Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Listen/Watch: Makeness - "Stepping Out of Sync"

photo by Dexter Lander
When Scottish multi-instrumentalist/producer Makeness released "Loud Patterns", the first single from what would eventually be announced as his debut full length, I remarked that the harsher elements of it signaled a change-up of sorts from the dance-pop fair that defined a lot of his earlier releases. While Makeness' Kyle Molleson has always embraced a more experimental approach to electronic dance music, "Loud Patterns" leaned further into less electronic approach through its more prominent incorporation of live instrumentation and angular rock vibes. It was a delicate balancing act of electronic rock and more typical dance pop and "Loud Patterns" succeeded in its effortless tightrope walk between the two. 

And yet, previous Loud Patterns single "Day Old Death" and his latest one "Stepping Out of Sync", find Makeness essentially seesawing towards the familiar. "Stepping Out of Sync" is Makeness at his most unabashedly dance-y. Although it doesn't necessarily start out that way. Molleson takes his time building an impressive track. Beginning with just out-of-focus guitar, the track gradually introduces instrument after instrument and Molleson's vocals before quickly establishing its groove. Molleson's experimental edge is on the subtler side: consisting mostly on his use of effects and production techniques as the track casual slides in and out of view without losing any of its swaggering confidence despite the track title. 

The music video, directed Felix Silvestris and Josha Eiffel, essentially a bit of light on the seeming misnomer as it follows a duo's adventures through a night in London. The two essentially exist in a world all their own turning their city's streets into a dance club while Eiffel and Silvestris' camera gives the sense of an altered reality. The two exist in a world of their own, laughing and going over dance moves before the video's climax which sees the twosome fully realizing the choreography they've been steadily learning over the course of the video and it's a wonderful encapsulation of just how disconnected from the rest of the world; how time can slip away from you when you're in the right company.

Loud Patterns, the debut full length from Makeness is out April 6th on Secretly Canadian. Pre-order is available now.

Listen/Watch: Typhoon - "Rorschach

photo by Jeremy Hernandez
With the release of a solo album What Will Destroy You from Typhoon frontman Kyle Morton in the autumn of 2016, I thought it might be some time until we saw a release from the band in earnest. Which is not to say that a four year gap between records isn't a sizable one - rather, the fact that many of its members leaned into the post-album hiatus after 2013's White Lighter and Morton, the band's chief songwriter released a full length solo debut, I figured it might be some time before Morton cobbled up as complete a set of songs as was necessary to constitute a full length Typhoon record. So imagine my surprise when not only was it announced that the band was working on/recording a follow up last year but that when unveiled it would turn out to be the band's most ambitious.

Offerings, the fourth full length record from Portland, Oregon collective Typhoon is a 14 song concept album split in four parts. The band announced the album with a stream of the album's first movement Floodplains and it showed off both the album's concept: a man losing his memory and thereby himself while also offering up the band's incredible sense of songcraft. Morton's songwriting is as visceral as ever and the band's arrangements as vital. It's been my go-to since its premiere and I was happy to discover that one of my favorite songs in the initial batch "Rorschach" would receive a music video.

While album opener "Wake" functions much less like "Prelude" from White Lighter and much more like "Artificial Light" or "Poor Bastard" from Morton's solo debut in terms of establishing the album's would-be core themes, "Rorschach" introduces the album's conflict in that of the unnamed man's actual response to his memory loss. "Wake" functions as a sort of Greek chorus like introduction before the man's entrance. "Rorschach" finds the man having a much more alarmed reaction to his memory loss as he copes with far less acceptance than his "Wake" counterpart. The reason for this may be time. Morton's songcraft is mostly narrative as he focuses on the disorienting sense that something is missing that haunts the album's protagonist. The song begins with an almost casual utterance of a theme that's plagued many a songwriter: "Eyes on the screen, we have all this information now but what does it mean?"

Bands like Radiohead and Arcade Fire have made whole albums devoted to how we as modern people deal with life in the digital age and how the excessive access to information might be dulling not only how we regard that information but our own humanity. Morton instead opts to focus on the latter: namely what's the use of limitless information if it can't help you preserve who you are? Morton leaves little clues here and there about why the protagonist ended up in this scenario but the why is also treated (as least in the case of "Rorschach") as largely irrelevant. Instead "Rorschach" focuses, like all compelling mysteries, on the "what now?" aspect.

