7/19/2017

Review: Agjijer - "demo"

Agjijer - demo
(2017 Self-Released)

Math-Rock's a fun genre tag to toss around in a music review -- it's a cute classification that lends itself perfectly to numerical metaphor. Unfortunately, it's also a pretty imprecise way to describe music. Think about it this way: when I use the term "Math-Rock" without any given context, what springs to mind? Frenetic instrumental fret-mashing? Distorted screamo recorded in someone's basement? Bittersweet weaves of American Football-inspired noodling? Most musical mathematicians fall into one of three of these sonic categories. In the case of Tokyo's Agjijer, though, the band's untitled demo tape falls into each of them, spanning their timbral and compositional breadth over the course of seven short minutes.

Opener "henteko" channels the jittery jazz-punk of fIREHOSE, volleying dissonant chords off a wall of digital hi-hats like a tennis player practicing their returns. Bass chases the rhythm guitar as it zig-zags its way through impressive contortions before unfurling into a spacey psych-rock solo. The track shows off the band's technical proficiency while getting the brainy weirdness out of the way early -- it's a good choice for an opening track, and the demo's most replayable offering. 

Track 2 cranks up the speed and the volume, transitioning a screeching peal of sci-fi synthesizer into a burst of black-metallic thrash. At 66 seconds, "kowabali" is tough to process on an initial listen. Textures supercollide against driving percussion, masking the record's only vocals (barely-decipherable yowls) beneath a shade of overcast clouds. The audio cuts out mid-verse. It's a flash-flood, a torrential downpour that quickly dries up in the summer heat. Intense, but gone before you know it.

"somemore" is Agjijer's most traditional track, but also its prettiest. It's a mid-tempo groove in the vein of TTNG, lavishing gently strummed open chords on its chilled-out arrangement, then leaping headfirst into an Explosions in the Sky crescendo. It's a solid, serviceable counterpoint to its predecessors that makes for a decent conclusion.

Though not entirely cohesive, Agjijer's demo is a showcase of the band's versatility and knack for setting distinct moods. With the potential on display here, the Tokyo math-rock outfit could very well have the ability to drop an innovative, genre-bending LP in the future. I'm looking forward to seeing what's in store.

7/15/2017

Single Review: Chivo Carnada - "Choxxo/Koyote"

Chivo Carnada - Choxxo/Koyote
(2017 Self-Released)

It takes bold, iconic cover art for a project to stand out in an 8-by-5 column of Bandcamp releases. Among the spacey purples and blues that orbit the streaming platform's 'ambient' section, Chivo Carnada's sophomore single does just that. It's a small flash of earth the color of baked clay, disrupting the gloom of the cosmos: an Unidentified Terrestrial Object. Sketches of South American flora and fauna inhabit the sandy square, which seems to imagine what NASA's Pioneer Plaque might have looked like if it were doodled on by a New Yorker cartoonist. 

Like L Bosco, who I reviewed about a month ago, Chivo Carnada is a solo project based in Guadalajara with little social media presence. C.C.'s nom de plume Google-Translates to Goat Bait, a name well-suited to describing his gritty, organic folk meditations. Swaggering acoustic chords lay out an arid terrain on "Choxxo", the A-side of his new digital 7" record, painting a flat landscape for slide guitarist Pedro Snake to sprout prickly pears and succulents that lazily harmonize in the sand. Imagine a more sluggish, twangier version of early Beach Fossils, or their similarly-christened contemporaries Dirty Beaches. The comparison extends to Carnada's lyrics too: poetic and cozily mundane. From what I can gather, "Choxxo" is about taking a late-night trip to the convenience store and deciding what to wear based on the weather. Is it too cold for shorts? Maybe, but C.C. doesn't mind. 

B-side "Koyote" is a cover of a mid-90s cut by Babasonicos -- an Argentinian psych-rock quintet. C.C.'s version of the song is compositionally faithful to its source material, but more baroque on the timbral end of things. Sinister guitar riffs are tempered by chiming plinks of piano that seem like sonic bystanders: tonal pedestrians just passing through. 

Though primarily a folk release, Choxxo/Koyote is ambient in its approach to instrumentation. C.C.'s arrangements lope towards the horizon, unobstructed by a flat landscape. The record is a short journey into the distant beyond, reveling in its desolate vastness -- ideal listening for long walks or poolside sunbathing.

7/10/2017

Review: Johnny Utah - "Small Dogs"

Johnny Utah - Small Dogs
(2017 Bangkok Blend)

 "Okay, why do little kids always draw the sun with a smiley face?" asks Johnny Utah, halting the folk-pop lilt of "deli platter". "We don't know where it stands, emotionally"

The Philadelphian singer-songwriter's an inquisitive guy with an eye for detail. The five tunes that make up his debut EP, Small Dogs, are carefully and intricately pressed into a Communion-wafer-thin canvas of sound, then inked with wheezes of acoustic guitar that seep sloppily into their host. Like Sentridoh and Julia Brown before him, Utah uses the fragile frame of his lo-fi soundscapes to create punchy contrasts. The aforementioned "deli platter," for example, toys with its levels of volume and saturation. flooding its initially parched heave of acoustic chords with a cool gulp of bass. Properly watered, the song's soil is fertile enough to cultivate steady thwacks of percussion and buzzing, three-part vocal harmonies. Occasionally, Utah presses pause on the cut altogether, interjecting with bits of director's commentary before hurtling back into regularly scheduled programming. Though one might expect a hiccup like that to disrupt the rhythm of a track, these interruptions are timed precisely enough to enhance the groove in progress, like a roller coaster's well-placed bend, yanking its passengers awake. 

The following track, "angst", is another textural feast. As percussive chords throb out a 4-on-the-floor beat, Utah belts out mumbly bars of Alex G-inspired melody like signal flares fired through the canopy of a thick forest -- barely made out, but understood on a fundamental level. Drum fills are fashioned out of an overturned bucket, tickling the inner ear while hearkening back to The Velvet Underground's "Heroin". This is as poppy as Utah's songcraft gets, riding sweeping chords like waves that gradually increase in size. 

