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.

5/04/2017

Single Review: Frankie Cosmos + Kero Kero Bonito - "Fish Bowl"

Frankie Cosmos x Kero Kero Bonito - "Fish Bowl"
(2017 Self-Released)

"small fish, stuck in a fish bowl / do you pine for the sea?"

Whether sung from the perspective of an adult lost in the asphalt and anonymity of city life, a child too preoccupied with lofty aspirations to dream of a world beyond homework, or an aquatic pet cramped in their glass vessel, one can expect the imagined narrator of any Kero Kero Bonito song to be confined to a tight, often lonely space, combating their sense of smallness with shimmery twee-poptimism. On "Fish Bowl", a standout cut from the British trio's 2016 debut record, Bonito Generation, frontwoman Sarah Bonito imagines the mundane existence of a goldfish as an extended metaphor for coming-of-age. Reading from the pet's short to-do list, she succinctly sums up the life of a domesticated animal, while also reminiscing on the carefree spirit of growing up: "swim around in a circle," she sings atop a vapor-funk instrumental, "come along when it's feeding time." 

It's not long, though, before Bonito's nostalgia reverts back to the present-day. "But when you find the ocean, how will you know where to go?" she asks. For a song upbeat and colorful enough to have been performed by a team of mascots on a children's television series, there's a stark sense of uncertainty present - a vibe that's especially relevant around graduation season. 

This feeling of hopeful apprehension is magnified in Frankie Cosmos' new cover version of "Fish Bowl", arranged for KKB's new series of remixes that will be wheeled out weekly over the month of May. Subbing grumblings of clean rhythm guitar and tinny keyboard in for the tune's original electronic textures, the New York singer-songwriter snaps a shot of Sarah Bonito's songcraft through her own indiepop filter, yielding half-peppy, half-glum results. 

Concluding with a stanza's worth of verses exchanged in English and Japanese by the pair of vocalists, "Fish Bowl" gives its listeners a view from each side of the glass: Cosmos' is refracted and fuzzy - Bonito's is sparkling; seen from the safety of a ceramic castle.

4/27/2017

Review: YOUNG DRUID - "YOUNG DRUID"

YOUNG DRUID - YOUNG DRUID
(2017 5 GATE TEMPLE)

Sealed with the canine ouroboros pictured above, YOUNG DRUID's debut compact disc offers arcane techno cloaked in an ascetic aesthetic: the British producer and frequent Dean Blunt accomplice stocks his eponymous LP with a dozen tunes topped with synthesized brass and digital gnosticism. It's a snug fit for the listener's ears in comparison to the cryptic network of .zip files released under DRUID's other aliases (John T. Gast, Tribe of Colin, etc.), marked by their coarse, lo-fi vacancy. Here, layers of silicone sediment are compressed into compact hallways of sound, imitating the sort of vaguely archaic jams that soundtracked the CD-ROM titles I'd thumb through and occasionally purchase on childhood trips to Target. These games, like Civilization IV and Age of Empires, each sought to invoke an air of ancient mysticism without nodding to any specific culture or time period. Their hyperreal settings were implied by earth-toned landscapes, brooding color schemes, and software-generated "world music" that channeled Enya as much as it did the smooth-jazz synth pop of Yellowjackets. 

YOUNG DRUID's catalog of musical anthropology seems to have been recorded in one or both of these virtual worlds. "UV" in particular reveals the sense of incongruity that makes the record so interesting, splattering muzak saxophone against a militant wall of marching drums and pan flutes. It's the sort of background music that might spill into a shopping mall's vomitorium, adorned with Doric columns and heroic wall reliefs. "Blue" utilizes a more futurist arrangement of instrumentation to conjure its primordial mood, groaning drones sweating down vegetative bass as the steady rhythm of robotic congas suggests nearing danger. It is unclear whether these sounds seep from the landscape itself or are being piped in by a documentarian's team of editors. 

Spinning this CD simulates the sensation of being clicked on. Of being the pawn in a PC user's turn-based RPG. Of travelling to multiple time periods at once. Young Druid is your laser-etched DeLorean. 

