12/30/2013

Interview: Passion Pusher


Questions and answers with James Gage of Scottish fuzz-pop project Passion Pusher.

Many of my favorite Scottish bands like Cocteau Twins, Mogwai and even Belle and Sebastian (to some degree) are noted for having a reverb-washed and dreamy sound. Which bands have most influenced your musical style?
Probably more American bands if I'm honest; I've found a lot of great Scottish musicians now that I've started recording and gigging but before that it was mainly lo fi garage rock like White Fence and Ty Segall that opened me up to simply recording with whatever's at hand, so I think that heavily influenced my slop pop style.
I did used to listen to a hell of a lot of Iggy Pop and Joy Division around 12/13, so that may have creeped in on the style I play at the moment.
I've found that one of the most noticeable components of your music, and your biggest similarity with the bands you mentioned (especially with White Fence) is your rapid output of music in all sorts of different styles. Do you find that recording a lot of different tracks in a short amount of time is more satisfying than working on a small amount over a large amount of time
It seems to just be the way I work. I completely hate recording a small couple of songs over a long period of time.
I begin to hate my work very fast so I rush it until I think it's okay and then just throw it out there with whatever else i recorded at the time.
My approach to song writings very weird, I don't really have many full formed songs. I kinda just bash them out and try and learn them back from my recordings to play at gigs etc
But it's always been music over lyrics for me. I am a truly terrible lyricist and my voice sucks haha.
Has releasing your music on bandcamp led you to meet new people?  
Yeah it's introduced me to a lot of great musicians who get in contact for splits etc
I actually have a split EP coming out on cassette by the end of January with an American artist Dead Katz, and I have the collab album being planned between me and The Furnsss singer Brendan Dyer, Nadnerb
What are your favorite bands you've discovered through bandcamp?
Definitely at the moment The Yawns, an awesome band from Glasgow, Real Swell, Dead Katz, Brazilian Money, Franco years, Elvis Depressedly.
Though if i'm honest I do get nearly all my music through friends putting stuff on bandcamp or finding it on bandcamp.
Kinda my go to for new music
Which of your own EPs or albums are you most pleased with?
Probably My Least Favorite Book, Bury Me Next To My Father and The Devil and; Me
I think My Least Favorite Book is the one I listen to most. It's a bit more dream-pop oriented than the rest of the music you've posted 
Yeah I'm actually planning on grouping The Devil And Me and My Least Favorite Book into one release and putting that onto cassette myself.
Was thinking of doing a small limited run of my dream pop material.

What's a typical Passion Pusher gig like? Do you have a full backing band?
It's just me and a drummer.
They're usually pretty hectic and crazy.
Me and my drummer, the wonderful Matti Art, usually get super drunk before and during and just kinda have fun
What other bands have you gone to see this year?
I saw the Growlers with Tomorrows Tulips around October, i saw some pretty weird and crazy bands in Bosnia when i went there around and I think I saw Animal Collective at the beginning of the year or it might have been the end of last year.
To be honest I've spent most of this year in my room recording.
I saw Animal Collective last month actually. 
Do they still have the whole mouth stage set up?
It was amazing when I saw them.
It was a crazy light show.
Avey Tare and Deakin were wearing jump suits.
And Avery Tare had dyed his hair blue.
I was super bummed they never played Winters Love though.
Have you covered any of their songs?
haha I have actually they're pretty terrible covers.
I covered Winters Love and Banshee Beat when I was about 14/15 on my ex girlfriends apple mac.
That was when I was putting stuff out under the name Portasound.
So what do you think is in store next year for Passion Pusher?
My album/ep thing Bury Me Next To My Father is being released on cassette through the label Cath Records.
I have the split with Dead Katz being put out through Electropapknit, a Glasgow label.
Got a bunch of gigs booked
Hopefully things will start to take off and more people will start listening.
fingers crossed.

12/26/2013

Review: Vellhouse - Nyoro-n Demouya

Vellhouse - Nyoro-n Demouya
(Self-Released 2013)

Vellhouse's debut demo is a prime example of an album you can't judge by its cover. Upon seeing the cover art for Nyoro-n Demouya, I prepared myself to take in another helping of sugary pop-punk in the vein of Baby Ghosts or Tiger Trap. The band even chose to themselves as being "cutecore", further conjuring three-chord pop and twee boy-girl harmonies What was emitted from my speakers instead was a major surprise, and a majorly good one at that. From beginning to end, Nyoro-n Demouya gallops ahead with an avant-hardcore ferocity that sounds like the child of Minutemen and Bad Brains. Minneapolis-based three piece Vellhouse seems to be hell-bent on setting Potemkin expectations for their listeners and bursting out from behind them, each time revealing a new layer in their sound and songcraft.

This tendency is most notable on "Bro Team", which at first whirls like a tornado, flinging rapid-fire, tinny lead guitar riffs and clanging powerchords in every direction. The lead vocalist shouts in attempt to be heard over the storm, sounding more than a little like Corin Tucker on Heavens To Betsy's "Me and Her". The heavy winds subside soon, revealing a minimal, vaguely dub influenced song. You can't get too comfortable listening to this demo; there are just too many changes and so much pummeling the listener's eardrums at once to really grab on an take hold of the music. But, when it comes to hardcore, it think that's the mark of a band's success. Vellhouse keep you coming back in attempt to finally tame their frenetic auditory assault, but will elude you each time. Don't underestimate cutecore.

