Single Review: Chris Cohen - "Torrey Pine / In a Fable"

Chris Cohen - "Torrey Pine / In a Fable"
(Captured Tracks 2016)

Cohen's 2012 solo debut, Overgrown Path, was an understated masterwork, steeping the most delicate fruits of 70s soft rock in a cauldron of soupy psychedelia - the Deerhoof drummer's curious blend of jazzy rhythms, distorted-yet-feathery snowbanks of guitar and a dash of Lychian ambience proved as charming and adventurous as well-written children's literature. Playfully pretty and enticing as his freshman outing proved to be, I couldn't help but shudder in fear to uncover two new Cohen singles uploaded to the Captured Tracks soundcloud stream. Overgrown Path has, since its quiet release nearly 4 years ago, felt like an alcove of willful obscurity, a hidden treasure meant to stand on its own. Would a new effort only end up added weight to his lean, crisp discography? If the two singles leading up to his forthcoming LP, As If Apart, are any indication of the future, my fears are all for naught.

The longer and more familiar-sounding of the two tracks is "Torrey Pine", opening with a tinny drone of warm organ that is slowly enveloped by a creeping blanket of dissonant electric piano and breezy guitar chords - it's just as spacey as Cohen's older material and perhaps a bit more biting thanks to its tight percussion and funky bassline. Its companion, "In a Fable" feels a bit slinkier, carried by a shuffling 70s lounge beat and sporadic peals of trebly lead guitar - it wouldn't feel out of place on the most recent effort by labelmate Wild Nothing, Life Of Pause. Captured Tracks Records has noticeably been shifting from its traditional 80s post-punk sound to a 70s soft-rock revivalist aesthetic - with releases as strong as those churned out by Mac Demarco, Wild Nothing and Cohen, I can't help but welcome this change with open arms. Listen to "Torrey Pine" above and "In A Fable" below.


Review: Nadir Bliss - "and you say"

Nadir Bliss - and you say
(2016 Girlfriend Tapes)

This quaint little 3-track tape by Mississipi's Nadir Bliss is one of the most inventive sprouts to shoot from the crusty suburban soil of Bandcamp emo, revelling in the scene's lo-fi Midwestern coziness while thematically shattering its tired tropes. As crudely illustrated by the EP's Microsoft Paint-ed artwork - and you say is a ray of positivity poking through the mire of teen angst. Though lyrically, Nadir Bliss tends to dip into tertiary swirls of esoteric gloom, his snappy twee arrangements (one part Belle and Sebastian, one part Dinosaur Jr., one part early Of Montreal) are bursting with glittery optimism, always moving forward on the strength of motorik rhythms and a nearly Dada-ist sense of creativity that keeps the tape snappy and fresh. "Payback", for example, is a ramshackle parade of Elephant 6-inspired craftiness, slide whistle streamers and confetti-stripped riffs raining down on construction paper floats that carry tired, raspy vocals to the comfort of an unmade bed. Closing cut "It's Hard To Remember" exhales a tuft of AnCo-esque ambience (circa Feels) that floats above distant post-punk drums, refracted through the wrong side of a one-sided window. Occasional piano chords are our only reference markers through this fog.

and you say is sloppy, cynical and a bit hard to follow, but like Lil Yachty's Lil Boat Mixtape, it finds a source of perpetual positivity in its own shortcomings. It's fashionable and futurist; more importantly, it's fun!


Half-Gifts 4th Birthday Special: All-Time Top 5 Cocteau Twins Tracks

5. "Sea, Swallow Me" feat. Harold Budd (The Moon and the Melodies, 1986)

Ushering in the Twins' oft-overlooked collaborative record with New Age keyboardist Harold Budd is perhaps the most frission-inducing album opener I've ever heard, (save for, perhaps, the formless immensity of The Cure's "Plainsong"). Budd sets the track in motion, steadily pumping the rusted pedals of a reverb-y piano arpeggio that drags a Christmas sleigh's worth of heavily distorted, jingle-bell guitar trills and searing cracks of whip-like snares. Simon Raymonde drips a melty, igneous bassline between the small cracks of Robin Guthrie's wintry wall of guitar, forming an amorphous shoegaze slush, stretched in repose on the sidewalk, reflecting the glossolalic glow of Elizabeth Fraser's vocals, at their most abstract and erratic on this album. "Sea, Swallow Me" is a chaotic tempest of dreamy/frustrated emotions, each flowing on their own current, navigable only by distant flares of percussion.

