PLAYING DETROIT: Flint Eastwood’s “Find What You’re Looking For”

Playing Detroit

Even without knowing the emotionally turbulent backstory behind Flint Eastwood’s latest EP Small Victories, the first single “Find What You’re Looking For” paints a cathartic landscape that evokes the sensation of conserving breath and energy before climbing a mountain. The song resonates as whispered, yet resilient, triumph. Jax Anderson is no stranger to small victories, nor large ones, respectively. A statement released with the single informs that the song is an interpretation of the last words spoken to Anderson by her mother before she passed: “Don’t let this break you.” As the listener or compassionate voyeur we may not know what the “this” is and we may not know what we’re looking for, but it is with this haunting ambiguity that makes the track accessible and effective in its ability to sound both confident and cautious. In the wake of such loss, Anderson sounds as if she’s begging the sky, crooning, “I don’t want to lose you/this moment next to you/you tell me what to do.” What is most strangely refreshing about “Find What You’re Looking For” is that it shines as a great contrast to the gritty, danceable electro-indie-rock vibe of Eastwood’s 2013 release, Late Nights in Bolo Ties. If this track is any indication to the journey ahead both for Anderson and the audience, Small Victories (to release on October 9th, 2015) will likely encourage the defiant act of letting the light into the dark places.

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ALBUM REVIEW: Blank Realm “Illegals In Heaven”

Blank Realm possesses their own unique energy no matter what genre a song of theirs lands in. And on their new album, Illegals In Heaven, the Brisbane siblings go through a few right away: There’s the opener “No Views,” which captures the scrappy, organized chaos of punk, followed by the shinier, dancier “River of Longing.” Then comes the hazy slide guitar of “Cruel Night,” which borrows from Beggars Banquet-era Rolling Stones. “Gold” is a quieter, gentler track that still maintains an edge: “If you slow me down, I’ll break your heart.”

So, it’s not so obvious what makes Blank Realm’s sound unique to them, but it can be found somewhere in the  heaviness of their guitars and rhythms, and a tight sound that must come either from constant rehearsal- their label’s website boasts that they’ve played over 200 live performances with bands like Kurt Vile, Wild Flag, and Zola Jesus – or maybe the fact that three out of four of the members are siblings and are naturally in tune with each other. Their songwriting isn’t derivative or sentimental but aggressively nostalgic. You can hear their influences, but they don’t glibly copy them on Illegals In Heaven. They take what they know and like, and apply it in a very straightforward, in-your-face way. Because, like they sing on “Flowers In Mind:” “When every move you’re gonna make has been made/When every trick you’re gonna play has been played,” what else can a band do?”

Key Tracks: “No Views,” “Cruel Night,” and “Gold.”

Listen to “River Of Longing” below.

https://soundcloud.com/firerecords/blank-realm-river-of-longing

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Palehound “Dry Food”

dry

Palehound is Ellen Kempner, a former Sarah Lawrence student. Former meaning she dropped out, presumably because even if the school did have a 90s-inspired indie rock class, there wouldn’t have been much left for her to learn; the 21-year-old played everything but the drums on her new album, Dry Food. 

Dry Food is the Massachusetts-based artist’s second release after her 2013 EP, Bent Nail. It gets off to an aggressive start with “Molly,” a track that shows off Kempner’s instrumental skills with two guitar lines: one is wiry and playful, and the other brash, a machine-gun explosion of aggression. This duality continues throughout the album: you’ll hear gentle strumming and fingerpicking, twisting guitar licks, heavy distortion, feedback and nose dives down the fretboard – sometimes all in the same song.

The contrast in her music also applies to her singing. Her lyrics get personal, and are deeply aware, but there’s not so much vulnerability in her voice as a deadpan, matter-of-factness that masks most of the emotion. This works well with her songs – though Kempner isn’t afraid to get loud with her guitar; this isn’t dramatic or overly emotive music. Perhaps this is why she’s developed such a serious knack for imagery when it comes to describing feelings. So, the unwanted makeout session on “Easy” becomes “I’m pushing back your tongue/ With my clenched-teeth home security system,” and the tip-toeing of snobby “healthier folk” is revealed through Kempner asking, “Why don’t they hold me? They just cradle me like a homesick child.”

Possibly her best line comes from the title track: “You made beauty a monster to me/So I’m kissing all the ugly things I see.” Another key track is “Cinnamon,” a song that scatters guitar parts wildly over a smooth, shuffling beat. Kempner’s voice is cloaked in a heavy layer of reverb. By the end of the song she’s practically drowning in it, perhaps a result of a few too many rounds of “mixing water with gin and chasing it with cinnamon.”

If you take Dry Food as it is, it’s a short, but solid album. If you consider that it’s Kempner’s first actual album, and she’s still in her (very) early 20’s, the 28 minutes of casual heartbreak become even more impressive.

Dry Food will be available via Exploding In Sound on August 14th. In the meantime, check out “Healthier Folk” below.

 

Willona on Wax – Old to New: Modest Mouse

The Moon & Antarctica and Strangers to Ourselves

 

Modest Mouse Moon album coverI just bought Modest Mouse’s 2015 album, Strangers to Ourselves (Epic), which is the band’s sixth record. A couple of months ago, I also snapped up a 10th anniversary reissue of their Moon & Antarctica (that reissue being now five years old).  The tough thing for Strangers to Ourselves is being compared to the 2000 classic, which still hits me.

Moon & Antarctica (Epic) is an over-all solid album but there’s some songs I really could live without. When it clicks though, it feels amazing. There are several songs that just fit perfectly together and flow seamlessly into one another. I love the sequence of “3rd Planet,” “Gravity Rides Everything” and “Dark Centre of the Universe,” and then “Alone Down There” and “The Stars are Projectors.”

