Horatio Luna Trips on Jazz with his Psychedelic Freaks on Passing Through The Doorways of Your Mind

The Psychedelic Freaks take their own wild, whirling dervish-approach to jazz on their debut Passing Through The Doorways Of Your Mind, released on La Sape Records June 4. Like their name suggests, there’s a lot of adventurous, freak-out psych trips along a journey of the jazz spectrum. Vocals sound like they’ve bubbled up from deep underwater on the title track, which opens the record with its jubilant, eclectic sound centred around wah guitar.

The meeting of jazz with the tripped-out, mushrooms-and-disco biscuits world of psychedelic rock peaked in the late ‘60s as the same audience for Jimi Hendrix also spun Grateful Dead, Charles Mingus and Duke Ellington on vinyl. The genre-melding made sense: neither jazz nor psychedelic rock follows strict rules, both were always open to interpretation, individualisation and liberation.

Liberation and freedom in music while respecting its sacred nature is a hallmark of Horatio Luna (a.k.a. Henry Hicks), the Melbourne-based composer, improviser, producer and chief Psychedelic Freak behind this glorious, glimmering musical delivery. Founder of 30/70 Collective, a hip-hop/soul community, Hicks decided to move on after six years in late 2018. He’s also had his finger in the pie of multiple live and recorded acts and recordings around Melbourne. He’s restless, prolific, dedicated and – obviously – never short on inspiration and ideas. Also a member of jazz-house band Lush Life and collaborating partner to afro-house purveyors Teymori, Hicks may also be recognised for his remixes and contributions to numerous jazz/soul/hip hop compilations. Last year, his full-length album Boom Boom riffed on the joyful, juicy big beats of house music (titles like “No Words, Big Party” and “Bush Doof” give you an idea).

“I just don’t think there’s anyone creating this kind of fun, funky music in Australia,” says Hicks. “It’s like a time warp from the 1970s but explored in a new way, I hope.”

Stuck at home, Hicks was inspired to re-form The Psychedelic Freaks after starting and resting the project a few years before. The fruitful reformation resulted in their first, glorious LP, which – despite sounding live – was fully written and composed by Hicks then recorded on multi-track.

“Being in a room full of tape machines, effects pedals and guitars during the Melbourne lockdown, that’s when it all happened,” relates Hicks. “I’ve been a bass player for many years, and I’m a bass player first and foremost, but I really wanted to explore the guitar. I also really wanted to push the envelope in terms of what I could do with different genres like deep house, psychedelic rock and hip hop.”

Dreams, Fourth Way, Charles Lloyd and Don Ellis paved the way for big jazz band improvs into psychedelic sound. Think of a saxophone, trumpets, multiple basses and drums all working on nigh-on-impossible 17/8 time signatures or incorporating African instruments and call-response style vocals atop Latin percussion and Indian ragas care of the sitar, as Gabor Szabo did in the 1960s on LP Jazz Raga Impulse. In fact, Szabo’s quirky, country-meets-raga “Paint It Black” from 1966 spins The Rolling Stones’ classic right into another realm.

The Psychedelic Freaks’ “Illuminated Waterfalls” recalls the Afro-jazz of Fela Kuti, as well as tropical Bossa Nova and samba beats of the Astrud Gilberto school of Brazilian jazz. The bass is so prominent you might trip over it, were it not for the cosmic stardust glittering overtop.

The post-punk, doo-wop, spaghetti western guitars and wailing, punk rock vocals of 13th Floor Elevators’ “You’re Gonna Miss Me” lurks ghost-like in the wheels and cogs of this album – even if it’s only in rebellious, vivacious spirit. But it is not the wildmen of the ‘70s so much as multi-instrumentalist, rapper and producer Madlib who really inspired Hicks. Madvillain (Madlib’s collaborative project with MF Doom) is compulsory listening for anyone interested in melodic, adventurous hip hop.

“I was listening to, and informed by Madlib’s music, which is so inspiring to me because it’s multi-genre fluid,” says Hicks. “My own style of music is jazz house, or nu-jazz, jazztronic, whatever you want to call it. So, for me to get really deep on jazz house, I wanted to check out jazz fusion and all the derivatives of that, like acid jazz and things like that. By going really deep on jazz fusion, I learned a lot through the process and it gave me a better understanding of jazz house and the dance-floor sensibility.”

Hicks composed the album by himself, then sent the parts out to each artist with some basic directions. The multitrack recording was produced in Ableton. “I was working with some sample loops. I’d compose around the loop, then take the loop away at the end, and the result is what you hear on the record,” he explains. “That’s apparently how Madlib would make some of his music, except he’d jam with the DJ mix then take it away and hope he had something cool.”

The Psychedelic Freaks are spread across Australia, from Adelaide to Brisbane and Melbourne, they include Dufresne, Rohan The Intern, On-Ly, Billy Earwingz, and Felix Meredith. They’ll be playing a one-off live show at Melbourne’s The Evelyn in Fitzroy on June 11. Hicks will be playing with his own trio as Horatio Luna before The Psychedelic Freaks revel in their trippy, jazz fusion brilliance.

“It’s gonna be very psychedelic,” Hicks says with a laugh.

Naturally, he’s already working on other projects.

“I’ve always been a relentless creative,” admits Hicks. “I’m making a video clip for Lush Life at the moment… exploring my creativity in other ways, which is important to me. I do have the next couple of things coming up and ready to go. I’m always working on something because I’m very lucky to have the opportunity to do so.”

Follow Horatio Luna on Facebook for ongoing updates.

TRACK OF THE WEEK: Psychic Twin “Lose Myself”

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Erin Fein is a twin, but only to herself. Though she started as a solo recording artist, there’s a ghostly presence to her music, created with additional layers of her own vocals and melodies that seem to have a life of their own. While developing her music, she was “as overcome with the surreal but persistent feeling she was writing and recording with her twin.” So, she named her project Psychic Twin.

“Lose Myself” is the lead single from the upcoming album Strange Diary, out September 9 via Polyvinyl. Fein’s vocals have a floating quality, while the beat of the song mirrors an anxious heartbeat, or the steady pace of a runner. It feels like Fein is chasing something just out of reach, a shadow that is only visible as it slips around a corner. Her voice gets more and more desperate until the song’s end, as she chants “And when I go farther, I lose myself/ And get over you.” The emotional range of “Lose Myself” makes perfect sense when you learn that Strange Diaries was written as Fein’s marriage ended and she relocated to Brooklyn from Champaign-Urbana; she perfectly captures the bittersweet feeling of moving towards a new life while holding on to the last remnants of the old. 

Pre-order Strange Diaries here, and listen to “Lose Myself” below.

ALBUM REVIEW: Meilyr Jones “2013”

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It doesn’t matter if you’ve never heard of Meilyr Jones, or his former band Race Horses. It doesn’t matter if you think Jones is English, when in fact, he’s a Welshman. It doesn’t even matter if you’re stumped on how exactly to pronounce “Meilyr”-because an authoritative voice tells you within the first 30 seconds of 2013’s opening track “How To Recognise A Work of Art.”

These things cease to matter, not because they are uninteresting, but because it is such a great record that it speaks for itself. It stands on its own two feet.

2013 is many things-a contemporary foray into baroque and renaissance influences, a brilliant pop record, a sonic odyssey with innumerable peaks and valleys. But it is also a love letter to Rome, the breeding ground for many of songs on the album. After the disbandment of Race Horses and the end of a relationship, Jones romantically fled to the ancient city, catalyzed by reading art history texts and Byron’s Don Juan. “I got really taken over by the feeling of adventure and passion in Byron, and some of Shelley’s poetry and Keats as well. And they were all people who went to Rome.” Jones mentioned in a press release.