"rhino mountain" closes Small Dogs with its most satisfying effort. A spoken word piece dissolves into pluckings of acoustic guitar before coming to a boil. A simple drum machine rhythm bubbles at the surface, dragging Utah's groaned lyrics through murky tape hiss. Twangy riffs tie knots around the arrangements to hold them in place, only to let things unravel into a climactic eruption of noise. Fade to black.

Johnny Utah's debut effort is best when it's at its weirdest. He's an eccentric with a calculated method to his madness, giving each experiment or jarring timbral shift its own purpose that adds to the album as a whole. Already a solid effort in its own right, Small Dogs gives me hope for even more lo-fi whimsy in the future.

7/05/2017

Review: cat in the case. - "SUMMER"

cat in the case. - SUMMER
(2017 Self-Released)

Winter is to Christmas as summer is to shoegaze: the essence of the season refined into a surge of pure, youthful idealism. While Christmas, situated at the year's end, signifies a period of nostalgic reflection for most, shoegaze snaps forward as if the winter holiday season were a stretched-back rubber band. It's a time for taking road trips, baking beneath UV rays, and grilling massive quantities of protein -- a time to expend energy with reckless abandon. The debut EP by Taiwanese quintet cat in the case, appropriately titled SUMMER, portrays the annual rubber band at the peak of its sailing arc: the dregs of July. 

The band's appreciation for dream pop and the dog days is so sincere, it borders on the surreal, taking the form of ice-pop trees sprouting from gradient beaches and carbonated chord progressions that bubble on the ocean's surface, clinging to gummy inner tubes. "Hey Summer," sings cat in the case's uncredited vocalist on the record's title track, as if to gently tap nature on its shoulder. "Your teeth are shining. And guess what I say? I love you." Gritty thrusts of lead guitar are exclamation points at the end of this beach-pop adoration. The tune resembles a Seapony cut mixed and mastered by Slowdive -- a crust of delicate twinkle that hides a trench of reverb beneath. 

Sandwiched in the middle of the 3-track EP is "Bog Down", a dance with dissonance that pairs a rather menacing verse with a yelp-y chorus that climbs up its rope of tremelo-picked melody. Closer "Something New" slows SUMMER's tempo, looking to the mid-00s output of Airiel for its sonic cues. The track's guitars hover like humidity -- echoing vocals drip sweat on their surface. The song is a swirling drill bit, boring a hole into the summer sky. In its place, cat in the case hang their undiluted sense of wonder, throbbing like a red, polygonal sun.

6/30/2017

Single Review: Starship Emo - "(side a)"

Starship Emo - "(side a)"
(2017 Self-Released)

Cincinnati's a humble city, littered with the quirks and charms of any good metropolitan era, yet too insecure about its own draws to tout them. It's where the Reds -- the country's first-ever professional baseball team -- have called home since 1846, rooting themselves so firmly into local culture that Opening Day is considered an unofficial city holiday. It's where "ghost signs" -- advertisements from the 30s and 40s painted onto brick architecture that have faded into spectral obscurity -- haunt urban decay like attractive birthmarks. It's where natives swear by noodles, hot-dog chili, and shredded cheddar cheese, all layered together in the same bowl.  It's where -- for whatever reason -- most folks care more about where you went to high school than what you did afterward. 

Cincinnati, Ohio is an emo city. It's the emo city. It's wrapped up in its own, personal nostalgia, one that seems impenetrable to outsiders -- the sort of history one can take pride in, but can't extol without having to explain why they put chili on noodles or what they find so compelling about a ball club that hasn't won a world series in 27 years. The truth isn't self-evident, and neither is Midwestern emo. It's complex, introspective, and pretty, once you've entered the proper state of mind.

Starship Emo's grimy lo-fi soundscapes peel from brick like withering paint. They're their hometown's distilled spirit, wired through an old Casio and pummeled with 808 kicks. The duo's latest single, "(side a)", is a hip-hop cut as fresh and unassuming as the morning's cool haze of condensation and avian chatter. Keyboard chords stretch out their creaking limbs across the muffled thump of low-pass filtered percussion -- each snare hits with the force of a thrown pillow. This is music to hit snooze to, cool and inviting as laundered bedsheets beneath the AC unit. 

Jacob Miller's distorted vocals top the beat like fondant, likely powdered with a tasteful pinch of autotune. The gloomy blend of mumbled melodies and crackling production borrows cues from both Teen Suicide's "haunt me" and Ski Mask the Slump God's "Gone", trimming each down to its most whispery elements. What remains is a hieroglyphic impression of sound -- not a ghost sign, but a ghost song. "Don't hate me", pleads Miller, more out of habit than in a fit of passion. Those words stretch out across the factory's weathered siding, once splayed in vibrant orange, now wilted. The phrase spans the windshield of your car just long enough to register, marinating in your head. By the end of your commute, they too will fade into the memory of a tune worth replaying -- a landscape snapshot of the city skyline. 

6/24/2017

Review: Jannen Hengentuotteet - "Huonoa Duuria"

Jannen Hengentuotteet - Huonoa Duuria
(2017 Hulina)

A good portion of my current music intake comes in short bursts. When online streaming platforms like Soundcloud and Apple Music are your main resources for finding and consuming music, it's easy to treat individual songs like tiny serving-sized boxes of cereal lined on the grocery store's shelf: you expect them to court your palate with eye-catching cover art and promises of flavors primed to hijack your levels of serotonin and dopamine. While sound can't carry the sugar or artificial sweeteners that a miniature box of Golden Grahams can, it can draw potential listeners in with abbreviated track lengths and repetitive structures. When plucking tunes from their albums and shuffling them into playlists is the norm, there isn't always room for subtlety or patience -- acts all over the creative spectrum like Alex G, Playboi Carti, and Quarterbacks are all excellent examples of artists that create bold, brief and memorable tunes that explore unique textures while keeping things concise. 

