ARTIST: Crash City Saints
RELEASE: Are You Free?
RELEASE DATE: 11th August 2017
RECORD COMPANY: Saint Marie Records
From the city of Kalamazoo, Michigan (apparently it’s across from Milwaukee, over Lake Michigan) comes 'Crash City Saints' and the interestingly bold and grand concept album they have created, entitled 'Are You Free?'. Released via the ever interesting 'Saint Marie Records' (whose back catalogue includes the impressive SPC ECO, Bloody Knives and The History of Colour TV), 'Are You Free?' tells the story of a boys attempts to mature and bloom in a small town in the 90’s when shoegaze was dense and on rotation in the mainstream and underground of the American music scene. 'Crash City Saints' have obviously utilized said music from the time and adopted it into a mix of shoegaze and alt-rock to tell a story over the course of twelve tracks that hails the significance of influence while also celebrating the freedom of originality in the context of modern music. 'Are You Free?' was released back on the 11th August 2017 and is available right now to buy/download on various formats via saintmarierecords.bandcamp.com
Are You Free? by Crash City Saints
The album opens with ‘Ice Cream’ a nice little jolt of pop-based alternative rock that highlights the hushed MBV style vocalisations and strumming acoustic guitar. There are several fantastic moments, including the churning-downtrodden shoegaze riffs that are touched upon at around the one minute thirty mark, as well as a tasteful string instrument in the background of the music. ‘Spring Lines’ owes more to a soft kind of neo-grunge rather than shoegaze, but nevertheless showcases the instrumentation and weave in-out aesthetic of the guitars. As it is on much of the album, the drumming is tight and impressive; highlighted sufficiently and smoothly in the mix. ‘Weirdos Need Love To’ fits in well as a kind of interlude between the narrative structure of the main songs whilst 'Use Once Then Dispose’ is an absolute album highlight; the post-punk double tap snare and 90’s inspired guitars meld fanatically together to create a rock-inspired atmosphere; the vocals hum away, touching on lyrically much darker themes than have been explored previously on the album. That’s not to say they are not well written, actually it’s quite the opposite. ‘Spirit Photography’ is a smooth, aesthetically enjoyable take on what sounds like 90’s era Brit-pop, while also (eventually) smothering the track in Shoegaze based guitar freak-outs. A very enjoyable experimental track, ‘Spirit Photography’ sheds the skin of the previous songs pop elements; making way for emotive and warped guitar based-psych passages of song writing. I assume ‘Act 2’ is named as such because it brings forth another stage of story and narrative; either way, as a song it feels one of little narrative importance (lyrics are drowned out in a vocal effects) while the whole song takes an almost lo-fi quality (not complaining).
‘Dawn of A Bright New Nothing’ introduces a fantastic Barrett-esque piano line into the mix, making the song one of the most purely enjoyable on the album. Yes, that’s right, this reviewer has significantly enjoyed a song because it sounds, is mixed and feels nice and relaxed. ‘Annabella’ returns to a much more alternative rock sound, the chord progression of the bass and guitar highlighting a progressive rock influence that played an integral role in the development of shoegaze music back in the 90’s. Its outro, featuring a guitar solo over the vocal chant/hum ‘you don’t know my name’ is particularly satisfying. Another interlude follows before one of the longest tracks of the album ‘The Hour Of The Wolf’ opens with a sequencer based EDM style sound. Although this aforementioned beat grows tiring after a while, this doesn’t cease the track from growing into a heavy, loud and colourful collection of sounds and noise, backed by the thrashing of the drums. The outro guitar picking is especially amazing and very much in-context of the seven minute long song. The following dream-pop based ‘Harbour Lights’ remains a sonic (but almost as equally lengthy) contrast to the previous wild melding’s of ‘The Hour Of The Wolf’. In fact, ‘Harbour Lights’ is an album highlight: the guitar tones and overall atmosphere of the song congregate into a dream pop/shoegaze breath of fresh air after the previous songs noise and drenched soundscapes.