And so along with everything else, 2013 has yet another incarnation, as a scrapbook of Jones’s time in Rome, and everything he loves in general. “I wanted to make something that felt right to me and expressed my interests, which are classical music and rock ‘n’ roll music, and films, and nature and karaoke, and tacky stuff,” Jones says. “And I wanted to capture that feeling in Rome of high culture and low-brow stuff all mixed together.” For a record so difficult to nail down, it is comforting to know that such a stew of influences went into making it.

It might amaze you, as it did me, that five of the twelve tracks on 2013 were recorded live in all of one day with a 30 plus piece orchestra that Jones assembled himself. Jones told press that he “wanted to record it completely live. The idea was doing it like a Frank Sinatra session.” And that idea certainly comes across in the grand arrangements Jones has served up.

He’s a songwriter with big ideas, delivering lofty compositions of the finest kind. “How To Recognise A Work Of Art” confirms the pop chops Jones has been refining since his days in Race Horses, the sweeping orchestral arrangements bringing a whole new dimension to otherwise infectious hooks.

 

 

“Don Juan” slows the record down to a honeyed melancholy, which is the only place to go after a banger such as “How To Recognise A Work Of Art.” Inspired by the same poem that led him to Italy, “Don Juan” is a nod to the baroque with subtle harpsichord and recorder riffs. The opening notes remind me of the exoticism found in The Stranglers’ “Golden Brown,” a similar genre-bending track. While straying from gimmick, “Don Juan” does render a lush image of open-bloused sirs flung upon velvet divans, drinking not from cups, but goblets.  

One of the most compelling aspects of Jones’s songs is that they behave more like Classical compositions or film scores than traditional pop music. They never end where they began, and traverse twisting paths the whole way through. “Passionate Friend” thumps along like the opening number in a sinister musical, the first words to which are nearly whispered by Jones: “Sometimes I am with the witches//on fire, fast and ruined//sometimes all around, with the honey in me, I quicken.”

“Refugees” is the emotional core of 2013, seemingly the most obvious breakup song. The leading single off the record, it is the first song I heard by Meilyr Jones, and it continues to resonate deeply with me. It is spare enough to exhibit his incredible talent; there are no bells, whistles, or harpsichords, just Jones at the piano with his striking choirboy voice.

 

 

2013 is an album in two acts, bisected on either side of “Rain In Rome,” an instrumental that melds organ with pattering raindrops and violent applause. It is a joyous palette cleanser, as the remainder of the album will volley from straight up rock with “Strange Emotional” to classical dramas such as “Return To Life” and “Olivia,” the latter of which features an operatic choir. There is a lot going on here, but I wouldn’t change it a bit.

I could all too easily write a synopsis of every track on this record, which is something I am rarely compelled to do…but 2013 is that wonderful. There isn’t a mediocre song on it. If you like Kate Bush, Van Morrison, The Zombies, if you like classical, eccentric, baroque, chamber, psychedelic, garage, or just slickly written pop, I recommend, beg, entreat you: give Meilyr Jones a chance. You will never be bored again.

2013 is out now via Moshi Moshi Records.

 

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PLAYLIST: A Guide To “Moon” Bands

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There are only so many words, and as a result, only so many band names that can be claimed before they start to overlap. For example, here’s six bands that have “moon” in their name, and considering these all were chosen simply because I’ve heard their name recently or saw it on a show calendar, there are probably many more (such as Moonwalks featured in our latest Playing Detroit column). Here’s a quick guide to what they sound like, where they’re from, and how you tell them apart.

Moonchild

The Los Angeles based group Moonchild plays jazzy pop that includes tenor saxophone and clarinet (played by vocalist Amber Navran). They have all the timing and timbre of a standard jazz or lounge band, but with echo-y layers of vocals and brass played with a soulful swagger.

Summer Moon

Summer Moon could be placed into the category of “super group;” its members include Nikolai Fraiture (The Strokes), Erika Spring (Au Revoir Simone), and Tennessee Thomas (Like) as well as Lewis Lazar. So obviously, they sound pretty good.

https://youtu.be/AsOIlRMGzy0

Moon Honey

Moon Honey is from Los Angeles, but via Louisiana. They play intricate, surreal pop with theatrical vocals supplied by Jessica Ramsey. The trills in her voice are reminiscent of an old Disney movie soundtrack, while her melodies recall the Dirty Projectors minus the harmonies.

https://soundcloud.com/moonhoneyband/boy-magic-1

What Moon Things

What Moon Things is a New York band that’s part punk, part moody dream pop. Check out “Squirrel Girl,” a track from their self-titled LP that sounds like the perfect soundtrack for wandering through a dark, abandoned warehouse. The trio is also playing several CMJ shows at venues like Aviv, Pianos, and Bowery Electric. 

The Soft Moon

The Soft Moon is a  San Francisco band with a heavy, industrial sound, best described as steady and sludgy (and as their recent video for “Dummy” proves, occasionally creepy).

https://soundcloud.com/goincase/when-its-over

Moon Duo

Moon Duo is a San Francisco project made up of Erik Johnson (Wooden Shijps) and Sanae Yamada. Their sound is a combination of electronic and Krautrock elements, with droning, understated vocals, and lots of keys and psychedelic guitar solos. 

 

PLAYING DETROIT: Moonwalks “Lunar Phases”

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Few bands are as aptly named as psychedelic Detroit four piece, Moonwalks, whose upcoming release Lunar Phases could act as a wild, yet tailored, road map to uninhabited galaxies and black holes, alike. The band’s first LP, scheduled to release via cassette tape and digital download later this month (MANIMAL Vinyl) is as warm as it is cooly intergalactic and is as 1960’s retro as it is refreshingly modern. Collectively, Jake Dean (guitars/vocals) Kate Gutwald (bass), Kerrigan Pearce (drums) and Tyler Grates (guitar) admit to being moved by the production of old Lee Hazlewood records, which makes sense, considering Lunar Phases has an undeniably sultry, Western-shootout vibe. (If the shootout was between aliens and cowboys, directed by a 90’s Tarantino respectfully.) “We’re becoming more collaborative as a four piece,” says Grates. “When making music, it’s important for me not to consider any influences I have at the time. Anything can sound like everything. However, it’s a little different in the recording process. We all have similar taste but different ideas, so we’re constantly coming up with different landscapes of sound.” More than Brian Jonestown Massacre-esque jam rock moments or sedated Jeffry Lee Pierce vocals, Moonwalks’ sound is the figurative dusting off of something once lost. Like water on Mars, Lunar Phases taps into what you thought you knew, but with an exploratory freshness best suited for lovers of reverb, distortion, and unexpectedly emotive cosmic collisions of past and present.

What is most surprising of their debut LP is the seamless cohesion not only between tracks, but in Moonwalks’ shared cadence, notably in their confidence in letting each instrument/effect have space to swell, breathe, and explode. This is glaringly apparent on vocal-less track “Cream Cheese Ashtray,” a demanding instrumental that gives the aural illusion of bending time; warped but never “off,” askew but never elementary nor hesitant. Delay heavy track, “Painted Lady” (one of two songs named after beloved Detroit bar/venues) is reminiscent of early Black Rebel Motorcycle Club minus the cliche hook/verse progression, artfully distorting your notion of what comes next; another example of Moonwalks’ ability to give new life to the already familiar.

Lunar Phases is, for the lack of a better word, mature. The album, a richly dynamic and attentive mosaic just under thirty minutes long, manages to achieve the robust fluidity that most bands don’t find until their second or third release (if at all). With extensive touring planned for the coming year and by the sounds of it, more studio time, too, Moonwalks exudes a completeness but with ample room to morph, grow, and reimagine. “I think were becoming tighter as a band,” Grates explains. “We’re getting more comfortable with playing shows and touring around the country. I think if the four of us weren’t in a band together, we’d still be hanging out all the time.”

