Thursday, June 22, 2017

Palm - Shadow Expert EP (2017)

Through their rather short but somewhat noteworthy career Philly four piece Palm have crafted an oddly accessible though certainly off-kilter brand of noise pop. Since their inception at Bard College, the foursome have pushed themselves to explore new sounds and tonal dialogues that meant for fans of the band, you'd often hear a song once and then maybe never again or have to wait several months if not years become you could actually own it. The Shadow Expert EP is their latest release, following an absolutely full length debut Trading Basics.

While first single "Walkie Talkie" gives the impression with its ramshackle jangle that Palm are up to their old tricks, as the EP proceeds there's a growing persistence of melodic coherence. Not that Palm have ever suffered from a lack of coherence in the past but it's hard to imagine a song like the eponymous "Shadow Expert", with its clean, straightforward flow existing on Palm's Trading Basics. But Palm haven't left either their angular guitar lines or their complex, interwoven dynamic or their intricate, atypical rhythms behind. Rather Shadow Expert seems to explore the band dynamic on the most basic of levels by dialing down the fuzz.

Guitarists Eve Alpert and Kasra Kurt are locked in a dance that's not wholly unlike a changing bird formation. Where Kurt might take the lead with Alpert adding in little noisy flourishes, they're capable to shifting roles in an instant. That same sense of impermanence follows along in the vocal lines. One of the most delightful things about Palm's Shadow Expert EP is how fluid the whole thing feels. Buoying melodies and shifting figures both melodic and rhythmic give the sense that you're not entirely on solid ground. What's more, the EP progresses from harsh sounds to clean math pop right back to into harsher realms almost effortlessly. While Palm lean into their more pop sensibilities on the EP, there's a pervasive sense that noise is going to overtake everything laps at the sides of Palm's jangly art pop like oceans waves with varying intensity until "Sign To Signal" where it's presence is such a integral part of what makes it flow.

Given their constant pursuit of new and interesting sounds there's no telling if Shadow Expert is the kind of pop that Palm have been striving for or if it's merely a pitstop but it's an absolutely incredible entry into a diversifying catalogue that plays to their strengths while also exploring and establishing new ones.

Palm's Shadow Expert EP is out now on Carpark Records.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Pitstop: Sunbathe

photo by Todd Walberg
No disrespect meant to her longtime bandmate/songwriting partner Stephen Leisy but Genders' Maggie Morris distinct vocals have been one of my favorite elements of the band's continuous evolution. From the gauzy beach pop of Youth to their more psychedelic efforts as Genders and even their more shoegaze-oriented turn, Morris' emotive vocals have provided an excellent buoy in Genders' instrumental deluge. Much like fellow Portland friends Typhoon led to my discovery of Youth/Genders, it was only through them that I even knew Morris had begun her solo project Sunbathe. Enlisting Typhoon's Pieter Hilton on drums, Shannon Rose Steele on violin, and Devin Gallagher on tambourine, Morris' efforts as Sunbathe highlight just how masterful Morris' ability to pair heavy rock riffs with emotion-stirring vocals and memorable melodies. Though the lead track "Can't Find It" off her recently released debut reminded me of an alternate edit of "Never Belonged To You", much of Sunbathe exists in its own realm of similar but not congruent rock pop.

"With A Little Help" is a high point of the album featuring Morris at her brightest, most vibrant and taking what could be a radio-friendly pop effort and elongating its moments of small-scale magnificence. Though Morris has demonstrate a diverse range of songwriting subjects in the past/across other efforts, as Sunbathe, she sticks to basics: Sunbathe is an album filled with songs of love and heartbreak and where Morris really shines is in her ability to conflate the two. Morris' strengths have always lay in her pursuit of real, sincere emotions and real, earnest reactions and Sunbathe makes the most of that while also featuring incredible moments of tonal place-setting. Sunbathe is like a progression through the stages of grief, starting off breezy and sun-kissed and eventually ending up fully entrenched in darker textures and blistering riffs.