Releasing a concept album of any type is a big and daring leap. Will people be able to detail the story (if the concept is narrative)? Will the story get in the way of the music? What about the other way around? 'Crash City Saints' have previously stated there is a narrative kind of concept behind the album, and at times while listening to 'Are You Free?' I was lost as to what (if anything) was actually going on, but then I realized that its concept lies beyond the realm of just a narrative. Over the course of the album the band swiftly (and at times intellectually subtly) incorporate and throw influence and nods to the American music underground of the nineties. There's grunge, dreampop, alt-rock, dance and electronica, shoegaze and many more… This album is a musical exploration in concept rather than a boring ‘he does this, then she does that’ kind of structure that tends to drag down and drown many ‘concept’ albums. The song writing is strong, although at times relies too heavily on formulas used on previous songs, even if it is a kind of throwback. The mixing and production (done so by Elliott Frazier of Ringo Deathstarr) is of course a brilliant, but also (if you listen to a lot of it) a well-rounded and respectful throwback to the music of the 90’s. Listen for an interesting story (accompianed and helped along by interesting lyrics), great instrumentation and playing, and a reminder of the brilliant and nostalgic music of a few decades ago, achieved through production, mixing 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
RELEASE: Distant Sea
RELEASE DATE: 28th July 2017
RECORD COMPANY: Fuzz Club
There are only so many things a chorus pedal can do. Those eleven meagre words could swiftly and perhaps eponymously give title to any article that a writer, a critic or blogger wishes to write about Mac Demarco. He’s the smelly, dirty looking hipster who popularized a kind of jangle pop that initially appears nostalgic and light-laced but eventually secedes into a kind of alcoholic- nicotine based adventure through adolescence that one can enjoy on a leisurely afternoon at the beach, or when they are traversing their inner past-histrionics. Either way, Demarco has used the chorus pedal to do two things (perhaps unintentionally), one is a kind of career suicide; he’s tied himself and crossed his own tracks so much so that he has transcended his own status into a type of figure that could be identified as post-celebrity (it was once trendy to listen to the guy, to wear his clothes and to smoke vile amounts of cigarettes, but since the polo-wearing normies of the world have discovered Mac, he just aint as cool). The second (and more important) is that Mac has put the preverbal knife through the gullet of any aspiring musician who wishes to touch on a similar style of music as his own. How many times do we hear music that we identify as ‘fake Mac Demarco’? A lot. It seems everybody who owned a shitty guitar and had a knack for overalls and dirty looking shoes has become a kind of Demarco-wannabe of sorts. This makes it hard for people like Saccades, who (funnily enough) is actually a hell of a lot more interesting than Mac. Saccades is proof that this genre slating, this assumption and veracious practician of overlooking should all be skipped over, and that nothing but the music should be analysed. Saccades 'Distant Sea' is testament to all of this, and is further proof that Fuzz Club Records know what they are doing. The album was released on the 28th July 2017 and is available to buy/download right now on various formats via fuzz club.com and saccadesmusic.bandcamp.com respectively.
Saccades by Saccades
Distant Sea opens with the title track; its warmly strummed guitar pop poses a beautiful contrast to the lo-fi type production quality of the album. This is where one first hears the quality of the song writing; its fantastic mixture of the nostalgic-dream baked feelings of summer and the breezy relaxation of the heat of the beach and days gone by. ‘Bleeding Colours’ continues on this path, but alters slightly to offer another take on the aforementioned sound again. This time, tempo is up and the guitars eager and dizzing strums give it a neat kind of post-punk feel. The tight, drum-lead feel of ‘Bleeding Colours’ is extenuated on ‘Elusive Dream’, sounding like it could have been a Coldwave-style track with a thicker bass tone and darker production qualities. All the while, the vocals remain slightly (in a well crafted way) drowned out in the mix of the music. ‘Crying Land’ echoes the orange-sun aesthetic of other lo-fi and experimental acts; reverb is heavy and things seem somewhat darker and more confined in a way. The song still retains the same feel and atmosphere as previous tracks however, making it a stray from the path that doesn’t lose track of itself completely.
‘In and Out’ is one of the closest songs Saccades gets to minimalism; its brilliant piano based rhythmic set up keeps things tight and coordinated through the entire song. Synths waver and fluctuate in the background… Everything seems like a trip down a dizzingly hallucinogenic river. ‘Know My Name’ stands as an album highlight; the song writing is of a neat kind of radio-friendly pop music, touched on the other side by the experimental aesthetic of lo-fi music. The lyrics are deep but playful; interesting while also being ingrained within the music as one whole piece of the puzzle. ‘Running Wild’ also sticks out as a memorable track, appearing more upbeat than the previous track. Saccades displays his knack for the act of layering and melody and enjoyably jangling styles on ‘Red’, which features a simple but impressive guitar line. Another album highlight is the danceable ‘Cigales’; collecting up the tricks that Saccades has explored formerly on ‘Distant Sea’ before pushing forward something new and impressive into the mix. ‘High Drift’ pushes for the production based-skill of atmosphere creation to help carve out a moody and beautifully simple track that seems much more downtrodden than their other releases.
You should know two things: (just to clarify) I don’t hate Mac Demarco; in fact, I feel quite the opposite about him. Also, Saccades 'Distant Sea' is one of the greatest examples of an artist wading through the depths of lo-fi music I’ve heard in a while. Between the well written and catchy songs lies a dedication to originality that can so obviously be overlooked by listeners. There is a genuine sense of concentrated and well-crafted song writing at play on Distant Sea, and this is helped further along by the tape-recording and mixing quality of the release. It is a lengthy album, featuring twelve songs… But unlike many artists in similar genres, the songs themselves maintain a level of originality between them that makes everything seem that bit more refreshing and alternative from the track before it. There is a level of nostalgia that comes with it all as well; the kind of sun-sets and cold sand that I could write an essay about… But I’ll refrain from that; I just thought it should be noted. Listen for an album projecting beauty against its desire to, and for an album a bit more interesting than those have forged namesakes on its basic reciepe; achieved through production, song writing and sound.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
ARTIST: Artificial Waves
RELEASE: Heavy. Deep. Sad. Ironic.