While we await the release of Lunar Phases, satisfy your hunger by checking out Moonwalks’ 2014 EP:

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ALBUM REVIEW: Summer Twins “Limbo”

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There are few things better than pop music that uses a bright, upbeat exterior to hide a deeper, darker message, and that’s exactly what the Riverside, CA based sisters Summer Twins have created with Limbo. Consider the album name, for starters. As well as being a fun party game, limbo also has the creepy definition of “an abode of souls that are, according to Roman Catholic theology, barred from heaven.” When used more casually, it can also mean being stuck between two places, which makes sense since the band’s sound is stuck between a blend of decades-old doo-wop and soul, more modern psychedelic rock and current pop.

Their songs are full of fuzzy, well-crafted guitar hooks, electric organ, and the back-and-forth vocals of sisters Chelsea and Justine Brown. Each one is a variation on an old-school genre: There’s “Our World,” which has a “slow dancing at a 1950’s prom” kind of vibe, the Bo Diddley-esque guitar rhythms of “Fire,” and the soulful guitar lines on “JuJu.”

While songs like “Florence” and “Dreamin” seem to be straightforwardly nostalgic and inspirational, Limbo gets off to a less cheerful start with “Blinds.” The verses of the song are sparse, aggressively punctuated by staccato guitar as they sing about an anxiety that drives them indoors: “I run into things that I don’t want to see and my feet keep on tripping/I hear whispering, they keep calling my name, but I don’t want to hear anything.” “Demons” may seem like an inspirational song about achieving happiness by overcoming your fears, but in its delivery, the message comes across more like a warning: “When the demons creep on up, you have got to shut them up/They will eat you up inside, you won’t make it out alive.” And, the upbeat, pop-rock song “Love Within” advises listeners to keep their true feelings hidden to the point of not letting the object of their affection reach them easily by phone, see them cry, and even not eat when they’re starving.

But don’t be scared that Limbo will leave you down. Despite throwing in some dark lyrics, the Summer Twins haven’t created a depressing album, they’ve just put a quirky, refreshing spin on topics related to life and love. And also, Ouija boards.

Limbo will be available via Burger Records on October 2nd. You can stream the album here. For instance gratification, check out some of their earlier work below. 

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PLAYING DETROIT: Odd Hours

The first half of my conversation with Natasha Beste of moody electro-pop duo Odd Hours is instantly dedicated to playing six degrees of separation between the two of us until we are able to piece our social puzzle together, realizing that we run in the same circles and are friends with the same people and both conclude that Detroit is a lot like high school.

“In Detroit, it’s really easy to make things happen if you are really motivated and dedicated. If you are snotty or mean or not serious about what you’re doing, it will get around fast,” Beste says. “I’m lucky to have met and become friends with people that make doing this fun, it never feels like work.”

This non-work-work Beste is referring to is Odd Hours latest EP noreprinphrine + dopamine, an assertive and pouty collection of songs that are as glittery as they are confrontational. Beste’s attention to duality, both in her personal life and in her Odd Hours world (she is also a teacher and video artist) resonates as a playful game of tug-of-war sonically. Beste describes the toggling of themes as a “constant up and down.” From asking for what you want and ending up bored by the instant gratification to feeling left out or misunderstood yet worthy enough to exert power, Odd Hours challenges themselves by provoking a polarizing experience. As it turns out, this very balancing act of various selves and influences resulted in what Beste considers to be the truest version of what they’ve been trying to accomplish since they formed. “I think with artists there are things that come out of you naturally. And for me things were coming out of me that weren’t matching what I was listening to, or what we were making,” Beste explains. “We’ve been morphing and changing our sound and we finally feel comfortable in our skin. We want to keep going with how we sound now.”

Odd Hours have been making noise around the city for five years. Beste and her collaborator and Hours guitarist, Timothy Jagielo, assembled after exhausting previous projects, wanting to expand beyond their old work and Detroit city limits. “I was in a lot of different bands before I met Tim but after a while I really wanted to do something that would allow me to be loud and raunchy,” Beste says “We were both in a place where we wanted to start something new.” With additions bassist, Clint Stuart, and drummer Randy Hanley Jr, each track on noreprinphrine + dopamine is a banger in its own right, successfully and collectively fulfilling Beste’s aforementioned desires of sounding loud and raunchy while remaining a compelling and polished production. When asked about the possibility of a full length release, Beste is uncertain, but unwavering in her convictions towards quality vs. quantity. “It’s the way that my brain works. My whole life of music I’ve really stuck with EPs. I’m not saying we would never release an LP. Everything that needed to be said was said within these songs.” she explains. “It could be the next thing we do, but it has to feel right.”

The accompanying video for their first single “SWTS” is a true testament to Odd Hours theatrics; a great introduction to their provocative landscape, their lust filled, odd world. Full of if-David Lynch-cast-Lindsey Lohan-in-a-music-video vibes (Beste laughs excitedly at this comparison) aligns with the estranged bossiness of the song where Beste howls: “I thought someone told me / Like Christmas / I would get to make a wish list,” a vulnerable plea paralleled with warbled rock vocals, a sensibility carried throughout the EP.

By the end of our chat we realize we share a friend in noreprinphrine + dopamine producer Jon Zott and that we were both on set for Tunde Olaniran’s video earlier this year and it is with this strange connectivity that we are able to commiserate over the special brand of small world-ness Detroit offers. I finish by apologizing for referring to her music as bratty, though meant as a compliment as it’s a trait I regard as honest and unapologetic, to which she assures me is a perfectly apt description. “It’s funny because my boyfriend Kevin (and partner in Gold House Media) as well as my guitarist Tim and Tunde all call me a brat because I get what I want. But I have a vision,” Beste explains. “I am always three steps ahead.”

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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: Deradoorian “The Expanding Flower Planet”

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Angel Deradoorian is a former member of the Dirty Projectors. As one of the band’s vocalists, she contributed to many of their trademark harmonies and long, sustained cries that used the singers’ voices more like an instrument than just a way to deliver words. Some of that sound creeps into her solo album The Expanding Flower Planet, but for the most part, Deradoorian chooses a bold, new direction.

The album, which will be released on August 21 via Anticon, appeals to my San Francisco roots: it’s filled with vibes that convey peace, love, and more than a hint of psychedelic drugs. Deradoorian’s voice ranges from serious and mystical to singsongy, like a butterfly that lands on your hand only to flit away suddenly, flying this way and that through the air. On tracks like “The Invisible Man,” the Middle Eastern inflections in her singing  are perfectly mixed with echoes of her voice, low sustained tones, and rock drums. On other songs, however, the percussion seemed overwhelming yet too simple, even childish under the range and layers of her voice.

The Expanding Flower Planet is trance-inducing, but with it’s many, many percussive parts, vocal lines, and a constant stream of lyrics, it’s too busy for passive listening. The best song comes first with “Beautiful Woman,” which recalls Deradoorian’s work with the Dirty Projectors but repackages the sound in shiny, polished pop. Other noteworthy tracks include “Darklord,” which features a trilling surf guitar, the monk-like chanting of “Ouenya,” and the high-energy track “The Eye.” “Komodo,” a song about running from the deadly lizard with a fatal bite, was also enjoyable for its playfulness. 

The Expanding Flower Planet is a fun trip through someone else’s mind, someone who may be in another universe entirely. It’s a great listen if you need to completely change your frame of mind. And, on some distant flower planet, aliens are probably dancing to it somewhere.

 

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 OF THE WEEK: Twin Limb “Long Shadow”

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For a normal band, making an accordion sound cool would be no easy feat. But for the dream-folk duo Twin Limb, it’s no big deal. Lacey Guthrie plays the instrument along with keys and vocals, and Maryliz Bender contributes vocals, drums and guitar, while Kevin Ratterman fills in the gaps with miscellaneous effects and instruments for the Louisville, KY band.

Like its name, their track “Long Shadow” casts a brooding atmosphere over the listener with the aforementioned accordion. Then suddenly, synths and strings peek through the gloom, and transform the song into something bittersweet. The vocals, emotional without being overly dramatic, make the transition from hopeless to hopeful effortlessly.

This is a band that you definitely don’t want to overlook. Check out their dreamy video for “Long Shadow” below.

