Friday, September 15, 2017

Pitstop: Truth Club

I've always been strongly of the opinion that the true magic of a music festival lies not in the big name acts - the acts people know for a fact are good and enjoy but in the discovery of smaller acts that are perhaps far easier to miss. Hopscotch has made it both easier and harder to prove this assertion as they do a very good job booking so many interesting acts to so many interesting venues that you're torn between where you want to and where you should be. Raleigh's own Truth Club are a band I caught based purely on word of mouth from locals. When I asked everyone their plans for the penultimate day of Hopscotch everyone was sure to leave time in their schedules for Truth Club and I made sure to do the same.

The thing that intrigued me the most about the Raleigh trio lied mostly in the voice of singer/guitarist Travis Harrington. Among angular guitar melodies, surging tempos, and shifting dynamics, it's the one thing I found myself returning to and focusing on. Despite how many times you listen to any Truth Club song (and currently there aren't very many), you never quite get a sense of predictability from Harrington's vocal leaps. Truth Club sit at the intersection of pop punk and indie pop but never quite show their hand with where they're pulling influence in a particular song. Harrington's vocals are dynamic: whether their craning, or proceeding with a start-stop clip like a skipped stone they dictate essentially where the songs can go. That's not to say that the band aren't capable of truly intriguing instrumental moments: they are. Truth Club's song are made of an impressive assortment of these little memorable moments like the sudden cacophony in "Post-FOMO Life" or the drum hits that seem to punctuate the end of each of Harrington's thoughts on "Hi From C.A.". Despite their simple, standard setup, they play and write music with an air of maturity that's somewhat unexpected. Maybe that's due to past experience (Harrington was a member of Wilmington's Astro Cowboy) but one thing is clear: the band are sure to captivate from their very first note.

Truth Club's debut release Interest Meeting, released earlier this summer, is out now. You can grab it at a pay-what-you-want rate on Bandcamp.    

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Listen: Night Idea - "Perfect Water"

Richmond, VA quartet Night Idea are, like a lot of my favorite bands, a completely accidental discovery. Kingston, NY psych pop duo Shana Falana had invited me to a show of theirs at nearby Quinn's in Beacon, I went, and visiting openers Night Idea with their updated take on glacial, expanding prog rock instantly charmed me. The foursome displayed a level of technical proficiency obviously required for their genre of influence but their network of intermingling mathematical patterns erred on the side of accessibility. Their style of song construction allows you to see the various layers increasing in density in real time. 

"Perfect Water", the first single from their upcoming album Riverless, both builds on the band's established familiarity and tour-hardened precision while also making the most of effects that are enhanced in a studio. If you listen to the track through headphones or aloud through legit speakers you can hear moments of the band's diverse panning. 

"Perfect Water" also finds Night Idea at almost a full-on thaw. Their pacing remains creeping and furtive but there's no denying a pick up in momentum and surging intensity. On previous effort Breathing Cold, Night Idea balanced expansive prog rock odysseys with more radio friendly track lengths and "Perfect Water" essentially finds a comfortable balance between the two: an intricate full band showcase that dabbles in a similar avant pop sensibility to contemporaries like Palm or early SoftSpot. 

"Perfect Water" spotlights a Night Idea equally at home with their sound and capable of pushing it forward to display newer strengths. That bodes exceedingly well for Riverless and I'll certainly be anticipating how other singles feed not only into the concept of Riverless and the sudden drought that motivates much of narrative of the album but how Night Idea rely on their instrumental capabilities to flush out and intriguing concept. 

Night Idea's sophomore full length record Riverless is out October 13th on Gigantic Noise/Citrus City Records. CD/Digital copies will be available from Night Idea via Bandcamp while limited edition 12" pressings are available for pre-order now from the Gigantic Noise webstore here.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Pitstop: Glad Hand