The accompanying music video, directed by Neighborhood Films' Matthew Thomas Ross, leans further into that mystery and that particular sense of loss as the unnamed man (played by Morton) undergoes some sort of psychological evaluation/interrogation hybrid meant to either restore the lost memories or discern if they're really gone to begin with. Plagued by fragments of memories with no  of what they mean. The "Rorschach" video is essentially a mystery inside of a mystery as the viewer is put in the same position as the unnamed man of figuring out just what it all means. It's slickly and captivating shot and is one of those rare music videos that provide new added context to the song it's accompanying. Hardly surprising considering Typhoon and their longtime collaborator put considerable thought into the concepts but the "Rorschach" video levels up their partnership as the band zeroes in on ensuring the viewer/listener takes away a feeling.

Typhoon's fourth full length album Offerings is out now on Roll Call Records. You can order it now. The band are also on tour, you can check out tour dates here.

Pitstop: Boon

photo by Ben Nigh
My introduction to former Brooklyn based quartet Boon is one of those all-too-common instances for me of encountering a band several times before finally getting around to checking out their work. Originally slated for both our bands to play together, I had to leave before their set and thus missed Boon in their more common four-piece iteration. When I did actually manage to catch them a month later, it was an ambient set consisting exclusively of singer/songwriter Brendan Principato on synths. And through questioning a fellow showgoer far more familiar with them than I was informed that this particular set wasn't all that indicative of their recorded output. It wasn't until my band was slated to play with them again that I actually sat down to listen to them and even then it was solely their most recent release "Watermelon"/"Two of Cups". Though there were more than a few opportunities to acquaint myself with the band, the fact that I hadn't familiarized myself with their output essentially made for the most pleasant of surprises. Since the last time I had seen Principato, he and fellow bandmate Drew Sher moved to Philly and retooled the ambient folk project into a more organic twosome. Intricate interwoven guitar melodies met Principato's absolutely head-turning vocals and were pillowed by Sher's complementary harmonies.

While much of their set both that night and the following week consisted of newer tracks Principato and Sher had written after the release of their debut full length they released just this past Summer, being blown away by their set the first night inspired me to more actively consume the band and give There's No Saving This House the first of many spins as well as ensure that I was at their next planned show. Though Boon has effectively halved their lineup, there is no shortage of sound from Principato and Sher who, repurposing old tunes alongside new ones, have managed to minimize the amount of gear and hands necessary to create an incredibly lush textural masterpieces through just the use of reverb, delay, two guitars, and their own voices. Considering the duo's efforts to minimalize, I was struck by their ability to take an incredibly intricate song like album standout "Ruby Current" and really allow it to soar. Eight minutes in length on the record, it's a song that finds Boon giving in to their most jam band of impulses without that actually being a bad thing. "Ruby Current" begins at a stage whisper, a wash of threaded guitars forming as significant a part of the song's aural tapestry as climactic cymbal crashes and Principato's unrestrained melodic howls.

Boon's new setup isn't an entirely new formula. Two guitars, voice, minimal effects: it's been a standard combination practically since the invention of the guitar and surefire staple of the folk genre but it's also a testament to the power of effective songwriting and inventive performance that such a simple tweak has resulted in an absolutely enchanting entry into the genre. Boon's former brand of drone-friendly experimental folk pop was something the band could've effortless explored further and maybe they will continue to do so in the future but the "less is more" style that the duo have adopted as a necessity finds middle ground between standard acoustic focused folk and its more experimental permutation is also worth exploring. Whatever route the duo embark on in their future endeavors, it's sure to be anchored by Principato's emotionally effective vocals and the duo's embrace of stranger sounds and that's something to be excited about.

