Review: ἡσυχασμός - "δι' ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι"

ἡσυχασμός - δι' ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι
(2015 Self-Released)

Inspired by the Greek Orthodox tradition of hesychasm - a system of prayer comprised of careful repetition, silence and total solitude - δι' ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι is a cavernously eerie drone record, a mosaic of fractured field recordings and piano loops that, minimal as the composition may be, can elicit a multitude of emotions that stem from isolation. Act one of this tripartite dronescape, for instance, opens quite unnervingly, as samples of hollow, metallic tones form a rather surreal ambience, yet as this sonorous sample gives way to a slowly building wall of powdery ambience, this creepiness gradually gives way to comfort. The highlight of part one, however, is its beautiful centerpiece, an echoey piano solo, awash in reverb, that resembles are darker, grittier reboot of Eno and Budd's Plateaux of Mirror; with each piano key pressed, the listener witnesses the life of a droning note - it is born, it contributes to the composition and it slowly disintegrates, scattering its atoms into a cosmos of reverb. 

Part two's center of focus is still the piano, but its tone is much more clean than in part one. Despite the lack of reverb, a surreal atmosphere is still created through the manipulation of the recording, giving this section of the record some pluderphonics flavor. Act three is the album's strongest section, though, an amorphous drone of shimmering choir samples that gives way to a minimal coda played on the organ. A chiaroscuro soundscape that that demands attention despite its sparse arrangement, δι' ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι is a masterful ambient effort that by no means overstays its welcome at 30 minutes.


Shojo Winter - "Eternal Snow"

Shojo Winter - Eternal Snow
(Rok Lok 2015)

Shojo Winter's debut cassette EP is perhaps the strangest shoegaze release you'll hear all year, an ultra lo-fi dreampop effort that suffocates trebly, gothic lead guitar under a blanket of punishingly loud bass and drums, forming an igneous mass of crusty noise that is comparable to black metal, or perhaps even noisy dark ambient compositions. Imagine the sound of your car's tape deck slowly warping, then eating a copy of Cocteau Twins' Head Over Heels as you slip into highway hypnosis. All elements of the album - from frontman Patrick Capinding's sleepy intonations, to Kevin McVey's weighty basslines to the endless splashes of percussion that benignly crash like ocean waves - work as a whole to form a mind-numbing drone. The effect is pulled off most successfully on the EP's eponymous closing cut, which, in a beautiful way, is nearly devoid of melody or rhythm, but rather, it acts as a single viscous unit that oozes into the listener's ear, wrapping their conscious in an impenetrable cloak of bassy post-punk vibes. Embrace the coziness of total emptiness. Enter the the realm of Eternal Snow


Review: Woody Grant - "Summer Songs"

Woody Grant - Summer Songs
(Self-Released 2015)

Today marks the conclusion of the last summer I'll experience before I officially become an adult, but interestingly enough, I don't feel too bummed about it. Though my three months off from school have been well-spent going for walks around the neighborhood, starting my first-ever job, hitting up Taco Bell on the regular and beating a couple Pokemon games, to look back on this chapter of late-adolescence is like trying to accurately recall a vivid dream after waking. Sure, there are certain themes and motifs that can plucked from my memory, but it seems as if many specifics have evaporated, causing my recollection of the summer as a whole to compress into one wall of sensory debris. Perhaps this is the reason so many "summercore" acts, (Beach Fossils, Ducktails, Wild Nothing) opt to work in an impressionist pallet of vague lyricsm and shoegazey instrumentation. Their muse - the three months sandwiched in the middle of each annum - is reflected by their sound. Few have matched the breezy, transient vibes of summer quite as well as Woody Grant has on his appropriately titled Summer Songs EP. Shimmering riffs swelter under a humid layer of reverb while abrasive vocal harmonies seem to crowd the mix with their distorted warmth. Mourn the end your summer vacation with Woody Grant's latest record - especially if bedroom pop outfits like Woods and WAVVES make frequent appearances in your music rotation.


Single Review - GIRL PUSHER - "OKAY OKAY"

(Memory no. 36 Records 2015)

There's always something gratifying about being able to aesthetically connect with a band you admire; maybe in an interview they cite your favorite movie as a source of creative inspiration, or perhaps there's an obscure reference hidden in their lyrics that only you and a chosen few happen to recognize. Sometimes, though, it is that same sort of spiritual bond that can lead me to discover a new band. For instance, another pair the same of black Vans high-tops that make a cameo appearance on the cover of GIRL PUSHER's EP2 often makes an appearance in my own wardrobe, and it was a sudden glance at this unassuming pair of kicks that led me from the depths of Bandcamp's "lo-fi" tag to the EP's official page. Only one cut off of the release ("OKAY, OKAY") is streaming at the moment, but it is certainly enough to encourage me to give the site a peep tomorrow, when the record is slated for its official unveiling. The aforementioned tune is a coarse slice of synth-punk, its ominous synths bubbling below a drum machine rhythm that is surprisingly clean for such an industrial song. With the addition of vocals that sound like they were shouted from the top of a soapbox through a cheap megaphone, "OKAY, OKAY" ventures into riot-grrrl-meets-cyberpunk territory, as if Zach Hill and Flatlander produced and album for Pussy Riot.