BURGERAMA 4: The Femme’s List of Who to See

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For those of you not too familiar with the DIY whirlwind that is Burger Records, it is a Fullerton, California-based independent record label founded back in 2007 by Sean Bohrman and Lee Rickard. Burger is most well known for taking the off kilter route of releasing most of their material on cassette. This year marks their fourth year hosting the Burgerama music festival, which this year seemingly has their most impressive lineup yet. Held at the Santa Ana Observatory, it is quickly approaching on the weekend of March 28th and 29th. Other than the duh-worthy ripping main acts, here’s a list of bands us West Coast femmes are stoked to see.

 

Froth

For a band that was supposedly formed as a joke, their record certainly doesn’t sound like one. Froth emulates a well done version of the garage, surf, psych, and drone-sounding rock that is consuming the Southern California music scene right now. They definitely throw a little twist in their sound, though, with the use of an omnichord. Here’s a new track Burger uploaded on their Soundcloud a month ago titled, “Postcard Radio.”

 

Mr. Elevator & The Brain Hotel

These Los Angeles-based, wacky psychedelic dudes, sound exactly like what you’d think a band playing a similar festival set in the Sixties would sound like. We are so okay with that. Here’s them performing, “When the Morning Greets You With A Smile” for the video series Jam In The Van from last year’s Burgerama.

 

The Coathangers

The always badass Atlanta-based trio, The Coathangers, are a longtime AudioFemme favorite (they headlined one of our showcases last year). Yes we’re biased, but with good reason. From their 2009 full length, Scramble, to their recently released cover of The Gun Club’s “Sex Beat,” their set is bound to be seamlessly chock full of dance-y punk hits.

 

White Fence

Tim Presley is the blast-from-the-past prolific psych band that is White Fence. With almost all of his past releases recorded in his home, Presley helps to emulate what Burger Records seemingly stands for. Here’s a stream of his most recent album titled, For The Recently Found Innocent. Smoke a bowl and enjoy.

 

Meatbodies

Fronted by Chad Ubovich, guitarist of Mikal Cronin as well as the bassist for Fuzz, Meatbodies is a guitar heavy Jay Reatard lovers dream band. With their first album just released in October, this band’s buzz is about to explode. Highly suggested set to see for all of your head banging pleasures. Here’s a live video of them performing “Mountain” on KEXP Radio.

 

 

Jeff The Brotherhood

The always killer Jeff The Brotherhood, who recently announced being dropped by Warner Brothers Records, are releasing their new album (coming out just a few days before the festival) on Infinity Cat Recordings. With all of the excitement of a new start for the band as well as a new album, their set that weekend will not be one to miss. Here’s their new track featuring Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull on flute titled “Black Cherry Pie.”

 

La Luz

La Luz is a Seattle-based surf rock band. These girls’ mellow beach vibe is danceable and to blatantly put it, fun. La Luz, which translates to “light” in Spanish, perfectly emulates their vibe during live performances. This is their beautifully hazy video for their most popular track, titled”Call Me in the Day.”

ARTIST INTERVIEW: Carmen Villain

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Carmen Villain’s voice projects the vibes of a psychedelic witch, singing in a spooky fog-covered lagoon, especially in her new track, “Quietly.” Its counter track, “Let it Go”, sounds like its mostly-instrumental sequel. This half Norwegian/half Mexican babe is about to embark on an UK tour with Neneh Cherry, and there is no doubt that she will be wooing audiences with her hypnotizing dream-like performance. I had the chance to ask Carmen a few questions about her growth as an artist, style inspirations, and cover song choices. Take a gander.

AudioFemme: How has your sound changed and grown since the release of Sleeper?

Carmen Villain: It’s still evolving all the time, but there’s definitely some elements that have been left behind, but I have also taken some of them further. I think there’s a bit more light in my music now. Really trying to let most of it pass the song test: whether they can be stripped back to their core and still work. Also been working with different recording techniques and been re-amping a lot, sampling, and also adding some new instruments, like the piano.
AF: What things inspired you while recording the “Quietly / Let it Go” 7”?
CV: Just life and my surroundings. I had just moved back to Oslo from London when I wrote these, so they are definitely influenced by these changes. “Quietly” came about by just messing about with different tunings and just playing for hours in my apartment during winter. “Let Go” was the result of a walk by the seaside (I had missed this a lot in London!) in which I recorded all these seagulls and my dog going bananas. I later took these recordings and played around with drones and different frequencies, and the melodies came from there.AF: A while back you covered Kurt Vile’s “Childish Prodigy.” Are there any other artists you have been covering lately or would like to?

CV: (We covered “He’s Allright”!:) ) I haven’t covered anyone for a while, but at rehearsals we sometimes finish off with TLC’s “Creep” just to blow off some steam!

AF: Based on videos, it seems like in the past you have had other musicians playing with you on stage, and more recently you have been performing alone. Are you going to be solo for your upcoming dates with Neneh Cherry?

CV: Yeah we used to be a four piece a while back to be able to play the way the songs were arranged on Sleeper, but the new stuff is a lot more flexible, so can be performed in different ways. Sometimes solo, sometimes three of us, and right now on this tour there’s two of us, myself and Mona.

AF: Tell us about who you chose to be accompanying you on stage on this upcoming tour.

CV: I’m really lucky to have Mona come along with me on this one, she plays additional guitar, keys and sings. Mona is also part of a duo of her own called Mona & Maria, they make beautiful folky pop. Maria used to play with me, but she’s on maternity leave right now.

AF: Your style rules. Who are some musicians that inspire what you wear while performing?

CV: Why thanks! Hmm can’t say there’s anyone well known in particular, maybe mostly my friends. I guess I just wear what feels comfortable at the time.

AF: If you could go back in time to be an artist during any era of music, which would it be?

CV: I’m good where I am!

AF: What’s on your everyday playlist as of 2015?

CV: Dean Blunt, Jessica Pratt, Grouper, Connan Mockasin, Todd Rundgren, Crosby Stills Nash, Ras G, Kurt Vile, Alice Coltrane, Harold Budd…

AF: Any talks of a tour or any shows in the US in the near future?

CV: US tour is right at the top of my wish list, so going to be working hard to make that happen!

ALBUM REVIEW: Weyes Blood “The Innocents”

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Just now, I googled “1960s witchy psychedelic folk,” grasping, I guess, for a manageable term that encapsulates both Nico’s glamourous theatrics and Brigitte Fontaine’s quirky darkness. I’m sitting at a table in the pool-house out back of a big and beautiful summer home on the coast of Maine, where I’ve been hired as a kind of temporary live-in servant. I shit you not. I’ve got a view of the Atlantic from nearly point blank range, and the moon is new, and all things witchy seem more than possible tonight.

Natural beauty this acute makes any little thing that sticks out of the landscape seem intentionally sinister, like the pale pink dismembered crab torso I saw ripped open and splayed out on a rock while I was on the beach this evening waiting for the moon to rise. The music of Weyes Blood, whose earth name is Natalie Mering, is sort of like that–so beautiful that its oddness makes that beauty spooky, and so strange that its classical loveliness gleams even brighter.

Mering has been under the radar for a couple of years, but that doesn’t mean she’s stayed quiet. After a stint with experimental psych folk outfit Jackie-O Motherfucker, she sang backup vocals for Ariel Pink, and has since performed prodigiously as a solo artist – touring, appearing at festivals, and playing shows of her own with friends like Quilt and The Entrance Band‘s Guy Blakeslee.

