Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Listen/Watch: Alex Izenberg - "To Move On"

If Los Angeles based singer/songwriter Alex Izenberg's vocal warble sounds at all familiar to you it's probably because you might've heard it in that of his experimental pop moniker Mirage. "To Move On", the first single from Izenberg's upcoming debut full length Harlequin and the first batch of music not released under an alias, tones down much of the calamity of Mirage's composition. Where Mirage reveled in the juxtaposition of sounds: occasionally harsh and abrasive, "To Move On" takes a much more ear catching approach to Izenberg's take on the singer/songwriter tradition.

Based around a piano, Izenberg's croon is as dramatic and showily vaudevillian as it is a delightful sincere extension of his personality. "You don't know what's it's like to move on" Izenberg offers and immediately a rush of a saxophone comes to solidify the assertion of his chorus. Frequent collaborator Ari Balouzan's arrangements recall Van Dyke Parks without totally cribbing his style. It's a melting pot of ideas and influences while also distilling those very things into a complete artistic statement. Izenberg's musical realms are all together his own even when channeling the creative spirits of his native Los Angeles.

It's a sort of love song but there's also a sense gleaned from the lyrics of news beginnings. "You don't know what's it's like to move on/from a name you despise, it's true love" Izenberg offers in the second part of the chorus. It's purposefully vague able to function as a goodbye to a relationship you've outgrown or in this particular case, possibly an alias Izenberg no longer wants to be tied to anymore. It's a kiss off offered jauntily and without much animosity, ambiguously tucked into a track that could just as easily be about old time flapper girls as it could a girl in the modern world.

"To Move On" is tame when compared to Izenberg's other music endeavors and yet, it functions as both a less jarring reintroducing to Izenberg's wonderfully weird style of experimentalism and also an infectious slice of pop that's aspires to much more than radio friendly ear worm. The music video directed by Nicky and Juliana Giraffe humorously explores the notion of persona as Alex Izenberg sits dressed in a suit, stoically preparing to eat his burger for a camera trained upon him. He doesn't particularly play to the camera but acknowledges it's presence; not wholly comfortable with it but not put off by it. It's a different approach than that of his more slickly dressed alter ego, who sings and dances, drinks soda from a bottle like he's in a commercial. It's a disconnect that's larger than that of the camera's other subjects: regarding the camera straight-faced at first before offering up flashes of personality often in the same shot. The two versions of Izenberg never intersect and the video ends with the straight-laced version, his task completed, tiding up and ready to leave giving a final look to the camera that's all business.

Alex Izenberg's debut full length record Harlequin is out November 18th via Weird World. You can preorder the album now.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Kishi Bashi - Sonderlust (2016)

Considering how tied to the concept of love the wide majority of violinist/composer/loop maestro Kishi Bashi's songs are, it's hardly a surprise that he would find himself creatively blocked when his own love life was suffering a sort of break down. From the tenderly emotive "Manchester" from his debut Room For Dream EP and subsequent reappearance on full length 151a, to the ecstatic giddiness of Lighght's "Philosophilize With It! Chemicalize With It!", love in all its permutations lyrically fueled Ishibashi and grounded his vibrantly colored blend of psych rock and orchestral pop. And after dealing with his writer's block, Kishi Bashi was able to channel that strife into his third full length studio album Sonderlust that essentially manages to pick things up right where he left them.

One of most exciting things about Kishi Bashi's albums - Sonderlust in particular is it shows a growth that's both in line with previous releases while aspiring to be more than just more of the same. Lighght pushed Kishi Bashi's sound firmly into that of his influences in prog rock and jazz fusion and Sonderlust gives the occasional nod to those influences without rooting itself too much in the sounds of Lighght ("Ode To My Next Life", "Who'd You Kill").

While songs like "Manchester" and "Bittersweet Genesis For Him AND Her" introduced darkness into Kishi Bashi's narratives to show the enduring appeal of true love, Sonderlust treats that darkness less as means of narrative shading and more as rooting his tales of love in reality. Real feelings of doubt, insecurity, and sadness. Sonderlust begins with "m'lover", a dizzying but sweet appeal for reconciliation that along with "Say Yeah" obscures their inherent melancholy with upbeat and engaging pop dressings. Even more overt songs like "Can't Let Go, Juno" and never quite forget to be pop songs first and foremost. It's not until penultimate track "Flame On Flame (a Slow Dirge)" that Sonderlust shows any signs of slowing down or toning down its pop mechanics. In this way Kishi Bashi creates an album that's a sort of cousin to friend Sondre Lerche's own breakup record Please: both seemingly operating under the rule that regardless of the intensity of emotion, how negative the feeling that wallowing heartbreak ballads simply will not do.

