ARTIST: Parrot Dream
RELEASE: Light Goes
RELEASE DATE: August 24th 2018
RECORD COMPANY: Good Eye Records
'Light Goes' is the debut LP from Brooklyn-based dream-pop/psych-pop outfit Parrot Dream. It’s a neat combination of old school alternative bands (such as the Cocteau Twins) and newer, sleeker sounding dream-pop bands like Beach House and Memory House. Everything is sort of here: the breathy female vocals, the wizzingly bright synths, the reverb guitar, the drum machine-esque beats and, finally, that weird place between nostalgia and retrospective abandonment that only dream-pop can capture. With this in mind however, Parrot Dream don't really ride the genre in a new and wholly original direction. They use what’s already lying around to create their collective sound; albeit with a nifty talent for song writing and production. The band on this release is made up of Christina Hansen Appel (Kiki) - vocals/keys, Gonzalo Guerrero - guitar, Matt Sklar - bass & Agustin Faundez Rojas - drums/ percussion. 'Light Goes' had it's official release back on the 24th August 2018 via Good Eye Records and is available to buy/download right now on various formats from parrotdream.bandcamp.com
The opener and titular track starts things off brilliantly; guitar and keyboards weave over a simplistic drum beat that rolls tiredly along. The vocals add to this already catchy and soft texture. Here the band are accurately playing upon the ‘pop’ side of dream-pop; the song provides an enjoyably laidback introduction into the album. ‘Follow Me’ takes a more ballad-like approach, the vocals are breathy and whispered and the tempo has been laid back even more. However, this song lacks the catchiness of opener ‘Light Goes’ and seems to pale in comparison somewhat. Unfortunately, this type of slow-burn songwriting continues on ‘1740’, which doesn’t really go anywhere beyond the point of a collection of instruments playing an unconnected tune. Thankfully, the following track pulls the show back together; ‘Paradise and Prey’ features a calming backing synth and the occasional guitar plucking to forge a calming image in the listeners mind. The sound captures a band in unison, with the vocals sounding more connected to the rest of the instrumentation as a whole. ‘Julio’ is an album highlight: the intricate drum beats, weaving throughout a slow synth line and the usual guitar plucking create a different approach to the type of textures previously explored throughout the album. The vocals shine (perhaps the most interesting vocal performance on the album) in a manner similar to the aforementioned melding of Memory House.
‘By Your Side’ continues this, its opening showcasing the power of a dream pop-based soundscape. Following this, the contemplative side of dream-pop happily follows as the band perform with a deeper and more concentrated sound. ‘Fall Forward’ is a neat, post-punk hued tune which envelops into a more beautiful, whimsical place as the song rolls on. The instrumentation here, mixed with the high vocals, makes for a beautifully rich and engaging sound. ‘Cloudchaser’ seems to be the pinnacle of the previous group of songs: it collects the best elements of Parrot Dream into one song, projecting something both enjoyable and well written. Here the performances finally connect perfectly with the production and mixing, creating a credible album highlight. The darker and challenging ‘Ode to Octavia’ is just as interesting, collecting up all the previously mentioned elements of dream-pop and twisting them to sound more like a question than a thought. ‘Helium’ proves to be one of the best songs on the album, lasting longer than other tracks and combining thoughts and sketches into long winded instrumental passages. The second half especially sounds like somewhat of a homage to shoegaze; guitars climb, drums smash and vocals soar.
'Light Goes', as previously mentioned, is not exactly a wholly new, original take on the dream-pop genre. Its cards are placed with a historical retrospective and a familiarity that the band actually plays to its strength throughout. And often Parrot Dream and their use of dream-pop practices is actually quite refreshing because it relies on nothing more than quality song writing and performance rather than explorative elements. At times, of course, this is a hinderance. Most predominantly on the first half of the album, songs seem like album fillers or slight re-hashes of other music you’ve heard before. Thankfully the second half of 'Light Goes' seems to recover and realise the correct direction that songs and tracks should be taken in. Interestingly enough, I often find myself weighing up the amount of songs on albums by particular bands, seen here in a sort of contemplative footnote in the second half of the review. Without going too deeply into critical points, I believe that 'Light Goes' may have too many songs on it. Much like many of the releases I’ve heard lately through this blog, the extent of track listings are stretched to ten or more tracks, with no hugely variant elements found from track to track, making the album seem like more of a forced odyssey than an interesting adventure. Parrot Dream are almost an exception though, as the second half seems to pick up the pace and set things a little more ‘on course’. Compliments to the performances and production, the album cover (a fantastic picture that truly captures the songs on the album) and the overall sound.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Cam Phillips is a writer and above all, a music lover, who seeks to gain experience through writing and listening. He is also an avid film viewer and art and literature junkie who enjoys creative writing. His most recent published work was featured on Baeble Music and Culture (USA), Sounds and Colours Magazine (Latin America, London), Easterndaze (Latvia) and the Australian-based heavy music blog, I Probably Hate Your Band.