Sunbathe, the debut album from Maggie Morris' new solo effort Sunbathe is out now and available on digital, vinyl, or cassette.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Listen: Kinlaw - "drama in the south"

photo by Landon Speers
Considering how much SOFTSPOT appears to rely on singer/songwriter/bassist Sarah Kinlaw's ability to not only draw inspiration from unexpected sources but inhabit those circumstances so concretely that many of SOFTSPOT's songs seem like completely immersive experiences, the idea that Kinlaw had need of another outlet to express this caught me a bit off guard. In fact when she played a solo set last year I had assumed she would essentially be playing stripped down SOFTSPOT songs only to realize she had a whole body of work completely separate from her band of collaborators. "drama in the south", the first single from Kinlaw's upcoming solo album a trigger for everybody, essentially captures Kinlaw's artistic spirit in motion. Featuring fluttering synths, "drama in the south" proceeds much like an afterimage: Kinlaw's vocals stretching out, overlapping, and eventually enveloping everything. It's a song that draws on Kinlaw's wide variety of interests and talents: dance, music, art blending them. It's music inspired by an array of artistic disciplines and yet doesn't necessarily insist you be familiar with them to enjoy it. a trigger for everybody may be inspired by everything from sound effecting movement to ASMR but "drama in the south" shows that it's capable of standing alone on purely aural merits. Choreography and a sense of place may elevate it but "drama in the south" stands on pretty firm ground to begin with. It's an intoxicating bit of sweetly melodic art pop offered up without much in the way of pretension: a trait Kinlaw's songs with SOFTSPOT effortlessly share.

Sarah Kinlaw's first solo effort as Kinlaw a trigger for everybody is out June 23rd and currently available to pre-order on limited edition cassette from Soap Library. Kinlaw will also being doing a set of limited engagement shows at the Wythe Hotel on June 12th featuring choreography set to the album. You can score tickets to that here.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Listen: Francisco The Man - "I'll Feel Better"

It's been 2 years since Los Angeles indie rockers Francisco The Man released arguably one of the best songs you're bound to hear in "Progress". And also their very excellent debut full length Loose Ends. And if their latest single "I'll Feel Better" is any indication their sophomore effort Bodies in the Sun is bound to be just as excellent if not more so than the first. "I'll Feel Better" finds the shapeshifting foursome comfortably dialed in on their poppier element and locked in with each other. After an attention-grabbing elongated chord entrance, the band surge forward with Scotty Cantino's downy vocals holding their own against the band's pretty relentless forward plod. Considering the band have been playing together for the better part of a decade, it's hardly surprising to find the band so in sync and able to highlight each member's individual strengths but it's worth noting because a lesser band would swallow Cantino's vocals up entirely. That or they might tiptoe around them to make sure they were always in focus. But "I'll Feel Better" finds Francisco The Man picking right up where they left off, it's a fast-paced power pop jam featuring remarkably clean playing and absolutely infectious energy. It's a band recharged with a hell of a lot more to offer and I for one can't wait to hear more.

Francisco the Man's sophomore album Bodies in the Sun will be out later this year.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Listen: Saintseneca - "Book Of The Dead On Sale"

Saintseneca's Zac Little has always been drawn to big ideas. He's spun big philosophical moments and catchy folk pop out of the kind of weird thoughts you might have right before sleep comes. So when a video of his friend's narcoleptic cat Remi went viral, it's hardly surprising that Little's first thought was how much time is a million views? It's a big thought that no one ever really thinks about when they're watching silly internet videos but Little did the math and it equated to something like three years. And unsurprising to anyone familiar with Saintseneca or Little's knack for combing through these wonderfully random thoughts and attaching them to bigger revelations, he wrote a song about it. "Book Of The Dead On Sale" is a song inspired by the adding up of all the seconds and the value of that time. Time has different value to everyone and Little essentially ponders that. Not just time but money as well. "$38 on the Book of the Dead felt steep oh but then again how do you put a price on ancient wisdom?" Little sings and essentially questions the value of anything. How do you know how much something is worth? Is it the buyer or the seller who decides? Do people realize how many seconds they're devoting to this video of a cute kitten falling asleep? Do they realize enough people have watched it that it adds up to more time than the kitten's been alive? These are all questions that Little offers in sometimes direct and in other times roundabout ways. "The Book Of The Dead On Sale" is short but sweet. Aiming for the philosophical fences without taking itself too seriously. I mean it's hard to write a song about a viral cat video and not find a way to have fun with the conceit.

