Friday, March 30, 2018

Listen: Katie von Schleicher - "Glad To Be Here"

photo by M Cooper
Despite her Wilder Maker bandmate Gabriel Birnbaum's numerous attempts to rectify it, I was largely unaware that Katie von Schleicher was making her own delightful brand of pop for much of the time I've been covering Wilder Maker. While Birnbaum's assurances were enough to get her on my incredibly daunting musical to-do list, it wasn't until I saw her live last year that I finally got around to listening to her self-titled solo project. "Glad To Be Here" is her first single since last year's Shitty Hits and finds her in an in-between moments between records. Written on a writing retreat in her native Maryland, "Glad to Be Here" is a crackling, drum-heavy track featuring von Schleicher's trademark embrace of insecurity and vulnerability.  "Glad To Be Here" gives us an inner glimpse of a moment of emotional freefall delivered with an understated calm. For all of the emotiveness of her cooing vocals, "Glad To Be Here" is startling cerebral. It's an encapsulation of the various ways your mind contorts to make sense out of things when faced with an unexpected outcome. And yet, von Schleicher handles them with an almost inhuman grace. She shoves aside her burning questions in lieu of keeping an amiable air. "I shook when you said: 'the words were a mistake.', you didn't want to stand by them anymore, didn't it feel wrong?" von Schleicher sings and it's the first instance she gives between the tug of war between her head and her heart. It's subtle but electric as von Schleicher's internal and external actions go from being wholly out of sync to meeting somewhere in the middle that makes the song's final lyrics: "If there's nothing wrong, I'm glad to be here" all the more resonant. von Schleicher's songwriting has always striven to offer the positive that comes from the negative and "Glad To Be Here" is no exception turning a tense moment of internal conflict into a touching celebration of humanity.

Katie von Schleicher's "Glad To Be Here" 7" is out May 4th on UK label Full Time Hobby. You can pre-order it here.

Listen: Wilder Maker - "Closer To God"

photo by Keegan Grandbois
When Brooklyn rock pop outfit Wilder Maker released their excellent "New Streets" 7" early last year, I was thrilled by the prospect of new music from them. Though they had maintained consistent released in the form of their Everyday Crimes Against Objects of Desire which they released in three separate parts, when you come across a band as good as Wilder Maker, every release just makes you all the more eager for more and Gabriel Birnbaum and co. don't like to disappoint. While my real initiation to Wilder Maker's music came in the form of their particular excellent brand of longform songwriter, they've since established that they're equally capable at writing shorter, catchier numbers rooted in a pop element without sacrificing neither their experimental edge nor their mischievous gleam in their eyes.

"Closer To God", the first single from Wilder Maker upcoming third full length album Zion, finds the band trading the breezy, nonabrasive stylings of "New Streets" for a much more ramshackle number. Despite its name and its casual grooves, "Closer to God" is probably Wilder Maker at its more rugged as its subject embraces the chaos of city living pretty much with a debaucherous descent into the city's bevy of easily attainable vices. Birnbaum and Katie von Schleicher's oft-repeated chorus "Closer to God, everyday I get closer to God" achieves the sort of tongue-in-cheek irony of that one friend who always swears they're moving out of the city but never really goes anywhere. Despite highlighting its various faults, "Closer To God" functions as a sort of love letter to city living, as each of its universal and multitudinous assaults is delivered with its own sort of reverence. You're willing to suffer for the things you love, and Wilder Maker essentially grant the protagonist of "Closer to God", a pious allegiance to the city and its frenetic energy not unlike Ancient Greece's worshipers of Bacchus. 

Zion, the third full length record from Wilder Maker, out is July 13th on Northern Spy Records. You can pre-order the album now.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Listen: Hop Along - "Prior Things"

With their follow up their stellar sophomore record Painted Shut out next week, Philly indie rock quartet Hop Along have released "Prior Things", the third single and album closer from their upcoming album Bark Your Head Off, Dog. While first single "How Simple" continued very inline with what fans of Hop Along have come to expect of Frances Quinlan and crew in terms of straightforward composition with just the right amount of lyrical vagueness, "Not Abel" shook up the band's standard formula by presenting a song with distinct moving parts. "Prior Things" arrives to more or less split the difference between the two - continuing to use the strings that were first presented in the denouement of "How Simple" and instead introducing them right at the start before Quinlan even offers the track's first line. The strings are bright and spritely, conjuring the sunny, summer day where the song seems set to take place. Quinlan sings of a chance encounter - spotting a vacationer reading. Perhaps more so than any other song we've heard so far - Quinlan is the least explanatory. Her thoughts spill out of her, but they're much more like observations than judgments even as she places herself both inside and outside of the narrative. "You were on vacation, vacation means leave, means obliterate all prior things" Quinlan croons and it's the first instance of that meeting sidelining other motivations.