Modest Mouse excels at storytelling. Their songs aren’t just verse-chorus-verse. They are stories, parables and theories of our human existence. There’s also some really intricate layering going on, musically. “3rd Planet” swings like a pendulum. “Gravity” feels like riding down a long, rolling road infinitely. “Cold Part” sounds hollow. “Life Like Weeds” starts upbeat and jangly and devolves into a dirge. There’s a symmetry to this album.

That being said, I think Strangers to Ourselves will take some time to grow on me. That’s not to say that I don’t like the albumModest Mouse strangers album cover enough, but I’m not enchanted with it. There are delightful moments of melody and foot-tapping rhythm on  “Be Brave,” “The Best Room” and “Pups to Dust.”

I have no doubt the upbeat songs will play well live. Actually, with each listen as I am reviewing the record, I am catching more little rifts that I like. To be honest, when Moon came out, I was still humming The Lonesome Crowded West. It’s possible that it’s just a problem of delayed reaction. In five years, I’m sure that I will fully appreciate all the special pieces of this record. It’s not them; it’s me.

Packaging: Both albums have well-designed packages that show the care and thought put into a quality vinyl release. Moon & Antarctica includes lyrics, a digital download code and vibrant cover art. Strangers to Ourselves includes beautifully-designed sleeves, lyrics and a digital download code.

Where to Get It: You can order both albums here.

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LIVE REVIEW: Public Service Broadcasting @ Bowery Ballroom

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Photography by Julie Halpert
Photography by Julie Halpert

Arriving at the ballroom halfway into Kauf’s set, I weave through the intoxicated crowd towards the bar so that I can start catching up. The air is hot and muggy and Kauf is using that to his advantage, mixing tunes that feel submerged in the deep. This one-man synth show has a surprisingly sweet, almost folksy, voice that makes girls cry, “I love you!” from the audience, giving him a chance to show off his boy band smile.

When I notice a man wearing a NASA shirt with two full cups of beer I know that we’re all ready for some PSB. The London duo Public Service Broadcasting recently released their album The Race for Space, an electro-funk sampling of live transmissions from American and Soviet space stations during the late fifties to early seventies. They come dressed in tweedy suit and tie like professors, as if ready to give us kids a history lesson. Or at least it seems so at first. As they speak to us exclusively via pre-recorded sound bites, it becomes clear that these professors are no more than impish Pucks, teasing us with each deadpan repeat of “Thank you.” The girls still cry, “I love you!” but this time they are met with a clear “Simmer down.”

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Photography by Julie Halpert
Photography by Julie Halpert

Indeed it’s strange there is no singing. Combine that with the abstract video projections of archival footage this makes for more of a performance art piece than a rock concert. We’re inducted into a new kind of space, one ruled by celestial psychedelic robots commanding us to dance. J. Willgoose, Esq. as the main puppeteer of the Voice mouths along to the words of Leslie Howard and JFK, such that his own voice remains a complete mystery to us, even his breath being inaudible. I begin to wonder how our relationship to voice dictates our experience of intimacy, and whether or not PSB have stumbled onto some secret of celebrity.

On “You’re too kind! New York!” we bid adieu to our conquerors. We leave with our eyes clearer, our heads a little higher in the clouds. Cigarettes taste better at this altitude. We might never come down.

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TRACK REVIEW: Penicillin Baby “Stick It Out”

Penicillin Baby

Meet Nashville-based Penicillin Baby. They recently released a new single ““Stick It Out.” These psych-pop rockers (Jon Tyler Conant, Charlie Davis, Taylor Lowrance, and Wesley Mitchell) describe themselves as “Space-Trash.” Listening to the single, one wonders if they are indeed from outer space, sifting through the Southern-infused surf rock vibes that burst with classic punk inclinations. Note: causing writers to wonder if you are space aliens is always a good thing; Earth is overrated. As Hesh told Christopher on The Sopranos, “Now that is a hit.”

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INTERVIEW: Buke and Gase

Buke_Jon Wang

When Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez met in 2000, Sanchez had already been building instruments for years. For him, constructing the instrument came part and parcel with creating sound. When he speaks about creating his gase–a guitar-bass hybrid, and the namesake of one-half the duo Buke and Gase–there’s no sense of novelty to his tone; he makes instruments to suit the sound he wants. Arone Dyer, perhaps even more straightforwardly, made her first baritone ukelele (the buke) as a way around her carpel tunnel syndrome. Their philosophy is no-nonsense, the resulting sound otherworldly. The Brooklyn-born two-piece, more recently of Hudson, NY, uses every limb at its disposal: Dyer and Sanchez dreamt up their own breed of kick drums and something called a toebourine to accompany their primary instruments, in the name of making a heavy, cataclysmic sound filled with contradictions of darkness and delicacy, percussive rhythm and cacophony.

When I called Buke and Gase last week, they were on the road, in the latter leg of a short tour. Dyer answered the phone, her voice pleasant and frank, breaking periodically into little bursts of laughter. In Buke and Gase’s swampier songs, this voice works like a foil to the distorted instrumental lines. It rises above the chaos, clear and soaring, a homegrown instrument in itself.

 

AudioFemme: So, you guys are on tour. Where are you right now? How’s it been so far?

Arone Dyer: We’re on our way to Chicago from Detroit. It’s been great! We started in Boston and went to Montreal and Toronto and Detroit last night. It was a pretty short tour.

AF: Both of you live in Hudson right now. Do you find there’s a difference between being a musician in Brooklyn and being a musician in upstate New York?