by Primal Music
ARTIST: Tombstones In Their Eyes
RELEASE: Nothing Here
RELEASE DATE: 24th August 2018
RECORD COMPANY: Send Me Your Head Records
There’s something tantalizingly interesting in a band/album description wherein genres cross from somewhat oppositional points. Its like saying ‘I’m in a J-Pop band, our sound is a mixture of Perfume and… Napalm Death’. Immediately you’re interested, you’re captivated, because, due to your years of musical socialization, you find the mixture of those two bands to be somewhat amazing. You also find that mixture of bands to be like mixing ice cream with sausage… it may taste like trash, but it sure is interesting. In my book, creditability can be found and served happily to those who are willing to push the boundaries, to experiment… Even if things turn out like trash, there is a kind of theatre of the absurd quality that makes it more important than some bunch of musicians who stuck to the rules in the proverbial book. Speaking of the proverbial book, turns out LA-based group 'Tombstones In Their Eyes' didn’t read it. Their latest release, a tight three track EP entitled 'Nothing Here', melds the shoegaze explorations of bands like MBV and even a tinge of bands like Asteroid 4 with the dirty, sludge/psych guitar music of stoner bands like Kyuss and a kind of watered down Monster Magnet… This should be interesting.
Nothing Here by Tombstones In Their Eyes
Desert rock guitar begins the EP opener ‘Silhouette’ which winds along slowly on a mixture of heavy guitars and drums. The vocals, muttered through various FX, float atop the instrumentation which eventually turns into layers and layers of guitars and the immovable fixture that is the drums. Interestingly enough (yet not to discredit the song) I actually found this the least engaging/interesting song on the whole of 'Nothing Here'. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good, well-written song… It just seems deficit of the memorable tinge of the other tracks. ‘Take Me Away’ features a fantastically catchy vocal performance which bolsters the almost-anthemic chorus. Just like on the previous track, walls of guitar filter through the mix, to the point where if you stop and listen, you’re not really sure how many are playing. This guitar wash-out, much like the actual riffs of the song, owe much to the drowned out guitar of MBV. Yet, Tombstones seem to bring it into their own stylings to create something both original and enjoyable. The title track that follows collects the best elements of the previous track and pushes them to the forefront. The vocals here sound more shoegaze orientated, while the backing instrumentation rocks steadily along with a more groovier sound. Again, beyond the guitars and the heavy drums, there is a real catchiness to be found in the music of 'Tombstones In Their Eyes'. The guitar solo, which walks above walls and walls of guitar thrashing, in the second half of the song is an album highlight… as is the refrain towards the tracks end, where guitars are feedback atop the slow tap of the drums.
More often than not bands pump out ten plus song albums that tend to fade into each other in a super un-original way. I give credit to 'Tombstones In Their Eyes' for producing here a tight, compacted and catchy three song EP. I also credit them with their modest song lengths; typically peers of the genre like to chuck a few nine-minute attempts at a magnum opus in there just to piss off/please the listener. I also approve of the less than brutal instrumentation that would sometimes find itself on a heavy release like this. And similarly, I enjoy the fact that the band didn’t push the guitars the way some shoegaze bands like to. But having said all this, I actually kind of wish the band had done all of those aforementioned things. Here there is a catchy collections of songs that meld genres together in beautiful and interesting way, yet there is room for lengither, heavier and more experimental elements of music to be explored. Of course, this comes down to artistic choice, but the band have all the elements to create a five or six song album that really melds the line between experimentation and catchiness… Just a thought. And with that thought aside, I urge you to give this EP a listen; I’m sure you’ll agree when I say there is some kind of relief, of interest, in the bands enjoyable and well written sound. 'Nothing Here' was officially released back on August 24th 2018 and is available to buy/download right now via tombstonesintheireyes.bandcamp.com
RELEASE DATE: 4th August 2018
RECORD COMPANY: Saint Marie Records
'Vampires' is the latest four track release from German-based dream-pop (or dream-punk as they would like it known) musical project Seasurfer; the moniker which sole member Dirk Knight creates and collaborates under. Landing somewhere between their obvious influences of Cocteau Twins and the heavy new-age trap-like electronic sound of bands like Salem, Seasurfer present a small collection of well written and beautifully structured songs, dipped in a steaming vat of FX and left to dry out in the cold (or should I say Coldwave?). Knights instrumentation leaves enough room for a pair of female vocal talents (Änni Bird and Apolonia) and a bassist (Steven Burrows) to join the sonic wave that is 'Vampires', creating something emotionally deep while simultaneously dance-ably enjoyable. The EP had it's official release back on August 4th 2018 via the good folks over at Saint Marie Records and is available to buy/download right now on various formats from saintmarierecords.bandcamp.com
Vampires by Seasurfer
Vampires opens with perhaps the EPs strongest and most off the cuff track ‘Into Dust’ which begins with waves of synth and Burrows subtle but strong bass playing. The vocal track moves beautifully over these instruments before it morphs into something wholly anthemic. Immediately, the touch of the Cocteau Twins is evident; the sounds of the programmed drum machines sound eerily identical to the drums used on Treasure by Guthrie and Co. The vocals are presented in a very similar way. That’s not the reason that ‘Into Dust’ is an EP highlight though, its something much stranger. Lovers of the electronic genre 'witch-house' would be both confused and intrigued by this writers mention (and comparison) to the band Salem, but truth be told, ‘Into Dust’ features the same kind of underpinned weirdness that runs rampart on Salem’s brilliant debut EP - 'Yes I Smoke Crack'. Whether it be the heavy washing of FX or the chord progression of the music, ‘Into Dust’ holds some sort point of difference to other dream-pop tracks, one which draws the aforementioned comparisons to Salem and their equally bizarre electronic song writing tactics. It is this strangeness mixed with the catchy and beautiful vocals that make the song sound so great. ‘Sad Song’ has less of a catchy and memorable presentation; this time the band turn the tempo up and present much of the tracks first half in the cold depths of post-punk. In the second half the tempo is lifted, and the tracks intelligent inner structuring show at an interlude like refrain in the tracks second half.
