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.

3/11/2017

Review: This Is Lorelei - "Better To Be"

This Is Lorelei - Better To Be
(2017 Self-Released)

Its swells of autotune rippling in a tropical post-chillwave breeze, "You I Fall Into" billows above sonic territory bordering Autre Ne Veut's early discography and Kanye West's 808s and Heartbreaks. Leading off This Is Lorelei's third EP released in as many months, it foregoes the Chicago-based solo act's preferred pallette of jittery math-rock riffage for a foamy head of bossa-nova vapor that rests on a gentle groove. At scattered intervals, Lorelei hacks up throat-clearing synth distortion that makes room for more complex arrangements: the rhythm guitar's minimal, Dirty Beaches flow tightens into a crunchier twang as the song worms its way into a meditative furrow. 

Oddly enough, Better To Be relegates its title cut to its virtual B-Side - a smart move, considering its sparse arrangements and sweeping sentimentality, which lend themselves more to conclusion than their predecessor, bursting with jazzy kinetic energy. Bouncing atop a four-on-the-floor kick drum, a single keyboard phrase kneads the tune into the repetition it references. I can't help but be reminded of the futurist-folk ethose employed by author Nicholson Baker on the musical accompaniment to his novel, The Traveling Sprinkler.

"Are you ready to repeat?"

TIL's vocoder carries most of the emotional burden here, seasoning each loop with a new sense of automaton moodiness - sometimes quaint and hopeful, while at other times huskily content.

Somewhat of an outlier in This Is Lorelei's prolific discography, Better To Be is an ode to the daily grind: a call to appreciate the flares of variation that guide us from week to week. 

3/07/2017

Review: Gum Country - "Gum Country"

Gum Country - Gum Country
(2017 Lollipop Records)

Ever wonder why each stick of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit gum is imprinted with its signature tread? I'll let you in on a secret. Each morning, when the pavement swells with yesterday's rainfall, Courtney Garvin's guitar feedback flattens the sucralose highways of Gum Country, prepping product for harvest. Tire tracks dig crisscrossing patterns into the steamrolled road - Connor Mayer rides in tow, reaching out of his trailer to reap chewy rectangles and wrap them in bitcrushed drum loops.

Gum Country's self-titled LP is as pliant as you'd expect. Opener "Brain Song" stretches its lead keyboard melody about a rattling rhythm section like a maypole's ribbon - despite its trudging Sonic Youth dissonance, the track tinged with Y2K pop sensibility. It conjures visions of pale yellows and crayola purples forming abstract blobs in space as cartoon robots turn midair somersaults. Grinding like pebbles beneath a shoe, power chords form a progression as conversely iconic/formless as a Gamecube's controller: molding to the shape of your hands, or in this case, your ears. Fold it between your molars: "Brain Song" is meant to munch on aimlessly as its flavor coats your palate. 

At the heart of the record is Gum Country's most solid offering, "Pills". a twee deconstruction of Swervedriver's shoegazey psychedelia. Garvin's vocals are much more whispery and buried than those she contributes to her more well-known project, The Courtneys. The refracted outline of a coin at the bottom of a swimming pool, they are barely perceptible - a beautiful object just out of reach. Accumulated reverb ripples as distortion and snares land cannonball dives on the surface.

It's tough to tell whether Gum Country's instrumentation is coffee or chamomile. Are its bursts of distortion units of punk vigor or sluggish drones? Depending on the occasion, the brain may perceive them as either. "Woah Oh" can be a mosh-inducing anthem. "I Don't Stay Up" can encourage you to agree with its title. No matter which beverage you'd rather compare the duo to, though, you can be certain that their output is as trusty and warm as anything served in a mug.

3/02/2017

Single Reviews: Alex G - "Bobby" / The Drums - "Blood Under My Belt"

Alex G - "Bobby // The Drums - "Blood Under My Belt"
(2017 Domino / ANTI)

As the Midwestern climate re-arranges my layers of jackets and sweaters, so too do its fluctuations scramble my listening habits as I walk from the Student Union to the concrete campus' English Studies hall. Freezing winds, channeled through a tunnel of brutalist architecture, call for a futurist rotation of Soundcloud maufacture - steely slabs of grimy techno shuffled into a deck of dark trap-rap singles. The more assertive and new the input is, the more resistant to the cold I feel.