AD: Um, no? Yes? There’s a lot less anonymity in Hudson. You move into town and you meet everyone. It’s a very small town. Everybody knows what we do, and we know what everybody does. In Brooklyn, you tend to like, have your scene, which is the group of people you spend the most of your time with. That kind of limits your friendship base to the size of a small town. Which is pretty much what we’ve got in Hudson. In Brooklyn, or New York, or any larger city, there’s also the influx of other people who are curious or who you wouldn’t otherwise see on a regular basis.

AF: I actually used to live in that area. I know that Kris Perry (a local artist who builds sculptures that operate as musical instruments) lives around there, too. Have you ever played with him? Do you think there are some elements in his work that resemble what you do?

AD: Oh yeah, totally [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”][we’ve interacted.] His musical instruments are mainly sculpture that makes sound. That’s what’s really interesting about his work. Our work is not necessarily sculptural, it’s more that we make the instruments to perform the sound that we specifically want to get. Form follows function with us, whereas for him it’s the form that comes first, I think. Although he integrates it, too.

AF: Can you tell me a little bit about your songwriting process?

AD: Sure. Basically, all of our songwriting comes out of the two of us in a room together. We don’t bring anything to the table necessarily from our own personal stash, our own ideas. It’s very rare that that happens. Usually Aron and I get into a room and we sit and improvise for hours on end. We record it all and then we go back through and listen to it, just kind of sift through the whole improv, and pick out stuff that catches our ear, or that we hear some kind of potential in, and we work with that. We’ve tried taking parts and contriving them into full songs, or taking several parts from different improvisations and putting them together, or just taking an entire improv as it is and learning that. So there’s lots of different ways and it all comes out pretty organically and differently each time.

AF: And it’s a totally collaborative process at this point?

AD: Oh yeah, totally. A completely fused collaboration.

AF: How did the two of you meet? Were you involved with other projects at the time?

AD: A long time ago, in 2000. I was roommates with one of his friends. We were both musicians, but I don’t know if we were doing anything specifically at that time. We started playing music together pretty much right away.

AF: Aron, you were already building instruments at that time, right? What got you started making your own instruments?

Aaron Sanchez: When I was really, really young, it was part of the process of me learning to be a musician. I just got really into taking things apart and putting them back together. It was just natural for me to get into it like that.

AF: Did anyone teach you how to build instruments? Did you take formal music training?

AS: No, I was self-taught. It was mostly like, “Oh, I want this instrument–I’ll make it!” That kind of attitude. I studied classical piano for about nine years, and I taught myself guitar, and maybe some drums. I started playing bass. I became more of a bass player for a long time. I took some lessons here and there, but primarily I’m self-taught.

AF: Who writes your lyrics?

Arone Dyer: I do. Or it’s mostly me, probably about 90%. But we talk about them.

AF: Do they usually come after you’ve written the music?

AD: It totally depends. It’s different every time. Sometimes it’s straight from improvisation, where I’m mumbling or saying something weird and I’ll try to phonetically translate that and it becomes the base of whatever story it is. Sometimes lyrics come from a dream diary. I keep track of my dreams.

AF: That totally makes sense. Your lyrics always seem to me to be kind of surreal and dark. Do you prefer to write lyrics that don’t have an immediate, explicit meaning?

AD: (laughs) I mean, I’m human. I like to have things make sense. I look for patterns, that’s what humans do. So generally that’s what I go towards, but there are many times when it just doesn’t happen.

AF: Do you intentionally write dark lyrics?

AD: Dark, no, it’s not always intentional. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s born out of the feeling of the music, too, because our music kind of heavy. Or sometimes it’s not–the contradiction of having lyrics that are dark and a sound that’s very light, I think both of us find that contradiction really interesting. So lots of times the [music and lyrics] end up being contradictory or…dissonant. Or maybe I’m just a dark person. I can’t tell.

AF: On your albums–for example, on General Dome–do you have a vision for the songs before you begin to write or record them?

AD: No. Not at all. We never have a plan. Like I said–we get into a room and we improvise. What comes out of that is where we are.

AF: Interesting. Do you make new instruments specifically for certain songs, certain recording sessions?

AD: No. I mean, Aron tends to make a new instrument every three months or so. Or twice a year? Well, he’s made something like thirteen different gases, and sometimes they have the same neck but a different body, or a different neck but the same body, of they’re entirely new. He’s constantly developing a sound.

AF: Do you come across people who want to play a buke or a gase? Do they ask you for lessons?

AD: Totally. Tons of people.

AF: Do you make instruments to sell, or would you consider doing so in the future?

AD: No, we don’t sell instruments. [As for the future,] it depends. I think Aron would say the same thing.

AF: Has there ever been an instrument that ended up making a sound completely different than the sound you had thought it would make?

AD: No, I mean, we’re not just building blindly. The instruments I’ve built, or created, were for a specific thing. In the past I’ve built an instrument that I wasn’t sure how it would sound, but I basically made a tenor bass. I’ve been thinking lately about doing something different for my instrument, though. I’m kind of ready to move on to something else. Maybe in the future, I’ll come out with something where I won’t know how it’s going to end up.

 

Buke and Gase will keep their live act on the road in the coming months, and are slotted to appear in Ireland in December! Check out the elaborate and fragmented video for “General Dome,” off the  2013 album of the same name, below:

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ALBUM REVIEW: Foxygen “…And Star Power”

Foxygen

When I was in college, I spent a lot of time dating musicians, which meant I spent a lot of time sitting in on band practice. By “dating,” I guess I mean puttering around somebody’s basement, falling asleep on an old, bottomed-out couch, my French homework in my lap. Or being invited over to “hang out,” which meant lying around and listening to my amarato’s admittedly very good sound system crank out some rare Morphine b-side or watching him play “Wave of Mutilation” on acoustic guitar. But all that is beside the point. The point is, there’s something about Foxygen’s new album, …And Star Power, that reminds me very much of sitting in on band practice. The songs meander at length, and often talk more to themselves than to their listeners. They navel-gaze. To get to the nuggets of exhilaration and catchy magic buried in this thing, you have to sit through a lot of repetition, strumming, and self-amazement.

