Friday, December 14, 2018

Listen: Gabriel Birnbaum - "Stack The Miles"

Well here is a pleasant surprise.  Although Brooklyn rockers Wilder Maker more or less just released their strongest album to date in Zion, singer/songwriter Gabriel Birnbaum somehow found the time and wherewithal to pursue a solo project. It is perhaps less of a surprise considering I knew he played one or two solo sets within the past year but not being present at those, I figured the sets consisted of stripped down Wilder Maker songs, song experiments and the like. Instead Birnbaum was playing actual songs he'd written and recorded, forming an entirely different band to record them even though he while premiering the song solo.

"Stack The Miles" is the first taste of Birnbaum's self-titled solo project and an album that'll be out in the new year. With Wilder Maker, Birnbaum already established himself as lyricist uniquely capable of wringing tension and a sense of drama from the mundane through longform narratives and shorter, more pop-oriented affairs, so "Stack The Miles" seems like a victory lap of sorts from the sort of elevated New York City narratives that comprised Zion, beginning with a pulse-quickening guitar riff Birnbaum's natural booming baritone is subdued, his lyrics a captivating mix of distinctly detailed lines and brooding impressionist watercolors. "Stack The Miles" is a song of interesting juxtapositions - a pervasive sense of quiet even as Birnbaum enlists Wilder Maker/Sam Evian's Adam Brisbin on bass, guitarist Will Graefe, and drummer/percussionist Jason Nazary to ensure the song is stacked with a multitude of sounds. The constant strum of a guitar gives the track a sense of perpetual motion even as it moves with both a casual lilt and the artful precision of a migrating flock of birds.

Narratively speaking, Birnbaum's still addressing themes of loneliness and beleagueredness but the venue's changed. Where Birnbaum filtered that into city life and instead it's the outskirts - towns, highways, and byways, that can swallow you up just as easily as the bustling city.  "Stack The Miles" is essentially a tour song but one where the road is a strange comfort but is too much unlike normal life that it's also cause for suspicion. It's a remarkably different take on the subject - artists usually longing for home for it's sense of stability whereas Birnbaum prefers home due to the balance of expectations. It's a bit cynical but also beautiful as Birnbaum sings "Too many miracles here and I can't no more of the good times I am done".

Listen to "Stack The Miles", the first single from Gabriel Birnbaum's forthcoming solo album:

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Listen/Watch: Offer - "Day Away"

It probably goes without saying but anyone who's encountered the music of Leeds experimental pop troupe Adult Jazz has probably been eagerly anticipating new music since their debut full length Gist Is dropped in 2014. Fans were given a brief respite in the form of their Earrings Off EP they released back in 2016 but other than that, the band has seemed to be in a perpetual state of creative gestation. And yet every once in awhile a sort of creative listlessness results in a new project or collaboration or cosigning of a new project from fellow Leeds University musicians.  First was "Other Life", a disco-fueled dance track crafted by Scottish producer Makeness featuring Adult Jazz's Harry Burgess on vocals, ambient project AEVA helmed by fellow university pal Dan Jacobs who also makes music as Glad Hand, and now Harry Burgess has teamed up with Jack Armitage of Lil Data for a forthcoming full length.

"Day Away", the first track from the duo's newly christened project Offer,  is a twelve minute long rhapsody inspired in part by Armitage and Burgess' Internet message-board born friendship and a near decade of frequent improvisations both at Leeds University and beyond with their last session resulting as a framework of sorts for their upcoming album. Burgess' voice - capable of impressive contortions and at times unflinchingly harsh, finds a wonderful sonic match with Armitage as they seem very much over the course of the song's duration to throw more and more things at it and see how Burgess' vocals fair. Burgess' vocals have always had a particularly elastic quality to them but Armitage pushes them more so with the use of a controller though not enough that they splinter from the realm of possibility. It's tension and release but a rather unexpected pacing of such - after much of the bustle and brashness of its beginning, the track gives way to a languorous, introspective quiet which Burgess infuses with virtuosity. It's a track that pretty much transcends the trappings of genre: constructed through electronic means but so sincere and human at it's core, buoyed between maximalist pop Dada and the truth-bearing spirit of folk.

Watch the video for "Day Away" featuring visuals from AEVA.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Listen: Tiny Ruins - "School of Design"

photo by Si Moore
On the first two singles "How Much" and "Olympic Girls" from Tiny Ruins' forthcoming record Olympic Girls, New Zealand singer/songwriter Hollie Fullbrook's narratives have seamless interwoven storytelling with a touch of the personal. A universal vagueness with just the right amount of intimate detail that might've lead listeners to ponder how much Fullbrook was pulling from fragments of her own lived experiences and echoing past conversations. "School of Design", the latest single from the album, takes a step back in a sense in the spirit of tracks like "Priest With Balloons" or "Jamie Blue" that favor pure storytelling but filters the experience through Fullbrook to imbue it with sincerity.  It's meticulous descriptive, the plaintive guitar adding to the mystery of immaculate but seemingly abandoned building Fullbrook explores both literally and figuratively in the song. While Fullbrook's descriptions are enough to immediately  the building in your mind's eye, it's the line: "And I was struck by a feeling, it's hard to describe" where the song truly blossoms. Fullbrook doesn't explain it, can't seem to even; and frankly she doesn't need to. "The urge to burst through the ceiling starts, raise glass to the sky" Fullbrook continues and it's such a poignant moment, descriptive in a purely external way that transmutes the cerebral to the visceral and renders the inexplicable into a shared experience.

Olympic Girls, the third full length album from Tiny Ruins is out February 1st on Ba Da Bing in the US, Marathon Artists in the UK/EU, Milk! in Australia, and Ursa Minor in New Zealand. You can pre-order the album now. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Listen: Jessica Pratt - "This Time Around"

I've been eagerly anticipating the release of Los Angeles based singer/songwriter Jessica Pratt's latest full length album pretty much since the release of her previous one. That's not to say that On Your Own Love Again, Pratt's sophomore album and Drag City debut, wasn't a good enough one to satiate my hunger for new music - rather it was the knowledge that she had been sitting on the songs that consisted her self-titled debut for years before their eventual release and even as she remained hush about the details of On Your Own Love Again back before it was announced, she was playing newer songs that have still yet to find themselves on even her most recent studio effort. The fact that I knew Pratt was able to write such beautiful, arresting songs much swifter than the music industry would allow fueled the hunger for more and the fact that Pratt doesn't tour all the often only stoked the fires of my anticipation.

And so "This Time Around" arrives as Pratt's first taste of new music since On Your Own Love Again dropped at the very start of 2015. It finds Pratt leaning further away from the sparse, simplicity of her analog tape recorded self-titled debut in favor of the more studio refined sounds of On Your Own Love Again landing once again on a refreshing blend of 70's tinged psychedelic and classic rock with a pop sensibility than her previous strictly folk efforts. Though Pratt continues to push her sound in various directions that suit her personal tastes and influences, her songwriting remains as effortlessly arresting and effecting as ever. Much like "Game That I Play" or "Back, Baby", "This Time Around" concerns itself with a sort of lovelorn weariness. "This time around has it gone so grey that my faith can't hold out?" Pratt begins but sings with such a subdued stage whisper like quality that she strips the line of any expected melodrama. The rest of a song is less of a push-and-pull against this point and more of an intricate but still delightfully vague extrapolation on it. There's an air of melancholy but not overly so. The line are delivered with a cool resolve instead of overrought sentimentality. Pratt has never been one for imbuing her songs with any more emotion than necessary and that skill on display here. "This Time Around" is simple and sweet, relying almost exclusively on Pratt's soft vocals and their malleability than on any particular instrumental flourishes.  

