Monday, August 14, 2017

Listen: Elizabeth and the Catapult - "We Can Pretend"

photo by Shervin Lainez
If you follow Elizabeth Ziman of Elizabeth and the Catapult on any form of social media, the wait between her third full length album Like It Never Happened and her upcoming fourth album Keepsake might not seem like the three years that has passed between them. This is due purely to the fact that Ziman is one of the most open and engaging singer/songwriters and frequently shares demos and home recordings that it never quite seems like she's far away from releasing something new.

"We Can Pretend", the first single from the new Elizabeth and the Catapult album Keepsake, shows Ziman firmly in the midst of her consistent stride. Keepsake reunites her once again with frequent collaborator/producer Dan Molad and "We Can Pretend" essentially plays to the strength of Ziman and her other collaborators. Ziman is wistful but optimistic, hopeful but not delusional. Ziman essentially sings about upending expectations in search of something better; reveling in golden memories and letting them color your present situation. It's Ziman at her catchiest, Molad at his subtlest, and the result is a wonderfully crafted pop tune that is sure to rank  as one of your favorite Elizabeth and the Catapult tunes. Based purely on the strength of her previous output I was already looking forward to the new album but "We Can Pretend" has increased my anticipation by leaps and bounds. Luckily we're bound to hear some more from Ziman and co before the album comes out this Fall.



Elizabeth and the Catapult's fourth full length studio album Keepsake is out October 20th on Compass Records Group.    

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Listen: Moses Sumney - "Quarrel"


Well this is more like it. After years as essentially Los Angeles' best kept secret (in the words of Hundred Waters who introduced me to his music), Moses Sumney is making moves. He's been consistently releasing music for years but last year's Lamentations EP was by far his most anticipated release and now several EPs down, this fall will see the release of his debut full length Aromanticism.

"Quarrel", the second single from the upcoming album, is a melange of just what makes Sumney such a force to be reckoned it. It's a subtler vocal performance than other efforts and therein lies its beauty: it's a sumptuous offering of stellar arranging and slow burning builds that juxtaposes the spiritual with the secular. Though he often frames his songs as hymns, there's universality here. There's also the fact that nearly half the track is an instrumental outro of sorts that establishes Sumney's other multi-instrumental talents. Not quite as much of an outright jam as "Lonely World", "Quarrel" moves at a much quicker pace than songs like "Doomed" which luxuriate in their incantation like lyricism. But "Quarrel" follows suit with Sumney's other output in that it captivates from the start, the listener hanging on every coo and change of inflection. Sumney enchants with little effort and "Quarrel" perhaps the most verbose song he's offered is still a masterclass in less being more.



Moses Sumney's debut full length album Aromanticism is out September 22nd on Jagjaguwar. You can pre-order the album now.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Listen/Watch: Oshwa - "Off You Go"


Since the announcement and subsequent release of I We You Me, the follow up to art pop outfit Oshwa's debut full length album Chamomile Crush quite a lot has changed for the project: singer/songwriter Alicia Walter made the trek from to Chicago to Brooklyn and essentially reclaimed the project as a solo endeavor. While the shift has perhaps meant less in terms of mathy guitar parts, the project is no less weird and wonderful than they've been before. I We You Me ended up being an album of incredibly personal record full of beautiful cinematic moments and "Off You Go", the first new music from Walter since she's made Brooklyn her home, manages to marry Walter's one-woman band aspirations with the kind of life-affirming lyricism she strove of on her previous record.

"Off You Go", released right before Walter embarked on a massive cross country tour, is essentially a celebration of that spirit of independence; of taking your future into your own hands risks be damned. It's a subject Walter knows all too well and yet she frames it as a sort of rallying cry for those worried of the risk and in need of the support of someone who believes in you. "Didn't you know you were made to fly?" and that combined with Walter's lovely layered harmonies give you the sense of being catapulted into possibility. "Off You Go" downright levitates with positivity as Walter takes up the mantle of cheerleader both for herself and anyone in need of a friendly push in the right direction and it's awe-inspiring how Walter is able to musically set these feelings she's trying to stir inside of you.

The feelings translate easily into the accompanying music video,  directed by Anneliese Cooper and featuring choreography by Walter, Walter seems incapable of delivering her song's message with anything less and a big beaming smile of her face. From a solo dance number to a more involved number to strutting the streets of Brooklyn, Walter is pure contentment taking pleasure in every scene and shot of the video in a way that's as impressive as all of the various moving parts and different stages that make up the video. It's simple but Walter and Cooper and a crew of dancers make the most out of the simplicity and the result is something playful and fun but also downright interesting and enjoyable to watch.



"Off You Go" is definitive proof that Walter's still an exciting singer/songwriter and composer and that this next chapter might be her very best yet. Here's hoping it's not too long before we get to hear more.

You can snag "Off You Go" now on the Oshwa Bandcamp or through other online music retailers.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Listen: Wild Ones - "Paresthesia"

photo by Jeremy Hernandez
After the summer grooves of 2015's Heatwave EP, Portland indie pop outfit Wild Ones are back with a new single ahead of their sophomore album Mirror Touch. "Paresthesia", the first single and lead track on the upcoming album, finds the band trading in their funky guitar grooves for synth tapestries and a multitude of effects. Singer Danielle Sullivan is still the object of the band's focus: harmonizing with herself and running her vocals through reverbs and delays but the track remains a bright, pretty much straightforward jam despite its experimentation. It's a return of sorts to the textures that defined much of Wild Ones' debut album Keep It Safe while incorporating much of what the band's achieved since then. Since their debut, the band has formed into a solid, cohesive unit and that's true here even if the full band are utilized more subtly than a track like Heatwave standout "Show Me Islands". Named after the scientic name for the tingling feeling of pin and needles, there's a freshness in Wild Ones' sound as well as a pep in their step.

Curiously enough, it's Sullivan's attempt to frame a particular anxious time in her life in a positive context. On "Paresthesia", Sullivan takes responsibility for her anxiety causing her to pull away from everything and work through it. It's a pep talk of sorts as Sullivan's "This has got to be the last time" is more to herself than anyone. Underneath the sunny melodies and the quick pacing, Sullivan's taking an emotional inventory of sorts: she can see what she needs and what she wants but it's about getting there mentally as well as physically. While anxiety isn't really a thing you can just get over, Sullivan's clearly worked through the intense portion of it that caused her to become a shut-in and the poppiness of the single frames it as a winsome triumph of her spirit. "Paresthesia" finds Sullivan removed just enough that she can reflect on her feelings of fear in a way that they don't seem quite so scary anymore but still close enough  that she can still empathize with the kind of person she was in that state. Sullivan's lyrics are honest and sincere while never losing the sense of ease and fun that's such an integral part of Wild Ones' sounds. The fact that the band can tackle such a serious subject and make it so palatable bodes particular well for the rest of Mirror Touch and I certainly can't wait to see what the band have up their sleeves.



Wild Ones' sophomore album Mirror Touch is out October 6th on Topshelf Records. You can pre-order the album now.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Listen: Canon Blue - "Beholden"


Several years ago I was introduced to Nashville based singer/songwriter/producer Daniel James' Canon Blue project through Efterklang (a band he was a touring member of)'s recommendation of his album Rumspringa when it became a spotlighted album for Noisetrade. Even then the orchestral dance record had been out for several years and so while I haven't had to wait as long as some longtime fans, I still greeted the news of both a brand new single and album from James as welcome news.