It’s easy to see why …And Star Power is so ambitious, and sometimes seems like it incorporates every musical thought the band has had over the past year. On their 2012 studio debut Take The Kids Off Broadway, the California-based outfit Foxygen–aka Jonathan Rado and Sam France, who between the pair of them make a sound so huge and anthemic it’s hard to believe they’re a duo–set a standard for overarching power rock full of catchy choruses and drunk-around-the-campfire feelgoodery. Then, the very next year, they put out the airtight and stellar We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic. It was sweet and raucous, and in its way, it was a huge album, too–concise as a well-packed suitcase, 21st Century Ambassadors seemed as if it could expand into two or three records worth of triumphs and lessons.

Measure for measure, the number of well-constructed melodies in …And Star Power probably equals that of 21st Century Ambassadors; however, the former is a double album, clocking in at about an hour and twenty minutes. With extra time comes extra filler, presented as spaciousness and a vaguely futuristic ambiance punctuated by such spoken interjections as “society, maaaan” thrown seemingly at random into the background of the tracks. One might imagine that Foxygen decided to make a double album before writing the requisite songs to fill one, but I think it’s more likely that …And Star Power‘s long-windedness is a result of a challenge it makes to itself to be even more multi-faceted than 21st Century Ambassadors, and simply incorporate every kind of music in the history of rock and roll. Thus the swirl of lo-fi strummed folk, the sludgy doom metal, the channel-changing static, thus the campy ’70’s space noises, thus the schizophrenic production. Like porch furniture being sucked into a tornado, classic Americana, noise rock, California psych, and more than a few nameless hybrids go flying towards the gaping maw of Foxygen’s musical vision.  Voila: …And Star Power.

..And Star Power came out October 14th on Jagjaguwar. Pick up your copy here, and check out the psychedelic lullaby “Cosmic Vibrations,” from …And Star Power, below:

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Empires “Orphan”

Empires

Orphan, the first major label release on Chop Shop/Island Records from contemporary rockers Empires, is equal parts purist and fugitive. With deference for all that came before them, the four Chicago natives spin out in multiple, bold new directions. Throughout, Sean Van Vleet’s silky vocals run like water over the sharp edge of gritty garage rock instrumentation. At times, the group leads with their alternative core – a brooding acidity that first cracks, then erupts with uncontainable, melodic energy. In later tracks, the band summons the likes of 80s essentials New Order with their tasteful use of synth accents, overlapping reverbs, and pop-reminiscent harmonies. Furthermore, their experiments with unlikely intros on tracks “Silverfire” and “Shadowfaux” bring an element of spontaneity that cements Empires’ commitment to expanding their breadth and that of modern rock itself.

“Orphan,” the title track and second on the album, also begins unconventionally, with spacey sound effects and monotone strumming. However, the catapulting lick of the chorus soon brings forth a kaleidoscope of blurred streetlights and blue-black skylines. An utterly succinct track, it demonstrates Empires’ knack for compacting complexity. Experiential and transient, it foreshadows the album as a whole with its sprawling scope and often indescribable landscape of emotions.

Next comes “Hostage.” Coarse upon the ears, jagged in the chest, the track is firmly rooted in that ominous, alternative world that is Empires’ lifeblood. Van Vleet’s intonation echoes with the raspy quake of the guitars, revealing a rawness to his instrument that was previously unknown to the listener. “I struggle with the loneliness / And you, you help me, you’re the cure for it,” he confesses in the rousing bridge, going on to unleash the full power of his resounding bellow to the very last screech of the amp.

Smack-dab in the middle of the 11-track LP is “Lifers,” a waif-like interlude striking in its simplicity. Whimsical verses float upon dreamy keyboards and lackadaisical drumbeats. It makes for a soothing pause before Orphan launches into a second half characterized by pop/new wave sentiments. “Please Don’t Tell My Lover,” a funky delight at #8, demands the listener’s attention. It’s fresh, complete with warped synth strings that drift in and out around an addicting, bouncy guitar riff. The vocal runs on the chorus are so catchy, they imprint themselves instantly in the mind, and the beat is sure to motivate a move or two, adding a dance hit to the album’s already impressive list of rock subgenres.

Finally, at second to last, there’s “Glow.” Stripped down strumming and sparse drumming accompany an insightful, meandering lyric line that muses, “Inspired on failed love in the debris of heart dust / When the night falls I expose to give you a show / And I need you to glow.” Repeatedly, choruses explode forth from a crescendo of drums and oohs that ring out like sirens, but it all stops abruptly in the end. A guileless conviction fully expressed, there is nothing left to be said.

There’s much to be said of this “empirical” venture though. Epic and edgy, the album is just the sort of statement that should mark a major label debut for burgeoning headliners. Drawing inspiration from the best of influences all the while influencing us to find new inspiration, Orphan solidifies Empires’ status as a group that other rock musicians will be taking cues from soon.

Listen to “Please Don’t Tell My Lover” from Orphan via Soundcloud.

