Friday, October 28, 2016

Listen: Landlady - "Electric Abdomen"/"Driving In California"

Thank goodness Brooklyn quintet Landlady with their increasingly unnameable genre of music keeps themselves busy touring. That was not only how I got introduced to them but also how I learned that their follow up to their pretty much immaculate sophomore effort Upright Behavior was done. I wasn't exactly sure how frontman Adam Schatz and his fellow co-conspirators could possibly top themselves but if I learned anything from Landlady's vivacious live energy and articulate, intricate songcraft it was that it definitely could be done it was merely a matter of when.

Though Landlady's new album The World Is A Loud Place isn't out until early next year, their new singles "Electric Abdomen" and "Driving In California" are more than capable of tiding us over until then. They're decidedly different in sound, subject matter, and message but unmistakeably theirs in sound. Considering the varied but also shared musical backgrounds of the band's five members there's never been any shortage of tight knit playing and ecstatic grooves but "Electric Abdomen" is a wonderful slow burn. It builds upon a steady pulse gradually incorporating not only the quintet but a group of guest artists (like a string quartet form from friends/collaborators) and yet as is their way they manage to effortlessly avoid too much cacophony despite its dizzying assemblage of instruments.

"Driving In California" meanwhile changes gears from the funk vibes of "Electric Abdomen", reminiscent of "Washington State Is Important" from Upright Behavior in sound not just references to places the band has been. Its change in sound is a bit of an ironic twist considering it swaps out strings for a brass and woodwind section. But "Driving In California" has some things in common with its co-single namely a steady run up to more spirited involvement from the rest of the band. It's an interesting take on the tour-inspired song/album as Schatz reveals a love of travel and awe for the little things that make each new place unique. Schatz also humorously shifts from place to place eventually undercutting his initially stated love with each subsequent place.

Landlady are one of those rare bands seemingly composed of all of the traits you're looking for in all the bands: infectious catchy songs that are also meticulously crafted and involved? Check. An incredibly present sense of self? Check. Lyrics that are intelligent but also easy to remember and sing-a-long to? In spades. If you weren't already excited about a new Landlady album just by virtue of the band's existence "Electric Abdomen" and "Driving In California" function as fairly easy sell on the matter.

Landlady's third full length album The World Is A Loud Place is out January 20th on Hometapes. You can pre-order the record as well as deluxe album bundles with everything from tees to patches now.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Lofty Stills Is Recording An Album

Arguably one of my favorite new discoveries of the year so far, Seattle based singer/songwriter/producer Luke Culbertson aka Lofty Stills released a self-titled EP earlier this year. The EP's only fault, in my opinion, lay in its brevity. Culbertson songs were fully realized and masterfully arranged and his brand of twangy folk, intimate chamber pop, and atmospheric dream pop were large and lush without losing any of its personal appeal and most importantly was just damn good. The EP cruises from brilliant melodic moment to brilliant melodic moment without ever lingering on its excellent songcraft. And then it's over. The EP had a cohesive flow but like most tasty treat is over far before you'd like it to be.

The good news is that Culbertson has every intentions of following up on the taster worth of songs with a full length album. And that's essentially where you come in. A few short weeks ago Culbertson launched the official Kickstarter to aid in recording the best possible version of his debut album. That involves Culbertson going to Nashville to record the album at Joshua D. Niles' The Chapel studio along with friend/collaborator Timmy Andrews of Holden Days and coproducing the album with Carson Cody. If fully funded Culbertson will begin work on the album as soon as December which puts the album release somewhere in Spring of next year. That's an exciting turn around considering two years deep into the project Culbertson has released six songs of beguiling intricacy. Considering Culbertson plays/records/produces all of his songs by himself, the added help (including real live musicians bringing his arrangements to life) as well as going into the studio with a prepared set of songs to work with practically ensures time well spent. Despite his studio aspirations I doubt that Culbertson's songs will lose any of the bedroom pop. It's an album I want, it's an album you want. Even if you don't know it yet. So head over to the Lofty Stills Kickstarter and make sure it's an album we actually get.

If you still need some convincing, here's another taste of Lofty Stills' previous output.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Listen/Watch: Alex Izenberg - "Grace"

Though his first single "To Move On" featured Los Angeles singer/songwriter Alex Izenberg prominently on piano, I've always assumed (mostly through his work on other projects/bands) that guitar was Izenberg's main instrument. "Grace" however offers up more of Izenberg at the piano and the results are positively stunning. Where "To Move On" flirted with pop conventions, "Grace" finds Izenberg with the spirit of a balladeer. Izenberg keeps his piano melodies simple while the arrangements get much of the flourish - cycling between pizzicatos and scene-stealing legato moments.