Quiet Signs, the third full length album from Jessica Pratt, will be out February 8th on Mexican Summer. You can pre-order the record now. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Listen: Tiny Ruins - "Olympic Girls"

New Zealand singer/songwriter Hollie Fullbrook has never particularly been at a loss for words, able to stitch together incredibly evocation but succinct tales that seem exceptionally intimate and personal even while weaving dreamy narratives about priests flying high in the sky or carving out an elaborate backstory for a man Fullbrook saw in a painting. But "Olympics Girls", the title track and second single from her upcoming third full length album from Fullbrook's project Tiny Ruins, finds Fullbrook particular verbose in a way heretofore unexperienced.

"Olympics Girls" is a rarity in Fullbrook's oeuvre - a song that traces a delicately unfolding ramble in a way that seems particularly gregarious. Fullbrook has always adopted a conversational demeanor and her songs employ subtly evocative turns of phrase but on "Olympic Girls", particularly in the delivery of the line "You'll never find a thing if you can't lose yourself every once in awhile" Fullbrook takes on a Dylan-esque breathiness and windiness. Fullbrook makes a break from her normal narrative presentation to instead string together a series of incredibly descriptive thoughts - not completely separate from each other but not linked by an easily sought out structure. Instead, much like "How Much", Fullbrook appears to be continuing a conversation while providing ample details for listeners to catch up and the most stunning thing about "Olympic Girls" is how Fullbrook is able to imbue these particular lines with emotional resonance while abandoning familiar songwriting tropes.

One of the song's most winsome moments and an impressive thing considering it's the verse that gives the track it's name is how Fullbrook quickly dispatches: "You only had your Olympic girls, the frosted sheen of leotard twirls, running revolt and winning gold for the the TV screen before being led back to the cells". It's an exceptional bit of songwriting as it reveals quite a bit about both of the song's subjects but Fullbrook doesn't dwell - recognizes it's lyrical power enough to name the track after it but otherwise swiftly moves on. Fullbrook's never been one to lean too heavily on her multitudinous moments of lyrical prowess and it shows here as Fullbrook allows a newfound sense of wordiness to lead her to and from these breathtaking moments. Her language is still plain and unornamented as she allows not the particular words but the particular way she uses the word to stir up a feeling or color a scene in a splash of emotion. It's not completely unheard of but the way that Fullbrook continues to do such things is a marvel and she's able to do it in a way that feels as fresh as if she were doing it for the first time.

Olympic Girls, the third full length album from Tiny Ruins is out February 9th on Ba Da Bing in the US, Milk! in Australia, Marathon Artists in the EU/UK, and Ursa Minor in New Zealand. Pre-order is available now.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Listen: Landlady's Own Adam Schatz - "Carolina"

Brooklyn based singer/songwriter Adam Schatz likes to keep himself busy. Whether it's been touring with his multitude of projects Father Figures, Man Man, and Landlady over the years, his most recent stint supporting This Is The Kit on saxophone, or assembling an eclectic crew of musicians and collaborators in the form of Adam Schatz's Civil Engineering or for his annual Holiday Spectacular, he's made sure to keep his schedule sufficiently booked. His most recent endeavor: Transmissions from Landladyland Live!, an offshoot of his Patreon hosted monthly radio show, is a series of concerts where Schatz weaves solo performances, group improvisations along with interviews in a similarly communal spirit that Schatz treats most of his efforts. The fact that Schatz somehow had time to record the solo material he's been performing live for some time is a bit of a marvel. And yet, found the time he has and the first new songs from his newly announced solo project Landlady's Own Adam Schatz has arrived in the form of  keyboard-centric "Carolina" paired with a cover of Fiona Apple's "Every Single Night" Schatz arranged for saxophone and voice.

"Carolina" is quintessential Schatz, that pitch perfect blend of Schatz' jazz training, influences in funk and soul, and his effortless mastery of pop songcrafting. It's beginning is breezy and light featuring Schatz comfortably sat behind , and even though it's considered to be a solo effort, Schatz still enlists the aid of a couple friends and collaborators in the form of bartitone saxophonist Jonah Parzen-Johnson, trombonist Kevin Moehringer, and trumpeter Aaron Rockers as his horn section. As the songwriter behind Landlady, Schatz has often come up with beguiling song narratives that are more than your typical pop fare and "Carolina" is no different. However unlike songs like "Cadaver", "Girl", "X Ray Machine" even with the clues he offers, the actual subject of "Carolina" is a bit of a mystery. It's a song that essentially works - as all truly good pop songs do - on two levels. The first is the most universally applicable one of a sort of love-ish song; one that's not particularly tenderfooted. A tough love song as it were. Schatz in no uncertain terms essentially says "Get it together!". The second level essentially requires a bit of thought and cobbling together the pieces of the puzzle that Schatz provides. And that level exists for the music fans that enjoy a little lyrical analysis with their upbeat soul pop jam. But whether you belong to the first category of listener or the second, there's no denying "Carolina" is an absolute gem of a song - filled with unexpected moments like the brass breakdown at it's center which even still manages to surprise after countless listens.

No word yet if there's some sort of collections of Schatz songs forthcoming but he has promised plenty more where that came from so until then enjoy Schatz' take on Fiona Apple's "Every Single Night":

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Listen/Watch: Magos Herrera & Brooklyn Rider - "Niña"

Despite the fact that they have one of the most rigorous touring schedules I've seen and released their brilliant new album Spontaneous Symbols just last October, string quartet Brooklyn Rider has somehow found the time to record a brand new collaborative album with Mexican jazz singer/songwriter Magos Herrera. Although the ease of the collaboration might've been helped by the fact that both Herrera and Brooklyn Rider are based in New York. Dreamers, the forthcoming album from Herrera and Brooklyn Rider follows in a long line of Brooklyn Rider's collaborative efforts with singer/songwriters like Bela Fleck and Gabriel Kahane but unlike those previous collaborations, Dreamers sets the words of poets like Ruben Dario, Octavio Paz, and Frederico Garcia Lorca as well as other singer/songwriters and poets to arrangements by Brazilian cellist Jaques Morelenbaum, Argentinian pianists/composers Diego Schissi and Guillermo Klein, and Venezuelan born multi-instrumenalist/composer Gonzolo Grau as well as Brooklyn Rider's own resident composer/arranger Colin Jacobsen. It's an example of classical music as a political statement not unlike Ravel's "La Valse" as the idea to craft an album featuring poetry from a multitude of Central and South American writers (and mainland Spanish in the case of Lorca), featuring arrangements from composers/artists who are largely from these places at a time of particularly anti-immigrant sentiment speaks volumes down to the name of the album.

Featuring the use of cajón and a pair of palmeras or hand clappers as well as Brooklyn Rider's incredibly sharp chops, "Niña" begins an incredibly percussive piece that roots Grau's arrangement of  Mexican poet Octavio Paz's piece more in flamenco than in salsa or tango. In contrast, Herrara's singing is fluid and melismatic with Brooklyn Rider occasionally mimicking to create moments of levitating harmonic consonance as Herrera underlines parts of the texts that are rife with spectacularly vivid imagery. A love song to his Paz's daughter, Grau's arrangements are incredibly dynamic - propulsive builds, cathartic releases, and dramatic shifts all aided by Magos Herrara's impeccable vocal talents, Brooklyn Rider's precision, and the addition of percussionists. 

Dreamers, Brooklyn Rider's new collaborative album with Magos Herrera, is out September 21st on Sony Music Mexico. You can pre-order/pre-save the album here.