Catch the boys at one of their many North American tour stops below:

10/2 – Kansas City, MO at the Record Bar
10/4 – Austin, TX at Austin City Limits
10/10 – Austin, TX at Stubbs Jr.
10/11 – Austin, TX at Austin City Limits
10/17 – Akron, OH at Musica
10/18 – Columbus, OH at the Rumba Cafe
10/19 – Grand Rapids, MI at Founders Brewing Company
10/21 – Minneapolis, MN at 7th St. Entry
10/23 – DeKalb, IL at the House Cafe
10/24 – Champaign, IL at Error Records
11/7 – Pontiac, MI at the Pike Room
11/8 – Pittsburgh, PA at the Smiling Moose
11/9 – Philadelphia, PA at the Barbary
11/11 – Boston, MA at Church of Boston
11/13 – Hoboken, NJ at the W Hotel
11/14 – Brooklyn, NY at Baby’s All Right
11/15 – Washington, DC at DC9
11/16 – Carrboro, NC at Cat’s Cradle Back Room

ALBUM REVIEW: Braeves “Drifting by Design”

Braeves

Braeves

Childhood friends Ryan Colt Levy and Derek Tramont are the backbone of Long Island ensemble Braeves, but it was a labor of love and experimentation with more recent add-ons Thomas Killian McPhillips IIV and Nick LaFalce that brought forth their melodically-inspired new sound. The group, produced by Mike Watts, has garnered comparisons to Local Natives, The Shins, and Grizzly Bear, undoubtedly owing to their rich, echoing vocals that move over a similar rock/pop landscape. However, there’s a driving quality embedded in EP Drifting by Design that diverges from what we know and moves us graciously toward “Braeve” new territory.

The quartet doesn’t waste any time. From the very first drum lick in “Guest of the Gun,” Levy’s vocals ring out with a captivating presence that bends along the roving refrain. Melody and percussion play off one another, the rhythmic lyrics and sliding vocals crackling with McPhillips’ slick beat.

The EP then moves to more somber, minor-resounding terrain with “Talk Like Strangers,” a percussive rumble continuing to power the album’s course. This track unleashes Braeves’ lyrical prowess with a succinct, familiar tale of two people found foreign to one another in the wake of their mutually faded affection: “We talk like strangers in empty storylines / Stare right through each other, then on to the next lie.” Trapped by false notions of one another, they lean on illusion to ride out the storm: “Ooh, hallucinate yourself the perfect lover / Dressed in best intention, dripping with another.”

Next comes the standout – the lilting, soulful mid-tempo “Souls in Transit.” Keyboards tumble from a daydream, followed by the entrancing ebb and flow of an undulating lyric line. Levy’s vocals are rawer and realer than before, a fresh and gravelly timbre added to both his suspended falsetto and delectably pliable straight tones. Amped, electric strings break out on the chorus, and the refrain lifts from the ground for a few breathtakingly weightless moments before gliding softly back down to the swaying bass line.

At last, the EP goes out on a rolling surge in the form of “While Your Body Sleeps.” Percussion and vocals intermingle once more and throw themselves at the canvas, building to a cacophony of vibrant sights and sounds that reaches its apex, then fades.

What Braeves have brought us in Drifting by Design is that up-and-at-‘em feel that gives their soulful meander indelible purpose. It is a sound untouched by wanderlust and un-plagued by aimlessness, yet one that paints a vivid reverie nonetheless. It manages to tell the tale of that most surreal and ambling journey, remaining firmly planted in the present while at the same time boundlessly moving forward, unstoppable as life. It is Braeves’ arduously crafted design that gives this ode to a drifting trajectory the capacity to soar.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: Chastity Belt “Black Sail”

Chastity Belt - Group “Black Sail” is not the typical fare for the ballsy, brazen females of Walla Walla, Washington’s indie rock group Chastity Belt. Nevertheless, their irreverent 2013 debut No Regerts from Help Yourself Records kicks off with the sonorous, uptempo track, highlighting Julia Shapiro’s powerful, pining tone before diving into the cohort’s staple off-kilter gems like “Nip Slip” and “Pussy Weed Beer”, which showcase their more widely known talent for wry, foulmouthed humor.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the smuttiness – bring it on. Some days you just need a good ole sing-along to “Chips and dip, nip slip!” but “Black Sail” happens to be just as delightful a surprise. A driving beat and inviting chord progression carry on through to the end, and catchy riffs scattered throughout blend seamlessly with the round, entrancing vocals. Now, the track can be savored via its new video accompaniment, although, I recommend you don’t savor your dinner at the same time.

Director Maegan Houang paired the uneasy ache of “Black Sail” perfectly with a tale of weather-beaten Oregon Trail pioneers turned gruesome, Zombie-laden slaughter fest. The surprisingly low-budget, non-union shoot in Morongo Valley, CA yielded a finished product of stunning panoramas, poignant performances, and remarkably believable gory effects. Its final moments – when the last survivor must resign herself to an unbearable fate – will never leave your memory.

TRACK OF THE WEEK: Adia Victoria “Stuck In The South”

Adia Victoria

Adia Victoria

“Stuck In The South,” the debut single from the little-advertised shadow figure Adia Victoria (along with her band: Mason Hickman, Tiffany Minton and Ruby Rogers), is a curious matrix, at once single-mindedly powerful and also complex, made up of conflicting impulses.

Adia Victoria’s is not a voice that sidles in politely. Rather, it slams open the door with one callused fist, stalks into the joint, elbows you off your barstool, and orders a whiskey neat. The 28-year old South Carolina native has clearly practiced making herself heard, both in the crowded Nashville bar and honky-tonk circuit where she made her bones as a performer, and also as a means of escape from the American Gothic nightmare she describes in “Stuck In The South.”