4/23/2017

Review: Slowly Please - "Chalk Farm"

Slowly Please - Chalk Farm
(2017 Self-Released)

It's hard to be as dedicated to sedation as Nicolas Derbaudrenghien. From his glacially sized and paced post-rock arrangements to the yawning gusts of feedback that occupy them, each instrumental inhabitant of the Belgian shoegazer's output dutifully submits to the will of his solo project's name -"Slowly Please". His debut album, Chalk Farm, is a radical exercise in patience, kneading sluggish guitar riffs into their surrounding dronescapes for absurd lengths of time that somehow pass as quickly as pop tunes. With earbuds wedged into your canals, the record is a time-machine that only travels forward, transporting its passenger a solid hour into the future before they even realize they've left. 

Intro track "Tattoo" slowly burns as if mounted on a rotisserie, its drums muffled like a gloved hand's punch. A film of sustained keyboard first forms on the tune's surface, followed by the sort of gradual guitar bloom employed by older Scottish acts like The Twilight Sad, Mogwai, or even Cocteau Twins. Derbaudrenghien's vocals make a couple clutch cameo appearances across these initial 12 minutes of stagnant sludge, coming up for air long enough for the listener to take a breath and dive back into the distorted depths.

"Keep Straight on this Road" pulls more fuzz into its orbit, lassoing shrill peals of static with a galloping bass lick. Slowly Please resembles a version of Slowdive less constrained by traditional song-structures here, causing hefty chords to collide like tectonic plates. Thanks to the massive temporal space they have to work with, the ideas within this album have room to grow mountainous and dangerously saddled with kinetic energy.

Though not the best offering on the record, Chalk Farm's titular song stands at an impressive half-hour, heaving its earthen guitar slides into a quarry eroded by spaced-out snare hits. Field-recorded textures burrow their way into the piece, creating the atmosphere of an artificially-lit office filled with cubicles and fake ferns - it is woozy; trance-inducing even. It's the narcotic trance of the last hour of a work shift, creeping its way into nothing.

4/17/2017

Review: Count to Altek - "Sestina"

Count to Altek - Sestina
(2017 Self-Released)

Something's brewing. 

In the percolator with your ritual Folgers. In the creek bed, stirring up the caked moss. In the knotted shadows of the forest thicket. Bird calls cut through the cracked window like phone notifications in your pocket. As you butter the sacramental toast in remembrance of warm winter sleeps beneath layered blankets, you let the coffee cool a bit for the first time in months. Spring rises from the divoted lawn as a mist, and the forest creatures that live just beyond its borders know this. Somewhere in the woods, The last cool drafts of the year groan through matted branches, bleak and damp as the scurrying of small mammals forms a vast polyrhythm against the foliage. Nature spits out its spoken-word poetry in swiveling stanzas. These riffs rotate like phrases tacked on the ends of a sestina's formulaic construction: each repetition is a re-contextualization. No two reverb-laden tones are exactly alike in nature's liturgy.

Recorded deep in the woodlands of Northeastern Ohio, Count to Altek's latest EP effort is a notable departure from the project's back catalog of avant-black-metal. Though still quite spooky, Sestina trades monastic drones for introspective jazz riffs that recall the early work of A Grave with No Name. Opening tune "Adeline" drapes its limp piano chords atop the half-hearted clatter of a splash cymbal: an offering culled from the band's scarce crop of enthusiasm. It wriggles lifelessly like the arm you've accidentally slept on, attempting to gingerly shake out its pinpricks. Keening glossolalia bubbles at the surface of this stagnant puddle of sound, never getting the chance to come up for air. 

Though barely held together by any sort of beat or repetition, "Adeline" is able to envelop the listener in its bold nothingness. It is as incidental as a scattering of fallen leaves or knotty tree-roots. The music spreads itself to where it needs to be.

Sandwiched in the middle of Sestina, "Ripples of Gemstone" flirts with structure, leaning its glistening keyboard improv against a simple 4/4 beat. There's a surface sense of magical whimsy evident here - the sort of sun-refracted warble that accompanied Mr. Rodgers' imaginary trolley excursions to the Land of Make-Believe. Booming pulses of kick drum frighten Count to Altek's arrangements into being: this is the voice of springtime genesis.

Sestina's final track, "Animal Statue", is climatically creepy, borrowing its minimal-jazz cues from Bohren and der Club of Gore. The interplay between instruments is at its most dissonant and clustered here, emitting a sinister residual ambience that crawls across the surface of the listener's skin like a slug. The track's drums gradually grow louder as they begin to devolve into an arrhythmic jumble of snare hits. The piano fades to black. Night falls on the forest. 