In this exchange of data, I am the singularity - the self-driven vehicle that senses the movements its fellow commuters make but ultimately fixes its gaze on the destination: in this case the warmth of Room 316 and its adjacent vending machine, which peddles my favorite flavor of Clif Bar. I let the Yeongrak playlist sizzle to a bitcrushed silence as I slide into my seat and unwrap my purchase.

 

Each brief hint at spring, though, is a chance for me to tuck myself back into a sense of familiarity, which makes now the perfect time for my high-school mainstays to return to top form. I was shocked last night to find - (amidst recent releases by Los Campesinos and Beach Fossils) - that new-wave revivalists The Drums had emerged from a three-year hibernation, following up an admittedly bland third LP with the band's most solid track since "Me and the Moon", which dropped in 2010.

"Blood Under My Belt", our first peek at The Drums' upcoming record titled Abysmal Thoughts, is as primal as their early demo material, holding firmly to spartan beach-pop arrangements. The track's bleating lead guitar and steady bassline prop up a skeletal drum loop - recurring swells of violin wink at offscreen opulence. In comparison to the messy, somewhat abstract synthscapes of 2014's Encyclopedia, frontman Jonny Pierce shears his composition down to the sort of wiry simplicity that was in vogue during the early 2010s. Veiled by the sweetness of his bubblegum-pop delivery is a profound sadness - a yearning for the relative innocence of life midway through the Obama administration filtered through an 80s post-punk lens. Is this meta-nostalgia?

"i see death coming too quickly / i don't want this to end"



Alex Giannascoli also chooses to approach our shifting cultural paradigm with wistful puerility. "Bobby", released this morning in anticipation of the Pennsylvanian singer-songwriter's eighth album, Rocket, recalls the pastoral twang of Uncle Tupelo. Fiddle riffs are scraped from a dreamy acoustic progression like dirt from untrimmed fingernails: bitterly earthen. Giannascoli and a yet-to-be-credited guest vocalist contribute surreal verses to their pastoral alt-country panorama, their wavering harmonies looming like overcast clouds.

While The Drums take a peek at the rearview glass, Alex G parks the car in a roadside field for a picnic.

"the colors blue and purple start / to bleed into the endless dark"

2/26/2017

Review: The Glass Eyes - "The Ocean's Over There"

The Glass Eyes - The Ocean's Over There
(2017 Self-Released)

The Ocean's Over There is an index of outros. Though most of the LP's nine tracks span two or more minutes, The Glass Eyes' recent crop of folk-rock output is marked with a sense of conclusion. Fragmented phrases that feel as if they've been harvested from a larger yield of lyrics are stretched like chewed gum across climactic soundscapes. It's this constant, sustained catharsis that makes the Chicago trio's new record so replayable. Each song begins in medias res or later, sparing introductory filler while doubling down the sort of emotionally-charged chorus-craft and experimentation usually reserved for crescendos. There’s a constant hint that what you’re hearing is a small fragment of an unheard whole. So many indie rock acts are compared to Neil Young that I've gone to great lengths to avoid bringing up the Canadian singer-songwriter's name whenever I can. It'd be impossible to review The Ocean's Over There, however, without doing so. "This music's really good! / Those dudes can play! / That song sounded like Neil Young," reads The Glass Eyes' Bandcamp bio. All three quoted statements are true, especially the last. Inaugural tune "Hey" fuses Young's penchant for sitar-like tapestries with the atmospheric crunch of mid-90s acts he inspired: the song's title is chanted over a cloud of psychedelic warble, which subsequently bursts into a flurry of overdriven feedback that drifts from Built to Spill to Dinosaur Jr. on the fuzz spectrum. Frontman Chris Jones' vocals - twangy, in the way that Mark Mulcahy's anti-southern drawl resounds - are absorbed into the sponge of guitars. As the instrumental feeds on its nutrients, it continues to grow in intensity. The same "Hey" and the same riff are repeatedly hammered into tape, each iteration slightly more more sincere than the last. "Hey" is a greeting, then a cry for attention, then a plea to stop. "Hey / I'm only trying to be." "Spend It Alone" is even more frugal with its syllables, draping its four-minute arrangement in seven unique words. Hollow synths that screech like rusted machinery do much of the track's talking, scuffing the surface of each layered harmony. Jones resembles Amen Dunes here, his chants spookily dissonant as they contort and fade into the nocturnal air. The Ocean's Over There hits peak folksiness on "Boxing", imbuing Fleet Foxes' sacred woodland atmosphere with a groovy optimism. It gives the impression of mystic grandiosity while staying grounded in garage rock grime. Like much of The Glass Eyes' music, it's suggestive of something greater, just enough to seize your curiosity.