The heavy beat-orientated sounds of post 90's shoegaze present themselves immediately on the slow burning track ‘The Calling’. A slow hi-hat lead drum track plays at the backbone of many layering’s of synth swells and textured soundscapes, over which the vocals float and sway. Somewhat comparable to recent releases by North Carolina-based shoegaze legends 'The Veldt' (especially their recent 'Thanks to the Moth and Areanna Rose') who have totally embraced the wizardry of electronic music, ‘The Calling’ utilizes layering (something that is, strangely, overlooked by shoegaze bands at various times) to achieve a textured array of sounds over which a song slowly but beautifully forms. The Cocteau Twins sound returns for ‘Bring Me His Head’, which offer up a less involved sonic palette. Lyrically the song is the most daring that Seasurfer practice on 'Vampires', showcasing the power of having tangible lyrics in sound heavy genres (such as shoegaze or dream pop). ‘Bring Me His Head’ is just as emotionally bizarre as ‘Into Dust’, but well into the second half of the song, one cant help but feel somewhat touched by the mixture of narrative, sound and vocal that are offered to the listener on the track.
Perhaps the greatest thing about 'Vampires' is both the directness and in-directness it takes emotionally and musically. There are no eight minute epics, no winding intros and fuzz driven solos and, perhaps most importantly, a well-suited amount of tracks. Similarly, the songs are deep and at times (positively) formless listens; in the space of four or so minutes, Seasurfer present deep, FX induced passages of what sounds like four or five synthesisers, guitars, bass and a structurally sound programmed drum for good measure. This mixture of explorative, journey-like songs that don’t delve into indulgent, over the top presentation makes 'Vampires' all the more powerful. Perhaps the only criticisms this writer would highlight are firstly, ‘Sad Song’, which is as close to a filler that 'Vampires' comes. It seems somewhat out of place, and while a good song, doesn’t stand as tall as the other tracks on the EP. The second criticism is that sometimes the line between influence and copying is blurred in regard to Seasurfer's sound. The at first obvious influence of the Cocteau Twins eventually evolves into the occasional passage that sounds as though the band are trying to replicate their sound. The drum patterns, the vocals, the sonic melding of sounds at times sounds like Knight and Co are alluding to more than fan-based influence and more into the realm of artistic un-originality. But this criticism is almost completely revoked when one re-listens to 'Vampires' a couple of times, for the truth is, Seasurfer's embrace of more modern electronic production and mixing techniques elevate them from a copy-like comparison to the Cocteau Twins. 'Vampires' is a great display of what this author would coin ‘contained exploration’ and presents a band pushing the formula of dream-pop into somewhere different and beautiful through great performances, production and sound.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
ARTIST: Magic Wands
RELEASE DATE: 13th July 2018
RECORD COMPANY: Etxe Records
Los Angeles-based duo 'Magic Wands' unleashed a dazzling new eleven track entitled 'Abrakadabra' via the good folks over at Los Angeles and Washington DC based independent record label 'Etxe Records' back on July 13th 2018. What’s it like? It's like… a time machine whizzing back to a time when shoegaze and dream-pop was more than just about writing a shitty melody or riff and layering as many FX on it as you can. A time when, if you stripped away the studio tricks and FX manipulation, you were still left with a catchy and/or well written pop or rock song. 'Magic Wands' seem to spend as much time writing the music as they do manipulating it into the ethers of distortion, layering and reverb… which makes 'Abrakadabra' well worth the time and the listen. The album was recorded at Voltiv Studios in Los Angeles, produced by Phil Galloni and the band themselves and mastered by Tim Young (The Smiths, My Bloody Valentine). 'Abrakadabra' available to buy/download right now via magic-wands.bandcamp.com (Digitally) & etxerecords.com (Vinyl) respectively.
Abrakadabra [Etxe Records, 2018] by Magic Wands
Following on from the humble but slight opener ‘Bashmuuu’, Abrakadabra opens with the slow pop tones of ‘Nocturnal’, which features layers of feedback guitar and the slow rumble of beats/drums. On top lies the hazy, reverbed vocals which vary from hush and whisper all the way to fully and beautifully spoken. The song screams dream-pop, but the slower and deeper FX and song writing structure allow the song to come off as an intelligent and enjoyable listen. Things turn somewhat more standard with the following song ‘Houdini’, which features that recognizable dream-pop styled guitar tone and a more upbeat feel. Showcasing the bands post-punk influence, ‘Houdini’ compliments the previous tracks more darker sound and is notable for its neat FX laced-sequencer noises. ‘DNA’ is an album highlight and delves deeper into the crossroads between dream-pop and post-punk music (exercised neatly through the drum beat). The aforementioned dream-pop elements shine through in several facets, the vocal performance is dazzling and the general pop-ness shines through to make the song worth the effort. The following track ‘Realms’ seems somewhat more of a step back into cruise control. Beyond the almost darkwave production and synth sounds, the lyrics seem somewhat awkward and almost throw away. The melding of darker elements with the softness of the singer’s voice seems to show off an enjoyable side of the band, but beyond that, ‘Realms’ feels like more of an album filler.