Boon's debut full length There Is No Saving This House is out now.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Listen: Wye Oak - "The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs"

Though it's certainly not news to anyone lucky enough to catch them on tour last Fall, Wye Oak have emerged triumphant from their latest recording sessions with a follow up to their previous studio record Shriek. Though they released their non-album Tween in 2016, a collection of tracks crafted during recording sessions for various albums that never quite made it onto any, the band's latest The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs is the band's much more confident entry into it's official discography. Baltimore duo no longer and separated by half-a-country, Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack have made the most of their lack of proximity and the cross-country trading of ideas has resulted into newfound creative peaks for the two. After the guitar-less synth pop of Shriek, it was anyone's guess what a Wye Oak album would sound like as the two essentially rejected their status as indie rock darlings in favor of the more fulfilling artistic freedom that Wasner's shift from guitar granted them. "The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs", the title track from the duo's forthcoming fifth studio album of the same name essentially finds Wasner returning to the guitar after demonstrating the full breadth of her multi-instrumentalism on Shriek while her and Andy Stack continue to push the sound of Wye Oak into bold new directions.

"The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs" is mammoth in sound while being composed of so many intricate moving layers. Considering its sprawling opening, it's hard to imagine it isn't the first track on the new record but that honor belongs to "(tuning)". Instead Wye Oak offer the title track as the first taste of new record which functions as an effective synthesis of the duo's oeuvre. No longer relying on particular rules to dictate the formation/crafting of songs, Wasner and Stack instead focused on sifting through various musical ideas and following the most fruitful. While  "Watching the Waiting", the only truly new song on Tween, was much more of a direct commentary on where the band were post-Shriek, "The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs" functions much more as a sort of ritualistic mantra. Wasner repeats the titular phrase often with occasional tweaks and it is the only lyric that fully survive the surging climax throws fragments of previous uttered lyrics back in new unfinished configurations along with the detritus of musical ideas smashed to bits and blown back with intense shredded guitar parts. Wasner highlights the comfort of familiar patterns as a means to remain adrift against a sea of uncertainty and the mantra-like chorus echoes that sentiment entirely.

The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs, the fifth studio album from Wye Oak is out April 6th on Merge. Pre-order is available now.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Listen: Living - "Cherub"

After releasing their debut self-titled EP in late November of 2016, Living, the moniker of Bergen based producer Lucas de Almeida turned full band, has been hard at work on their debut full length album. Though we got occasionally peaks and hints of its existence through a series of singles sporadically released last year ("Glory", "Path", and "Calyx"), "Cherub", the fourth single released since the EP, sees the forthcoming full length continue to further take shape.

Though Living have, with the aid of new member James Kalinoski, sought to expand their tropical-infused psych pop into a quicker paced sound much less reliant on loops and such, "Cherub" slows things down a bit while also engaging in a bit of Living's previous grounding in world music through the use of sitar. Given his own roots outside of his native Norway, the incorporation of atypical samples to fuel and color de Almeida's production is hardly a new endeavor but it is one that the band have relied on less heavily in their most recent output. "Cherub", with its sparse vocal and guitar introduction, sees de Almeida return to this well to expand his timbre palette and also reenlists bassist Nora Tårnesvik on backing vocals to form a delightful complement. "Cherub" also continues the band's efforts to ramp up the pop side of their electronic pop stylings through dynamic song composition. The track is still as richly layered as "Path" or "Calyx" but its shifting tempos and sections, separate it from Living's more consistently plotted tracks.

Absolutely, the debut full length album from Living, will be out later this year.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Listen: Palm - "Composite"

photo by Dylan Pearce
While much of the new material from Philly experimental rockers Palm has been an embracing of the pop element that fuels much of their complex, rhythmic math pop, the quartet certainly haven't forgotten the angular guitars that characterized much of their earlier work nor the bits and blasts of noise they peppered throughout Trading Basics or Ostrich Vacation. "Composite", the latest single from Palm's upcoming sophomore album Rock Island, lands on a sound that's inline with previous Rock Island cuts while recalling the rough-hewn instrumental work of Trading Basics that the band began to lean away from on last year's Shadow Expert EP.