In 2011, Mering released The Outside Room, her debut under the Weyes Blood name, on Not Not Fun. Already then, her basic toolkit (haunting vocals, ancient-sounding folk music) was essentially intact, although The Innocents reveals some significant updates. Less funereal but more complicated, Weyes Blood substitutes her first album’s foundation of abject misery for one of classical–even courtly–dignity. Harmonizing against herself, Mering’s vocals take on an entirely new, much richer quality on The Innocents, almost like putting on 3D glasses. But that isn’t to say that melancholy has no place on the album: when Weyes Blood tells you, in the middle of the strange, sad, choral “Some Winters” that “I’m as broken as woman can be,” you believe her. That’s the kind of voice she’s got, low and regal and primed for heartbreak. The finery of that song has a cracked-china feel to it, stemming from its psychedelic tendencies. Static and interference marr dreamy piano arpeggios. The angelic chorus of ahhs hovering around Mering’s tortured alto like a halo slowly melts into a mechanized humming that sounds like the low buzz of an airplane engine. When the song has sentimental moments, something cold and sterile always follows.

If, like me, you’re listening to Weyes Blood someplace wild and desolate, The Innocents intensifies things. It is sparse and spooky. It makes it easy to suspend your disbelief and get swept along with Mering’s moonlit, forlorn reality.

The Innocents won’t be out in the U.S. until Oct 21st, but you can pre-order your physical or digital copy by heading on over to Mexican Summer. In the meantime, check out “Hang On,” the album’s power-driven first single. “I will hang on when the rains come and wash away all I’ve come from,” Mering sings, holding the melody steady as the rest of the song careens through chord progressions and time signatures.   The song is sturdy at its core, her voice a pillar of strength in the center of an embellished, rhythmically complex track. She plays Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn on Friday, August 22nd.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: The Vickers “Senseless Life”

The Vickers band

The Vickers band

A couple months back, Italian group The Vickers put out their Ghosts album, a slow burner of a collection with a generous helping of sixties haze. Everything this quartet creates seems to come wrapped in layers of gauze: the beats are pillowy, the bass line, though too mellow to be show-offish, tugs on your sleeve all album long, and the vocals sound like they’re being filtered in over the airwaves from a far-away alternate reality. Though the group made international headway with “She’s Lost,” the first track off Ghosts, the band has a 7″ and four full albums under their belt. A project that began as a couple of classmates messing around with psychedelic covers of Blur and The Kinks songs has grown into a sound that’s eclectic and uniquely billowing. Listening to The Vickers, you get the sense that you can trust these guys to do more than just repeat the Beatles’ Revolver era.

Given the album’s gentle loopiness,  the sun-faded, sweltering video for “Senseless Life” comes as no surprise. From the smudged perspective of a shaky camera, the video takes us at a lazy pace through a sunny day in the country. Its first images are abstract, fading in and out of a picture we can recognize until it settles on sunspots and a close-up shot of a concrete animal statue’s head. We’re in a garden of some kind. The visuals accompanying the song–like the music itself–evoke a soporific idleness that’s so acute you can practically feel the humidity. About halfway through the song’s four minutes, the shot seems to flip around and zoom out, showing a man–the first person to appear in this video–holding a camera to his eye.

Though I’m not sure why, for the first portion of the song, when the lyrics are written like subtitles at the bottom of the screen, it does feel as if many different layers–images over watery silhouettes, sharp text over blurred background–combine to gear “Senseless Life” up to its apex. When that moment comes, with crashing drums and golden rays over a smeared horizon, it seems as if the focus of the  video lies in the accumulation of flecks of light that flicker, fade, and resonate with one another. The music is like that, too: echoed and aesthetic-indulgent. Although much of the Ghosts album feels too optimistic to coincide with the “touch of nineties spleen” that The Vickers refer to when they’re talking about the contemporary twist they bring to their  classic sixties sound, there is a certain heat-borne apathy that pervades “Senseless Life.” But the effect is more meandering than disillusioned, more directionless than bored.

ALBUM REVIEW: TEEN “The Way and Color”

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R&B informed pop trio TEEN are capable of complex, psychedelic hooks. Their minimalist beats and thoughtful melody and harmony layering, inspired by artists like Erykah Badu and D’Angelo, create a hypnotic dialogue between the instruments and between the music and the audience. These three sisters, vocalist Teeny Lieberson, keyboardist Lizzie Lieberson, and drummer Katherine Lieberson, are joined by bassist Boshra AlSaadi on their second album The Way and Color. The new record is full of uplifting melodic structure, interesting vocal harmonizing, and discussions of power dynamics.

The opening track “Rose 4 U” is  poppy and upbeat with the slightest hint of strangeness underlying it. From the start, there’s a sense of delving in–yet to what, we are unsure. With entrancing, repetitive verse lines pinned by addictive rhythmic dynamics, the listener is pulled in. Throughout, the girls break into strong harmonization with R&B vocals that meet ambient echoes, lending the track emotional weight. The harmonizing stops towards the end of the song with Teeny singing one melody and the background singers  moving against her. There’s a typical kind of suspenseful build up as it comes to a close. Teeny’s voice isn’t mind-blowing on this track, but that actually works in TEEN’s favor here, making what could be an overly complicated song easier to approach.

“Not For Long,” The Way and Color’s single, has an intense concentration on voice for the first minute or so. Then the beat kicks in creating a strange mix of hoarse fragility in the vocals and a rolling, minimal mantra. “You should watch your step,” the listener is warned. Perhaps these are not ladies you want to mess with. The background vocals add weight to the melody in a way that is not necessarily hooky, but still has a powerful effect. TEEN has been compared to Dirty Projectors on more than one occasion–a similarity evident here in that all of the different musical parts are equally important, no vocals or instrumentals are given precedence over others. At the end  brass come in (a common thread with throughout the album) as if an epic film is about to start. The echoey chorus still overlays the track, taking he listener to a more dreamy place at three and a half minutes. The final section is lo-fi, closer to chill-wave than anything else on the album and adds a sobering effect after all of the ups and downs.

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My favorite track is probably “Sticky” which draws heaviest from R&B of all the songs on the album, and reminds me of Neo-Soul trio Moonchild. This is a super catchy song, but once again casual in its execution. The slow beat and mellow tones are easy to navigate, though not always simple. A gospel-like section emerges at a minute and a half, complete with ambiance and clapping. This could be why it stands out so clearly from the rest: the choir vocals are electrifying and reassuring at the same time, riding the line between gospel and psychedelic.  Overall every part sounds incredible, showcasing the production quality on the track as a whole, and allowing us to get lost in it thanks to the exceptional mixing.

The most heavily electronic elements I heard from this album were at the beginning of “Breathe Low and Deep”. It starts with an other-worldly melody that brings us onto the bands emotional level. Teeny strains her voice, lending it softness albeit it a grating quality at the same time. When brass comes in around two and a half minutes, the mood dropped in a way. It felt out of place, rather than perhaps like a change of pace that it was intended to. But then a truly wonderful shift happens. “Breathe loudly,” Teeny encourages us in her varied vocal tones: and I’m not going to lie, it is pretty inspirational. The guitar and horns at four minutes are full of doom, like the peak of tragedy or violence in a film, completely unexpected and invigorating. It took the focus of the track very suddenly to one’s own breathing, imbuing it with anxiety and making its mantra to “breathe loudly”, a display of inner stress rather than quietude.

Throughout, there’s a lot that can send the listener’s head spinning. All of the quick changes, sectional disparities and booming can be overwhelming. This is the kind of album you have to be awake and prepared to listen to. Even though the songs have great hooks and engage with the listener, there’s no time to take a break. It immerses the listener entirely. At times, they come very close to what verges on the familiar, but by keeping the R&B thread strong with vocalization and intonation, TEEN continues to stand out. The horns they use compliment the melody, and the production ensures that Teeny’s clear, hoarse vocals sound beautiful and unconcerned all at once. This album is truly rich and exciting.

Listen to “Not For Long” below:

ALBUM REVIEW: The Vickers “Ghosts”

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Ghosts opens with a bassline that worms its way into your brain, immediately hypnotic and catchy. The track, “She’s Lost,” unfurls with reverberating electric guitars that, at some points, craft a smooth wall of echoes and at other points, shred with gnarly intention. It’s a pretty accurate indicator of what the whole ten-track album holds: a blurring of the lines between ’60s psych fuzz and ’90s garage fuzz.

