Review: Amen Dunes - "Cowboy Worship"

Amen Dunes - Cowboy Worship
(2015 Sacred Bones)

Ever since I first laid ears on Amen Dunes' sophomore LP, Through Donkey Jaw, I've found myself fascinated by the project's peculiar approach to folk music: skeletal in construction, yet its reverb-laden aura of mystery wafts through the air like ceremonial incense, filling each song with an eldritch breath of life. Frontman Damon McMahon borrows timbres normally associated with cozier acts like Fleet Foxes and Paul Simon, only to bend and distort them into spookier sonic territories. Though recent efforts have nudged the project's sound towards accessibility, its adventurous spirit and penchant for improvisation is as present as ever. The latest AD release, a 6-song EP, is composed of 5 alternate takes from previous albums and a cover track. I feel that as a standalone EP release, it's McMahon's greatest output to date. It is powerfully succinct and filled with lush textures that often recall The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows". Songs like "I Know Myself" and "Green Eyes" slowly build upon minimal arrangements, opening with guitar and percussion, followed by layers upon layers of improvised accompaniment, from moaned backing vox to droning strings. McMahon's vocals are powerful, half-shouted half-sung, especially so on his cover of This Mortal Coil's dream-pop classic "Song to the Siren".


Review: Heavenly Beat - "Eucharist"

Heavenly Beat - Eucharist
(Self-Released 2015)

His third full-length release and his first effort outside the influence of the Captured Tracks record label, Eucharist makes for a milestone in John Peña's discography under the name Heavenly Beat. It is a waypost from which loyal listeners can turn around and take in a complete view of what ground the solo project has covered stylistically. In this case the road traveled is well-paved and linear, a display of the remarkable consistency that has so defined Peña's body of work from the uniformity of his album artwork to the palette of instrumental color he dips his brush into: trills of classical guitar, steel drum chimes and a vaporous hybrid of flamenco and smooth jazz vibes. Though artistic progression may be a virtue, I admire Heavenly Beat's stalwart intention to carry on in the same direction, just doing it better each time. Eucharist offers up twangy RnB atmospherics in the vein of the most recent How To Dress Well album, layers of intertwining guitar riffs atop pulsating percussion. My favorite cuts include "Head", accented by the moans of bendy lead guitar notes, and "Effort", which opens with a synth solo that reminds me of the music that accompanies The Weather Channel. Eucharist is an inviting, calm effort that is uncategorizable, but undeniably cozy.


Zine/Record Review: Free To Fight #1

Sleater-Kinney/Cypher in the Snow - Free to Fight #1
(1998 Candyass)

I'm taking an Honors class on the Riot Grrrl movement this semester at college, so I thought it would only be appropriate to pick up this release while browsing the used vinyl section at Torn Light Records. Free To Fight is a split 7" single wrapped in a zine. The record itself features the recently reformed trio Sleater-Kinney on the A-side and jazz-punk obscurity Cypher in the Snow on the flip, a project which I believe is named after a 70's educational film about bullying. Sleater-Kinney's cut is solid, a throwback of sorts to the band's earliest material: raw and trebly that leans toward the pop side of punk. Cypher in the Snow's offering is less accessible, a frenetic blast of buzzsaw guitar and sour saxophone (or trombone?). The zine component of the release is really cool, featuring blocky illustrations and tips on how to resolve conflict among your friends and to defend yourself in the event of an attack. This is a very interesting release that has aged well, worth a look if you come across it.


Review: Sister Palace - "Count Yr Blessings"

Sister Palace - Count Yr Blessings
(Self-Released 2015)

Sister Palace's upcoming effort, Count Yr Blessings, is a tumultuous clash between sinister guitaristry and fragmented bits of pop sentiment coated in the warmth of dulcet vocals and a heavy blanket of reverb. The Portland quartet channels the primal, distortion-laden sound of early Sonic Youth: loose and noisy, but displaying a keen eye for texture. The instrumentation on "Corporeality" reaches roaring, explosive crescendos as it reaches its wordless chorus, yet the song also features a jarringly hushed bridge, peppered with shimmering harmonics that mesh perfectly with the plod of twangy bass. Count Yr Blessings' final, untitled, cut veers into Beat Happening territory, hyper-cute vocals gliding bouyantly atop droning chords. Taking into account the short flashes of avant-garde brilliance that crop up over the course of the album like the blasts of gnarled energy that bookend "CFP" and the noisy crawl of "providence", the album is an incredible, diverse effort that puts an up-to-date spin on no-wave.

