Monday, June 27, 2016

Pitstop: Lofty Stills

photo by May Xiong
The Internet is strange and marvelous thing. While an effective tool for seeking out new music and following promising new leads, it's also responsible for those strange moments of happenstance that introduces me to new music writers and new acts purely based off of an mutual interest. That's essentially how I came into contact with Luke Culbertson of Lofty Stills. After sending a series of tweets out into the ether about my incredibly mixed feelings about the new Night Beds material, Culbertson casually engaged as a mutual fan of their work and we would chat intermittently about where our heads were at at different stages of our consumption of the new Night Beds record. It was some time before I even found out Luke was a musician and that's probably for the best. If Luke had actively tried to promote his material to me from the get go, I most likely wouldn't have checked it out. Only when it was offered as kind of an afterthought, was my interest piqued.

So of course it was a funny thing that I found Culbertson's project Lofty Stills to be incredibly reminiscent of early Night Beds and Winston Yellen's friends from his time in Colorado Springs Lovelier Other. But there's more to Lofty Stills than being a Night Beds soundalike - meshing a twangy sound with a smooth dream pop tapestry, Culbertson's project continues a tradition of folk oriented bedroom pop with production that belies the simplicity of its creation and that Yellen has since abandoned in favor of electronic experimentalism. Culbertson's arrangements are lush without overwhelming Culbertson's delicate emotive tenor; his vocal harmonies doing the majority of the heavy lifting. Lofty Stills' songs arrive and leave in majesty vocal flourishes flooded with raw emotive force and yet there's no doubt Culbertson crafts his songs with meticulous precision. It's production is svelte but not too polished, spotlighting the roots in folk and country over Culbertson's electronic know how. His use of samples like Connee Boswell's "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" in "How Wrong I Was" a subtle compliment instead of a jarring distraction.

Culbertson's self-titled EP is a stunning collection of songs brimming with beguiling intimacy and winsome sincerity and musicianship. In fact, the only problem I can seem to find with it, in my growing number of repeat plays, is in its brevity: Culbertson's song have almost depressingly short life cycles flowering and withering like a spring ephemeral. Here's hoping there's more from Lofty Stills to come and soon.

Lofty Stills' self-titled EP is out now and available to stream/download via his Bandcamp.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Pitstop: Margaret Glaspy

photo by Ebru Yildiz
There's times when you encounter an artist/band that appears from the very first listen to be tailor made for you. Something that speaks to you on the most basic level - the way they write songs, the way they're arranged, the instruments they play, all or just one of these resonates with you down to your very core. Brooklyn based singer/songwriter Margaret Glaspy essentially did that for me on first listen to the emotive "Somebody To Anybody".

And yet despite taking notice of her earlier, it wasn't until the release of her debut full length record Emotions and Math when I could gauge Glaspy fully as an artist that I felt that I could actually articulate what makes her so special, so noteworthy as a new singer/songwriter. While the badassery of the fiery kiss-off "You and I" immediately reminded me of Laura Marling or "Serpents" Sharon Van Etten, Glaspy is more than just your latest resident female singer/songwriter. Glaspy is a talented singer/songwriter able to weave common turns of phrase into creative narratives that still resonate with universal truth ("You Don't Want Me"). Glaspy is also able to match the intensity of her emotions (which run an impressive spectrum) with fierce guitar work. Songs like growling "Situation" and "Pins and Needles" which bristle with contempt and sputter with vitriol are paired with precise but harsh guitar riffs. 

Emotions and Math is a feat of simple admirable songcraft. The songs are catchy and memorable slices of intelligent guitar pop with jazzy flavor and Glaspy crafts effecting narratives rooted in sincere emotion. The result is a set of songs at times languidly melancholic, at times stormily reactive that end up being ultimately empowering and unrelentingly enjoyable. Glaspy's main talent lies in her relatability and Emotions and Math never disappoints in that regard. Where Glaspy goes from this stunning collection is anybody's guess but her ability to invoke visceral reactions with a sense of effortlessness will no doubt continue to serve her well. 

Margaret Glaspy's debut full length album Emotions and Math is out now on ATO Records.  