Though untamed and free-form, Count to Altek's new record isn't too challenging or imposing to listen to casually. In fact, it seems more suited to passivity than it does deconstruction. Sestina is the ideal soundtrack to the creative process: an amorphous rush of mystic inspiration, injected straight into the brain.

4/13/2017

Review: Valerie Kao - "Home"

Valerie Kao - Home
(2017 Self-Released)

My friend John's recent re-discovery of Beach Fossils and a particularly Spector-ian haul at the Northside Record Fair have left me nostalgic for the opaque fuzz-punk of early 2010s acts like Crocodiles, Dum Dum Girls, and Blank Dogs. Like most successful artistic communities, the turn of the 21st century's garage-rock rock revival sprouted forth from an accessible, easy-to-replicate sound: reverb-soaked power chords, primitive lead guitar melodies and ghostly vocals cloaked in instrumental residue. Projects were distinguished by subtle aesthetic differences rather than their songcraft. For fledgling indie bands in the era dominated by Burger Records and Captured Tracks, cover artwork fonts and small tweaks to the settings of effects pedals asserted their significance over lyrical content. Think Bandcamp's vaporwave scene or the glut of melodic trap-rap flooding your Soundcloud feed. Simplicity and homogeneity breed mass participation.

That's why it's so refreshing to see California's Valerie Kao emulating the scene's sound post-buzz. Her debut LP, Home, which chronologically documents her progress learning to play guitar, culls the Polaroid-filtered drone of Vivian Girls and injects it with more contemporary production techniques. Thunderous bass riffs charge their way through thick layers of haze like icebreaker ships, leaving jagged trails to be filled with the trickle of echoing vocals. Kao's cluttered pairings of woolen textures produce a surprisingly wide array of sounds, from the traditionally surfy "Home" and "Coming Clean" to the more hypnagogic thrusts of "Rusted" and "Patience". The tunes that fall under the latter category are Home's strongest offerings. "2102" shot-puts its hefty shoegaze chords with an intentional limp, stumbling over its own snares while "Rusted" turns dissonant corkscrews around kick drums with the same sinister energy that powered My Bloody Valentine's Isn't Anything.

Though, at times, Home is rough around the edges - sprinkled with odd mixes and claustrophobic guitar arrangements - Valerie Kao's new offering hurdles its obstacles with sheer ambition. Always striving to outdo itself, the record is not just a testament to learning a new skill. It is a push to challenge one's self creatively: to always move forward while looking to tried-and-true aesthetics for inspiration.

4/09/2017

Movie Review: "Your Name"

Your Name
(2016 Toho, Funimation)

(Written simultaneously in a Google Doc file with Mackenzie Manley

JN: Reveling in rustic charm, Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name is an earnest work of magical realism that’s tempting to compare to Studio Ghibli’s subtler works like Whisper of the Heart. On the surface, such a comparison seems inevitable. From its marriage of bygone myth and modern development to the twee roundness of each character’s facial features, the 2016 anime film is dripping in Miyazaki-isms.


Perhaps, though, it’s the aesthetic similarities to past Ghibli works that conversely set Your Name furthest apart from the studio that produced Spirited Away, which last year dropped to second place behind Shinkai’s new film in the list of all-time highest grossing anime features. While Ghibli controversially made the leap to cel-shaded 3D animation on their first foray into television, Ronja the Robber’s Daughter, in 2014, Your Name feels like a re-affirmation of 2D tradition despite the fact that it was animated by the younger Comix Wave Films.


At its thematic heart, Your Name’s beats snugly between youthful ambition and tradition. Spanning adolescence and adulthood; countryside and city; mysticism and secularism; it’s a coming-of-age film for the post-industrial world as much as it is for the teenage duo it stars.




MM: The appeal of movies that encapsulate the world of teenagers exists in their ability to mold wonderment to cynicism and swirling hormones to existential drama. Your Name perfectly captures adolescence blended to art that is both magical and, at times, hyper-realistic.  


It’s a film of loss and gain--an exploration of a feeling that’s arguably a cornerstone of the human experience: the nagging feeling that something is missing from oneself, just out of reach of discovery.