"Beholden", the opening track and first single from Canon Blue's upcoming third full length record Lasso Yo, arrives six years after James' previous effort but he hits the ground running. It's a track very in line with the sort of lush, uptempo songs that defined much of Rumspringa but without the assistance of Efterklang or the blend of electronics and strings Icelandic collective Amiina. Without the trappings of James' very talented friends, his powers of production are much more obvious as he builds an intricate tapestry of sounds that eventual burst into a resplendent climax. James' emotive tenor makes a welcome return and the track's bright melodies almost make it hard to believe that Lasso Yo was a record forged from James' struggles with anxiety and depression. But some of the saddest songs come in most upbeat of dressings and though "Beholden" relies mostly on metaphor and storytelling, it's not hard to see how the introduction to James' psyche would strive to go down easy. It's a thrilling return and an intriguing first taste to an album no one quite expected.



Canon Blue's third full length album Lasso Yo is out October 6th on Temporary Residence Ltd. You can pre-order the album now. Digital orders come bundled with a Jamie Lidell remix of album track "Onyx".

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Listen: Blue Hawaii - "No One Like You"


Since I was introduced to them at their CMJ set at Glasslands, it's hard to believe that electro-pop duo Blue Hawaii haven't released a new record since 2013's Untogether. Though of course this probably has to do with Raphaelle Standell-Preston's main project BRAIDS hitting a massive creative stride with 2013's Flourish//Perish that they've managed to keep the momentum with. But today Blue Hawaii are back with a new single and a new album on the horizon. "No One Like You", the first single from their upcoming second full length album Tenderness, is a characteristic slow burn blossoming from its sparse vocal intensive opening to a vibrant disco-recalling jam featuring a strings and a multitude of interest synth effects. It grows into arguably Blue Hawaii's catchiest song. A companion of sorts to "Taste" off BRAIDS' Deep in the Iris, where "Taste" was a piece of self-actualizing self-admonishment, "No One Like You" sways between highlighting your partner's strengths and what they bring out in you and a sobering rejection of idealization: "What if I remember only remember the good times/Would I be lying to myself?" Raphaelle Standell-Preston sings and

"No One Like You" is a far cry from Blue Hawaii's debut Blooming Summer EP: an occasionally confusing tale of growing pains, simultaneous full of love with heartbreak seeping in at the track's most resplendent moments. "No One Like You" is essentially a song about growing up and of love filtered through the self. Even its most praiseful moments; its most praise-seeking moments, the track manages to keep the focus purely on Raphaelle Standell-Preston's emotions: what is she getting from this? How is she feeling? It's a pretty unique take on the standard love song formula which so often focuses on the external. It also happens to be an absolutely groovy number where Blue Hawaii are at their most danceable, club ready. There's no telling if Tenderness will remain as musically upbeat or as catchy but "No One Like You" is an excellent introduction to the upcoming album and brilliant welcome back for the duo.

Listen to "No One Like You":


Blue Hawaii's second full length record Tenderness is out October 6th on Arbutus Records. You can pre-order the record now through the band's Bandcamp.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Pitstop: Twain

photo by Samantha Skapin
My introduction to Twain, the project of Brooklyn based singer/songwriter Mat Davidson actually happened several months ago in October when he opened for Kishi Bashi's Webster Hall stop of the Sonderlust tour. Armed solely with a guitar and his incredibly emotive yodel, it was an incredibly captivating set. After the show I immediately sought to acquaint myself with Davidson's catalog while also biding my time until an announcement of an album that would feature a number of the newer songs he had played that night (namely an absolutely emotional wrecking ball of the tune by the name of "Georgia"). The wait is actually why I didn't rush to feature him right away: I figured with so many new songs an album would surely be on the immediately horizon and I'd prefer to talk about beguiling man and his brilliant songcraft then. However after catching him again opening for the incredible Big Thief, it occurred to me that there really wasn't any good reason to wait. Davidson's music is stunning in its beauty and needed to be shared. On record - Davidson employs a host of musicians to fill in the spaces and it was a somewhat startling departure from the raw force Davidson taps into for his solo live shows. The songs still contain the same touching lyricism but there's something to be said for his calm, more measured delivery instead of his rafter-seeking vocals that easily overtake every nook and cranny of the room he plays in.



A member of Spirit Family Reunion (a fact I learned only after seeing him twice), Davidson's music is rooted in much of the deep American music tradition that serves as their inspiration: namely bluegrass, folk, and gospel. Though guitar is his main instrument, he's equally well versed in piano and fiddle, and these factor into his album efforts. Davidson's music deal almost exclusively with matters of the heart: the feeling of homesickness when you've been on the road for a long time, the blossoming feeling when you catch your lover off guard, Twain  is adept in this regard easily balancing these relateable feelings and subjects with winsome, simple presentation. Davidson doesn't engage in any extra frills: rather his vocals so consuming in their fervorous intensity serve as both the window and the grounding element of his music. Much like artists like The Tallest Man on Earth or Mandolin Orange the anticipation between albums is less about expecting radical tonal departures but rather what new lessons his distinct voice will seek to impart. With an album completed, it hopefully won't be too long before we heard Twain's new tales of love and woe and I couldn't be more invested.





Until his next album is announced cozy up with Twain's previous releases including the his recently re-pressed Life Labors In The Choir which you can order via Davidson's Bandcamp. He's also on tour with Big Thief and I strongly recommend catching both of them if they're in your city - you absolutely will not regret it.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Listen: Living - "Path"

photo by Øystein Grutle Haara
Since releasing their first singles several years ago Living has gone from the moniker of Bergen based producer Lucas de Almeida into a full on full band endeavor. More so than on their debut self-titled EP new single "Path" is an explosion of their immersive tropical dream pop. Where de Almeida saw fit to sort of luxuriate in kaleidoscopic sound baths previous, "Path" kicks the energy levels up a notch as the track blasts off from it's very first note. The slow steady sprawl of songs like "Florahedron" and "Cerulean" are instead imbued with a forward momentum that's nothing short of breathtaking.

Living's songs are no less complex but it's beautiful music moments come at you faster and the band consisting of Sturla Kvernerg, Nora Tårnesvik, and new edition James Kalinoski of Flesh Prince makes the most of their live energy. The foursome harnessed this in previous single "Glory" and it's certainly good news that see that wasn't a fluke. The project has evolved considerably in the past two years or so and "Path" is a good indicator of what the band can sound like when it's firing on all cylinders. Hopefully the intricate nature of their song composition doesn't mean we have too long to wait before more Living tunes surface but in the meantime "Path" is more than worthy of a heavy amount of repeat listens.



If you haven't, listen to Living's previous single "Glory" released earlier this year and you can check out their brilliant self-titled EP via their bandcamp here.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Palm - Shadow Expert EP (2017)


Through their rather short but somewhat noteworthy career Philly four piece Palm have crafted an oddly accessible though certainly off-kilter brand of noise pop. Since their inception at Bard College, the foursome have pushed themselves to explore new sounds and tonal dialogues that meant for fans of the band, you'd often hear a song once and then maybe never again or have to wait several months if not years become you could actually own it. The Shadow Expert EP is their latest release, following an absolutely full length debut Trading Basics.

While first single "Walkie Talkie" gives the impression with its ramshackle jangle that Palm are up to their old tricks, as the EP proceeds there's a growing persistence of melodic coherence. Not that Palm have ever suffered from a lack of coherence in the past but it's hard to imagine a song like the eponymous "Shadow Expert", with its clean, straightforward flow existing on Palm's Trading Basics. But Palm haven't left either their angular guitar lines or their complex, interwoven dynamic or their intricate, atypical rhythms behind. Rather Shadow Expert seems to explore the band dynamic on the most basic of levels by dialing down the fuzz.