4. "Iceblink Luck" (Heaven or Las Vegas, 1990)

"Iceblink Luck" is the band's most immediate pop single, Guthrie's grainy guitar raining down upon a tinny post-punk bassline like dollar store fireworks on the Fourth of July, Fraser sending wobbly strands of harmony into the night sky. Its inclusion in Jeremy Klein's part of Birdhouse's 1992 skate video Ravers makes it all the more iconic.

3. "Bluebeard" (Four Calendar Cafe, 1994)

One could consider Four Calendar Cafe a brief venture into the shimmery twang of late 70's pop country, spreading acid swaths of pedal steel guitar across a meadow of airy acoustic chords. Serving as the record's most upbeat outlier, "Bluebeard" houses complex, dizzying layers of vocal harmony that meld into a living ecosystem of shouts and whispers - strangely, Fraser seems to be providing a monolithic ambience to support Guthrie's trebly licks, rather than the other way around. This reversal of roles proves successful, producing a memorable oddity in the Twins' already-esoteric catalog.

2. "Cico Buff" (Blue Bell Knoll, 1988)

Teeming with tropical rhythms and sparkling waves of guitar, Blue Bell Knoll is my most revisted Cocteau Twins album for good reason: it's the perfect blend of vivacity and droney meditation. Take standout cut "Cico Buff" for example, its pensive shoegazery ballooning with potential energy, waiting to burst until its crescendo of distorted riffage and Fraser's aggressively pretty intonations.

1. "Half-Gifts" (Twinlights, 1995)

My official introduction to the Twins still provides the same goosebumps raising vibes that it did through the speakers of my family's grey minivan on drives to church, Kroger or the library when I was an impressionable grade-schooler. From its funereal chord progression to its swells of strings to Fraser's raw, wavering delivery, the acoustic version of "Half-Gifts" on the rare Twinlights EP is hauntigly spare, a rickety framework of the Twins' former sprightliness, their eventual breakup looming in the shadows. Gothic melodrama it its finest.


Review: Lil Yachty - "Lil Boat the Mixtape"

Lil Yachty - Lil Boat the Mixtape
(2016 Self-Released)

Armed with an arsenal of alternate identities to rival David Bowie, the utter disregard for polish of Beat Happening's Calvin Johnson and a nasal delivery that eerily resembles the drawl of Aqua Teen Hunger Force's Meatwad, Lil Yachty boasts an impressively deep sense of artistic self-actualization for an 18 year old with a few hot tracks on his Soundcloud. Thanks to the inclusion of his infectiously sardonic "1Night" in a popular YouTube clip and the striking presence of his signature red beaded dreadlocks at Kanye's latest fashion show, the Atlanta-based rapper has enjoyed a rapid, nearly post-human rise to his 15 minutes(?) of online superstardom over the course of the winter, his output blooming from the screwball buds of "Ice Water" (which samples an ice cream truck) and "All Times" (a surreally autotuned cover of the Rugrats theme song) to the crimson flower of Lil Boat the Mixtape, released just in time for Spring. 

The tape wastes no time asserting its weirdness - after intro cut "Just Keep Swimming" opens with a snippet clipped from Finding Nemo, Yachty assumes the identity of Darnell Boat, setting the stage as a Rankin-Bass narrator of sorts. It's hard not to imagine Darnell as Rudolph's anthropomorphic snowman or the deliveryman from Santa Claus is Coming to Town as he pulls up an invisible chair, inviting listeners to lend him their ears. As it turns out, he's the proud uncle of two nephews: Lil Boat, an oft-giggling trap-rapper dripping in dry wit, and his more outgoing brother Yachty, who douses his autotuned glossolalia in reverb and positivity. It's this sonic duality that rests at the very core of the Boat/Yachty discography - though his vocals are far from pretty, Yachty maintains a commanding presence throughout the Lil Boat Mixtape thanks to his laid-back confidence and self-aware sense of humor. Whether he's warbling an clumsy falsetto atop the chiming melodies of "Minnesota" or dropping non-sequitur after non-sequitur a la Young Thug on the atmospheric "Up Next 2", Yachty exudes an undeniable sense of fun. Pleasantly surprised at his accidental/inexplicable ascent from "loitering at Wal-Mart" to grabbing the attention of tastemakers across the Web, our protagonist can't help but crack jokes at his own expense to prevent the swelling of his ego. The audience is encouraged to join in.