I don't think that's a bad thing, though. I like the ability to hop from one idea to another at a moment's notice. Stirring several genres into a single listening session helps keep my ears fresh, and often lets me make unexpected connections and comparisons as a reviewer. Just like convenience food, easy access to music is comfy and readily available, but, in the end, it's still best to incorporate more wholesome options into your diet too, as I've learned over the past week. 

I finally earned my driver's license on Tuesday, and have been taking the opportunity to re-visit some old cassettes with the help of my station wagon's deck, letting full albums play as I drive to work. There's something freeing about spending fifteen minutes isolated in a two-ton exoskeleton with only the company of a good record. It's making me appreciate lengthy pieces of music again: post-rock jams, cohesive concept works, compilations, and just about anything that challenges my attention span. 

Jannen Hengentuotteet's new 38-minute single, Huonoa Duuria ("Bad Major Key" in Finnish), is a release perfect for long drives, and I'm tempted to make my own cassette version of it if the project's label doesn't plan to do so. Pasted together with a fluttering hi-hat rhythm, the tune traverses its dense weaves of guitaristry as effortlessly as cars seem to glide across the interstate while percussive breaks in the road's yellow dividing line punctuate the drive. 

The record makes its Krautrock influences known from the start. Twangy, drawn-out chords are draped over an off-kilter beat before a few staccato riffs knit them in place. The guitar is joined by translucent keyboards, lavished on the arrangement with little restraint. Here, it resembles a chopped and clumsily re-assembled version of Mac Demarco's "Chamber of Reflection", saturated with watery tones. Maybe we're not driving at all, but actually waterskiing on a crest of reverb.

As Huonoa Duuria works its way into a more danceable groove, the keys lend their echoing jackets of residue to the guitars, which begin to sound as jazzy as they do shoegazey. This is, in my opinion, the composition's strongest movement, pulling the key elements of Hengentuottet's sound together while never holding to firmly to form. Though much of the record is likely improvised, Huonoa Duuria never feels like the work of a "jam band". It's a bit closer to the post-rock of Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky, minus the grandiosity. 

That's what makes the record so listenable: despite its lofty ambition, Huonoa remains pleasant, focused, and humble throughout, even as it devolves into a folk-rock dronescape and then eventually into an amorphous blob of dissonant strings. It isn't until the last few minutes of the piece that Hengentuotteet reaches its climax, slowly coating its tense piano rolls with horns, synths, and theremin squeals. Though it takes a full 37 minutes for Huonoa Duuria to blossom into something vast and hard-hitting, it's the process of getting there that makes it worth the price of admission. Next time you're on a road trip, leave this playing on the aux cord -- this is a record best played in the background, lulling you into complacence before gripping you with a dramatic tonal shift. 

6/19/2017

Single Review: Sleepwalk - "Shine // Vertigo Zoom"

Sleepwalk - Shine // Vertigo Zoom
(2017 Emma's House)

Sleepwalk's label may be named after a particularly influential single by The Field Mice, but their new virtual 7" single released by Mexico-based Emma's House Records bears only a slight resemblance to their rodent forebears. Listening to the Chicagoan quartet's latest work is like experiencing "Emma's House" on an IMAX screen, headrest titled back with a greasy bag of popcorn at the ready.

A-side "Shine" opens humbly, pitting a filtered rhythm guitar against a needle-sharp thread of feedback that primes the listener for the amplification to come. The stray screech of fuzz becomes more unstable as it travels, tumbling and vibrating like a firework set to burst before ushering in a fat bassline, stadium-rock percussion, and proto-grunge riffage bendy enough to have been used on Yuck's debut record.

"Shine" is the sort of track -- like Swervedriver's "Duel" or Ride's "Vapor Trail" -- that shares shoegaze's love for spacious, dreamy chord progressions and driving rhythms, but sheds some of its distortion to hatch into a punchier, more hummable sound. Sleepwalk's towering melodies can stand on their own without copious amounts of reverb to prop them up. It isn't until a flange effect throttles the band's guitars two-thirds of the way into "Shine" that the pedalboard's role becomes noticeable, but the textural transition still melts seamlessly into Ryan Davis' repeated plea to "say no" to dwelling on the past. Sleepwalk borrows sonic cues from the nineties, but they return them in better condition than they were left: well-mastered and streamlined to pop structure.

B-side "Vertigo Zoom" is more of a slow climb than its predecessor. An infectious lead riff hopscotches across tom drums and kicks, leaving room for Davis to whisper atop gurgles of bass. It's like a juiced-up version of DIIV's "Oshin": here, Sleepwalk builds up confectionery harmonies, and melts them down around the meat of a whirling chorus. While "Shine" is powered by twinkly aggression, "Vertigo Zoom" runs on psychedelic energy. Together, the two sides nearly span shoegaze's boundaries and then some. Shine // Vertigo Zoom is a record that explores its full potential while still staying tethered to its roots. 

6/13/2017

Review: Playlab - "lastleg"

Playlab - lastleg
(2017 Self-Released)

No matter what search engine is at your disposal, the keyword "Playlab" will fetch a predictably trendy lineup of digital-age concepts. Your query might gather a non-profit program meant to teach youngsters to code, or perhaps it'll lead you to the parodically-sparse homepage of a trendy New York creative firm that has -- among other things -- released a collection of photos cleverly titled Friendzone that captures football players in greyscale embrace. There's also a Bangkok-based mobile app developer with this same name, cranking out cutely-designed, pay-to-play Candy Crush clones. 

These three examples are just the tip of the cybernetic iceberg. "Playlab" is the sort of vague, jargony phrase that sits comfortably among the grandiose lingo of other uniformly sleek tech startups. It's practically begging to be plastered in Helvetica font on a small office in a gentrified cranny of the city, sharing the block with a craft brewery, or maybe a bicycle repair store. 

