I am dubious of most if not all unsolicited music recommendations I get but when fellow Arizonan and recent favorite music discovery AlhhlA suggested that I go see Phoenix quintet PRO TEENS during their recent stop in Brooklyn, I took him up on the offer. What I experienced was a great set of would-be opposites juxtaposed and intermingling pretty effortlessly. PRO TEENS were simultaneously high energy but their songs had much of the feel of lazy day sprawled out in the grass or on a pool float on a not too hot sunny day. Part of that lies in Andy Phipps' sleepy vocals drawn out like a good stretch. They're not always that way but they certainly are on "Signals Crossed", the second single from PRO TEENS' upcoming EP Philistines. The track is breezy and calm, its guitars, keys, and even its drums following suit as they all blend harmonically. That said, the track isn't without dynamics or an interesting development: there's a synthy buzz that foreshadows the song's eventual cacophony. But even amidst the rising energy and added layers, there's still a sense of ease to the rollicking climax; a pervasive pleasantness that wins out over the push towards entropy.
PRO TEENS upcoming EP Philistines is out November 3rd on Broken Circles. You can pre-order the album on cassette or digitally through the band's Bandcamp.
Late last month, Brooklyn experimental pop rockers Milagres, broke a nearly year-long silence to announce a show at Rough Trade on October 18th. While that sort of thing usually isn't that big of a deal, the timing of it pretty much guaranteed new material was on the horizon and the band - now function as the duo of singer/songwriter/band founder Kyle Wilson and Fraser McCulloch, have decided not to let fans of theirs walk in blind tonight and shared "Are You Lonely", the first single from what's sure to be a new collection of tales.
Where their 2014 album Violent Light saw Milagres engaged in a stunning reinvention that saw the band leveling up sound with an arena rock sense of grandeur, "Are You Lonely" finds the new duo operating at a more hushed version of the more synth-centric sound they cultivated on their sophomore record. The move away from the glam-infused stadium pop isn't just a practical one however, "Are You Lonely" is an uncertain love song much like "Terrifying Sea" where Wilson attempts to forge a connection with someone based on a similar sense of loneliness. But where such feelings normally result in less than pure intentions, Wilson's ring sincere even if they might be some projection going on.
"I knew someone once, someone just you and they were lonely, lonely just like you" Wilson sings and it'd be cause for alarm if Wilson wasn't so upfront about his attempts to bridge communication with this particular person. There's something utterly charming about the way Wilson recognizes a shared loneliness in the other person that motivates him to reach out to them but he still phrases it as a question: "Are you lonely? Lonely just like me?". It's a question that reveals more about the questioner than the questioned, as Wilson frames his confession as an appeal for companionship. That vulnerability is ultimately what elevates it from creepiness.
If you're in New York City, you can hear Milagres play this song and more at tonight's show at Rough Trade. Tickets are still available here.
For perhaps as long as I've known about Friend Roulette since I was introduced to them from ARMS, the experimental chamber pop sextet have mentioned a desire to record and release a record of ballads. Considering it was sometime hard to round up their multitude of members, playing their songs as ballads was a tactic the band would often use if they wanted to play out but either drastically change the energy or compensate for a lack of members. They would mention the ballad record occasionally and the some time would pass and nothing came of it. Also many of their records both full length and EP would contain a ballad or two so fans were never particularly suffering from a lack of them. When Friend Roulette announced and actually released said ballad album earlier this year, I was a bit in shock. What with guitarist/singer Matthew Flory Meade starting a new side project and the members' various other commitments, I had never expected the record to take shape or at least not for it to be the next release after their rather downtempo Grow Younger EP. In fact, I essentially assumed Grow Younger was the ballad record even though "I Guess" and album ender "Kitty Song" are very high energy.
The Matt Sheffer Songbook Vol. 1 is a tribute of sorts to their friend Matt Sheffer who is a fellow musician and is ultimately responsible for the Friend Roulette we have today. He was an ardent supporter of their music as well as a sounding bound and helped write "Viva Zyprexa", one of Friend Roulette's first songs, as well as part of "Kitty Song". Though not particularly a fan of the ballad, Friend Roulette have a knack for writing them in a way that has always resonated with me from as far back as "Or Belin" off their self-titled EP and the Matt Sheffer Songbook Vol. 1 is no different.
Album opener "You're A Fox" is a touching love song where Sheffer uses grander and grander metaphors to express his love all the while still elevating the intended and appealing to their strong nature. Where "Joan" is a tribute of sorts to the Golden Age Hollywood actress/dancer Joan Leslie and details her struggle getting the sort of roles she wanted, she's referred to with the sort of absentmindedness you might have for a mundane piece of trivia.