RELEASE DATE: 18th May 2017
RECORD COMPANY: Fluttery Records
If you like everything icy, chilled, nice, polished and reflective in its purity, look no further than the post-rock/ambient textures of Artificial Waves. Their latest album, tongue-in-cheekily entitled 'Heavy. Deep. Sad. Ironic.', captures the mood and atmosphere of a period in the late nineties when post-rock seemed less interested in pushing the outer boundaries of contemporary music but more focused on dwelling upon a kind of conceptual structure acute to post-shoegaze; longer songs with downtrodden elements but larger and louder sections to bounce back to. But while 'Heavy. Deep. Sad. Ironic.' is definitely clean and polished, these facts only help in its intentions and presentations. For every guitar-based riff-centred track there appears the subtle sounds of violins and keyboards, synths and ambient soundscapes. It’s true; it is difficult to find a song on this album that doesn’t have layered sound behind it; whether this be another instrument or just the tone and FX on the guitar. An interesting and engaging listen for fans of post-rock, and those seeking something a little more sonically interesting than your generic instrumental rock release. The album was officially released back on the 18th May 2017 via Fluttery Records and is available to buy/download right now on various formats from artificial-waves.bandcamp.com
Heavy. Deep. Sad. Ironic. by Artificial Waves
‘From Blur to Sharp’ opens the album as a kind of intro; big, loud drums play over the top of ambience and a small keyboard sound; eventually the entire band appear and the song unfolds in a heavy, riff-orientated way. Was it a clever idea to include this song? Well, I’ll let you be the judge, but there seems to be something of a lesser-than quality on this opening track in comparison to other tracks. I found myself wondering whether the rest of the album was going to be the same atmospheric guitar-orientated ‘rock’ sound. And although it’s a simple intro song, it does little to capture the true essence of the album when one has listened to the other tracks. The almost seven minute ‘Blended Spirits’ follows with what borders on an alt-metal sound; chugging guitars, breakdowns and loud guitar backed music. As the song goes on it becomes more and more engaging, with the high point been around the middle section where a downtrodden guitar plays a shoegaze-like riff, accompanied by a beautiful melody and the thick bass/drum sound. One of the best tracks on the album ‘Living in A Recycled Space’ plays with dynamics and a more math inspired sound. The inclusion of samples and electronics alongside the heavy drums/bass/guitar passages on the song do wonders for the atmospheric/conceptual quality of the song. A programmed drum beat and piano carries the song beautifully also.
‘Rising Soul’, which served as a single for the album, provides a beautiful swathes of melodic post-rock; the entire band come together to produce a less dynamically alternative song but a much more linear sounding piece of ambience. Similarly, ‘Hush and Embrace’ is as equally as impressive, but much quieter. The song relies more on the quiet ambient passages and guitar laced soundscapes than any large pounding drums could muster. ‘Bored Shadows’ seems to be a mixture of the previous two tracks with its gentle start but seemingly heavy second half. The inclusion of what sounds to be either sampled or programmed drums also make things seem even more wavy and architecturally post-rock. The subtle influence of shoegaze also continually sneaks in on all three tracks to a point of interest and engagement. The airy and most atmospheric song on the second half of the album is the brilliant ‘Inspiring Insomnia’ which at the two minute mark features a chugging breakdown with subtle yet stylistically intricate keyboard sounds. A special acknowledgement goes to the drumming on this track; involved enough to be noticed but not arrogantly over the top as to alter the limelight from the other instruments. In the second half of the song, things return to the alt-metal style explored on the start of the track. A small interlude, entitled ‘Inception’, leads the way into ‘Feeling the Endless Flow’ which is the albums lengthiest song. In terms of other tracks on the album, it lacks their magic, charm and continuity; it’s perhaps the most linear in terms of genre and its one of the loudest songs on the release. That’s not too say it doesn’t have it’s strengths; the guitar playing is strong and impressive, as is the unified sound between the players and their instruments.
As far as instrumental albums (of any genre) go, there is one real question that impinges on the critical reaction and reception, as well as interest shown by audience, of the release. This question is whether, without vocals or lyrics, the band or artist can keep it interesting enough to hold attention for the whole release. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule: think of those classic albums released throughout the 60’s and 70’s that are three tracks long (all of which go for 25 minutes) featuring lengthy guitar wanking and keyboard solos on and on. Or perhaps music generally classified as sound art, which generally may go on for hours without anything resembling a major chord progression. I am a fan of both these exceptions, but with these exceptions application to the question at hand, both classic albums and sound art/experimental pieces have one thing on their side: contextualisation. 'Heavy. Deep. Sad. Ironic.' has the task of maintaining interest on its own; without information or contextualisation to back it up in its decisions. This boils down to the question; does the album keep interest up for its entire duration; the short answer is not particularly, but the full answer is different altogether. The album, for the most part, remains interesting purely through its song writing; the softer and more ambient tracks stand out in this sense. As for the production and mixing; it is stellar… crisp, clean and sparkling in its recording and presentation. In regards to the aforementioned question; there are guitar-centric passages of songs that become over long and tiresome at times. The first half of the album more so than the second half features too many over long passages of ‘basic’ alt-rock. Although these sections of music are minor, and overall there is something wholly satisfying about the album; a kind of conceptual element that ties it all together, mainly through production, song writing and sound.