Buke & Gase - "Pink Boots"

While Hudson, NY based experimental duo Buke & Gase have made sure to ease the wait between albums with one-off singles like "Seam Esteem", "Typo", and PJ Harvey cover "Dress" (which eventually all found their way onto the Arone vs Aron EP they released last year), there's been a bit of time since the release of their sophomore full length General Dome back in 2013. That's mostly due to the incredibly high standards and non-linear approach the tinkering inventors take towards creating their music - having scrapped an entire album's worth of material in favor of music that pushed their sound into previously unexplored territories and was thrilling for them to perform as well as record. Buke & Gase are one of those rare bands that answer to themselves first and foremost. And now after a nearly 6 year wait, the duo are back with the promise of a new record in the form of two singles "Pink Boots" and "No Land" that they've been incorporating into their live set since 2016.

"Pink Boots" is actually the second of the singles to be released, after they dropped "No Land" virtually in the dead of night on NPR's All Songs Considered last night. It follows the twosome's trademark embrace of cacophony with a noteable twist - since the release of General Dome, Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez have incorporated more electronic elements in their song's composition than their previous modified guitar-bass and baritone ukelele from which the band summoned its name. But much like duo's effortlessly interwoven instrumental deluge of guitar-bass, buke, kick drum, and foot-trigged tamborine called the toe-bourine (another of the duo's innovations), Buke & Gase return with a similar everything-but-the-kitchen-sink style of composition. Though instead of relying on an awe-inspiringly dexterous ability to play everything - they've freed themselves up a bit - synthesizers taking the place of the buke, the boom of the kick drum compressed and digitized. At least in a live setting. In the studio - the duo are proven multi-instrumentalists chasing improvisation to their sometimes unexpected conclusions and committing them to tape.

Lyrically, "Pink Boots" is somewhat more vague than more obviously politically charged "No Land" but the sentiment is more or less the same. While "No Land" prophesies the fall of the corrupt along with everyone else due to the actions of the corrupt, "Pink Boots" serves up the how; as much of a societal critique as a critique of gender norms. Where "No Land" seethes with rage-tinged clarity, "Pink Boots" resorts to conversational slight of hand - relying on subtlety of intent, double-speak, and plausible deniability. "I'm better better better used at the table" Dyer sings above the din, the repetition of the lyrics as percussive as the accompanying drums.

"Pink Boots" and "No Land" are the first singles from Buke & Gase's forthcoming third full length album. Although information is still not readily available, the duo have put up a pre-order link via Bandcamp that gives you access to the two singles with full pre-order details to follow. Listen to "No Land":


Wednesday, September 5, 2018


photo by Tonje Thilesen
While the debut full length album from Philadelpha via Athens experimental rock quartet Mothers When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired seesawed between sparse introspective lyrical moments and complex, interwoven instrumental pyrotechnics, one of the main differences I've noticed between the debut and previous singles "BLAME KIT" and "PINK" from Mothers' upcoming sophomore full length Render Another Ugly Method has been an all-hands-on-deck type of inclusion. Where their debut often saw Kristine Leschper's vocals under a perennial spotlight that occasionally saw the band lessening their intensity, on Render Another Ugly Method, the foursome have established a new dynamic: one that lauches Leschper's vocals right into the dense, instrumental din.

"BEAUTY ROUTINE", the third single and opening track from the forthcoming record establishes an unexpected moment of quiet, much more reminiscent of their debut while featuring the much more fractured lyrical style that Leschper's been exploring on this new record. Much like "PINK" was a series of vignettes, strung together by the particular feelings they evoked in Leschper, "BEAUTY ROUTINE" follows a similar style of disjointed narrative structure. There's no chorus, or even vaguely conventional approach to songwriting here as Leschper stretches and elongates the delivery of two rather brief verses. But much like an actual beauty routine, Leschper's lyrical delivery is methodical, gradually building and the rest of Mothers follow suit. It's not until almost two minutes in where the band snap into action from their previously listless expansiveness. Unsurprisingly it's also where Leschper turns her lyrical focus outward. It is slight but "BEAUTY ROUTINE" falls into Leschper's pervasive interest in the body as a malleable thing: capable of being expanded and contracted, and even abandoned completely. The first verse - aloft in a dissociative haze before a moment of jarring self-consciousness shifts the focus towards actually engaging with another person as the second verse's lyrics are about the self but delivered outside of the self. Much of the ethos of "BEAUTY ROUTINE" is a matter of Leschper's thought process during its composition but she lets others in, and none too gently with the song's final line: "Show me a beauty routine to erase me completely".

The music video, directed Jake Lazovick and Richard Phillip Smith, is a case of the visual enhancing the audio aspect as the ideas behind the track become the video's sole focus. Leschper carries a small hand mirror with her, glancing at herself in it but from the audience's perspective, you never get a good view of what she sees and the glances you steal into the mirror they appear to be reflecting something completely other than Leschper. Eventually Leschper does away with the actual mirror and decides to create a homemade mannequin in her own image: she gives it her own hair, models its appendages after her own and even dresses it up in her own clothes essentially creating the image she hopes to see in the hand mirror. Much like the video for "PINK" which was also directed by Lazovick and Smith, there's a creeping sense of malaise that lingers until the very conclusion.

Render Another Ugly Method, Mothers' sophomore full length album is out September 7th on Anti- Records.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Listen/Watch: Red Sea - "Love Is Blind"

photo by Javier Aguirre
Back in 2016, I went to see Atlanta, Georgia quartet Red Sea at my first Hopscotch based on fellow experimentalists Palm's recommendation. Playing the fest themselves, Palm announced from the stage at the end of their set that they would be heading down the street to see Red Sea perform and everyone should head over with them. Though I had previously been introduced to Red Sea via their record In The Salon through Eamon from Small Plates Records earlier, I looked forward to catching them live and the recommendation from one of my favorite bands was enough to seal the deal. The resulting set was a mix of brilliant guitar work, catchy synth hooks, and just the right amount of rugged experimentalism and I remember leaving the Red Sea's set both astonished and a little upset that their set where they played new songs and old was far better than their recorded output so far.

Now, almost two years after seeing that set, the band has emerged with a brand new single after dropping a teaser for the forthcoming music video about a month ago. Though Red Sea have never shied away from the pop side of their experimental pop, "Love is Blind" sees the band embracing it even more so. While the complex, interlocking rhythms of In The Salon are suspended in this new offering, they've haven't completely streamlined their sound and the accompanying video, directed by Josh and Tony Gary of Funguh Productions along with Red Sea themselves, shows that their trademark weirdness is here to stay as the band traipses through the surreal. The plot is purposefully elusive as the band and a rotating cast of other characters perform various handoffs of a pair of special contacts in a BDSM themed night club/performance but as initially confusing as it all starts out - as characters slip in and out of reality and events are presented out of sequence, the video itself gradually reveals its hand and fills out the necessary details for narrative consumption. It's a tale of love lost with a hint of spy thriller and surrealist fantasy and for their first official music video, the Red Sea offer up a pretty compelling reason for taking the better part of a decade to actually release one.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Listen/Watch: Villagers - "Fool"

On "A Trick of the Light", the first single from Villagers' upcoming full length album The Art of Pretending to Swim, singer/songwriter Conor O'Brien sang about relying to faith in the most daunting of circumstances. It was a song as hopeful as it was melancholic with a music video directed by Bob Gallagher that encapsulated the emotional juxtaposition. Now on "Fool", the follow up single, O'Brien has once again teamed up with Gallagher for a one-take video from the point-of-view of Conor' O'Brien's partner on a particularly doomed date. Much like it's source material, it isn't immediately apparently that there's something wrong. The date proceeds properly enough - a glass of wine, some small talk, but there's a couple sweeps around the room to give the indication that there's something afoot that's more than just nerves. O'Brien's date frequently pulls out their phone to document the evening - and even ignores an incoming phone call from someone else. O'Brien pulls out all the stops to regain his dinner partner's attention - a mariachi band, confetti, even ripping his own heart out during the song's climactic "So here is my bleeding heart, will you be my falling star? Will you take the pain away?" but the date has pretty much already gone off the rails at this point. The fellow dinners are the only indication of a particularly emotional attachment to the proceedings - cheering and trying to hide smiles as O'Brien bleeds out quietly in his chair and the waitstaff try to rouse him. You never get a sense of exactly how many dates in this is - is this a first date? Has there been several. And it kind of colors the whole situation in a way that's borderline comical. O'Brien is all smiles with eyes full of wide-eyed hope even as he's dragged out of the restaurant and has been obstensibly rejected.