Friday, June 17, 2016

Listen/Watch: Sam Evian - "Sleep Easy"

I remember the exact moment when I took notice of Sam Owens as an artist in his own right. A member of experimental rock trio Celestial Shore, it was while watching the making of video for the trio's Shaking Through session for "Die For Us" featuring Lorely Rodriguez of Empress Of that the extent of what Celestial Shore and by extension what Sam Owens was about really clicked for me. "I think...I think Sam Owens might be some sort of quiet genius" I whispered to myself as I listened to Owens wax poetic about recording studios and the like in an interview segment for the Shaking Though video. There wasn't anything particularly groundbreaking about what he was saying really, just Owens' deep reverence for the studio which he's been hanging around in since he was a child struck a chord with me while paired with the complicated sounding music he strives to make. The possibilities seemed limitless and I sort of absentmindedly wondered what kind of music Owens would/could make in his own right.

Luckily that question was a question that eventually found an answer. After Celestial Shore released their sophomore full length record Enter Ghost on Hometapes back in 2014, the band went on a bit of a hiatus and a bunch of solo shows featuring Owens started popping up where he went by the name Sam Evian. I missed absolutely all of them and there wasn't any recorded output I feared I'd never know what the act sounded like (sort of actually attending a show). Until now.

"Sleep Easy" is the first single from Owens' forthcoming debut release under the Sam Evian moniker. Written just prior to having to play his first show, "Sleep Easy" is a delightful introduction to Sam Owens' studio musician dreams; a slice of retro-inspired guitar pop that captures Owens vocals - plaintive and delicate in a wholly different context than the mathy rhythmic contortions of his main band. On "Sleep Easy", it's less about the juxtaposition of timbre with ambitious creative intent and more an exploration of Owens' musical roots and influences easily fitting into the 60s reminiscent singer/songwriter style whose resurgence is being aided by artists/bands like Andy Shauf and Whitney. "Sleep Easy" is a breezy pop rock jam arranged with a sort of effortless ease that belies the quickness of its composition and makes the listener clamor for me. Hopefully it's not too long before Owens lets us take another swig of Sam Evian.

Sam Evian's debut full length Premium will be out later this year on Saddle Creek but you can now pre-order the "Sleep Easy" 7" which comes bundled with non-album track "You Have to Hydrate" now.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Pitstop: Tuskha

While North Carolina trio, the Bowerbirds were on their last tour supporting their third full length record The Clearing, they unveiled a new set of songs that were more exploratory and synth based in nature and largely helmed by Phil Moore.That was back in June of 2012 and the band and the project has certainly had a lot of marinate since then. After holding one of the most interactive Kickstarter campaigns I have seen, the duo set towards building an at home studio to record their new records as well as set to work on delivering many of their promised rewards. Phil Moore and Beth Tacular also welcomed a brand new baby into the world. But all that while, the twosome have been hard at work on new music, fitting it in between child rearing and life itself and while Moore has promised new Bowerbirds material is on the horizon, the first new music to make it out of their cabin is that of Moore's solo project Tuskha.

Originally called Island Dweller, Tuskha has been on a creative journey all its own. Outside of the shows of their summer tour in 2012 where the first previewed the project, Moore has also used a year-long project Small Songs From Small Tiny House to further explore where the project could go. But last year's single "The Program" was really the first official taste of Moore's more electronic slant. The most surprising thing about Tuskha is how much of Moore's core songwriting beliefs make their way into it. Moore has always imbued the Bowerbirds' tunes with a reverence of the great outdoors and the majesty of Mother Nature and that's not missing in Tuskha. The result is an enticing blend of the mechanical and inorganic, pastoral imagery, and thoughtful lyricism. It's an oddly fitting next step from The Clearing which turned what many thought they knew of the Bowerbirds on its head.

The Clearing was exploratory and substantive but also definitive of what the Bowerbirds have essentially been trying to do all along: they weren't your garden variety folk band and with The Clearing they asserted that they weren't ever really folk to begin with. That exploration and experimentation with textures and sounds is alive in Tuskha who trades the various timbres of the Bowerbirds' accordion, strings, marimba, et al. into samples and effects. And for the dip into the electronic, Moore never loses sight of the human element. A Debussy sample ("The Shine"), the emotive power of  his own voice, programmed drums that occassionally draw from Bowerbirds' Yan Westerlund, it's a mixture of worlds that as inventive as it is human; a testament to modern life - filled with technology but vested in the unrelenting pulse of nature.