Things thankfully turn back to the more interesting dance/dream-pop of the albums opener. ‘Loveline’ is an enjoyable dance track, laced with neat keyboard production and a danceable beat that highlights the bands strong points. The chorus in particular shows how simplicity can do so much for a song…. There’s some great bass playing as well. ‘New Device’ follows the form of ‘Bashmuuu’, a slower style beat that allows the FX heavy instrumentation to mix in beautifully together. And then things return to the dance floor. ‘Chains and Fur’ features a slick rhythm section with the undertones of a dream-pop guitar and vocals that sound as though they have been dunked in neon; another album highlight for me! ‘Diamond Road’ slows things right back and offers up a hazier, almost psychedelic tempo equipped with soft and more helmed back production. With all the stripped back instrumentation, the vocals shine through, which leads me to the songs main criticism: the lyrics. While at times the lyrics adequately capture the feel of the music, a large portion of them come off awkwardly and, more importantly, cliched. The following track ‘Julie Ann Gray’ is a fantastic post-punk thriller, filtered through Magic Wands dream-pop sensibilities; thankfully, here the vocals and lyrics are in fact one of the songs highlights. ‘Julie Ann Gray’ summarises much of what the band has been projecting over the course of Abrakadabra: the danceable passages, the post-punk underlays and the dream-pop tones that all beautifully meld together sonically and instrumental. ‘Big Life’ features a slow melding beat that sounds like a slower version of trap music: the hi-hats hit rumble slowly, followed by a heavy snare. The vocals float softly and enjoyably over the instrumentation. Bonus track ‘Puzzle of Love’ is also worth noting; especially if you enjoyed the danceable, retro sound of the some of the aforementioned dance-y songs on the album.
All in all Abrakadabra is well-worth the time: refreshingly well written song structures make way for sonic exploration through FX… but not too much FX. The only criticisms I have of the album are, quite admittedly, the same I have for many albums of a similar genre. Firstly, the sheer quantity of music on Abrakadabra is at times difficult to engage with. Song after song that thematically maintain similar ‘feels’ to each other mean that, after over ten tracks worth of music, the album can seem a little strained. The other criticism is the lyrics. While generally fitting of the both the music and instrumentation, sometimes the lyrics seem as though they were thrown in purely because they had to be thrown in… At times generic, at times cliched, and at times quite awkward and only semi-written. Beyond these two elements, Magic Wands have created a thoroughly enjoyable listen. The instrumentation fits very well, and the dynamic range between dance track and softer, slower almost balladery stylings makes things all the more interesting. The band comfortably put their foot down, showcasing their talent in the realms of performance, production and sound.
Cam Phillips is a writer and above all, a music lover, who seeks to gain experience through writing and listening. He is also an avid film viewer and art and literature junkie who enjoys creative writing. His most recent published work was featured on Baeble Music and Culture (USA), Sounds and Colours Magazine (Latin America, London), Easterndaze (Latvia) and the Australian based heavy music blog, I Probably Hate Your Band.
RELEASE DATE: 28th March 2018
RECORD COMPANY: Spirit Goth Records
'Castlebeat' is that weird moment between nostalgia, unnerving contemplation and the dizziness that comes with hazy afternoons, setting suns and retrospection. This reviewer was impressed with their 2016 self-titled album, which arrived at a time before Mac Demarco had entered what could be scholastically deemed ‘post-celebrity’. A time when chorus pedals and slower tempos were beginning to be umbrellaed and confused with terms like ‘copycat’ and ‘influential’. I speak of this time only in reference to the fact that when the debut album 'Castlebeat' was released, a certain demographic, a certain underground and a certain discussion base were carrying them around on pedestals in the same way Demarco and other dream pop/jangle pop/synth bands were being. A similar thing happened around that time with the NY-based Porches and their debut album 'Pool'. Everything was about the aesthetic, the nostalgia… The internet was recovering and re-convening from vapourwave and all the associated facets of it. The moral of the story is, if Castlebeat arrived at a time it made sense in, (while simultaneously being a great album, musically) what happens when times move on? And what does the next album (the aptly named VHS) sound like? Brilliant apparently… And its all a great trick of the light, because not so much has altered for Castlebeat and their music, even if the times have.
VHS by CASTLEBEAT
'VHS' opens with the instrumental ‘Research’, which showcases plucked, bright guitars and a programmed post-punk drum beat. Behind the music, sequencers swirl and pulse with samples and the occasional soundscape that floats back: a welcome introduction to the album. The much more retrospective ‘Tennis’ follows with a darker sound. The vocals, which ooze in after a short guitar introduction, appear in a considered reverb way. On ‘Tennis’ the band do what they do best: combine that kind of goth nostalgia feeling with danceable rhythm sections and extremely catchy guitar riffs, and you have a terrific album highlight. Returning to the sound of album opener, ‘Here’ continues the similar, colour-distorted beach feeling of ‘Tennis’. Of note is the extremely catchy chorus, that finds the vocals dancing in the background of a great texturing of guitar, bass and drums. Easily the greatest intro to any song on the album, ‘Wasting Time’ features a memorable post-punk riff put through several reverb, echo and chorus pedals into the context of the band. The track seems somewhat more darker and distorted than other songs on 'VHS', which gives it a brilliant edge that makes it a true stand out on the release.