Even production-wise, the tape is brimming with character, filled with sparkles of twee-pop synth, J-pop samples and comically distorted basslines. Highlights include the flautal "Run", which loops the menu music from Super Mario 64 atop fluttering hi-hats and the aforementioned "Minnesota", its painfully catchy (not to mention staggeringly minimal) piano melody carrying its army of Atlanta features with understated grace. 

Though lacking in substance, Lil Boat the Mixtape is a testament to the rich stylistic creativity and lo-fi experimentation running rampant in Georgia - alongside like-minded artists like Future and Pollari, Lil Yachty is hip-hop's answer to the Cocteau Twins: beautiful, wordless vocals smeared across a canvas of abstract ambience. It's the future of pop music - niche crannies of soundcloud and bandcamp are the new outlets for buzz-worthy music, faster and vaster than the radio. Most importantly, wrapped in playful arrangements and Wes Anderson-inspired cover art, it's undeniably fun.


Review: Blithe Field - "Face Always Toward the Sun"

Blithe Field - Face Always Toward The Sun
(2016 Orchid Tapes)

When he isn't crafting surreal pop soundscapes under his own name, Chicago's Spencer Radcliffe paints equally strange ambient abstractions as Blithe Field. The project's latest full-length effort, Face Always Toward the Sun is a scattered pile of auditory Tinker Toys - though its quivering breaths of tinny synthesizer and nervous field-recorded clatter fit together like square pegs into square holes, Radcliffe continually finds new ways to play with these building blocks of sound, coated with chipped layers of tertiary-toned paint. 

Standout cut "Milkshakes In The Rain" is a simple construction, sturdy and symmetrical. Sprinkled with tape hiss and vinyl crackle, it forms a solid scaffolding of twangy guitar picking strong enough to support the elegant canopy of vocoder harmonies that drapes itself atop the composition as comfily as melted cheese on a burger or a housecat on a throw blanket. The track occupies the same musical territory populated by Reedbeds and Stars are Insane: it's impressionist sound painting. The closer I get to the thick dabs of pasty guitar and glistening Fisher-Price chimes - the more times this ambient carousel orbits my room - the more formless they get. A once-clear painting disintegrates into abstract brushstrokes that form new shapes.

I'm unzipping a soft, navy blue lunchbox in the cafeteria, reaching in and producing a plastic-wrapped 6-pack of impossibly orange peanut butter crackers. I feel thirsty. Or maybe I watch raindrops embrace and cascade down the van window. It's dark out. In the back seat, I strain my eyes to read the greyscale panels of newspaper comics and the night's chill makes my arm-hairs stand on end. When I get home I'll tear the foil off the baseball cards I slipped into the shopping cart at Target. This sound is pure - I feel like a child and I want to fumble at some sort of packaging with my fat fingers.

Radcliffe builds towering, avant-garde structures too. Pebbles of crunchy ambience shower onto a quiet, creeping piano riff - somewhere between Carpenter's Halloween score and an Erik Satie piece - looped ad infinitum. Gradually, this piano loop becomes completely buried and Radcliffe begins to employ heavy machinery to dig it out. Atonal synths rattle like chains and grind like rusty moving parts to pierce the stillness. "Secret Soda Machine" snakes along on an off-kilter rhythm, piping glassy bubbles into the undulating contents of a fishtank. Face Always Toward the Sun is brimming with tactile, evocative sounds, each tone a holder of childhood memories in this dusty musical attic.


Single Review: Shivering Window - "Days I've Lost"

Shivering Window - Days I've Lost 7"
(Juniper Tree/Rok Lok 2015)

Shivering Window's migration from the cozy confines of cassette tape to a record's vast, wax plateau is a bold move, but one that gives the Californian bedroom act's funereal songcraft some much-needed room to breathe. Those familiar with the project's prolific tape-ography will instantly recognize Matthew Gray's tenebrous blend of dissonant riffs, echoing vocals and itchy tape hiss, but will find it tough to ignore the slight upgrade in presentation. It's as if Gray has snowblown the top layer of lo-fi murk from the tinny hits of drum machine that poke through his droney wefts of shoegaze - a bassy field recording that resembles a school bus' morning grumble is the only cushion between voice, percussion and minimally arranged guitar meanderings on the single's A-side. 

Perhaps Shivering Window's most melodic effort to date, "Days I've Lost" patiently pairs a jittery, goth-folk verse with a surprisingly confident chorus that bears the vaguely folky twang that might haunt a Real Estate record.  It's subtly catchy stuff that might worm its way out of my subconscious and into my mind's radio one lazy summer afternoon a few months from now, sending me tearing through my record collection in hopes of remembering the title of the tune I just can't shake.