Guitarists Eve Alpert and Kasra Kurt are locked in a dance that's not wholly unlike a changing bird formation. Where Kurt might take the lead with Alpert adding in little noisy flourishes, they're capable to shifting roles in an instant. That same sense of impermanence follows along in the vocal lines. One of the most delightful things about Palm's Shadow Expert EP is how fluid the whole thing feels. Buoying melodies and shifting figures both melodic and rhythmic give the sense that you're not entirely on solid ground. What's more, the EP progresses from harsh sounds to clean math pop right back to into harsher realms almost effortlessly. While Palm lean into their more pop sensibilities on the EP, there's a pervasive sense that noise is going to overtake everything laps at the sides of Palm's jangly art pop like oceans waves with varying intensity until "Sign To Signal" where it's presence is such a integral part of what makes it flow.

Given their constant pursuit of new and interesting sounds there's no telling if Shadow Expert is the kind of pop that Palm have been striving for or if it's merely a pitstop but it's an absolutely incredible entry into a diversifying catalogue that plays to their strengths while also exploring and establishing new ones.

Palm's Shadow Expert EP is out now on Carpark Records.
 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Pitstop: Sunbathe

photo by Todd Walberg
No disrespect meant to her longtime bandmate/songwriting partner Stephen Leisy but Genders' Maggie Morris distinct vocals have been one of my favorite elements of the band's continuous evolution. From the gauzy beach pop of Youth to their more psychedelic efforts as Genders and even their more shoegaze-oriented turn, Morris' emotive vocals have provided an excellent buoy in Genders' instrumental deluge. Much like fellow Portland friends Typhoon led to my discovery of Youth/Genders, it was only through them that I even knew Morris had begun her solo project Sunbathe. Enlisting Typhoon's Pieter Hilton on drums, Shannon Rose Steele on violin, and Devin Gallagher on tambourine, Morris' efforts as Sunbathe highlight just how masterful Morris' ability to pair heavy rock riffs with emotion-stirring vocals and memorable melodies. Though the lead track "Can't Find It" off her recently released debut reminded me of an alternate edit of "Never Belonged To You", much of Sunbathe exists in its own realm of similar but not congruent rock pop.

"With A Little Help" is a high point of the album featuring Morris at her brightest, most vibrant and taking what could be a radio-friendly pop effort and elongating its moments of small-scale magnificence. Though Morris has demonstrate a diverse range of songwriting subjects in the past/across other efforts, as Sunbathe, she sticks to basics: Sunbathe is an album filled with songs of love and heartbreak and where Morris really shines is in her ability to conflate the two. Morris' strengths have always lay in her pursuit of real, sincere emotions and real, earnest reactions and Sunbathe makes the most of that while also featuring incredible moments of tonal place-setting. Sunbathe is like a progression through the stages of grief, starting off breezy and sun-kissed and eventually ending up fully entrenched in darker textures and blistering riffs.




Sunbathe, the debut album from Maggie Morris' new solo effort Sunbathe is out now and available on digital, vinyl, or cassette.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Listen: Kinlaw - "drama in the south"

photo by Landon Speers
Considering how much SOFTSPOT appears to rely on singer/songwriter/bassist Sarah Kinlaw's ability to not only draw inspiration from unexpected sources but inhabit those circumstances so concretely that many of SOFTSPOT's songs seem like completely immersive experiences, the idea that Kinlaw had need of another outlet to express this caught me a bit off guard. In fact when she played a solo set last year I had assumed she would essentially be playing stripped down SOFTSPOT songs only to realize she had a whole body of work completely separate from her band of collaborators. "drama in the south", the first single from Kinlaw's upcoming solo album a trigger for everybody, essentially captures Kinlaw's artistic spirit in motion. Featuring fluttering synths, "drama in the south" proceeds much like an afterimage: Kinlaw's vocals stretching out, overlapping, and eventually enveloping everything. It's a song that draws on Kinlaw's wide variety of interests and talents: dance, music, art blending them. It's music inspired by an array of artistic disciplines and yet doesn't necessarily insist you be familiar with them to enjoy it. a trigger for everybody may be inspired by everything from sound effecting movement to ASMR but "drama in the south" shows that it's capable of standing alone on purely aural merits. Choreography and a sense of place may elevate it but "drama in the south" stands on pretty firm ground to begin with. It's an intoxicating bit of sweetly melodic art pop offered up without much in the way of pretension: a trait Kinlaw's songs with SOFTSPOT effortlessly share.



Sarah Kinlaw's first solo effort as Kinlaw a trigger for everybody is out June 23rd and currently available to pre-order on limited edition cassette from Soap Library. Kinlaw will also being doing a set of limited engagement shows at the Wythe Hotel on June 12th featuring choreography set to the album. You can score tickets to that here.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Listen: Francisco The Man - "I'll Feel Better"


It's been 2 years since Los Angeles indie rockers Francisco The Man released arguably one of the best songs you're bound to hear in "Progress". And also their very excellent debut full length Loose Ends. And if their latest single "I'll Feel Better" is any indication their sophomore effort Bodies in the Sun is bound to be just as excellent if not more so than the first. "I'll Feel Better" finds the shapeshifting foursome comfortably dialed in on their poppier element and locked in with each other. After an attention-grabbing elongated chord entrance, the band surge forward with Scotty Cantino's downy vocals holding their own against the band's pretty relentless forward plod. Considering the band have been playing together for the better part of a decade, it's hardly surprising to find the band so in sync and able to highlight each member's individual strengths but it's worth noting because a lesser band would swallow Cantino's vocals up entirely. That or they might tiptoe around them to make sure they were always in focus. But "I'll Feel Better" finds Francisco The Man picking right up where they left off, it's a fast-paced power pop jam featuring remarkably clean playing and absolutely infectious energy. It's a band recharged with a hell of a lot more to offer and I for one can't wait to hear more.



Francisco the Man's sophomore album Bodies in the Sun will be out later this year.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Listen: Saintseneca - "Book Of The Dead On Sale"


Saintseneca's Zac Little has always been drawn to big ideas. He's spun big philosophical moments and catchy folk pop out of the kind of weird thoughts you might have right before sleep comes. So when a video of his friend's narcoleptic cat Remi went viral, it's hardly surprising that Little's first thought was how much time is a million views? It's a big thought that no one ever really thinks about when they're watching silly internet videos but Little did the math and it equated to something like three years. And unsurprising to anyone familiar with Saintseneca or Little's knack for combing through these wonderfully random thoughts and attaching them to bigger revelations, he wrote a song about it. "Book Of The Dead On Sale" is a song inspired by the adding up of all the seconds and the value of that time. Time has different value to everyone and Little essentially ponders that. Not just time but money as well. "$38 on the Book of the Dead felt steep oh but then again how do you put a price on ancient wisdom?" Little sings and essentially questions the value of anything. How do you know how much something is worth? Is it the buyer or the seller who decides? Do people realize how many seconds they're devoting to this video of a cute kitten falling asleep? Do they realize enough people have watched it that it adds up to more time than the kitten's been alive? These are all questions that Little offers in sometimes direct and in other times roundabout ways. "The Book Of The Dead On Sale" is short but sweet. Aiming for the philosophical fences without taking itself too seriously. I mean it's hard to write a song about a viral cat video and not find a way to have fun with the conceit.



Saintseneca are about to go on a North American tour with Tiger Jaws and are an amazing live band so definitely make sure you catch them on tour.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Listen: Palm - "Shadow Expert"

While Philly experimental rockers Palm introduced listeners to their upcoming Shadow Expert EP with lead single/opening track "Walkie Talkie", their latest, the title track "Shadow Expert" might be more representative of what the band is trying to achieve on this EP. It is easily their most accessible track thus far. Where "Walkie Talkie" paired their memorable melodies with abrasive blasts and disorienting tonal shifts, "Shadow Expert" is a much more straight forward affair. But despite it's pop designs, the foursome still revel not only in their engaging interplay but also in their pretty characteristic rhythmic complexity. Running her vocals through effects, "Shadow Expert" is a lilting piece of slightly off-kilter pop that even in its simple route to the finish, doesn't quite let you get there surefooted. There's always a sense that something might occur at any moment; the listener ready for whatever may happen, never quite expecting what's to come. Though the band maintains a coherent clarity, the song's relentless buoying recalls the lapping of ocean waves and the band's locked in grooves direct the song's momentum similarly. 

