ep review: runnner, fan on

In fan on, the follow up to the Los Angeles duo’s stunning 2017 debut awash, the band’s roaming, atmospheric avant-garde folk pop falls completely inward, both physically and otherwise; Recorded in a garage, the lack of space and rising temperatures of the weather outside result in hyper-aware, confessional narratives that perpetually inch closer to emotional catharsis.

Though initially founded and fronted by singer and multi-instrumentalist Noah Weinman and drummer Nate Lichtenberger, fan on was recorded over the past year with the help of additional musicians, now permanently expanding out into a seven person band when performing live. And yet, somehow this newer, more physically expansive sound rivals the more exuberant tone of awash, but not in the way you might think – ironically, they work to evoke something even more incredibly intimate in the instrumentals, perhaps in order to fully match Weinman’s thoughtfully written, melancholic narratives; Even the banjo peppered in sounds soft, a word I never thought I would use when listening to the signature twang of its strings. 

“It’s a record made for & from little moments spent at home. It’s background chatter during daily routines. It’s daydreaming at a party. It’s a fan on in the back of the room.” 

While initially comforting due to its instrumentals, there’s something within these songs that work to evoke experiences that, while conceived in a physically comforting space, ultimately feel lonely, isolated, even helpless at times. Though we want to work through our pain, to untangle the loose ends of our vulnerabilities, life is a series of responsibilities and everyday routines that cannot be ignored, and the EP acts as the static, yet increasingly unpredictable space that exists between balancing these two ideas – which, in turn, almost always leads to some sort of compact, potent outburst of vulnerability, as if suddenly loosening a pressure valve just as its about to burst. Opener “Sublet” and “Eggshell” entertain the former, while closer “Frame” oscillates between these ideas the most violently, a constant back and forth between the mind and heart with instrumentals just as pained, textured, and transparent as the narrative – Weinman somehow both yells and blissfully murmurs the fact that “I don’t know what I’m doing anymore” in between a menagerie of horns and guitar, the equivalent of secretly praying no one heard his outburst halfway through getting it out. 

It is, however, the title track that, while the shortest, remains the most fascinating, for while the rest of the songs on the EP return to some sort of calm no matter the intensity of emotion exuded, “fan on” instead abruptly cuts off after a series of haunting effects, completely indifferent to the honest, ruminant narrative conveyed just moments before. The guitar opens with a melody that evokes the image of a box fan continuously on at all hours of the day but only seems to push the hot air around the room, which, in turn, leads to a very specific annoyance and helplessness that, considering you also live in a perpetually hot climate, you’re able to understand all too well. Weinman admits “I can’t explain it now/ why my head’s so fucking loud,” just as the heat grows thicker and nurtures those festering, unwanted thoughts like bacteria in a petri dish, trumpets bogged down with demonic chanting and whirring machinery.

For me, Runnner’s music evokes a singular image – the equivalent of looking deep into a worn down, dilapidated building through its pristine and multicolored stained glass windows, continuously finding beauty – or, at the very least, a beautiful fascination – in what is repeatedly dismissed as the painfully mundane, evoking an image of peace even in life’s most trying moments. 

fan on is out now.

 

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photo by Nell Sherman and Silken Weinberg
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a. harlana – “if i’m a bird”

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Earlier this year, we featured the gorgeous debut EP from a. harlana, also known as Brooklyn-based artist Juno Roome. Through his exceptional personal style that has since become the amalgamation of the diaphanous and visceral, with ada belle Roome truly marked a new beginning for dream pop – he shows that it is entirely possible to seamlessly expand brief moments of infatuation into sweeping, seemingly never-ending sagas, to transform weathered, jagged, cathartic feelings of love and the lack thereof into something so incredibly soft and delicate you’re able to hold them peacefully in your hands. This same delicacy exists in Roome’s latest single “if i’m a bird,” a love song that has been in the works for nearly a decade – beginning when he was a teenager and altered several times throughout the years in order to speak to specific people that entered his life while growing into an adult. 

