiate my curiosity about what kind of music this kind of dynamic band listens to. When on stage, they're ferocious, wildly chaotic but impressively precise. Offstage, they're incredibly nice and delightfully fun. What do people like that even listen to in their down time? I asked and thankfully Palm delivered.

Listen to Palm's mix:

Due to not all of Palm's picks being available everywhere I've included their original tracklist in case you want to preserve the mixes continuity and listen to it in its original form.

Tom Dissevelt - "Orbit Aurora"
Nelson Angelo e Joyce - "Um Gosto De Fruta"
Skeeter Davis - "My Last Date"
DJ Rashad - "Ghost"
DJ Nigga-Fox - "Um Ano"
Micachu & The Shapes - "Sea Air"
Julio Bashmore - "Knockin' Boots"
R. Stevie Moore - "Don't Let Me Go To The Dogs"
Gary Numan - "Films"
CE Schneider Topical - "Something To Eat"
The Cradle - "In Your Hands"
Cooper Burton - "Ha Ha (Uh Huh)"
Every Kim Parcell - "Hard Moon"
Hank Wood & The Hammerheads - "I Thought I Was A Good Man"
Yellow Magic Orchestra - "Firecracker"
Gary Wilson - "Groovy Girls Make Love At The Beach"

Thanks so much to Palm for contributing this year AND if for some reason you haven't listened to them, I strongly recommend you get on that. Seriously. Here's a link to Trading Basics. Go. Listen to it and thank me later.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Listen: Hovvdy - "Problem"

If you happen to be looking for more fuzzy guitar rock in the vein of Alex G or Built to Spill, look no further than Austin duo Hovvdy. Beginning back in 2014 have made a surprising amount of progress so far releasing an EP and split with bandmate Will Taylor's other band Loafer before putting together their upcoming debut album Taster. Considering Charlie Martin and Will Taylor's downtempo jangle born from iPhone memos and their bedroom pop aesthetic, the comparisons to Alex G seem pretty apt but what makes Martin and Taylor notable is both a melodic straightforwardness and introspective lyricism that sticks to the relatable.

Where Hovvdy's past efforts have relied on drum samples and the like ("Treat"), "Problem" finds the duo introducing a real drum kit to equation and interlocking them with their guitars in a much more involved way than before making it much harder to believe Hovvdy is a bedroom affair. "Problem" reveals a band that's overcome a rather steep learning curve and has moved closer to making the kind of music they want with fewer limitations and here's hoping there's a lot more where that came from on Taster.

Hovvdy's debut full length Taster is out April 15th as a collaborative release between Merdurhaus and Sport Days Records.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Listen: Alpenglow - "Solitude"

Considering their affiliation with Lucius, it's a wonder I didn't discover newly relocated folk pop foursome Alpenglow sooner. But timing is everything and if I had jumped into Alpenglow back two years and change when they toured together, "Solitude" probably wouldn't have hit me as hard as it did. Or maybe it would've considering the version on their recently released debut album Callisto is an updated version of the track originally featured on an EP released right around the time Lucius took them on tour.

While the original version of "Solitude" was a more downtempo acoustic number with chamber pop flourishes thrown in for taste, the new version finds the band flushing out their harmony laden folk with a psychedelic trim. Part of that is through the inclusion of synthesizers instead of acoustic guitar and violin that framed the original version. It's slight but the minimal touch does wonders adding an engaging lushness and freshness to the sound. Originally written when songwriter Graeme Daubert moved from the city to Vermont and then reworked when the band found itself back in Brooklyn, there's a sort of poetic irony in its oft repeated lyric "If I wanted my solitude I'd move to the city". Not just because the city is often thought of as the least solitude-friendly place (although any city-dweller could tell you otherwise) but also because Daubert has ended up doing just that.

"Solitude" finds Alpenglow adding new elements to their sound but ultimately knowing when to just let the ear-catching melodies do their job. They've shaved about two minutes off the original's runtime but make the most of their more radio-friendly length - balancing the electronic adornments with straightforward presentation that leaves them on the right side of infectious folk pop.