"Shadow Expert" in its consistent melodic clarity harks back to the band's earlier days of music-making to songs like "No Tribute" which effortlessly balanced atypical rhythms with ear-catching songcraft. Obviously the band are pushing their sound forward but it feels not unlike a momentary check in with a younger version of themselves to find that some interests still remain and updating them to correlate with newer interests. "Shadow Expert" is the best of both worlds: Palm at their most infectious but never quite giving a sense of predictability nor simplicity and it's a surprisingly good sound for the band. "Walkie Talkie" and "Shadow Expert" essentially show the Palm is capable of great versatility and pairs together opposites in a way that's not only coherent but also incredibly exhilarating.



Palm's upcoming Shadow Expert EP is out June 16th on Carpark Records. You can pre-order it now.

Listen: Friend Roulette - "Joan"


Brooklyn experimental chamber pop sextet Friend Roulette are back after a little bit of a break. Since the release of their very excellent Grow Younger EP in 2014, they've been relatively quiet playing shows in Brooklyn and going on tour in different configurations of their normal six person lineup. "Joan", the first single from their upcoming EP finds the group in repose. It's a rare moment for the band who normally pair moments of tranquility with dynamic tonal shifts. Part of that lies in the fact that the song isn't totally there's. "Joan" and the whole of their upcoming EP are songs written and composed by an old friend of theirs, Matt Sheffer, who wrote and recorded songs ardently and shared them with the band only to decide they weren't worth sharing with the rest of the world. Friend Roulette's history is intrinsically linked with that Sheffer. Take Grow Younger's "Kitty Song", the psychedelic romp is equal parts Friend Roulette's technicolor arrangement and Sheffer's wonderfully weird lyricism. Much like Grow Younger and their sophomore full length I See You. Your Eyes Are Red., Friend Roulette's greatest leaps forward in sound occur when they're mining their rich history and The Matt Sheffer Songbook Vol. 1 aims to be no different.

"Joan" is a down tempo number much like "Or Berlin" or "Rocket Dog", and though arranged for the band's diverse instrumentation, Julia Tepper is still given the spotlight soaring easily above the sparse accompaniment. Songwriters Matthew Meade and Julia Tepper have always had an affinity for ballads and through adapting Sheffer's song for their own use, they craft a stunning work of emotional quiet. It's a breath of fresh air from a band who is normally at home mired in relative chaos and by upending pop norms in favor of interesting moments that subvert expectation. "Joan" is as typical as Friend Roulette are probably ever going to get and even in that uncharacteristic restraint, they continue to push their sound forward by stripping it all back and laying it all bare. The Matt Sheffer Songbook is a tribute to a friend that's been a driving force behind the band and by letting "Joan" stand pretty much on its own merits, the band highlight Sheffer in a way they really haven't before.



Friend Roulette's upcoming EP The Matt Sheffer Songbook Vol. 1 is out June 16th on Pretty Purgatory. You can pre-order it now and if you order the cassette you get Matt Sheffer's original demos which have never been released before.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Listen: Logan Hyde - "Sleeping Bear"


With the culmination of Trevor Powers' Youth Lagoon project coming to an end last year, one of the most surprising things to come out of it may have been Boise guitarist Logan Hyde's solo debut Innocence. Inaugural singles "My Only Friend" and "Bloated" were practically spun from the same gauzy bedroom psych that defined much of Powers career but Hyde's efforts were more than a mere sonic carbon copy. They were reminiscent in a way that two musical compatriots with much in the way of influences and artistic ideas might be; based on similar source material but seeking out and achieving different end results. Recorded in the summer of 2014 (but not actually released until 2015), Hyde's project was much more rooted in the present than Powers' nostalgic reveries. Watermelon, the latest album from Hyde, is essentially further proof that Logan Hyde's worthy of much more than Youth Lagoon comparisons.

Beginning with a shimmering instrumental opener, it's a synthy sepia colored sound bath that informs much of the rest of the album. There's a ton of winning moments on the album but perhaps my favorite lies in stand out "Sleeping Bear". For an album composed mostly of warm tones and soft textures, it's a delightful bit of dream pop inspired revelry. It's constantly shifting - casually trotting around lovely musical moments and employing a vast array of different sounds. For a song called "Sleeping Bear" it doesn't really linger - shuffling from melody to melody; moment to moment, and never really giving much thought to going backwards. Even reoccurring moments aren't quite handled like you'd expect - they appear in new configurations: sung out on a new instrument, under new effects, at a higher musical vantage point. Compositionally, it's positively lush and handled with both meticulous care and reckless abandon. Lyrically, Hyde manages to do a lot with very little. Offered up with the quiet of a children's bedtime story and paced very much like one, Hyde attaches a personal narrative to events that aren't exactly rooted in real life or even reality in general. Even establishing the narrative frame and in story consequences, Hyde doesn't do much in the way of explaining and the song achieves a sort of magical realism quality: the fantastic and unlikely treated very much like normal occurrences. It's a song that relies far more on its various instrumental breaks to carry much of it and it succeeds based predominantly on how much Hyde offers there. There's a wealth of musical moments that could be explored further but Hyde takes only what he needs and keeps the ball moving.



Logan Hyde's sophomore album Watermelon is out now and available for a pay-what-you-want rate at his Bandcamp.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Hundred Waters - Currency EP (2017)


When they released their newest single "Particle" earlier this week, Los Angeles based art pop collective Hundred Waters gave every indication that new music was on the horizon. Fortunately for fans that time is both now and later as the threesome stealth released a five song EP and have plans to release their third full length album sometime later this year. While the release of "Particle" certainly allowed for some speculation on the sound of their new album - the fact that it's one of several new songs featured on the EP (along with "Everywhere" a snippet of which was featured in a video announcing year 4's batch of FORM Arcosanti artists) is thrilling in that it essentially throws the little fans/listeners have come to expect right back into the murky unknown. The band have never been ones to repeat themselves and each release has been handled with cohesive care.

Hundred Waters' music as unlabelable and sidestepping in genre as it is has been firmly rooted in the electronic element. Much of the appeal of their self-titled record laid in just how elastic they treated the borders of acoustic and digitized sound, blurring the lines with various timbres. Its tapestry of textures arranged with monastic devotion and universal resonance that it was almost hard to believe it was real. As Hundred Waters' have grown over the years since their debut, they've given themselves over more and more to computerized sounds - enlisting a number of electronic leaning artists to rework songs, putting out EPs, and even a whole remix album featuring those works. The Currency EP is by all accounts a very logical step in the band's growth, and first single "Particle" featured a much more concrete synth pop direction and Hundred Waters seemed to take all the trappings and hallmarks of EDM and work them into the song. But Hundred Waters have from their onset been a band not like any other and even their dip into more straight forward pop was handled in a way uniquely their own. "Particle" combines Nicole Miglis' delicate vocals and emotion-stirring lyricism with production that's constantly in flux - at times simple and sparse and others multitudinous and lush. There's a push-pull for much of its duration often directly in line with the swing of certainty/uncertainty captured in Miglis' lyrics. The powerful lovelorn moments aiming high for the stratospheric and being given plenty to fit the expanse; the moments of devastated doubt coming down and hushing the rush of sounds. It's not hard to see why it was selected as a single: it's dynamic. Fraught with raw emotional thoughts and feelings.