‘Town’ turns the tempo up but retains a similar feel to previous song. The lyrics seem somewhat lazy compared to others but these are made up for with a brilliantly sounding chorus and refrain and the instruments meld together in a beautifully harmonious way. ‘I Follow’ has one of the catchiest sounds on the album and lives up to Castlebeats self-classification of ‘goth pop’. Another album highlight is the minimal ‘Zephyr’ which relies on the fantastic bass player. The chorus passages reveal a kind of meditative smoothness that makes images conjure to mind even more swiftly. On the Bandcamp page, many listeners who have brought the album speak highly of the second half of 'VHS' and in particular ‘These Days’. I can understand why this would be considered by some to be the best track on the album; it captures (especially through the lyrics) a particular thoughtfulness of regret, retrospect and dreaminess that I think most can in some sort of equivocally way emotionally relate to. Its anthemic, slow and just the right length to support its memorable qualities. ‘Heart Still Beats’ takes 'VHS' full circle, bringing the music back to a danceable and brighter quality of beauty and approachability. Of particular note is the songs fantastic second half, which captures something playful yet emotionally challenging and bring it forth through the music. An additional song, ‘Video Tape’ wraps things up accordingly, in Castlebeat and aesthetically drenched stylings.
'VHS' takes the impetus of 'Castlebeat' and pushes it towards something more post-punk and guitar driven. This push certainly gives the album a faster paced, more danceable feel, and I can understand if fans of Castlebeat find something more approachable and fuller with the sounds found on VHS. The album can be comfortably played as a listening experience, background music, or something you can throw on at a party to get people on the dancefloor. The real intelligence though (and the reason for the rating below) is that underneath each of the ‘goth pop’ sounds and effects of the songs, underneath the beach sounding, aesthetic driven riffs, is a real sense of nostalgia and retrospect. When vapourwave was done well it achieved a similar result, but even that tended toward sounding artificial and distant… VHS maintains the authenticity and reminds the listener that this was handcrafted with love. Many will comfortably ride VHS off as a lesson in how simplicity can critically triumph over intentionally and presentably complex and intellectual music… Little do they know that the band has coated the latter in the former… Do you follow? Before I continuously acclaim VHS, I think it is worth noting that the album wont be without its critics. Many of the songs maintain a similar feeling (which is why it makes for great background music) and you have to pay attention to notice the differences and techniques used from song to song. This goes hand in hand for any similar sounding ‘aesthetic’ laced music. The moral of the story is, however, that Castlebeat have backed a great album up with an even better one… a release that captures so much while presenting something so simple, achieved through textured and mellow sound.
ARTIST: Soft Wounds
RELEASE: The Last EP
RELEASE DATE: 9th March 2018
RECORD COMPANY: Unsigned
'Soft Wounds' are a Toronto-based shoegaze/alt-rock duo who base their influence's off 90's era shoegaze and dream-pop; creating noise/filtered textures and filters that lay softly over the structure of linear alt-rock tracks. 'The Last EP' captures a colourful mixture of downtrodden and emotive alt-rock tunes which generally centre around a style of vocalization that sounds almost as if it is floating. Accompanying this are catchy guitar riffs and a melodic rhythm section that precisely captures the emotive state of the sounds at the forefront of the music. The band are made up of Charlie Berger and Matt Rimon. 'The Last EP' was officially released back on March 9th 2018 and is available to buy/download right now via softwounds.bandcamp.com
The Last EP by Soft Wounds
‘Story’ opens up proceedings on the EP, wherein the bands texturing is put on full display as the noise-laden backing to the music is covered by reverb soaked guitars and the rhythmic backdrop of drums. The guitars also feature the kind of heavy FX and audio manipulation found on some of the most seminal shoegaze releases of the past. If one were to pair back the guitar FX and un-dampen some of the background sounds, the song would present a more classic post-punk feeling; structurally it also echoes this frame. ‘Her Ghost’ takes the emotive soundscapes further, and slows down the tempo for an almost ballad like setting. Much like on ‘Story’ the riffs that weave in and around the rest of the instrumentation become the catchy centrepiece for the sound to float around upon. Of special note is the second half of the track and the soft sounds of the pre-outro where the tweaking pick of the guitar melds beautifully with the rhythm section. ‘Wide Open’ may be the best song on the EP: the riffs and layering of the sound offers a great line in the sand between all out FX guitar driven washdown and restrained and a more conservative guitar practice. The band gel together on ‘Wide Open’ perhaps most strongly than on any other song; somehow making the song sound strongly rehearsed but also slightly jam-oriented at the same time?
‘On The Fence’ sounds closer t0 a kind of dark dream-pop than it does to shoegaze or heavy alt-rock, however, its instrumentation remains the same as on previous track. In the context of the EP, as well as the strength of the previous songs, ‘On the Fence’ would potentially be the least interesting and engaging track on the EP. Why? It seems like elements of previous songs are re-used, which is fine, but they are disused in a uninteresting and unoriginal way, making it sound as though its features the weakest elements of the EP. Interestingly enough, ‘Watch You’, which follows on is one of the EP's greatest triumphs, introducing dynamic musical elements as well as the shimmering guitar sounds we all associate with shoegaze. ‘Finally’ is in some senses, Soft Wounds culmination of previously explored musical elements into one lengthy practice. The inclusion of beautiful background humming synths in the intros truly capture the beauty that seems to flow from the song.
