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.