Taki is a teen boy who attends high school in Tokyo. Mitsuha is a teen girl who lives and attends school in a quaint town in the mountains, layered in tradition and mysticism. Arguably the center focus of the film, she becomes a representation of the intersection between traditionalism and modernism.


They switch bodies two or three times a week at random, without any real explanation as to why it’s happening. It just is. To keep track of one another they keep notes in their counterpart’s phone, their lives bleeding together into one.


“Who are you?” The duo asks over and over. Despite the premise of body-switching not being anything new, the film doesn’t lack ingenuity. Shinkai uses this worn concept and wields it to expose juxtapositioning parts.


JN: As Your Name’s narrative progresses, it becomes evident that a sense of where one belongs is integral to finding out who they are.


Though the schools that Taki and Mitsuha attend serve as the central hub of their respective stories, the two develop their collective sense of self as they venture outside the classroom.
Many high-school anime use secondary education as a microcosm for the world from which their characters rarely escape. The “do-nothing” after-school club has become a trope, solidified by popular series like K-On, Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai, and Inou Battle - though these shows may lead their casts on brief excursions to fast-food chains, amusement parks, etc., there is always a persistent gravitational pull back to lockers and wooden desks. Much of the anime churned out today stems from a Stockholm syndrome-like relationship with education: it is perpetually trapped in 9th grade and marked by cozy slackerism.


Though to a certain degree, these elements are present in Your Name, (particularly the coziness), the film is marked by its sense of scope. Taki and Mitsuha experience much of their personal growth while out exploring the world. As the pair navigate their symbiosis, the former works as a waiter, building the confidence he needs to speak to the co-worker he has a crush on. The latter gains a newfound respect for the archaic traditions and rituals of her hometown.


It isn’t long before each character’s journey leads them to remote, beautifully animated locations, and ultimately to a spiritual understanding of their counterpart.


MM: I feel like I’m always searching for something, someone.” They say, faces upturned.


The duo’s thought is one that reverberates throughout civilization, no matter where or when or who you are. It’s this search, stroked in hazy idealism and melancholy, that is exemplified with poignancy. It’s honest and self-aware without feeling cliched or trying too hard. We wake and go to sleep with the characters; we watch as they scramble within themselves and each other.


Despite never meeting one another, they become centers of support for each other. As the film goes on, the characters don’t seem so desperate. They pick up parts of one another and in this action, develop as a unit


Perhaps the greatest strength in this film, and the reason it has gained acclaim, is not only its undeniable beauty, but its ability to mold something outlandish and apply it to reality.


The scenes are splayed out with precise details--and just like the subjects of the film--the art is a crossroad between two realms. Each scene is built upon the other, characters walking down busy city streets or pedaling up steep hillsides. It is intricately wound, small details woven into the fabric.


In their searching, we begin to believe in them--two jostled and confused teenagers exploring what it means to be a person, and what it means to love and live.

4/04/2017

Review: Foxtails - III

Foxtails - III
(2017 Emocat)

A warm downpour slicks the interstate. Beads of condensation trickle down the windshield as bus tires slice through reflective pools, making each attempt at braking a little too slippery for comfort. Stray precipitation wriggles through the always-cracked window across the aisle, buffeting your forearm as your grip the seat in front of you more tightly. Confined to this vessel, you ride at the mercy of the driver and the rainfall. Something about the rumble of the floor underfoot, radiant with the bus' warmth, lets you relax and steep in the helplessness.

Foxtails' untitled third LP is entrenched in this feeling of counterfeit safety. Stitching their verses together with Slint-esque riffs, the Connecticut skramz trio thread a patchwork of wiry math-rock melodies and sludge-laden crescendoes. Each optimistic twinkle is contrasted by an ominous growl - each sung dream-pop lyric tows a screeched chorus to match. 

Dealing a confused shuffle of woozy introspection and unfiltered catharsis, Foxtails struggle to choose between their inner inclinations toward The Innocence Mission and Flowers Taped To Pens. "The Chicken From Outer Space" marries the two sounds seamlessly: its opening salvo of tangly jazz phrasings stumble over drum fills, falling headfirst into a placid shoegaze stew. A minute-and-a-half into the tune, though, the band lets of go of their safety restraints. Michael Larocca's percussion crumbles to a faint shuffle as Jon Benham's guitar coats itself in the remaining crumbs. Megan Cadena-Fernandez intensifies her vocal delivery, morphing her slight intonation into a piercing scream. III is packed with these biting hooks: brief emotional outbursts meant to expunge self-doubt.

