ARTIST: Lunar Twin
RELEASE: Night Tides
RELEASE DATE: 17th March 2107
RECORD COMPANY: Moon Sounds Records
The word Hawaii… What does it bring to your mind? A few palm trees? Margaritas? Some tropical birds? Some surfing? Gigantic waves? The wallowing baritone mysticism of Lunar Twin? Blue ocean? Blue sky? The heat? The electronic representation of a film that’s as beautiful as it is dark? What about the surf rock? With the eye catching tag of ‘Hawaii’ on their Bandcamp genre tags list, the LA/Hawaiian based band Lunar Twin’ latest mini album/EP Night Tides was a confusing piece of art from the start. I thought, judging by the glisteningly and pretty cover, the track names and the geographical elements of the band, that the music was to be ‘dancehall’ or a kind of a chillwave outing… But it wasn’t. It turned out to be much more interesting, so interesting, actually, that it garners the esteem of a 5/5 rating. It’s a bamboozling listen; electronica gets thrown in a whirl pool of dark synthwave, lounge music, down tempo hip-hop like instrumentation, dream pop and a dash of experimental rock/art rock music just for good taste. Imagine a baritone cowboy balladeer teams up with a man who knows his way round a keyboard/FX station, they both get really drunk in Southeast Asia and start making lounge music, and then get booked to play a poolside party at some movie stars place in Beverly Hills in the middle of the 80’s… Wild.
Night Tides by Lunar Twin
Night Tides opens with the beautiful tropical, downtempo, electronic vibes of ‘Waves’, which is built around a vibraphone lead percussion section that sits at the back of a contemplative and ‘downtown’ style synth progression. A guitar melds itself into the mix occasionally; forging lighter musical imagery to the context of the synth and piano. The standout, however, is the vocals. Where any old dream pop maverick or uninventive electronic producer would have guaranteed a higher, shimmering voice to sit alongside the instrumentation, Lunar Twin instead throw in the rumble and grit of a deep baritone-lead vocal performance. Thus, instead of two contrasting sounds bouncing off each other in the ‘light’ of the vocals and the guitar and the ‘dark’ of the rest of the instrumentation, the duo instead throw in so many different contrasting sounds that you’re left trying to figure out if you’re on a river boat cruise or lost in the backstreets of Poland in the cold. Its brilliant. ‘Blood Moon’ could very well be the soundtrack to a film noir movie. A nifty drum beat rolls the music along in a similar fashion to the strumming guitar that keeps everything together; built into the foreground of the song, however, is a bonkers genius kind of flamenco guitar picking, the sounds of a subtle string section, and a sequenced synth noise that bounces around in an echo-like fashion. Here the vocals are much more hushed and wicked; locking in magnificently with the lyrics of the song and projecting a much less tropical, more lounge music inspired sound.
‘Coral Sea’ turns things almost completely in a synthwave fashion, it opens with pulsated beat sequencing, the ease of a synth choir, a fantastic drum beat and the deep pipes of the vocals. Again, it’s a kind of film soundtrack, this time to some sort of drive into a city in the dark. The chorus’s beautiful orchestral/synth backing is truly delightful and eventually, as the song goes on, one can tell how the song relates to its title. The second half especially, has the aforementioned flavour of what some would call a ‘dark paradise’ where the sky is far from blue, but the scenery still plays a key role in the mood and feel of the place. ‘Birds of Paradise’ turns fully synth orientated, built around the dancing plucks of synths and further sequencing; showcasing the technical wizardry going on behind the scenes on the release. ‘Prayers of Smoke’ is a similar sound to the synth-laced ‘Birds of Paradise’, although the chorus returns to the duos visual projection of a tropical island or beach. A slow drum beat and wavering guitar tones highlight a swish of spaghetti-western guitar playing that overlaps more sequenced synth ques. The song at times, in a good way, sounds like its quivering and spinning into art-style noise pop, but always regains its focus and rhythm in enough time and effort to saviour itself from complete experimentation. Of all the one-track captures of a kind of mystic-tropical beauty on the release, the title track succeeds wholly in its obtuse, morphing beauty the most. I’m going to try and describe it (and that probably still won’t do it complete justice.) A synth and vocal performance open the song, which tells of a train trip and mentions oceanic imagery in a highly poetic form, then, another synth floats by, coupled with what I can only assume is a sample of some kind of Asian harp or guitar instrument. Throw into the mix an uncanny wave kind of vocal sample that sounds like its in an echo chamber. And while your floating on the dazingly metaphorical ocean of sound and allure thinking just how amazingly nostalgic the whole thing is, you notice that the synth chord progression that glues the song together isn’t actually that sweet and golden; it’s actually kind of dark. Then you think ‘f#ck, those wind chime noises aren’t actually that aesthetically pleasing either’ and then you look around yourself and admit that Lunar Twin have somehow made you re-think your imaginary surroundings. Within the context; the mental imagery of the song, you put the puzzle pieces together and feel very confused, almost in wonderment of the kind of sound they have morphed and thrown together. The moral of the story is, is that the whole thing is ridiculously experimental. So experimental in fact, that you just have to sit back and commend the fact that the band show their skills and pure smarts, their kind of own inventiveness or genius on the song.