Sonderlust is essentially an album about putting in the work to sustain the honeymoon of Lighght and the fantastical first love of 151a. Through moving through the shade, its glitchy "It All Began With A Burst" recalling finale in "Honeybody" feels earned. It's the sun appearing in newly blue skies after storm clouds and the rain and Kishi Bashi's playful enthusiasm is infectious and cathartic. With "Honeybody", Kishi Bashi's creative woes and romantic strife appear to be solved for the time being and love wins out, surging to the forefront past the churning bile of the album's negative emotional displays. On record Kishi Bashi employs drums instead of the beatboxing he's done in his live show since ditching him cumbersome drum machine after his first tour and while he doesn't exactly enact that here, his cadence on "Honeybody" is perhaps the closest Kishi Bashi has gotten to the kind of music a beatboxing would feel at place in.

Sonderlust finds Kishi Bashi at his most electronic while still the orchestral pop flair that's become a core part of Kishi Bashi's sound. By focusing on the personal, Kishi Bashi has created a dynamic record that pushes his sound forward by circumventing the easy and predictable. Hardly surprising considering his past output but thrilling nonetheless.

Kishi Bashi's third full length album Sonderlust is out now on Joyful Noise Recordings.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Listen: Genders - "Never Belonged To You"

As Portland indie rock quartet Genders continue to unveil bits and pieces of their upcoming Phone Home EP one thing is becoming abundantly clear: unlike their debut full length Get Lost which was a culmination of years of playing and writing songs together, Phone Home appears to have a more definite theme. Not that Get Lost lacked the cohesion of a good album - it's songs all fit together if not lyrically than definitely in style but the time in between records has given the band a much more focused narrative.

"Never Belonged To You" essentially picks off right where first single "Life Is But A Dream" left off. However where "Life Is But A Dream" dipped into dream pop, "Never Belonged To You" is a much clear cut rock jam.  Where "Life Is But A Dream" relied on synths for textural padding, "Never Belonged To You" features Maggie Morris and Stephen Leisy's interlocking guitars. There's a push and pull both narratively and compositionally. Morris' lyrics turn from vague introspection to a downright warning: "Setting you up/gonna knock you down" before launching into the chorus and the guitars rise up like walls around her heart. "But I never belonged to you/I never belonged to anyone" Maggie coos and the lack of bite makes it a much effective siren call. Narratively Morris leaves you wanting more, never quite explaining why you're not good enough or even attempting a cathartic capitulation. Instead the band take up the task of crafting a satisfying conclusion as they embark on instrumental break that teases and expands the tracks main riff.

Genders' Phone Home EP will be out later this year.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Listen: Flock of Dimes - "Everything Is Happening Today"

Though she's been making music as half of Wye Oak with Andy Stack for the better part of a decade, Jenn Wasner's has her hands in many creative pots. Five years ago she released "Prison Bride", the first single under her solo moniker Flock of Dimes and while she's added a couple singles to the mix (as well as forming Dungeonesse with Jon Ehrens), she's returning again to the project and giving it a bit more attention.

Wasner may have kept her projects separate from each other but there's no denying the effect each has had on the others: after exploring her love of pop unabashed love of pop with Dungeonesse, Wye Oak returned with arguably their most pop-centric record in Shriek. But Wasner's solo project has been slowly undergoing a metamorphosis over the years. Finally readying a batch of tunes in the form of debut full length If You See Me, Say Yes, "Semaphore" and new single "Everything Is Happening Today" hardly resemble the bombastic, glitchy debut of "Prison Bride". The production is sleeker, if not necessarily glossier, and Wasner imbues the project with clarity and narrative depth.

Lyrically "Everything Is Happening Today" resembles "Watching The Waiting", the lead single from Wye Oak's recent non-album Tween, in its emotional inventory. That's hardly a coincidence seeing as they were both written around the same time Wasner relocated to Raleigh from Baltimore. But while in the Wye Oak track Wasner essentially relives her past failures unable to change the outcome, "Everything Is Happening Today" leverages the knowledge of those failures with an appreciation of the experience. It's beguiling both in its refusal to wallow in heartbreak pop tropes and a delightful sense of life-affirming hopefulness. Wasner sings of fragility with vulnerability but there's an unmistakeable strength that carries the track to its resolved chorus of "Everything that ever was is happening today".

Flock of Dimes' debut full length If You See Me, Say Yes is out September 23rd on Partisan Records. You can preorder the record now.