“Yeah, I been thinkin’ about makin’ tracks,” Victoria sneers in the first verse of the song, “but the only road I know, it’s going to lead me back.” She sings with an animalistic glare, conjuring not only a clear picture of her stagnant,  claustrophobic, sinister environment but also of herself as a character within it. Every twang on her guitar cuts like barbed wire, and it’s this anger, haunting and predatory, that makes the single so goddamned good. But in “Stuck In The South,” Victoria’s prowess as a storyteller is impressive too, and the track evokes the drawl and swagger of Southern rock and roll as colorfully as it does the “Southern hell” she’s trying to get away from. She seems to turn her fear of becoming a product of the South on its head, becoming unstuck not by running from her demons but by dominating them. The song immerses a listener in a three-dimensional environment, cinematically evocative and all the richer for its details and complexities.

Produced by Roger Moutenot (known for his work with Yo La Tengo), “Stuck In The South” is Victoria’s first foray into relative Internet mainstream. Her minimalist approach to releasing music–even now, after her single’s release resulted in a resounding critical chorus demanding more–makes a powerful song even punchier. Dig into “Stuck In The South” below, via Soundcloud.

ARTIST PROFILE & LIVE REVIEW: Jared & The Mill

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As I stood in the back of the packed venue I could feel the anticipation of the audience. Most of spectators did not know there was an opening act, and that they were about to be blown away. I myself was also unaware. Jared & The Mill was one of the best surprises I’ve had all year.

By pure circumstance the first person I met in the Constellation Room was Travis Alexander, the manager of Jared & The Mill. We started talking about music, our jobs and a bit of existentialism. I was promptly introduced to Jared Kolesar, the lead singer of the band, then within a few minutes the concert began. As they walked onto the stage, instruments in hand, the crowd seemed confused at the absence of the main act. However it did not take long for people to become captivated by the absolutely vivacious performance.

For Jared & The Mill this was the finale to over a month of touring with Barry Gibb, one of the founding members of the iconic 70’s band, the Bee Gees. Barry had been looking for an opening act for his tour and, even though musically the two groups have little in common, Gibb was hooked once he heard their sound. The tour had been an incredible journey for them; they went from TD Garden in Boston to The Constellation Room in Santa Ana. Two nights before I met them, they had performed at the Hollywood Bowl (providing some of their parents serious consolation that music wasn’t such a risky career path after all). Hailing from Tempe, Arizona, Jared & The Mill have been playing together for three years and their Southwestern origin can definitely be heard in their tunes and lyrics. Many of the band members had been involved in music long before meeting up – drummer Josh Morin majored in percussion performance and guitarist Larry Gast III studied jazz performance in college. As for Jared, he had been in a business program before he experienced a life-altering realization that he would be happier creating music. Rounded out by Michael Carter (banjo, mandolin and harmonica), Chuck “Bassman” Morriss (electric and upright bass), and Gabe Hall-Rodrigues (accordion and piano), each member of Jared & The Mill has an obvious love for music and this passion shines through when they perform as a group. Each player stands behind a microphone to help create their beautiful harmonies.

In spite of the sound guy’s negligence, they played brilliant concert. I couldn’t help but to give all of them huge hugs and praise. A lot of their songs have a folksy feel, but their sound is constantly evolving and by the end of their performance they had shifted into a more indie rock vibe. After the main act finished we went to In & Out (there is no better place on the West Coast for an interview at 1AM). We talked about their visit to this year’s SXSW, poignant because their friend Mason Endres had been involved in the drunk driving incident outside of Mohawk that left three festival-goers dead. Mason survived but didn’t make it to the band’s shows, so without hesitation the whole ensemble visited Mason in the hospital and sang her favorite tunes. The authenticity and joy they radiate is a key part of Jared & The Mill’s brilliance.

A few picks for their musical dream collaboration included the Fleet Foxes, Brian Wilson and Andrew Bird. They fantasize about performing at Red Rocks Amphitheatre and have a long-term goal of being the first band to perform in outer space. They have been working on reshaping their sound, which for them is a constant activity.

With beautiful lyrics, nearly perfect harmony, intense stage presence, and endearing personalities, the boys enchanted the audience. Their incredible talent and ability to “instill a sense of family” in the crowd make it hard not to be swept away by their sincerity and ease. Meeting Jared & The Mill made my weekend and I can’t wait until the next time our paths cross.

ALBUM REVIEW: Popstrangers “Fortuna”

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New Zealand indie rock trio Popstrangers have ditched the distorted noise of their first album for a hazy 60s pop sensibility. The classic sounds of London rock are evident in their new work, unlike the Kiwi-fied focus of their previous music. A combination of subtle urban anxiety and straightforward hooks forms the foundation for their newest album Fortuna, out May 27th. This is an album that really explores the emotional side of pop. Throughout diverse subjects of love, comfort, communication, and hostility, a singular mood prevails. Even though this is not a joyful record, that mood contributes to a strong sense of fullness which is satisfying and engaging.

Initially, Fortuna’s sound left a disjointed first impression. But the disparate relationship between jerky guitar and soothing rhythms gave way to a sense of balanced dreaminess. If nothing else, Popstrangers have created a record that is both simple and hard to pin down. Joel Flyger’s vocals exist in a fusion somewhere between downtown dance-punk snarl and 80s New Romo crooner, but influences on the record represent a serious range, from the psychedelic opening riffs of “Violet” to the urgent, Costello-esque pop rock  of first single “Country Kills” in which Flyger flippantly laments “My country will kill me now” before launching into a chorus of “whatever.” The video for that latter track, directed by friend and Mazes member Conan Roberts, is particularly reminiscent of early-aughts Strokes. But these similarities are never overwhelming; the album moves gracefully through those associations with such ease that it’s hard to get stuck on them.