RELEASE: Impact Bliss
RELEASE DATE: 28th April 2017
RECORD COMPANY: Prairie State Records
'Impact Bliss' is a lengthy album by Wisconsin based shoegaze outfit Township; it’s an original and downtrodden piece of shoegaze with one defining feature to its arsenal: it’s deliciously refreshing. But how is it refreshing? It’s refreshing because it fully showcases the beauty and power of heavy and thick, drowned out shoegaze without cranking any reverb pedals up to 1 million. The songs all dance around quietly, touched upon perhaps most obviously by genres like slowcore and the darker side of alternative rock. In fact, on some of the songs, Township are more of a slowcore band than they are shoegaze or anything else. The songs are haunting, dark sketches of truly emotive music; structurally thin but ridiculously rich at the same time. Altogether, it is the purity and directness of the song writing that makes the band and their stylistic choices stand out so strongly against a crowd of blindfolded kids who think the greatest way to go about things is to possum stomp a reverb pedal and hide behind a Spector-style wall of sound. The album was released back on the 28th April 2017 through Chicago based independent record label Prairie State Records and it is available to buy/download right now on various formats via prairiestaterecords.bandcamp.com
Impact Bliss by Township
‘Turquoise Kiss’ opens the release, heavy and downtrodden with the subtle squeal of a very well written guitar riff. Following from this is the albums most signature element; slow and quiet dynamics; presenting an eerie layer of vocals. The songs chorus sounds positively alternative rock based, punctuated by a return to the opening guitar riff and the slower turn of the bands sound. ‘Yes & Yes’ opens with the same slowcore-elements briefly touched upon on ‘Turquoise Kiss’. This time however, most of the song centres around slow, plucking guitar rhythms and a meditatively dark vocal performance; perhaps summarizing the atmosphere that feels laced around the sound of the song. For most of its duration, the song remains slow and quiet; restraining itself against the desire to launch fully into a drowned out-feedback landscape. For this reason, there is a great sense of patience-centred admiration for ‘Yes & Yes’ and for Township themselves, for withholding and resisting the easy, simple and generic song writing strategies so many other bands love to love. ‘Be If Me’ stands out less than the former tracks, but its much more post-rock orientated sound highlights some elements of the bands song writing that remained unexplored on the opening tracks. The heavier and rock-ier chorus drowns out some of the emotional rawness of the previous tracks also. This is not to say it doesn’t deserve a place on the record as at least an interesting listen.
‘Catch a Wish’ offers one of the most stripped back portraits of the band on the entire release; most of the track centres around the hushed, claustrophobic vocals and the slow, noisy rumble of a background guitar. This combination of the tense and close, and the wild and far away proves to be beautifully poignant in terms of the impact of the song, while also distancing and adding conceptual context to the opposing heavy-guitar driven elements at the start of the release. ‘Impact’ is another slow and wavy piece of guitar based slowcore music, although the introduction of what sounds like a string section in the songs backing and small percussive xylophone opens a beautiful passage to the dreampop style riff that follows. Contemplative and somewhat meditative in its glowing, ‘Impact’ marks a full circle of sorts for the world of Impact Bliss; its full circle of skin shedding, and then re-applying, tastes all the more sweet as the brilliant song writing aesthetics do what they do (and do so neatly) on ‘Impact’. The weightier, weaving sound of ‘The Tunnel At The End of The Light’ follows; showcasing a tad more epic length than the other tracks on the album… Dabbling over the seven minute mark with smashing and pounding drums. Things turn somewhat prog-rock as the song twists and turns; built most predominantly around the bash of the cymbals of rolling of the drums. Things culminate into a shoegaze-heavy passage following the chorus; guitars an vocals bounce off into a kind of softness between the sounds.
'Impact Bliss' may not be one distinctive kind of music (it’s not a shoegaze album, just how its not a dream pop album, just as much as its not slowcore album), but this may be one of its most defining features. In a similar way, tracks and songs are not completely forgein from one another; a weaving conceptual form ties the songs together quite nicely across the board. It is hard to throw direct criticisms at Impact Bliss, why is that? You ask? Because it is so tightly and successfully wound and bound together from song to song that it does not leave much room for criticism. Almost every track is an interesting and engaging listening experience; supported by solid, thoughtful and refreshing song writing. The only fault one could place upon the entire release is the tone and presentation of the vocals, which sometimes sound borderline whingy across the album. But for most that won’t be a thought at all, rather, they’ll be concentrating on a thorough and strong album by a band whose distinctive charm is not one constructed of lazy clichés, but of effort, patience and relief; proposed, presented and played out through production, mixing and sound.