Where "To Move On" bounced jauntily to its own cathartic declarations of closure, "Grace" finds Izenberg once again in the route of romantic disappointment. Izenberg keeps his lyrics sparse but offers up the important parts of the narrative without affect. "The darkness had taken over me/Once I see her engagement ring" Izenberg croons with a pitch perfect air of melancholy. Much of the drama of his heartbreak is provided musically - the sweeping strings, the slight jar of how his chords hit.

It's composition is so natural that it's hardly surprising that for its video, that Izenberg and directors Nick and Juliana Giraffe (the same team behind Izenberg's "To Move On" video), opted for a straight forward performance of the track. It's gorgeously shot in beautiful church, softly lit and with the strings accompanying a piano bound Izenberg in the background.

 Some elements of the song's recorded form - namely its weirder, more experimental leaning electronic effects are gone but so too are its layer - its glockspiel, its vocal harmonies and the like are missing here but the effect is the same; revealing Izenberg's talents as songwriter in their purest form. It's enough to get me properly excited for the rest of Izenberg's debut and its songs that find similar inspiration in life's myriad of troubles.  

Alex Izenberg's debut full length Harlequin is out November 18th on Weird World. You can pre-order the album here.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Listen: Weyes Blood - "Do You Need My Love"

The music of Brooklyn based singer/songwriter Natalie Bering's Weyes Blood project has from its first moments occupied a space entirely at odds with the circumstances of its creation. From debut full length The Innocents, Bering has offered up music with a sense of hushed, contemplative quiet that managed to incorporate medieval modes and melodies and update them in a way that didn't insist upon its own cleverness. On her third album Front Row Seat to Earth and "Do You Need My Love" in particular, Bering pushes her sound forward while still avoiding sounding too modern.

Instead Bering effortlessly recalls the west coast psych rock/folk scene of the 70s without succumbing to the homage entirely. Album standout "Do You Need My Love" is bewitchingly cinematic: reminiscent of the closing credits of a spaghetti western. Bering does a lot with sparse arrangement/accompaniment - relying almost entirely on her power of her vocals and the strength of  her songwriting capabilities. Bering is able to imbue the simpliest words and phrases with emotional depth: "passion is the only thing/passion must mean everything" Bering sings in a way encompasses both a lovelorn appeal and also chiding derision both of the self and the nameless intended.

Bering's I's (as well as her you's) are formless but no less personal. Bering's narrative vagueness affords "Do You Need My Love" a universal standalone appeal without sacrificing any of its sincerity. Despite its universality "Do You Need My Love" also fits into incredibly intimate world of Front Row Seat to Earth.

Weyes Blood's third full length album Front Row Seat to Earth is out October 21st on Mexican Summer.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Pitstop: Uni Ika Ai

I was first introduced to Brooklyn art pop quartet Uni Ika Ai when I saw they were playing a show with Michael Hilger of Thin Hymns. A fan of Thin Hymns for several years, the idea that he was out and about playing songs albeit solo after the band went on a bit of a hiatus appealed to me. While I wasn't able to make it out to that show Uni Ika Ai's name stuck with me especially as I saw them paired up with other artists I liked and/or had covered like Cantina and GEMMA. In fact one of Uni Ika Ai's cofounders is Lucius' own Peter Lalish.

Uni Ika Ai fall into a subset of bands that are among my favorite to discover: those that evade genre classification. The foursome helmed by vocalist Mala Friedman encorporate elements of rugged experimentalism, psychedelic haze, and electronics occasionally coalescing in smatterings of infectious power pop. But there songs are never quite what they seem and their debut album Keeping a Golden Bullseye in the Corner of My Mind is an album that's as engaging as it is challenging.

Their most pop-centric songs like "Make You Better" or "Soft In Ice" aspire to more than being merely ear catching and like much of Keeping a Golden Bullseye... seem to prioritize taking the listener on an aural adventure. "Make You Better" arguably the most straight forward and simple the band lets itself get is a masterclass in the band dynamic. Building off Peter Lalish skipping guitar melody, Friedman's vocals rightfully take center stage but there's a delightful amount of interplay happening between the band. Undulating synths bow and bend with Friedman's cadence, the guitar goes off on these little embellishments before harmonizing with the synth, and the drums keep pace in increasingly interesting rhythmic figures. It's a song that provides plenty to latch on to even as it attempts to replicate a simple (though catchy as hell) pop song. It's the shortness track on the entirety of the band by a considerable margin (most clock in around 7 or 8 minutes) but there's no shortage of dynamicness in its composition.

Songs like "Is This Life" or "Already Dead" make the most of their longer run times pairing deliberately plotted narratives with intricate, layered instrumental performances. Despite its song construction being rooted in improvisation (Friedman and Lalish exchanging bits and pieces of ideas electronically while Lalish was out on the road with Lucius) every part of their longer songs not only feels vital but methodical. The fact that they apparently aren't is a testament to the skills of its members: all talented members of other bands before embarking on this newer project. Uni Ika Ai's music ideas seem properly developed, their creative trajectory of their songs all but certain but at no point predicatable. And therein lies the appeal of Keeping a Golden Bullseye... as it's both an expression of the artists' certainty in theirs skills even when they haven't particularly mapped out the particulars.