Quinlan's narrative is mostly concerned with her thoughts and feelings in this particular moment even as she tries and fails to understand the concerns of the other party. "What must happen in your mind when you create those silences - nevermind I don't want to see, it's got nothing to do with me" she offers. "Prior Things" is a bustling sprawl that sees Quinlan at a particular vulnerable moment as she ponders in idyllic string augmented tapestries just where she fits into everything. Quinlan drops listeners right into the thick of her thought process, establishing context first but quickly moving on from the external to her more internal conflict. Quinlan offers up a wealth of information, gradually but surely but makes no attempts to sort any of it for you. The listener becomes more emotional passenger than confidante, viewing the scenes from the safety of Quinlan recollection. Quinlan's never been a songwriter who offers conclusive "I feel" statements instead allowing her emotive vocals and stream-of-conscious style do much of the heavy lifting and music place setting. Ultimately, "Prior Things" succeeds because you don't needs to know the specifics. It's a song not only open to interpretation but a fair bit of projection and that makes it strangely universal.

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

Monday, March 26, 2018

Madam West - Warm Bodies EP (2018)

My introduction to Brooklyn based quintet Madam West happened as all my discoveries tend to happen: completely randomly. I had been invited to a house show by Caleb Moore from Lands & Peoples who was visiting Brooklyn playing with his new band Wae and 3/5 of Madam West were there to see Operator Music Band. A spilled drink set us on a collision course where I got to know Madam West's Sophie, Todd, and Will, the fact that they were all in a band together came up naturally, and after enjoying the sets, I made a mental note to check out their band. A mental note I didn't really follow up on until several months later when I caught their live show at C'mon Everybody. I was immediately taken with Madam West's intersection of artpop, psych rock, and funk and caught them several other times. Each time I saw them they mentioned the fact that most of their songs were new and each subsequent viewing I found them in various stages of recording their EP until their latest show - a record release show also at C'mon Everybody where they announced that not only was it done but that it'd be coming out at the end of the month.

While Madam West were a band I very much enjoyed every time I saw them, they weren't a band I ever particularly planned to write about. Part of this was due in part that their live set was so much better than their previously recorded output. To write about them with only their debut full length Loves You as a reference point would've done them quite a disservice in my opinion as their new songs were so much stronger and better composed than their previously released ones. Some part of me also figured that live energy would be lost in the recording process and I just relegated Madam West to a great live band that I would enjoy in almost exclusively that regard. And then came their Warm Bodies EP.

While Madam West are still best experienced live, their Warm Bodies EP is streets ahead of Loves You. From opener "Strongest Son" to the titular "Warm Bodies", the EP is composed to incredibly universal themes of the what now sense that plagues many a post-grad. Album standout "Erstwhile, Manatee" is probably my favorite display of this as Sophie Chernin and Will Clark wrestle with millennial ennui. "Speaking of excitement, why can't I dream big anymore?" Chernin sings before lamenting: "Is this what happens when we grow older, when we grow apart, grow cold shoulder to cold shoulder?" They're questions she doesn't exactly have the answers to and doesn't try to solve them. Merely vocalizes them and in that way sort of makes a strange peace with them. It's a companion to "Warm Bodies" which posits that connection and passion is what brightens up the doldums of adult life where you sometimes have to work a job you aren't particular passionate about to fuel your actual passions. Or even how the pressures of adult life lock you into a routine and the percolating escapism inherent in that. "Erstwhile, Manatee" says more than "Warm Bodies" cares to and maybe that's why I prefer it. Chernin says so much with so little especially considering the chorus is incredibly vague. But Chernin manages to tackle biological clocks, millennial guilt, impostor syndrome, and in the song's almost spoken word conclusion the nagging feeling that a life outside of the arts might've yielded better prospects. It's Madam West at their most versatile blending their various genre tags into a colorful ear-catching potpourri.