RECORD COMPANY: Grimoire Records
From Baltimore in the USA comes the deep humming roar of Alter, whose core sound consists of the delicate layering of everything cold and aesthetically pleasing: alt-rock, post-rock, ambient music, shoegaze and even some sort of wild and loud dream pop thrown in there for good measure. Pendulum consists of six dense and spacious tracks laced with reverberating echo and drowned out vocals; offering the sound of envelopment to listeners in the form of some kind of snow drenched village off in the middle of nowhere. For some it will be a sluggish slog through the at times thick and murky waters of alternatively loud guitar music that Alter push forth from their instruments; for others the flood of noise and the hushed echoes of the vocals will provide some kind of beauty through the snowstorm of sound; for your sakes I hope it’s the latter. 'Pendulum' was released via the Baltimore based independent record label 'Grimoire Records' back on the 28th April 2017 and it is available to buy/download right now from grimoirerecords.bandcamp.com
Pendulum by Alter
'Pendulum' opens with ‘False Mirror’ a brilliantly heavy track with subtle hints of post-punk in there for good measure. The beginning of the song makes one immediately think of the quiet, slight post-rock music that they’re about to hear; that is until the churning, loud guitars and cymbal heavy drums arrive into the mix. From there the most intriguing element of the song comes in; the vocals… sporting the aforementioned touch of post-punk. The vocals remain deeply layered under the walls of noise, but unlike the much rehashed shoegaze production technique that many of us are already familiar with, Alter’s vocals sit in a higher register; offering up an almost contrast to the music and the sound on the song. ‘False Mirror’ pans out into a cymbal lead breakdown before turning full circle back within itself. ‘Momentary’ offers up a similar slow beat that concluded ‘False Mirror’ except with a more obvious touch of post-rock evident in both the song writing and the mixing. The dynamics alter awkwardly throughout ‘Momentary’, especially the galloping drums on the second half of the track, but it seems to be the most 'by the book' that the band play it; although it still holds the same beauty as the other tracks around it.
Following on, the band turn in one of the EP’s best and most moving songs; its title track. The slow, drum and guitar combination roll slowly in the background of a fantastically harmonious vocal performances; even when the song moves back into borderline noise-gaze anthemic guitar, the catchy and dark alt-rock stlye chord progression stays along; forming the song into a complete package of heavy and emotive beauty. Special love and interest should be given to the songs second half, after the slight silent break, where the bands and instrumentation becomes even more extensive than before. ‘Inner Eclipse’, while at the start sounding like the heaviest the band will go, turns out actually to be a brilliantly weird, almost math rock based charge of cymbals and thick reverbed guitars. Bouncing back and forth between walls of sound lead by the bass and guitar, and the more groove orientated riffs that lead into the songs heavier sections, the vocals hold everything together again… Except this time they are much clearer. All these elements mix together to create a fantastic blend of post-rock/shoegaze amplification.
‘The Storm’ is also a definite EP highlight; its downtrodden and icy sound connects the sounds and styles of the title track with the previous and more formless ‘Inner Eclipse’ to create a piece more melodic and drawn out. Of all the heavy, weighty tracks on the EP, ‘Lost Instinct’ offers up the substantial size of feedback laden reverb and soundscapes for the listener to hear. It begins with borderline droning guitars and drums, backed up by the soundscaped noises of guitar feedback and, eventually, the wavering and floating vocals that have played such a pivotal role on other tracks throughout the EP. The wild, open feedback ridden landscapes of Pendulum make it difficult to say whether everybody would be a fan. But for those who appreciate the kind of melodic heaviness that can only really fit comfortably with post-rock and ambient texturings; then the EP is for you. Alter shine greatly when they display their strengths wisely; those being their attitude toward filling up the entire canvas with noise, the dynamics of sound in context with the instrumentation, the smart mixing and production, and perhaps most importantly; the vocals. Thankfully for almost the entire EP, the band do in fact display their strengths wisely offering a sonic piece of noise meditation, created through 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 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: 26th May 2016
RECORD COMPANY: Fuzz Club Records
Post-punk combines with coldwave, darkwave, a bit of ethereal wave and perhaps, arguably, most importantly; experimental music on the self-titled debut release by Swedish project NONN (the solo moniker of The Orange Revival's Christian Eldefors). Drum machines and programmed beats guide the way through reams of both light and darkness; to create something akin to classic 80’s style post-punk, but with a little something extra. Experimental music has always been a next-door neighbour of the music commonly associated with punk music, but NONN have decided to push it further, applying it deeply to the music as well as the production and mixing. 'Nonn' gets it's full release on the 26th May 2016 via the ever reliable purveyors of sonic discourse Fuzz Club Records and it is available to pre-order right now from www.fuzzclub.com
The album opens with the brilliant ‘Walls’ which features one of the greatest elements of the album; the attentiveness and experimentation with the instrument of voice. The song opens with heavy, darkly ambient program beats and noises that form into a airy and wide ranging soundscape backing for the song. The reminisce of a bass guitar churns away in the background before the fantastically obscure vocals ooze into the song, sounding like the vocalist is singing with echo and reverbed drenched effects underwater. There is a fantastic synthetic feel to the instrumentation and the kind of murmuringly weird musical backing that compliments and adds another dimension to the album as you listen more closely each time. ‘Lost’ begins with a similar kind of programmed frequency (which remains in the background of the song for the whole time) that is then given a backseat to the drum machine-laden post punk beat of double-snare tapping. The vocals this time are more recognizable and the song itself sounds like a kind of darkwave tune; re-fitted into a post-punk context by the coldwave like guitar that enters the song just after the intro.