12/24/2013

Phoning It In with: Juan Wauters



In the debut episode of my new interview podcast, Phoning It In, I give Juan Wauters a call to talk about his upcoming solo LP, North American Poetry, which is set to be released in February via Captured Tracks. Wauters, who also fronts The Beets, chats with me about library cards, album cover art and The Ramones. 

12/23/2013

Review: whatnot - "Demos 2013"

whatnot - Demos 2013
(Self-Released 2013)

What is it with all the the Arthur references I've been seeing in lo-fi/emo albums lately? Ever since I interviewed  Pennsylvania's Ratburn earlier this year I've seen at least 5 other bands that allude to the long-running children's cartoon in some form, and, as a devoted fan of the show myself, I find this to be a welcome trend. Arthur's low-key, somewhat nostalgic look back at a late-90's adolescence matches perfectly with what I've dubbed the "tumblr-era emo" scene. Connecticut's whatnot is the first of these bands I've seen that's completely devoid of vocals, but that doesn't prevent it from being one of the strongest I've recently heard.

whatnot, the solo venture of Rock Bottom Records owner David O'Brein, resembles a less cinematic version of Explosions in the Sky, tight punk riffage interposed with shoegazy moments of shoegazy ambience. "insert pretentious song title here" is the best example of this sort of contrast, opening with a twitchy post-hardcore that bursts into a peal of post-rock tremolo picking. "all killer #nofilter" is the most placid of the EP's four tracks, layering orchestral synths behind Beach Fossils-esque rhythm guitar loop. whatnot is one of the most accessible post-rock acts I've listened to due to his relatively short track lengths, consistently compressing symphonic emo beauty into individually wrapped, snack-sized bites.

12/20/2013

Interview: The Pizza Underground

The Pizza Underground:
The Interview
 
New York's Pizza Underground recently gained a significant amount of attention due to their inventive, pizza-themed Velvet Underground covers and the presence of their drummer/kazoo-ist Macaulay Culkin (of Home Alone fame). Band member Phoebe Kreutz was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions about the band's origins.
 
What inspired you to start a Velvet Underground covers band? How did you go about assembling a band?

We love the Velvet Underground and we couldn't understand why no one had ever rewritten their songs to be about pizza. The time had come. We assembled the finest musicians possible.

Is writing pizza themed parodies more difficult than regular songwriting? Which lyrics are you most pleased with?
 
Writing pizza-themed parodies is by far easier. All the heavy lifting has been done. We just have to figure out what the original lyrics mean. And then make them about pizza. Our favorite lyric is when we replace "Sweet Jane" with "Pizza". It has an elegant simplicity to it that really comes through.

Speaking of pizza, what's your favorite topping?

Red pepper flakes
 
How did you go about recording the new demo? I really dig the raw recording quality
 
That quality can only be achieved by standing around a computer and singing after a few beers.
 
Are there any plans to record a more polished sounding album? Have you written any non-pizza themed songs for the project?
 
All songs will continue to be pizza-themed. We are considering offers to make another recording. It may or may not be more polished. There is something to be said for cheap pizza.
 
Were you in any bands prior to the Pizza Underground?
 
We've all performed in different bands. I (Phoebe) play solo and with a band called Urban Barnyard that only writes songs about animals in the city. Matt currently plays trumpet for Two Kazoos, Kung Fu Crimewave and Jagged Leaves. Deenah raps in L.A. Boobs. Macaulay has appeared on stage with Har Mar Superstar and Adam Green. Austin was in Stockholm Syndrome. After so many different projects, it is interesting that this is the one that caught fire. 
 
Which bands are you currently into besides the Velvet Underground?
 
We love our local acts: Ching Ching, Toby Goodshank, Little Cobweb, The Johns, Give to Light and Schwervon!
 
Have you, or are you planning to, play any live shows as a band?

We are planning all kinds of live shows. That's where the fun is.

Which do you prefer, cassettes, CDs or vinyl?

Vinyl fits the nicest into a pizza box. 

Listen to the Pizza Underground's debut demo below:



12/19/2013

Cassette Corner: Mormon Girls - "The Farm Sessions"

Mormon Girls - The Farm Sessions
(Norwegian Blue 2013)
 
As fun as it is for me to get wrapped up in subgenres and subcultures, there are times when nothing can be as satisfying as pure, unadulterated indie rock. In an age that demands gimmicks and an unorthodox recording quality to stand out in a crowd of indie upstarts, it's surprising to hear such an honest effort like The Farm Sessions, the debut release by Canadian quartet Mormon Girls, and it's even more surprising to find it on cassette. With its raw, but also lifelike sound quality, (as the title suggests), this EP melds Dinosaur Jr's You're Living All Over Me with the mid-tempo college rock delivered by R.E.M. and Ned's Atomic Dustbin.  
 
The opening track, "Boy", opens with a crawling, but heavily distorted riff that sails into the air, leaving behind a small shower of sparks. The drums are curt and to the point, filling the sparsity between the guitar notes. Mick Hayward's vocals ease into the tune, and his singing fits somewhere among Ben Gibbard's and Michael Stipe's. As the instrumentation takes back center stage, a second guitar and a nimble, slippery bass line join the song and the drums fire back a bit more aggressively, creating a wall of nearly concrete sound. Mormon Girls' excellent variation of dynamic and texture sounds great on tape, and the live recording style just makes the instrumental crescendos hit that much harder. Especially benefitting from this treatment is "Bears I". Its growling post-punk power chords transition seamlessly transition into post-punk lead guitar as Hayward's vocal delivery overloads the microphone, the highlight of the tape.
 
