Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Listen: Palm - "Composite"

photo by Dylan Pearce
While much of the new material from Philly experimental rockers Palm has been an embracing of the pop element that fuels much of their complex, rhythmic math pop, the quartet certainly haven't forgotten the angular guitars that characterized much of their earlier work nor the bits and blasts of noise they peppered throughout Trading Basics or Ostrich Vacation. "Composite", the latest single from Palm's upcoming sophomore album Rock Island, lands on a sound that's inline with previous Rock Island cuts while recalling the rough-hewn instrumental work of Trading Basics that the band began to lean away from on last year's Shadow Expert EP.

From the start, Palm have always been an incredibly technically precise band but Shadow Expert saw the band adding a layer of polish to that precision as the band sought to marry pop conventions with their off-kilter song structures and aversion to common time. Made up of a skipping stone guitar riffs, "Composite" is simultaneously a buoyant romp and quick-paced shuffle through a kaleidoscopic musical tapestry. Despite it's various shifting sections, Palm manage to thread rhythmic fixtures - like their tumbling guitar riffs and its later echo in the drums. "Composite" sees the band approach the song's change-ups with a pretty casual glide: there's no lead up or hinting just a sudden switch handled with remarkably smoothness as the band continues on like nothing ever happened. And yet, it's hardly one musical idea completely abandoned for a new one, as the two sections are connected through similar though not entirely congruent rhythms before the new section shifts yet again to recall the first part in its coda.

Palm are excellent songsmiths and "Composite" is a perfect display of that as skittering guitars give way to shuffling drums, tempos surge and change course all without revealing where it'll end up. Palm are effortless able to contort their sound in a variety of ways that push their sound forward while still very much fitting into their expanding character. With Rock Island out in little more than a week, it thankfully won't be too long before listeners get to experience what else the band have up their sleeve. With such varying singles as "Pearly", "Dogmilk", and "Composite", it's really anyone's guess what the album will sound like as whole but if there's one thing fans can be certain of it's that it will be as unpredictable as it is good. 

Palm's sophomore full length record Rock Island is out February 9th on Carpark Records. You can order the record here.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Listen: Sur Back - "Anyone Else"

photo by Cate Sans
Caroline Sans, the self-taught musician and producer behind Sur Back, has made much of her young career a balancing act not only between musical realms - the sumptuousness of classical paired with the abrasiveness of rock but also the quiet subversion of expectations in both song composition and lyrical content that she's a particular hard subject to pin down to specific labels. There's no denying that her sound is beguilingly unique. From the fuzzed-out guitars or stuttering beats of "Trophy Daughter" and "Pastel" to the orchestral sweeps of "Kitsch" and "Valentino", Sans has managed to display a dynamic sense of versatility, carving out a varied style all her own that doesn't sacrifice cohesiveness. 

"Anyone Else", the second single from Sur Back's upcoming follow up EP Kitsch II, finds Sans at her most delicate and yet, her most ambitious. One of her first ever songs when she first began her Sur Back project after moving from Palm Spring Gardens to Jupiter, Florida, "Anyone Else" is perhaps the song that's undergone the most drastic update going from a solo guitar ballad to all out compositional masterwork that sees Sans effortlessly interweaving strings with gently pulsing synths to create additional layers of harmonic consonance and textural depth.

 While "Valentino" swayed between powerful brass and ornate strings with bombastic percussion and jagged guitars, "Anyone Else" leans full tilt into Sans' symphonic sensibilities. While Sans has never shied away from the subject of desire (take the sighing "Occam's Razor" or the sultry whisper of "Kitsch") "Anyone Else" stands out for being perhaps the most reverent of it. "Anyone Else" is a love song, full of idyllic splendor as its orchestral lushness instantly recalls a pastoral picnic sojourn away from the noise of the busy city. The first part of a multi-movement work she split between this track and it's successor "Providence", is a tenderhearted exploration of the effervescence of a pure, genuine love. 

Despite its compositional complexity, it's a work of remarkably subtler production as Sans allows her arrangements and her own featherweight voice to do much of the work in lieu of her normal proclivities for contrast. It's most winsome moments lie in its softness, in its wholehearted embrace of the delicate, often fleeting nature of those little epiphanic moments - the way the light catches their eye or the wind their hair that have you convinced you couldn't love a person anymore. Sans elevates these seemingly tiny instances to magic moments of grandeur and awe even engaging in her natural dramatic flair with an attention grabbing grand pause.

With each release, Sans provides evermore reasons to fall in love with her distinct brand of angular but lush experimental pop and "Anyone Else" is no exception. While recalling the supple pastels of Kitsch, it still adds a new dimension to Sur Back as a producer/composer/arrange capable of conjuring moments of endearing gentleness. It's an absolutely thrilling reveal and one that I'm sure Sans is sure to expound on in ways that'll surprise. Until that moment, "Anyone Else" does that plenty. 