Listen to "Corporeality" below.


Review: handsome eric - "nah i'm good"

handsome eric - nah i'm good
(Self-Released 2014)

Nah I'm Good may be spartan in its lo-fi arrangement, but its delivery is surprisingly confident and poised, recalling the reverby drone-pop of Beat Happening: blunt, tuneful and tinged with deadpan humor. Taking a pseudonym that seems to be borrowed from a 1950's pro wrestling villain, Stephen O'Dowd (aka Handsome Eric) combines repetitious layers of acoustic guitar, keyboard and drum machine to create pop in the vein of Philip Glass. The six brief songs on Nah I'm Good are deceptively simple, their minimal construction creates a narcotic effect on the listener as they slowly evolve. Like watching the sun's arc slow across the sky, one cannot fully appreciate the music by being overly vigilant in listening to it, rather it's best to let it wrap around you, passively noticing the changes in mood and texture as they come, like the percussively strummed chorus on "Terror Blanket" and the explosive distortion that concludes the EP's final track. Overall, this release is a very impressive first effort, similar in tone to Yuck's self-titled debut as well as much of the Coma Cinema discography.


Guest Review: Clifford Parody's Top 10 Albums of 2014

Running a label makes creating a year-end album list quite difficult. When I sat down, a large part of me wanted to load this up with all the albums we released this year on Swan City Sounds because really, I love everything we put out. BUT I figured that would come off snarky so to avoid feeling/looking like a self-aggrandizing asshole I decided to leave them all out (although I still encourage you to give them a listen). So, the list: this is really in no particular order, was very hard to narrow down, and the numbers are here for no other reason than to make the list a little more listy.

1. OFF! – Wasted Years (Vice Records)
            This album just rips. The longest track clocks in at a little over two minutes and the majority of them never reach the minute and a half mark. If you are looking for some quality stripped-down hardcore punk to destroy your eardrums with, this is a good place to start. Favorite track: “Death Trip on the Party Train”

2. Mac DeMarco – Salad Days (Captured Tracks)
            My wife isn’t a fan of a lot of the music I listen to, but this was one of a handful of albums dropped out this year that both of us can agree on.  I have talked to some other people who burned out on Salad Days after a number of listens but for me, this album gets better every time. This is bedroom pop for people who don’t really get down on most bedroom pop. The guitar tone is         killer and DeMarco’s gap-toothed croon shines. I love everything about it. Plus, judging from interviews and live performances I have seen, DeMarco may very well be the coolest dude in rock music today. Favorite track: “Let Her Go”

3. Supervixens – Nature and Culture
            My introduction to Supervixens came with the video for Loud Loud Loud!, a live recording of the band working in what I think is the studio but may just be their practice space, I don’t know. Either way, I was pretty blown away. Supervixens mesh beat driven guitar and bass riffs with straight noise so seamlessly that I have a hard time classifying just what kind of music it is. Loud Loud Loud is most definitely the stand out track and shifts back and forth from some of the most aggressive minutes of music I heard all year to some of the most haunting bits of ambience/noise I may ever hear in my life. These dudes incorporate hammers, chains and even power saws into their jams. What more do you need to know? Go listen to it. Favorite track: “Loud Loud Loud/Split Head”

4. Big Waves of Pretty – It Is a Sight He Never Forgets (Bridgetown Records)
            I met these guys when they played in the kitchen of my buddy Sam Martin’s (Three-Brained Robot) house last year when they were on tour with Kevin Greenspon taking on 100 dates in four months (seriously, holy shit). Not only were they both just super sweet guys, they absolutely tore it up to a crowd of maybe 20 or so people, which leads me to believe that the track “If You’re Not Going to Sparkle What the Fuck Did You Come For?” is more than just a song title – it’s words these dudes live by. BWOP is tapping into something real special on this album. They have managed to break into some kind of hyperactive spirit world and come out on the other side with six out of        control yet controlled freak out sessions to share with the masses. Favorite Track: “If You’re Not Going to Sparkle What the Fuck Did You Come For?”