‘Stay’ omits a similar feeling and stylistically does not really leap from where ‘Lost’ left off, although it's significantly darker. The bass lines, thick and consuming, guide the robotic-vocals along to the beat of another post-punk drum beat that seems to be taken straight from the eighties. ‘Gone’ is a brilliant track that slows things down, returning to the programmed beats, wizzes and noises of the first few songs. The drum beat borders on trip hop while the whole structural elements of the song sound like the echoing sound of an 80’s synthesizer guiding a character a film along a dark highway. ‘Cold’ takes this even further, offering layers and layers of moody but somewhat danceable synth FX and the churning slow beat of programmed rums in the background. Up next, ‘Need’ injects more of the airy soundscapes of the albums earlier tracks, while maintaining a similar style drum track. The synth within the track steps in for what would have been the guitar; creating a wavering effect that truly pushes the tempo and rhythm of the song strongly. ‘Hills’ is a very similar track, but alters things with the inclusion of small passages of what could be samples held within the music; mostly in the form of background whizz and churn and the synthetic sounding hi-hat of the drums. The vocals feature more visibly within ‘Hills’ as well; differing from other tracks on the album. ‘Time’ borders on a time of warped disco; altering between the dance-induced rhythm of the drums and the even further warped vocals on the track. The song truly shines just after the half way mark; highlighting the engaging production properties of NONN’s music. ‘Fear’ is by far one of the most experimental tracks on the album; it acts as one big long crescendo, backed by an alternating tempo and a wild ringing in the background. The vocals, hushed and wild, fit well with the context; harkening back to the hey days of acid house and other forms of electronica music that relied heavily on the FX of the voice. ‘Wait’ concludes as a fuzzingly loud outro of sorts; a ringing synthesizer hums in the background of some keys being played slightly and softly.
NONN as an album is at times an uphill wander; several tracks sound similar to the one before and the general song structure of several tracks sound thrown together or still in draft form. Still, I believe there to be an interesting focal point to it all; washed somewhere deep within the influence and the context of the music’s background. Listening to the whole album is like a conceptual walkthrough of one lengthy devoted song, where the tempo alters and then resurfaces back within itself the music stays honest enough to keep the listener interested. The production is clear and does the instrumental and lyrical elements of the album many favours. Its an interesting listen, achieved through performance and design, but perhaps most obviously through sound.
ARTIST: Sonic Jesus
RELEASE DATE: 10th March 2017
RECORD COMPANY: Fuzz Club Records
From the critically acclaimed underground label Fuzz Club Records comes a slab of truly atmospheric, beautiful and moving music; Grace by Sonic Jesus. Deep and gravel-filled baritone vocals sing over the top of layers of soundscaped synth and unique, refreshing kinds of revivalist post-punk. At its core, holding everything together, is the careful and strategic structural elements of well written and performed alternative rock that balances itself with what seems to be the central theme of Grace; the essence and presentation of mood. From the dark corners of contemplation all the way up through to what sounds like narrative storytelling, Sonic Jesus’s use of mood, both musically and lyrically, is what makes Grace a wholly more interesting listen than any other sort of post-punk, synth laden music that seems to pour out easily for many worldwide bands and artists. 'Grace' is out right now with various formats available to buy via the ever brilliant fuzzclub.com
Grace by Sonic Jesus
‘I’m in Grace’ opens the album with layers upon layers of atmospheric synth soundscapes which are punctured by the deep but inventive baritone of the vocals. Eventually, the drums and guitars enter, playing a recognisable brand of post-punk; made special by the fantastic musical texturing and layering by the band. The song turns from sounding somewhat downtrodden to epic and larger within a few quiet moments; an album highlight. ‘I Hope’ utilizes the previous songs formalities but turns it into a more dream pop/indie tune, where the guitar tone sounds much lighter and colourful than on ‘I’m in Grace’. Again, the small tweaks and touches of a snare rattle here, a clap or other percussive sound make the song all the more enjoyable in a greater and more ‘fuller’ context. Perhaps the greatest element of the song is the chord progression within the chorus; where the vocals slide back down at the same time as the guitar; mixing emotions to create a kind of contrast that highlights all things good about the music. ‘Modern Model’ takes the synth elements explored on other songs to the foreground, creating a pysch-rock like feel. And while its an interesting track, it does not admit the same kind of radiance as either ‘I’m in Grace’ or ‘I Hope’, although the use of keyboards should be strongly highlighted and praised. ‘September Ninth’ turns things around again, sounding quite akin to a formal stylistic sound reminiscent of art rock or punk but still shows significant influence from post-punk and even subtle flashes of cold-wave . The brilliantly darker songwriting skills of the band make the song one of Grace’s best tracks, especially in the section just past the two minute point, where the lyrics and music bounce off each other and feed into a synthetic sounding chorus of epic proportions.
‘No Way’ is by far the most omniscient sounding song on the entire release; the thick disco like bass strums over a dance inspired drum track and scratchy, wild sounding guitar riff. The chorus seeps into itself similar to the previous track, sounding large and more wild than the verse that preceded it. Altogether, the track sounds quite New Wave; synthetic in an appealing sense, and layered and deep enough to appear beautifully fulfilling in its full pictorial qualities. One of Grace’s other highlights is the swaying reverie of ‘Space Heels’ which is perhaps the most melodically beautiful track on the entire release. The song embodies a slower tempo and more ‘gentle’ use of the synthesiser, tied together by a majestic and engaging vocal performance, sprouting and crooning majestic and engaging lyrics in the same. ‘Outdoor Party’ is another brilliantly new wave laced track; equipped with a more dream pop sounding guitar line and a melody that sounds somewhat more upbeat than on previous tracks. ‘Stars’ maintains this quality, heavy and pounding in its percussive elements; it utilizes the airy and hollow ambiance of previous tracks as a background for more alternative soundscaping. The second section of this song, what you could call the outro, plays out texturally rich, with a sequenced sound bouncing around in the background of the alt-rock inspired tune. ‘Fading Lights’ seems to act more like an un-intentional retrospective of the album; collecting up all the elements that the band has explored across Grace.