Kitsch II, the sophomore EP from Sur Back is out February 23rd.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Listen: Hop Along - "How Simple"

Well this is a welcome surprise. Despite the fact that Philly rockers Hop Along got a little playful in the revealing of their upcoming new album Bark Your Head Off, Dog through mysterious clues left via social media last week, I was still wholly unexpecting to get a taste of it so quickly. "How Simple", the album opener and first single from the upcoming album, is a quick, uncomplicated reintroduction to songwriter Frances Quinlan and the rest of her merry band. Quinlan, despite the immediacy open contained in her vocals, has never been a particular straightforward songwriter - preferring instead to have her subjects twist and turn in ways that are much more human than a direct narrative would. "How Simple" essentially finds Quinlan employing the same sense of delayed gratification as she subtly reveals the song's core subject: a nervous dategoer. But even though Quinlan prefers to gradually reveal a song's twists and turns, she's a little more explicit here. "Pale as a banshee sun - think I should stop checking myself out in the windows of cars when I can see my future in her pictures of relatives" Quinlan offers in a musical stage whisper. It isn't until after the second verse after the abstract chorus that the other shoe drops. "Don't worry, we will both find out just not together". It's the sort of reveal a songwriter might save until the end of a song but Quinlan offers it up readily and presses onward.

"How Simple" is a song that doesn't ever shift perspective even as it shifts in time and mood. The story has changed but Quinlan's knack for narratives that concern themselves with how one phrase can encapsulate a colossal moment and how a particular character might respond to that is a skill she's deployed since Hop Along's debut. The only difference is, with more songs/albums under their belt, it's easy to see the quiet genius in Quinlan's semi stream-of-consciousness songwriting. She offers clues in seemingly off-the-cuff statements are phrases and then after her reveals, moves on, to give power to not the reveal but the aftershock. "How Simple" is simple and sweet, a lovely examination of how one's own feelings/experiences can color a situation or shield you from an obvious truth. Nothing's ever simple in matters of the heart and Quinlan perfectly captures that both throughout in the song itself and in it's somewhat ironic chorus "How simple the heart can be frightens me". 

Bark Your Head Off, Dog, the third full length album from Hop Along is out April 6th on Saddle Creek. Pre-order is available now.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Listen: Incan Abraham - "Arabian Cane"

Late last year Los Angeles pop rockers Incan Abraham released "In My Bones", the first new music non Los Angelinos could hear from the band since their debut full length album Tolerance was released back in the Spring of 2014. But triumphant "In My Bones" was hardly a one-off and several months later, the band released the rest of the collection they prepped during a writing retreat in NY's Hudson Valley where the trio grew up. Arabian Cane, the band's newest EP, finds the band reunited after singer/multi-instrumentalist/recording engineer Guiliano Pizullo's stint as a touring member of Passion Pit.

Known both for their bright, breezy melodies reminiscent of balmier climes than their native LA and the stratospheric reach of their songs most winsome moments both melodically and lyrically, Arabian Cane is a much subtler record even as they lean more into synth pop conventions. Much of the record populates a nebulous space of dreamy, soft spoken introspection even as the drums keep the band from luxuriating too much in listless ambience. Much of the band's career trajectory has been a patient plod as they really focused on the cultivation of sounds and experiences that make for good music and Arabian Cane is no different even as the band levels up both their production and their lineup: HAIM's Dash Hutton appears on drums and percussion for much of the record and Clinton Welander helms much of the production with Pizzulo as copilot.

Album opener, the titular "Arabian Cane", with it's psychedelic guitar riffs offers up a beguiling thesis statement both in its outright poppiness and in the way singer/guitarist Teddy Cafaro reflects on the sometimes closed off nature that results in the pursuit of a goal. "I keep my heart for the work I put out, I keep it cold and my dreams come alive" Cafaro offers in the lines opening verse in a way that doesn't entirely glamorize that sort of behavior. It's important to know oneself and on reflection, Cafaro rightfully calls himself out on less than savory moments: "I was a cocky kid but a reticent man". It's a song that both addresses the artist as a person without necessarily giving the artist a free pass for their personhood and acknowledges it from a point of obvious growth. It's a definite standout on the album, concerning itself with, much like "In My Bones" and "You Are Me" with introspection despite it's polished pop rock dressings. Featuring Andrew Lessman on drums before his departure, it marks an interesting intersection for the band - taking the band's strongest points: ear-catching intricate harmonies and layers and setting them at more insistent pace at odds with the sort of head-turning lyricism that makes you rewind and relisten. It's a delicate balance act and one that the band absolutely nails as they both lean into their psych rock influence and push their pop sensibility into overdrive.

