Friday, February 23, 2018

Sur Back - Kitsch II EP (2018)

Following lead singles "Valentino" and "Anyone Else", Kitsch II, the second release from newly Brooklyn based singer/songwriter/producer Caroline Sans aka Sur Back arrives to further fill in Sans' pastel colored musical tapestries. Sans' new record essentially picks up right from where the last one left off as "Kitsch" with its cherry red flush, sultry coo, and stately strings conjure the same bold colorings as the incendiary album opener "Valentino".

"Valentino" marks a welcome departure from the softer, gentler sounds of Kitsch's "Trophy Daughter" and "Pastel". While Sans' use of orchestral accompaniment have largely been subtler and more ornamental in previous ventures, on "Valentino" Sans makes them an inseparable part of the song's framework. Beginning with a horn swell and pizzicato strings before the entrance of glitchy, clattering drum beats, "Valentino" sees Sans' more effortlessly blurring the lines between orchestral and electronic while still allowing room for her feather-light vocals and angular guitar to perform serpentine formations and craning sighs. Perhaps more so than any other of her works, "Valentino" is a feat of daring requiring such flawlessly executed production to pull off. Unsurprisingly, Sans' is exceptionally familiar at writing/producing for herself and employs an impressive balance between the track's various moving parts.

While "Valentino" and "Kitsch" make extensive use of strings and brass, "Anyone Else" sees Sans full-on embracing her composer ambitions. The first of a multi-movement work split between it and its following "Providence",  "Anyone Else" is a much subtler blend of strings and synths than Kitsch II cuts "Valentino" or "Jane Eyre", despite it's dramatic sweeps, it sees Sans at her gentlest and most tender as she sings of the purity of her love with both beguilingly reverent preciousness and a sense of fervor.

"Providence", a continuation of "Anyone Else", sees Sans' embracing a looser narrative form than "Anyone Else". "Providence" begins with a dramatic languorous opening that has Sans' cooing "Though honey we were just having fun" with a syrupy drawl that previews the track's later chorus. Pulsing synths and brass segue to the piece's first major section that continues Sans' honeyed delivery "A kiss before you go, it's the blaring red of brake lights fading ever fast as we shift back into drive" Sans sings with a luxuriating affect. Far more than its partner "Anyone Else", "Providence" is more compositionally complex as Sans seamlessly shifts between the song's various contrasting sections before eventually melding them all together at the song's climax. 

Album ender "Jane Eyre", Sans' first official single under the Sur Back moniker, finds new life on Kitsch II as it's bolder stylistic choices are more in line with this batch of songs than those of her previous EP. With its stuttering melodies and slightly off-kilter rhythm, "Jane Eyre" finds Sans' operating at peak at the very beginning of her career. Sans' blends synth, guitar, brass and drum samples, all in asymmetrical meter along with flowing, smooth as silk vocals to form a pristinely plotted dark pop gem.

Kitsch II marks an ambitious next step for Sans after an already strong debut in Kitsch. Featuring some of  Sans' earliest musical sketches flushed out and pursued to their fullest potential, Kitsch II further establishes Sans as a gifted producer capable of making deeply arresting musical documents that effortlessly evade the very notion of genre. Time has served her exceptionally well, heightening not only her production talents but her artistic sensibilities as she creates an absolutely immersive record positively overflowing with winsome moments of pitch perfect songcraft. With the release of her new EP, there's no telling when we'll next hear from Sans but when we do, it's sure to be with as flawlessly executed a work as Kitsch II.

Sur Back's sophomore EP Kitsch II is out February 23rd.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Pitstop: Great News

Considering that such a sizable chunk of my favorite music discoveries come from artists/bands whose music I already love, I should hardly have been surprised to stumble upon yet another and yet, my introduction to Bergen "daze pop" trio Great News indirectly through the heartfelt congratulations on the release of their debut album Wonderfault from fellow Norwegian rockers Young Dreams still came as a bit of one.