The track itself follows a similar if not entirely congruent trajectory. Where "A Trick of the Light" concerned itself with holding on to faith in the midst of, "Fool" treats the notion of faith as kind of blinder or,  more aptly, as a sort of sweetener for the uncertainty one constantly lives with. "Cause I'm a fool, love, for the burden of a promise of eternal life in Heaven, of a kind of anesthetic for the journey for which there's no need to worry" O'Brien sings. It's frequently repeated and often after similar lyrics about the not really knowing the certainty of anything. It has the whisper of critique but not much. It isn't until the bleeding heart line that it seems like the song's subject has any particular issue with the way they're living their life. And at the line I had a somewhat epiphanic moment of "Oh it's a love song" before the next line dealt it's blow. "There's money in the morning and I'm looking at my screen failing to accept that there's problem to the scene too, there's a problem" O'Brien post-climax and there's a surprising amount going on in such a muted moment. "Fool" proceeds at more or less the same tempo throughout with a similarly maintained energy but on this verse - the energy slows down - O'Brien elongates the verse, softens his delivery on the repetition of the line "there's a problem". The line leads right into an uptick of energy and the chorus and like the song itself references there's a blink and you miss it quality to the verse.

"Fool" is Villagers at arguably their most pop down to the fact that O'Brien tucks moments of somber realization underneath upbeat melodies. Where "Trick of the Light" highlights the positive life-affirming and life-saving quality of faith, "Fool" subtly critiques its hypocrisy as the song's subject frequently is concerned with later rewards - in this case "the promise of eternal life in Heaven" that they're not all that concerned with what's happening right in front of them.

The Art of Pretending to Swim, the new full length album from Villagers is out September 21st on Domino.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Listen: Ohmme - "Peach"

photo by Alexa Viscius
With their previous singles "Icon" and "Water", Chicago experimental duo Ohmme, offered up an introduction to both their sound and their upcoming full length debut Parts with a display of versatility. The caustic guitars of "Water" balanced effortlessly with the pristine unencumbered beauty of the duo's vocals lines already a worthwhile display of Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart's embrace of opposites in motion, when contrasted to the resplendent pop hooks of "Icon" showed a band that truly intended to but their best foot forward. With "Peach", the third single, from their upcoming full length album, Ohmme continue to lean wholeheartedly into their spirit of experimentalism. "Peach" essentially splits the difference between "Icon" and "Water", featuring jangly complex guitar lines, clattering percussion, and surreal lyricism. Unlike "Icon" which achieved a subtly glide into it's more abrasive instrumentals, "Peach" offers them up immediately and unrelentingly as the duo balance the song's various moving parts with elongated verses, bursts of harsher elements, and the duo's characteristic ability to use their more gentle vocal lines as a ballast in the cacophony.

Parts, the debut full length from Ohmme is out August 24th on Joyful Noise Recordings. You can pre-order the record here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Listen: Saintseneca - "Beast in the Garden"

photo by Olga Pavloska
While Columbus folk collective Saintseneca has largely made a career of encapsulating the various incarnations of folk - be it punk, pop, or rock, singer/songwriter Zac Little sought in the recording and production of their upcoming fourth full length album Pillar of Na to more obviously incorporate different elements of the genre into the record's sound. First single "Frostbiter" saw Little weaving electronic elements into the band's already lushly layered textural palette while "Ladder to the Sun" was a much more straight forward pop-rooted affair. "Beast in the Garden", the third single from the forthcoming record, is a heady dose of 60s inspired psychedelica with Saintseneca's harmonic mesh of stringed instruments effortlessly replicating the Eastern recalling sounds most Bay Area psych bands sought to emulate. Unlike the battering ram that is "Ladder to the Sun", "Beast in the  Garden" is a more meticulously plotted bloom - shifting from sparse guitar to euphoric gang vocal dense choruses. Of the three singles, it's probably the most tied into the album's religious influence. Little is no stranger to weaving the secular with the more evidently biblical, but for "Beast in the Garden" he leans fully into it as he conjures up vibrant images of a life locked out of Paradise. There's a sense of nostalgia, true but there's also an optimism for the new paths ahead and even strange sense of compassion for the solitary sentinel preventing their return. Little's lyricism, through pulled from sacred texts, are less an attempt to pontificate and more an attempt to know, to connect with the idea of a life laid bare in front of you with a daunting amount of freedom. It features stellar arrangements of both traditional and unconventional strings: mandola, hammered dulcimers, violins, viola, and cello. It's another slice of bold musical experimentalism that continues to upend expectations as to what Pillar of Na might sound like as a whole and that to me is terribly exciting.

Pillar of Na, Saintseneca's fourth full length album is out August 31st on ANTI-.  

Friday, August 10, 2018

Listen/Watch: Villagers - "A Trick of the Light"

photo by Rich Gilligan
After the hermetic minimalism of previous studio album Darling Arithmetic and the composite live album Where Have You Been All My Life?, Villagers, the project of Irish singer/songwriter Conor J O'Brien has announced the imminent arrival of their fourth full length studio album (fifth if you consider the reworkings that constitute Where Have You Been All My Life? as a proper album) The Art of Pretending To Swim with the first single from the forthcoming album "A Trick of the Light". While O'Brien's made an impressive career out of crafting narratives out of instances both major and minor; universal and fantastic, Darling Arithmetic offered a glimpse into the actual person behind Villagers featuring songs and lyrics that were arguably the most unflinchingly personal. While it remains to be seen if O'Brien will provide further glimpses behind the curtain, "A Trick of the Light" at least seems like a pause from outright autobiography.

Instead "A Trick of the Light" gains its emotive power from the all too universal feeling of the sort of helpless uncertainty that sends you looking for answers and signs wherever they come. O'Brien has an award-winning knack for poetic lyricism and he's in exceedingly rare form here immediately offering up an absolutely awe-inspiring metaphor that also manages to tie into theme of swimming and water that one imagines an album titled The Art of Pretending to Swim might wade through. Both surprising and perhaps unsurprisingly so, O'Brien doesn't rely on a whole lot of exposition. He's incredibly succinct as O'Brien gets an incredibly amount of traction out of about two verses and trusts in both those two verses and a particular strong chorus to do, well a hell of a lot. It's perhaps an application to what O'Brien learned writing, recording, and producing a record all of his own that his return to fuller production packs such a punch. Though arguably done with minimalism in terms of production, O'Brien applies it lyrically and the result is a cogent song that is a powder keg of emotion, the fuse of which is lit at the track's very beginning and is properly deploying during its climatic choruses.