Tuskha's self-titled album is out and available for stream/download with physical release details coming soon. Tuskha will also be on tour with Wye Oak this summer, check tour dates here.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Listen/Watch: Wye Oak - "Watching the Waiting"

If there's one thing I've learned following Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak, her projects like Flock of Dimes and Dungeonesse revealed a reverence of pop music that wasn't necessarily as evident in Wye Oak's earlier works. That sort of changed with their previous record Shriek though when Wasner and drummer Andy Stack gave into their impulses and crafted a collection of synth-laden tunes that were undeniably pop-fueled. And so here we are with Wye Oak, taking a stab at what's becoming an increasing trend in the pop sphere: the surprise album. It's a surprise in the true sense of the world with very little hints of new music coming besides the duo booking a new tour.

"Watching the Waiting" is just a taste of their latest effort Tween and is a beguiling step for the band. After going increasingly electronic with Shriek, "Watching the Waiting" populates the sort of folky indie rock the band purveyed as recently as Civilian. And yet, it's by no means a step back for the band or even a dramatic reinvention. "Watching the Waiting" sits comfortably at a sort of center of all the sounds Wye Oak has previously explored while pushing themselves forward through their mix of them. After forgoing guitars completely on Shriek, Wasner brings them back here and are paired with the more electronic elements. Both are offered up with the lightest of touches and presented as more secondary to Wasner's vocals. Which is pretty fair considering Wasner's covering a considering amount of narrative ground here. "I could not have seen myself here in a place I've been before/Seeing everything all as if I can feel enough" Wasner sings and it's surprising how much it parallels the duo's creative journey. But Wasner narrows the lyrics towards describing a sort of out-of-body experience of one's own memories. It's not uncommon to revisit past decisions and mistakes, and Wasner touches on that universality stunningly.

While Wasner offers up a trip down memory lane that borders on the surreal, the video, directed by Michael Patrick O'Leary and Ashley North Compton, explores it completely. Wasner is turned both active participant and observer while Stack commits to the dreaminess of it all and a sort of specter of memory keeps Wasner engaged. It's beautifully shot and definitely feels like a relevant companion tot the song; a helpful tool for digesting "Watching the Waiting" in all its dreamy complexity.

And yet, "Watching the Waiting" is surprisingly easy to digest, Wasner's lyrics doing most of the heavy lifting while the song sits comfortably between universal pop gem and indie rock experimentalism. It's a wonderful way to welcome back the band and one that's a little less of a shock to the system after Shriek and does an exceptional job piquing curiosity for the rest of the record. Thankfully Wye Oak have taken care of that and intrigued listeners can immediately sate that curiosity by downloading and listening to Tween.

Wye Oak's new not-quite-an-album Tween is available digitally now with physical editions slated for release August 5th on Merge Records. You can however purchase one of their 25 limited edition test pressings of Tween here.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Pitstop: Jipetto

As I get more interested in electronic music, it's been a treat to stumble upon more and more artists that are doing really exciting things in the genre. Take Jipetto, the project from Kansas City based producer Max McFarland manages to pair his pretty stellar production skills with forays into soul and funk in a way that seems every bit as legitimate as acts like Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Thundercat.

Releasing his debut full length Waterbed just last week, it's a tightly produced collection of songs that do a very, very good job of both introducing Jipetto as a producer of note while also showing seemingly the best he has to offer. It's a strong debut especially considering he just started releasing music in 2014 and from its very initial moment - the title track "Waterbed", Jipetto is at peak groove. It's a purely digital creation - much to my own amazement but there's no doubting the musicianship involved in its composition. The melodies are memorable, his vocals effective and raw, and most importantly the songs are actually interesting. McFarland's touch is light, the sign of an actually good producer, as he allows his songs to bow and bend with minimal effects. Despite the rising trend in incorporating R&B/hip hop beats for popular appeal by a number of acts that's grown far too considerable to list, McFarland's presents his music with a sense of sincerity that's certainly infectious. Jipetto's songs are masterfully produced, finding just the right balance point between McFarland's inspirations and influences and the sense of originality he has to offer as an electronic producer and the result are songs that are catchy, enjoyable but also exceptionally well crafted.  


Jipetto's debut full length record Waterbed is out now. You can stream it now via Jipetto's Soundcloud.