More than anything, it’s the simplistic undertones that dominate the record and make it feel like an instant classic. These songs take simple hooks, some atonal guitar, and muddy up the lyrics just enough that you have to strain to pick apart meanings and themes. The delivery isn’t jaded so much as effortlessly cool; tracks like “Tonight” come across as automatically familiar, making easy to get into. The simplistic melodies and rhythms push the tone or feeling of the songs forward, and it feels quite refreshing to be able to rely on a visceral reaction for once. As Popstrangers sing on opening track “Sandstorm,” “Sometimes I get the strangest feeling / Oh.” Like a sixth sense that cannot be easily explained with words, Popstrangers use these compositions to get that sense of drifting across, hinting that instinct leads to better understanding anyhow. It’s not minimalist by any means, but it’s definitely not incredibly complicated songwriting, and that’s more than okay.

Fortuna may not be complex, but it has just enough substance to keep your attention and provide some fun, without strain on the mind or the ears. Check out latest single “Don’t Be Afraid” below, and score a of the LP when it comes out on May 27th via Carpark.

TRACK PREMIERE: Stand Up and Say No “Can You Feel”

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Stand Up and Say No is the moniker of indie rock musician and producer Andre Nault. One day when he saw one of his songs used in a car commercial, Nault realized that this is not the kind of musician he wants to be – selling out or topping the charts. He explores this experience further in the song “Can You Feel,” a short, lively rock piece that harkens back to the Strokes or Interpol, off his upcoming EP Assuming Loyal.

“Can You Feel” begins with a strange mood: resounding synths create an almost carnival-like atmosphere. Then, the serious rock bursts out and moves steadily with the somewhat out-of-place synth. The melody is fun and simple. Nault has a typical indie rock voice, more of a classic baritone like Matt Berninger, than the unique stylings of Ian Curtis or Paul Banks. He sings from the perspective of a man who’s “tired of climbing the greasy pole,” he proclaims. “Can you feel what I feel? Can you tell what’s real?” He asks us. Listen here, and decide for yourself.

Listen to “Can You Feel” below and look out for Assuming Loyal which will be out May 6th:

 

LIVE REVIEW: The Box Tiger @ Rock Shop

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So let’s set fire to our friends. 

We can watch them burn ‘till their dead, dead, dead. 

 The Box Tiger is an indie rock band from Toronto, Canada. Formed in 2009, They released initial material, a self titled EP in 2010. After teasing us with a few singles, they finally dropped their full length album in late 2013. Set Fire is ten tracks deep (a little over 30 minutes long) and consists of poppy hooks enriched with harsh instrumentation. Lyrics consist of deeply personal accounts of youthful romance and heartbreak. Although there have been a number of shifts in the lineup, the band is currently made up of Sonia Sturino (guitar, vocals), Jordan Stowell (guitar), Marcus Cipparrone (drums) and Cam Jones (bass).

After seeing them play live at The Rock Shop on Thursday, 2/13, I take back my previous description. There is nothing poppy about The Box Tiger. The live performance consisted of explosive, yet rhythmically tight instrumentation (the fact that this performance was the first with bassist Cam Jones makes it all the more impressive). Each track was turned up louder than on the recorded version, with front woman Sonia Sturino screaming above the noise circulating the stage. Sturino was surprisingly adept at maintaining the same stylistic vocals that she displays on Set Fire while  shouting above the music simultaneously.  

Sturino, Stowell, Cipparrone and Jones are a dedicated group of people. They proudly announced to the audience that they drove all the way from Portland, Maine to perform for us, officially putting me (who was proud of trekking all the way to Park Slope from Bedstuy) to shame. Google maps has informed me that the journey from Portland to New York takes approximately five hours and six minutes in ideal conditions.  You can only imagine how long it must have taken during yesterday’s weather conditions.

Sonia looked as chic as ever, hopping on stage rocking the Canadian tuxedo. She briefly introduced the band, and then plunged into the set.  The Box Tiger ran through a number of tracks off of Set Fire, including “Taller Than Trees,” “Bleeding Heart,” “Set Fire To Your Friends,” “Maker,” “Hospital Choir” and “Knives.”

There was a dichotomy between Sonia when she sang and when she spoke. When she sang, she shouted, twitched, stomped, and shook with passion in an abrasive and aggressive manner. When speaking, she was humble, down to earth and almost shy. After thanking the audience again for trekking through the weather, she admitted that she was surprised that anyone showed up. Then she went on to plug their CD, although (in her words) they aren’t cool and have vinyl and tapes, because they are a poor little band who does everything on their own.  Call me a sucker, but I am easily won over by even a smidgen of self-reflection.

The Box Tiger is forging their path in the arena of stylized, hook driven indie rock. With passion, personality, musicianship and drive (the fact that they drove all the way here from Maine in an ice storm says it all) I’m sure that this is only the beginning for the The Box Tiger. Check out Set Fire here.

 

“Set Fire To Your Friends”

TRACK REVIEW: “Red Eyes”

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Channeling late eighties classic rock and an oft-noted kinship with Bruce Springsteen’s raw jubilance, The War On Drugs have released three albums since their inception in 2003. Over the course of the decade, the line-up has fluctuated–notably, founding member Kurt Vile left the group in 2009 to devote his energy to a solo career–but the thesis of the project remains as cohesive and simple as frontman Adam Granduciel, when he moved from California to Philadelphia in 2003 and began recording, conceived it to be. Classic passion crosshatches experimentation and introspection; the grainy, pounding drum beat coexists with caramel vocals, smoothly moody and wise.