Night Tides is, in retrospect, a musical interpretation of its title. Between the sunny visions of the tropical ocean and the islands around the place is the scent of experimental waves and a genius, kind of obtuse serenity. It’s a truly beautiful EP, and to summarise all these words and descriptions, I would have to say its major triumph is its originality and creativeness. Said originality and creativeness is achieved through the tight, kind of stripped back production and the great mixing on the release; that really highlights a lot of different sounds on a lot of different tracks. With that said, the actual song writing on the release is at the crux of this praise. Between the wild genre mixing, which includes synth-wave, easy listening, lounge music, dream pop, electronic, oriental music and art rock among others, to the fantastically simple meld between the vocals and the instruments, the duo show their skills in a subtle way from song to song. Sometimes, bands say things like ‘this is a soundtrack to a dissimulated movie’ or something, in an attempt to give a ‘nudge-nudge’ to try and get you to imagine them in a film soundtrack context. In the case of Lunar Twin, you instead make your own connection; and even if that isn’t the connections or thoughts that I had, it is easy to be rewarded from the imagery and thoughts that this music creates. With that all said, it might not be everybody’s cup of tea; the artistic and technical experimentation for the most part is skilfully subtle, but at other times you might need a second listen to focus on every sound on the release. This element is one that I thought was brilliant, but some may believe it is too non-linear. Similarly, appreciate the music for what it is; that’s a piece of experimental mastery, achieved through performance, writing, production and 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: A Thousand Hours
RELEASE: Endless Grey
RELEASE DATE: 17th March 2017
RECORD COMPANY: Unsigned
It was way back, way way back, in the early days that the slow but powerful shift of alternative music began to sweep the underground, from four chord punk, coming from either side of the Atlantic, to the somewhat alien sounds of what would later be determined as ‘post-punk’. Of these early post-punk bands, there was a much darker and ‘heavier’ sound. Songs consisted of baritone moans and screeching guitars, drum beats that many amateurs could play and thick bass lines. Funnily enough, skip forward a good forty years or so, and this is the sort of stuff you’re hearing on 'Endless Grey' by Alaskan based 'A Thousand Hours'. Dark, somewhat challenging but always tactically engaging, A Thousand Hours round up many of music histories greatest tricks and turn them into their own creation; churning out a heavy, tight and unique sound in the process. 'Endless Grey' is available to buy/download right now from onethousandhours.bandcamp.com
Endless Grey by A Thousand Hours
The album begins with the title track; a slow, yearning and distant piece of alt-rock/post-punk. The vocals remain husky for the songs duration, reaching a beautiful tone that syncs with a dizzying guitar on the chorus. The drums beat slowly to keep things going and a fantastically subtle piano is played deep underneath the music; just enough to sound as important as everything else in the mix of the tracks. ‘B’ follows in a darker tone, opening with the rustle of industrial sounds and what sounds to be the pluck of a harp, before the sound of French coldwave pours in; a great riff that hums through to the listener and the somewhat down trodden drumming accompanies muddy, challenging vocals in a collage of veiled beauty. Again, A Thousand Hours use the high keys on a sharp piano underneath everything. After several listens ‘B’ stands as a true album highlight; capturing everything so grand about what can be created with post-punk music. ‘Ship’ opens with an overtly post-punk bass tone, followed by the slow rattle of the drums. The vocals on ‘Ship’ are much more present than previous tracks; an element I think doesn’t pack as much of a punch for the band. The chorus still soars though, and one can feel an undercurrent of dream pop within the instruments, especially the guitar. ‘Moments’, a mesmerising soundscape filled wave of genuinely fantastic music creation furthers this touch of dream pop and adds another layer to it by again utilizing the wonders of slight, simple piano playing.
‘Tender’ returns again to the desolate, stripped back post-punk sound explored on the opening part of the album. It’s simple guitar strums drown out the FX’d vocals over and over again and the chorus passage of music showcases the lead vocals by flying them higher in the mix to again accompany the guitars. The almost minimal musicality in the song fits perfectly with the lyrics, that seem distant, dreamy and confusing all at the one time. An interlude follows, entitled ‘Hold’ before unleashing the next track ‘Down’, which also shines brightly as an album highlight; its soothing sounds drift again into the realms of dream pop. The slow strum of an acoustic guitar backs up a glowing synth like sound and the much more present but rewarding vocal tones. Its place as an album highlight is due to how wonderfully all the instruments are melded and linked together. ‘Flood’ is another great song, that slows thing down again; touching on points that showcased the bands talent in the first half of the album.
‘The Desolate Hour’ is one of the most stripped back songs on the entire release, but it again deploys many tropes associated with dark, alternative post-punk music to form into another stellar gathering of music. The entire song lives up to its title; the music never truly reaches out of the conceptual sludge it has decided to sink itself within; capturing the sound of drowning through a musical language that’s both engaging and wretched. Perhaps the deepest depths of the dark, claustrophobic post-punk caverns that A Thousand Hours dwell in is the almighty ‘Rainy Days’ that centres around a deep, heavy vocal lead and slow, thick, sludgy music that at the same time somehow sounds thin and slight at the same time. It’s weary and deep sound captures a movement that the band seemed to be taking slowly over the course of Endless Grey, as the title would suggest. ‘Closure’ is a guitar-lead instrumental track that churns out an almost danceable tune to counteract the tracks before it, but it remains within the stylistic elements of the album and its sound.
'Endless Grey' is as close to its title as it can get; darkness and a heel dragging tempo carries many of the songs around, dragging them behind on a metal chain of slow, heavy sounds and passages. There are the occasional tracks where the band take their foot off the accelerator and present a brighter, more upbeat dream pop influenced song. But for the most part, they remain within the parameters of classic coldwave; especially on the albums second half through the string of songs like ‘The Desolate Hour’, ‘Rainy Days’ and ‘Flood’. For this reason, some won’t fancy setting off through the journey of Endless Grey, and others may find it’s 11 track haul a lengthy one. But I ask you to indulge in it. It’s brilliance shines in its stylistic choices and its tense, yet loose performances. Altogether it is an immensely rewarding listen from a band who know exactly what they want. Where many bands in this area of alternative music tend to release five or more song releases with tracks that sound completely different from one another, A Thousand Hours stick to their conceptual guns and showcase 11 songs that stick together but remain fresh for the listener over the course of the album. Post-punk is in good hands, I suppose, is the moral of the story… And those hands have been used wisely here; to create a piece of music that shines in almost every aspect; especially song writing, performance, production and sound.