“Songs I’ve written in the past usually don’t tend to stay with me — I think that’s because I’m always changing and I want to make how I feel in a reasonably contemporary fashion; but something about the sweet directness and candor of tune made me keep coming back.” 

Although this is one of Roome’s simpler, more straightforward tracks, true to his past work the narrative remains sincere and poetic – in the same breath he compares himself to both a bird and a tree, able to fly up and ask the heavens how “you were made so lovely,” able to shade and shield from the weather and “stand tall beside you.” The guitar, sparse and patient, follows his every word, his every promise. 

Following the bridge, everything that has slowly and surely been accumulated soon begins to dissolve and fall into each other gorgeously like sugar into warm tea, Roome repeating “I will save the world for you” over and over until it breathlessly melts into blissful oblivion. And while that may sound like a sappy sentiment from a lovesick adolescent, there’s something about the way the instrumentals fall away so meticulously at the last minute that speak to something far more earnest and everlasting, a promise from someone that’s now old enough to know the difference between true love and fleeting reverie.

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photo by reonda

Queen Quail – “Blur”

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Kirstin Edwards’ extraordinary take on dream pop as Queen Quail embodies a quiet, graceful catharsis; Along with the emotion that is brilliantly exuded from her guitar-heavy instrumental compositions, there’s a latent sense of super-charged vulnerability lingering just underneath, glimmering and smoldering beneath the surface like fire. Perhaps this refined tension has to do with Edwards’ classical beginnings, first playing cello in ensembles before transferring to guitar, which she taught herself at the age of 13. Her debut EP, Words Between Worlds, was just that – an album written over three months in between trips to China, the USA, and Croatia, later returning to Berlin where the Wisconsin-born artist now currently resides. A physics major during her undergraduate degree, Edwards found solace in sanctuary of more serious songwriting – and though she admits she still doesn’t quite know the names of any notes or chords she’s playing, it’s clear her EP is more on the process of creating as well as the introspection that comes complimentary:

“Letting yourself be vulnerable to writing like that is something I’ve never done before. For me it marks the beginning of my own self possession, something I think I really lost during school, uni, and two very intense relationships. Our own person is the only person in our lives we can truly “know” deeply well – I am so thankful to be in a position where I can spend time really getting to know myself, especially through songwriting. Overall, the EP definitely contains a piece of Berlin for me – a city where one can be free, be themselves.”

Edwards’ guitar takes on various forms throughout the EP depending on the context of its narrative – simulating jagged shooting stars in atmospheric, inquisitive opener “Concrete,” bursting forth and expanding into lush, robust colors in “Lion’s Den.” And yet, it is the manner in which it remains crystalline and pure within “Blur” that ultimately fascinates, given the nature of the narrative:

“I wrote ‘Blur’ while thinking about how different one’s self perception can be from the perception of others. I was inspired to write it after being in China and feeling very challenged by the intensity of the cities there, and seeing how my travel buddy and I reacted differently to such an amazing though stressful environment. We both were caught up in each other’s reactions, so my song sort of relates to that experience. Like trying to maintain a happy calmness while internally feeling a lot of chaos. The song functions as a sort of “smiling on the outside” experience/feeling.”

And, true to this last sentiment, though the guitar sparkles and shimmers during the verses, there are moments within the track where Edwards seems to deliberately ground her guitar after allowing this time to float off into the ether, a place of calm, yet calculated reflection made more ruminant by her slightly echoed, silvery voice. These deeper moments evoke the feeling of returning to yourself after a period of giving yourself away to the wonders of the world, a forced meditative state your mind places your heart in the chances of strengthening it. 

Words Between Worlds is out now. 