Review: The Choo Choo Trains - "Foggymotion"

The Choo Choo Trains - Foggymotion
(2015 Meat n Tatty)

A textbook example of original-wave twee pop, The Choo Choo Trains' sophomore effort, titled Foggymotion adheres devoutly to the paper-thin, often endearingly clumsy timbre of Tiger Trap, Beat Happening, and even The Magnetic Fields (circa Distant Plastic Trees). While in terms of jarringly lo-fi sound quality, the London-based trio could easily draw comparisons to acts like Julia Brown or Jackie Trash, but it's their employment of doo-wop inspired chord progressions and bluesy riffs that set them apart from their "tweemo" contemporaries. For example, opening track "Things You Do" utilizes a Spector-ian arrangement of tinny percussion, a groovy bassline and translucent guitar chords that coat the rhythm section like watercolors, blending with echoey, delicate vocals to form a sound that would fit surprisingly well in the rotation of the Beach Boys Pandora station that plays all day over a Bluetooth speaker at the popcorn/candy store I've been working at over the summer. Now that I think about it, perhaps my newfound familiarity with the Ronnettes and the Shirelles has really turned me on to the Choo Choo Train's reverby rock 'n roll twang. Aside from the smattering of c-86 influenced tunes, there are a few outliers clumped in the middle of the record: "Unlucky" is a rickety waltz that glides on a bouncy beat and rather dark piano chords. "The Sky" borders on Doors-era psychedelia, pairing organ drones with gritty lead guitar licks. If you have to check out any cut off the album, though, let it be "Margo T and Me", an addictively catchy tune that sounds like a cross between the McTells and the Shaggs. 


Review: Marcel Foley - "Songs About Life"

Marcel Foley - Songs About Life
(Self-Released 2015)

Ever since I founded Half-Gifts at age 14, I've made a concentrated effort to scour Bandcamp and Soundcloud for the work of fellow teenage creatives - I've found that for many younger people interested in art, their formative years are fraught with nervous creativity and a raw, unbridled passion that seems to fill in the gaps left by a lack of virtuosic talent or equipment to help them polish their craft. Out of all forms of teenage art, though, I find music to be the most fascinating to study. There is a sense of urgency that almost universally can be found in the discographies of young artists, a creative force that is responsible for many of the most prolific Bandcamp pages I've seen (Kill The Intellectuals, High Sunn Alaris O'Heart). This time in a kid's life, especially in recent years, is often primarily influenced by a struggle to make the most of their childhood's last gasps while still looking towards the future - from a high schooler's perspective, it feels like one's whole livelihood hangs in the balance of even the most minute decision. When you're constantly reminded of your push to adulthood, it can make you hyper-aware of your artistic footprint on the world, goading you to fill up your iPhone's Voice Memo app with sloppy, lo-fi demos, to experiment with noise music, to try anything to join the ranks of your favorite artists someday soon. Few artists are as possessed by this spirit of teenage creativity as much as Californian journalist/producer Marcel Foley, founder of Marcel's Music Journal and a budding experimental composer. In addition to boasting an impressively diverse back catalogue of reviews, Foley also has a treasure trove of well-composed IDM and ambient music stashed away on his Bandcamp account, the sort of page that begs to be explored again and again. 

Standing out among his intimidating discography is Songs About Life, an album's worth of greyscale electronica that pairs off-kilter yet punchy rhythms with gloomy clouds of drone-y synth tones that float benignly above the tumult. Opening cut "Spiner" acts as a happy medium in between the grainy chillwave lull of Com Truise's "Brokendate" and the manic 8-bit frenzy of Flying Lotus' "Kill Your Co-Workers", lacing a squelchy beat with tinny chimes and a frission-inducing chord progression, dripping in VHS-tape grime. It's a solid demonstration of Foley's greatest strength: the ability to seamlessly combine textures to form a warm, engrossing ambience that the listener can curl up inside like a heated blanket. He pulls off this harmonic convergence most beautifully on "Flache Face", icing a layer cake of skittering percussion with glassy keyboard riffs that sound both jazzy and trancey. Most addictive, though, are the heavier moments on Songs About Life, employing a pulverizing D'n'B beat to join forces with a spooky looped pad progression to form a cut that pounds at one's consciousness like a dream-poppy jackhammer - it demands one's attention. I just started a playthrough of Pokemon X and Y the other day, and I've chosen Songs About Life to act as my soundtrack to the game. The two have proven to match quite nicely, as both the game and this album have both mastered a strange balance between coziness and up-tempo action. Definitely check this release out if you're into Flying Lotus and old Warp Records releases.