Listen: Sofi Tukker - "Déjà Vu Affair"

photo by Shervin Lainez
I first encountered New York based electronic duo Sofi Tukker during CMJ last year after my nights essentially turned into finding wherever Gilligan Moss were playing for a guaranteed dance party. After catching them at Baby's All Right I made the executive decision to follow right after their set to their set happening at The Living Room's new Brooklyn location. Sofi Tukker happened to be playing when I finally made it over and they were an absolute pleasure.

What essentially separates Sofi Tukker from the pack of dance/electro pop acts is the blend of Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern's inspirations and influences end of creative this electric and eclectic style of music. Sophie's love of bossa nova melds with Tucker's more club-friendly interests and the result are songs that the listener might not necessarily understand like "Drinkee" or "Matadora" which are in Portugese but can still enjoy regardless due to the duo's production. The urge to dance was seemingly key in their live set to the point where the duo would often succumb to it entirely themselves. That sense of enjoyment for the music they're creating carries through.

"Déjà Vu Affair", the fourth single from their upcoming Soft Animals EP, is different than their duo's more immediate past singles. It's sultry and patient, building on Sophie Hawley-Weld's slow and steady guitar chords before reaching peak danceability about halfway through. It's an exercise in patience though making the listener work for the big dance beats when they were offered up so readily before - the trade off however is a greater sense of storytelling as well as offering up a much better display of Hawley-Weld's guitar skills. It's a pretty good indicator that Sofi Tukker have even more tricks up their sleeve than their world music inspired instrumentation, masterful production skills, and cool cast of collaborators and supporters. "Déjà Vu Affair" is  Sofi Tukker asserting their versatility and getting you well and truly warmed up. It's exactly the kind of single to upend your expectations of them and what their upcoming EP will sound like and that's essentially exactly what the duo want. Consider me well and truly pumped for the EP. Luckily there's not too much longer to wait now.

Sofi Tukker's debut Soft Animals EP is out July 8th via Heavyroc Records.

Listen: Tiny Ruins & Hamish Kilgour - "Hurtling Through"

photo by Georgie Craw
Right around the time New Zealand singer/songwriter Hollie Fullbrook aka Tiny Ruins played her first CMJ show in 2013 she connected with Hamish Kilgour of The Clean. Originally sitting in with her for a couple of shows that week, it's a relationship that ultimately ended up being more fruitful than just guest appearances at Fullbrook's NYC shows. Late last they released Hurtling Through, an EP recorded over the better part of a year in between tours.

In terms of Tiny Ruins' previous output, "Hurtling Through" probably most resembles what listeners heard during Fullbrook and Kilgour's initial CMJ pairing in style alone since the two hadn't even worked on the EP's tracks together then. Kilgour's touch is minimal and unobtrusive but hardly frivolous: his percussive embellishments setting Tiny Ruins normal folksy ruminations slightly askew in a way that's certainly refreshing. Also Kilgour's addition of windchimes, tambourine, and jaw harp give the song a delightful amount of color. Fullbrook continues to be impressive form - craft a tale of love and support that's intimate and interesting in its gentle tug of war. Fullbrook has long shown an understanding and appreciation for human nature and how people actually behave that's helped to imbue her songs with a sense of naturalism and that's on display here as Fullbrook explores the very real reaction of when support is offered and not necessarily wanted. In "Hurtling Through" the support given isn't easily accepted and there's a bit of emotional spillover between the would-be helper and the person they feel obliged to help.

Fullbrook's lyrics always seem to be at their peak when she takes a small ephemeral moment or universal truth and expounds upon it (like Brightly Painted One standout "Me At The Museum, You At The Wintergardens"), and that's certainly true of "Hurtling Through". The EP is a wonderful follow up to her previous effort, her sophomore full length Brightly Painted One and "Hurtling Through" is a worthwhile introduction to Fullbrook's collaboration with Hamish Kilgour. A set of 7 strong songs, it certainly bodes well for the next Tiny Ruins full length so here's hoping that's not too far away.

The collaborative Tiny Ruins & Hamish Kilgour Hurtling Through EP is out now and available for purchase via Fullbrook's Bandcamp and available in physical versions via Bella Union in Europe, Spunk! Records in Australia, or Flying Nun in Fullbrook's native New Zealand.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Listen: Conveyor - "What a Low Heart"

Brooklyn based experimental pop quartet Conveyor are a lot of things. They're the aforementioned set of descriptors; they're a band that pushes themselves in everything that they do to make music that interests them and as a result are interesting to the listener. They're the rare band able to find and incorporate the humor in the very process of being a band. Conveyor are the kind of band you miss immediately after the record stops or they leave the stage. Thankfully, the foursome are back to release a new batch off tunes they've been playing for the better part of about three years, even while supporting their previous release Prime, an experimental film score to George Lucas' THX 1138.