In listening to the Songbook, it occurred to me just how much Friend Roulette gained from Sheffer especially when I heard the newly recorded version of "Viva Zyprexa", as the sense of otherness that Sheffer and Matthew Flory Meade touch on essentially forms the backbone of much of Friend Roulette's output. While "Bacon and Raisins", a tale of being trapped in a would-be fight to the death with a home-invading spider, is not only the most cohesive Friend Roulette have allowed their narratives to be, it contains winsome melodic flourishes that the band often build songs on before drawing them in sharper, more abstract directions.
It's not hard to see why songwriters Julia Tepper and Matthew Flory Meade were drawn to Sheffer's songs, though he's capable of writing straightforward songs, Sheffer is also capable of both non-linear narratives as well as touches of the surreal is his songwriting like "Snow Pea" with its shifting perspectives. The Songbook essentially gives a glimpse into the evolution of the sextet's sound. Stripped back, you can focus on the innovative lyricism and Friend Roulette's arrangements are subtle and sparse enough that they never threaten to obscure the lyrics. Instead they're held with a reverence that's befitting of someone so important to the band's core identity.
Friend Roulette's The Matt Sheffer Songbook Vol. 1 is out now via Pretty Purgatory.
Despite the occasional obtuseness of Ryan Lott's lyricism, Son Lux, the project of the now Los Angeles based composer/producer, has had a remarkable ability to resonate. This is largely due to the fact that Lott obscures the personal for the universal. As Son Lux has grown to include not only Lott but guitarist Rafiq Bhatia and drummer Ian Chang, both talented musicians/composers in their own right, that opaque quality has become more logical as the music could now be rooted to the collective experience of the trio. Lott has managed to avoid the distraction of personal mystery that is still incredibly poignant and sincere. But something changed around the time of the US election. He didn't say at the time but his response to the growing unrest not only in the US but the world over stirred something in him and Remedy, a four song EP whose proceeds were all donated to SPLC, was the result. But if I've learned anything from Ryan Lott, he always has more than and so several months later, we've gotten "Dream State", the first single from an upcoming Son Lux record that'll see its release early next year.
Brighter Wounds was written in the same head space as Remedy but with much more personal stakes: bringing a new life into the world in the form of his newborn son as well as watching cancer usher a friend out of it, Brighter Wounds is set to be Son Lux's most revealing album and "Dream State" doesn't disappoint. Without the context of its creation, "Dream State" is still as effortlessly arresting as any Son Lux song. Compositionally, the trio is still operating at the peak performance they honed in on as a live band touring behind Lanterns before Bhatia and Chang actually entered the fold on Bones. Everything begins subtly as Lott reminisces of times before having to wonder about how the future will play out. "We knew we were impervious no matter how we bleed", Lott croons, encapsulating the invincibility and hope of youth and as the song marches on with it's rush of shout vocals, the lyrics gradually change to reflect the newfound doubt and care. And yet much like "Change Is Everything" there is an overwhelming sense of hope that not only catapults the song but weathers the shifting landscape and contorted lyricism of "Dream State". Lott isn't a pessimist and never has been much for that sort of thinking and he's obviously taking stock of his new reality without sinking in to despair about it.
Much like Deerhoof's brilliant and political Mountain Moves, Son Lux are firmly of the opinion that even as things get unforeseeably worse that there are brighter times ahead. "Out of the dark day, into the brighter night" Lott and his choir of voices sing at the climax and its deeply felt. Things are uncertain now and uncertain as we age and wrestle with real responsibilities and real tragedies but in that uncertainly lies the glittering beacon of hope that things will right themselves in the end. It just might take a long, sobering look into the darkness and an unexpected amount of fortitude before it's possible.
Listen/Watch the beautiful lyric video of "Dream State" directed by frequent collaborators The Made Shop:
Brighter Wounds, the fifth full length studio album from Son Lux, is out February 9th on City Slang. You can pre-order the record now.
Earlier this year Norwegian singer/songwriter Sondre Lerche played a special set at Pete's Candy Store where we played the songs of his newest record Pleasure. It was unknown to many of the attendees until after but earlier that day Lerche had cut live pressing of solo versions he would be performing later that night with Leesta Vall. It allowed fans to hear Pleasure in a brand new light as several of the songs shone more brightly or revealed more of their secrets in a stripped down context.
Though it was in line with his previous An Evening With concerts that he had performed before touring behind Pleasure in earnest, it was the first time many fans had to hear him play certain songs solo as he mostly stuck to older songs and the occasional post-Pleasure tune for the intimate series. Apparently he liked the idea and this Black Friday, Sondre Lerche will be releasing a limited edition pink vinyl of stripped down appropriately called Solo Pleasure.