Ghosts is the sophomore full-length release from Italian four-piece The Vickers, who have been making waves in their home country since 2009. Andrea Mastropietro, Francesco Marchi, Federico Sereni, and Marco Biagiotti self-produced the album, and even recorded part of it in their own home studio in Florence, which makes the well-executed density of their songs even more impressive. This album would please even the most staunch psych-rock purists, taking cues from trailblazers like The 13th Floor Elevators. The Vickers play with instantly recognizable psychedelic tools, like trippy organs and reverb-drenched guitars that create a hazy and wobbly texture, but they approach the sound with garage-grunge sensibility.

The fifth track, “All I Need,” for example, borrows a little more from punk rock than classic psych, with its driving bass and percussion and significantly more clear, taut guitar and vocal work that brings The Arctic Monkeys to mind. “Walking On A Rope,” on the other hand, is a distinctly Beatles-inspired number that goes through several changes, switching from a somewhat jangly-pop sound to a wide open, falling-down-the-rabbit-hole sensation. The whole affair is practically an homage to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”  

Meanwhile, “Hear Me Now” and album closer/title track “Ghosts” stand out amongst the bunch as more subtle and simple songs—the former has a sludgy, grungy edge, while the latter is laid back with an air of contentment. All ten of Ghosts’ tracks together form a very well rounded bunch, with a variety of influences that present psychedelia in new lights. The entire album is now streaming on Bandcamp.

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TRACK REVIEW: Jeffertitti’s Nile “Blue Spirit Blues”

Jeffertitti’s Nile is the kind of band that likes to make its own reality. The project of Jeffertitti Moon, bassist for Father John Misty, Jeffertitti’s Nile developed in the space between tours, expanding with various new members and cameos as well as scattered musical styles and odd combinations. The group prides itself on its unpredictability, and seem to deliberately sidestep expectations with each new release of self-described “Transcendental Space-Punk Doo Wop.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that the first single off the Jeffertitti’s second album The Electric Hour, set to drop at the end of April, is a little out of left field: on “Blue Spirit Blues,” Jeffertitti conducts a large-scale, ultrazany reimagining of jazz legend Bessie Smith’s 1929 version. Jeffertitti’s cover is a full gutting of the track: underlaid with a bass pull as powerful as a riptide, “Blue Spirit Blues” moves at a breakneck pace through its three and a half minutes, rollicking and snarling the whole way.

Bessie Smith and Jeffertitti aren’t nearly as odd a combination as they seem on first glance, and in fact, the more you listen to the song, the easier it is to realize that the full-body trip of Jeffertitti’s “Blue Spirit Blues” isn’t a new addition; the song always had a glint of craziness beneath the surface. The lyrics have always been scary: it’s the story of dreaming of descending into hell, running until someone wakes you up. Just as the deep dread and foreboding at the heart of Jeffertitti’s version is traceable to Smith, the original version of the song has always had something otherworldly and–in an early 20th century jazz sort of way–psychedelic about it. Jeffertitti’s rendition blasts open the song’s expansiveness and amps up the dark, sexy rhythm behind the melody.

It’s hard to know what to expect from an album whose first single is a cover, but if the imaginative power behind this track is any indication, The Electric Hour will be worth looking out for. The new album drops on April 29th via Beyond Beyond is Beyond Records. Until then, listen to “Blue Spirit Blues” below:

ALBUM REVIEW: Morgan Delt “Morgan Delt”

“I think we’ve become stuck in time and everything is going to happen all at once from now on,” Morgan Delt has commented, regarding the resurgence of sixties and seventies influences in the impressive amount of psychedelic- music coming out today. It’s an interesting phenomenon, one that gets more prevalent all the time–new music sounding like it’s from an old decade–and it’s not just one era new music is channeling, it’s all of them: eighties and nineties throwbacks occur almost as often as sixties and seventies throwbacks do. What makes Delt’s self-titled debut, out yesterday on Trouble In Mind Records, interesting isn’t his carefree-Californian psych-rocker theme, it’s the way he goes about making that theme happen in the music.

At the very beginning of last year, Delt released a 6-track cassette called Psychic Death Hole. Being on the short side, it didn’t do anywhere near justice to Delt’s potential for scope, but it did do a pretty good job of convincing everyone who listened to it that he could do sixties psych-pop. The familial resemblance was blandly straightforward, though, like Delt had copy and pasted straight out of the Unknown Mortal Orchestra songbook. This isn’t to imply that the music had no imagination of its own, just that it wore its influence on its sleeve very conventionally. No one could have extrapolated anything about psychedelic music from hearing Psychic Death Hole that they couldn’t get anywhere else.

Morgan Delt was finally released yesterday, after a couple of track teasers that left the AudioFemmes of wintry New York salivating for a sunnier climate (here and here). It’s an intricate album, very colorful and intelligently orchestrated. There’s plenty on here to recall the sixties, too, although many of the bells, whistles and ambient noise that turn up between those smoky hooks come off surprisingly futuristic. Time collapses, and musical memories aren’t presented in terms of narrative or chronology. Instead, Delt rips up all his idols into confetti, tosses them in the air, and makes it rain. The resulting mosaic is what he knits together out of the snippets.

Delt’s method of picking and choosing–with a greater fidelity to his own project than to any of the influences he cites–suggests self-portraiture: he’s tying the album together based near-solely on his own vision, despite the genre turf he treads. There’s certainly enough space on this album–unlike the preceding cassette–to get a long look at its creator. “Morgan Delt’s debut LP expands on [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”][Psychic Death Hole‘s] tracks and brings forth a fully realized glimpse into the California native’s twisted brain,” reads the album notes. If that’s true, I don’t think Delt’s brain is all that twisted–it’s a whimsical album with a lot of color, but is overall pretty lighthearted. And the textures on this album–the crisp instrumentals on “Mr. Carbon Copy,” the melty smear of vocals on “Sad Sad Trip”–are delightful to listen to.

It’s interesting, though, to think that self-portraiture emerges out of a lack of alignment with chronological history–that, having liberated his songwriting of narrative continuity, Delt could create a collage that, taken altogether, approximates the inside of his brain. I’m not totally sold on this theory. The album may not be memoir,  but at the very least, Morgan Delt is a fully-realized glimpse of something.

What do you think? You can buy Morgan Delt’s self-titled album here, and listen to “Obstacle Eyes” below
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ARTIST PROFILE: Øystein Braut of Electric Eye

Electric-Eye

Electric Eye‘s debut collection Pick-up, Lift-off, Space, Time came out last spring, but three of the group’s four members have been playing together for a decade and a half, since they were in high school in a small city on the west coast of Norway. Even then, guitarist and vocalist Øystein Braut (also of The Alexandria Quartet)  loved the grooves and repetitions of psychedelic drone music. In 2012, the band of four–each already established in the Norwegian music scene–officially solidified into Electric Eye and began working on their self-produced first LP.

The record spans a broad range of influences, channeling  a groovy, plodding twelve-bar blues on one track and shimmering over Indian seven-note scales on the next. Each song takes its time to develop, growing into a multi-textured soundscape with layers of distortion, synth and long jams that could be a soundtrack to a movie, or a trip into outer space. Though Electric Eye embraces the expansive power of repetition, each instrumental line develops its own set of twists and turns, recalling the psychedelic sounds of seventies drone rock while also rolling a catchy array of pop hooks and bluesy rhythms into the mix.

In between a Portugal tour, Oslo Psych Fest, and coming to Austin to play SXSW this March, Øystein Braut was kind enough to chat with Audiofemme about drone grooves, the psych scene in Norway, and the influences that contributed to Pick-up, Lift-off, Space, Time.

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AF: You’ve toured a lot in the past few months, including a trip to Portugal. How have your travels been?

ØB: I’d never been to Portugal before, so that was really cool. It was in the late fall and the weather was getting cold in Norway, so it was nice to head down there and enjoy the nicer weather for a while. We played seven shows, I think. The crowd was amazing. Most of the shows we played by ourselves, without any other band. We had some local support in a few places, but basically we did our own tour.