On this EP 'Soft Wounds' truly hone their craft and capture, utilize and present their own sound for the listener. Their own sound, it should be noted, is in a sense a collective channel of influential bands in and around the genres of shoegaze, dream-pop, alt-rock and more. Where many bands utilize this influence, it is generally abused in a derivate sense more so than a transformation from something done into something original. My main criticism of the EP is by far the vocals. Whether it’s the production or mixing, or whether it’s the vocals themselves I’m not entirely sure; all there is to say is that they become overly whingy and at points present themselves so holy angelic and clean sounding that it is almost a distraction from the music itself. Also on some points the mixing makes things, specifically sounds in the background and the drums, murky and damp to the listener. Beyond that the EP is engaging and strong; most specifically through production and sound.
ARTIST: Wild Meadows
RELEASE: Wild Meadows
RELEASE DATE: 2nd March 2018
Wild Meadows are a Melbourne-based shoegaze/garage/alt-rock outfit whose self-titled eight track debut album sounds like a mix between 90’s neo-psychedlica in the vein of bands like Ride, and something a bit heavier and rock based, more in the taste of post-2000s alt-rock. Over the course of the album, the neat vocals of singer Jessica Lawrence sometimes soar, sometimes drown, over the tight rhythm section, guitar riffage and cloudy yet atmospheric synth lines… A worthy listen. The band are made up of Jessica Lawrence - vocals, James Ross - guitar/vocals/synth, Dylan Bird - guitar, Donovan Pill - bass & Simon Gemmill - drums/percussion. 'Wild Meadows' was officially released on March 2nd 2018 and is available to buy/download on various formats right now via wildmeadows.bandcamp.com
Wild Meadows album by Wild Meadows
Despite what it goes on to achieve, 'Wild Meadows' actually opens with the albums worst and most cliched track ‘First Exit’. The bass and drum performances are admirable, and the vocals are certainly in a suitable place, but altogether the song reaches no great convincing heights of either originality or enjoyment; it comes off sounding slightly ‘by the books’ alt-rock. Nevertheless, after the subjective false start, ‘Feel the Noise’ is one of the albums best tracks: a great blend between the softness of Lawrence’s vocals and the fantastic instrumentation which evokes the aforementioned 90’s neo-psych/shoegaze mix. The guitar tones and intricate bass performance join together to create a truly memorable and catchy chorus; the culmination of the track comes around the two-minute mark, where after a great bass riff, the band break into a free form instrumental passage: leading into the music atmospherically soaring. The follower, less dense ‘These Days’ is just as brilliant: it's strummed background guitar and steady drum pattern are good backups to the vocals, which this time are much clearer. Thanks to this very fact, the lyrics are more audible and could be judged as some of the best on the album. Altogether the song carries over the careful creation of an almost alt-pop sound that was heard on ‘Feel the Noise’, with catchy instrumentation and soothingly tended to production.
‘Fever’, with its backing vocals and rolling drums is a good example of how a band such as Wild Meadows can turn things slightly anthemic. The band again present a tight performance, with special note going to the drums, which at several points in the song descend into drill like fills as the rest of the band continue to craft a background soundscape that tends more to the alt-rock side of things. ‘Stay for a While’ is a post-punk sounding entry on the album, the hi-hat tap combines with the bass to create something 80’s inspired sounding. Later, the fantastic guitar tones and the hum of what sounds like a synth adds an almost dream-pop to the mix, resulting in one of the albums most simple yet most totally enjoyable tracks. The follower ‘Evergreen’ reiterates this form of simplicity and playfulness: ‘Evergreen’ features a great acoustic strumming pattern in the background. Notably, also, the song features male lead vocals, which adds a whole other dimension to the bands sound. The laid-back shoegaze/dream-pop undertones of the second half of the song are truly pleasant pieces of music.
‘Sunshine’ is a continuation of the laid-back alt-rock sound that band seeps into on the second half of Wild Meadows, featuring a more introspective instrumental backing. The vocals hazily sing of catching trains and the entire mood of song is heightened on the songs chorus where the players seem to crescendo into a more powerful and denser layering of their various instrumental compositions to the track. Somehow the bands save one of their greatest treasures for the second half of the release in the form of ‘Uzi’ which combines neo-psych with the tender and approachable sound of alternative rock. The vocals brilliantly hush down at the end of the lines meld with the brilliant guitar playing and a tight yet bright rhythm section… A worthy listen indeed.
Wild Meadows don’t do anything particularly original if we are looking at the scope of modern music: they’ve used a blueprint that was forged somewhere in the late 80’s, honed through the 90’s and established as a style in itself in the 2000s. But the way they use this blue print is of particular note. Things start dense, heavy, somewhat less lighter, and transition sonically into a comforting, laid back rock adventure, meaning that after you’ve listened to it all, it feels like the band have actually ventured somewhere. The production is very good, as is the mixing which balances the denser instrumentation brilliantly. Look, you’d better go listen to it yourself, that way you don’t have to read about it; you can actually enjoy the textures, the performances, the sound.