One of the greatest thing to come out of Leeds outfit Adult Jazz (aside from their distinct brand of expansive, lush art-pop) is the fact that they have very talented friends whom they constantly try to uplift. It's probably the closest an outside listener halfway across the globe can get a sense of what kind of music scene Adult Jazz are a part of. While fans may have been introduced to Kyle Molleson's project Makeness not only through his place of several mixes but also through his collaboration with Adult Jazz's Harry Burgess "Other Life" last year, London foursome Glad Hand are another band worthy of knowing. Fellow school companions (and featuring Kyle Molleson of Makeness in their roster), Glad Hand make a sort of ephemeral, texture rich experimental pop that's not too far away from what fans of Adult Jazz are sure to be looking for. But Glad Hand are more than mere Adult Jazz soundalikes. While not quite as rooted in dance as bassist Molleson's Makeness, Glad Hand songs are prodded along their wide, cavernous expanses by interlocked grooves and singer/songwriter Declan Pleydell-Pearce's sinewy vocals give the songs much of its mutable character.

Their debut album Be Kind, released earlier this year, contains a collection of songs made up of intriguing sounds and timbres and percussion to create a sort of captivating mirage pop. Songs like "Been One Thing" or "Shape Your Fever Close" which brush right up against their pop sensibilities recall early Wild Beasts while tracks like album opener "Undone" is much more characteristic of the band and the album in its sumptuous slow burn. The album is made up of these incredible moments of quiet tension and release. There's dynamic musical peaks but each songs manages to be engaging in its own right and hold your attention even when there's not an obvious amount of things going on instrumentally that ultimately makes album ender "Eavesdropper" with its sparse, almost a capella opening feel well and truly earned.

One of Glad Hand's strengths is not only its synthesis of ideas but also the sum of their individual talents: Dan Jacobs' jazz percussion, effortlessly subtle production, and the elasticity of Pleydell-Pearce's enrapturing vocals. The most surprising thing about Glad Hand is not its subtlety but that they manage to create all these pockets of silence or open sound that draw you further in. Glad Hand are minimalists and considering their standard rock band setup the could easily fill all the space but they don't. The spaces, the silence, the slow unfurling of their songs and the lack of musical drama are what set them apart from other outfits like Wild Beasts. For Glad Hand not only is less more but it can be an obsessive and rewarding focus: like how a snare rolls can form the backbone of an entire song. Be Kind is a multi-layered album that reveals more and more of itself with each listen. It's a record that draws from progressive genres like jazz, prog rock, and occasionally contemporary classical to translate its lyrical subjects of the phantom self, unreciprocated love, and self-doubt musically into a swirling miasma of disorienting effects and sounds.

Glad Hand's debut album Be Kind is out now as a pay-what-you-want download via their Bandcamp. A physical 12" featuring "Shape Your Fever Close" and "Been One Thing" as well as remixes from Glad Hand's Dan Jacobs and Makeness is also available from Handsome Dad Records.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

AlhhlA - 8oNitsSidE (2017)

When I was introduced to Arizona based experimental artist AlhhlA earlier this year due to their affiliation with Yairms, one of my only real complaints about the band was that there was so little music available from them. I was sold on a single song ("Who Shall Lead") out of two possible ones on a split EP released in 2014, my obsession fueled by demos and live recorded concerts and now with singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Andrew Levi Hiller's plans to reunite with Yairms' Jerry Rogers to create/recorded new material he's seen fit to release a brand new EP he's been sitting on for some time and was only previously available as a tour-only cassette. 8oNitsSidE, AlhhlA's first release since the Yairms split three years ago finds Hiller demonstrating a wider expanse of sounds than at-home listeners would have gotten to experience.

"-_cLeArLiNes_-", the EP's opening track begins in a place of quiet dramatically different than the percussive, boisterous "Who Shall Lead" that introduced AlhhlA on the split. And yet its quietness is hardly indicative of its multitudinous layering. Hiller takes his time building its lush lilt as his own vocals combine with instrumental shuffling in a feeling akin to the sloshing of ocean waves. That wave formation informs much of the track as its swells softly build and recede in much the same way. There's also the fact that many of the effects are practically indiscernible. That's largely due to Hiller relying on different forms of recording and playback from old shareware to and old boombox and finally a tascam tape machine before being transferred to digital, "-_cLeArLiNes_-" almost seems ironically named. It's various parts a mesh of intriguing, augmented sounds as Hiller's sage-like voice cuts clear through cassette hiss. It's a move reminiscent of Son Lux: forming an interesting base rooted in intricate layering and unique sounds while letting his distinct vocals captivate and enhance the instrumental parts.