2/21/2017

Review: Kieran Daly + Robbie S. Taylor - "OST"

Kieran Daly + Robbie S. Taylor - OST
(2016 Psalmus Diuersae)

Cinema magic. The straight-to-VHS kind. 

Cybertwee composers Kieran Daly and Robbie S. Taylor chef up revelatory ambience for Reagan-era adventure on their debut collaborative effort, OST, aiming their aural flashlight at the 10-speed mountain bike that weaves through neighborhood lawns, synchronized swatch watches, and the occasional extraterrestrial encounter. Hollow bleats of synth brass and a pliant bassline's bounce urge the cast into action, deconstructing The Yellowjackets' RnB-tinged jazz fusion into a spillage of retro-chic playthings scattered on James Ferraro's studio floor. 

On OST's A-side, Daly stacks stabs of MIDI programming like blocks in a wriggling Jenga tower. Curdled keyboard drones flirt at rhythm, stepping on the toes of slap bass licks in their stream-of-conscious dance. "Boss' Brake Solo" and "Extra Movable Fuj World" are feeble scaffolds, their recurring gusts of clammy dissonance filling wide-open vacancies: each structure's decrepit construction is made apparent as they buckle in the breeze. Hold on for dear life - don't let the minimalist motifs lull you into comfort.

Taking his turn on the B-Side, Taylor pumps OST's gas pedal, corralling his bite-sized ideas into nuggets of expressionism. Each composition on the latter half of the record is marked by its sense of urgency: alternating keyboard notes speedwalk across the shopping mall floor in their ergonomic trainers on "Sheets of Sand", avian flute-trills goading the listener into the dissonant hustle of "Cutscene: Boonies", a climactic chase scene illustrated by frenetically-mashed harpsichord and melodramatic swells of Earthbound-esque chiptune. 

Released exclusively through Psalmus Diuersae's bare-bones website, Daly and Taylor's improvised horseplay is perfectly tailored to its medium of distribution. It is content to be a curious ripple in a massive body of data; a cryptic .rar file to be unzipped, consumed, shelved in your iTunes library, and re-discovered months later only to re-affirm its strangeness. While I still greatly enjoy collecting odd 7" records salvaged from bargain bins, there's an equally alluring sense of wonder that lies dormant in the stray .mp3 file. Maybe sometime in the near future, in reaction to the ubiquity of streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music, the forsaken Blogspot pages of the late 00's peddling their rips of screamo demo tapes and forum threads devoted to trading Animal Collective bootlegs will prove just as hip as making the drive to your local record store. Perhaps you've stumbled upon this review years from its publication date only to browse Psalmus' virtual vinyl crate, admiring its dreamy eggshell backdrop as you grab a .pdf, an .mp4, and few .zip files for your future perusal.

Long live the download.

Snag OST here: http://psalm.us/ost.html

2/16/2017

Review: Communions - "Blue"

Communions - Blue
(2017 Fat Possum)

When are we not in communion? In spite of the Internet's omnipresence/omnipotence, much of my web-surfing takes place under the cover of digital tabernacles: niche structures waterproof enough to thwart the shower of data trickling down my phone's screen. Buckets of rainwater collect what is useful to me and filter out the pollution.