ARTIST: Fools Ferguson
RELEASE: Dead Lines
RELEASE DATE: 27th January 2017
The real, meaty, heavy side of dreampop/shoegaze music is shown; teeth-baring, wild and beautifully sludge-filled on the album 'Dead Lines' by Fools Ferguson. But even the heaviness and wall-of-sound like musical qualities are contrasted on the release by dreamy, wavering passages of music; strung together with FX, keys and a unique vocal style. Together these elements mix in with touches of post-punk revival and alternative rock to create quite an original group of sounds, genres and thoughts in the shape of music.
Dead Lines by Fools Ferguson
The album opens with the lengthy, over eight minute epic ‘Altered States’. It’s beginning showcases the aforementioned heavy side of alternative, dreamy music; guitars and drums link together to create a wide and tall sound and the use of the subtle sound of keys underneath the mix stir together to create a truly memorable intro to the song. The vocals are, unlike many dream pop/shoegaze bands, fully visible in the mix of the music. This allows for an interesting contrast and connection between the vocals and the synths/keys across the course of the song. A pounding drum machine manages to keep the song rolling along at a steady and patient pace, and occasionally a piece of technical wizardry or synth swirl will accompany the sounds on the song even further. It is true that the greatest parts of ‘Altered States’ are the creatively engaging instrumental pieces; built to convey images and emotions through chords and contrast. Turning things completely over in sound is the much more upbeat and shiny ‘Room and Roses’, which takes on a more pysch-rock influence while maintaining enough of an air of dream pop to remain slightly familiar. ‘Room and Roses’ is in fact a ridiculously catchy, well-written and brilliantly performed song. That’s about all I have to say about that. ‘Room and Roses’ is followed by the brilliant, post-punk revival sound of ‘Crystal Castles’ as much of an album highlight as ‘Room and Roses’, the song sees the band turn to the crux of classic post-punk music; equipped with thick bass lines, the double tap snare and hi-hat dance sound of the percussion, and the intricate, weaving sounds of guitar. It’s an enjoyable and interesting song that seeps more and more into a darker sound as it goes on; culminating in a heaviness of a different kind to the albums opening.
‘The House of Love’ slows everything down into a more pop orientated sound that even features an acoustic guitar! The verses seem to be a weird combination of synthpop (where keyboard lines bounce around on the riff) and alternative rock, making parts of the song seem uneven or perhaps even under written. The chorus is fantastic; featuring a great but simple riff that captures the essence of dream pop music in only a few notes/chords. Another album highlight is the epic, seven minute piece of dream music ‘Wild Sides’ which blends together dark, timid soundscapes with the previously explored structural elements of post-punk music. For most of the song, the music churns and churns in a kind of minimalist way, underpinned by the slow synth movements underneath the song. The vocals are more akin to traditional dream pop/shoegaze music; drowned and FX’d above the music; soaring and drifting in a kind of contemplative manner. ‘The Black Star…’ turns thing back to a more ‘Room and Roses’ kind of sound; although it appears less upbeat and catchy in its performance and style. The chorus really highlights a swift kind of ‘neat and tidy’ aesthetic the band have been hinting and playing at through the course of the release. By ‘neat and tidy’ I mean that the guitars and rhythm section all stay together tightly and neatly in a kind of package wrapped in FX, sounds and noise, rather than presenting a full frontal, wild and unformulated kind of noise or drone. ‘Something Outside’ ties in with other epic songs on the album in its length, height and even its weight. There is a fantastic bass guitar riff that guides a majority of the song, punctuated by the occasional free-jazz inspired drum tapping, but overall the entire thing sort of seems like a thrown together-distant piece of music that shows an occasionally interesting passage of sound or thought. ‘The Alohama Lakes’ turns things around yet again, creating a slow and yearning piece of heavy dream pop music. It’s an album highlight and one of the most prominent songs on the album that sounds fully developed and rehearsed by the band themselves. In fact, ‘The Alohama Lakes’ is a fantastic example of the kinds of songs and sounds the band create at their greatest and most inspired points of the album.
'Dead Lines' is certainly an interesting album from a talented and equally engaging band that seems to borrow elements across all sorts of genres of alternative music. But that can’t blend out the fact that this release seems uneven and fluctuating in its sincerity. There a few fantastic, brilliant tracks where the band show they’re skill in song writing and crafting, tied together even more so by brilliant performances. But even these said tracks vary so much in stylistic and conceptual elements that you wonder at times if you are listening to the same band as before. I stated before how there are some elements that carry from song to song, such as tones, distinct playing and kinds of sounds, but for most of the album these elements are not strong enough to resonate throughout the entire release. There were even times while listening to this where I thought how much powerful the songs would be if they were completely instrumental and there were other times where I wondered about where the song had wandered off to in context with the album. All these elements amount to what is referred to as ‘uneven’ or ‘muddled up’. But all this is not to say the band is without immense talent or skill. As stand alone tracks, a majority of the album sounds interesting and well produced. Furthermore, the bands skill is shown throughout the entire release through the avenue of performance; each instrument and sound melding fantastically together. This goes further to reflect the mixing in itself; brilliant, wild, subtle and amazing. I think this is very interesting and well-written music that you should here, but I also hope that Fools Ferguson reconvenes to consider how an album can flaunt their talents and skills as a complete package. They already have the talent and skill; it’s just about how you use it. Besides that, there is the many feature highlights, especially in the realms of production, performance 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 the Australian heavy music blog, I Probably Hate Your Band.