But Currency begins with a moment of quiet. "Jewel In My Hands" begins with a soft chime that's much more morning-sun-peaking-through-your-bedroom-window than bedside alarm. It's a gentle start as Miglis' actual lyrics seek to rouse you: "Wake up, come on, go on, get up, get out of bed you're tired but this is most extraordinary" Miglis coos and essentially jumpstarts an adventure. It's a work of beguiling restraint - managing to build its various layers and sense of forward momentum without actually needing to raise its volume. It forms an interesting parallel with its succeeding track "Particle" which begins in a similar whisper but branch off in decidedly different ways. "Jewel In My Hands" seeks to retain that feeling of stage-whisper throughout eventually achieving a climactic break from the hushed state where "Particle" is more inclined to move through peaks and valleys.

The most surprising thing about Currency may be in how many different switch ups in sound occur.
Album closer "Currency", the track that gives the EP its name, feels not unlike a The Moon Rang Like A Bell outtake. It's siren-like effect as well as Nicole Miglis' vocal cadence easily reminiscent of "Cavity" where "Takeover" is the most percussive of Currency's tracks and starting out there, it's never quite able to shake that initial harshness. Or rather it never really tries to. It's another straight forward pop song but one far more rooted in live instrumentation than "Particle" if not the whole of Currency. Where much of Currency seems to either pick up directly after The Moon Rang Like A Bell or seek to move on from it, "Everywhere" recalls the dream pop of Hundred Waters' self-titled debut. It's a rare moment where Miglis' lyrical narrative doesn't dictate the direction of the song. Instead Miglis' vocals soar above, adorning the swirling vortex of sounds as it sprawls ever outward. It has an endless quality to it that the band acknowledge by essentially never trying to end it - letting it fade out.

As a whole Currency is a wonderful addition to Hundred Waters' growing catalog. It manages to experiment with the group's ongoing efforts to push themselves forward creatively and hints at both potential directions to them to take and roads not traveled. Wherever Hundred Waters' new album lands, Currency is sure to operate as a benchmark release as a document that captures where the band were creatively after The Moon Rang Like A Bell. That's not to say that it's much more worthy of comparison than The Moon Rang Like A Bell which was a wondrous record that pushed Hundred Waters in so many unexpected directions but the strength of songs like "Particle" and "Jewel In My Hands" is hopefully a sign of things to come from a band who is delightfully hard to predict and is absolutely enjoyable to listen to from beginning to end over and over.
 


Hundred Waters' Currency EP is out now and available to stream/buy/download from your preferred digital retailer.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Listen: Will Stratton - "Manzanita"

photo by Josh Goleman
While he hasn't exactly remained quiet since the release of his previous, very underrated album Gray Lodge Wisdom in 2014, singer/songwriter Will Stratton hasn't officially released anything since. A couple outtakes and demos yes that were only available to listen to/download for an incredibly limited period of time. But Stratton's been hard at work on his follow up and in little less than a week that batch of songs will be out entitled Rosewood Almanac will be out on Bella Union.

"Manzanita" is the second single from Rosewood Almanac and unlike previous single "Some Ride", it eschews the sparse arrangement in favor of a much more upbeat, full band sound. "Manzanita" is wonderfully life-affirming, a celebration of continued existence and the joy gleaned from little life moments. Though Stratton's six albums into his career, "Manzanita" still manages to be delightfully refreshing, pleasurably simple even as it gathers steam and becomes more intricate in its arrangement. "Manzanita" is absolutely resplendent, gliding along effortlessly as each new voice - backing vocals, piano, strings, saxophone all add exponentially to the track's feeling of jubilation. It's sure to be an album standout on an album full of absolutely winsome moments.



Will Stratton's upcoming album Rosewood Almanac is out May 12th on Bella Union. You can order the album here or digital here.

Listen: Hundred Waters - "Particle"


It's hard to believe it's been three years since the last album from experimental pop outfit Hundred Waters but the trio have had their hands in a number of exciting adventures since sophomore record The Moon Rang Like a Bell. The most intensive of which was the creation of the own music festival FORM held out in Arcosanti, Arizona. The festival enters its fourth year this year and the band has been for the most part elected to debut new songs during their sets there. Last year not only did they do that - playing an entire set of new material they were workshoping but they also sated fans eager for more with the intensely collaborative "Show Me Love" remix. The project was helmed by Skrillex but featured a number of FORM alum/friends of the band and also Chance the Rapper.

Now, however the band seems ready to dispatch a brand new set of tunes into the ether and new single "Particle" is our first taste of what to expect. Where Hundred Waters have essentially spent their past two albums evading easy genre labels, "Particle" is perhaps the easily classifiable track to come from the band offering up Purity Ring recalling electro pop. Despite the band diving deeper into the digital element, Nicole Miglis continues to shine as a beacon of Hundred Waters' sincere human element even when it is occasionally delivered through effects. Miglis' vocals are more versatile than ever - holding their ground and pushing fearlessly forward amid synth sweeps and epic drops. "Particle" is Hundred Waters are their most accessible, a surefooted EDM banger that still manages to retain Hundred Waters most characteristic strength: the effortless blend of the natural and the electronic.

Hundred Waters' upcoming album will be out later this year. Until then listen to "Particle" also available for free download.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Listen: Frankie Broyles - "Seward Park"

photo by Michael Calyer
Since the end of his band Balkans back in 2012, Atlanta guitarist Frankie Broyles has kept himself busy: a solo 7", becoming a member of Deerhunter, reuniting with Balkans earlier this year. And now with new track "Seward Park", Broyles has announced his debut solo EP Slow Return out later this month on Skeleton Realm.

Much like "Capturer" "Seward Park" retains the garage-y jangle that characterized much of Broyles' earlier output with Balkans but with noticeably softer edges. Where "Capturer" sprawled ever outward slowly amassing an assortment of various sounds and effects, "Seward Park" is considerably more straight shooting. Broyles music has never particularly fallen into the harsher side of garage rock but on "Seward Park" there's a reliance on melody and brevity that's more typical of pop than Broyles has ventured towards in his past efforts. Broyles' production has also leveled up as "Seward Park" glides forward with an even-keeled smoothness that was somewhat lacking on "Capturer"/"Color Set". It all bodes very well for Slow Return which will no doubt feature similarly svelte jangle pop.  Thankfully the wait is rather brief as the EP streets in just two weeks.



Frankie Broyles debut solo EP Slow Return is out May 15th on Atlanta's Skeleton Realm. You can pre-order it on CD here.

Listen: Palm - "Walkie Talkie"


Philly based experimental foursome Palm are among one of my favorite bands making music today for a host of reasons. Arguably the most reoccurring is the band's ability to metamorphose. While the space between their records is never that extreme, there's always the sense not only that they're at least a record ahead of their most recent output but that they're constant pursuing new and exciting sounds in a way that really invests the listener. The Palm captured on their upcoming Shadow Expert EP is at a drastically different place sonically than they were on their first EPs despite a time difference of only a couple years.

"Walkie Talkie", the first single from Shadow Expert, is easily one of the band's shortest tracks and still they manage to jam-pack it with a variety of tonal shifts. Its intro is simultaneously sparse and aggressive; heaviness building and then evaporating to clear the way for guitarists Kasra Kurt and Eve Alpert's continuous melodic baton passing. Their guitars interweave effortlessly despite not only the complexity of the rhythms but the shifting meter. The band are relentlessly locked in moving as a unit much like a flock of migratory birds even as the band purposefully vaults into moments of harsh disharmony. "Walkie Talkie" is characterized by these harrowing moments of musical daredevilry; pairing the complicated mathematics with pure borderline pop melodic songcraft. It's a song constantly at odds with itself shifting through various shapes and colors and deploying each member as a part of its array of timbres. That's more or less always been Palm's m.o. but "Walkie Talkie" and Shadow Expert the band show that foreknowledge doesn't dull the impressiveness of their musical feats and that there's plenty of room for them to experiment and grow in a sound that's already intensely experimental. That unpredictability is Palm's greatest strength and singlehandedly stokes the fire of anticipation for new music. Luckily for fans and new listeners alike Palm are always quite ahead of themselves.