AF: You also came back to Norway to play Oslo Psych Fest.

ØB: I’m involved in setting up that festival as well–just trying to build a psych scene in Norway. We’re taking the model from the Austin Psych Fest, which I went to last year. [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”][Oslo Psych Fest] was a great weekend, and hopefully it will become bigger in the future. We played with ten other bands. We had Wolf People and The Rolydrug Couple, from Chile, and Disappears played just after us.

AF: What’s the psych scene like in Norway? Is it getting big?

ØB: I mean, Norway is a pretty small country, so everything is relatively small here. For the festival we had maybe two hundred people each day. That’s why we keep trying to get abroad as much as we can. Norway only has about five million people, so we have two or three cities that we call major cities, which are small cities by US standards I guess. It’s easier to go to the UK or Germany or the rest of Scandinavia, maybe the US.

AF: How did Electric Eye come together?

ØB: All of us except the drummer went to high school together in a small city called Haugesund on the west coast of Norway. We started playing together about fifteen years ago, and just kept playing over the years. Two years ago, we all started working on this project, which felt very natural since we’d been playing together all this time. With a new name and new songs, we had a new band. We started in 2012 with some gigs, and then we recorded an album. It’s gone really well so far.

AF: The four of you have played not only in different bands, but in different genres. How did you settle on the music you currently play?

ØB: I’ve always been really into psych stuff, but never had a band that did it. I had a lot of songs that were meant to be really long, and more psychedelic, experimental, whatever you call it. In the music scene in Norway, if you need someone to play bass on your songs, you just call them and ask them. It’s not really separated by genre. Of course there are some separations between black metal guys and pop guys. But the scene is really small and not that separated. We’re all musicians. For me, it’s not that different playing different genres, as long as it’s cool music.

AF: What was it like recording your debut, Pick-up, Lift-off, Space, Time?

ØB: We did it ourselves in our rehearsal room in the summer of 2012. We recorded the drum groove, which are sort of monotonous, and just started layering stuff on top of it. We really like to have a pop hook in there somewhere, even if it’s kind of got a jam sound. We worked on the album a lot during the fall of 2012. We produced all of it ourselves, because we kind of had an idea where we were going with it and knew how it was supposed to sound. It didn’t really make sense to bring in some producer, because we had a good idea of what we wanted it to sound like. So we just did it ourselves.

AF: What’s the significance of the album’s title?

ØB: It’s the first four songs of a Swedish album from the sixties, by a band called Hansson & Karlsson, and the album is called “Man At The Moon.” It uses, like…drums and organs, only. I love that album, and I thought it would bring some nice images to mind. I liked having a long title, as well. It sounded cool, I guess. There’s no hidden meaning. It sounds like a countdown for a space shuttle taking off.

AF: Is there a philosophy behind the instrumental, soundscape-like quality of the album?

ØB: I think we just decided to not be in a hurry with the songs, and not to feel like we had to be in a hurry to get to the chorus. We gave the grooves time to develop. It could be a soundtrack for a movie or something. And whenever we play live, as often as we can we use some visual projections, which seems to work really well with the music.

AF: You’ve mentioned you draw inspiration from India. Tell us how that factors in.

ØB: I went to India the year before we started this project. I’ve always been interested in classical Indian music. We use those types of scales, and some Indian instruments. Something called a drone box? Whenever we play concerts and we have it, it plays one really ambient, background chord. Compared to Western music, Indian music allows stuff to last a little bit longer. It’s more hypnotic. Some songs can last for twenty minutes and that’s not weird, that’s just how long the pieces have to be. That’s also the philosophy for our album. We don’t have any twenty minute songs, but we believe in letting the songs evolve to however long they’re supposed to be.

AF: It must be liberating to decide that you’re not going to pay as much attention to typical song structure.

ØB: We have short songs, but it’s kind of nice to have more space, compared to contemporary popular music, and not be stopped by the four minute limit. I mean, there’s a lot of stuff from contemporary, regular music that’s great. We use chorus and verse structure, but we don’t feel trapped by it. And when we play live, we try to let the song be a starting point and then improvise. It’s really important to try to keep it interesting, of course, and not to lose the hooks of the songs. The easiest thing is just to put on a lot of noise for twenty minutes, without any stuff going on in it. But to do it for twenty minutes and keep it interesting…

AF: There are also a couple of tracks (6 AM, The Road) that feel so bluesy. Is the blues big in Norway? Where does that aspect come from?

ØB: I always loved the blues. Some of the older blues has a lot of the same stuff we like to work with: groove, minor changes, being repeated over and over. That’s kind of what we’re doing as well. Here in Norway, older people listen to the blues more than younger people do. But it’s kind of the basis for all rock and roll.

AF: Do you incorporate traditional Norwegian folk music into your playing?

ØB: No, not really. Norwegian folk music is more dance music. It’s similar to Irish or Celtic music. They have some scales and stuff that we use, but I’m not really interested. I haven’t listened to all that much of it, actually.  American pop music is more exotic, or exciting, for me.

AF: You’re coming to America in March, to play SXSW in Austin. We’re so excited to have you over!

ØB: We’re super excited. This is our first trip over. I’ve been to the US before, to Austin Psych Fest, but never played there. I have friends who say that SXSW is crazy, super crowded, super colorful. That’ll be cool. And then we’re going to start recording pretty soon, and hopefully get back to the US, and then get picked up by some huge record label–haha. I don’t know. We really just want to keep on doing what we’re doing.

Thanks so much to Øystein Braut for taking the time to talk with us! You can buy Pick-up, Lift-off, Space, Time here, and check out the ethereal and gorgeously spacey single “Tangerine” below!
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VIDEO OF THE WEEK: Cass McCombs “Big Wheel

Cass_courtesyCassMcCombsBack in October, enigmatic folk artist Cass McCombs released his seventh full-length, Big Wheel and Others, a double album that led us through hypnotic rhythm cycles and tangential, but beautiful, guitar passages, intimate if shadowed vocal lines, and lyrics that fit together like a Rubik’s cube—the meaning behind them was always there, but eluded direct visibility even when the text was at its most confessional. A meandering intricacy has always graced McCombs’ work.

Cass McCombs seems to belong to another era, one without modern video or recording technology, so it’s a little disorienting to realize that his songs have music videos. But so they do: the video for the (almost) title track of the new album, “Big Wheel,” premiered from Domino Records today courtesy of McCombs’ friend and collaborator Albert Herter, who shot the footage in New York, California, and China. “Big Wheel” opens with a foreboding, cyclical guitar line that speeds up at the pace of a rumbling freight train. In the video, these first bars are accompanied by a procession of slogans: large, all-capitol letter words like “JUSTICE,” “MASTER,” and “EVERYTHING” appear on the screen, over backdrops of a closeup of a chicken’s face, a lit-up building facade at night, or a basement door that’s opened when the song’s drums kick in. What follows is a busy psychedelic collage, montages intersperse with home video clips, with all the bleak grandness and obscurity of the song itself.

Images of cities, surreally collaged-together kaleidoscope imagery, and clips of talk show hosts with black ovals pasted over their faces aren’t what immediately comes to mind when you listen to Cass McCombs, whose music more closely embodies a grainy picture of solitary travels through America’s West. The cuts in this video are diverse—a grainily filmed dog coming towards the camera, a surreal, abstract, colorful backdrop with the word “WOMAN” written over it—and a lack of linear development makes the video seem a little unpredictable, even threatening.

The range of the collage is wide, and their apparently random sequence heightens the violence and surreality of the images, but this video is held together by a strange and distinct perspective. Many of the actions are filmed from the point of view of the viewer; in one recurring clip, a hand that appears to belong to the person holding the camera reaches out to open a door. The doctored visuals, the words that flash onto our field of vision as we watch the imagery unfold, puts us in the mindset of a personality that remains constant throughout the video. The only sense the chronology makes, by the end of the three and a half minute “Big Wheel,” is that established by the perspective from which these images are filmed. True to McCombs’ aesthetic, we’re not given an image of this video’s protagonist, but we’re given a detailed tour of all the scenery inside his head.