Listening to the band's singles "Wonderfault", "Never Get My Love" and definite album standout "Told", it's easy to see why they would appear to Young Dreams as well as most fans of good music. With bright, vibrant melodies and just the right amount of fuzz, Great News combine elements of traditional pop and psychedelic rock into a infectious blend. Despite the trio's pretty standard guitar-bass-drum set up, the band manage to pretty impressively convey an unmistakable 80s synth pop influence among their host of others in classic and psych rock not unlike bands The War On Drugs, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, or early Tame Impala. With Ole Einarsen's locked in bass grooves, Even Kjelby's angular guitar and vocals melodies, the subtlest hint of synthy effects, and fullness in sound, it's hard to imagine that the band's debut was recorded and produced by the trio themselves but that's very much the case. But the album is deceptively polished despite the band's DIY aesthetic and their wealth of influences doesn't betray the band's own sense of originally and growth from their early singles. Wonderfault is a strong debut from a band very comfortable in their own skin and ardently pursuing the sounds the want. 

Great News' debut full length album Wonderfault is out now on Norwegian label Eget Selskap. But you can nab it from all the standard digital music retailers. Stream the album below:

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Listen/Watch: Makeness - "Stepping Out of Sync"

photo by Dexter Lander
When Scottish multi-instrumentalist/producer Makeness released "Loud Patterns", the first single from what would eventually be announced as his debut full length, I remarked that the harsher elements of it signaled a change-up of sorts from the dance-pop fair that defined a lot of his earlier releases. While Makeness' Kyle Molleson has always embraced a more experimental approach to electronic dance music, "Loud Patterns" leaned further into less electronic approach through its more prominent incorporation of live instrumentation and angular rock vibes. It was a delicate balancing act of electronic rock and more typical dance pop and "Loud Patterns" succeeded in its effortless tightrope walk between the two. 

And yet, previous Loud Patterns single "Day Old Death" and his latest one "Stepping Out of Sync", find Makeness essentially seesawing towards the familiar. "Stepping Out of Sync" is Makeness at his most unabashedly dance-y. Although it doesn't necessarily start out that way. Molleson takes his time building an impressive track. Beginning with just out-of-focus guitar, the track gradually introduces instrument after instrument and Molleson's vocals before quickly establishing its groove. Molleson's experimental edge is on the subtler side: consisting mostly on his use of effects and production techniques as the track casual slides in and out of view without losing any of its swaggering confidence despite the track title. 

The music video, directed Felix Silvestris and Josha Eiffel, essentially a bit of light on the seeming misnomer as it follows a duo's adventures through a night in London. The two essentially exist in a world all their own turning their city's streets into a dance club while Eiffel and Silvestris' camera gives the sense of an altered reality. The two exist in a world of their own, laughing and going over dance moves before the video's climax which sees the twosome fully realizing the choreography they've been steadily learning over the course of the video and it's a wonderful encapsulation of just how disconnected from the rest of the world; how time can slip away from you when you're in the right company.

Loud Patterns, the debut full length from Makeness is out April 6th on Secretly Canadian. Pre-order is available now.

Listen/Watch: Typhoon - "Rorschach

photo by Jeremy Hernandez
With the release of a solo album What Will Destroy You from Typhoon frontman Kyle Morton in the autumn of 2016, I thought it might be some time until we saw a release from the band in earnest. Which is not to say that a four year gap between records isn't a sizable one - rather, the fact that many of its members leaned into the post-album hiatus after 2013's White Lighter and Morton, the band's chief songwriter released a full length solo debut, I figured it might be some time before Morton cobbled up as complete a set of songs as was necessary to constitute a full length Typhoon record. So imagine my surprise when not only was it announced that the band was working on/recording a follow up last year but that when unveiled it would turn out to be the band's most ambitious.

Offerings, the fourth full length record from Portland, Oregon collective Typhoon is a 14 song concept album split in four parts. The band announced the album with a stream of the album's first movement Floodplains and it showed off both the album's concept: a man losing his memory and thereby himself while also offering up the band's incredible sense of songcraft. Morton's songwriting is as visceral as ever and the band's arrangements as vital. It's been my go-to since its premiere and I was happy to discover that one of my favorite songs in the initial batch "Rorschach" would receive a music video.