The subculture; the group chat; the social media echo chamber - these are the places we gather to assume identity in the digital sphere. We are huddled tribes toasting s'mores on the campfires of our user-generated content. If anyone is familiar with the sectarian nature of the netscape, it should be Danish quartet Communions. Emerging from the then-trendy Scandinavian collective Posh Isolation in 2014, the post-punk outfit benefited from a sizeable buzz generated by the backing of label founder/Iceage frontman Elias Ronnenfelt and their blog-ready brand of lo-fi grit, squeezing icy squalls of garage rock into tight sonic containers. From the blurred resolution of their Cobblestones EP to the faceless figures that graced the covers of their discography, Communions' output seemed to come from a place of remoteness: the stylish impersonality of online demi-stardom.

That's what makes their first full-length LP, Blue, such a refreshing effort: raising previously-closed venetian blinds of fuzz, Communions make the dramatic nosedive into clarity suggested by aquatic album artwork that bears a heavy resemblance to Siouxsie and the Banshees' The Scream.

While Blue may visually suggest the sound of Goth's industrial conception in the late-70s to early-80s, its 11 tracks are more spiritually in tune with The Cure's "Just Like Heaven" than "A Forest" - it's an idealistic, bright-eyed explosion of power pop that revels in lyrical ambiguity. Martin Rehof's ductile vocals rocket from the springy surface of opener "Come On, I'm Waiting", slicing through constellatory new-wave riffage:

"I've been up and I've been down / I've been lost and I've been found.../Turn me into Blue"

Communions flaunt their newfound accessibility on the following cut, "Today", recalling the wiry indie-pop of Phoenix and The Strokes. Ambitious lead melodies are gravitationally pulled back to manageable heights by gloomy acoustic chords, forming a ripple of optimism that bubbles at the tune's surface. 

Blue is best at its most unabashedly cheesy. Cases in point: the lovely little flute-like synth that strings the bridge of "Eternity" to its chorus, the blues-rock twang that peppers "Midnight Child", and especially the churchbell trills of guitar that open "She's a Myth". Though not a groundbreaking project, the record is teeming with enough anthemic energy to stay in rotation for months to come. It's a giant leap from fragmentation to singularity - from communion to ite, missa est!

2/12/2017

Review: mt. marcy - "tied together"

mt. marcy - tied together
(2017 Self-Released)

The car keys claw their bookshelf roost. Your ritual slice of sprouted-wheat toast scoffs with disapproval as the butter knife drags a pat of butter across its coarse skin. Windshield wipers wrench a night's worth of frozen accumulation from your field of vision. 

Mornings are a litany of scrapes, and Pittsburgh's Mt. Marcy is devoutly connected to their AM ambience. His newest EP release, Tied Together, irons out the lo-fi wrinkles of earlier jazz-sampling hip-hop efforts, trading jaunty slabs of piano-based crunch for more breathable folk-pop pastures. "for sure", for example, is composed of little more than meditative acoustic guitar loops and the field-recorded clatter they accompany, yet it communicates a potential vastness. It's a song you can step out of the house to. It holds the door for you.

"sometimes" is a little more intimate than its forerunner. The sounds of swishing corduroy pants and throat-clearing form a canvas for its guitaristry, glued together with dots of harmonics that suggest the post-rock constructions of Acid Aura, or Unwed Sailor's The White Ox

mt. marcy saves his best for last on "talking to you", taking to the keyboard to flesh out his stringy arrangements. It's effortlessly calculated, like the careful way one drives to work without giving much through to the traffic. tied together is static music for the autopilot spirit: life-affirmingly unchanging.

2/07/2017

Review: Chad Johnson - "Rollin'"

Chad Johnson - Rollin'
(2016 Self-Released)

"Two" seems to stumble at the starting blocks, its shuffling drumroll ironing out the wrinkles of its pace as it reaches for the baton. Wheezing from behind, a pair of guitar leads croak like nasal congestion, joined at the ankles, extending this wand at the peak of a three-legged stride. The track's pathos is derived from the dividing line drawn between the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat: it's tragically pretty, like a picturesque blooper.

Named for the Cincinnati Bengals' now-retired wide receiver formerly known as Ochocinco, New York solo outfit Chad Johnson owes as much atmospheric credit to grass-stained autumns as it does to the athletic endeavors they house. The project's sophomore EP, Rollin', is driven by a rare blend of technical ability and heart, churning out its batch of jazz-infused riffs with the deceptive sense of ease that flutters on the surface of Mac Demarco's discography. 