Black Needle Noise is the new moniker under which famed and acclaimed underground producer John Fryer tweaks and creates. It’s a new kind of heightened ambient/experimental project that holds nothing back while traversing for adventure in the darkest realms of electronic and dream pop music. While it’s refreshing and original, one can’t help but hear the signature touch of the legendary producer in every corner of every track, as pounding drums mix with several bouts of 80’s sounding music. For those who don’t know of John Fryer, his retrospective production chronology reads like a trip through the alternative underground of the 80’s and 90’s; having produced or had some part in releases from a wide array of bands and artists from the post-punk era. And for those of you who do know him, you will recognize him and his signature sound as one half of 4AD legends This Mortal Coil, a band who are comfortably considered one of the most influential and acclaimed British alternative acts of the past century. Black Needle Noise borrows some of Mortal Coils gothic flavours, along with a heavy and deep electronic sound that adds a modern feel to each song. Fryer has been releasing singles from Black Needle Noise’s debut album one by one, which will eventually amount to a full album release; featuring a guest list of some of the most brilliant and talented musicians from across the world alternative music scene.
Swimming Through Dreams by Black Needle Noise with Mimi Page
‘Heaven’ is a warped, percussive and dark musical journey; guided through the depths of darkness by the thrum of a bass guitar and the heavy, sludge like weight of the backing drums. Throughout the song, Fryer introduces a plethora of brilliant production techniques; one of which is the way the instruments mix together to create what can only be described as an intriguingly confusing piece of music making. And although the experimental instrumentation and production sound like a giant stomping, Fryer adds a neat and tricky piece of This Mortal Coil's gothic edge to the song by featuring a dazzlingly swaying choir like string section deep at the back of the song. The vocal performance, by the ever-talented Jennie Vee, hits every note beautifully; crafting another dimension to the song in the fantastic context of contrast. Fryer followed ‘Heaven’ by releasing the much more ambient and electronic influenced ‘She Stands On A Storm’, which is a powerful electronic standard that features a synthpop/industrial chorus. In a similar vein to ‘Heaven’ it mixes this electronic instrumentation and programming with a myriad of sounds and noises that land somewhere between samples and FX heavy feedback loops and tricks; that walk around freely in the background of the song. Fryer again utilizes a fantastic vocalist to sing amidst the tenebrosity and darkly dispersed sounds of his musical structures; this time it is the harmonious pipes of Andrea Kerr, who comes across as more subdued to Vee, but in a way that does wonders for the song.
Perhaps the best lead single that Black Needle Noise has released is the atmospheric, soaring, dream pop/ethereal wave oscillating of ‘Swimming Through Dreams’, with a wondrous vocal track from Mimi Page, who presents the case for how voice can be used as an instrument just as a guitar may. It’s three minutes of Fryer layering choir synth upon choir synth upon string arrangements to create a song that sounds like the musical equivalent of glowing. But even though he does everything right in a production sense, it is Page’s hypnotic vocals that serves as the most interesting layer of them all. ‘Teeth to Grey’ is another symphonic piece of dark electronic pop music, this time with the added element of a trap-influenced drum machine program within the song. If one single showed how brilliant of a producer Fryer was, it would be this; where noises, instruments and sounds rattle around the song to create a confusing and engaging listening experience. Things are panned around, and then they’re not, and then other sounds seep in while your concentrating on another thing, all the while you hear the tiny micro-cogs of a greater machine churning out something memorable and heavily influenced by a darker form of 80’s ethereal wave pop. For ‘Teeth to Grey’ he calls upon the skill and talent of the vocalist from experimental/trip hop project Omniflux, whose voice is again greatly different in mood to those featured on other tracks. Vocals here are much more hushed and whispered, keeping in key with the intricate and net-like music. The much more dream pop influenced ‘Treasured Lies’ sees the combination of electro-pop and the soaring kind of shoegaze that’s made less with guitars than it is with walls of light and bright sounds. The vocal performance of Zialand is a good fit for the producers more experimental tendencies, which at the songs beginning takes the form of lo-fi feedback and frequencies.
These collective singles showcase the genius of Fryer’s production and song writing techniques, harking back to his older projects and musical explorations in the ‘good ol’ days’ of alternative music. If there is one thing that is definitely different from his earlier This Mortal Coil releases it is that every single released by Black Needle Noise sounds clean and polished, even when a cacophony of noise screeches and whizzes away in the background. Much like fellow producer Dean Garcia, the technological advancements in music production, mixing and recording seemed to have allowed Fryer to create a more fluid and smooth sound; all the while creating beats and dense gothic sounds that still hold their intent through the ‘fresh’ production style. Praise should be given to every vocalist who Fryer has enlisted for this project; each containing their own distinctive vocal styles that suit their chosen songs with an air of beauty and mystery. These Black Needle Noise songs showcase a producer at the top of his game, through his skills and talents in mixing, song writing and sound.
ARTIST: Alex Chilltown
RELEASE: Eaten Up By Nothing
RELEASE DATE: 24th February 2017
RECORD COMPANY: Witchgirl Recordings
'Eaten up By Nothing' is the new EP by the chilled out post-punk/shoegaze styled 'Alex Chilltown' aka London-based Josh Esaw. It’s a dense, heavy and burningly unhurried meditation of slowcore and thick, murky, gothic sounds that tend to be like some sort of swamp that you might get dragged down in for a while, before it spits you back out of its depths. Although the tracks themselves avoid ‘epic’ and lengthy portions, it’s the crux and interior of the sounds that bellow into trenches of the sort of downtrodden sound you would expect. Accompanying these sounds, however, is the full on wall of sound-style mixing reminiscent of shoegaze music; where one strum of a chord with the right FX and pedals can flood the room with an absolute cacophony of sound. Together these elements make an interesting mix of things.
'Eaten up By Nothing' opens with ‘Untitled’ which establishes the fantastic quality of performance that appears all over the EP. A brilliant and subtle synth sits at the back of most of the songs which adds even more weight to the music. This element, along with the intricate sound of a weaving guitar, makes the instrumentation brilliant and almost always engaging. The 80’s play a deep influence upon the band, which at times sounds like it perhaps should have been basement dwelling in Eastern Europe in the peak of cold-wave. ‘Hollow’ introduces a more fleshed out sound that’s a tad more influenced by shoegaze. The drums slow and minimalistic beat acts as a kind of backbone to the rest of the instrumentation… The vocals sit awkwardly above a kind of ethereal wave guitar pop sound that sounds like the least loud instrument of them all; interesting.