It's an aesthetic prophesied by Jeff Koons' 2001 exhibition EasyFun Ethereal, (note esp. the quirky portmanteau of a title), lampooned by PC Music, and deconstructed by the Cincinnati drum-and-bass outfit whose name I've spent the last couple paragraphs discussing. Playlab's lastleg LP exists on the raw, gutter-punk outskirts of the 'corporate techno-minimalist' ethos pioneered by Apple and appropriated by countless imitators. The record's synth textures are as squeaky as latex and often rounded at the edges for safety -- the sounds used here are IDM's equivalent to toy pianos and plinks of xylophone. Rattled off at inhuman speeds, these primary-colored tones scramble to form pointillist harmonies diluted only by their squelchy canvas of trashed snared and gabber kicks. 

Much of lastleg plays like an SNES game scored by Aaron Dilloway. At the album's best, Playlab whisks its arrangements with free-jazz rhythms: cuts like "Mouse Love" and "midipet ver0 jam 2" do this best, violently sending stray flecks of instrumentation splattering onto the kitchen countertop with little regard for tidiness. Despite its sugary components, the music seeks to make a ferocious mess of itself, producing peals of grating noise that emerge from their simulated dust cloud. Playlab's arrangements may do battle, but their combat is limited to cartoon violence. Fun is always at the forefront.

lastleg's latter half contains a few attempts at traditional songcraft. Pop single "I Put it All Online" is a dissonant new-wave groove indebted to both Ariel Pink and David Lynch, pairing text-to-speech software with flailing 808s and throaty keyboards that threaten to implode between each iteration of the titular chorus. "Can You Hear Me?" employs a variety of artificial voices to body its constantly-evolving beat, which slyly transitions from happy hardcore to footwork to trap.

This isn't the kind of release meant for listeners to return to for comfort's sake. It's more or less the tree you're not to overlook the forest of Playlab's discography for. Like Guided by Voices, CHXPO or Lil B, the project's overwhelming stream of output is just as big a draw as the content itself. With around 100 tracks dropped over the past 30 days, the best way to enjoy Playlab is to dive in headfirst, sifting through the roughage to uncover nuggets of improvised brilliance. 

6/08/2017

Double Feature: Foliage - "Silence" // Beach Fossils - "Somersault"

Foliage - "Dare"
(2017 Spirit Goth)

If it weren't for their Bandcamp bio, it'd be easy to assume that Foliage frontman Manuel Joseph Walker lived somewhere in London or Manchester, circa 1980. Spiking Another Sunny Day's jangle-pop gloom with the tense punk shuffle of The Clash's "Lost in the Supermarket", the San Bernadino-based solo act's latest single, "Dare" synthesizes the best sounds to emerge from Britain during the decade-long Thatcher-era. Walker has stripped away much of the reverb that saturated his 2015 debut record, Truths, filling in the empty space with distressed kick drums and meatier bass. Backed by melodica and an uncredited vocalist, he feels as indebted to My So Called Life's soundtrack as he does to Wild Nothing -- there's something vaguely folky that possesses the sustained "oooohs" snaking through the new track, adding flesh to the more skeletal compositions of their earlier work.

Beach Fossils - Somersault
(2017 Bayonet)

The discography of Brooklyn's Beach Fossils (who, until recently, I assumed had disbanded) has taken a similar turn for the tidier. Their fourth LP, Somersault, is the band's first release in as many years, representing an exodus from their former cakes of movie-theater buttered beach pop. It's lighter fare, consisting of their usual layered, staccato riffs -- only here, they're lightly salted with hints of smooth jazz and 70s soft rock, intensifying their flavor instead of drowning it. Somersault is a tasteful outing, proving that for better or for worse, Beach Fossils have aged alongside the fans who've closely followed their 8-year adolescence.

"Tangerine" is an early sign of evolution. Featuring a wispy verse sung by Slowdive's Rachel Goswell, the band's guitars take an unexpected backseat to Jack Doyle Smith's loping basslines and the occasional splatter of strings. Where Beach Fossils once resembled the early hardcore hustle of Descendents -- their walls of trebly fuzz shoved along by blast-beats -- they could now be mistaken for the Byrds, glistening with Paisley-patterned psychedelia. "Closer Everywhere" nearly eschews six-stringed instruments altogether, opting instead for harpsichord and melty threads of baroque orchestration. As much as I'm loath to make a comparison to The Beatles, I'd be lying if I said the track doesn't evoke the backmasked intro to "I Am the Walrus", tightly winding screwball harmonies about a barely-there rhythm section. 

"Rise" guides Somersault into totally unfamiliar territory, cloaking a spoken word verse by cloud-rapper Cities Aviv in washes of Rhodes piano and saxophone. Out of context it sounds like a jarring sonic swerve, yet sandwiched between the Real Estate riffage of "May 1st" and "Sugar", a downtempo shoegaze tune, it makes for a seamless transition that's one of the record's most replayable moments. 

Despite a couple tracks that fall short of Beach Fossils' usual standard, like the anemic "Down the Line" (which is redeemed by the verse "I really hate your poetry", delivered with frontman Payseur's uniformly breezy disinterest), the band has returned with a record original enough to shake off their countless Bandcamp imitators while staying true to their effortless pop ethos. The aptly-titled "That's All for Now" caps things off with Somersault's best offering. It's a compositional nod to the trio's self-titled debut, polishing its daydreamed vocals and sun-bleached melodies. A few concluding licks of country-crossover slide guitar hold the door for listeners, as if to promise more surprise experimentation in the future. 

For a band that's been silent for four years, Beach Fossils sound fresher than ever.