The band’s third full-length release, Lost In The Dream, will be out next March, accompanied by a lengthy international tour kicking off in Australia in the last few days of this year. Until then, you can listen to the album’s first single, “Red Eyes,” a track that feels compact despite being sprawling, by built-for-radio three-minute scorcher standards, at five minutes.

If War On Drug’s project is a kind of re-envisioning of the electric guitar-based music of a few decades ago, the group focuses on the highlights, bringing pummeling drums and euphoric vocal lines to the forefront. The song evokes a scene of natural beauty as seen from the driver’s seat of an energy-drink-and-cheeseburger-fueled road trip, undertaken solo–all the unabashed freedom of a Springsteen song, but with an added touch of loneliness and a sense momentous life change just around the corner. “Red Eyes,” though too introspective to be a straightforward anthem, delivers a fast pace and a weighty undertow.

Listen to “Red Eyes,” off the forthcoming album Lost In The Dream, here via Soundcloud:

ALBUM REVIEW: “Caveat Emptor”

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An album that has a high level of alteration put into it—synth-laden vocals, electronic effects, trumpets and strings—often results in chaos. Shimmering, vocals-obscuring production can blunt the point of the music’s ability to emotionally grab. That’s not the case on Caveat Emptor, Brooklyn-based Empty Chairs’ November 5th release. Although the new album emphasizes a kind of floating and dream-like ambiguity of intent, this somehow does not detract from the powerful connection forged with the listener, and I’m still trying to figure out exactly why that is.

The vocals, from the very beginning of the first track, demonstrate a yearning, loving vitality. The earnestness of singer/guitarist Peter Spear’s voice harnesses the often-obscured lyrics, cool, delicate detachment of the synth lines, and soft-landing drum beat into a sound that’s focused and emotive. This isn’t to say the vocals overcome an otherwise cacophonous record, though, because despite the fact that Empty Chairs incorporate a large instrumental scope into their sound, all the various lines within the music seem to work from different angles towards a common goal: deliberate chaos.

Each song begins with a set of rhythmic samples, gradually stirring in different elements as the melody repeats. But, since the album takes place on a wispy, dream-like plane, the dynamic range necessary to accommodate this kind of repetition is not present. There is no underlying driving power to kick up the intensity of the music’s progression as it cycles along, leaving the tracks to just sort of hang for minutes, suspended in time. Within a greater dynamic spectrum, this could be mesmerizing.

The last of Caveat Emptor‘s ten tracks, “The Night Sky Becomes An Ocean,” hints at this expansion of sound: the string section builds the song to a wondrous, cinematic head, and a corresponding warmth of vocals comes across earnest without seeming too navel-gazey. Including more tracks like this one, and slimming some filler in the repetitive sections of the songs, would have added depth to an already emotive collection.

 

Check out “Caveat Emptor” here via Soundlcoud:

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ALBUM REVIEW: Arcade Fire “Reflektor”

Despite conspicuously broadening the instrumental range of their albums and going through a battalion of members since the outset of its career, Arcade Fire has retained many of the themes that defined Funeral, the band’s first album, just over nine years ago. Reflektor–which came out on October 29th, 2013–features churning, string-heavy verses that build up to high-energy choruses, overachieving lyrical themes, and a general sense of bleakness juxtaposed with lush, orchestral instrumentation–all hallmarks of Arcade Fire’s previous work. In addition to this, though, Reflektor dials the role of electronic instruments way up on this album and brings the drum beat further into the foreground, creating a kind of driving pulse to back nearly every track.

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Die-hard Arcade Fire traditionalists, fear not. All changes work in service to the band’s sound. By trading out some of their former graininess in favor of strong, eighties-inspired beats on tracks like “We Exist,” Arcade Fire heightens the drama behind devastating, cyclical chants–“You’re down on your knees, begging us please, praying we don’t exist/But we exist. We exist. We exist”–and adds an epic, mythical quality to  the anxiety that’s always been behind the group’s songs. Arcade Fire seems to have achieved, with this album, a more expansive take on instrumentation, and they’re operating with every tool they’ve got.

Canadian husband-and-wife duo Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, the two founding members of Arcade Fire still in the band, continue to sing duet on many of the tracks of this album. Their call-and-response style provides a familiarity that’s even more satisfying after listening to the farther-out passages of Reflektor. David Bowie–who also put out a new album in 2013– lightly graces the album’s title track with his vocal stylings, amping up the album’s grandness. The theatrics aren’t disconcerting; they feel like the logical result of Arcade Fire’s career up to this point.

Does the album feel, at any point, over-doctored? Well, with any band that’s seen this many members, there’s a case for the too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen argument. Many styles appear on this album, interweave, stop on a dime and melt into each other. There’s a lot going on here. But all ends of the spectrum are fully explored, every idea gets sussed out and masterfully articulated. The hypnotic final track, “Supersymmetry,” lives up to its name with an elegant and ambient chorus of strings and electronic instruments, perfectly balanced and weaving benevolently around each other. The last artist I can think of to put forth this kind of ambition in a record, and to pull together so many disparate styles and negotiate them into harmony with each other, is Kanye West on his 2013 album Yeezus.

There’s an example of the kind of balance I mean right at the beginning of “Here Comes The Night Time,” the first thirty seconds of which alone are worth the price of the album. The song begins with the ambient sounds of people talking, maybe somebody kind of half-heartedly playing a drum beat far away. Then, the real drum beat kicks in, and the track immediately jumps from kind of a lazy ambivalence into frenetic, siren-wailing, powerhouse rock and roll. Then, not fifteen seconds later, everything kind of slows and backslides into a sultry, bass-heavy rhythm that takes us into the first verse. It’s one of the many airtight phrases on Reflektor, flawlessly coordinated and immediately engaging.

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