ARTIST OF THE MONTH: Scam Avenue

Scam Avenue

In case you missed it, we premiered a really rad EP earlier this month, from Brooklyn’s Scam Avenue. But we felt you deserved more, and are hereby declaring the dark electro-pop trio our Artist of the Month. As most miracles happen in New York, they met through Craig’s List. The rest is well, history unfolding, as they’ve only just begun. Scam Avenue is Devery Doleman, Tara Chacón, and Lawrence Kim. They dress in black and reprogram your brain with the intelligence of Star Trek and the compassion of Brian Wilson. I chatted with Devery and Lawrence about Roberta’s Pizza, synaesthesia, and the power of projections. (In live shows, not like when when you convince yourself it’s your cat that really misses your ex-boyfriend.) Check out the interview below.

AF: Do you have any favorite memories from recording the EP?

Lawrence: I ate a lot of Roberta’s pizza. Also it was a real pleasure collaborating with Pete Cafarella, who engineered the EP. Super-talented and a lovely guy to boot.

Devery: My happiest memories are of hanging out in the studio with Pete and Lawrence laughing until I literally cried.  Also: I have really intense synaesthesia and primarily communicate about music synaesthetically –  and Pete and Lawrence would understand when I‘d give feedback in visual terms –  like “the floor needs to collapse here” or “this is where it should jump into hyperspace.”

AF: What does it mean “Scam Avenue?” – and is it a street in Brooklyn? ;)

L: “Scam Avenue” is a nickname of a street in Brooklyn where a lot of weird stuff goes down. It’s kind of a black hole of strangeness.

AF: In your live shows you collaborate with the same guys who helped with “Mercury” video, will you tell me about that relationship?

D: I rely on the projector as an anchor/point of focus when we play live, so the projections are like a 4th band member to me. It’s like a conversation with the projector. The work EyeBodega did for us is gorgeous, I’m incredibly grateful for what they do.

L: We wanted to find a way to make our live show more of an overall experience. Like what Pink Floyd does live. I kind of can’t stand it when a band just gets up there on stage and hunches over their synths or whatever and there’s nothing else going on. You might as well just stay home and listen to the record. I had seen some stuff that EyeBodega had done and I really liked it so I reached out to them and asked if they would be down to collaborate. So they handle the visual side of our shows and (as mentioned above) they also provided the animations that are in the “Mercury” video.

AF: What’s your favorite Brooklyn venue?

D: Cameo Gallery, Union Pool (especially the sound woman at Union Pool who is amazing) and I love playing Grand Victory – Scenic NYC has been great to work with, really supportive of us.  I love seeing bands at Baby’s All Right and hope to play there soon.

AF: Do you all dress in black on purpose, or is that just your individual style?

D: What I’m wearing in that band photo is pretty much what I wear 70% of the time — there has always been a lot of black in my closet.

L: We wear black because it reflects the darkness in our souls. That was a joke. I actually don’t wear a lot of black personally. We just decided to wear black for that photo shoot because we thought it would look good in black and white.

AF: Who are your style muses?

D: Debbie Harry, since forever. (We have the same birthday.) I like her raw, retro/futuristic elegance.  For our EP release show I wore this fantastic silver denim jumpsuit designed by my friend Saira Huff that I describe as “Debbie Harry from outer space.”  I’m into jumpsuits lately and the idea/feeling of having an “uniform”.  Also Anna Karina, Jane Birkin, & Harriet Wheeler.

AF: What is your writing process like?

L: The songs on the EP are based on a bunch of demos I had lying around before I met Devery and Tara. The way I usually write is, I’ll be on the subway or whatever and a musical idea will occur to me. Later, when I’m home, I’ll flesh it out, figuring out the structure and finding the right sounds. Words come last.

D: Lawrence is a songwriting machine.

AF: Will you speak to your love of Beach Boys? Who is your favorite? Have you seen Love & Mercy yet?

L: Brian Wilson once said something like he wanted to make records that were like arms reaching out of the speakers and wrapping themselves around the listener and making the listener feel loved. I think that’s really beautiful, and that’s something I try to to do with our songs. Haven’t seen Love & Mercy — looking forward to checking it out.

AF: What are you looking forward to in the future?

D: Playing more shows, writing new songs.  People have been really enthusiastic about the material and our live show, and I hope to keep sharing that as much as possible.

L: I’d just like to continue to create good music and share it with people.