6/04/2017

Review: L Bosco - (demos)

L Bosco - (demos)
(2017 Self-Released)

L Bosco's humble collection of demos may have been released quietly to Bandcamp without as much as a link to social media or a back catalog of material for context, but that's not to say that the Guadalajara-based shoegazer's debut release is an understated effort. The four instrumentals that make up the EP are constructed with cinematic scale in mind, piling hefty post-rock riffs atop spacey Peter Gabriel soundscapes. 

Slowly emerging from the Oxford Blue haze of a hollowed-out drum machine loop and slide guitar, "Prelude" beams filmy searchlights of guitar, their glow revealing the silhouette of a massive ocean liner creeping towards the listener. It's the sort of tense climate Robin Guthrie might create in his post-Cocteau Twins career: implying a greater, more solid sense of magnitude while working exclusively with misty textures. As acidic droplets of guitar slide down Bosco's lens - streaking and forming tinny globules - one can feel this ominous figure moving more clearly into frame before slinking back into the depths, leaving just clattering drums in its wake. Like many of my favorite post-rock acts, L Bosco hints at crescendos that never come. He forces you to take note of each compositional nuance, prepping your nervous system for the endorphin rush held in front of you like the proverbial carrot, a tidal rhythm section settling for the role of stick. 

"Piensas" deconstructs the Scottish drone of Mogwai and The Twilight Sad, piping warm mumbles into a cloud of delayed guitar pluckings and muddied analog synth. It's humidity clinging to the hair of your forearms, hanging heavy as you push through the summer heat like walking through the swimming pool.

"v nus" is the outlier of the bunch, whisking spirals of digital arpeggiation into IDM soundscapes. With a couple breakbeats thrown on top of it, the 7-minute track might fit snugly into a compilation curated by The Worst Label. On its own, it feels like the theme music meant to accompany a dystopian skyline. Or maybe it's the background music to a futuristic puzzle game sold on the App Store. Whatever image it conjures in your mind, "v nus" radiates equal parts bleakness and wonder. It's as evocative as Kraftwerk, but perhaps more indebted to 80s new-age music.

Outro cut "The T I/O scene" is a composite of all the sounds L Bosco toys with on this demo tape, and it's the most solid of the four. Fizzy snares stumble against sizzling guitar distortion, coalescing in pools of smooth jazz reflection. The tape as a whole feels more like a mirror than a picture -- passively created for active listening. Bosco keeps his art minimal so that you can apply your own vision to it. (demos) evolves alongside you.

5/28/2017

Review: i-fls - "wasted"

i-fls - wasted
(2017 Self-Released)

Whatever i-fls has wasted, it's not time. By my own count, wasted is the twentieth album released by the Japanese solo outfit over the course of the past half-decade. That sort of rapid-fire output can be understandably daunting for first-time listeners -- awash in dreamy shades of blue and strewn with nearly-identical sketches of the project's stoic avatar, i-fls' Bandcamp page doesn't exactly lay out a welcome mat, signifying a proper entry into its body of work. It instead feels more akin to picking the lock of a virtual filing cabinet, only to discover a row of manila envelopes organizing a corporation's annual reports. Marked with identical Helvetica letterheads, each stapled document tells the story of year in its own language. Anyone can mull over statistics, but it takes an accountant's eye to arrange them into a narrative.

Like a connoisseur of Grateful Dead bootlegs or Guided by Voices records, I sift through i-fls' cabinet of files with an auditor's scrutiny. Though their tracks come uniformly clad in a haze of Garageband synths and faint percussion, it's the sense of familiarity I have with the project's music that helps me appreciate the subtlety in each new release. 

wasted, for example, is i-fls' most goth effort to date. Often melodies are more implied than performed, taking the form of the sugar-glazed shoegazery that might frost a Slowdive tune or a late-80s Cocteau Twins endeavor. Early standout "useless places" grooves alongside a sweeping three-note hook that wouldn't feel out of place woven into The Cure's Disintegration. Trashed snare drums and clattering hi-hats tame the gelatinous synth arrangements, keeping them stable enough for your mind to bounce on.

"kinako 2 b" makes a rare use of acoustic guitar, which plucks out a few clumsy riffs before dissolving into the usual i-fls recipe: throbbing keyboard pads, a minimal house groove, and wintry chimes. The raw buzz of steel strings is jarring against the album's fuzzy, subdued tones. Though only lasting for about 10 seconds, it's perhaps wasted's most memorable moment.

These moments of oddity concealed beneath a cloak of J-Pop ambience are what keep me coming back to i-fls' discography time and time again. That's not to say that their traditional tracks aren't worth checking out, though. "soutarou" fleshes out its five-minute span with PC Music percussion that forms carbonation bubbles on the surface of tangy synth stabs. Closer "like you" reaffirms the project's core strengths, lacing reverby drum hit into chillwave eyelets.

wasted is yet another solid addition to an extensive back catalogue of releases. It may not bring radical change to the table, but the album makes up for a lack of novelty with the same swirling dream-pop I've come to know and love. If you liked the Aria Rostami record I reviewed last week, you'll love this. 

5/23/2017

Review: Alex G - "Rocket" / Twin Peaks S3E1

Alex G - Rocket
(2017 Domino)

On Sunday night, David Lynch's Twin Peaks returned to television after a 26-year silence. The crust of the cherry pie I'd eaten too quickly sitting next to my girlfriend's yet-to-be-touched slice, I sat fidgeting with anticipation, trying hard not to speculate on the unsettling images that David Lynch and Mark Frost may have culled from their dreams over the past two and a half decades. When it comes to exploring the subconscious, having any sort of expectation will leave you disappointed: it's the passive mind, dozing in its leather recliner, that's most vulnerable to the oscillating wail of police sirens tearing through the block or the dropped Playstation controller that rams against the upstairs floor. You have to lull yourself into innocence to be jolted awake. It's this push and pull between the mundane and the harrowing that drives the series. In seasons 1 and 2, Agent Cooper's frequent stops for coffee, donuts, and griddlecakes were punctuated with the occasional act of violence or jarring fissure between the physical and spiritual worlds. Often, the distinctions between these atmospheres were blurred. In an early episode, Cooper polishes off pastries with a gloved hand as he and his forensics team sift through a murder scene. One isn't sure whether to judge this as charming or downright disturbing. In reality, it's a little of both.