Since this is the first cassette release on Norwegian Blue Records, I must note that the design is very nice. The scattered arrangement of font on the cover art seems like a touch from an early Captured Tracks 7", and the music is pressed on translucent red tapes, which always look great in my opinion. You can buy it here.
 


12/16/2013

Cassette Corner - Abandoned Houses - "Untitled Spirals"

Abandoned Houses -  Untitled Spirals
(Rok Lok 2013)
 
Delayed gratification may not seem like a term that anyone would associate with pleasure, but in the realm of music, especially lo-fi music, the two terms just might be synonymous. You'll listen to a tape for the first time in the car like I did this afternoon, and one or two verses, maybe a chorus, will really resonate with you. And the trouble is that afterward, you can't even remember how that line goes, or even if it exists at all. Songs seem to exist in ideal form in our minds. They may sound great as we listen but they are made perfect as we forget them. And on the way home from school today, this tape was perfect to me, and I keep coming back to it, searching for the sacred moment of warmth that overtook me while adrift in the passenger's seat. That constant search is what makes an album pleasurable, though. I enjoy prolonging sleep, preferring to spend as long as I can in the divide between consciousness and dreams before giving in to slumber. Similarly, it is in the struggle to find perfection in the music of others that I find the true enjoyment of an album. Each note and verse is scoured over, as if I were studying a text in another language, and like any true scholar, I begin to appreciate how the song's nuances comprise its whole.
 
Anyhow, pretensions aside, this album is really great. I compare a lot of music to Lou Barlow's work, but Abandoned Houses' Untitled Houses sounds almost exactly like the acoustic b-sides available as bonus tracks on Sebadoh albums. Higher notes peel off of the fruit of constantly throbbing bass, and whispered vocals seem like an after thought. The lyrics are mantras supplemented by scattered thoughts, yet everything about the EP seems so complete. Things really fall together on track 3, a cover of Blink-182's "What's My Age Again?". I hadn't heard the original before, but the interplay between sparsity and intensity is perfectly executed as pluckings melt into chords.
 



12/12/2013

Half-Gifts Christmas Compilation Out Now

12/08/2013

Top Ten Singles and Splits of 2013

10.) Just Handshakes – “London Bound”
With a lightly plodding bass line draped in frosty, filigree touches of lead guitar, “London Bound”, digs itself into the dirt, finding its footing behind a chalked white line. Female vocals waver slightly, trying to fit into place in time for the cry of the starting pistol, or, in this case a subtle blast of dreamy guitar distortion and a snare fill. The track lurches forward, its muscles tightening sharply. A chunky, Cure-esque guitar riff mimics the vocals in the chorus as the track seems to float on flickering hi-hat cymbals. Just Handshake’s debut single is beautifully reminiscent of New Order’s “Ceremony” in a way that many have attempted to match, but few have succeeded at.


9.) Barlow – “Cindy 99”
With the immediacy and brevity of a commercial jingle, “Cindy 99” is a saccharine slice of pop genius piped through busted speakers. Channeling the monochromatic lo-fi pop of the mid 90’s, Barlow lives up to its namesake, Lou Barlow, the bassist of seminal fuzz-rock band Dinosaur Jr. They’re coming out with a proper LP next year, so keep your eyes peeled.


8.) bEEdEEgEE – “Flowers” (feat. Lovefoxx)
“Flowers” serves as an oasis of warm, nostalgic pop on an album of impenetrable trap-influenced electronic. For the second single off of his album SUM/ONE, bEEdEEgEE teams up with Lovefoxxx of Brazilian synthpop act CSS to produce four and a half minutes of 70’s-infused psychedelia. There’s a bit of a magical feeling to the track, and it seems to burst with life. The bass synths that open the song breathe warmth into the ears of the listener, but are soon overtaken by bouncy keyboards and sparkling drum machine samples. It all builds up to the track’s centerpiece, its unforgettable chorus. Three other worldly chords flood the mix, overshadowing the vocals they accompany. Fans of Fleetwood Mac and Washed Out alike will love “Flowers”. Listen here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ptBWZ4c8CM

7.) The Beets – “Silver Nickels + Golden Dimes”
With their blatant disregard for musical polish and wonderful, crayon-drawn album covers, it’s impossible to ignore a Beets release. “Silver Nickels and Golden Dimes” is of particular interest, not just because of its mildly offensive album artwork, but because both sides of the disc are covers of songs that famous radio personality Howard Stern wrote in middle school. The Beets adolescent energy is well-suited to replicate these songs; the drums sound as if struggling to keep up with the clanging, percussive guitar and Juan Wauters’ strange vocal delivery. This Beets single is garage rock in its purest form.


6.) Wade/Healing Powers Split Cassingle
A split tape between two bands who are similar enough to compliment each other but aren’t completely indistinguishable. Newcastle’s Wade take up my favorite side of this tape with two hard-hitting, riff-heavy emo assaults, muffled by their own lo-fi recording qualities. I really dig the vocals, and the fuzzy, washed out tone. On the other side, the twinkly lead guitars on Healing Powers’ “Death Valley Driver” provide placid contrast to the hoarse screamo vocals. It’s not the sort of tape I’m used to listening to, but it’s surprisingly satisfying. [Review from Half-Gifts issue 5]


5.) The Socials – The Beast Bites
Though they've been around since 1994, The Beast Bites is the first vinyl release by Cincinnati punk trio The Socials. Despite the band's veteran status, one shouldn't expect to find any signs of maturity on this 7-inch record. The band's sound is built around a juvenile furor, the gritty rage of pre-Rollins Black Flag conjoined with the stark simplicity of Olympia, Washington's punk heyday. Throw in the Bikini Kill-esque vocal stylings of guitarist Mrs. Communication and you've got a 4-song EP that exemplifies everything I love about punk music: short, noisy songs that don't take themselves too seriously, putting fun above all else. It's not available to stream online, so you'll have to buy a copy to hear it for yourself.