To keep an album with ten songs on it interesting enough to listen to from cover to cover, a band has to keep one unifying thematic quality to each song and to each transition from one song to another. For Sonic Jesus, that quality is the nifty tonal quality of mood. On Grace, every song either establishes or contorts mood to place emphasis on the atmospheric quality of the songs spread out within. Whether it be large scale, synth laden new wave sounding passages, or the sharp and linear qualities of post-punk revival music, Sonic Jesus manage to keep mood at the centrepiece of this album, to keep it interesting and thought provoking the whole way through. Its easy to see where many other bands stumble with this kind of music in an album context, but to be completely honest, Grace stands out so strongly from the crowd in a fashion that highlights their originality that you don’t even think about how the record could have ended up down the toilet. The performances are tight, showcasing well written songs and music, but it is the production and mixing that pushes the album further in its creativity, appeal and interest. Sonic Jesus have thus created an album that avoids all the clichés, emphasising talent, performance and sound.
RELEASE: Courage Reels
RELEASE DATE: 21st April 2017
RECORD COMPANY: Morningside Young Team Records
Following on from a handful of well-executed, tight and impressively written EP’s and singles that explored a wide array of genres including traditional shoegaze and much louder feedback ridden noise rock, is the debut full length album 'Courage Reels' from Edinburgh based four piece Wozniak. It’s a heavy, noisy and progressive listen, and one on which the band decides to take full advantage of their instruments, creating several lengthy songs with two or three lines of vocals in it amid riff after riff of sonic noise and what sounds at times to be well-captured jam sessions. Many songs take on this structure; and through it 'Courage Reels' at times sounds anywhere from stoner/sludge metal, progressive rock, shoegaze, dream pop, alt-rock, then throw in a bit of alt-metal and a weird kind of krautrock for good measure and tie them all together in layers of noisy feedback and what you get are tall sprawling arrangements that make Wozniak sound like a ten piece. 'Courage Reels' gets it's full release on April 21st 2017 via 'Morningside Young Team Records' and it is available to pre-order right now in various formats from wozniak.bandcamp.com
Courage Reels by Wozniak
'Courage Reels' opens with the instrumental ‘Shader’ that morphs itself around a heavy stoner metal riff and the gentle tapping of the drums in the background. However, after this introductory riff, the band launch into what sounds more like a traditional shoegaze due to the tone of their guitars and the musical melding between the guitar and the drums. ‘Shader’ takes this form for almost the entire song; jumping from a stoner metal riff into more airy shoegaze passages, all the while masking a background of feedback that compliments the music immensely. Much slower and distant is the shoegaze track ‘Ghosting’ whose form takes the shape of ‘Shader’ in that it jumps from heavy fuzzing back to its mellow origins; coming off as less heavy than ‘Shader’ but more intricate. The slowed, winding parts of the song are soothingly beautiful, masking mood and sound over a distinct form of song writing. ‘Ghosting’ also happens to contain vocals; all five lines of them, so drowned out you can hardly hear them, which actually fits in well with the context of the song. ‘Super Panther’ ties both previous songs together and revisits the more shoegaze sides of the bands sound, implementing fuzz bass and a fantastic drum track over the top of the winding and shimmering guitars that play a demented kind of indie rock. This song also sounds strongly influenced by alt-rock, with its more linear structure and ‘traditional’ riff centred form of song writing on display.
Back in March 2017 the band released the first single from 'Courage Reels', and that single was ‘Perihelion’ which crops up as one of the best tracks on the entire release. It’s a beautiful, trance inducing mix of down-trodden guitar strumming that harkens back strongly to the classic shoegaze sound with swirls of a darker kind of dream pop. The vocal performance here is also fantastic and an album highlight, as well as the instrumentation and backing noise to which the song takes it cues and creations from. Although the song goes for several minutes, the band condense the vocal, quieter and more accessible section of the song to its beginning and then launch into a wild and commendable instrumental section that winds out the second half of the song strongly and passionately. In a similar way is ‘Scottish Dancer’ which blows past the eight minute mark in its form, which is distinctly reminiscent of cold shoegaze, to again show the bands strength in song writing. Scottish Dancer’s beginning, featuring another well produced vocal section, sounds better than ‘Perihelion’ in terms of every aspect of the song fitting swiftly together. Another amazing instrumental outro leads the songs second half, in which background feedback is used as a soundscape style to greatly enhance the songs sound. ‘Natsuko’ returns to a more conventional length and sounds more akin to post-punk than anything else the band touch on 'Courage Reels'. Although its beautiful and holds some impressive moments, I did wonder what its significance in context of the album was, and upon a second listen parts of it tended to sound more like an album filler than anything else.