The first two episodes of Twin Peaks's revival toe this same line, cloaked in a somewhat new aesthetic. The titular town's inhabitants sip from paper cups in lieu of their former mugs. An aging resident opens a marijuana dispensary. The series' scope spans the entire country and looks greyer, more grizzled filtered through the Showtime Network's TV-17 rated lens. Twin Peaks now looks and feels like many of the newer series it has influenced, yet it is through this sense of familiarity that Lynch and Frost can sneak up behind their audience, slipping in an unexplained scene of a jet-black ghost apparating out of its jail cell and images of corpses that feel too intimate and contorted to be processed. It's horror that relies on your comfort to germinate.
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On Friday morning, Philidelphia's Alex G released Rocket, his second major-label release following a slew of Bandcamp-exclusive records. The same ambiguous energy that accented Twin Peaks' reboot also was present in the new album's 14 tunes: G flirts with the alt-country haze that soaked the suspended chords of Uncle Tupelo's 1990 debut, No Depression, while holding firm to the comfy-yet-creepy idiosyncrasies that make his discography so alluring, so Lynchian. 

The blend of the old and the new is made immediately apparent. Intro track "Poison Root" opens with the bluegrassy twang of banjos, tempered by Alex G's usual tropes -- tense power chords and the sampled bark of a dog. Beneath the country trimmings, the core motifs that the singer-songwriter's fans have come to love are as present as ever: an almost divine connection with household pets, mumbled vocals that could be mistaken for moments of shyness or incantations, and the caffeinated jitters of tightly-wound instrumentation. Each of these elements are as pleasant as they are strange. Like the crullers and crime scenes of Twin Peaks, one is torn between Alex G's twee-pop sensibilities and sinister undertones.

Lead single "Bobby" is still my favorite of Rocket's many stabs at folk-rock. As fiddles buzz out their swooping melodies, Emily Yacina and Alex G recite a vague story of infidelity and heartbreak that feels thematically "country" while blurring its details enough to feel fresh. Narrators and concepts are dreamy abstractions that cling to conditional tenses. It's difficult to determine who's speaking to whom, or why. And it doesn't really matter in the end. Like most Lynch and most G, "Bobby" paces back and forth in its aural space, sweating over nothing in particular. It doesn't arrive at a conclusion, or even start to work towards one, but it still lets you taste the juicy fruits of a brainstorming session. It's about the journey, not the destination, ya know?

Stylistic outliers like "Witch" and "Brick" are also strong showings. The former is Rocket's second catchiest cut next to "Bobby", noshing on hollow choruses and tossing their wrappers into the wastebin as if to exhaust a desire to sound like Animal Collective and Guided by Voices at the same time. "Brick" is a total shock to the senses, far more rough and distorted than anything Alex G's put out in the past. Battered by a blown out drum machine and screeched vocals, the track resembles a version of Death Grips even more inspired by early-80s hardcore punk. On their own, these songs are oddities. Within the album, they're as removed as nightmares.

Like Twin Peaks, the experience of consuming and attempting to understand Rocket is concordant with sitting back and enjoy it. Though each could be considered a dense work, the only way to really "get" them is to sit back, relax, and exist in their presence as if taking in a waking dream.

5/18/2017

Review: Aria Rostami - "Reform"

Aria Rostami - Reform
(2017 ZOOM LENS)

Bordered by bristly scrapes of percussion, Aria Rostami's Reform is a pulsating mass of disembodied voices, each individual vowel-sound flickering like the pale yellows of a scoreboard's bulbs. Though modeled on ZOOM LENS' signature nods to the refracted ambience of late-90s IDM, the San Franciscan producer's output is filtered through a more vibrant, optimistic lens than the steely output of his labelmates who often embrace brutalist cityscapes that toe the line between utopia and dystopia. 

Rostami's sound design is more inspired by nature than imposed by his own future-techno will. Reform's 10 instrumental cuts capture the echo of whispered melodies, bouncing off of dripping stalactites or dissolving into weaves of low-hanging foliage. It's intimate, not desolate. Opening track "Lowered Intentions", for example, recalls a more humid, habitable version of Aphex Twin's "Flim". Sampled oohs stew in their own residual reverb, nudged forward by the four-on-the-floor kick of an undulating house beat. The track is composed of just a few elements, but thanks to many-tentacled polyrhythms and the thick swoon of Rostami's vocoder drones, it makes for a vast, hypnotic introduction. 

The LP is at its most satisfying when it ventures into pure ambience, especially on "Thanks, Ben". Rostami's synths pace back and forth like droplets of new age piano as a digital slide guitar leaves contrails across the canvas. His composition borders on baroque, escalating the sort of coarse timbres that i-fls might use to orchestral heights. "Beauty Mark" is another highlight, sneaking spurts of echoing mall-core vocal chops between its shimmery arpeggios. It's sleek, stylish, and makes for an accessible focal point near the album's bottom half.

Its bountiful crop of synthesized fruit ripe for the picking, Reform is a summertime offering packed with atmospheric refreshment -- suprisingly colorful for a ZOOM LENS release, but also a surprisingly futurist next step for Rostami.

5/13/2017

Review: Ducktails - "Daffy Duck in Hollywood"

Ducktails - Daffy Duck in Hollywood
(2017 New Images)

"God bless Donald Duck, Vaudeville and Variety", sang The Kinks on the title track of their 1968 LP, The Village Green Preservation Society, reminiscing on the thatched cottages and custard pies of British life in the pre-war era.

Never one to be upstaged in his love for anthropomorphic waterfowl, former Real Estate guitarist Matt Mondanile represents ducks licensed by both Disney and Hanna-Barbera on the cover of his new demo collection, recycling unfinished versions of his usual depictions of late-70s Americana. 