Watch the video for “Big Wheel” below, and learn more about Cass McCombs’ latest album, Big Wheel and Others, by going here!

EP REVIEW: “Sleeper Remixes”

CarmenVillain_bySimonSkreddernesHonestly, I’m still at a loss as to why this 12″–an assembly of three remixed tracks off 2013’s full-length Sleeper–exists. Carmen Hillestad, alias Carmen Villain, who ended a successful modeling career three years ago to focus on playing and writing music, released Sleeper this past March, bringing with it a delicately crafted blend of ethereal psych-rock and lo-fi nineties grit. The vocals on that album–the best and most conspicuous aspect of Villain’s performance–seemed to by turns float over and grab at the melodies, always with a palpable undertone of something ominous in the background. The first single off that album, “Lifeissin,” struck that balance exquisitely, creating out of Villain’s voice a persona that was empathetic as well as occasionally becoming a bit obscured and even scary. Unadorned bored-but-beautiful vocals, which, at some points, channelled Nico of The Velvet Underground & Nico, made creepy lyrics (“Stories be told, this is a life, open the curtains/Do you believe I’m going to hell?”) creepier.

But the least satisfying aspects of Sleeper–the album’s floating directionlessness  that couldn’t, for all its distortion-licked guitar lines and catchy, cyclical vocal hooks, carry momentum through all twelve tracks–can only be magnified through remix. The original album needed more grabbing and less floating. On the most recent EP, Villain abandons all semblance of storytelling in the vocals in favor of creating an entirely atmospheric sound. Her voice has no life of its own on this recording, and merely operates in service to the instrumentals.

Which would be fine, if the original versions of the songs didn’t depend so heavily on the persona Villain created to fit them when she released her first album. The mysterious, mysteriously dark character that we first encountered moving through Sleeper  does not really make an appearance on this newly envisioned collection of tracks. However, since the songs were initially created with a heavier vocal presence, the listening experience feels lacking, as if there’s a giant hole in the sound.

“Most of my songs are about escaping something–escaping this weird vacuum, an unsatisfying world,” Villain has said. Indeed, the three extended tracks on this album– “Dreamo (Peaking Lights Remix),” “Obedience (Bjørn Torske Remix)” and  “How Much (A JD Optimo Mix)”–all have a hunted feel to them. This is mostly due to the percussion line, which carries strong weight on every track, leading the surrounding collection of instrumentals in gentle, almost playful, journeys up and down their registers. The color of the melody is always shifting slightly, never sitting still for longer than a few seconds. The attention paid to keeping the instrumentals alive and vibrant on this album adds nice dimension to each track, although (for me, at least) this is no substitution for the strong vocal presence we saw on the full-length release. That being lacking, the mystery on its way towards being developed in Sleeper now feels flattened, overly obscure and boring.

Imagine going to a play, and discovering that in this play there will be no actors and no story line, only an elaborate stage set and really, really good lighting. That’s kind of the experience of listening to Carmen Villain’s remixes. Somewhere in the reinterpretation, these songs have lost a lot of their pull since appearing as originals on Sleeper.

You can go here to purchase the Sleeper Remixes EP via Amazon, or here for the original Sleeper CD via Saki Store. Also, be sure to check out “Dreamo (Peaking Lights Remix)” via Soundcloud below!

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ALBUM REVIEW: “Face The Sun”

Entrance-Band-1024x994The three members of The Entrance Band—frontman Guy Blakeslee, Paz Lenchantin on bass and drummer Derek James–have expressed displeasure with the stoner rock classification often used to describe their music, and indeed, the November 2013 LP Face The Sun is too tricky to fall into one just one category: channeling elements of psychedelic trance, trippy garage rock, the grungier end of metal and a touch of rockabilly, the new record melds various eras and evocations in service to the ideas it expresses. Themes run expansive on Face The Sun; lyrics like “Blood, sweat, sugar and spice, light and dark, fire and ice/shedding tears of sacrifice at the gates of paradise” set up the collection as an exploration of extremes and a journey from one end of the spectrum to another.

Face The Sun isn’t a straight shot from darkness to light, though, nor is it a story of transformation exactly. The music’s intensity focuses more closely on playing with the tensions between those extremes, with noodling vocal lines that shift from major to minor mode or float heroically over distorted, spellbinding instrumentals. If there’s a redemption story here, it’s an incomplete and messy one.

The reaper does come calling on this album, without a doubt. “Spider,” the best and most diabolically infectious track on Face The Sun, contains all the sunburnt misery and grim determination of Alice In Chains’ early nineties track, “Rooster.”  Frontloaded in “Medicine,” “Spider” and “The Crave” (tracks two, three and four), the rhyme-driven narrative focus creates an angst that’s catchy and extremely compelling. In “The Cave”, the line “When I’m in my grave, no more good times will I crave” quotes verbatim Elizabeth Cotten’s early twentieth-century standard “Freight Train.” The recollection, itself embroiled in hard times and an escape from darkness, tinges Entrance with weighty folk, recalling Blakeslee’s past lives as a hard rock and blues musician.

The end of the LP, like its beginnings with “Fine Flow”, conjures spacey, surreal ambiance. But whereas the first track opens urgently, the final song, “Night Cat,” evokes a sleepy moodiness. The band forgoes straight trajectory in favor of a non-linear album-long line that weaves between extremes of light and darkness, and the downside to this complexity comes when, at the end, “Night Cat” shows little progression beyond “Fine Flow,” and a marked decline in momentum. Both tracks trend psychedelic and repetitive, and both could stand to be much shorter. The meat of the album lies in the middle, where each track features a traversal of big themes and big evolution unto itself. The first and last track of the album feel redundant by comparison, bookending an already complete project with a beginning and ending.

Listen to “Fire Eyes,” off Face The Sun Here, via Soundcloud:

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LIVE REVIEW: CAVE, 11/13

CAVE_byChrisOlsenSpirits were high, in a drone-jam sort of way, on Wednesday night, as head-nodders with their hands stuffed in their jeans pockets filed in to Mercury Lounge to hear CAVE‘s set. The stage had been converted into a kind of planetarium, all dark with a twinkling night sky projected onto a screen in front of the black wall. The band, whose new album Threace came out on October 15th, unceremoniously and succinctly introduced themselves: “We’re Cave,” said bassist Dan Browning, and immediately launched into a five minute pulsing, jam-happy introduction.

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This was partially logistical—there were no vocal microphones on stage, and the band’s set was entirely instrumental. The Illinois-based group did make for a particularly serious, introspective live act, though, and were so absorbed in their playing that they hardly seemed to notice the audience at all. Flickering, black and white strands of what might have been DNA took the place of the stars flashing against the back wall. Cave channeled droning, incanted reels of psychedelic rock, surreally stretching out simple instrumental lines into repetitive, ten-minute magnum opuses. On stage, Browning and guitarist Jeremy Freeze remained virtually motionless as they played their instruments, focused and blissed out as they smiled, closed their eyes and nodded their heads.

“I love trance,” yelled someone in the crowd.

But double helix background notwithstanding, this was no swirly psychedelic hippie rock; the bass formed Cave’s backbone. The set incorporated too much beat and groove to be hazy—so much so that at certain points, if they’d dialed up the synthesizer just a bit, they could have been mistaken for electronic dance music.

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The band seemed to melt from form to form, evoking first one genre and then another. They brought out a flute and a saxophone, enhancing the rhythmic section and swinging the audience from mood to mood in a compelling, all-encompassing hypnosis. Catch CAVE play again tonight @ the Knitting Factory in BK. Otherwise,Watch CAVE’s crazy official video for “Shikaakwa”, here via Youtube:

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