The Art of Pretending To Swim, the new record from Villagers, is out September 21st on Domino Record Co. You can pre-order the record here.

Listen: Yowler - "WTFK"

photo by Sam Split
Singer/songwriter Maryn Jones has kept herself busy over the years - a former member of Columbus folk pop outfit Saintseneca, Jones simultaneously recorded and released records as a part of Saintseneca, pop punk band all dogs, as well as debuting her solo project Yowler. Relocating from her native Columbus to Philly, Jones has now focused her efforts almost exclusively on Yowler and the result is a follow up to her beautiful debut The Offer. "WTFK", the first single from her upcoming sophomore album Black Dog In My Path, continues the synthier direction Jones started to explore at the tail end of her sparse debut. Jones demonstrated her multi-instrumentalism during her tenure with Saintseneca and "WTFK" finds Jones expanding her textural pallete: layering sounds in addition to Jones' standard guitar and bass skills. For Black Dog In My Path, Jones combines her wide breadth of instrumental talents with those of Swearin' Kyle Gilbridle who plays synths, percussion as well as doubles Jones' guitar and bass.

Yowler has always functioned as a quieter alternative to Jones' most boisterous musical affiliations and while "WTFK" luxuriates in Jones' characteristic introspective hush, it's delivered in decidedly poppier dressings. The result is a song whose hook laden delivery somewhat obscures the fact that Jones is singing about some rather dark subjects. On "WTFK", Jones' returns to the religious upbringing that she was reared in and wrestles with the notion of sin as an unavoidably human thing. And yet even as Jones' sings of how destructive it is - or rather the complete avoidance of it is - Jones sings from a place of spiritual growth. It's a song about embracing who you are - not what people tell you you are or who they want you to be. And though it's a direct result of the shame spiral that some are brought up in - Jones has made it out on the other side with a sense of poignant self-reflection and a positive outlook. 

Yowler's sophomore full length album Black Dog In My Path is out October 12th on Double Double Whammy. You can pre-order the record now.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Listen: The Dodos - "Forum"

One of my favorite things about San Francisco duo The Dodos is that each release of theirs arrives after the band have essentially had a creative existential crisis. The Dodos are a band that is so invested in the notion of improving upon themselves and trying something different that every time they set about writing and recording new material, the duo reflect upon what it is that they want to do. They experiment with sounds, instruments, their harmonic language and the result has always been something different that still pulls from the duo's core percussive language. This type of forethought and continual attempts to challenge themselves has made The Dodos one of the most consistent bands and Certainty Waves, the newest effort from singer/songwriter/guitarist Meric Long and drummer/percussionist Logan Kroeber is the latest attempt at the band to define themselves anew. It's also a record that arrives after a break from music that resulted in the recording and release of an album from Long's new solo synth-based project FAN earlier this year.

"Forum", the first single from their upcoming record, is essentially a deconstruction of what The Dodos have done for the better part of a decade. As The Dodos have explored various guitar tones and the addition of strings and the like in previous records, "Forum" essentially blends all that together while beginning at a bold sprint. The guitars are the star as a creative crisis and the re-learning of their sophomore record Visiter for its 10 year anniversary essentially revealed to the band that they were more than just an acoustic guitar and drum band and gave Long the creative freedom to amp up more than he thought the band had. The result is a guitar pop surge. "Forum" is pretty unrelenting - never quite slowing down from the spirited bolt of its initial moments. Instead Long and Kroeber plow through a series of ideas and variations that all feed into the song's frenetic energy. By returning to their roots, the band has charted a radically different course in the present - one that marries many of the band's interests into a heady mix of multi-layered, synth-tinged piece of guitar-fueled rock pop that bristles with energy. It's a remarkable return to form and one that highlights exactly why The Dodos' continuous attempts to define themselves and realign are so incredibly fruitful.

Certainty Waves, the seventh album from The Dodos is out October 12th on Polyvinyl. You can pre-order it now.

Listen/Watch: Tiny Ruins - "How Much"

Since the release of her sophomore full length album Brightly Painted One in 2014, New Zealand singer/songwriter Hollie Fullbrook aka Tiny Ruins has kept surprisingly busy. Working with her longtime friend,  Hamish Kilgour of The Clean on the collaborative Hurtling Through EP  as well as the David Lynch produced "Dream Wave", Fullbrook certainly seemed to make the most of her time post record to explore less expected musical ambitions that even when I saw opening for Marlon Williams solo on his most recent US tour, I wasn't entirely sure what her third album would sound like. Would it feature more of the stately arrangements of Brightly Painted One? The bare bones production and experimentation of Hurtling Through? The electronic tinged "Dream Wave"? Though the set featured just Fullbrook and her guitar I couldn't be sure since much like Brightly Painted One, Fullbrook offered that its follow up would be a similar full band affair.

"How Much", the first single from the upcoming record arrives to at least partially answer that question. Featuring her live band on electric and bass guitars and drums, alongside Fullbrook's acoustic guitar and cello, it's a layered dip into rock but one that doesn't trade out Fullbrook's proclivity for plainspoken poetic moments for instrumental ones.

From a songwriting perspective - it's Fullbrook's take on a less sequential form of tale-spinning as she seeks instead to conjure up specific emotions and feelings than weave an embellished narrative even as she does engage in some particular vivid scene painting while simultaneously shuffling details around and obscuring others from view. "How Much" is part love song, part rallying cry. It's an unilateral embrace of the less favorable aspects of life in search of one that's truly full. "How much would you be willing to give?" Fullbrook sings in the chorus and it's surprisingly without an ounce of melancholy instead it's more resolute than you'd expect such a lyric to be delivered. The preceding verse is full of little assurance and Fullbrook essentially continues that throughline in the chorus offering more support. It's an acknowledgement of the "no risk, no reward" mantra but one that offers support by providing the tools for someone else to reach such a realization to help themselves. And yet, there's layers. Fullbrook lyrics offers support but not from a place of a holier than thou immaculate. Rather, Fullbrook provides a peak into a flawed person dealing with their own problems but from a place of reticence that comes from experience.

Though the exact details are under wraps for now, Fullbrook has announced that her forthcoming third full length record will be out on Milk! Records for its Australia release, Marathon Artists for UK/Europe, and Ba Da Bing for North America.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Listen: Adeline Hotel - "Habits"

photo by Chris Bernabeo
Much like Wilder Maker, Cassandra Jenkins, and Ben Seretan, my introduction to Adeline Hotel, the project of fellow New York based singer/songwriter Dan Knishkowy, was the direct result of my mounting interest in the music of Will Stratton after discovering Stratton through his fourth full length album Post-Empire. Although aware of singer/songwriter Dan Knishkowy through his association with Stratton and his community of equally talented singer/songwriters, I hadn't taken more than an incredibly casual listen to his output until Will Stratton mentioned he was engineering the new Adeline Hotel record: their second such collaboration that began on Knishkowy's It's Alright, Just The Same.