ARTIST: Close Encounter
RELEASE: Lost Time
RECORD COMPANY: Look Up Records
Bit of emotive jangle-pop, a bit of synth laced melody and a dash of reverb soaked guitar is an accurate summary of 'Lost Time' by Seattle-based 'Close Encounter', a neat and playful album that bounces between sun-soaked dream-pop and darker, thought provoking shoegaze with hints of unruly psych bubbling beneath the mix. Their previous release, an EP entitled 'First Light', was successfully reviewed by Primal Music, exploring similar territory that is traversed here, on 'Lost Time'. The band are made up of Bill Darksoft, Bobby Sydney & Cameron Lambert and the album had it's official release back on the 9th March 2018. You can buy/download it in full right now via closeencounterband.bandcamp.com
Lost Time by Close Encounter
The album opens with the title track, a neatly packaged introduction to the album and its core sounds: laid back guitar riffs, loose instrumentation and the soaring yet slightly filtered vocals. ‘Never By My Side’ repeats this in a similar fashion but in a more spectacular way: its one of the albums top tracks: things are slowed down and a more dense production is added to the mix, including synth. The sound of the song is that of tightly and well thought out jangle-pop, a genre that of late seems to be getting done over and over again. ‘New Era’ is also a fantastic song, but the mood seems a tad more downtrodden. The riffs are again both enjoyable and thought provoking, the drums keep the pace nicely, the bass and guitar meld together neatly, and the keyboard adds a beautiful background layering. ‘Dark Times’ continues this synth-pop sound, with a catchy sequenced-bass based chorus and one of the nicest vocal productions on the album.
‘Wonder Why’ aims for more of an alt-rock or post-punk feeling, and achieves it; especially with its guitar tone and drum beat. This switch up offers a nice break from the previous songs that have all retained a similar sound but still maintains the main elements of the band production and mixing wise. ‘Indefinite Hours’ returns to the laid back jangle-pop of previous songs, this time, however, things are mixed together so well that the band somehow manage to make it one of the albums best songs. ‘Thinking of You’ hints at the laziest set of lyrics on the album, and musically nothing much new is really going on since the previous tracks. And that’s the thing, from here on in, with a few exceptions, things begin to sound very very similar: some songs sound like previous tracks with different tempos or effects. This very fact makes the second half of the album feel like more of a slog than a laid back , enjoyable listen. ‘How Long?’ is perhaps the highlight of the second half: the keyboard lead chorus is catchy and enjoyable and the instrumentation and production make the whole thing even more interesting. ‘Cold Call’ begins interestingly, and credit should certainly be given to the drum track and detuned guitars, but overall, after a while, you’re left wondering what you’re listening to. ‘Echo’, while sounding more present and dense than a few of the previous tracks is also one that, with different tones and mixing could sound very similar to the first few tracks. ‘Transmissions’ fits well in the context of intermission based tracks, but never really adds anything substantial to the album as a whole.
'Close Encounter' are the sort of band that succeed in a few different ways: theres the live aspect, which, although I haven’t seen them live, I can imagine as being an enjoyable, laid back experience. Another way is the format of EP: a few songs that hold a type of sound: not too long, not too dense, and just an enjoyable amount of jangle-pop. The third way is putting them on in the background, and while I’m not going to get into the philosophy and credibility of ‘background’ music, I’ll say this: there is a kind of art form for being ‘good’ background music. 'Lost Time', therefore, is a good album… But it become a slightly tiring listen: the band does what they do well., but they do it a bit too much. That’s not too say this album is a bad listen, its perhaps just to say that in the format of a full length album, 'Close Encounter' slightly over stretch themselves. The song writing on the most notable songs is of a top notch, and in regards to the genre of jangle-pop, they are truly original. Similiarly, the performances, the mixing and the production are equally as fantastic, together on the best parts of the album, these elements combine to make a noteworthy statement through laidback sound.
ARTIST: Flower Crown
RELEASE DATE: 20th October 2017
Looking for something that can simultaneously relax you into a summer daze and make you think and appreciate what you’re hearing? You’ve found it in 'GLOW' by Pittsburgh based duo 'Flower Crown', a release that takes it's dream pop from layers of deep crunch and the fuzz of borderline noise right back into a comforting, dreamy, sun-drenched breath of fresh air that evokes the same kind of moods as French based dream pop genius - 'Pastel Coast'. And much like Pastel Coasts various EP's, Flower Crowns album 'GLOW' triumphs because it doesn’t attempt to traverse new ground, rather, it sticks to what it knows… And sticks to it very well. Originally released back in October 2017, 'GLOW' is available to buy/download right now via flowercrownmusic.bandcamp.com
GLOW by Flower Crown
The album begins with the slow turn of ‘True Blue’; a mixture of dream pop guitar tones and slowly delicate percussion. Among the mix, the keyboard plays comfortably with the guitars and the vocals, which bounce around; propelled by reverb. ‘Web’ maintains a similar feel, although the tones and textures seem a tad deeper and perhaps also a tad darker. The song sounds like it could have comfortably come off either of the aforementioned Pastel Coast EPs, with its light but dense guitar playing and background hum. ‘Web’ stands as an album highlight; the chorus shines strongly among the waves of sound the band push out, patiently, comfortably and ultimately beautifully. ‘Bloodshade’ offers another fantastic chorus, as well as the continuation of the catchiness heard on previous tracks. The song also manages to balance a nice mixture of dream pop and an FX’d soaked alternative rock feel.