Prefacing the aforementioned "Two" is "Hard To Find", a breezy, lounge-influenced tune that sandwiches its blurred reminiscence with meandering solos that seem to lazily stroll about the neighborhood as a dotted line reveals their roundabout path. It's a session of stretching before the race that follows. Breathe in, breathe out.

Closing number "Sorry" channels the beach-rock optimism of Dent May, pasting hooks to metronomic drum beats with a thin layer of keyboard buzz. Chad Johnson's starry-eyed refrain - "you don't have to stay / it'll always be ok" - slowly fades into the tides of cassette degradation. It's the sound of blind faith and sincerity running dry; the dehydration of a spirit clinging to the moisture of saliva.

get your popcorn ready

2/03/2017

Review: Shivver Cliffs - "The Hills Cast Shadows"

Shivver Cliffs - The Hills Cast Shadows
(2017 Self-Released)

Do it big for ambition's sake. 

Reclaiming a sense of self-indulgent scale brandished by the blog-rock wave of the mid-00s, Missouri's Shivver Cliffs ascends to the lofty idealism of Sigur Ros and Broken Social Scene's art-pop bombast while at the same time harnessing the sort of desolate dark matter that fills the landscapes of Bjork's Medulla. The Hills Cast Shadows is the project's first official release, a 7-track LP that doesn't waste time with pleasantries or first impressions. Album opener "Drift Close In" weighs in at a hefty 11 minutes, eroding from a monolithic crawl of cinematic strings to the fragmented remains of Star Wars droid warble. Midway into the track, Shivver Cliffs emerges from the synthesized rubble, a twangy bass and faint piano mouthing spacey riffs as they whisper clipped phrases into an echoing mic. Trudging your way through a blizzard of harmony, these verses, though distant, feel like a signal flare; a sign of help on the horizon.

"repair the puzzle
of broken windows on your floor" 

The bizarro-folk swell of "Ain't No Mountain Can't Crush My Home" finds The Hills Cast Shadows at its most ambitious. Dissonant slide guitar riffs are warped into sourness around their resonant acoustic framework, steering the cut into uncharted territory. Sparkling treble drips from stalactites. Unseen insects skitter across granite walls. Shivver Cliffs peaks miles from civilization, contrasting anthemic heights with subterranean ambience.

The Hills ends with its most accessible offering: "Television Dreams". Looping stray noodles of plucked improv, the closer is is knotted together by the occasional vapor of rhythm tapped out on a drum machine. This is the sort of music you could inhale, wintry drainage rattling in your chest. Clouds form on each frosty breath.

"I'm bathing later every single day
Using shower handles as my crutch" 

1/29/2017

Review: good carl - "Catharsis"

good carl - Catharsis
(2017 Self-Released)

The golden arches; the yellow shell; the eggplant bell are perched on their crows nests, stars of Bethlehem that phase in and out of the nightly landscape. They coyly blink from above the sprawl, their faint fluorescence either a dead giveaway or an invitation - we are open. Fruit pies in their sturdy sleeves and hardshell tacos are best enjoyed off the surface of a dashboard, the vibrations of traffic seeping through the windshield.

Good Carl's neatly-wrapped debut EP is also primed for such a setting. Clocking in at approximately 9 minutes, it can be consumed in the time it takes to circumnavigate the drive thru and make quick work of your provisions in the parking lot. Catharsis is served warm, chorus twinkle and reverb dripping from the duo's guitar leads - one part Mineral, one part Libertines - tied together with cymbal splashes and twin skramz vocals.

Named for Animal Crossing's museum cafe, "Brewster's Roost" is the record's choicest tune, little yawps of strummed rhythm leaping over drum fills like pot holes carelessly crossed. "You'll Always Be My Robin" comes in a close second, its instrumental bridges forming rickety moments of reflection between raspy verses.

Like a more stripped-down offshoot of Algernon Cadwallader, good carl's brand of emo is a nervous frenzy - an inner comfort pawing at its cold-sweating confines. 