Second track "@@" however is much more familiar territory. Percussion and guitars anchor the track while Hiller's vocals function in several different ways: percussive staccato, a narrative flow, and craning ornaments. As much as Hiller experiments with timbre and effects, his voice remains his secret weapon: wispy but with enough weight behind it that its never in danger of getting overwhelmed by the myriad of other elements Hiller plays around with in his song's composition. Whether at a whisper or a shout: the timbre of Hiller's voice effortlessly informs all the other textures in AlhhlA's catalog.  Even in a track like "LoLoVe" which is a full on vibe showcase featuring a djembe, cello, and bowed saw, Hiller's vocals supersede. That's not to say that Hiller isn't capable of incredibly engaging moments outside of the sound of his own voice. "LoLoVe" expands not only Hiller's textural palette but his sound as well. A world music influence has existed at the core of most AlhhlA songs but "LoLoVe" takes it to its logical conclusion and even then with it syncopation and djembe loops Hiller doesn't rest on invoking that sound without filtering it through his own creative lens to guide not appropriate his influence. Also considering how entangled AlhhlA and Yairms at once seemed, 8oNitsSidE is an album forged in the distance between them as Hiller and Rogers took divergent paths. The EP relies on a completely different cast of collaborators (owing more to geographic distance than creative distance between Hiller and Rogers).  

8oNitsSidE is a wonderfully demonstration of just what AlhhlA have to offer and if you haven't listened to the songs on the aforementioned split, it serves as a pretty excellent introduction. The EP is varied but grounded in a consistent sound that is uniquely Hiller's. AlhhlA's music gets its sound from a number of aspects: the various transitions between analog tape and digital and editing, Hiller's fascination with augmenting sounds, as well as sense of creative storytelling that brings to mind bands like Le Loup or Akron/Family. Hiller crafts delightfully intricate textural meshes that he simultaneously works to shepherd you through. It's no wonder I was obsessed after one song as Hiller's songs balance an entrancing experimentalism with a subdued pop sensibility. The only thing keeping people from becoming fans of AlhhlA is time and if it takes three years between releases to get songs as good as those featured on 8oNitsSidE, I'm surely willing to wait.

AlhhlA's new EP 8oNitsSidE is out now and available for stream/purchase via his Bandcamp. All digital purchases come with three bonus tracks.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Listen: Twain - "Solar Pilgrim"

photo by Nina Westervelt
This is a moment I've been waiting for since I first saw singer/songwriter Twain open up for Kishi Bashi this past fall. "Solar Pilgrim", the first single from Twain's upcoming album Rare Feeling, has Mat Davidson's same doleful yodel and twangy guitar. Instead of drastically changing his style, he sticks to what he knows and explores different narrative possibilities. "Solar Pilgrim" essentially ponders the specifics of the journey Davidson's soul will take when he's gone from the world. It's a song about life, death, and the hereafter; frequently shuffling through each. Twain often sings of love but on "Solar Pilgrim" the love shifts shapes and forms: romantic love, love of the natural world, spiritual love. It's a love that's bigger than his body and that Davidson sees as lasting long after his physical body.    

Twain's third full length album Rare Feeling is out October 20th on Keeled Scales. You can pre-order the album on CD, cassette, or LP here.

Pitstop: Elisa

My discovery of Brooklyn based singer/songwriter/producer Elisa happened oddly enough through a series of pictures. Over the past couple months photographer Landon Speers aka Headaches has been sharing a number of pictures he took of her and as he continued to share them piecemeal, my curiosity grew more and more as a narrative eventually formed: Elisa Coia went from a nameless model to a mononym, and then the fact that she was a recording artist became clear after Speers posted a picture of her with Becca Kauffman of Ava Luna/Jennifer Vanilla and Ziemba. And yet oddly enough, it took my most recent obsession with the new Photay album to lead me to Elisa's music instead of following the breadcrumb trail of Speers' pictures. Listening to the Photay album led me to research the Astro Nautico label it was released on which is co-founded/co-run with electronic artist/producer Sam O.B. (fka Obey City) and Elisa features heavily on "Samurai", a single from his debut full length Positive Noise.