With "Habits", the first single from the upcoming Adeline Hotel record away together, Knishkowy enlists the services of his community of musician friends in order to hoist his own talents ever upward. With Jenkins guesting on backing vocals, Wilder Maker's Sean Mullins' on drums, Seretan, Stratton, and Knishkowy himself all on guitar duties with Stratton also providing piano, it's a veritable who's who of talent. But as it should be, the real star is Knishkowy who offers up a breezy slice of soft rock with pleasantly understated hooks for his triumphant return. Essentially made up of much of the crew of behind his last couple records, "Habits" both refines what works so well for country-leaning folk rock of Adeline Hotel while also throwing in a few newer elements to keep everything interesting. Knishkowy's often reveled in lyrics of the more melancholic sort but "Habits" (though it's presented with sense of trepidation) captures Adeline Hotel and Knishkowy at arguably their happiest. Knishkowy seems to be of the opinion that you can't rely on happiness to linger on forever and engages it with a sort of cautious awe at the simplicity of it all. Knishkowy's isn't distrustful of the feelings themselves just the ease of it. "Isn't that enough - what if I could be so happy now?" Knishkowy asks again and again and it's endearing in it's carefully plodded optimism. Whether the rest of away together will be as rooted in the ephemeral nature of happiness is anyone's guess but "Habits" reveals Knishkowy's game to explore new songwriting avenues and the result is a song that glides by with effortless ease while remaining ear-catching and engaging while it do so.

away together, the new full length record from Adeline Hotel is out October 26th on Ruination Record Co. You can pre-order the record now through the Adeline Hotel Bandcamp.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Listen: Mr Twin Sister - "Echo Arms"

After releasing the first of their new singles "Jaipur" a month ago, New York dance pop experimentalists Mr Twin Sister are back once again to drop another song of the summer contender in "Echo Arms". Though I assumed the reveal of a second single would herald the announcement of a new album, instead the quintet has announced an extensive North American tour this Fall as well as a 24 hour radio stream which they used to premiere the new single. Mr Twin Sister will feature original mixes as well as rarities and full album streams from the band. While "Jaipur" served as a sort of rallying cry towards trying to become a better, kinder person in a time that it's not really seen as necessary, "Echo Arms" is a bit more carefree. Andrea Estrella is still sincere as hell despite the parody of streaming radio culture the band has packaged it up in. It's a groovier, more downtempo number that still is immediately ear-catching and toe-tapping inspired. Like "Jaipur" it's a melange of layered sounds - sweeping strings, synths, and a multitude of subtly deployed effects, "Echo Arms" is effortless an chill and breezy single that still manages to keep its eye on the prize as an all-consuming dance jam.

Mr Twin Sister are still being particularly cagey about whether a follow up to their 2014 self-titled sophomore record is forthcoming but as long as they keep dropping tracks like "Jaipur" and "Echo Arms", they can take their time with album release news.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Listen/Watch: Mothers - "PINK"

photo by Dylan Pearce
One of the things I immediately noticed about "BLAME KIT" and now "PINK", the two first singles from Philly experimental rockers Mothers upcoming sophomore record Render Another Ugly Method, was how lyrically dense the songs are. It's not that singer/songwriter Kristin Leschper wasn't a particularly obtuse writer previously, but When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired seemed to strike a particular balance of even her most abstract lyrics fitting suspiciously smooth into each song's particular narrative. On "PINK" and perhaps indicative of Render Another Ugly Method in general, Leschper's isn't particularly bothered by framing things in a tidy, coherent structure. Instead Leschper achieves a sort of stream of consciousness expanse tethered by a particularly methodical delivery. Perhaps more so than ever, Leschper outfits her voice like another instrument in the band - less concerned with it's softer, more fragile qualities and instead exploring how it can feed into a band in motion. Where previously there seemed to be an ebb and flow between the instrumental parts of Mothers' songs to provide room for Leschper's delicate vocals, here they're a part of the din.

Where "BLAME KIT" seemed concerned with the body - ways that external stimulus effect it in the form of positive and negative attention, "PINK" is concerned with time. Leschper again experiments with song structure in her lyrics and stitches a series of memories together all bound by their relation to cars. It's a song containing a great deal of tension - it's nearly 7 minutes operating at much of it's initial tempo. For a band like Mothers that revels into dynamics, it's a surprising move but one that builds even more tension through the subversion of expectation.  

The music video, directed by Jake Lazovik and Richard Phillip Smith, capitalizes on that drawn out sense of tension placing Leschper in a waiting room for what indeterminable about of time but the viewer sees through a window and how the light affects her, that the passage of time. It's subtle but there's an element of uncomfortableness not unlike a psychological thriller as slightly weirder things start to happen in the room. Leschper dodges a cinderblock wrapped in yellow balloons and  while this moments would normally warrant a big reaction, it's treated as a normal occurrence and as such the music doesn't change to soundtrack it. Where the viewer serves largely as a voyeur to Leschper's patient stay, the action both in the music and its video are initiated and dictated through her. When she suddenly cranes her neck in alarm towards the window, the tension reaches a breaking point and the song finally gives in to a dramatic shift. It's a sort of release of the build up and yet, the video instead creates more: Leschper's startled face appears on the room's sole television screen, her dropped plastic cup gets an almost unsettling closeup.    

Render Another Ugly Method, Mothers' sophomore record and ANTI- records debut is out September 7th. You can pre-order the record now.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Listen/Watch: Saintseneca - "Ladder to the Sun"

photo by Nick Fancher
When Columbus, Ohio folk pop collective Saintseneca previewed their upcoming fourth full length album Pillar of Na with first single "Frostbiter" the most immediately noticeable thing was the synths. While Saintseneca are no strangers to the use of synths having utilized them on previous album Such Things, there was a level of prominence that seemed a little jarring. Known for their harmonic mesh of various exotic string instruments, "Frostbiter" saw singer/songwriter Zac Little expanded the band's textural palette as he experimented with sounds not typically associated with folk. The result was a shimmering, found sound featuring ballad that hinted at an assortment of new compositional options for the band.

"Ladder to the Sun", however, places the band right back into their exuberant, infectious folk pop. Unsurprisingly, for as much as Little struggled with the creation of much of Pillar of Na, "Ladder to the Sun" sprung forth from him pretty easily. Some of that frustration - of continuously trying different options and trying to make sense of ideas that are floating around you make their way into the song. When I first heard "Ladder to the Sun", I was immediately taken with how the lyrics had a sort of conversational, stream of consciousness quality to them. They didn't entirely feel like they belonged to different songs but Little had little problem interrupting himself to offer up another thought. The songs is a casual glide through ideas - beginning at first as self-given eulogy: "Tell my sister when I'm gone, I built a ladder to the Sun" before Little focuses on the present. Where "Frostbiter" was an amalgamation of memories and anecdotes - both his and others, "Ladder to the Sun" is a somewhat more assertive criticism of memory and who dictates what that is. "Who says you're right?" Little and band continuous ask and while it's delivery never reaches a tone of confrontation, it's does express a sincere amount of doubt about who gets to dictate what is happening in the moment. It's a song filled with these little moments of truth-seeking that are wonderfully presented.

Little asks questions but seems less concerned with definitive answers and more the feeling that accompanies those questions - the chasm of either doubt or bridge of certainty those questions open up. Another curious moment - probably the more so than anything else that happens in the song's rather short duration is between right before the recap both of the chorus and the song's initial phrase is a one-and-done moment Little affords himself. "I did the best you can, you did the best I can", Little sings and that moment - essentially defining the self through another is so strangely wonderful. It's ambiguous at best but feeds into the song's main theme of someone other than the self getting to tell the story; to set the parameters and provide context.

The video for the single, directed by Jon Washington and Little himself, introduces the "Ladder to the Sun" as an actual concrete thing and Little spends the video's duration chasing it. The ladder proves to me more of a concept than a thing you actually want to come in contact with though as Little finds when he grabs the ladder and experiences both an intense psychedelic vision and what looks like a great deal of pain. There's subtle references to Pillar of Na itself - "Moon Barks At Dog", and the strawberry heart from the album cover but the star of the video is the ladder that Little pursues with a hunter's acumen. It's hardly surprisingly "Ladder to the Sun" was a moment of catharsis for Little considering how effortlessly and swift the ideas both lyrically and visually the ideas seem to come from it. "Ladder to the Sun" may end up being the outlier in terms of a sprightly folk pop jam but it's certainly appreciated.