4.) BRAAINZZ – “Ode 2 Lil B” (feat. Slide Show)
A reverent hymn to the basedgod, this BRAAINZZ single demonstrates the perfect balance between beauty and noise. A warbly loop of reverb-laden guitar notes provides a pretty, but non-distracting accompaniment to Slide Show’s gorgeous vocals, which sound quite similar those on A-Ha’s “Take On Me”, if it were sung by a female lead.


3.) Technicolor Teeth – “Blood Pool”
If this single’s cover art didn’t clue you in, Technicolor Teeth’s “Blood Pool” combines Bauhaus’ noisy Gothic experimentation  with the shoegaze delivery and knack for pop hooks that recalls Ride’s “Vapour Trail” Its b-side, “Drips”, is a bit more upbeat, featuring janglier guitars and vocals that are rather prominent. A must-have for fans of any shoegaze subgenre.


2.) Alex G / RL Kelly Split Record
RL Kelly’s new material eschews the keyboard that was heard throughout her well-received debut EP that dropped in February, and opts for a more minimal, grittier vibe. This was a smart move, as the raw, stripped back production puts more emphasis on keeping the tracks moving, and I feel it put a bit more pressure on Rachel Levy to focus on writing memorable hooks. The subtle shift in atmosphere takes RL Kelly to the next level, her vocal delivery and crunchy guitar tone on “Everyday” recalling the sound of Lois Maffeo’s K Records band named after Courtney Love. Featuring minimal percussion and overdubbed vocals, “Fake Out” offers the most replay-ability of all the songs on the split. Alex G’s “Magic Mirror” carries the record into psychedelic territory. Its woozy vibe pairs well with heavily distorted guitar. The fuzz clears from the air for his next two offerings. “Adam” is a stunner, making use of many more instruments than I’m used to from the bedroom pop genre, booming drums, warbling synths and piano in addition to his acoustic strumming.


1.) Mrs. Mole - “Sjon”
I first heard this song in a CD that came with an issue of a German indie-pop fanzine called Transendieren Exzess Pop, and found myself in awe. It was unlike anything I’d heard this year, adopting an orchestral and vaguely folky delivery that can only be compared to Clogs, a side project of The National. What’s most notable about this track is the woodwind instrument (a clarinet I think?) that weaves in and out of hurried acoustic arpeggios that reminds me of the theme song to Oswald, a cartoon about a blue octopus. The arrangement of instruments grows more layered as the tune continues. Banjo pluckings, cymbal washes, booming bass piano notes each slowly build to a climax, when a new vocalist enters the song at about 3:30. Truly an amazing track that’s well deserving of the number one spot on this list.

11/30/2013

Cassette Corner: Restaurnaut - "FAHF 2"

Restaurnaut - FAHF 2
(2013 Kerchow)

For the second day in a row, here’s another taste of California DIY, and like the zine I reviewed yesterday, Restaurnaut’s new tape, FAHF 2, more closely resembles Olympia, Washington’s off-kilter twee vibe than the crunchy garage-punk that California has been churning out lately. It’s pretty evident that frontman Nick Dolezal looks to Calvin Johnson’s many music projects for insight; both of the songwriters have a penchant for clunkily played, twangy guitars, and each delivers lyrics in an overly forceful tone, slowly sounding out each syllable with booming force. What sets Restaurnaut apart from Calvin and the K Records scene is his use of synths and samples. While just about every iconic K Records band limited themselves to guitar and drums, Dolezal is rather creative with his arrangements without sacrificing his lo-fi ethic. His tracks on FAHF 2 include clanging keyboards like those on “Don’t Feel Lonely Like The Rest” and gravelly noise loops on “Into The Star World”. He even mixes his vocals differently on each track. They’re especially abrasive on the closing track, “Arrow”, which happens to be my favorite of the 5 included on the tape. Not only does the song include some of Restaurnaut’s best lyricism, (“I’ll treat you like the last Egyptian Pharaoh”), but it also veers into some sonically adventurous territory. It spans four and a half minutes, an unheard of amount of time for the lo-fi genre, and features blasts of distortion in its chorus. In Beach Boys-eque fashion, a sample of an archer pulling back his bowstring accompanies the word “arrow” in the song’s second verse. The McDonald’s yellow cassette includes a good 15 minutes worth of old-school DIY, and it’s in a limited edition of 25 so don’t pass up your chance to get one!

11/29/2013

Zine Review: Goofbook

R.L. Wallace - Goofbook issue 4
(Gonk Publishing 2012)

If you’ve heard any of R.L. Wallace’s cassette tapes, you’ll have a good idea of what his zines are like: gritty and minimalist, but ultimately charming. I’ve received a few publications from Wallace over the past year, but my favorite by far is Goofbook, a low-key look into Wallace’s day-to-day life told through scribbly pen-and-ink drawings and short, typewritten captions. Wallace draws himself as some sort of cross between a bear and a hamster, and Goofbook chronicles the confrontations between his optimistic, often naive, avatar and the apathetic attitude of the nameless characters he encounters. In contrast to Wallace’s simple features, the other people portrayed in the drawings are frightening creatures that resemble aliens. Though these strange characters are sketched in greater detail, the three lines that make up the protagonists’ face convey much more expression, not unlike Charlie Brown’s face. Wallace’s writing is easily relatable and he slips plenty of good music references into the artwork. Fans of King Cat Comics will dig Goofbook. It also kinda reminds me of Hyperbole and a Half. Send $2, a tape or something of that nature to:
R.L. Wallace
2700 White Ave. #3
Chico, CA, 95973
(Don’t forget to ask for Goofbook!)