ALBUM REVIEW: Parquet Courts “Sunbathing Animal”

Parquet Courts

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Following their highly acclaimed 2012 album Light Up Gold, Brooklyn-based punks Parquet Courts delve into something more disembodied and fragmented in Sunbathing Animal, out June 3 via What’s Your Rupture? and Mom + Pop Music. Their sound is essentially the same – still plenty of the lively guitars and driving drums that drew the mass of listeners that religiously follow them now – but there’s something more exact about it, more complete. The 13-track endeavor was inspired by the band’s time on the road and that feeling of displacement and transit is reflected in the lyrics and sound.

The opening track, “Bodies,” is a great introduction to the album as it plays on themes of separation and introspection. As lead vocalist Andrew Savage sings of “bodies made of slugs and guts,” the accompanying guitar follows in spirals and the repetition of phrases and rhythms creates a nearly out-of-body experience where the mental becomes separated from the physical. This effect is repeated in “What Color Is Blood” and “Instant Disassembly” where a dissociation of body and spirit makes the listening experience that more meaningful.

Sunbathing Animal is an album that can be listened to – and should be listened to – from first track to last in order to get its full impact. Shorter, one-minute tracks like “Vienna II” and “Up All Night” act as transitional interludes that really capture the wandering sense of being on tour with the band, feeling their moments of freedom and captivity, and the not-much-longer “Always Back In Town” hinges on ebullient transience. That central theme is visited and revisited in different ways, and at every pace: “Dear Ramona” unwinds slowly for moments of contemplative limbo, “She’s Rollin” stretches into a dissonant harmonica jam by its end, “Raw Milk” captures stumbling, early morning disorientation, and the sneering “Ducking & Dodging” as well as the intense energy and searing drive of the title track are tailored for rowdy live iterations, built to anchor yet many more tour dates in DIY spaces and moldy basements of house shows. As a whole, the album is a strong sophomore follow-up to their early success, their sound more precise and their exploration of different themes relevant especially in times like these, when it often seems as if everything is always in transition.

Watch an animal sunbathing in the video below (+ tour dates):

June 2, 2014 Houston, TX – Fitzgerald’s w/ Radioactivity
June 3, 2014 Dallas, TX – Club Dada w/ Swearin’, Radioactivity
June 4, 2014 Memphis, TN – The Hi-Tone w/ Protomartyr, True Sons of Thunder
June 6, 2014 Columbus, OH – Double Happiness
June 7, 2014 Detroit, MI – PJ’s Lager House w/ Tyvek, Protomartyr
June 8, 2014 Toronto, ON – Horsehoe Tavern w/ Tyvek, Protomartyr
June 9, 2014 Montreal, QC – Il Motore w/ Tyvek, Protomartyr
June 10, 2014 Boston, MA – TT the Bears w/ Protomartyr
June 11, 2014 Brooklyn, NY – Sugarhill Supper Club w/ Protomartyr, Future Punx, Xerox
August 2, 2014 Chicago, IL – Lollapalooza
August 3, 2014 Happy Valley, OR – Pickathon

TRACK OF THE WEEK 12/23 : “Ambien”

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“Don’t wake me up,” howls Blank Paper‘s lead vocalist, Marie Kim, on their new track “Ambien.” It’s not a track that will put you to sleep in the least; instead, it’s more likely to hypnotize you with its sharp beats and bombastic percussion. You, too, won’t want to be woken up from this electronic dream of a song.

The Brooklyn-based synth-pop foursome was formed last year by Taylor Bense (synth, keys, guitar), Chris Holdridge (drums, sampler pads), and Cory Sterling (bass, synth bass), along with Kim. Their new track, with its blustering and glittering ’80s sound, recalls contemporary favorites like the Gorillaz and The Knife—a compelling dance beat paired with fervent vocals that give off both a sweet and edgy feel. You can’t help getting lost in this track, which makes it ideal for the dance floor. 

The song even comes with a 30 second teaser that’s equally as slick, replete with vivid visuals of leather jackets, darkly contrasted facial close ups, and a retro-looking car.

Ambien Teaser from LGTR Productions on Vimeo.

Check out the track below, and keep your eyes peeled for Blank Paper’s new EP coming out in early 2014!
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ALBUM REVIEW: Cruel Optimist

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It’s a rare but exciting thing when you can tell you’re going to like an album within the first few seconds of listening to it; like getting a small gift when you’re least expecting it. Hearing the punchy electric guitar riff and Lauren Denitzio’s raw vocals laid atop a bedrock of noisy pop-punk in Cruel Optimists opening track felt, to me, very much like unwrapping a present. I was giddy and captivated pretty much immediately.