Saintseneca's fourth full length album Pillar of Na is out August 31st on ANTI-. Pre-order the record now.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Listen: Ohmme - "Water"

Last month when Chicago experimental pop duo Ohmme announced their much anticipated debut full length album Parts, they shared album opener and first single "Icon": a brighter, more pop rooted cut than the occasionally folky, more darkly textured tracks of their self-titled debut EP. Though not quite a completely jarring shift, it did display that Ohmme's game plan for the full length would be much more of opening themselves to different than doubling down on what they've already offered. Though "Icon" featured more consonant guitar riffs in line with Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart's impeccable vocal harmonies, the duo didn't completely divorce themselves from abrasiveness as the song takes a dramatic tonal shift and incorporates some of those angular, rougher hewn elements. 

"Water", our second taste of the duo's full length, is a dip into turbulent waters once again. It's an experiment in opposites as Cunningham and Stewart's guitars cut aggressive shapes alongside Matt Carroll's similarly intense drumming while their vocals stream out in clean arcs. Ohmme established early on a knack for blending seemingly conflicting, dissimilar textures, and somehow finding a way to stitch them together into a cohesive musical tapestry and "Water" is no different as Cunningham and Stewart take grit, add propulsive energy, and essentially end up creating glass. "Water" is brief but severe musical science experiment happening in real time and the result is a work of art equal parts crude and elegant: the brilliant cacophony giving way to its beautiful, crystalline climax.   

Parts, Ohmme's debut full length album, is out August 24th on Joyful Noise Recordings. Pre-orders are available for the record now.

Listen: LWW - "DTE"

With the release of Portland based composer/multi-instrumentalist Luke Wyland's debut album under his new LWW moniker on the immediate horizon, he's released "DTE", one of the his first experiments with creating alternate tuning systems. Much like "PNO", "DTE" is a one-take improvisation but where "PNO" quickly establishes its melodic intentions, "DTE" takes much more of its experimentation with form from "CTP" and much like it, "DTE" relies on elements outside of Wyland's piano in the form of a loop pedal. Of the three pieces, we've heard from 3PE so far, "DTE" is perhaps the least concerned with pattern and structure. Where "CTP" saw Wyland essentially revising a previously recorded improvisation, "DTE" is a much more ephemeral effort - "CTP" and "PNO" immediately embracing whatever melodies formed and chasing them to their natural conclusions, "DTE" doesn't shy away from the establishment of melody but Wyland also challenges himself with his regard for equal temperament towards moving on from any patterns in favor of something different all together. Initially an exploration of equal temperament, Wyland also experiments with timbre as well - giving himself three different types of sound to utilize in his synthesizer based improvisation.

Luke Wyland's debut album as LWW, 3PE, is out July 20th on the Leaf Label. You can pre-order the album as either a digital download or on limited edition 12" now.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Collection of Colonies of Bees - HAWAII (2018)

Though most people's introduction to Wisconsin outfit Collections of Colonies of Bees may have been due to the fact that its members played alongside Bon Iver's Justin Vernon as Volcano Choir, Collections of Colonies of Bees have been crafting incredibly innovative and intricate guitar music for the better part of two decades not unlike a sort of Deerhoof of the Midwest. But aside from an impressively long career filled with records each more incredible than the last, that's pretty much where the Deerhoof comparisons live and die. Throughout the years COCOB has undergone a number of lineup changes sharing members with Field Report, Megafaun, Sylvan Esso, and All Tiny Creatures but guitarist Chris Rosenau has remained its steadfast captain, navigating the outfit as its most consistent and senior member since the departure of his co-founder, drummer Jim Mueller.

HAWAII, the band's most recent album and their follow up to 2014's SET, introduces those not in attendance at the third year of Vernon's Eaux Claires festival to its newer lineup which welcomes Marielle Allschwang into the fold on vocals - another shakeup for the previously solely instrumental focused band. Though the addition of vocals might in theory appear to push COCOB towards a more standard form of rock music than they've been purveying over the years, ever the innovators - Allschwang's inclusion comes with a bit of a surprise in the form of the creation of a synced pedal rig that connects Allschwang's vocals with Rosenau's guitar to further flush out Collections of Colonies of Bees' harmonic language. When first single "Ruins" dropped, I was unsure of how exactly Rosenau and Allschwang's relationship would play out over the course of an album but "Killerers", the album's opening track instantly answered that question. The entrance of Allschwang's vocals enter as a sort of stutter-stop hum - not quite tied to meaning but an integral part of the song's multitude of layers. I was reminded instantly of the technique of Ryan Lott of Son Lux where he recorded his collaborators vocals, cut them up and turned them into samples, and then tied them to individual notes. The main difference of course being that Allschwang is a present and active participant in the delivery of her vocals. Where previous albums SET , GIVING, and Birds presented Collection of Colonies of Bees as a pretty straight forward melody rich but rhythmically focused melange of guitars, bass, and drums HAWAII reintroduces the more diverse elements of the band's more distant past like the return of synths even as they push themselves toward a more ubiquitous sound.

HAWAII isn't a complete re-writing of the what the band's been about for the past decade or so however - even as they implement the use of lyrics for the first time. The band had a way of presenting engaging musical tableaux without the use of lyrics or even descriptive titles, and though hardly nonsense or gibberish - the addition of vocals by Allschwang and guitarist Daniel Spack, are largely impressionistic; another timbre to resonate in their multitudinous harmonies. Even as Collection of Colonies filter in more familiar pop leaning elements, there's an equal subversion and embrace of those expectations. Songs like the eponymous "HAWAII" which might've been a 7 minute long instrumental post rock jam elsewhere uses the added vocal framing to achieve the grandiose highs of songs like "G (F)" or "Lawn". The vocals undergo their own subtle evolution over the course of the album - enduring a sort of climax on "For Ghost" - the album's briefest and most singer/songwriter recalling effort.

While the old adage might be "If it ain't broke, don't fix it", bands like Collections of Colonies of Bees thrive by their ability to push themselves into new sounds and creative visions that inspire them and HAWAII even if you take away the seeming gimmick of the pedal rig that steers Allschwang's vocals - it's an album that's so delightfully complex without really insisting on that complexity. Take a song like "Ruins", arguably the album's most standard verse-chorus-verse type song. There's so many elements that work in tandem like Allschwang and Spack's dueting vocals but there's little embellishments that are beguiling effortless - like Allschwang's breathing being a noticeable part of the song's climatic breakdown that are hands down contribute to some of the album's most winsome moments. Collections of Colonies of Bees might've worn their influences of electronica, jazz, and post rock much more openly in their earlier days, their embrace of the familiar has added a much appreciated new dimension to their music. If Collections of Colonies of Bees are truly trying to bridge the gap between their experimental and pop tendencies, they've certainly succeeded on HAWAII - an album filled with engaging compositions that makes a bold but interesting new direction for the band.

Collections of Colonies of Bees' HAWAII is out now on Polyvinyl. You can order the record now.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Listen: Rubblebucket - "Fruity"

photo by Amanda Picotte
Considering the fact that Annakalmia Traver and Alex Toth of Rubblebucket have not only been touring pretty consistently but also putting out a decent amount of singles for the past couple years ("Donna", "If You C My Enemies"), it entirely escaped my notice that it has been approximately four years since Rubblebucket's last full length record Survival Sounds. Part of this may be due to the fact that last year both Traver and Toth put out records with their side projects Kalbells and Alexander F as well as putting out a Rubblebucket EP that it seemed very much like the band had taken no time off at all.