Listen to "Walkie Talkie" from Palm's upcoming Shadow Expert EP out June 16th on Carpark Records. You can pre-order the EP now and also catch them on an extensive North American tour with Palberta supporting the EP. Tour dates here.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Listen: Wilder Maker - "New Streets"


Well we've certainly been out of the loop. Since Brooklyn's Wilder Maker's brilliant sophomore effort Year of Endless Light, they've gone on to release three (three!) EPs in the following two years. While the EPs were certainly good enough not to escape my notice I still managed to completely miss covering them. "New Streets", the second in Saddle Creek Record's ongoing Document series, is the first taste of new music from the band since the third and final volume of Everyday Crimes Against Objects of Desire dropped at the tail end of 2015. Though the band has certainly kept busy since then with shows and other projects there's no denying a sense of refreshing ease in "New Streets".

Part of the feeling lies in shelving singer/songwriter Gabriel Birnbaum's rumbling baritone in favor of Katie Von Schleicher's softer vocals. It's a change up that's not totally unheard of for the band but one that's deployed rarely enough that it's still an ear-catching treat. Another is the sense of new, bright beginnings the song invokes with its upbeat arrangements especially given the languorous heartbreak jams of Everyday Crimes Against Objects of Desire.

On "New Streets" Wilder Maker are back in their genre-blurring groove combining the best bits of Birnbaum's jazz saxophone roots with a casual trotting rock pop. Where much of Year of Endless Light and Everyday Crimes Against Objects of Desire fell mostly in Americana territory with it's pedal steel and slide guitar, "New Streets" aims at a broader sound. Though it's shorter than most of Birnbaum's longform ruminations, "New Streets" earns each and every moment of its nearly four minute track length. From its instrumental intro that gives Von Schleicher her initial melody, its a veritable band showcase. Wilder Maker are in top form; catchy but just the right amount of unpredictable as they gradually build and disassemble their various complementary layers. Von Schleicher is a charming lead vocalist and the band provide not only a strong display of talents and potential tonal growth but also one of those wind-in-your-face driving jams quintessential to the summer soundtrack. It's a rather good look for them and one they hopefully have plans to revisit between their more longform efforts.

Listen to Wilder Maker's new single "New Streets". Digital singles are available now while physical 7"s ship around June 1st. You can order/pre-order here.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

All Around Sound-Off: Sondre Lerche



Since his auspicious debut as a teenager in the early aughts, few artists have been able to mix casual reinvention with the clarity of purpose and narrative voice like Norwegian singer/songwriter Sondre Lerche. Going from lounge rock wunderkid to art-pop troubadour, Sondre Lerche has marked his over a decade long career by constant instances of pushing his sound ever forward. And yet it wasn't until Please -  Lerche's seventh studio album where he completely upended listeners expectations. It was a record forge in the crucible of personal tumult that revealed deeper emotional layers to the already winningly sincere man that pushed Lerche to newfound creative peaks. Pleasure, its follow up, finds Lerche once again at the height of creative potency, delivering another masterful and incredibly unexpected leap forward in sound. I had the honor of chatting with Lerche the day after is initial date of his US tour mere days after completing an incredibly ambitious 40 something date Norwegian tour. It's a show that almost didn't happen due to Lerche's fellow Norwegian bandmates' last minute visa denial but Lerche is noting if not resilient and also skilled at improvising. After getting up to speed on the fate of the US Pleasure tour more or less saved by Lerche's drummer Dave Heilman,

Dante (All Around Sound): You've mentioned there being a bit of an overlap between Please and Pleasure - songs that didn't quite fit on Please ending up on the new record. What was the timeline between them? I know you've been playing "Violent Game" as early as 2013 which is before you ever put out Please. 

Sondre Lerche: That's the thing. In a sense they share a timeline because the first recordings I did for both Please and Pleasure were "Reminisce" and "Lucifer". I think we started recording those on the same day. They share a timeline in the sense that they start in the same place but then some songs weren't ready and didn't find a natural place in the narrative context of Please. And I kept working on them. And then, you know, "Violent Game" was going to be a Please song and I couldn't really get the recording I wanted and in the end I didn't need it because I had a lot of other songs that formed a theme - a narrative that I recognized myself in. I started realizing that these songs were just for the future. Even a song like "Despite The Night" which involved sort of the gap - its a song that sort of ties Please to Pleasure. There's also the song called "Bleeding Out Into The Blue" was written at the time of Please that I never got around to recording. I didn't feel like it was ready. There's a lot of overlap.

You mentioned "Reminisce" and "Lucifer". I think for the first time you reuse melodies. How did you decide that that was what you wanted to do; to use those same melodies again? Was it a way of linking the narrative or did you just feel like it wasn't done?

There's some songs that feel like they have a kinship. There are maybe two angles of the same idea whether it's lyrically or a musical idea like "Crickets" and "Serenading in the Trenches" mainly share musical fixations. Same with "Lucifer" and "Reminisce" their whole chordal and rhythmic vibe. I guess I've grown more and more interested in the secret relationships between the songs and that the songs can have individual relationships with each other and reference each other or mimic each other. I do like that. It's not something that I'm completely unfamiliar with. There is that overlap between Faces Down and Two Way Monologue where the last chord sequence on Faces Down is the first chord sequence on Two Way Monologue. I have always enjoyed creating little bridges and little secret languages between the songs that sometimes only I can appreciate. It's fun of course when others can partake in the wild goose chase.

*laughter*

Your normal method of songwriting is you write 20 songs between records and take which ones you think are the best and fit within a narrative idea...

The ones that fit the mood of the hour. The ones that feel the most important to me in a given period or a given context. As you know there are songs that were written last year that could've been on this record but they just feel like they don't belong. At least to me.

Did you feel like your songwriting process changed between records? 

Yes. I've enjoyed tremendously just recording - writing and recording freely and loosely instead of just writing and writing until I have plenty that I think are good enough and then recording and recording and editing which I did up until the self-titled record. Everything sort of changed with Please where I just threw myself into as many different collaborations and different songwriting processes and I decided just to collect recordings of songs and then see if anything belonged together. If there was an album here; maybe they were somewhere else. And that was tremendously freeing and I think that's a process that Pleasure continues and that will also bleed into whatever the next thing is. It just makes for this surplus of energy and music because you're always in something. If you're at the end of one process you're always at the beginning of the next instead of these long album cycles where you just start from scratch and then have to come up with so many songs which just becomes tiring. I'd rather be in the music all the time and have something cooking. Things at different levels of completion that excite me. Because now I feel like I have all these secrets still that I'm excited to share at some point.

You did take a break though, right? Last year when you were doing the more intimate, smaller shows you had said you wanted to take a break and kind of experience life. On the other hand you did feel like you needed some sort of a break to recharge: to live your life and have other things inspire you? 

When I say take a break I usually just mean a break from traveling and performing and usually when I take breaks from doing those things I'll write and get to compose and sort out my head and formulate music - formulate ideas and shape them into songs. So I didn't take a break from making the record. I think I just needed to be in one place in order to achieve a certain kind of focus that I need to complete a record; to knowvdo I have everything? Last spring while I was doing those solo shows is also when I was writing the final two songs for Pleasure. Because I knew that I needed the entrance in a sense - I needed a way into the record. Which literally means I needed track 1 and 2. I didn't have the opening. I wrote "I'm Always Watching" and "Soft Feelings" and recorded them in the Spring in Bergen with Kato [Ådland]. And so I needed just a little bit of clarity and quiet to see the big picture.