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photo courtesy of artist

 

Kevin Krauter – “Pretty Boy”

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Kevin Krauter’s music feels like a perpetual daydream, both hope and nostalgia nestled within the pockets of his bright, guitar-laden ballads. His stunning debut album Toss Up released just last year showcased his now trademark concoction of soft, pastel-tinged dream pop along with the smallest bite of ‘70’s Americana – personal favorites “Keep Falling In Love” and the spacey stunner “Lonely Boogie” both felt like fantasies, and yet somehow not far off from the starry, teary eyed serenades on his 2016 sophomore EP Changes (“Fantasy Theme” and its gorgeous narrative never loses its blissful magic no matter how many times I play it). Krauter’s progression in finding this perfect sound has always had quite a seamless trajectory, and it continued earlier this week when the Indiana-based singer-songwriter returned with his newest single “Pretty Boy,” which expresses the importance of patience, discovery and self-love:

 “This song is a product of teaching myself a new way to play my guitar and learning new ways to express feeling through my instrument. I would sit and play this song on guitar for hours and hours before I wrote any words or melodies, just existing in it and meditating almost. Around the same time, I was undergoing a pretty major shift in perspective, and I began to find a lot of unexpected love and confidence in myself. The lyrics reflect those ideas.” 

It is one of Krauter’s calmer tracks, but also one of his most wholesome, his voice towering over a hazy, repeated instrumental, calm and strong and yet contemplative in the way he gathers and communicates these reminders of confidence to himself, repeating “Tell that pretty boy/ I wanna see him dance, dance away” in perfect time with the encapsulating warmth of that unwavering guitar melody. 

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photo by Michael Newsted

 

Far Caspian – “A Dream Of You”

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There’s something blissfully inexplicable within Far Caspian’s music that has a tendency to make your heart ache – and I mean ache. I’ve found, however, that it’s a rather empathic ache, one that you’re able to understand and connect with immediately when nestled somewhere under the UK trio’s warm, comforting blankets of sweeping synths and textured guitar, realizing something soothing about embracing inevitable melancholy rather than continuously fighting it, something ultimately substantial in venturing deep inside your emotions when it is far easier to ignore them completely. At least, that’s what seems to happen to me when listening to “A Dream Of You,” one of the five absolutely beautiful tracks on the trio’s sophomore EP The Heights, released earlier this week. Everything about the track tends to evoke a lonely evening by an unpredictable seaside, with both the opening melody as well as frontman Joel Johnston’s vocals overlapping each other with grace despite the incredibly heartbreaking nature of the narrative, alluding to the helpless, frenzied feeling from slowly being abandoned by the ones you love.

In the main chorus he sings with the sadly confident resilience of someone who has had a truth finally revealed to him, a specific truth that he has already been aware of for years but perhaps always hoped he could conveniently ignore – the sweeping bridge has him lamenting  “oh so terrified / I’ve felt it all before/ I already know/ I’m running for my life/ I’ve let it in so long/ It’s taking its toll.” Unfortunately, abandonment seems to be a given part of life, the result of growing up and growing apart – Johnston, with a heavy heart, succumbs to the notion, admitting that he’s “holding onto time,” that “with sacrifice” he must let whoever leaving his life move on with theirs, trailing off right at the end as if to hold something precious deep inside him. And as is nature’s want, the last few moments of the track calls back the seaside metaphor, where the previous calm of the water now turn into volatile waves that crash into the sand, only for them to recede back into the vast expanse of the ocean.

The Heights is out now.

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photo courtesy of artist

SPARKLING – “The Same Again” / “Champagne”

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German post-punk trio Sparkling have been the subject of my fascination this week due to the incredibly fervid, scintillating energy in their music as well as the vivacity and passion in their live performance. Their incredible 2016 debut EP This is not the paradise they told us we would live in – which they promoted after living in London and while touring in countless small venues throughout Europe – housed tracks that, while hostile and hot to the touch, also contained refreshingly honest, stream-of-consciousness style narratives sung with equal parts conviction and disdain. I was practically glued to the screen upon viewing the video for “Someone Like You,” my eyes moving in time, like a cat upon seeing a dangling string, with every unpredictable stop-and-go instrumental break and perfectly timed lyrical expulsion; What was even more interesting was how comparably constructive the narrative remained despite these jarring aggression, hinting at something more constructive than just mere shouts into the void.