From the start, Palm have always been an incredibly technically precise band but Shadow Expert saw the band adding a layer of polish to that precision as the band sought to marry pop conventions with their off-kilter song structures and aversion to common time. Made up of a skipping stone guitar riffs, "Composite" is simultaneously a buoyant romp and quick-paced shuffle through a kaleidoscopic musical tapestry. Despite it's various shifting sections, Palm manage to thread rhythmic fixtures - like their tumbling guitar riffs and its later echo in the drums. "Composite" sees the band approach the song's change-ups with a pretty casual glide: there's no lead up or hinting just a sudden switch handled with remarkably smoothness as the band continues on like nothing ever happened. And yet, it's hardly one musical idea completely abandoned for a new one, as the two sections are connected through similar though not entirely congruent rhythms before the new section shifts yet again to recall the first part in its coda.

Palm are excellent songsmiths and "Composite" is a perfect display of that as skittering guitars give way to shuffling drums, tempos surge and change course all without revealing where it'll end up. Palm are effortless able to contort their sound in a variety of ways that push their sound forward while still very much fitting into their expanding character. With Rock Island out in little more than a week, it thankfully won't be too long before listeners get to experience what else the band have up their sleeve. With such varying singles as "Pearly", "Dogmilk", and "Composite", it's really anyone's guess what the album will sound like as whole but if there's one thing fans can be certain of it's that it will be as unpredictable as it is good. 

Palm's sophomore full length record Rock Island is out February 9th on Carpark Records. You can order the record here.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Listen: Sur Back - "Anyone Else"

photo by Cate Sans
Caroline Sans, the self-taught musician and producer behind Sur Back, has made much of her young career a balancing act not only between musical realms - the sumptuousness of classical paired with the abrasiveness of rock but also the quiet subversion of expectations in both song composition and lyrical content that she's a particular hard subject to pin down to specific labels. There's no denying that her sound is beguilingly unique. From the fuzzed-out guitars or stuttering beats of "Trophy Daughter" and "Pastel" to the orchestral sweeps of "Kitsch" and "Valentino", Sans has managed to display a dynamic sense of versatility, carving out a varied style all her own that doesn't sacrifice cohesiveness. 

"Anyone Else", the second single from Sur Back's upcoming follow up EP Kitsch II, finds Sans at her most delicate and yet, her most ambitious. One of her first ever songs when she first began her Sur Back project after moving from Palm Spring Gardens to Jupiter, Florida, "Anyone Else" is perhaps the song that's undergone the most drastic update going from a solo guitar ballad to all out compositional masterwork that sees Sans effortlessly interweaving strings with gently pulsing synths to create additional layers of harmonic consonance and textural depth.

 While "Valentino" swayed between powerful brass and ornate strings with bombastic percussion and jagged guitars, "Anyone Else" leans full tilt into Sans' symphonic sensibilities. While Sans has never shied away from the subject of desire (take the sighing "Occam's Razor" or the sultry whisper of "Kitsch") "Anyone Else" stands out for being perhaps the most reverent of it. "Anyone Else" is a love song, full of idyllic splendor as its orchestral lushness instantly recalls a pastoral picnic sojourn away from the noise of the busy city. The first part of a multi-movement work she split between this track and it's successor "Providence", is a tenderhearted exploration of the effervescence of a pure, genuine love. 

Despite its compositional complexity, it's a work of remarkably subtler production as Sans allows her arrangements and her own featherweight voice to do much of the work in lieu of her normal proclivities for contrast. It's most winsome moments lie in its softness, in its wholehearted embrace of the delicate, often fleeting nature of those little epiphanic moments - the way the light catches their eye or the wind their hair that have you convinced you couldn't love a person anymore. Sans elevates these seemingly tiny instances to magic moments of grandeur and awe even engaging in her natural dramatic flair with an attention grabbing grand pause.

With each release, Sans provides evermore reasons to fall in love with her distinct brand of angular but lush experimental pop and "Anyone Else" is no exception. While recalling the supple pastels of Kitsch, it still adds a new dimension to Sur Back as a producer/composer/arrange capable of conjuring moments of endearing gentleness. It's an absolutely thrilling reveal and one that I'm sure Sans is sure to expound on in ways that'll surprise. Until that moment, "Anyone Else" does that plenty. 

Kitsch II, the sophomore EP from Sur Back is out February 23rd.