Saintseneca are about to go on a North American tour with Tiger Jaws and are an amazing live band so definitely make sure you catch them on tour.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Listen: Palm - "Shadow Expert"

While Philly experimental rockers Palm introduced listeners to their upcoming Shadow Expert EP with lead single/opening track "Walkie Talkie", their latest, the title track "Shadow Expert" might be more representative of what the band is trying to achieve on this EP. It is easily their most accessible track thus far. Where "Walkie Talkie" paired their memorable melodies with abrasive blasts and disorienting tonal shifts, "Shadow Expert" is a much more straight forward affair. But despite it's pop designs, the foursome still revel not only in their engaging interplay but also in their pretty characteristic rhythmic complexity. Running her vocals through effects, "Shadow Expert" is a lilting piece of slightly off-kilter pop that even in its simple route to the finish, doesn't quite let you get there surefooted. There's always a sense that something might occur at any moment; the listener ready for whatever may happen, never quite expecting what's to come. Though the band maintains a coherent clarity, the song's relentless buoying recalls the lapping of ocean waves and the band's locked in grooves direct the song's momentum similarly. 

"Shadow Expert" in its consistent melodic clarity harks back to the band's earlier days of music-making to songs like "No Tribute" which effortlessly balanced atypical rhythms with ear-catching songcraft. Obviously the band are pushing their sound forward but it feels not unlike a momentary check in with a younger version of themselves to find that some interests still remain and updating them to correlate with newer interests. "Shadow Expert" is the best of both worlds: Palm at their most infectious but never quite giving a sense of predictability nor simplicity and it's a surprisingly good sound for the band. "Walkie Talkie" and "Shadow Expert" essentially show the Palm is capable of great versatility and pairs together opposites in a way that's not only coherent but also incredibly exhilarating.

Palm's upcoming Shadow Expert EP is out June 16th on Carpark Records. You can pre-order it now.

Listen: Friend Roulette - "Joan"

Brooklyn experimental chamber pop sextet Friend Roulette are back after a little bit of a break. Since the release of their very excellent Grow Younger EP in 2014, they've been relatively quiet playing shows in Brooklyn and going on tour in different configurations of their normal six person lineup. "Joan", the first single from their upcoming EP finds the group in repose. It's a rare moment for the band who normally pair moments of tranquility with dynamic tonal shifts. Part of that lies in the fact that the song isn't totally there's. "Joan" and the whole of their upcoming EP are songs written and composed by an old friend of theirs, Matt Sheffer, who wrote and recorded songs ardently and shared them with the band only to decide they weren't worth sharing with the rest of the world. Friend Roulette's history is intrinsically linked with that Sheffer. Take Grow Younger's "Kitty Song", the psychedelic romp is equal parts Friend Roulette's technicolor arrangement and Sheffer's wonderfully weird lyricism. Much like Grow Younger and their sophomore full length I See You. Your Eyes Are Red., Friend Roulette's greatest leaps forward in sound occur when they're mining their rich history and The Matt Sheffer Songbook Vol. 1 aims to be no different.

"Joan" is a down tempo number much like "Or Berlin" or "Rocket Dog", and though arranged for the band's diverse instrumentation, Julia Tepper is still given the spotlight soaring easily above the sparse accompaniment. Songwriters Matthew Meade and Julia Tepper have always had an affinity for ballads and through adapting Sheffer's song for their own use, they craft a stunning work of emotional quiet. It's a breath of fresh air from a band who is normally at home mired in relative chaos and by upending pop norms in favor of interesting moments that subvert expectation. "Joan" is as typical as Friend Roulette are probably ever going to get and even in that uncharacteristic restraint, they continue to push their sound forward by stripping it all back and laying it all bare. The Matt Sheffer Songbook is a tribute to a friend that's been a driving force behind the band and by letting "Joan" stand pretty much on its own merits, the band highlight Sheffer in a way they really haven't before.

Friend Roulette's upcoming EP The Matt Sheffer Songbook Vol. 1 is out June 16th on Pretty Purgatory. You can pre-order it now and if you order the cassette you get Matt Sheffer's original demos which have never been released before.