The trio have since returned with the news of their upcoming debut album I Want to See Everything, along with two singles – and while not immediately reminiscent of the volatile tone of their past work, “The Same Again” and “Champagne” are stunning in a far more matured stylized manner, further proving the intense, seamless collaboration of band founders Leon and Levin Krasel as well as bassist Luca Schüten. “Champagne” builds up in intensity as it goes on, with rampant, stunning late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s style instrumental flourishes and deliberately charged vocals, pointing towards a new phase for the multilingual group. “The Same Again” is comparably more existential, and, if the two years I spent taking German in college has served me correctly, in that regard appropriately opens with a series of introspective inquiries and disappointments (Warum habe ich gewartet? (Why did I wait?) / Hatte sich gelohnt? (Was it worth it?) / Was habe ich erwartet? (What did I expect?) / War nur für schond? (Was it for fun?)) before Leon Krasel delves into the main narrative entirely in English, expressing a more collectivized sentiment on the ignorance and absurdity of humanity as well as individuals to continue doing the same things – supposedly socially and politically – despite their repeated failures.

He repeats “Is this how we wake up?/ Is this how we feel?” just as he and other band members repeat their actions in the accompanying music video, where they fight to rise from the bed in the center only to return again in the same lethargic heap as before. Krasel’s tone grows more sarcastic during the bridge as they finally break apart from the routine and grab their instruments, in the same breath a scoff mimicking the masses – sure, “one more time then it will be fine/ And again, and again a new solution” that will, in time, most likely turn into “a new constraint.” Now standing above the others, the distorted guitar melody that follows and repeats sounds sharp and serrated as Krasel returns to his questioning, perpetually attempting to sway an audience that, to his frustration, still chooses to remain on the sidelines.

I Want to See Everything is out August 23.

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photo by Thomas Lambertz

Twen – “Damsel”

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From their whirlwind indie beginnings to their exclusive upcycled merch, pretty much everything about Nashville outfit Twen screams DIY. Getting their start through the Boston punk scene, Jane Fitzsimmons and Ian Jones have spent the last handful of years on tour, in that time releasing only a self-titled live EP back in 2016. Simultaneously, the duo was also piecing together their debut LP Awestruck, out this fall. Following the previously released singles  “Waste” and “Holy River,” Twen’s newest single “Damsel” perfectly combines the smooth, colorful nature of dream pop with the grit and texture of psychedelic rock, Fitzsimmons’ strong, soaring vocal tone in perfect balance with Jones’s bright,  guitar. It soon evolves into something large, expansive, and, most of all, full of hope, perhaps to further express what the narrative really details:

“This song is one of the first songs that we wrote, especially in that way of just feeling it out. I think it changes a lot for me, which makes it possible to sing it for two, three years, and onward. I think it’s more about just accepting and believing in something. For a long time, I was a hard-core atheist and really rejected my religious background because I grew up Catholic and it sucked. Then, it’s just being able to believe in something again and not because someone told me. It’s just kind of a joyous declaration in something and it almost doesn’t matter what it is, if you feel strongly about it.”

With the new single also comes a stunning music video directed by Casey Pierce, which has Twen dancing and grooving in the crux of many dirt bikes, decked out in hand-detailed, upcycled monogrammed uniforms. Watch it below and tell me that it isn’t one of the coolest music videos of the year.

Awestruck is out September 20 via Frenchkiss Records.

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photo by Alexa Viscius

Foliage – “In Reference To”

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Over the past few months or so, Foliage’s music has come to be what I imagine every time I see the words jangle pop, due to the unique, stylized way Manuel Joseph Walker manipulates his signature guitar tone. Walker’s third album – appropriately titled III – contained stunning variations of the genre, additionally evoking everything from ‘80’s new wave to modern-day bedroom pop in its instrumentation, made even better knowing the fact that, like all Foliage’s music, the San Bernardino artist wrote, recorded, and produced everything entirely on his own. Since III’s release last year, he’s released a split EP with fellow synth wunderkind Andrew Younker as well as two solo singles, “Pattern,” and “In Reference To,” the latter being the latest and greatest. Wobbly guitar bounces and darts around Walker’s vocals, detailing the nature of someone currently pretending to be what they’re not. But in lieu of shunning them further, he instead attempts to convince them to channel the pain into something more constructive – for even though they could be “just like anybody,” he explains “you should set yourself to be/ The best of anybody,” creating the perfect little mantra not just for himself, but for anyone else that needs it.