‘Glaze’ comes across as a much more whimsical exercise in the bands sonic explorations. For the most part it’s not as engaging as the opening tracks on the EP; and altogether it’s a weird kind of mediocre that kind of plays and plays without reaching any great heights. That is until the outro: a fantastic and involving passage of music that uses all the bands strengths to conjure up an emotive and dreamy reverberate. The melding of guitars, drums and the ethereal synths do wonders for the texture of the track. But, easily the most engaging and greatest track on the EP is the six minute plus ‘Diamond Sea’; which touches more upon a contemplative kind of dream pop/shoegaze noise than the bands previous endeavours into a more dark and gothic sound. ‘Diamond Sea’ is the only song on the EP that truly showcases an interesting and somewhat reputable vocal track. It’s not too loud, it’s not too quiet and the lyrics fit in with the instrumentation. The drums and bass showcase the aforementioned influence of slowcore and musical exploration. It’s a brilliant and original song, with moments that connect both the light and the dark somewhere in the middle.
After a few listens to the EP, one must admit that the sounds explored on 'Eaten Up by Nothing' are well travelled pieces of terrain; and far from original. With this in mind, sometime after a few listens you’ll notice how a few of the tracks sound similar in style and in tone. Also, the lyrics are awkward attempts at poetically gothic statements; like an outpouring or confession that feels as forced as it does tongue in cheek. Accompanying these lyrics are the sometimes-cumbersome vocal performance and mixing, which leaves you asking: is it too quiet, or is it too loud? These elements appear to be prevalent upon a few listens, but although there are flaws, there are also great strengths and highlights. For one, the instrumentation and music performances stay solid, fluid and engaging for the whole EP. The production is brilliant and is used to show the acme of the bands musical texturing throughout Eaten Up by Nothing, and altogether, the sounds produced through FX and tweaking are impressive in their own right. The band use their talents to create an EP that may not be the most original piece of music ever, but is clearly a release that shows their strengths, achieved primarily through production and the melding of sound.
ARTIST: Snowball II
RELEASE: Flashes Of Quincy
RELEASE DATE: 10th February 2017
RECORD COMPANY: Doughnut Records
Songs about breaking your ankle on halfpipes, drinking chai tea and heartbreak; must be the nineties!? Or is it 'Flashes of Quincy' by Long Beach based power pop band Snowball II? An album that combines the more rock-influenced shoegaze sounds of bands like Ride and the heavy strum and meddling of a genre one can only identify as a specific type of garage power pop. Throw into these musical nods to a by-gone era the lyrical recipes that shot many alternative bands to the top of charts around the world; such as skating, girls and being generally awkward about things. It’s a smart and satisfying album because it injects an originality into a time period and sound (power pop) that make it sound as fresh as ever; you can see the influence, but it’s mostly covered by originality and creatively diverse songs, ideas and sounds.
Flashes of Quincy by Snowball II
'Flashes of Quincy' begins with the album highlight ‘Anais & Me’ which centres around the whimsically contemplative vocals and the lyrics within. The protagonist of the song (presumably the ‘me’ in the title) reflects on the decisions and actions of the titular Anais; who drives to parties, dodges curfew and smokes. Snowball II use the vocals to enhance the lyrical message as they take on an awkward, self-conscious tone that sounds like it’s coming straight from the mouth of the main character. The instrumental qualities of the song touch more on alternative rock than power pop or shoegaze; although the vocals sound distinctly lower in the mix in a semi-Ride styling. As for its appeal; the song boils down to a simple case of being super enjoyable. That, really, is the crux of almost the entire album; there is always some sort of simple and minute form of enjoyment running through almost every song. ‘Groan’s’ is a more power pop centred song that showcases the undercurrents of indie music in the band’s sound. The song begins as a neat guitar riff plays through until the end of the verses where it dips into what sounds to be an out of time guitar section in a different key? This small piece of experimentation adds another dimension to the already fantastic song writing; the chorus rolls along and showcases the best elements of pop music; being superbly catchy and playful. All the while the vocals maintain the same kind of awkward bystander mentality as before; receiving significant help within the realms of ‘dorky charm’ by the lyrics, especially the chorus lyrics ‘It might be your birthday/But I made a cake for you’ to be precise. Snowball II turn things downtempo and perhaps even more shoegaze with ‘Sear ‘Em!’ that sounds much less playful than the previous two tracks. A fantastic drum beat maintains a heavier guitar sound; while a downtempo guitar plays under the mix to add contextual weight to the vocals.
‘CR-VUC’ starts with a weird kind of acoustic guitar and the slow churn of an organ in the background of the song that folds out into the alternative rock of previous songs. It sounds like a more fleshed out song; featuring a memorable chorus but perhaps even a memorable verse structure also. The small elements, like acoustic guitar, organ and an active drum section, make the song even more beautiful and showcase a diversity in the bands song writing. ‘Resident Of The United States’ is another album highlight; a brilliant guitar riff guides itself through a stop and start verse and chorus that builds around fantastic alternative rock melding’s and styles. ‘Your Occasion’ embodies the quirky, slow, freak-folk like elements of the band’s sound. This song is brilliant; it’s acoustic guitar driven verses drive it through to a much heavier, muted power pop kind of alternative musings. The instrumentation showcases what seems like a more ‘mature’ form of arrangement (that’s not to say the other songs are ‘immature’) and the vocals ooze a kind of nostalgic quality that does wonders for its mixing with the instruments and performance; truly fantastic. Reggae and dancehall blend with a kind of indie sensibility on ‘Appositive Stream’ a masterfully slight pop tune that features all the warmth that hipster-cum-indie bands often skip over. It’s a simple little song that is guaranteed to make you smile and think about the beach, or something.