Another strong point of Madam West's Warm Bodies EP is that it finds a home for a one of my favorite single's "L". A song about the L train, it manages to transcend typical songs about the city. Written largely by Clark but featuring Chernin on vocals, the lyrics both personalize the L train while also not really talking that much about it. "L" is one of those songs where you're fairly certain there's something else happening and that's largely because of a breakdown which introduces actual people. It's an exciting twist even as the band cheekily dive deep into vagueness. With a less practiced and less committed band, the fact that the song essentially juggles three if not four seemingly unrelated subjects without making any non-instrumental attempts to connect them would be frustrating but "L" is triumph of composition and that's what essentially smooths over it's various narratives. It gives a sense that what the song is actually about is a riddle only available to those able to pay enough attention. It's a love song of sorts, to the L train, the city itself, and something else entirely but like most good songs the evasive meaning doesn't take away from the song itself.

On Warm Bodies, Madam West come into their own. Their songs are clever and inventive, enjoyable and catchy and feature each of its members' strengths. While their debut full length Loves You saw them introducing their soul-inflected style, Warm Bodies sees them refining it extensively. Though it's the kind of album where a favorite song is sure to pop out, each song is skillfully performed and written with a vibrant energy that's downright captivating. Madam West may be a band that's best experienced live but Warm Bodies does its darnedest to bring that live energy to the listener and largely succeeds.

Madam West's Warm Bodies EP is out now on Floordoor Records. You can cop digital copies from the band via Bandcamp.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

All Around Sound Is Eight! Bonus: AlhhlA

photo by Jon Blair
By far one of my most favorite discoveries of the past year was Arizona based multi-instrumentalist Andrew Levi Hiller. Originally introduced to him while tracking down details about Yairms as the band's drummer, it didn't take much research for me to discover he made music of his own under the moniker AlhhlA. Though originally the only music from Hiller was two songs on part of a split with Yairms as well as a series of live loops featured on both Hiller's Youtube and Soundcloud, last year saw the release of an EP, the four song 8oNitsSidE, as well as the re-release of "Will the Soft Curse Plague On?", the debut full length from Hiller previous project The Wizards of Time. Right before the release of both, Hiller found his way to New York to visit as well as lay down tracks for a new Yairms record and I had the opportunity to meet him as well as experience his dynamic live show. Right after meeting him for the first time, as we talked about life, art, and music, I instantly knew I would ask Hiller to contribute to this year's blog birthday.

The main problem being that Hiller doesn't currently own a computer, I still felt compelled to ask though and Hiller, ever the good sport made me an offer I couldn't refuse: "Can I do a cover?".  It was a question no one had ever really posed to me before eschewing the normal mix making process to more personally celebrate their favorite music. I of course agreed and Hiller spent the next couple days teasing me with snippets of possible covers he was working on before ultimately emailing me his cover of Modern English's "I Melt With You". It's one of my favorites and one that's been covered a smattering of times from Bowling For Soup to Natalie Imbruglia to Laura Stevenson, and like all good covers, Hiller's folds the song into his particular style. When I asked why he sent that particular cover he responded: "It is the first cover I ever learned. It was one of those songs that I would hear when I was a kid that made me stop what I was doing to listen. It was released the year I was born.". Hiller's version is simple and rather straightforward but filled with little textural goodies and glancing harmonies alongside Hiller's trademark vocal wisp and almost percussive guitar playing. It's charmingly intimate, delivered in a whispered hush like a lovelorn confession or the sweet caress of softly uttered sweet nothings.

Thanks to AlhhlA for their contribution to this year's blog birthday and putting their own personal stamp on our yearly proceedings.

Friday, March 9, 2018

All Around Sound Is Turning Eight! - Will Stratton

This year All Around Sound will enter it's eight year of operation. While not quite the milestone moment as a year five or year ten, each year that this blog exists is treasured. Mostly by me. Most of the music blog that I came up admiring and working alongside have more or less faded into obscurity: either having grand closing ceremonies or quietly closing up shop with the unspoken hope that they're start up someday later down the line, All Around Sound still exists and at least tries to encapsulates the spirit of our shuttered favorites: namely that of enthusiastic music discovery. Last year was a banner year for the blog seeing impressive releases from a number of our proven favorites but also newer acts and if this year is anything like the year that proceeded it, it'll be as exciting a year musically as ever.

photo by Josh Goleman
As is now tradition, this year I asked some of my favorite artists to contribute a mix to help ring in the blog's new birth year.Today's is a contribution from a longtime favorite of mine Beacon based singer/songwriter/composer/arranger Will Stratton. Ever since I was introduced to Stratton around the 2012 release of his incredible Post-Empire via a music subscription service started by a mutual friend and music writer, I've been positively fiending for more from the fingerstyle virtuoso. Stratton represents an ideal in my love of folk: brilliant, understated songs filled with thoughtful lyricism and composed of elegant melodies and rich, complementary arrangements. Will and I have geeked about over our mutual love of classical music and folk while also sharing a number of recommendations of things we'd think the other might like in a multitude of other genres. And maybe that's why it's taken so long to extend the offer to Stratton. But thankfully, once I saw the error of my ways, Will was more than happy to oblige my offer.