 

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photo courtesy of artist

A Beacon School – “Algernon”/ “Glue”

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The particular page in my notebook that I’m referencing at the moment to write this post has many, many ink marks, each one expressing the extreme frustration I felt over this past week in picking just one track to feature from the recent reissue of Cola, the absolutely brilliant debut album from A Beacon School – also known as Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist Patrick J Smith – that was released last year. So I’m sharing two, mainly because it features such varying and tonally interesting tracks completely and unabashedly indifferent to genre and, clearly everlasting, that I feel it’s necessary to feature two that are essentially on opposite sides of the same shiny coin: “Algernon” and “Glue,” the former a sprawling, tantalizingly atmospheric dreamy math pop track, and the latter a shorter, experimental, post-punk inspired stunner previously unreleased.

The repeated guitar melody within “Algernon”  hearkens to something wistful and yet also brimming with hope, especially given the poetic narrative that accompanies it; Smith asks a nameless entity – perhaps himself – to “stay and get caught up” in love, attempting to push aside past qualms and hesitations. His crystal clear vocals flow and expand akin to water poured on glass, fragments of those same vocal flourishes circling around in the last minute like a cool breeze, whispering good intentions from every angle. “Glue,” on the other hand, presents a series of highly specific images alongside more industrial sounding effects and flourishes – the most apparent being the synth after the last verse bolts from left to right like bright white flashing lights. The narrative, while esoteric, is a series of extremes, things too far off or too far gone to recover – a lace from a sweatshirt untied, a ride home missed, a beverage far too sweet to drink. While it rages and oscillates within itself during the verses, it returns and stabilizes to a place of peace, a calm after the storm instead of the other way around.

To celebrate its one year anniversary, Cola has been reissued and been pressed to vinyl for the first time (along with two more previously unreleased tracks along with “Glue”) – you can buy it here.

 

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photo courtesy of artist

Vansire – “Metamodernity”

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As someone leaving soon to begin studying the overlap of literary modernism and postmodernism for my graduate degree, the relatively recent emergence – and now rising prevalence – of metamodernism is something I greatly enjoy. It’s a fascinating term for the current nature of social, cultural, and political affairs, lying somewhere between and takes bits and pieces from the dueling concepts that came before it, existing as a hyper-conscious attempt to balance the acquired irony and cynicism from the past handful of decades with the more perpetually ingrained ideas of romanticism in order to comfortably process a world that arguably, at the moment, seems to be accumulating and promoting change faster than ever before.

And, in classic Vansire fashion, a complicated academic concept such as this is once again blissfully hidden under a light, upbeat melody within their new track of the same name, their first since the fantastic single “That I Miss You” released last summer as well as their full length debut Angel Youth released last spring – which focused more on the idea of viewing daily life as something far larger and cinematic than ourselves. Along with Sam Winemiller’s  concentrated basslines, singer and multi-instrumentalist Josh Augustin subtly oscillates between varying moods and images in his narrative while maintaining the same calm vocal tone throughout – in adjacent verses he briefly evokes the metropolitan haze of New York and Los Angeles along with the far more pastoral imagery of the Midwest, subtly peppering in his own personalized concerns in between. And yet, in each chorus, he soon dismisses it all, asking another to “call me when the world looks bleak/ I love you but its hard to believe/ With every day we’ll start to see/ The rest is metamodernity.” Ultimately, it’s hopeful and yearns for something pure but presently inexplicable; More and more, it seems that analyzing and appreciating the charms of naivete with intellect is Vansire’s forte.

“Metamodernity” is accompanied with and seamlessly flows into “Reflection No. 5,” a new instrumental installment originally introduced in their previous releases. Check them both out below.

 

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photo courtesy of artist