11/27/2013

Review: Cedar Falls - "Esla"

Cedar Falls - Esla
(2013 Self-Released)
"Bathes a smattering of seemingly unrelated influences in shoegazey fuzz."

Here’s a release that takes me back to the origins of the Half-Gifts music blog. I named the site after the fourth and final track of the Cocteau Twins’ oft-overlooked 1995 EP called Twinlights. Though the band is most known for their ethereal (and rather liturgical) take on dream-pop, the brief release relegates their usual shoegazery to be a supplement to acoustic arrangements, and the dramatic change in sounds pays off: though piano, acoustic guitar and strings are at each song’s focus, the residual shimmer that brews in the background is what makes Twinlights so memorable. That background effect is resurrected on Elsa, the debut album by Long Island’s Cedar Falls. It takes cues from a smattering of seemingly unrelated influences and bathes them in shoegazey fuzz and reverb adding up to one gorgeous EP.

“There” is the first track to include vocals, which hide among twangy, vaguely dissonant pluckings that recall Slint’s tinny guitar tone on Spiderland. It’s nice, but seems to be a bit of a buffer, countering the unchallenged beauty that circulates through “Isolated Roads”, which channels Neutral Milk Hotel’s fuzz-folk. “Julia”, however, is my personal favorite selection from Esla, and is perhaps the sleeper track of the bunch. The synths that breathe life into the song sound like a slowed-down sample of Paul McCartney’s “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime”. Declan Diemer’s vocals have a surprisingly “pop” accent to them, a rather welcome inclusion on such a mellow album.

11/22/2013

Cassette Corner: Log Across the Washer - "Pancakes"

Log Across the Washer - Pancakes
(Crash Symbols 2013)
Pancakes' warm jazz production and quirky songcraft keep it timeless
Releasing an album that weighs in at twenty-plus tracks is risky business, and it usually results in either a fascinating collection of brief song snippets that hold up on their own or an overindulgent mess. Luckily, taking a cue from Guided by Voices’ bag of tricks, Tyler Keene’s psychedelic solo project Log Across the Washer falls under the former category on his new tape, Pancakes, by varying his delivery dramatically over the hour long album, but holding each track together with a vintage jazz vibe (Keene cites John Coltrane as an influence). Though you might be tempted to lump Log Across The Washer along with other current jazz and funk influenced acts like Mac Demarco and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Keene seems to live in a bubble that prevents him from devoting too much of his attention to imitating a certain artist or scene. Pancakes’ warm production and quirky songcraft keep it timeless, and it’ll certainly hold up in just about any music fan’s cassette collection.

Pancakes opens with “On the Swinging Stairs”, appropriately titled considering its guitars, which seem to violently wobble and bend at random. Keene’s multi-part harmonies and use of the trumpet on this track recall Kevin Barnes’ clever arrangements on mid 2000’s Of Montreal LPs. Tinny, dissonant organ carries the weight of “Electric Blanket”, an avant-funk jam with one of the most addictive hooks on the album, featuring warbly falsetto. Things get a bit more understated on Side B, opened by “So The Story Goes”, a track free of any sort of the screwball experimentation that accents most of the tape. Its guitars are metallic and narcotic and Keene’s vocals lower to the soothing whisper one might expect to hear from Yo La Tengo. There’s a lot of untapped potential hinted at in the B Side, and hopefully Log Across the Washer Builds off the side’s triumphs.


https://crashsymbols.bandcamp.com/album/pancakes

11/19/2013

Cassette Corner: Stars Are Insane/Monogamy Split

Stars Are Insane/Monogamy - Split Cassette
(Rok Lok Records 2013)
A noisy split tape that's full of surprises; marks a turning point in the Stars are Insane Discography.

It’s kind of odd that Long Island resident Mike Andriani, who releases bedroom-recorded noise rock under the name Stars are Insane, would choose to put out two split EPs in the span of a month, but after scrutiny of each of them, it seems apparent that this was a very logical move. His last output, the December installment of Rok Lok Records’ 2012 cassingle club, was a major outlier compared to the rest of his discography. Most noticeably, it was comprised entirely of ambient instrumentals, but more importantly, it marked a major sonic change in Andriani’s instrumentation. Though there are lyric-less tracks on just about every Stars are Insane release, these felt more like stand-alone songs rather than outtakes and experiments. The fuzziness of his guitar tone evoked the faint grittiness and bright shimmer of the ocean rather than the sludge and scattered pollution one might find sitting at the bottom of a lake.

His two late-2013 EPs separate that recently adopted style from his older, and arguably more accessible alt-folk material. His cassette split with Monogamy, which I’ll be dissecting tonight, focuses more on the former, while his lathe-cut record release with Morgue Toad prominently features his more traditional-sounding material. His first track to appear on the Monogamy split is “When We Saw Mountains”. It opens with a majestic, new age-y keyboard loop that’s quite worthy of the track title. Short lashes of crunchy electric guitar act like timpani drumrolls would in a symphony. The keyboard takes a backseat in the following track, “Cars Pass Me By”. Once again, the track is adept at illustrating its title. A subtle drone in the background creates a grim darkness that set the mood of a lonely, late night drive. The track actually makes me feel more like I’m in the backseat, because its repetition promotes passive listening. I lie back on the chilly headrest and watch as the cars (represented by delayed guitar notes) woosh by, blurred through the rain-soaked back window.