But aside from keeping busy with side projects (Toth even started another band - a solo project by the name of  Tōth that saw him turning to the guitar), the band had been hard at work on a follow up to 2014's Survival Sounds. "Fruity" is the band's first official single from the record and it is characteristically groove-inflected if not more subdued than longtime fans might've expect. It's a introspective piece that doesn't forget to be interesting about promises broken and how time just kind of marches on regardless. "I've said I'll make it to the party but I've got a lot going on" Kalmia Traver coos atop a mellow wave of synths and pulsing drum hits. As the song goes on, it becomes clear it's not just about fear of missing out or upholding some weird social contract but about finding room for yourself when you've been accustomed to operating as a unit. "I let you wrap your body into mine until we're one thing" and "I gazed at your face for too long until my own was gone" Traver sings, recounting promises she's made before offering an apology "I'm sorry, Fruity, but I must find the Earth again". Despite its incredibly dance-y dressings "Fruity" is a breakup song but also a love song. For all of the utterances of promises made and broken, shifted, and suspended; there's a promise that never is. The love contained in "Fruity" is a pure and genuine one that'll remain post-breakup just in a different form.

Rubblebucket's fifth full length album Sun Machine will be out August 24th on Grand Jury. You can pre-order the record now.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Listen: Mr Twin Sister - "Jaipur"

photo by Jennifer Medina
Though not a particularly political band, New York experimental pop outfit Mr Twin Sister has managed to throw a great deal of their energy behind efforts they believe in: playing a benefit for  Hurricane Maria relief for Puerto Rico last Fall and the donation of proceeds from their previous single "Poor Relations" to the Standing Rock Sioux's fight against construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016 that it's hard not see new single "Jaipur" (named after the capital city of North Indian state of Rajasthan), as a similar though not exactly congruent political statement. It's hardly overt but there's a sense from the name itself and the the melange of instruments that appear that it's meant to be a celebration of diversity. Andrea Estella's lyrics are characteristically vague - universally applicable as she makes an appeal to be a kinder, stronger person. Less disco-fueled than any of their  self-titled sophomore full length, there's no denying the dance element that keeps the whole track shuffling along as a toe-tapping pace. Subtlety is the name of the game and Mr Twin Sister manage to stack their layers of strings, saxophone, and varied percussion with an impressive amount of clear precision that gives Estella's emotive vocals seemingly limitless room to crane and soar.

There's no telling if "Jaipur" is indicative of something larger (like the follow up to 2014's Mr Twin Sister) or meant to be a standalone single like "Poor Relations" and "The Erotic Book" but it's a delightful entry into their oeuvre that blends earnest songwriting with pretty straightforward dance pop sorcery.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Listen/Watch: Ohmme - "Icon"

photo by Maren Celest

When I was first introduced to Chicago based experimental duo Ohmme last year from fellow experimental duo Ahleuchatistas, I was immediately taken not only with their impeccable vocal harmonies but the effortless blend of abrasive, dissonant guitar parts and the gentle flow of their vocal lines. Ohmme's ability to methodically blend disparate parts into something incredibly engaging as well as challenging, made me fall hook, line, and sinker for their unique band of meticulously crafted experimental rock pop.

Considering my introduction to them laid in the dark pop jangle of "Woman", the first thing I noticed in the pastel-colored music video for Ohmme's new single "Icon" was not just the visually brightness but also tonal one. The guitar lines are cleaner, Sima Cunninham and Macie Stewart's vocals lighter in tone and delivery. It's slightly surprising considering Ohmme largely rooted themselves in darker palettes on their debut EP. But intensely capable as both songwriters and composers, Ohmme's decision to turn the lights on in "Icon" doesn't take away from the fact that the duo are skilled purveyors of intricate rock pop.

The music video, directed by Elijah Alvarado, makes humorous reference to this newfound stylistic change as Cunningham and Stewart clad in their dark clothing navigate an aggressive brightly colored birthday party thrown for a dog by its owner attended by suit clad guests with balloons for faces. Cunningham and Stewart smile and make polite conversation but a casual eye-roll here and there and frequent attempts to dodge the guests let you know their interactions are more out of social obligation than enjoyment. Though all of their reactions to the birthday good boy and its owner seem genuine. All the time Cunningham and Stewart sing about a nameless protagonist's appetite for destruction with a penchant for dark conversations topics who ties to portray herself as softer and more ladylike.

Then halfway through, the guitar shifts tone and Cunningham and Stewart are bathed in dim colors and red light. Earlier instances of balloons being popped become more obvious as the duo beginning delighted popping balloon much to the horror of the balloon-faced guests. Not only is it hilarious but from its very opening lyric - Ohmme and Alvarado ensure "Icon" syncs both in visual and musical  composition. The song's frequent disgruntled references to balloons becomes a significant part of the video's aesthetic and Ohmme flirt with new sound styles pairing breezy melodies and textures with dynamic tonal shifts. It's a great offering at what they duo are capable of and should properly excite anyone who hears the new single or sees the video about their new album Parts which is out later this year.

Parts, the debut full length record from Ohmme, is out August 24th on Joyful Noise Recordings. You can pre-order the record now.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Listen: Mothers - "BLAME KIT"

photo by Tonje Thilesen
Since the release of their debut album When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired as well as their subsequent move from Athens, Georgia to Philadelphia, I've wondered what is next for Mothers, the project of singer/songwriter Kristine Leschper. The answer is given in "BLAME KIT", the first single from the quartet's forthcoming sophomore record and ANTI debut Render Another Ugly Method. I've always considering Mothers at their most experimental and technically complex to be reminiscent of  fellow Philly rockers Palm (unsurprisingly they've toured together) and "BLAME KIT" sees Mothers diving deeper into their most innovative impulses. While When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired was a delicate tightrope walk between Leschper's crystalline vocals and emotive narratives with the band's intricately layer math pop, "BLAME KIT" sees the band as a unit shift into overdrive: Leschper's usually unadorned vocals arrive through a thin layer of effects and momentarily suspending her languorous delivery in favor of a swifter. But Mothers are a band that revels in dynamic options and the initial fervor subsides for a syrupy slow-down.

Though on their debut, Leschper sang freely of emotional reckonings both within herself and directed towards others, a smaller thread throughout (even offered in opening track "Too Small For Eyes") is Leschper's interest in the body both as a concept and a vessel for ideas. "BLAME KIT" and Render Another Ugly Method expands that into a full on thesis and in its more sedate second half "BLAME KIT" finds Leschper cooing "Not the first time I've watched her body expand a human times it's size to contain everything". Leschper treats the body as a Universe unto itself, containing multitudes that render things outside of it rather inconsequential and yet "BLAME KIT" sees Leschper seeking to establish the idea of a societal measure of things like guilt and blame. This juxtaposition of radically different ideas is nothing new for Leschper and Mothers.

Mothers' itself is a band of composed of conflicting ideas and methods - the solo stylings of Leschper not entirely excised from its DNA, the band balances moments of collaboration and artistic isolation. The intensity of many of Mothers' prog-reminiscent breakdowns often existing without Leschper's vocals. "BLAME KIT" and Render Another Ugly Method essentially seek to expand and collapse distinctive dissonances.   

Mothers' sophomore full length album Render Another Ugly Method will be out September 7th on ANTI-, you can pre-order it now. The band will be touring pretty extensively this Summer opening for Japanese Breakfast and Lucy Dacus before embarking on a headlining tour this Fall. You can check dates on Mothers' official website here.