While album opener "Wake" functions much less like "Prelude" from White Lighter and much more like "Artificial Light" or "Poor Bastard" from Morton's solo debut in terms of establishing the album's would-be core themes, "Rorschach" introduces the album's conflict in that of the unnamed man's actual response to his memory loss. "Wake" functions as a sort of Greek chorus like introduction before the man's entrance. "Rorschach" finds the man having a much more alarmed reaction to his memory loss as he copes with far less acceptance than his "Wake" counterpart. The reason for this may be time. Morton's songcraft is mostly narrative as he focuses on the disorienting sense that something is missing that haunts the album's protagonist. The song begins with an almost casual utterance of a theme that's plagued many a songwriter: "Eyes on the screen, we have all this information now but what does it mean?"

Bands like Radiohead and Arcade Fire have made whole albums devoted to how we as modern people deal with life in the digital age and how the excessive access to information might be dulling not only how we regard that information but our own humanity. Morton instead opts to focus on the latter: namely what's the use of limitless information if it can't help you preserve who you are? Morton leaves little clues here and there about why the protagonist ended up in this scenario but the why is also treated (as least in the case of "Rorschach") as largely irrelevant. Instead "Rorschach" focuses, like all compelling mysteries, on the "what now?" aspect.

The accompanying music video, directed by Neighborhood Films' Matthew Thomas Ross, leans further into that mystery and that particular sense of loss as the unnamed man (played by Morton) undergoes some sort of psychological evaluation/interrogation hybrid meant to either restore the lost memories or discern if they're really gone to begin with. Plagued by fragments of memories with no  of what they mean. The "Rorschach" video is essentially a mystery inside of a mystery as the viewer is put in the same position as the unnamed man of figuring out just what it all means. It's slickly and captivating shot and is one of those rare music videos that provide new added context to the song it's accompanying. Hardly surprising considering Typhoon and their longtime collaborator put considerable thought into the concepts but the "Rorschach" video levels up their partnership as the band zeroes in on ensuring the viewer/listener takes away a feeling.

Typhoon's fourth full length album Offerings is out now on Roll Call Records. You can order it now. The band are also on tour, you can check out tour dates here.

Pitstop: Boon

photo by Ben Nigh
My introduction to former Brooklyn based quartet Boon is one of those all-too-common instances for me of encountering a band several times before finally getting around to checking out their work. Originally slated for both our bands to play together, I had to leave before their set and thus missed Boon in their more common four-piece iteration. When I did actually manage to catch them a month later, it was an ambient set consisting exclusively of singer/songwriter Brendan Principato on synths. And through questioning a fellow showgoer far more familiar with them than I was informed that this particular set wasn't all that indicative of their recorded output. It wasn't until my band was slated to play with them again that I actually sat down to listen to them and even then it was solely their most recent release "Watermelon"/"Two of Cups". Though there were more than a few opportunities to acquaint myself with the band, the fact that I hadn't familiarized myself with their output essentially made for the most pleasant of surprises. Since the last time I had seen Principato, he and fellow bandmate Drew Sher moved to Philly and retooled the ambient folk project into a more organic twosome. Intricate interwoven guitar melodies met Principato's absolutely head-turning vocals and were pillowed by Sher's complementary harmonies.

While much of their set both that night and the following week consisted of newer tracks Principato and Sher had written after the release of their debut full length they released just this past Summer, being blown away by their set the first night inspired me to more actively consume the band and give There's No Saving This House the first of many spins as well as ensure that I was at their next planned show. Though Boon has effectively halved their lineup, there is no shortage of sound from Principato and Sher who, repurposing old tunes alongside new ones, have managed to minimize the amount of gear and hands necessary to create an incredibly lush textural masterpieces through just the use of reverb, delay, two guitars, and their own voices. Considering the duo's efforts to minimalize, I was struck by their ability to take an incredibly intricate song like album standout "Ruby Current" and really allow it to soar. Eight minutes in length on the record, it's a song that finds Boon giving in to their most jam band of impulses without that actually being a bad thing. "Ruby Current" begins at a stage whisper, a wash of threaded guitars forming as significant a part of the song's aural tapestry as climactic cymbal crashes and Principato's unrestrained melodic howls.