Uni Ika Ai's debut full length record Keeping a Golden Bullseye in the Corner of My Mind is out now and available for purchase either digitally or on LP/CD via their Bandcamp.

Listen: Emily Reo - "Spell"

photo by Brian Vu
It's been a little more than three years since dream pop enchantress Emily Reo released her debut full length album Olive Juice. In that time Reo has been hard at work on producing her follow up as well as actually touring a field testing some of the songs. For anyone who's been following Reo since Olive Juice, her new single "Spell" arrives with a contented sigh of FINALLY. Since premiering it in a session for Portals back in 2013, "Spell" has become a highlight of any Emily Reo live set and it's a definite treat that an official recording is finally going to be available to own.

"Spell" is easily one of Reo's most emotive and expressive tracks to date even through Reo's characteristic digitalized vocals. Reo's music has always sat at the crossroads between futuristic arrangements and stirring humanistic touches but "Spell" takes that and levels it up: pairing the lullaby lilt with a sparse composition that draws incredible focus not only to the beauty of its growing layers but to its lyricism as well. It's pastoral as well as touchingly human. "Time cast a spell on me, burn down the trees/Make me believe, feel something" Reo sings after a series of evocative nature imagery and its the first instance Reo offers of what the song is about as its lyrics become more rooted in the self; building and building until the repetitive pseudo-chorus "I can't feel anything/I don't hear anything". As the song reaches its emotional climax, there's a shift in the production, a crystallizing chime, the entrance of strings, and various effects that all threaten to overwhelm and overtake the simple chorus and Reo herself. Reo's voice endures the cacophony but when they're all that's left, they're stripped of their clarity repeating a different undiscernable mantra instead.  

Emily Reo is releasing "Spell" on 10" with b-side "Strong Swimmer" on October 28th via Orchid Tapes. You can pre-order the record now. In case you missed it, here's Emily Reo's brilliant (and seasonally appropriate) performance for Portals:

Monday, October 10, 2016

Listen/Watch: Sondre Lerche - "I'm Always Watching You"

After the released of his latest full length album Please, Norwegian singer/songwriter Sondre Lerche set out to work on its follow up. It was certainly a hard record to top: a break up record that never quite lets itself behave like the typical break up record. Several songs were omitted like "Despite The Night" which sort of focus on a different narrative than one Lerche was striving for and that along with a newfound love of dance music found many of the album's singles given the remix treatment as well "Despite The Night" being bundled together with several different remixes of the song which was a sort of remix of itself. But the party was soon over and Lerche isolated himself to get back to work on a new set of tunes. "I'm Always Watching You" is our first taste of what the new batch will possibly sound like and it's an interesting step for Lerche.

Lerche's always been able to spin deeply relateable tales of love even at its most intense (see Duper Sessions for Lerche's most deeply felt love songs) but Please's "Bad Law" was the first time Lerche really highlighted the dark side of that intensity. The fact that it was Lerche as his danciest was a surefire distraction. "I'm Always Watching You" continues more in that vein. Lerche does his best 80's send up as he put his charming spin on cyber-stalking. We've all done it. Whether its checking in to see how an ex is doing because you're curious or vindictive or still very much in love with them or the harmless bit of research you do when you're interested in someone new. Lerche's with you and he's made an anthem for it. And yet even to him, the darkness inherent in that behavior is apparent and he just goes for it.

The video directed by Johannes Greve Muskat plays like a thriller with hints and nudges towards it's twist without ever really beating you over the head with its reveal. In fact, its original shot of Lerche shot in soft light with kind eyes only for the color to drain and his gaze intensifies and he focuses in on the object of his obsession does a hell of a lot of storytelling in its simple change of tone. The rest of the video essentially chases that narrative lead - the sequence broken up with flashes of its conclusion occurring while you watch Lerche pine and his intended get increasingly bolder. It follows the format of the song's own twist as the chorus switches from "I'm always watching" to "I know you're watching". Lerche doesn't let himself off easy noting the questionable healthiness of his digital voyeurism.

The most exciting thing about "I'm Always Watching You" is not only does it ground itself in real experience but much like "Bad Law" it opens up Lerche's narrative capabilities and his storytelling options. Lerche's the narrator but these tales take up a life of their own where you can distance Lerche himself as the protagonist. After releasing probably one of the most personal records of his career, it's certainly a prospect that bound to be creatively reinvigorating. Sondre Lerche refused to wallow on Please and now, he's perfectly content with exploring material that might be at odds with his nice guy image. I can't wait to see where that revelation leads. Until then "I'm Always Watching You":