‘Meet Yr Dad’ is the most comedic that Snowball II ever reach. It’s a racy spoken word folk-rock/alt-rock tune about everything related to relationships and that awkward past time of meeting the girls father. Similar to ‘Appositive Stream’, the song goes for less than three minutes; packing all of its wit and humour into a crafty, neat package that’s just as narratively absorbing as a seven-minute epic, or the five minute ballad like rock sounds at the start of the album. ‘I Exist’ sees the band embrace a psych pop sound and the off-kilter guitar sound that appeared ‘Groan’s’. It’s the lengthiest song on the second side of the album; I believe it to be the least interesting of all the songs on the album; taking on a fuller sound that begins to shine the light away from the bands stronger qualities; like performance and simple but adroit guitar riffs. ‘Is All’ is the furthest Snowball II stride from the sweltering, sunny quirks of their power pop sound; turning in a mesmerisingly beautiful ballad, influenced by soft rock, dream pop and a downtempo style of shoegaze. Built around a simple sequenced electronic pattern, the song builds upon the gentle strum of a guitar and the distant and hushed vocals. Altogether it sees the sun going down after a long day of beach dwelling; a kind of conceptual scenario the listener creates for themselves over the course of the album.
Flashes Of Quincy’s rating and conclusion of criticism could be boiled down to one simple, overriding fact; it is immensely enjoyable. It’s pure fun. And even when it’s downtrodden or darker lyrics or sounds seep into the music, it is still as invigorating to watch and listen to a band who create so much with such simple and straight forward sounds. Altogether, I feel as though the bands origin in Long Beach speaks some kinds of contextual volumes about the content in the songs; the visions of the ocean and the beach, of the pizza restaurant or the movie theatre you take the girl to on an awkward first date. Flashes Of Quincy, in this regard, at times sounds like a concept album of sorts; less of a story but more of a feeling or a place.
The band themselves turn in a magnificent performance across the entire album. The mixing and the production injects nothing but strength into the music; relaying and clearly presenting all the aforementioned opinions and emotions. It’s a solid and thoughtful group of ballads and power pop tunes, wrapped in the warm embrace of shoegaze and alternative rock that reminds us all of sometime in the past; way back when. The band step above where many other rock based groups would drift away or remain clichéd, they do so through the avenues of performance, song writing and sound.
ARTIST: SPC ECO
RELEASE: Under My Skin
From the mind of CURVE genius Dean Garcia comes the ridiculously good, cold air beauty of SPC ECO; a duo consisting of Garcia and his daughter Rose Berlin, who are set to release the mesmerizing, slow yearning five track EP 'Under My Skin'. It’s honestly an EP I wasn’t exactly bending over backwards to hear as I wasn’t a huge fan of Garcia’s previous collaboration S T F U. But I revoke such reservations to conclude that 'Under My Skin' is in fact a 5/5 EP. It’s choir/orchestral like moods combined with the slow daze of trip hop and a touch of dark wave, helped along by the trance inducing-beauty of Berlin’s vocals make it a slow moving, heavy classic; showcasing the genius of Garcia’s as a producer and acclaimed multi-instrumentalist.
Under My Skin EP by SPC ECO
'Under My Skin' opens with the moving title track that establishes the sound of the project. Built around a slow dream pop inspired keyboard line and the utterly brilliant vocals of Berlin, the song moves into a sweeping orchestral key and remains heavy and drowned for the tracks entirety. The lyrics aren’t anything substantial, but coupled with the music, they make fantastic and meditative tones for the listener. ‘Meteor’ is the duos greatest streak at trip hop; the song builds around a similar group of sounds as the opener, albeit slightly more upbeat, though this time said sounds are reinforced by the slow hits of a drum machine, programmed slowly and swinging in time with the music and the soundscapes within the song. ‘Meteor’ sounds less cinematic than the opener, switching out the orchestra swell for a more synthetic sound; which does wonders for the song.
This beat/darkwave style of synthetic/programmed sound continues on 'Creep In The Shadows' which is perhaps the least significant track on the EP. That’s not to say, however, it doesn’t have its positives; the synthetic notion of the music is enhanced to include a neat reverbed bottle rattling sound in the background of the drum pattern that sits comfortably behind a confusingly auto-tuned/vocal FX enhanced Rose Berlin. And that’s exactly why I feel this track to be less significant than the others; because it is perhaps a little too comfortable. Thankfully Garcia and Berlin turn things in a different direction with the deep electronic track ‘Let It Be Always’; a song that revisits the projects earlier tinkering’s with dream pop but abstracts it using neat and intelligent experimental production techniques.
‘Found’ is the most meditative, dreamy and soothing song upon 'Under My Skin'. It’s truly beautiful stuff; slow and spacey, echoed and hovering vocals hang over the mix. The instrumentation and production turns minimalist while the lyrics suggest of gentle contemplation, of discussion and speech between Berlin and somebody or something that has lost its way. It’s a song about light that doesn’t actually hold much light within itself; ‘When you get lost and found/ And when you get lost for a noun/ Like I lead you there/I will lead you there’ sings Berlin, as she offers a kind of shimmering light to counteract the darkwave undertones of 'Under My Skin'. It’s intro and outro are as slight as each other, and when Berlin's vocals sway away, it’s as if the listeners been gently touched by the singers voice. A truly fantastic song.
Apparently 'SPC ECO' have had the title track featured on MTV’s popular show Teen Wolf, a show that I don’t watch. The main thing that I can deduce, however, from that decision is that for the most part the producers must have very good taste. So good of a taste in fact that I applaud them for featuring it on their show and hope that from doing so, more viewers and listeners out there go out searching for 'SPC ECO'. They definitely deserve it. For this EP deserves recognition; whether it’s for the stellar and professional production, the sweeping instrumentation, the stellar arrangements and instrumentation or if it’s for the breathtaking talent and stature of Rose Berlin’s vocal deliveries. After a few listens of the EP I can say that the father/daughter combination of music and vocals/instruments and lyrics is a 5/5 collaboration that highlights everything creative and interesting about dream pop, trip hop and a genre I generally don’t listen to much of - darkwave! This collaboration puts their strengths forward and creates an engaging and musing piece of music, achieved through top notch production, performance and sound.