In stark contrast to the A-side, the opening track of Monogamy’s half of the split is fueled by industrial aggression; its drums are booming and metallic and screeching mechanical sounds skitter high above. Though it’s tough to dig through the song’s steely surface, when you do you’ll find that there’s a hidden shoegaze gem buried below the noise. Its melody is simple but effective, and is very much in tune with Shivering Window’s less-is-more mentality. “Remain Lingering” hits the listener with another surprise, opening with pleasant solo piano that leads into velvety saxophone. Paired with D Alfred Lyons’ odd vocal delivery, it sounds a lot like Modest Mouse’s “Think Long”. As a final testament to Monogamy’s unpredictability, a short hardcore/powerviolence cut concludes his side of the split.


11/17/2013

Single: seventeen years - "ocean slut"

seventeen years - "ocean slut"
(Half-Gifts Records 2013)

"ocean slut" is the third track off of the forthcoming EP, Teased Hair, by seventeen years, the solo project of Daytime Party's Tony Freijat. The track opens with a rumbling post-punk guitar riff that is soon blanketed by heavy, crackling fuzz. Freijat's vocals are filtered and understated like those of Cole Smith from DIIV. There's even a hint of early 2000's emo that's a bit more prevalent in other tracks on the EP. This tune is sneakily catchy, and will slowly worm its way into your current list of favorite songs. Listen below.

11/14/2013

Single Review: Roof Doctor - "Dad"

Roof Doctor - "Dad"
(Maggot House 2013)

With the creamy saxophones that so defined their last album out of the picture, Roof Doctor's former brand of twangy prog-rock is confined to the recurring guitar riff on their new single "Dad". It ventures into territory that's a little foreign for the Philadelphia five-piece, airy emo that resembles fIREHOSE if it were fronted by Lou Barlow. Mark Harper's blunt and endearingly monotone vocals trudge through distant feedback and harmonics delivered by a mechanical, motorik rhythm. A piano bursts brilliantly through the mix midway through the track, and although the instrument is often used to add fragile beauty to a song, it sounds surprisingly aggressive on "Dad". The song will be included on Roof Doctor's upcoming LP, Freedom Mobile Home, and suggests a fresh direction for the band. Listen below.

11/12/2013

Interview: Baby Ghosts

(Drawing by Caroline Noel)

I recently had the chance to interview 3 members of Utah anime-punk unit Baby Ghosts about Adventure Time, Bikini Kill and supernatural encounters. Check out the questions and answers below.

How did Baby Ghosts form, and what bands served as inspirations? Also, your lyrics almost always speak of death but in a rather lighthearted way. Why is this?
Bret (Drums, vocals): We just really wanted to start something fun. There were some lineup shuffles near the beginning, but everything has been solid for a few years now.
I would say that, for me, I think about death constantly, in a lot of different ways. Writing a lighthearted song about death is a coping mechanism for me. People might say that it's insensitive, but it helps me, and I hope it helps other people be a little less afraid and anxious as well.
Katrina (Bass, vocals): I wasn't around for the very beginning, but I heard that Baby Ghosts was influenced by the Raveonettes. I think some of the songs in the first album reflect that. As for the lighthearted references to death and serious topics, I think we don't like to come off as a serious band. We have much more fun playing live and I feel more freedom in writing when we incorporate humor into our songs.
Karly (Vocals, Guitar): Baby Ghosts is fun! That's why it started. That's why I wanted to join when I got the chance and that's why I still do it! If it comes off as light-hearted its because that's the way we all see it, I guess.
I heard you guys are working on a new album, what are the details on that? Did the Ghost In A Vacuum EP give us a hint at what's to come, or will the new material take a vastly different approach?
Bret: The new album definitely sounds a lot more like Ghost in a Vacuum than the first album, though there are still some songs that would fit right in on Let's Always Hang Out... Still, there might be a few songs that are different from anything. We're hoping that our progression of song writing makes sense. As much I don't think it matters to cater to your listeners, I also don't think it helps to put out music that sounds like a completely different band. This album sounds like everything else we've done, but maybe a little more... beautiful?
Katrina: Ghost In A Vacuum's variance in songwriting is definitely something that will come up again in the new album. We all have distinct styles which will come together in the new release to create a really well-rounded album. I think we're all really excited to have an album that will better represent ourselves. 
Who does the artwork for your releases? I really dig the album covers.
Bret: Our friend Naomi Martin has done the majority of our art so far, including the covers of every release to date. She's genuinely great.
You guys played a Halloween show as Bikini Kill. What was that like? Did you cover "Outta Me"? That's one of my all-time favortie tracks.
Katrina: DUDE, I love Outta Me too and I actually suggested we play that one but it got cut. Bummer, because it's so beautiful. But Halloween shows are about really capturing the essence of the band in one set so we definitely had to go with the more upbeat, in-your-face stuff. Overall the set went really really well. It was so fun, especially since the crowd was really into it and singing along. I told Karly at the end of the set that even if she had forgotten any of the words, she could've given the mic to any of the girls in the crowd.
If you ever do another Halloween show, whose songs will you cover?
Karly: I would love to do something like Blondie or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs but those bands might be too serious for us. Not that Bikini Kill isn’t serious THEY ARE. Maybe by serious I just mean that their songs are more difficult??  
Bret: I don't know. Pat and I joked about doing HEART. That would be fun, but also stupid.
How did you guys make the video game for your website? 