Alpenglow's debut album Callisto is out now on Chizu Records.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Listen: Berlin Bar Hounds - "Skeleton"

It seems like ages ago now but back in 2014, the members of Australia jungle pop outfit Jinja Safari started to emerge from a break after their debut self-titled full length record with solo and side projects. Pepa Knight and Marcus Azon's side projects were more or less a given considering their roles as co-songwriters within the group but Jacob Borg's emergence as Berlin Bar Hounds was perhaps most surprising because the man was the only member of Jinja Safari without a microphone.

But Jacob Borg decided with a heck of a lot of prodding from Azon to give the singer/songwriter thing a shot and released "Le Rambles" and I'm certainly glad he did. In addition to revealing Borg as a decent songwriter it also showed that Borg possesses a svelte baritone that's sure to draw comparisons to The National's Matt Berninger. While his duties as part of one of the most energetic live bands has probably interfered with the more atmospheric appeal of Berlin Bar Hounds, the dissolution of Jinja Safari finds Borg back once again with a new tune. "Skeleton" is a much more rambunctious offering than Borg's past efforts and effectively utilizes his percussive chops. Where "Le Rambles" warmed up into his pop trimmings, "Skeleton" begins with them right out of the gate - blending keys, drums, bass, and a slight electronic hum that grows more and more prominent as the song progresses into full on synth melodies in the climactic instrumental breaks.

Listen: Mal Devisa - "Sea of Limbs"

photo by Daniel Dorsa
I'll admit it. Since discovering her at Portals and Stadiums & Shrines CMJ showcase back in October I have been waiting for Mal Devisa to release anything resembling an official version of her song "Sea of Limbs". The fact that is but one of many excellent cuts off her recently released album Kiid made choosing it over others less certain and yet, it's still managed to remain one of my absolute favorites from my emotion-flaying introduction to the Amherst based singer/songwriter last Fall.

On Kiid, Deja Carr lobs a volley of emotional extremes that seem designed to overwhelm and overstimulate but also to initiate you to her life, her experiences. Moments of blistering, righteous indignation quelled by softer, soulful offerings meant to soothe. It's a record that achieves balance essentially by not trying to. It's balance is a sum of all its parts rather than a delicate tightrope act.

"Sea of Limbs" comes sandwiched between fierier moments "FAT" and "Daisy" and that's part of its effectiveness but also because Carr's more folk-inspired turns are infused with so much heart. It begins with an intro - that pairs occasional feats of vocal acrobatics with deeply felt emotion. While the song proper is less showy, simply delivered to let the lyrics do the brunt of the work. There's a cleverness in Carr's water metaphor but its handled without any pretension. Instead the spotlight is given to the moments where Carr's message is presented completely unobscured: "Keep your eyes open, I promise you are solid gold".

While Carr hammers that lyric into you with a sort of blunt force live, in this recorded version it's power is in tied to that of the repetition of chorus. It's simply presented here but still finds a way to be soul stirring with the lack of dramatic emphasis. Less is more on Kiid and having harmonies enter and retreat once on that chorus is the only indication Carr gives that those particular lyrics are in anyway more special than the rest of them.

Mal Devisa's new album Kiid is out now. You can grab it from Mal Devisa's bandcamp here.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Listen: Mitski - "Your Best American Girl"

photo by Daniel Dorsa
Perhaps one of my favorite things about singer/songwriter Mitski Miyawaki is the fact that while she harnesses the power of so much heartache, her songs, though often melancholy, often invoke a sense of empowerment. At their heaviest and most stirring, Mitski's enduring message is similar to that of the lighthouse in the storm guiding you safely back to dry land.

And that's essentially where we find her now on "Your Best American Girl", the first single from her upcoming album Puberty 2. Similar in sound to bury me at makeout creek, "Your Best American Girl" manages to cover a lot of ground and it's amazing how skilled Mitski has become at saying so much with relative little exposition. Mitski's songs have functioned as a sort of cathartic addressing of issues with herself, how she was raised, and just being apart of the human experience and she manages to slip little references to the work she's been doing in here. "Your mother wouldn't approve of how my mother raised me but I do, I finally do" Mitski croons and it's no mistake that those lines are delivered at the track's climax. They're no doubt therapeutic to sing but also help to make it another life-affirming gem of Mitski's emotionally charged rock pop.

Mitski's fourth full length album Puberty 2 is out June 17th on Dead Oceans. Preorder is available now.