RELEASE: You Are Here Now
RELEASE DATE: 21st January 2017
'You Are Here Now' is the debut album from Pennsylvania based atmospheric post-rock outfit 'Heron'. It’s an album that defies the genre in such a way that to describe it to you, the reader, would never do it justice. In fact, I feel that 'You Are Here Now' is one of the best pieces of post-rock music I’ve heard. Perhaps rivalled only by pro bands from Iceland or the fantastically minimalist hush of 'Star of Heaven' and their mini album/EP 'Vinter'. 'You Are Here Now' stands tall through mostly the intense and wild song writing, but has its advantages with the professional mixing and mastering, done so by pros from the Seattle music scene. This, coupled with the smooth and hypnotic performances, make 'You Are Here Now' one of the most refreshing and beautiful post-rock instrumental releases going around.
You Are Here Now by Heron
'You Are Here Now' opens with ‘Shores’, a sensational slow rolling track that may be the best on the entire album. Its simplicity and nostalgic feel give it a fantastic and dreamy quality that adds true emotion to the music. It’s not just a clever note or a chord progression that makes you go ‘aw’; it’s a truly emotive piece of music that begins to build around the three minute mark to encompass a more ‘fuller’ feel. After a few more passages of skilled guitar playing and a return to the original intro passage of music, the band build the song into a transcendent piece of music. Utterly fantastic. ‘Ender’ turns the music back into a more rock orientated sound and utilizes a fantastic and inventive drum and guitar resonance that travels through the undercurrent of the song. Just as ‘Shores’ travelled over the eight minute mark, ‘Ender’ brings in the music to a seven minute epic; dipping and diving with a slow, sweet bass driven section in the middle of the song.
‘Stillness’, another amazing song, begins with the lazy, rear view mirror brilliance that held ‘Shores’ up to a breathtaking point. Its beginning centres on a wavy guitar riff that eventuates into a deeper and more melodic guitar/drum/bass sound. And just like following an alluring circle, the song falls back into its reminiscent tone just in time to lead into another song ‘Drop’, that holds a similar, if not perhaps more minimalist intro. It then climbs higher and more ambitious; its outro seeping into a more intricate vision of its opening. The title track serves as a gentle, low key ambient interlude that still sounds better and more inventive than some regular tracks I’ve heard from other artists before. ‘Archives’ rivals the opener in that it could just well be the best song on the album. Unlike the more relaxed ‘Shores’ the crescendo like ‘Archives’ builds upon itself with several very impressive performances. Sonically, the music bellows out into a musique concrète discussion and noises; showcasing the bands more experimental qualities. ‘Before the War’ is an epic piece of instrumental phrases and passages that lends from the albums previous songs in a brilliant and larger scale pictorial piece of post-rock. The outro especially deserves special mention; its winding, trance like, soulful and heavy presentation makes the song sound even more epic in the context of the album. As a testament to the band, ‘Before the War’ fills all the right fantastic spaces.
After a few listens of 'You Are Here Now' I began to feel like each song on the album is representative of a place, a destination or a feeling. ‘Shores’ and ‘Stillness’ evoke a sunny, cool beach with yellow grained sand and deep blue ocean in a way that dream pop does with its great injection of nostalgia. ‘Archives’ sounds like it could accompany a whimsical train ride through the country side of a picturesque landscape. ‘Before The War’ seems like it somehow captures the mood of a place rather than a geographical place itself. Altogether the album strings these evocations into an almost movie like listening experience… And what a beautiful film it is; packed with things I can’t really write down or capture in mere words. All I can recommend you do is listen to it. And listen to it thoroughly, from the beginning. It’s not really music so much as an experience shining through a vast array of other musical mediocrity to sound cleaner and more pure than most others do. The production is some of the greatest I’ve heard in a while with special praise going to the mixing and mastering. The performances are also top notch, woven into one another to sound as grand and beautiful as post-rock music can. Blah blah blah, go listen to it! For its greatness is of another fantastic standard, achieved through production, playing and sound.
ARTIST: Well Being
RELEASE: Well Being
RELEASE DATE: 25th November 2016
Bright but dark, heavy but soft and alternative but approachable, the debut album of Toronto’s 'Well Being' turns the face of post-punk to look into an indie mirror to create some sort of wild and heavy piece of psych-rock. Each song shimmers in its own right, but the albums background is where the real reward lies; beautiful textured pieces of instrumentation and subtle but neat FX push the sound forward for the listener in a way that highlights everything smart about conventional (mostly) guitar lead music. However, the album scores clever points with the clean and crisp production, sounding at equals (or perhaps even better) than ‘pro’ bands. This point locks in with the aforementioned comment about Well Being’s power of musical textures. 'Well Being' is by no means a leap forward in the world of music; there is little genre or avant-garde experimentation, there’s no wildly obtuse production techniques, it’s just well-written and very well produced music by a band who clearly know what they are doing.