1/24/2017

Review: Meredith's Kiss - "Neither Special Nor Different"

Meredith's Kiss - Neither Special Nor Different
(2017 Self-Released)

Burned into the flip of a film strip, Meredith's Kiss snaps queasy shots of suburban tranquility. While neighborhood ranch homes were once vinyl-sided with their vibrant Easter egg blues and creams in the breezy chillwave soundscapes of Ducktails and Real Estate, Neither Special Nor Different can only enjoy their their bourgeois bliss from the other end of a negative image. Jazz-pop noodling wafts from its manicured lawns speckled blue like breath mint discs in their pop-top canister, soupy swells of reverb pooling in the arch support of new sneakers as one cuts through a backyard. 

Intro track "Harris" tears a perforated page from the notebook of Alex G, pitching up its vocals to unintelligible levels. Frayed threads of melody bounce their way across the trampoline surface of Meredith's hoarse chord progression - minus chipmunked cries, it's a thick divot of noise pop worthy of mid 90s college radio rotation. 

Interestingly enough, Neither Special's most effective transmissions are its instrumental cuts: save for a few wordless murmurs, "Irene's Song" communicates via the coo of guitar twang and a couple of static-y synth leads. "Not Special" shuffles along, soured by blunt dissonance - kraut on your hot dog.

As solid as any riff on 70s soft pop I've heard in a hot minute, Meredith's Kiss paints in an odd tint of familiarity. Like green ketchup, Neither Special Nor Different is a tried and true taste with a bold new look: one's taste buds might need a few attempts to catch up.

1/19/2017

Single Review: Kitchen - "November Prayer"

Kitchen - "November Prayer"
(2017 Drunk With Love)

A plea for a fog machine, stillness, snow: the first glimpse we have of Kitchen's upcoming debut LP, Town, acts as a prayer of petition, a chord organ rite that invokes the decay of yellowed floral upholstery as much as it does the divine. This equally emo - yet refreshingly optimistic - re-incarnation of Rochester-based bedroom pop outfit The Loner(s) finds frontman Jame Dont dabbling in the ramshackle orchestration of Julia Brown and Jackie Trash. The nervous pace of acoustic downstrokes are propelled by the hum of twin strings; Dont comes up for gasps of air as keyboards bubble to surface, faint remnants of a drumkit's cannonball fizzing into the shallow end. Structurally and texturally, "November Prayer" resembles the solvent drone of Belle and Sebastian's "Marx + Engels": the skeletal outline of a twee-pop tune - the sort that might conclude a first grade pageant dedicated to the food groups - is plopped into a small ceramic mug. Kitchen and Co. carefully fill the vessel with their warm bath of cassette whirr and the song steeps, slowly devolving into scattered tufts of harmony and eventually into an ambient brew, accented with minty pulses of piano.

Town drops January 23rd via Drunk With Love Records. Scoop your cassette copy here.

1/14/2017

Review: Swooning - "Gloom"

Swooning - Gloom
(AXRC 2017)

As stoked as I should be for the release of Slowdive's upcoming reunion record, gorging myself on Chicago-based quartet Swooning's deceptively filling sophomore EP, Gloom, has rendered me stuffed on dream-pop for the time being. Countless Bandcamp projects have offered their iterations of garage grown shoegaze over the past half-decade, yet Swooning's flashlight beacon peeks from this digital forest thanks to its jarring dynamics and flaky production - their distortion-polluted puddles of power chord runoff lie stagnant, pooling in the damp earth's indentations as surf rock riffage reminiscent of Beach Fossils falls from the overcast malaise.  

Opener "Cold" invokes the intense fragility of Ride's "In A Different Place", its distant, clouded vocals and shimmering lead guitars narrowly dodging the blunt force of tattered percussion, blown-out drum fills and tempo-changes pitching county fair booth curveballs at the glassware dreamscape. In terms of replayability, "Awhile" is Gloom's strongest showing, making an olympic leap from an Alex G chord progression to the sort of serrated fuzz-punk sprint that Dinosaur Jr. might have included on their Bug LP. 

Despite sub-zero temperatures, swoon in the oppressive humidity of Gloom's shoegaze atmosphere.