Bret: So I actually made about 95% of it by myself (My friend Adam drew a handful of monsters, but that was it). I made it on a site called mygamebuilder.com. It took me almost exactly a year to complete, and now it's just stuck on that site. It was a very helpful place for someone like me (who knows nothing about programming, animation, drawing, anything), but it sucks that the game just sits there and doesn't work half the time because their site goes down. Whatever, it was the only way I could have made it happen. 

Katrina: I made an 8-bit heart with a real cute highlight on top. That was probably my greatest contribution.
You've put out separate releases on cassette, CD and vinyl. Which was your favorite to work with?
Bret: Cassettes are fast and cheap, so it's nice being able to print something right before you need them. Vinyl sounds the best. I'm pretty over CDs at this point, but I don't really care. I think our releases have all been put out on only one format apiece, and I think we'll just end up doing it like that forever. Variety is fun!
You guys like Adventure Time right? What's your favorite song from the show? Also, have you seen the new Cartoon Network show called Steven Universe? It's made by some of the same folks and it's rad.
Bret: The best song is definitely the song BMO sings to Finn and Jake when they are fighting (season one, I think). It's the episode where they have movie night and try making a movie together. I haven't seen that show, and I will check it out the next time I get bored. Have you seen Bravest Warriors or Puppycat? Also made by some of the AT people. You can watch them both on youtube.
Katrina: I haven't watched Steven Universe yet but I have heard great things. Also, it's the first show on Cartoon Network to be completely created by a woman (the genius Rebecca Sugar), which is rad.
Karly: I love the friends song that BMO sings but I also really love the song at the end, during the credits. It’s a modified version of some real bands song and I always forget how good it is until the end of an episode.
Do you believe in ghosts?
Karly: I was scratched by a ghost once! I was on a ghost hunt in Brigham City and had A LOT of layers on and when I got home I had a weird burn/scratch down my arm! I’m not really sure about ghosts, but that story is true, I had a weird burn scratch. Id definitely think it could be true.
Bret: Honestly, not in the slightest. But even though I believe almost strictly in science and dislike mysticism, it's important not to dismiss things. I like ghost stories and the possibilities of spirits, friends, jerks, and demons coming to haunt you, but I don't worry about the reality of them. Maybe that's why we can write so many songs about ghosts without a second thought. What they hell are THEY gonna do?
What bands are you currently into?
Bret: Ummm, the new Mind Spiders is pretty cool. Definitely Big Eyes - Almost Famous. Peach Kelli Pop just came through, so I am still on a kick of all her music. And I still listen to the new Anamanaguchi album any time I get in my car.
Katrina: Waxahatchee, Slutever (yes that's their name), Austra, Anamanaguchi, Paul Baribeau...just lots of stuff ya know?
Karly: Bleached, ALL DOGS, Waxahatchee. Lots of girl voices lately I guess. Fun stuff!

11/05/2013

Cassette Corner: Mumblr - "White Jesus / Black God"

Mumblr - White Jesus / Black God
(Fleeting Youth 2013)
"Stops, starts and bucks like a rodeo bull in attempt to toss the listener off its back"
Mumblr's White Jesus / Black God, to be released on Fleeting Youth Records next Tuesday, is a cassette re-issue of the band's first two EP releases, which are said to have given birth to Philadelphian "fuzz punk", hence the bizarre choice of album artwork. To be honest, I hadn't heard any of Mumblr's material prior to popping this tape in my deck, and having read that the quartet tagged themselves with the aforementioned fuzz punk genre, I prepared my ears for yet another Wavves clone. Surprisingly, the sounds that actually came from the deck quickly worked to erase any preconceived notion I had about this release. "Holy Ghost" opens White Jesus, the first half of the double EP, with an atmosphere of suspense, as sparse chords and small bursts of percussion create a tension that seems to stick around for the entire A-side. Nick Banks' distant falsetto surfaces alongside warm, jazzy lead guitar, its calming presence clearing the air for the auditory assault that soon follows. The band takes on an explosive post-grunge sound that stops, starts and bucks like a rodeo bull in attempt to toss the listener off its back. This isn't normally what I'd find myself really getting into, but the album really challenged me to break out of the rut I'd been in, listening almost solely to folky lo-fi music.

A couple tracks appearing on Side A take on a restrained tone. The chiming notes and loose rhythms on "Fuzz Punk", for example, act as a palate cleanser among the constant barrage of heavy instrumentation. Generally, though, the most brutal moments of the EP, like "3/4" are the most enjoyable, attacking like a more fierce Built To Spill. On the B-Side, Black God, demonstrates a faster-paced, more condensed take on the sound introduced in White Jesus, but interestingly enough, is less accessible than its counterpart. "Good Cop, Dad Cop" is the easiest to instantly jam to, with its filtered vocals and shambolic instrumentation. Actually, that particular cut does sort of recall Wavves' crunchy pop vibe, fitting its fuzz punk label quite well. White Jesus / Black God shows incredible depth for a cassette and certainly will leave fans wanting more. Preorder here.

11/03/2013

Interview: Teen/Ragers

An interview with the three members of  math punk unit Teen/Ragers about the Oklahoma City music scene and attending concerts alongside their parents.