Well Being by Well Being
Well Being opens with ‘Fear, Love and Everything in Between’ and it showcases the albums clean and crisp production; the vocals hover easily over a slow and steady drum beat that floats away on a post-punk guitar line before rolling straight into the emotive psych-pop the band revisits and revisits over the course of the release. The outro morphs the song again, with the beautiful and intelligent guitar picking away in the background adding weight to the already heavy sound. ‘The Kuleshov Effect’ follows with a more conventional/indie sound and an utterly brilliant sounding chorus. As far as instrumentation goes, the sounds and textures presented on the song are definitely a highlight. This is followed by the rock-influenced ‘Hands Tied’, with its post-punk sounding guitar and passages of song built around a more psych-rock aesthetic. ‘Waterboarding’ may be the albums best track. Its claustrophobic, indie tongue in cheek guitar mix with the clean and precise vocals, proclaiming lyrics that sound like somebody trying to coax another into using heavy drugs… Or maybe getting water boarded. That was a joke. ‘Habitual’ follows this blueprint to a slower tempo. The drums tap along slowly while the guitars play a psych influenced post-punk riff; the vocals hover over in a squeaky clean fashion and the whole song ties itself together with the bands previously explored sound. ‘Jean Seberg’ is the point on the album when you turn around and say ‘hey, wait… Haven’t I heard this before?’ The point where the bands ultra clean sound begins to wear thin. And just to clarify, ‘Jean Seberg’ is a good and well written song… It’s just that it seems to be re-using an already re-used formula.
Thankfully, the engaging and energetic ‘I Walk Through Clouds’ follows on and adds another element to the band’s sound. ‘I Walk Through Clouds’ sees Well Being step into an alternative rock space that features an almost pop punk sound throughout the entire song. The outro screams ‘I don’t need you anymore, I don’t need you anymore’ make sure that the listener feels as if they are listening to a rock and guitar driven song. ‘Don’t Complicate It’ could have, or should have, been a B-side, or C-side for that matter. Enough said. ‘Girls of Kilimanjaro’ is a brilliant, deep track that almost saves the band in a way. It’s instrumental and dazzling lead in carves the way for an indie rock guitar based song that bounces around in the listeners face. The bands instruments sound dirtier, or perhaps less focused on sounding clean, giving a neat breeze of authenticity to the song and its placement within the context of the album.
While perhaps the band and those associated with the album would love to have it slated as a piece of post-punk or indie music, the honest and obvious truth is that this lands closer to a conventional rock album more than any of those genres. Even the moniker of ‘psych-pop’ doesn’t seem appropriate… Some of the album even sounds like crisp and clean ‘modern’ pop punk. And this in itself is enough for some listeners to walk away in a haze of disinterest and cringe. But the truth is that it’s a very well written album. The majority of songs show a maturity and sort of simple complexity in them, and the musical textures prove to be a rewarding experience in themselves. Sure, the production is very clean… But it’s done so as to avoid sounding artificial and that fact in itself should be applauded. Some won’t like it, some won’t even look at it; but I proclaim to listen closely and enjoy the bands neat song writing skills, showed through production, playing and sound.
RELEASE DATE: 13th January 2016
Ethereal and dreamy, from Austin Texas comes the low-key shimmer and shine of 'Tether'; the debut EP from dream pop quartet (comprised of two husband and wife pairs) 'Blushing'. On this release the band use all of their technological wizardry to offer a basic, by the books dream pop EP, albeit a greatly enjoyable and catchy one at that.
Tether by Blushing
The EP opens with the title track, whose gentle guitars leads the way into the well written melodic structure of the song, built around the slow tap of the drums, well mixed and comfortable bass and the noisy but ethereal influenced guitars. Special credit to the fantastic and memorable chorus, in which two soaring female vocals meld mesmerizingly with the instrumentation to create a beautiful and original type of sound. The band take que's from many other dream pop bands and include noise and feedback laden guitars in the songs outro; tying everything together into a neat and dreamy songs. The opener is followed by the much less engaging ‘Why Can’t We?’ which rolls along in a simple, almost generic form of pop music, culminating with a good outro and guitar sound before sliding back into its shell. Much like many pop musicians in the modern age 'Blushing' play it way too safe and straight forward with ‘Why Can’t We?’ making it look like the ultimate b-side on an otherwise very interesting debut EP.
The more slower and strung out ‘Mess’ stands out as one of the EPs most well-written tracks, helped graciously by the brilliant bluegrass/soft-rock style guitar strumming away in the background. The whole song shows the bands strongest points and puts on display their talents in the mixing and production area of things. The subtlety of the drum beats and fills can almost go unnoticed but I plead that one pay attention to this, as with the synth/soundscapes that meld away into the background (on purpose) making the whole song sound like a mixture of hipster paradise and palm tree-shoegaze styled aesthetics. The guitar shines through in the second half of the piece, in a breakdown styling that further compliments the song. ‘Protect You’ opens with a nice drone noisescape before the band show their previously explored, swinging jangle style sound backed up by a darker and heavier tone. As though the EP is a progression of the bands song writing, ‘Protect You’ stands as a few steps away from the EP’s beginning, with the band projecting a more well-rounded sound in an invigorating way. This very fact makes the EP even more enjoyable when you listen with the whole thing in context.
The more one listens to 'Tether', the more one notices how heavily the band’s sound is either reflected or influenced by indie and jangle pop bands. Though the EP projects a warm and fuzzy form of dream pop and ethereal rock, it is the songs undercurrents and foundations that owe much to indie and pop rock influence, mainly through the songs melodies and the style in which 'Tether' is produced. As previously stated, this EP is by no means avant-garde or extremely inventive in terms of stepping forward into new musical territory; it instead utilizes a well-rehearsed form of creating and writing dream pop and shoegaze music. Is this a bad thing? Well, no it’s not… It’s just that when you listen to it; make sure you listen for enjoyment completely. And before you ask, in no way was that some sort of stab at 'Blushing' or some kind of way of saying their music isn’t great. Their music is in fact great, but in a way that you may have already heard. The band should be congratulated however, on the beautiful and clear production and mixing on the EP, which highlights every little facet of their skills. Almost every chorus on the EP is brilliant and catchy; something that many dream pop acts generally forget about. And altogether, the performances are definitely worth a mention. This EP is a fantastic reminder of how dream pop can be just as brilliant as it’s ever been, channelled through production, mixing and sound.