So you wrote the songs for Pleasure on the guitar but there's not a lot of obvious guitar on the record. What was the reasoning there? 

I guess it's not something I think too much about. The guitar is my instrument so it's where I work on chords, it's where I work on the structure. Some of the Pleasure songs are very sort of natural songs for me. Songs that I composed fully and completely on the guitar. Of course there are some that are installations - production installations like "Hello Stranger" and "Soft Feelings" to a certain degree. They're songs where I just worked on different parts and I didn't actually sit and sing it like some singer/songwriter in the room. I just looped chords with different melodies and different layers on top. The other day I did this Paste session where I played "Soft Feelings" solo. It is a song -  and I think I could potentially play "Hello Stranger" at some point solo on the acoustic guitar. There are parts that I don't think would be so good but there is a song there and I think that when I'm working on something like that that's not like a traditional, classic song structure what I'm trying to find out is: is this just an installation or could this potentially also be a song? That's the thing that drives me to sort of find out.

The thing that leads there to be less guitar on this record is just that - and it's not a conscious decision - we would put guitar on some of these songs and I would just ask "well what if we mute the guitar and hear the rhythm section, hear the bass". I didn't want a lot of subtlety on this record so I didn't want layers and layers of things that are barely functional. I didn't want there to just be guitar because I play guitar. I wanted this very essential thing to be there. And sometimes I would get a kick out of getting rid of the chords. Which 10 years ago I would be so enslaved to the chords. I wanted the chords there all the time because they were the map of the terrain in a sense. For me it was liberating now just to get rid of the chords. Not even establish the chord sequence until maybe later in the song or never, you know? I hear the chords inside me and I didn't always need to share it with the listener. Maybe they make up their own chords. It's sort of liberating to mute stuff and to see how much we can do without. We put all these thing in here but how much can we do without?

A lot of the time I found it liberating also to just sing songs without being the sort of rhythm guitar player that I am for myself for a lot of the songs. In a way I feel like this is my first crooner album - legit crooner album. This guy is not a slave to the acoustic guitar. Just entering the studio with the tracks all ready and he's shining a light on them. I feel like this is the real crooner. Duper Sessions that guy could barely sing but this guy he's got some promise.

*laughter*

Was there a particular song that went through a huge transformation between your demos and actually making it onto the record? 

I think the biggest surprise, well there were two where we had done recordings that I thought were really good but I had some issues with the songs for different reasons. One was "Reminisce". That was the first one that we started recording but the last one that secured a place on the record because I didn't enjoy listening to the lyrics at all. The song - Matias [Tellez] did a good job just I didn't feel connected with the lyrics so I gave it a try and wrote entirely new lyrics to the song while we were mastering the record. I wrote the lyrics and recorded them the same day with Kato, actually. Who had nothing to do with the rest of that track. He just happened to be in my way and he helped me record it and then sent the mastering engineer the vocal track and he very creatively put them in replacing the old ones. And I still didn't know if it was worth it. We mastered two versions of the album: one with "Reminisce" and one without it and of course that pushed another song out that maybe you'll hear some other time. But that one needed to justify its place on the record just lyrically and thematically and emotionally and I felt that was missing. I was very proud when I managed to make ["Reminisce"] relevant again.

And then for a long time "I Know Something That's Gonna Break Your Heart" - that one was out for the longest time. Originally it was very long - six minutes long. I had this feeling. There was something that bothered me about it. The recording was good, the mix was good that Matias did. The performers were extraordinary: the bass and drums and vibraphone. But I thought something about it was off. While we were mastering the record I had a very creative mastering engineer and he helped me edit the song. We took the song down from six minutes to what 3:47? And once we had done that I thought it was perfect. Then it was back on the record and of course pushing out another song. There's always a push and pull. But those two were not supposed to be on this record when I made the final tracklist in August. But by September they had come back in. And Matias of course was very happy about that.

*laughter*

He produced both of them and at some point he asked me - and of course I'm working with different producers. He asked me at some point "so how many of my songs are going to be on this record?" and I said two. And he was like "What the fuck?! We recorded like six or seven songs and you only have two?!"

*laughter*

You never know. With all the producers I worked with, we feel like we're doing so much work and then everybody's hoping their songs make it on the record. That their songs should be at the forefront. I curate the whole thing so they never know. The most fun I have really is when the album is done and I invite Kato and Matias and the musicians, if they're around, and they get to hear the whole record because at that point they still have no idea if all their songs or productions or just one made it and they get to hear the sequence and pat each other on the back. It's a very fun session. Kato and Matias are two very particular characters. They know each other but they work in complete isolation. I'm the only one who knows and decides. It's a really cool dynamic.

There's a lot of film references - Hitchcock in particular in the music videos and there's even the snippet of "Strangers on a Train" in "Siamese Twin". Was there a big influence of film on this record? 

I guess it's something I think more about when I start thinking about videos and the visualization of the music. It's something I had rarely any thoughts about years ago. I'd be open to anything and that's why I've had terrible music videos through the years.

*laughter*

I had some good ones but I wouldn't visualize my music. I'd just be happy to show up and do my thing and plug in. I didn't think about lights or backdrops; videos or cover art really. It was just a necessity. It's only over the last five years that I've gotten a kick out if visualizing my music both on stage and in videos and such. And also because both Please and Pleasure are so much more directly connected to my own life, the things I go through that it's easier for me to think of these ideas for the video inspiration. Cause they're all my original ideas and then I develop them with the video directors. It's much easier for me now to think of the philosophy and symbols. And when it comes to the human condition Hitchcock is always fun to go to. His films are full of symbolism and visual clues and colors that mean things. So I always thought of "I'm Always Watching" that video as sort of modern "Rear Window" type scenario with voyeurism and the new tools we have for voyeurism.

And "Soft Feelings" I imagined that - originally I wanted a reverse "Vertigo" where the woman is asking the man to change. In "Vertigo" he needs the woman to change. It's a pretty bizzaro thing but I thought it'd be interesting to do that and just reverse the sexes. Have a man trying to live the woman's fantasy both sexually and visually and sentimentally. But it ended up just being a portrait of this guy on the verge of a breakdown in LA. It still has a couple "Vertigo" vibes.

Even though it's probably your least subtle record you play a lot with the idea of what is actually happening- what is real, imagined, and fantasy. Was the surrealism on Pleasure planned? Or was it kind of a natural process for you? 

It's so strange that I'm often the last to see the patterns and the big picture in a sense. I'm often reminded when I read what somebody's writing or thinking about and I'll have friends that'll be like "you mention this lyric a lot of times. Why?" Very often I haven't thought about it, you know? I think an album like Pleasure which is so concerned with the body and physicality and the here and now, the moment. I think it's only natural that fantasy plays into it and in this haze of confusion most of the album exists in it may be hard to see what is real and what is fantasy. It's not all entirely real. This guy is not really committing to anything but the moment he is in. That means it isn't really maybe real. It could just be another moment of fantasy. I know there's all these absurd objects and really concrete physical things - shoes and jackets. I was drawn to a lot of physical metaphors that are not poetic at all. I remember feeling a need to go into stuff that wasn't so poetic. That was so blunt and objects that were not poetic but still had poetic meaning in a sense. Drawn to things that maybe don't look so pretty on paper but have a certain blunt effect that I liked for a lot of these songs.