Closing cut "Every Window in Alcatraz Has a View of San Francisco" closes the record with its most polished composition. Building up speed as it progresses, the track gathers in its orbit strands of clouded guitaristry that twist and bend like stretched gum. Cadena-Fernandez and Benham trade screams over antsy bleats of distortion that slowly pressurize until the album's finale, a vomited explosion of abstract emotion - pure, vitriolic ambience. 

III is a fast-track to emotional release: a boom-and-bust cycle of energy that's as potentially nauseating as it is thrilling. Make sure you're primed for mountainous drops, sharp turns, and stomach-churning loops before boarding. 

3/30/2017

Review: sailsonicli - "surprise canard"

sailsonicli - surprise canard
(2017 Self-Released)

Tape loops and sampled strings trickle like a woodland stream; like blood through veins. Their whispered interplay is more felt than heard. The intro to surprise canard is carved in loosened sediment, spongy to the touch. As degraded as a VHS tape's decaying soundtrack, sailsonicli's plunderphonic arrangement is a distant glimmer of tranquility in need of a documentarian's voice-over: Oneohtrix meets Reedbeds meets Ken Burns. 

 Following the Danish solo act's intro are a pair of instrumental jams that layer analogous coats of Duster-esque guitar atop rickety rhythms. The former, "postjudice box-ed", knots its taut threads of riffage into a cradle for its liturgical chants, reverberated into the dream-pop void. It's here that sailsonicli most effectively demonstrate their attention to detail. Sudden swells of bass act as trampoline springs that catch falling melodies. Rich weaves of vocal harmony ensure a soft landing. Tinny pluckings ooze just enough residual echo to form their impression on the wall, like a passing car's nighttime silhouette that sneaks through your bedroom window.

Though equally as ambient, closing cut "Establishment" is the antithesis to surprise canard's intro: dense, silver-screen cinematic, and forcefully pretty. Walls of crumbling synth muffle the outside creep of buttery dawn like a tightly-packed igloo. sailsonicli's music spans the freeze and thaw of February-to-March. Grab a pair of earbuds and enjoy the seasonal shift.

3/25/2017

Review: Stampeter - "Too Many Boys"

Stampeter - Too Many Boys
(2017 Self-Released)

"Hell is other people" - Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit

"Hell is a room full of nerds falling in love" - Stampeter, Too Many Boys

Translating Luca Marie's muffled bedroom pop murmur into the voice of a proper trio is an effort that requires more attention to the kerning of its font than the content of the letters on the page. Too Many Boys, the Connecticut emo outfit's first release as a full band, is the fruit of this sonic spring cleaning, sacrificing some of the quaint twang of earlier efforts for confident, roomy projection. It's the three-way intersection that joins Blake Babies, Dinosaur Jr., and Flatsound, their collective exhaust fumes forming a fuzzy conviction that can't accurately be labeled as either emo or grunge, but falls somewhere between the two.

"Pullout Couch" immediately establishes Stampeter's newfound amplitude. Opening with a sneakily soft pairing of rhythm guitar and tom-tom, the band contrasts their intro with an eruption of magmatic distortion and cymbal crashes. A faint Casio riff tops the composition like melodic sprinkles before the band launches into double time for a brief foray into pop-punk territory, then returns to the minimal creep that they started with. Stampeter isn't satisfied with repetition: in just three-and-a-half minutes, multiple genres and tempos are adopted and discarded before settling on a single sound, much to the advantage of the listener.

Too Many Boys is at its best at its most nineties. On "Waters",  Stampeter channels Weezer, lacing their crescendos with an abundance of oooohs, while "Horribly Comfy" hearkens back to The Sundays' signature guitar tone, as distant and prickly as an arm that has fallen asleep.

As far as Bandcamp culture goes, there aren't many bands that balance the rawness of a basement show with studio polish as well as Stampeter. Too Many Boys is a smartly-curated compilation of new material and revisited classics that sustains its energy for its full runtime. It's a portable DIY show: all the vivacity of live music minus the gas it'd take to see it.