‘Moon Water’, from its opening ambience and single guitar plucking, also stands as an album highlight even if it is simply an intermission/interlude track; of note, the textured, light soundscape in the background succeeds in its subtleness and delicacy. The most introspective and nostalgic the band get can be found on the track ‘Frame and Frame’ which just so happens to also be one of the best tracks on the entire album. The songs beginning rolls around, evoking images of beaches, the tide washing in, and a clear blue sky, before dipping into a more alt-rock sound. The waves of echo and reverb can be heard on the brilliant ‘Pls’, which shows the bands excellent guitar playing in full stride, as well as a memorably patient yet downtrodden vocal performance; capturing the songs essence and the bands sound in a compelling and dreamy way. The ultra slow and dream-soaked ‘Rearview’ brings the tempo down to an almost slowcore level. The track utilizes dense background noise and ambience to remind the listener of the depth of both of the song itself and the sound around it. ‘Lady of the Lake’ continues this kind of laidback tempo, with the guitars plucking and strumming in perfect harmony with the slow beat of the drums. Altogether, the song stands as a kind of symbol for the rest of the album; slow, thoughtful, nostalgic and most importantly, sonically rewarding.
'Flower Crown' have released a successful dream pop album, crossing the lines between lazy yet comforting background music and intrinsically, provocatively picturesque listening. The performances, while slight, offer a rewarding and understandly dreamy listen. Fans of the genre will be impressed, and those who aren’t… will still be impressed. They’ll mostly be impressed by the mixing, the production, and perhaps most obviously, the clever and enjoyable sound.
RELEASE DATE: December 4th 2017
Do you like your dream pop lush, thick, full of ambient undertones and ethereal texturings? If so, look no further than the new Heligoland EP - 'Coriallo', a mixture of the deepest most harmonious dream pop mixed with the kind of ambience relative to somebody like Eno or even Robin Guthrie. In fact, this EP is mixed, produced and mastered by the man himself, known for his contributions to what we now know as ethereal wave and alternative rock in general via his stint in the famous Cocteau Twins. His touch and contribution on the EP are highly notable; I felt like some of the songs atmospherically sounded very similar to 'Guthries' - Continental (released 2006), a brilliant mixture of instrumental ambience that I highly recommend. Anyway, thankfully here Guthrie's position as producer only adds to the band and their sound; he leaves room for originality while enhancing elements of the bands performance and texturing, to achieve brilliant sounds for the listener. 'Coriallo' was officially released back on December 4th 2017 and is available to buy/download right now on various formats via heligoland.bandcamp.com
Coriallo by Heligoland
'Coriallo' opens with ‘Elk’; a low, downtempo and moody track that is built around the slow tempo of the drums and the shimmering background soundscapes of what I assume is some kind of synth. Guitar tones are lush and dreamy, reverberating and echoing around the mix, mingling with the voice. Speaking of which, the vocals remain extremely emotive for the whole song, somewhat clear in the mix but always suitable to the music. Lines like ‘I want to turn away/ because the right way seems to fool my mind’ become fully realized and emphasised by the beauty and patience of the vocals on the song. ‘Orion’ almost does away with the drums in favour of a more guitar based sound; the entire song is like a conversation between the vocals and the guitar. Deep down at the back of the mix, the drums steadily roll along with the rhythm. Structural the song feels free form; a fact that makes the listener pay closer attention to the performances and sounds. In turn these elements hold their own, assisted greatly by Guthries technical wizardry.
‘Anavo’ begins strong but enters a rough patch where it begins to sound like background music as the melodies and sound drift off distantly. The vocals enter a pitch range that seems a tad too comfortable with the guitar, creating a melding together of instruments that seems to kind of alter the music into background sounds. I’m glad to say though, that the followup ‘Three’ puts things back on course for the band. This track uses the same downtempo mood as the opener; the guitars are strummed distantly along with the beautiful sound of dreamy synths in the background. The vocals become a heavier, more defined sound, and the bass and drums step up to form a truly enjoyable rhythm section. The second half of the song is especially brilliant, and certainly a high point for the album in terms of the guitar. ‘Trust’ is possibly the best song on the EP; layered, emotive vocals open the mix and push it forward: layers of immaculately mediative guitars and atmospherics cover the corners of the sound… a truly beautiful song.
Rumour has it that Heligoland, with Guthrie producing, are releasing a full length album, which makes me consider a few things in relation to my thoughts on the album. Firstly, before that, I have to say that I really did enjoy this EP. I loved the performances, I love the texturings and the songwriting, and perhaps most of all I liked the production and overall quality of the sound. But, five songs was about enough. What I mean by this is by the time I reached the fifth track, I had heard just about as much slow simple drum beats, a particular vocal pitch and the lush roll of guitars that one could. On a full length, things may have to be altered a bit, or the same recipe may make the food taste bland. This EP however, pertains to the not too little and not too much rule, landing somewhere neatly in a place that makes it what some would call a comfortable listen. Things are glistening, things are beautiful, things are slightly contemplative and things are personified, positively transfigured and majestically presented through pure, beautiful sound.