If you weren't lucky enough to either be in New York for the Pete's show (which he also livestreamed), you can now hear what that might've sounded like before the album's November 24th release with "Siamese Twin". One of Pleasure's most straightforward and sultry cuts, solo the track still retains most of what makes it work so well on the record. It's a downtempo moment where Lerche gives listeners a break from the confusion, hurt, uncertainty that opens much of Pleasure and luxuriates in the simple feeling of a connection made. Considering much of Pleasure is obsessed with the body, it's a moment that balances both that and the cerebral as Lerche never really reveals his hand on it. It's not exactly established if it's an actual pursuit or merely a proposition. A thought that either is or isn't acted upon. And stripped of the various effects Lerche and producer Matias Tellez threw on it and essentially sung entirely straight, it's maybe more titillating because Lerche doesn't assume this character he does on the original recording/record. If anything, the solo version highlights how much the original isn't just about sex but about the pursuit or the desire to pursue a deeper connection with someone that you feel can or could complete you.
The album will only be available on Black Friday RSD so make sure you check this list of participating Record Store Day stores and head on out to grab it.
The last I actually heard from English multi-instrumentalist/producer Cosmo Sheldrake, it was when I had essentially followed him around CMJ 2015, he's since done a couple of dates in the UK but remained relatively quiet as he worked on his debut full length record and follow up to his Pelicans We EP. Now with a Europe tour with Johnny Flynn underway and his own headlining tour to follow soon after, he's decided to set free "Come Along", the first single from his aforementioned work-in-progress debut full length.
On his auspicious return "Come Along", Sheldrake essentially swings for the fences going the absolute biggest he can. There's a large grandiose build full of brass fanfare before everything dips out and Sheldrake's vocals enter. Much like his most exciting Pelicans We cuts, Sheldrake balances English folk and folklore references with polished production. Though his aim is dramaticism, that doesn't mean Sheldrake's lost his subtle touch and his builds are organic, his deployment woodwinds and glockenspiel in the quieter moments are spectacularly intricate enough that the first beat-heavy climactic peak is almost unexpected. "Come Along" essentially luxuriates in these ebbs and flows while Sheldrake uses them to display not only his mastery of typical pop songcraft but his more singer/songwriter rooted lyricism while "Come Along" itself is an piece of artful production. Sheldrake hears music in everything and much like his previous songs built on some unexpected and decidedly nonmusical element like rock-splitting on "Rich" or NASA captured sound of the sun in the appropriately named "Solar", "Come Along" features the sound of a vacuum cleaner in addition to an Armenian duduk and field recordings of people juba dancing in New Orleans all seamlessly stitched together with Sheldrake's own man-made additions. Sheldrake's manages to effortlessly weave his naturalistic influences and sample archivist tendencies with such precision that it transcends mere gimmickry, instead they're an nearly impermeable layer in his music that illustrate his innovation without distracting from his obvious musicianship.
Much like his musical setting of William Blake in "The Fly" or his Alice and Wonderland referencing "The Moss", "Come Along" is derived for a similar love of prose and poetry, with Sheldrake referencing heffalumps from A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh stories. Sheldrake's music is delightfully English featuring various winks and nods to staples of British culture but shifting the sense of traditional classicism into the modern day.
Considering how eclectic Cosmo Sheldrake's interests, inspirations, and influences are, there's no telling what his debut full length album will end up sounding like but based off Pelicans We and the incredible first offering of "Come Along", it will certainly be an innovate take on electronic music and I for one can't wait. Unfortunately fans of Sheldrake will as apart from confirming it exists, there's no news of when the album will drop. Until then though "Come Along" will do nicely.
While I was first introduced to Scottish multi-instrumentalist/producer Makeness through his collaboration/affiliation with former Leeds flatmates Adult Jazz, diving in his own music has been interesting enough in its own right. Releasing his Temple Works EP earlier this year, Makeness has provided an experimental take on dance music that ensure his songs are aural journeys not just hook-laden floor-fillers.
"Loud Patterns", his first new single since Temple Works in June and his first on the Secretly Canadian roster, already shows Makeness' Kyle Molleson moving forward in terms of sound. While other artists might root around in a particular sound for multiple releases if not their entire career, Molleson's got his own ideas and those seem aligned with creating the type of music that is interesting for him to create. Maybe that's because he already has an outlet for his more pop-centric works through his work with Glad Hand. Whatever the case, there's no denying Makeness is not creating your run of the mill dance-pop.
"Loud Patterns" doesn't eschew danceability outright, it's still very in line with the beat-heavy that Molleson's been pursuing since his Acid Dad 7" but it pushes his sound forward in a way that's not necessarily supposed to be pleasant to the ear. With crunchy guitar riffs, cacophonous cymbal hits, and an effect or two thrown in for good measure, the track is at times abrasive and others seeks to soothe. Molleson's plays around with the balance on "Loud Patterns" to essentially see what he can get away with and short of 5 minutes of harsh noise, he walks that line confidently. He also throws his vocals into the mix to add to the pop appeal that the song occasionally tries to upend.
Listen to "Loud Patterns":
Makeness is going on a North American tour with Jungle later this year, dates available here.