3/21/2017

Portland Recap, Pt. 2 // John Porcellino's "Map of My Heart"

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On Friday, I posted an overview of my trip to the Conference on College Composition and Communication in Portland, Oregon, and then offered up a few reviews of the music I brought home. Before I return to my usual flow of Half-Gifts output, here's one last look at my souvenir haul and my first attempt at a proper book review:

FLOATING WORLD COMICS

John Porcellino - Map Of My Heart
(2009, Drawn and Quarterly)

Though best consumed issue by issue in their Xerox-copied form, John Porcellino's King Cat Comics translate as naturally to the form of a print anthology as the oversized collections of Doonesbury and For Better or for Worse that - as a child - I'd scan in my lap while waiting for a LaRosa's family-sized pizza to arrive at the table, or on short minivan rides to church. A single 32-page volume of King Cat snatched from a record store 'zine rack is a voyeuristic peek into the life of the hermetical romantic who inked it: a fragmented series of pen-doodled vignettes fished from scattered periods in his life. Like an existentialist's take on Archie's Double Digest, Porcellino's pages catalog neighborhood walks, Halloweens, and backyard wildlife with the defiant sentimentality of a desktop Ziggy calendar. In the context of a hefty "best-of" collection, they more resemble portions of a memoir, each mundane discovery or transient memory woven into King Cat's overarching profession of faith in silence and sincerity,

Compiling classic King Cat stories released from 1996 to 2009, Map of My Heart is a meditative read. Crisp narration and a sparse visual shorthand recount brushes with nature from a perspective decidedly less scenic than that of their biggest influencers: Thoreau and Hsueh-feng. Porcellino's Walden is the woodchuck in the tall grass behind the strip-mall parking lot; a stray cat cutting through the suburban landscape. He treads the strange overlaps between the natural and man-made worlds, finding beauty in their mismatching. 

"Camping in the [Catalina] state park," Porcellino recalls in an all-text interlude. "Winnebagos parked in makeshift cul-de-sacs, complete with Astroturf lawns, striped canopies and satellite TV".

"We tear down the places where birds live, and put up places where people live," he sighs in another. "To a bird there is no tearing down."

As effortlessly profound as Map of My Heart's prose can be, its primitive twee drawings are what prompt constant re-reading throughout the day. The figures that make up each panel are unabashedly amateur, their clean outlines forming expressions true-to-life in their extemporaneity. Charles Schulz-esque squiggles form hairlines. Flimsy bodies twist like Matisse prints. Geometric faces mold to the expressionist shape of their surroundings, a la Mob Psycho 100. Shakily scribbled shapes form desktops and Golden Arches - earthworms and desklamps.

These Rorschach lines are catalysts for imagination. Porcellino provides the context and sentiment: the reader colors them with their own textures and emotion. Though I don't plan on taking a crayon to its black-and-white pages, Map of My Heart is a capitalized Coloring Book in the Chance the Rapper sense. Keep your mental pallette of RoseArt watercolors at the ready.

3/17/2017

Portland Recap, Pt. 1


If any of my recent tweets have traversed your phone's screen over the course of this week, you'll know that I've spent the past few days steeped in the damp fog of the Pacific Northwest, attending the Conference on College Composition and Communication as an undergraduate representative of Northern Kentucky University. Held in Portland this year, the CCCC is an annual gathering of writing instructors from across the country: a forum to talk shop and present fresh ideas. Alongside a panel of faculty members and a high school teacher in NKU's Master's degree program, I participated in a discussion of digital writing's impact on the English classroom, suggesting that an extracurricular outlet for creativity (like this blog) can be as integral to building writing skills as sitting in on a lecture. There's a symbiotic relationship between writing on and off campus.