"What a Low Heart", the first single from their forthcoming album Ready Not Ready, essentially finds the band picking up where they left off on their self-titled full length debut. The band's at home in their kaleidoscopic bursts of technicolor, and yet, it's not quite the same. On their new record the band set out to create a record that they could play with their usual set up of 2 guitars, bass, and drums, and that might very well be the most impressive thing about "What a Low Heart": that the band can pull the sounds they do out of just these four instruments. They've numerous years of playing together and yet that familiarity has bred experimentation even as the band strives to simplify.

Conveyor's new album Ready Not Ready is out July 22nd on Gold Robot Records. You can pre-order the record now.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Listen/Watch: Sur Back - "Trophy Daughter"

After a fair bit of teasing with previous singles "Jane Eyre" and "Occam's Razor", Jupiter, Florida based one-woman outfit Sur Back has a brand new single out in the form of "Trophy Daughter". And with it, some equally exciting news that her debut record Kitsch, an album she's been promising for at least the past two years, will finally see the light of day next month.

Falling in love with Caroline San's music since she released her debut single "Jane Eyre" back in mid 2014, and even more so after being asked to co-premiere its thrilling music video, "Trophy Daughter" shows that Sans is a highly capable artist capable of beguiling versatility. Unlike "Jane Eyre" with it's complex time signatures, brass samples, and stuttering production, "Trophy Daughter" is all flowing melodies and sighing vocals. Sans has drawn comparisons to her musical idol St. Vincent on pretty much all of her output thus far and it's not hard to see why with her emotive coo, deft guitar work, and art-pop polish but Sans has displayed impressive originality since her debut single and "Trophy Daughter" is no different. Where the "Jane Eyre" video presented a clear, albeit fractured narrative, Sans aims more for striking visuals in her "Trophy Daughter" video; taking a much more passive, cerebral approach than the action-packed viscera of "Jane Eyre".

Sans may have taken different approaches with "Jane Eyre" and "Trophy Daughter" but they're no devoid of similarities: namely in the form of Sans' unconventional narratives, and masterful less-is-more" style of song production/composition. Sans may stack intricately crafted layers on top of each other but never lets her song sound cluttered: they're presented with considerably clarity that highlights instead of obscures the work Sans has put into each song's creation.

Sur Back's much awaited debut EP Kitsch will be out July 1st.

Watch: Matthew Thomas Ross & Kyle Morton - Book of Matches

While Portland folk pop collective Typhoon have more or less been on a hiatus since wrapping up their final White Lighter support tour in 2014. Of course, while the band takes the time to live their life and sow their wild oats, there's been the odd happening here and there: namely Typhoon's 10th Anniversary show, and frontman Kyle Morton playing the occasional show or embarking on various projects like teaming up with for a night of music accompaniment for poet Zachary Schomburg and flying to Iceland for Iceland Airwaves and playing a special set for Sofar Sounds. One such project saw Morton and Matthew Thomas Ross of Neighborhood Films collaborating on a short film called Book of Matches that the duo unveiled back in November of. Originally conceived as a sort of back and forth with Matthew Thomas Ross filming short minute long videos and sending them to Morton to soundtrack, these videos grew into a short film - a series of vignette linked by the beginning concept: "Upon my deathbed the spirit presents me with ten matchsticks. Each match, I am told, will recall a single moment of my life. Watch carefully, she tells me, and strikes the first".

For fans of Typhoon, such a concept isn't too far removed from Morton's usual songwriting subjects: the celebration of life lived and the acceptance of one's mortality but it's also new ground for Typhoon whose life-affirming brand of poignant pop music has largely been used to soundtrack things already made; not quite as collaborative as Morton's work with Matthew Thomas Ross here. The result is a work of beauty both in the presented visuals and in Morton's emotive offerings.

While the work was premiered back in November, the release of the project on one-side 12" limited edition vinyl with a digital download of the short film via Bughunt is as wonderful reason as ever to revisit the work, especially as the band is still in the nascent stages of songwriting for the next record.

You can order Book of Matches now.