Will on his particular mix:
This mix is composed of music I like to listen to when I’m at home, often when I’m cooking. I think music that conveys the comfort and reflection of being at home is often overlooked when talking about music, although of course for a lot of us it’s the most common type of music we listen to. Travel music and party music and workout music is all good, but as someone who often works from home, and writes and records at home, I usually listen to albums all the way through, but sometimes it’s nice to live in a varying space, and that’s what this is for. There are old favorites like Karen Dalton and Sandy Denny on here, and more recent ones like Lomelda and Jim Ghedi. That’s really the main thing I like about making mixes—listening to the past and the present commingle and converse. 

Thanks to Will for contributing/dealing with my constant requests for album updates. And thank you as always to the readers of this fine blog for checking us out on our little corner of the Internet. Whether you're a longtime or newer follower, frequent or sporadic visitor, you're very much appreciated. 

Monday, March 5, 2018

Listen/Watch: Softcore untd. - "Sjansespill"

When Softcore untd.'s name started popping up in the periphery of my musical consciousness earlier this year, I made a mental note to remember the name and investigate later as I had a strange sense of familiarity before I'd ever gotten around to press play. Chalking it up due just to the fact that the Bergen music scene isn't particular ginormous, it turns out that the reason for the familiar was due to the core duo behind Norwegian rock outfit Verdensrommet  Andreas Høvset and Vetle Junker make up the newly minted quartet consisting of Emir Hindic aka Onge Sushimane of Bergen hip hop duo Sushi x Kobe, Oslo based producer Mathias Humlen aka FAKETHIAS, as well as Høvset and Junker.
Considering their past two collaborations with Hindic "Aldri idjen" and "Du vet det kan gå feil", their team up with Hindic and Humlen isn't too much of a stretch. But while Hindic's contribution were folded into the membrane of what Verdensrommet, Softcore untd is an entirely different beast: an strange and wonderful fusion of influences and sounds into something that really never quite falls into any of those categories. Softcore untd. finds the foursome's various backgrounds converging at a delicate nexus point. Humlen's atmospheric tapestries and penchant for beats meets Hindic's melodic flow and both Høvset and Lunker's instrumental capabilities, with Høvset's vocal ability and Lunker's dazzling production talents. 

The most thrilling thing about "Sjansespill", the third in a series of tracks released by the foursome, is that you don't really need to understand Norwegian to regard it as an amazing song. Roughly translated as "game of chance", "Sjansespill" is both a piece of absolutely skilled production and emotive songcraft. Though lyrically, the song recalls the sometimes precarious nature of first impressions with Hindic and Høvset trading vocal duties to describe their influences, that's not really required to have an emotional reaction to the song. The deliveries of their individual verses as well as the growled choruses capture both restlessness and helplessness that the song seesaws between. Despite the fatalism of Hindic and Høvset's vocals "Sjansespill" exists in a place both hopeful and resigned. Everything's a game of chance, the right sequence of words, the right sense of timing, there's not really much to control besides making yourself available to those chances. Without the lyrics as a guide, the song impressively illustrates that sort of emotional tug-of-war. The instrumentals consist of bright flashes of guitar and warm electronics, pulsing percussion, sense of ease and fluidity of composition that's largely unimpeded by the rougher, more raw vocals from Hindic and Høvset. They contrast but in a complementary way like boulders in a stream.  

With it's propulsive forward momentum and effortlessly stacked layering "Sjansespill" is remarkably different than their foursome's previous efforts and demonstrates a ridiculous learning curve. "Skolebenken" and "Fjern" were slower tempo affairs where the stitches of the quartet's Frankenstein assortment of skills showed a bit but "Sjansespill", with it's range of cultivated sounds from hip hop to dream pop, rock and dance music, streamlines them into a feat of production and idea synthesis that hints at more fruitful collaborations. Here's hoping there's more in store but considering both the distance involved in the Bergen/Oslo artist collaboration as well as what's sure to be a busy year for each of the artist's individual projects that might take awhile. But considering Softcore untd. was essentially started when the four all converged on the Norwegian music festival circuit anything is possible and any song as great as "Sjansespill" is well worth the wait.


"Sjansespill" is available as a digital single in the US on Cascine and worldwide via Norway's Eget Selskap.