Taken as a whole, Daffy Duck in Hollywood is a blissed-out soundtrack to nothing in particular -- lush and unobtrusive as ferns in the lobby; inviting as the muzak that plays within it. Mondanile's rubbery jazz solos bounce off of soft-rock backing tracks like pinballs, lazily passing through lit gates and hitting their spring-loaded targets. On Rundgren-esque jam "The Patio", synths bob bouyantly to the rhythm of a solar-powered plastic flower that dances side-to-side on the windowsill. Grass-stained Wiffleballs dot the lawn like the heads of pimples. Wood-paneled station wagons pass by, their respective rumbles trailing off towards the freeway. 

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"God save Tudor houses, antique tables, and billiards." The Kinks, 1968

"Sittin' in my treehouse, I can see the dogs. They run by past the Tudor on the corner." Ducktails, 2011

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Ducktails and The Kinks are forever linked by their love for architecture, infrastructurally and sonically. Despite their prevailing lounge aesthetic, Mondanile's tunes often dip into the Kinks' Paisley patterns, especially on jangly tunes like side B opener "Emma's Trip". Daffy Duck's second half is much more diverse than its predecessor, exploring blown out shoegaze tones on "Carousel", gooey jazz beats like "San Gabriel Valley" that could easily fit into a Tyler The Creator record, and "Angel Wings", a Human League-influenced New Wave cut. 

Though not quite focused on a particular setting or place in time, Ducktails' new tape is the project's most nostalgic effort yet, honing in on the general feeling of reminiscence rather than the aesthetics that trigger it.

5/09/2017

Interview: Group-Chatting with Stampeter

Stampeter - Connecticut DIY-Pop

Fresh off the release of the sad-punk outfit latest EP, "Too Many Boys", I met with the three members of Stampeter via Facebook Messenger to talk touring, workout playlists, and pineapple.

I just received your new t-shirt in the mail! Who designed them, and what made you/them decide on the Neon Genesis Evangelion theme?

Tom Fisher (drums): billie mae designed them and denny can explain why the theme was chosen.

Denny Notpuka (bass): i saw, u look so good in it! i had the idea bc we wanted to make shirts, I always rlly liked the look of those old gray fooly cooly shirts. our friend Billie Mae designed it we just sent them a frame from the anime to trace hehe, and Luca's friend Destiny printed it.
I love Eva, its one of my favorite anime tbh. Luca's seen it like halfway but they still loved Misato.

Luca Bartlomiejczyk (guitar/vocals): my friend Destiny Idalis Giusti printed the shirts, her company is De La Luna Creations.

What made you want to re-record so many older songs for Too Many Boys? How did you choose which ones to include?

Luca: well i just chose the best of the songs that we were actually playing live to record.
they were the most polished and my producer dawson goodrich felt that we could make them sound dif enough from the bedroom recordings to still sound good, but stick to what we already had in the sense of the concept.
there were only 2 songs that were already recorded but we felt they were good enough that they deserved to be polished.
the other songs on the album are just as old if not older, just never recorded until then.



How long had the live band been together before recording the record? How do you all meet?

Denny: the current lineup formed in March when luca asked me and tom to join, we've been writing new songs and makin it big full time yaknow?
tom drives half an hour to my house.
luca drives an hour from his house, or half from his school cuz hes a college boy.
we used to practice in my house but living with my grandparents. they couldn't handle the racket, so we practice at my uncles place that's a block down. he's always working and he's a contractor so he built his house but its like half complete so we just jam in the kitchen and be loud.

Luca: this lineup only happened after the record, before the record was devon covert on drums and jack dutt on bass.
but jack didn't even play bass on the album.

Denny: (devon plays in grass stains, a sick band our pals are in u should check out)
(promo for their new LP, tentative title "B. D. D.")
just putting that out there.



Besides Stampeter and Grass Stains, what bands around you are worth checking out? And what kind of bands in particular are coming out of the Connecticut scene? Did any artist in particular make you want to start writing/playing music?

Denny: i love this question!! always have thought of it in the shower.

Tom: uhhhh my favorite band for my entire childhood was coldplay and they got me started playing piano which got me into music as a whole and bands like teen suicide inspired me to write my own stuff.

Luca: for me personally i've been playing guitar and in and out of bands since i was 12 but what really brought me into this scene of music was meeting the people from my old band ellen degenerate namely judge russell from grass stains. he showed me a ton of music that i never heard of before and this underground scene that was new to me and i found it so cool that there was a whole hidden scene of music that i just hadn't been aware of. after that i started frequenting bandcamp and going to shows and stuff.
stampeter was not my first band but i think that having it be denny and toms first band experience makes it feel very new and fresh for me bc they bring so much drive and enthusiasm to the table and its really refreshing.
i would say right now that my main influences are bands in the scene who use powerful vocals/guitar and unique structures like hop along and two humans, bedroom pop bands like elvis depressedly and starry cat, folk punk bands like nana grizol and foot ox.
and i'm also trained as a jazz/blues bassist thru high school and that definitely influences the way i play.

Denny: what made me wanna start writing/playing/getting involved with music: when i was in 8th grade i stumbled upon pat the bunny's projects like ramshackle glory and wingnut dishwashers union, and they just blew me away by the lyrics and politics, it made me wanna find a scene (which i didn't find until like fresh/sophmore year lol).
i just found it really cool how someone from the area was singing about stuff that seemed big to my perspective, and was from vermont. how simple his music was (often just an acoustic and a very scratchy voice) but how much it spoke to me.
bands around us worth checkin out? hmm, DUMP HIM is from Western Mass and i really dig them, v cool punky punk but not punk punk.
Peaer was from Fairfield i think, they're making it big now but they moved to brooklyn but they still gig a lot here, I saw em on Friday
Prince Daddy & The Hyena is kinda localish, they're making it very big and i'm happy for them. we r opening for them. i'dd rec em if you haven't heard, and if you like a grinded version of weezer/btmi/green day with lots of weed jokes

Tom: two headed girl and carlos danger are the two best ones rn imo
also ice cream orphan is great



Tom, do you think Coldplay still influences your music in any way?