Between sessions at the Convention Center, I hopped on Portland's light rail system, threading lanes of traffic as the trolley cut through a soggy cityscape - navy blues and forest greens splattered ubiquitously across the urban canvas. This earthy aura seemed to bleed into the muted windbreakers and flannels of my fellow passengers. Bathing in the comfy gloom, I felt as if I were inhabiting an Alex G record as I paid quick visits to bookstores and record shops around the city. I knew I couldn't return home without unearthing a few subcultural gems to post about later, and so to better include you in my experience, I've brought back a few finds from each store I've visited. Here's a sampler of my most clutch purchases:

EVERYDAY MUSIC (BURNSIDE)


The Mountain Goats - Ghana
(1999 Three Beads of Sweat)

I spent the better part of my flight from LAX to PDX flipping my way through John Darnielle's sophomore novel, Universal Harvester. On the trip back home, I scanned the liner notes of his 1999 compilation of rarities, Ghana.

Bringing this disc to the register at Everyday's prompted a brief exchange of identical opinions on Darnielle's bibliography. The cashier - who wore a Bloom County t-shirt - and I had each completed Wolf in White Van, but had yet to make it far enough into his latest release to make a concrete judgement.

Squeezing 31 tracks into just over an hour, Ghana's cluttered tracklist and varying degrees of tape-degradation make each listen feel like stumbling into the sort of used bookstore that haphazardly jams its collection of yellowed paperbacks onto homemade shelves, forcing the customer to browse without a specific goal in mind.

Even on its own, opening cut "Golden Boy" is worth the price of admission. Written for a sampler EP curated by Paul Lukas, (former editor of food-packaging design zine Beer Frame and current editor of sports uniform blog Uni Watch), the tune strings a clumsy chord progression through a boombox-recorded call to follow in Christ's footsteps while buying tins of boiled peanuts along the way.

"If thine enemy oppresseth you
You must let him oppress you some more
So that when you go shopping in paradise
You'll find those magnificent peanuts from Singapore"


Ducktails - Ducktails
(2009 Not Not Fun)

As suited for the planetarium as it is the overcast shores of the Northeastern United States, Matt Mondanile's self-titled debut album as Ducktails bottles the sea-salted air of his native New Jersey and launches this atmospheric canister into the cosmos via space-rock riffage. Phase-shifted guitars lap at drum machine loops, leaving the impression of their ebb in the sand. It trickles through the gaps between your fingers: Ducktails pushes the meditative capacity of the early Chillwave scene to Zen-like levels. Ripples of washed-out synthesizer bob on a crest of reverb at mantric intervals as suited to their surroundings as the occasional rumble of a freezer's ice machine in the kitchen or a washer/dryer's distant tremor. When a CD's artwork boasts the allure of Jan Anderzen's post-NAFTA tapestry, it's hard to leave it on the display rack.

2nd Avenue Records

Hugh - Crush
(1994 Mafia Money)

Dollar bins have yet to steer me wrong.

Having a limited time to browse their selection of vinyl, I focused solely on 2nd Street Records' crates of long-forgotten singles, shuffling through columns of square artwork until a certain image would pique my curiosity. I'm not ashamed to say that I do judge albums by their cover art.

Few records have looked as promising at first glance as Hugh's Crush. It's so non-descript that it, oddly enough, begs to be noticed. Something about the way its royal blue title, (printed in the same font I use on the front page of my zines), sits uncomfortably atop its murky backdrop is intensified by the vague creepiness of a Felix the Cat doll. The graphic feels like a spiritual successor to @cursedimages on Twitter: it is unnerving in its lack of clarity and context.

Crush is one of the most immediately gripping noise-pop releases I've listened to in quite a while, imbuing Neil Young's penchant for blown-out Maj7 chords with the endearing whine of Sunny Day Real Estate. Dropped squarely in the heat of emo's heyday, Hugh's first 7" release is my closest link to the genre's source.

Gerty Farish - Deadly Attackers
(1999 Menlo Park)

A cute record with even cuter album artwork, Deadly Attackers is an exercise in twee-simplicity. Playskool keyboard blips, squawks of rhythm guitar, and drum machine blast beats race at sprinters' paces towards an imagined finish line that promises apple pies and ice-cream sundaes served in plastic baseball helmets at the other end of the triathlon tape. According to the single's back cover, Gerty Farish are a duo that hailed from Brooklyn in the late-90s, but a quick Google search turns up next to nothing related to this particular 7". Despite the lack of info I've found concerning Deadly Attackers, I've uncovered some Youtube footage of the band playing a DIY show in Massachussets a couple of years before this record dropped. As rad as the music pressed onto this release is, I'm even more excited by the peek into the DIY culture of 1997 that it has led me to.