Boon's new setup isn't an entirely new formula. Two guitars, voice, minimal effects: it's been a standard combination practically since the invention of the guitar and surefire staple of the folk genre but it's also a testament to the power of effective songwriting and inventive performance that such a simple tweak has resulted in an absolutely enchanting entry into the genre. Boon's former brand of drone-friendly experimental folk pop was something the band could've effortless explored further and maybe they will continue to do so in the future but the "less is more" style that the duo have adopted as a necessity finds middle ground between standard acoustic focused folk and its more experimental permutation is also worth exploring. Whatever route the duo embark on in their future endeavors, it's sure to be anchored by Principato's emotionally effective vocals and the duo's embrace of stranger sounds and that's something to be excited about.

Boon's debut full length There Is No Saving This House is out now.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Listen: Wye Oak - "The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs"

Though it's certainly not news to anyone lucky enough to catch them on tour last Fall, Wye Oak have emerged triumphant from their latest recording sessions with a follow up to their previous studio record Shriek. Though they released their non-album Tween in 2016, a collection of tracks crafted during recording sessions for various albums that never quite made it onto any, the band's latest The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs is the band's much more confident entry into it's official discography. Baltimore duo no longer and separated by half-a-country, Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack have made the most of their lack of proximity and the cross-country trading of ideas has resulted into newfound creative peaks for the two. After the guitar-less synth pop of Shriek, it was anyone's guess what a Wye Oak album would sound like as the two essentially rejected their status as indie rock darlings in favor of the more fulfilling artistic freedom that Wasner's shift from guitar granted them. "The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs", the title track from the duo's forthcoming fifth studio album of the same name essentially finds Wasner returning to the guitar after demonstrating the full breadth of her multi-instrumentalism on Shriek while her and Andy Stack continue to push the sound of Wye Oak into bold new directions.

"The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs" is mammoth in sound while being composed of so many intricate moving layers. Considering its sprawling opening, it's hard to imagine it isn't the first track on the new record but that honor belongs to "(tuning)". Instead Wye Oak offer the title track as the first taste of new record which functions as an effective synthesis of the duo's oeuvre. No longer relying on particular rules to dictate the formation/crafting of songs, Wasner and Stack instead focused on sifting through various musical ideas and following the most fruitful. While  "Watching the Waiting", the only truly new song on Tween, was much more of a direct commentary on where the band were post-Shriek, "The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs" functions much more as a sort of ritualistic mantra. Wasner repeats the titular phrase often with occasional tweaks and it is the only lyric that fully survive the surging climax throws fragments of previous uttered lyrics back in new unfinished configurations along with the detritus of musical ideas smashed to bits and blown back with intense shredded guitar parts. Wasner highlights the comfort of familiar patterns as a means to remain adrift against a sea of uncertainty and the mantra-like chorus echoes that sentiment entirely.

The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs, the fifth studio album from Wye Oak is out April 6th on Merge. Pre-order is available now.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Listen: Living - "Cherub"

After releasing their debut self-titled EP in late November of 2016, Living, the moniker of Bergen based producer Lucas de Almeida turned full band, has been hard at work on their debut full length album. Though we got occasionally peaks and hints of its existence through a series of singles sporadically released last year ("Glory", "Path", and "Calyx"), "Cherub", the fourth single released since the EP, sees the forthcoming full length continue to further take shape.

Though Living have, with the aid of new member James Kalinoski, sought to expand their tropical-infused psych pop into a quicker paced sound much less reliant on loops and such, "Cherub" slows things down a bit while also engaging in a bit of Living's previous grounding in world music through the use of sitar. Given his own roots outside of his native Norway, the incorporation of atypical samples to fuel and color de Almeida's production is hardly a new endeavor but it is one that the band have relied on less heavily in their most recent output. "Cherub", with its sparse vocal and guitar introduction, sees de Almeida return to this well to expand his timbre palette and also reenlists bassist Nora Tårnesvik on backing vocals to form a delightful complement. "Cherub" also continues the band's efforts to ramp up the pop side of their electronic pop stylings through dynamic song composition. The track is still as richly layered as "Path" or "Calyx" but its shifting tempos and sections, separate it from Living's more consistently plotted tracks.

Absolutely, the debut full length album from Living, will be out later this year.