The short album—a mere eight tracks, none of which exceed the three minute mark—is the first full-length release by Brooklyn’s own Worriers, a pop-punk outfit that began as a side gig for Denitzio (also known as Lauren Measure, previously of The Measure [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][SA]). The band involves a rotating cast of characters, with Denitzio firmly at the center of the project as songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist. For Cruel Optimist, she recruited drummer Mikey Erg, bassist Tim Burke, and guitarist Rachel Rubino.

Though the album has a boisterous beginning, it quickly tones things down with its second track, “Precarity Rules.” Denitzio’s voice is particularly spotlighted in the subdued song as she delicately croons “Some things you didn’t see and some things I didn’t know / Except the joy and relief every time you came home,” deftly paired with a gauzy, high-pitched guitar riff. The chorus ditches the guitar riff, though, and trades it for gritty distortion as Denitzio gruffly declares “You’ll get to know me over my grave.” It’s these kinds of twists and turns in the narrative as well as the sound that permeate the entire album and keep things interesting throughout.

“Passion,” the third track, makes another 180, punching up the tempo and adopting power chords and a jumpy, ska-influenced guitar that brings the Dance Hall Crashers or early No Doubt to mind. But the true highlight of the album is its fifth track, “Never Were.” It’s passionate and powerful and fun—the kind of pop punk song that elicits air drumming and mild head banging—but the chorus is sweetly earnest, with Denitzio singing “I keep reminding myself I make mistakes all the time…Here’s to promises we try to keep.” The promises she’s talking about are the ones she made to her “radical politics” from an early age, and how they’ve evolved as she grew up from simply “being bored and angry with nothing to lose.” She touches on personal privilege growing up (“Parents won’t let me work so I could get good grades”) and acknowledges how it facilitated her participation in “social protest” and “anarcho-feminism,” all in a way that’s remarkably grounded.

The album’s careening energy lasts right up until the last second, swerving from undeniably catchy and melodic hooks to noisy distortion and back again. Combined with Denitzio’s vaguely Dolores O’Riordan-esque manner of singing and the record’s melange of thoughtfully written lyrics, both personal and political, the overall package is a solid winner. This is the kind of album that begs for multiple successive replays, not only to unravel its many meanings and stories but also just to rock out to. You’d be a fool to deny it.

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EP REVIEW: IOLA

IOLA2Brooklyn-based quartet Iola recently released their four-track self-titled EP, and I have to say it’s a solid collection of songs. The band’s sound is consistent throughout, and it possesses no distinguishing feature anyone could dislike. That being said, it ventures on the safe side of new music, but I’d rather listen to a good, safe record than an awful, experimental one.

My favorite track is the EP’s opener, “Nikwasi.” This song has the most depth musically, with an undulating surf-western twang that reminds me of a bit of Jesse Sykes And The Sweet Hereafter. The vocals are sweet and curt; female lead vocalist Carey Sveen has a bizarrely familiar voice. I can’t quite put my finger on who she sounds like, but Nina Persson of The Cardigans comes to mind. The tension between that eerie western haze and Sveen’s naive voice is what makes the song for me. I’m also partial to its thumping tempo, which mimics the pace you imagine Sveen stepping along to as she sings:

“I walk in a circle away from you, away from you, away from you.”

Track two, “Leiligheten,” is a bit less ominous sounding than “Nickwasi.” It’s more on the dream-pop side, sweetly lamenting a one night stand.  It has this nostalgic sound to it, almost like a middle school slow-dance ballad. “El Trueno” is the EP’s most surf-influenced song. It maintains the band’s conflict between sugar and gin with a peppy verse and a foreboding chorus. I appreciate Iola’s ability to retain consistent qualities without being gimmicky. It seems as though the band has put a lot of consideration in creating songs that are pleasant at the start and bitter at the finish.

The final song on the record, “McRae,” is admittedly my least favorite. It’s not bad by any means, just a bit generic. It fades out with an anthemic sing along that’s a little too Edward Sharpe/Of Monsters And Men for my liking. It does, however, stick to that characteristic tension: it’s a very “nice” song, but lyrically it is rather “not nice”:

“jail’s nice and empty//but the meth’s started cooking// teeth already falling from our heads”

There aren’t a lot of bands delivering lines about crystal meth from the lips of a waif-y blonde girl, so you have to give Iola that at the very least.

They’re a local band, so if you’re in the neighborhood, check ’em out.

Listen to “Nikwasi” here, via Soundcloud

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