Releasing music under her actual name before rebranding much like Sam O.B.'s Sam Obey, she recently released an EP under the moniker Elisa. If I wasn't enamored enough by her vocals on "Samurai" (spoiler alert: I was), hearing "You Can Wear The Mink" which popped up next in the cue, cemented it. The track, as well as the whole Morning Again EP, shows off Coia's versatility. The track begins minimal with Coia framed as an old school chanteuse before the track fills and Coia's vocals become more modern. Coia's vocals are distinct and yet its style is not particularly easy to pin down: pop, soul, something wholly other. She shuffles through styles and the genres are fairly elastic. Lyrically, the tales Coia tells are fairly universal: love lost, heartbreak, trying hard to make something work. And yet Coia's songwriting and her vocals are refreshing. Or you end up with a track like the EP's title track "Morning Again" where Coia takes on the state of America and the constant bombardment with bad news. It's sardonic and yet sincere, an excellent example of when pop meets politics as the message is poignant but not too heavy to the point that it disables the song's enjoyable qualities and Coia's set it to a groovy beat makes it more easily digestible. It's heavy for sure: as she references specific news events and vague ones that apply far too frequently but the production is sleek enough that you can feel the emotion: the anger, the sadness but not be overwhelmed by the politics.

Take the dark textured pop of "You Can't Work For Love" with its visceral imagery and its explosive choruses and her counterpoint to  a typical pop song staple: love is hard work. On "You Can't Work For Love", Coia essentially argues the opposite. "You love like a Catholic, if it's bad must be worth it" she sings and it's hard to resist the urge to cheer. The struggle is often romanticized and Coia isn't having any of it. There's an ease that should come in a good, healthy relationship and she wants that. And yet, it's not delivered like a stinging rebuke but an affectionate unpacking of an insurmountable flaw. That's a consistent theme of Coia's Morning Again EP. The songs come from a place of love even when they're indulging in the darker, unseemly aspects of relationships.  

Elisa's Morning Again EP is out now. She's about to embark on her Back-To-School tour with Miles Francis.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Pitstop: Photay

A continuing point of interest for me has been the intersection of electronic and acoustic sounds: the interplay between mechanical and digital sound. It's what drew me to bands like Hundred Waters, Bayonne, or early Night Beds. The method of composition entwines these two radically separate ideas and blurs the line until you're not so sure what is processed and what is natural sound. Or at least that's what some of the best electronic acts have been able to do. Sometimes it's less about blurring that line and more about one informing the other. That's essentially what Photay's new album Onism sets out to achieve. Introduced to him through fellow ambient/chillwave artist Teen Daze, Onism was inspired by the nature documentaries on the 70s that largely relied on synthesizers.

It's an album at odds with itself: crafted in Brooklyn and other cities, a various national parks, and the Hudson Valley that Photay's Evan Shornstein calls home. The idea of Shornstein trying to rectify these normally conflicting places through his own electronic experimentation called me to Onism like a siren song. Unlike the electronic music I normally gravitate towards where it's hard to suss out just what is a naturally occurring sound and what is digitized/augmented, Shornstein relies almost purely on synthetic sound. Sure there's saxophone, cello, and even a balafon featured throughout the album but most impressively Shornstein seeks to capture a sense of place through the art of soundtrack almost. It's not about replicating the natural to conjure impressions of it, rather Shornstein takes the inspiration he feels from his forays into the natural world and let's it inform his sound. He's not trying to mimic or replicate, he's merely drawing necessary inspiration and filtering through his own lens. Perhaps the most surprising thing is how well this works and what makes a moment like "Aura", a rare moment of Shornstein actually singing, so effective. It's an album that even at its most bombastic strives for harmony and a sort of meditative calm. And Shornstein is adept at navigating these high energy moments and steering them into the sense of quiet that they all practically demand.

The most surprising thing about Onism: more so than how evocative Shornstein's ability to invoke these nature scenes in the mind's eye of the listener but how effective his ability to imbue even the most silent-striving moments of Onism with an engaging tension. Every moments on Onism is one of dynamic interest: a testament not only to Shornstein's talents in production but also of compositional prowess.

Photay's debut full length album Onism is out now on Astro Nautico.