Listen: Living - "Risen"

photo by Simen Peder Aksnes Aarli
After being introduced to Living, the Norwegian pop trio helmed by producer Lucas de Almeida, earlier this year I've been eagerly awaiting their promised new single. "Cerulean" was a bath of warm dream pop that recalled both fellow Norwegians Young Dreams and balmy chamber pop of Los Angeles' Princeton in equal measure. I was hooked. And now after much waiting, the trio are offering up another new track as well as news of an EP planned for October. So the wait begins anew.

The first thing you notice about Living's new single "Risen", aside from its tabla samples, is it takes the sense of patient ease of Living's previous output and really doubles down on it. Aside from occasionally pairing things down to just the tabla, "Risen" luxuriates in its own vibrant, layered melodies. For the majority of its nearly six minute run time there's a sprawling sense of ad infinitum; waves crashing along the shore without need for conclusion. Its build toward its climax is subtle as Lucas de Almeida does a few laps around the pool before kicking things up a notch: his swelling vocals ultimately ushering in tabla-less coda. "Risen" is Living at their most subdued; almost balladic as they trade its infectious pop hooks for experimentalism and emotion. While "Florahedron" and "Cerulean" featured a sort of call-and-response with the self as well as significant instrumental breaks, "Risen" relies largely on its vocals to set its course.

Living's fourth single "Risen" is out now on Brilliance Records.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Pitstop: Armel Dupas

My introduction to the music of French pianist/composer Armel Dupas was due to the strange sense of serendipity that's become pretty commonplace in some of my most unexpected and most treasured music discoveries. A matter of happenstance found us sat next to each other at the record release show for Christopher Tignor's latest album Along A Vanishing Plane. At the bar with time to kill, Dupas struck up a conversation that went from stories of how we came to be at this particular concert to our musical interests and endeavors and an easy rapport ensured that we checked in after each set to discuss what we had just witnessed. Earlier in the evening Dupas shared that he was a musician and his interest in the pedal setups and gear of opener Patrick Higgins and of Christopher Tignor had me resolved to check out his music before he even offered information on where to find it.

What struck me immediately about Dupas' music, especially that of his most recent effort Upriver, was an incredible subtlety; a lightness of touch and a refreshingly sense of minimalism. Dupas' melodies are beautiful and free flowing but carry an ephemeral air. His use of electronics is sparse but effective often used for color than an actual composititional focus until its climatic use in "Sometimes I Need Some Time" and the interlude "Epilogue". Though Dupas has trained in jazz, his music transcends the genre while still applying skills and techniques he gained from it. Dupas has cited Nils Frahm as an influence but at times on Upriver, he more recalls Japanese pianist/composer Mashashi Hamauzu and his impressionistic lilt. Like Hamauzu, Dupas makes incredible use of space and silence as his melodies expand out like questions confidently asked and patiently awaiting their answer. The album effortlessly flows from one piece to another but not without each making a noteable impression. From sprightly opener "Les Plaines De Mazerolles" to the only vocal track "Aujord'hui il a Plu" to meditative closer "Upriver" no one song is the same but the album grows in such a way that none seem out of place and its end is wonderfully cathartic.

Armel Dupas is a gifted pianist, yes. But Upriver demonstrates a knack for arranging a rewarding musical voyage that's thrilling both in actual practice and its potential. Dupas evades easy definition while offering a collection of pieces that a brilliantly original. Upriver is a pristinely plotted soundtrack of nocturne's that's enjoyable and exciting in its presentation: effortless in delivery and engaging in its composition.

Armel's debut solo album Upriver is out now on Jazz Village.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Listen/Watch: Sylan Esso - "Radio"

After numerous updates that they were working on a new record, Durham, NC based electro pop duo Sylvan Esso are finally offering up a taste of their work in the studio with new single "Radio". "Radio" marks the first new bit of music we've heard from Sylvan Esso since they released "Jamie's Song", the track they wrote for Radiolab last year. But while "Jamie's Song" was somber ballad, "Radio" finds Sylvan Esso picking up right where they left off with their debut self-titled record and offering another winsome high energy dance jam. Nicholas Sanborn continues with his delayed gratification style of production as he stacks several layers on top of each other, slowly building the base before Amelia Randall Meath enters. It's a radio-friendly 3 minutes (no doubt intentional given its title and subject matter) but "Radio" seems longer than that and at the same time way too short. Sylvan Esso are in peak form: infectious, engaging, and fun while the production is delightfully simple.

Sylvan Esso are releasing a 12" featuring "Radio" and another track titled "Kick Jump Twist" on November 18th via Loma Vista Recordings. You can pre-order it now through Sylvan Esso's site. The duo will also be playing several dates where they've promised to play new tunes so catch them on the festival circuit if you can. They'll be playing Hopscotch next week, The Meadows and Treasure Island in October. Full list of tour dates are available at their site.