5. Spooky Black – Black Silk (Self-released)
            What can I say about this? I admit, the first time I saw the video for “Without You” I thought I was being trolled. Who is this white dude in a doo rag and turtleneck? How old is he? Is he wearing a FUBU jersey? What the hell am I watching? But I kept watching, over and over again, and I soon realized   Spooky Black is not only legit, but has quickly become one of my favorite R&B             singers to date. The production on this album (album? mixtape?) is crucial – lo-fi spacy synthy beats that you can’t help but want to make babies to – and Spooky Black’s laid back and really just beautiful vocals make for the perfect compliment. Oh, and did I mention he is SIXTEEN!! Favorite track: “Without You”

6. NOTHING – Guilty of Everything (Relapse)
            Before this album came out I heard the first single, “Dig,” and I already knew it was going to be in my top ten, top five, and maybe even be my favorite album of the year period. It is. This album is, in my opinion, perfect. The hyper-present elements of shoegaze combined with the aggression of punk   and near-anthemic riffs littered throughout create something completely fresh and well-worthy of all the praise this band has received so far this year. The way the album crashes in, a minute and a half into the opening track “Hymn to the Pillory,” give me goosebumps every time. The mixing is spot on   and every tone is given just the right amount of room to burn through. Yeah, this is my favorite album of the year. And seriously, Guilty of Everything? Can you think of a more bad ass name for an album? Favorite Track: “Bent Nail”

7. Avishai Cohen’s Triveni – Dark Nights (Anzic Records)
            In many ways this was the year of jazz for me. For some reason I felt myself dragged towards Mingus, Coltrane, Davis, The Dave Brubeck Quartet, and a slew of other old-school dudes that changed the face of music as we know it. As I dug deeper into the older stuff I got to wondering if any contemporary cats were keeping those traditions alive and continue to push the envelope in the jazz-realm. Then I found Avishai Cohen. Cohen knows his way around a trumpet and, from what I have heard from him in interviews, is staying true to the improvisational and experimental motives of his predecessors. This   album was recorded in one day with only two takes of each track laid down – the best of both was then chosen for the record. Cohen’s sister pops in for a track and a couple other guest appearances round out the ever present bass-trumpet-drums trio. This album burns at the perfect speed and Cohen seems to know just when to drop in the flourishes. This is soul. Favorite track: “Dark Nights, Darker Days”

8. Mantar – Death By Burning (Svart)
            So yeah, in many ways this was the year of jazz for me, but I also found myself gravitating towards the heavier stuff. Out of all the metal I treated my ears to this year, Mantar are the stand-outs. I listened to this album four or five times before I started doing a little research on the band and couldn’t   believe when I found out it was just two guys. Seriously, this shit is soooo thick; I figured there were two guitars and a bass but no – just a drummer and guitarist. If you are looking for a little something special to bang your head to, check this album out. This guys are the future of the genre. Favorite track: “Cult Witness”

9. Kairon; IRSE! – Ujubasajuba (Self-Released)
            2014 was an amazing year for shoegaze and while bands like NOTHING and Whirr seem to be leading the charge, Kairon; IRSE! are by no means brining up the rear. This Finnish quartet, like their contemporaries, owes a debt of gratitude to the late 80’s/early 90’s ‘gazers but, again, like their contemporaries, are taking the genre and putting their own spin on it. The Kairon; IRSE! spin comes in the form of saxophone and clarinet. What? Sax and clarinet in a shoegaze track? Yes. Exactly. It’s awesome. Listen to it.   Favorite track: “Valorians”

10. Clearance – Catologue Nos. (Unsatisfied Records)
            Somehow this band flew under my radar in 2013 and I never caught wind of either of the two 7”s they released in that time. That’s okay though because now I know, and Catalogue Nos. puts both of those first 7”, some digital singles, and a couple unreleased tracks all in one place. This is quintessential 90’s slacker rock a-la everybody’s favorite band Pavement. If you love             Crooked Rain you will love Catalogue Nos. Simple as that.  Favorite track: “She’s a Peach”

Honorable Mentions:

Man Watching the Stars – “Dusk”
Kvulthammer – “Kvulthammer”
Whirr – “Sway”
Whirr/Nothing – Split
Flying Lotus – “You’re Dead!”
Iron Regan – “The Tyranny of Will”
Pup – “Pup”
thestand4rd – “thestand4rd”
Perfect Pussy – “Say Yes To Love”
Aphex Twin – “Syro”



The inaugural issue of 2015, Half-Gifts #12 features Album Of the Year lists written by Clifford Parody (Swan City Sounds), Thomas Chan (Mecha Yuri), Tony Freijat (17 Years), Brody Kenny (Back Sash) and Jeff + Mike of PURE Predication. There's a feature interview with Molly Drag about their upcoming album and the usual dose of album reviews.