One of the things that kind of got me to look at the record differently was - I think it's an ab lib, on "Hello Stranger" at the end you sing "atone for the pleasure" and it made me think the pleasure that's being sought on this record is sort of a double-edge sword. That there was some kind of fallout from trying to achieve pleasure.

Oh yeah. To me I think that's very important. It's easy to just think of carefree pleasure. As fun as it was making this record and hopeful it is to listen to - it's not a very carefree record. To me at least. It's very aware of the limitations of this phase. Of where it is. And also the fact that there are consequences to some of these things. I didn't want to be too moralistic about it but there are certain moment where I try to atone for the pleasure.

*laughter*

Some people know the Prefab Sprout reference there. They're alert to Prefab Sprout references because there are so few. But to me there a lyrical reference to the song "Alfie" by Burt Bacharach and that's also a song that I always comes back to. It's just a beautiful song but it's very concrete and really hard on the guy Alfie. It's asking him all the questions he doesn't want to hear or be confronted with. And I thought that character was interesting. So when I say "what's it all about, baby" It's my little reminder of "Alfie". "Is it just for the moment we live". I think that song is just one of the greatest song. It's a little reminder that probably means more to me than anyone else. I thought it'd be fun to bring "Alfie" to the mission statement of "Hello Stranger".

So with Please you started soliciting remixes. Did you feel like the it was the kind of record that needed to me examined by other people in that way? 

Most remixes you don't really need. Sometimes a good remix can surpass the original but most remixes are not needed. I think it's more of a bonus. I get kick out of - you know you send x amount of tracks to someone and give them a freedom just to see what pops up. I get a kick out of that. I just felt like a lot of the material on Please was the first time I actually had some ammunition and tools to someone who was good at remixing. I enjoy the playfulness and also I enjoy that it doesn't involve me. I've done my thing and send it off.

We did the Despite the Night EP. One of the remixes there barely uses any of the original tracks. It's completely something else. I'd like to see more remixes of the Pleasure songs. But because I've been sort of rolling this out over time I wanted people to get to know the songs first. But there's actually a remixing coming out tomorrow.

What compelled you to revisit and rework "I'm Always Watching You" to "I'm Always Watching You Too"? You kind if remixed yourself. 

That one was just - we were at a crossroads when we were making that song. It was very clear where it could go and obviously it's inspired by - the sounds you hear in it are obviously inspired by that New Edition song "Cool It Now" so I knew where to go and the song is a pretty natural song. It didn't have to be reinvented but I had this dream the night of the recording and, you know, I take my dreams seriously.

*laughter*

I recorded this whole thing I dreamed at night and I took that into the studio and showed it to Kato. We talked about it and how it'd be fun to do this but we decided to follow the first one and let the song be. When we had done the original version we decided to keep on trying to fulfill my dream and then I came up with this  that because the song is mainly from this guy's perspective but there is a shift in the third chorus where he says "I know you're watching" and it's clear, hopefully, to people that it's a game. It's not just him being creepy. It's a game that two people play. In the video it's illustrated that she knows that she's being watched by this guy when she's intimate with this other guy. She actually is enjoying being watched. He's probably enjoying being watched by her. If anything it's not as creepy - some people find that song creepy but to me it's a very romantic song. People who are watching each other.

I thought it'd be interesting to have this second version which then can be seen as a response from her "I'm Always Watching You Too". I just enjoy that idea of a dialogue between songs and maybe that helps bring these two characters closer to each other in the narrative of these two songs. Because they're sort of saying the same things to each other. And he is involved with other people but bored by other people and hopefully he's imagining that she is with other people and she is bored too but he'll settle for the fantasy of watching her watch him while she's with someone else. Wow. That's very complicated. Very freaky.

*laughter*

But I felt a little evolved having two songs with parallel narratives. And Kato did a phenomenal job making that happen.


Much thanks to Sondre Lerche for discussing his stellar new record Pleasure. The record is out now on his own imprint PLZ and make sure to catch him on his upcoming world tour - the US dates have already started.

Also here's the aforementioned "Violent Game" remix by Ice Choir:

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Pitstop: Cassandra Jenkins


My introduction to New York singer/songwriter Cassandra Jenkins essentially happened due to her constant association with other bands/acts I love: Landlady, Sam Evian/Celestial Shore, Cantina, Will Stratton all have had nothing but good things to say about her and played numerous shows with her that after seeing her name for the umpteenth time I decided to finally check her out. That was several years ago and with her debut full length album Play Till You Win out this Friday, it seemed like the right time (albeit a little late on my part) to share her music with the uninitiated.

Cassandra Jenkins makes the kind of music that seems simple enough to have an easy label for and yet, manages to elude definition. Her lyrics are winningly intimate, effortlessly clever and poetic and especially on the several singles she's let loose from her upcoming album are arranged with an immersive vastness. Jenkins takes the simplicity of folk and country music and pairs them with the ornate stature of chamber pop; the subdued, understated grace of bedroom crafted dream pop. It's a style wholly her own made through a process almost like paint mixing.

Where her EP lay firmly in country territory with its lap steel, on tracks like Play Till You Win's opening number "Candy Crane", Jenkins amasses a larger assortment of textures and sounds. From pedal steel to omnichord, the arrangements belie the fact that there's really a hell of a lot going on in it. Strings, organ, electric and acoustic guitar, Jenkins somehow wrangles the multitude of instruments into a hushed but fluid flow.



Then you have a song like her most recent single "Hotel Lullaby" which is a lovely aquatic reverie. The arrangements are still pristine and underplayed and yet, in its dreamy lilt, Jenkins lets each individual instrument as well as her vocals and their harmonic echo emerge from the gently lapping waves of sound and bubble into focus. Soothing and beaming with effervescent calm, it's a masterclass in ease. In fact all of her songs give off a sense of effortlessness. Flowing and free, they can seemingly go on forever even as they all rarely clock in longer at than 4 minutes. It's a sort of cohesive forward momentum that bodes incredibly well for Jenkins' full length album effort.





Cassandra Jenkins' debut full length Play Till You Win is out April 7th.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Listen: Big Thief - "Mythological Beauty"

photo by Shervin Lainez
Though they certainly didn't, it certainly felt like Brooklyn foursome Big Thief came out of nowhere with their excellent debut album Masterpiece. Their songs were raw, visceral, and just plain good and it seems Big Thief have tons more where that came from. Later this year, we'll see the release of their follow up Capacity. "Mythological Beauty" more or less continues the pitch perfect alchemy the quartet achieved on Masterpiece and runs with it. There's more tales to tell and Adrianne Lenker makes quick work of it - stringing a series of stories and reflections connected through time by a sort of emotional impression.

"Mythological Beauty" sees Lenker examining her life and comparing it to that of her mother's when they were similar ages. Though they're essentially at incredibly different places, they're connected by a love that essentially transcends the very notion of time rippling from before Lenker was even born through her childhood to Lenker as the young adult she is now. Though inspired by series of stories experienced both first and second-hand, there's a sense of Lenker gaining a sort of life lesson from revisiting them. It's a song featuring some absolute awing turns of phrase all trying to put into words an ineffable feeling of unconditional empathy Lenker has and feels. "There's a child inside you that is trying to raise the child in me" Lenker sings and it perfectly encapsulates this feeling Lenker has of childlike tenderness and understanding echoing into adulthood through the person that raised you. "Mythological Beauty" is a love song to Adrianne Lenker's mother and a beautiful one at that as the band come together (with new drummer James Krivchenka) to construct an ornate nest for Lenker's devotion.




Big Thief's sophomore record Capacity will be out June 9th on Saddle Creek Records and "Mythological Beauty" will be seeing a vinyl single release out this Record Store Day on April 22nd. You can pre-order the album now.