Tom: umm it's unlikely that they influence me too much besides maybe some song structures that i find inspiration in.

Is Stampeter your first band? What was the first show you played?

Tom: i did and kinda still do a folky lofi pop project called lifetime warranty. i started recording in freshman year and played my first show in the beginning of sophomore year.

Denny: stampeter is my first band, the first was at a pizza place we booked last minute bc our real first gig got dropped, and our second gig we were duped soooo...
it was good we were surrounded by pals.



A pizza place gig sounds ideal, to be honest. Doesn't get more Bandcamp than that. 

Denny: true the owner is super nice, i've been to a lot of gigs there. teen suicide even played there in 2015 hehe.
we played pool there a few nights ago.

What kind of pizza toppings do you usually order? How do you feel about pineapple?

Tom: i get cheese. i've never tried pineapple.

Denny: cheese, on that vegetarian wave ya dig? sometimes onions.
and i mean whatever, at that first gig toms friends from school got pineapple pizza and i got a slice bc i was really hungry. its okay. but it really doesnt compliment the pizza its just not a taste for me.

Luca: i love pineapple pizza fuck y'all.

Denny: easy i was neutral.

Luca: although i have to admit i don't usually get pineapple bc no one else likes it- my go to is olives and green peppers.



Where do you want to go with your music in the future? Do you want to keep improving on your new sound or do you want to try new stuff?

Denny: definitely improving, writing new stuff.

Luca: we've talked about this recently, our goal isn't really to get huge or anything but recently i booked TRextasy and they asked for $100 just to play and they also have been on bills with bands everyone knows like adult mom and stuff and they have audiotree sessions and that's like where i wanna be, i wanna be good enough to make a tiny bit of money and be a little known to the point where ppl love us in the scene and we don't have to beg for gigs but also that we can still get away with playing diy gigs.

Denny: in the future we're tryna play 1000 cap venues in long island with 311 and bon jovi.

Luca: short term goals tho, i wanna start solidifying new songs and putting out an EP this summer bc i'm so sick of playing the same songs ive played since i was 16.
plus denny and tom have been bringing some new songwriting to the table which i dig. so the songwriting in the future wont be solely centered around me.

Denny: the idea of fame gives me bad anxiety, i'm a v personal secluded person and its weird bc a lot of my identity in art is from my queerness which i'm not v open about sadly but i mean on a lighter note i'm cool if i can get pizza and no one recognizes me. if they do that's fine as long as its like a hello idk i sound pious.
fuck it just say hi to me whatever.

Luca: i've never thought about it too much bc it's so far out from where i am, not something i have to worry about now.
fame would be wild, but honestly if i had $$$ and fame i'd use it to donate a lot and buy a decent house for me and my girlfriend and our dogs.
i just wanna live a quiet life, and im very anxious about not having the money to do so bc im in such a strenuous career path.

What should I expect from the EP you plan to record? Also, where would you donate the money? And what kind of dogs?

Luca: i just wanna live a quiet life, and i'm very anxious about not having the money to do so bc i'm in such a strenuous career path. you can definitely expect a nod to the last album soundwise, but also a difference in songwriting and songs that are a little more punk than before.

Denny: like strong dog but longer.

Luca: now that i'm in college i'm so mellow but denny's songwriting is all angsty so there's gonna be some contradictions there. all my songs are gonna be about lifting weights and showing off my muscular physique.

if i could i'd just donate to lots of queer kids thru those tumblr gofundme's or to organizations that help queer youth, we want like five dogs of all different sizes and lots of plants maybe a garden.


So it's going to be a sad gym-core album?

Luca: im kidding about the gymcore.
imagine: i love my biceps baby, but not as much as i love you.

Denny: if u want gymcore check out fightsong.

Luca: no i've just been working out for like 3 days and i have this complex where i think i'm a fucking meathead now.

What music do you listen to when you work out?

Luca: straight up 2006 pop music.
jason derulo, beyonce, britney spears, like beat heavy pop music.
then for my cool down i listen to mellow indie  like pinegrove and ratboys.

Denny: at the gym i just listen to lil uzi vert.



What was the best year of your life, aesthetically or emotionally?

Denny: tbh? this year. last year was hell

Luca: from what i can remember this one, i mean my childhood was def better but out of my formative adolescent years definitely this one, i have a really great relationship, ive close to beaten mental illness, i'm starting to work out, i've been really trying hard at school, i recently quit my shitty job and im much happier working at the bakery with my mom again.
my only sources of stress rn are finals and sometimes my parents being controlling and stuff. they're kinda transphobic and coming out to them was a sad experience but now we just don't talk about it.

we're actually gonna be going on a small tour in july which i'm SO excited for.
we're doing like MA NY PA NJ, keeping it small rn.
over the winter break we're thinking of going west.

What's one piece of advice you'd give anyone reading this?

Denny: contrary to popular belief your pores don't have muscles that open up

Luca: i would say that uh the only way to make progress is to push yourself and work hard.
and not use ur downfalls as an excuse and instead overcome them as best you can, and you'll be proud of yourself rather than defeated thinking u cant do things, bc no matter what gets in ur way be it a disability or a setback it just means u need to work harder and go for what u wanna do regardless.
my mom taught me that bc she has physical disabilities that impact her in everyday life and she never stops grinding and tbh even tho im mentally ill, i dont either im always trying to get better and learn and do what i have to do regardless of the setbacks.

Never Stop The Grind- Muscle Milk

Denny: hm actually in general in life: know when to stop i guess.
be good to your friends, go vegetarian if you can.
i like that, luca.

grind hard play hard.