‘Erebus’ is another true album highlight, perhaps due to fantastic contextual balancing by Wozniak in terms of the track listing on the album. After a few lengthy, heavy and layered songs, the band turns things back to the simple and the minimal, placing the listener’s perceptions upon simple guitar based strumming that goes further to highlight a mesmerizing undercurrent of dream pop-like guitar tones and textures in the mix. ‘Crush’ features the best drumming performance on the album, but unlike the few previous tracks avoids stronger shoegaze elements instead focusing upon a kind of alt-rock type sound, driven by a distant but interesting vocal performance. ‘Death Suit’ turns things back up to the lengthy heights of ‘Scottish Dancer’ and ‘Perihelion’ but with much less conviction. It starts strong, with a neat little guitar intro, but seeps into uneven sections of music that seem to be so far removed from the other that it becomes more of a slog than a listen. However, the six to eight minute section is absolutely masterful and deserves praise for being one of the greatest passages of music on the release.
I must fully admit that I’m a fan of Wozniak, whose style and experimentations in guitar-orientated music have shone through in a fantastic and interesting way through past releases. I especially love the song ‘El Maresme’ which is quite an old song from their fantastic EP Pikes Peak. I say all of this simply because 80% of the music on 'Courage Reels' is less like the bands previous studio EPs and singles; the engaging single 'Harker' remains firmly an alternative shoegaze/dream pop song, so does 'Auster' and its more guitar driven sound. For 'Courage Reels' to feature lengthy, heavy, more straight forward rock arrangements that you could almost always classify as alternative-rock, rather than the hazy dream pop or shoegaze-based musings of their previous efforts is somewhat of a challenge for the listener. I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way, and we must all congratulate and encourage bands to transform, progress stylistically and traverse new terrain over song writing and performance, but I wonder if 'Courage Reels' is in fact the right kind of progression. It is a fantastic album (as noted by the rating) but ultimately it sounds like a band who are carrying only fragments of their previous skin after shredding it. Personally, as a fan and a listener, I would have loved to have heard more vocals on this instrumentally generous album. Also for some out there, a cover to cover listen would be just too much; the songs are lengthy affairs, the transitions within the songs are at times slightly awkward and the piling of lengthy songs after lengthy songs makes the album feel longer than it is. All of this probably sounds like mad criticism, but that could not be further from the truth. In fact, for all of the criticisms of the music I have, there is equal acclaim and admiration for 'Courage Reels'. It is exquisitely well produced and mixed, and the band shines through on every track to display a commitment and a wild sincerity to the well written songs featured on it. These elements amount to a well rounded and impressive album, bundled up fluently in commitment and sound.
ARTIST: Highest Sea
RELEASE: Haunted Hearts
RELEASE DATE: February 24th 2017
RECORD COMPANY: SPÄTI PALACE
Even though post-punk music is the sort of genre that’s been rinsed and re-used over and over again, there is some kind of sentimental breeze that blows through when you trip over something that’s in some way original or kind of whimsically nostalgic. In this case, one could trip over 'Haunted Hearts' by German based band Highest Sea, an EP that is not so much a step in a different direction, but rather a mediation on previous footprints. Said previous footsteps divulge in all things classically post/punk, the guitar driven stirring of alternative rock and the churning hum of dream pop; mixed together to create a kind of low-key form of shoegaze.
SP013 HIGHEST SEA - Haunted Hearts by SPÄTI PALACE
The EP opens with ‘Wait For The Night’ which hinges on alternative rock based guitar playing and slow, heavy drumming to create an atmosphere akin to less-intricate, muddled shoegaze music. The song is simple and straight-forward, slow and at times slightly dragging in its structural forms. By this I mean that you could think I’m not expressive of all the songs details, but honestly it is literally just as I describe it. Its slow, riff based alt-rock that spikes into the songs second half into a heavy thrashing kind of musical passage. ‘Hawaii’ is a more intricate, dense song, built this time around a post-punk rhythm section and a dream pop sounding guitar. The vocals stay wholly visible in the mix as the song rolls along with the double tap of a snare; the musical texturing displays a neat kind of laid-back sound to the song. The best song on the EP is by far ‘La Bellea Soledad’ which converges the vocals and the instrumentation into a truly beautiful moment of capture. The song is less direct than others and it gives an opportunity for all involved to shine thoroughly in the perspective of the listener. At its core though, the song still holds stylistic elements of dream pop heavily within itself, which can be heard most predominantly in the songs stop-start second half. All in all, a beautiful track. ‘Black Poison’ is the most open, the most presented the band gets on the entire EP. Its sound is based around an atmospheric vocal performance and a kind of musical side that borders on lo-fi, these two elements bounce off one another to create a memorably slower track whose second half and acoustic section does nothing but highlight the talents of the musicians involved.
While there is obviously moments of true intrigue and intelligence on 'Haunted Hearts' the whole thing comes off as, well, kind of ‘slight’. What I mean by this is that the structural elements of the songs show clearly and definitively, not that that’s a problem, its just that these structural elements are quite in-offensively linear and at times generic. But that’s not to say the band don’t have strengths, and that’s also not to say that these strengths aren’t on obvious display throughout the course of the EP. The lyrics remain fresh and engaging, the performances on the most part are strong and the depth of their song writing ability is shown fully on sections of every song. Its exploration is light, but its worth, its musicality and its roots prove rewarding, especially through production and sound.
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.
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.