Incan Abraham's Arabian Cane EP is out now. You can listen/download it now.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Listen/Watch: Renata Zeiguer - "Follow Me Down"

photo by Chris Weiss
Late last year when New York based singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Renata Zeiguer announced the release of her debut full length Old Ghost with first single "Bug", there wasn't really a sense of what might set the record apart from what fans of hers might expect from her previous Cantina project. "Follow Me Down" however rectifies that almost immediately. Where "Bug" was a sprightly straightforward guitar pop jam, "Follow Me Down" is a somberer, groovier piano based song that sees Zeiguer achieving a more emotive side than "Bug". Zeiguer's songcraft has always been varied in her songwriting subjects but though vague, "Follow Me Down" offers a glimpse at the raw emotion that can color her songs. "Follow Me Down" is a moody see-saw as Zeiguer essentially wrestles with her feelings: "How can I keep you from following me where I go as I go?" she sings before revealing the track's first interesting counterpoint: that she doesn't necessarily mind. It's a track that tosses and turns as she comes to grips both with a new reality as well as lingering feelings; an acknowledgement of the dangers of familiarity and reacquainting oneself with their misplaced individualism.

The music video, directed by Sam Bader, features Zeiguer engaging in a bunch of solo rituals: from solitudinous late night strolls to writing/composing alone in her apartment. However much like the pervasive feelings she's trying to process, there's a sense that all is not as it seems as figures flicker and fade out of view like ghosts in Zeiguer's empty apartment and appear to her on the street. But even as the song wrestles with loss, there's a contentedness to Zeiguer's solitude and also her acknowledgment of her complex feelings as if she's just happy to be feeling anything at all. In that way "Follow Me Down" is an ode to feelings: messy, difficult, but hers to have and navigate and Zeigeur's celebration of that is artfully arranged and pleasantly plotted. Hardly surprising given her previously demonstrated songwriting prowess but appreciated nonetheless.

Renata Zeiguer's debut full length record Old Ghost is out February 23rd on Northern Spy. You can pre-order the record now.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Listen: Sur Back - "Valentino"

photo by Frank Corr
It's been awhile since we've heard from Jupiter, Florida based singer/songwriter/guitarist/producer Caroline Sans' Sur Back project. Since the release of her debut EP Kitsch back in the summer of 2016, she's been hard at work on a follow up as well as relocating to Brooklyn. New single "Valentino" is a least a taste of what Sans' has been cooking up in her nearly two years away and it's appropriately lush. From its forceful crescendo to its pizzicato string entrance, Sans' has her sights set on a decadent sense of drama that's as luxurious as its title suggests. That's hardly a surprise, considering Sans wrote it with fashion shows in mind. "Valentino" is her offering to the intersection between fashion and pop music that's been popularized by everyone from Lady Gaga to indie stalwarts Bjork and St. Vincent. A score to imaginary fashion show, it manages to fit into the often strange, poised world of high fashion while also setting itself apart from it both lyrically and compositionally.

Sans' production is a delicate mixture of orchestral lushness with strings and brass, cacophonous percussion, and her trademark svelte vocals. It's wonderfully theatrical in its sense of unpredictability as it sways with steely-eyed confidence on its haunches with a dangerous unease. "Valentino" is the soundtrack for a bad ass femme fatale, disarming with an intoxicating rush of sounds before revealing its hand in a series of deft sleight-of-hand counter maneuvers. Sans' deploys her guitar as a weapon, agitating the smoothness of her vocal lines, and the innate delicateness of strings into harsh spikes in sound. "Valentino, I don't want your love" Sans coos and it's a line whose impact is amplified both by its casual delivery and as the offered balm to surrounding abrasiveness.

Sans proved herself a talented producer on her on standalone single "Jane Eyre" as well as her versatile debut Kitsch and "Valentino" displays more of her winsome skills in spades as she creates a track with such a strong extrasensory ability. "Valentino" is an aural rendering of opulence, conjuring up much like "Kitsch", bold reds and fine silks but also the barely concealed darkness that seems to exist under facades of class. It's a strong effort that provides a dazzling reintroduction to Sans' Sur Back. Here's hoping its not too long before Sans returns with more.


Monday, January 8, 2018

Watch: Palm - "Dog Milk"

With their sophomore full length record Rock Island set to release on Carpark Records in a little over a month, Philly math pop quartet Palm have released a music video for second single/album standout "Dog Milk". Directed by Richard Phillip Smith and Daniel Patrick Brennan, the band take a break from their normal psychedelic visuals with clearer if not exactly more coherently assembled footage. Featuring band performances as well as shots of a multitude of zoo creatures and candid captured shots of people in the wilds of the city, Palm still let some of their trademark quirk shine through.

The open air shots of the band are perfectly in line with the expansiveness of the track and the occasionally glitchy repetitive edits performed by Richard Phillip Smith are fit the stutter-stop percussion that gives the track its off-kilter lilt. A lot of what makes Palm such a great band is their ability to stack various moving parts on top of each other in a way that doesn't diminish the importance of any particular part - even as the band finds new sounds and instruments to feed into their growing textural vocabulary and Richard Phillip Smith's edits often highlight those particular moments like the wave of princess wand cuing a counter-melodic riff. Palms songs often play fast and loose with the concept of narratives in general and the video for "Dog Milk" operates on a similar plane: a series of images ranging from the interesting to the mundane all by themselves, edited together to create a lasting feeling that aligns very much with the song itself.

Palm's sophomore full length record Rock Island is out February 9th on Carpark Records. Pre-order is available now.