How did Teen/Ragers come about? What’s the main focus of the band? What major influences do you guys have in common?

Jake: The three of us wanted to start a new band together and explore the kind of music we think is fun to play. Fun and Friendship! Sagen has said in the past that Teen/Ragers is a bunch of happy people writing sad songs; but we don’t really know what what true sadness is. It’s just a logical way to take things to the extreme, and the expression of the raw performance is just really fun. There’s something about getting to be something you’re not that is really interesting. One weird hiccup. Obscurum per Obscurious. We don’t really write casual music, all the parts are completely intentional. To name a few common influences, father figure, Two Knights, Choirs, Native, Alta, and Algernon Cadwallader.

On your new album “Rick Neagan”, there's a nice lo-fi sound quality. Was that a stylistic choice, or does that just come from necessity? What lo-fi bands do you like?

Jake: Kind of both. Sagen recorded and mixed it so I’ll let him answer but I’ll tell you what we all wanted from this album. We wanted a true sound that we felt accurately represents how the songs sound live. We wanted it to be clearly heard and understood but did not want it so clean it sounds unauthentic. I write a lot of the lyrics to these songs apart from playing drums and they’re very personal to me. We recorded the songs the way we did because we could do it ourselves and it just so happened to sound great to us! Its all about context. These songs weren't written for the radio or even a stage, they were written for the back of a thrift store. Aidan: (List of influential lo-fi bands)
1 Footnotes
2 Midwest Pen Pals 3 Early Merchant Ships recordings 4 French In Van

Coffin Boner Records offers up tons of quality Oklahoma City punk music. What’s the scene like there?

Jake: I love the shows and bands that make up OKC’s ‘scene’. A lot of the DIY punk and emo bands I love are centered around a great local venue, Bad Granny’s. There is a lot of talent and creativity that comes through or thrives at this place. Its like the CBGB’s of OKC if you will.
Sagen: It’s a bunch of friends making bands and playing music for other friends. I feel like we make a healthy competition of trying to make the most kickin’ jamz. It’s a pretty fun way to hang out.

I heard there are many other projects made up of members of Teen/Ragers. What are they?

Jake: I also play drums in a ska band called Sunny Side Up. A punk band called Anti-Patterns and an emo band called Otters. I love all these bands although Teen/Ragers is my baby. Check em out on bandcamp or faceboook. More local DIY OKC music.
Sagen also plays drums for a badass instrumental math rock band called Shelton Pool. They just finished recording a new album with Aidan on bass! Check em out. Aidan plays guitar in Otters. He also plays bass in local bands Dave and Shelton Pool.
What was the first band you saw live?
Jake: The Queers at the conservatory in okc. Crazy night!
Sagen: Lynyrd Skynrd, actually. I have a pretty dad rock dad.
Aidan: My dad surprised me with tickets to a Green Day concert in the 7th grade. He had no idea what I listened to.
What do you do in your free time that doesn't involve music?
Jake: I also do art and work. I was an art major in high school and its really rewarding. ‘Do art, no problem’. I’m reading How Music Works by David Bryne and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Both are really good.
Aidan: As a music student with only really that as a talent, I don’t do much that isn’t music.
Sagen: I’m a physics student, so I end up spending most of my free evenings arguing about math with my friends.
Is there anything in the future for Teen/Ragers?
Jake: Us playing locally and writing more. We are planning on recording a split with one of our friends soon. We have a bunch of new songs we’re really excited to share! We are also talking about touring but nothing to announce yet. Keep an eye on the facebook~~~

10/30/2013

Review: "The Telephone Projects Makes Love With Bear Creek"

The Telephone Projects/Bear Creek - Split
(2013 Self-Released)
"Booming, vacuum-like drones weigh on the listener with the pull of the abyss"

In my opinion, there's nothing that can quite match the curious combination of Casiotone keyboard, fuzzy tape deck hiss and buckets of reverb. While harnessing the energy of these classic elements of bedroom pop, The Telephone Projects and Bear Creek manage to bypass a few of the tired tropes of the lo-fi keyboard genre, forming a collaborative effort that's unnerving and beautifully cavernous. Rarely does such an enormous sound come from such minimal instrumentation.

On your first listen, you'll probably most enjoy The Telephone Projects' half of this split release. Bringing his gravelly voice and a deep, elegiac ambience to the table, Brennon Manning's funereal pop delivery acts as a dark counterbalance to the glut of pleasant sounding, yet sterile keyboard projects that have appeared in the past couple years, like that of Hearts Bonfire and Secrets. Booming, vacuum-like drones seem to weigh on the listener with the pull of the abyss, giving one the dizzy feeling you get when looking over the side of a cliff. It's so inviting to gaze into the keyboard abyss on the album's highlight, "Luigi's Haunted Mansion" that you might miss out on the way the upbeat rhythm of the track is tamed by brooding lyrics and dark, low-fidelity distortion.

The Telephone Projects' side of the split transitions seamlessly into Bear Creek's, each hissing with the same amount of background grime. Musically, though, each band offers a completely different brand of songcraft. Bear Creek's sound is sporadic, and mostly instrumental, weaving spooky ambient jams on his piano and acoustic guitar. The two shoegaziest selections to be found here, "Freeway Fears" and "This Is How I Feel Sometimes" borrow a spaced-out, underwater tone from Sigur Ros; buoyant chords are complimented by weighty plunk of piano keys and the after-buzz of guitar strings. This album's surreal vibe makes for good Halloween listening material. You might want to consider playing it while passing out candy tomorrow.