a. harlana – “textile workers”

While severely procrastinating my other writing responsibilities, I found myself scrolling through bandcamp’s recent dream pop releases, eventually hovering over a cover of Estelle’s classic “American Boy” from someone by the name of a. harlana, which I later discovered was a NY based musical project fronted by Juno Roome.

After I got over my infatuation with that particular song (it practically dragged me back to middle school), I soon noticed how Roome managed to breathe new life into the track – literally, considering his lightweight, breathy vocals were the part that seemed to more gracefully jut out from the rest, lingering over each word differently than the last. This then led me to a few of his other tracks, where I was pleased to hear that his vocals were once again the center of attention but also beautifully out of reach, perhaps due to the immensity of what they constantly strive to convey – pained and perpetual introspection of character, the various complexities and intricacies of intimacy, all deeply tinged with the same strong sense of desire, an unrelenting focus despite the pain of detachment. The ten minute video of Roome in the subway station slowly and delicately building and layering his song “Faces” shows this indisputable focus first hand.

But it was ultimately his ballad “Textile Workers” that had me closest to being within that same trance-like state he seems to always be in while writing and playing, due to the way it seemed to portray everything I’ve already mentioned simultaneously. It beautifully houses atmospheric instrumentals deep and bottomless like an abyss, along with distant, gorgeously indiscernible vocal work that seems to further succumb to emotion with each word he utters (the two seconds within the second chorus where he breaks free of the form he’s established for a moment in order for his vocals to float further into the ether on the word “last” remains the most magical part of the entire track). The lyrical narrative reads like a poem on paper, but a shout into the void when placed adjacent to swells of guitar, a call to someone that had once occupied the space next to him but has since left for the arms of another. He’s lovesick, but sadly, he’s not surprised – a brief twinge of bitterness exists in his words when Roome tells her “redolent of my musk/ you go back/ to the bed of your man.” After a few choice guitar strums, the entire track morphs and transforms into this cathartic soundscape, where any emotion still lingering behind has the chance to surface and dissipate.

In lieu of a traditional bio, Roome sent over a roast that one of his friends conjured up for him – something that I wish to present verbatim, considering I very much enjoy it:

“Juno Roome could be America’s poster child for “Least Suspicious Egomaniac,” which is hilarious considering he printed 500 f*cked up business cards. He really wanted a much larger font. So between the business cards and the new guitar, he could pull off subtly overcompensating with a hip aesthetic. Juno also powerlifts and subsists off chicken and vegetables, which makes him the nerdiest bro I know. And it’s honestly sad because he’ll never be truly accepted by nerds, or validated by bros. He is an art bro, a breed all their own.”

Aside from this playful attack on his character – as well as referring to his own music as Britney Spears mixed with Explosions in the Sky – Roome’s work as a. harlana nevertheless remains beautifully immersed and introspective. His music exists as vast, swirled, kaleidoscopic worlds where the contrasting concepts of thought and emotion are able to mingle freely, to the point where they appear seamless, evocative of something stunningly inexplicable.

“Textile Workers” is officially out tomorrow, and a. harlana will release their debut EP on January 25th.

Also, go listen to that cover – trust me.

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photo courtesy of artist
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Homeshake – “Nothing Could Be Better”

Homeshake – also known as Montreal based musician Peter Sagar – recently announced his fourth full length release Helium, the follow up to last year’s Fresh Air. The new album has Sagar perpetually working to evolve his chillwave bedroom synth flourishes and dense, bubbly beats realized in his previous works into something that ultimately better reflects his “much clearer mental state,” solidified with Helium’s first single “Like Mariah,” a breathy slow jam flanked on both sides with chunky, echoed Seinfeld-esque bass and teardrop shaped synth effects. Given Helium was recorded and mixed by Sagar in his apartment, the track houses a strange intimacy and immediacy that oscillates between soothing and eerie (perhaps due to the use of computerized effects), but nevertheless remains delicately vulnerable at the same time, evocative of something exclusively human at its core. The latter also seems to apply more towards his most recent single “Nothing Could Be Better,” a romantic ballad sung entirely in a crystal clear, razor sharp falsetto croon. On the track’s meaning, Sagar explained that “sometimes on the way to a social function you gotta ditch and hang out with your sweety instead because love is beautiful.” In that vein, the synth seems to pulsate and pound like a beating heart, Sagar’s vocals growing more honest and specific with every verse, even hoping he never has to blink so that he can look into his sweetie’s eyes forever. He ends the track admitting that they’ve got him “smiling finally,” offering up an image simple in appearance, but beautifully complex deep within.

Helium is out 2/15 via Sinderlyn and Royal Mountain Records.

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photo by Salina Ladha

John Myrtle – “Foggy”

The phrase ‘lost in time’ is thrown around quite a lot when describing music inspired by the past, but London based artist John Myrtle is one musician in particular that truly deserves the sentiment, and beautifully so. With influences spanning from The Kinks, Harry Nilsson, and the Las, the music he has self-released throughout the years has flawlessly evoked the intricacies and delicacies of these jangle and brit pop masters, to the point where it is close to uncanny; past stunners “How Can You Tell If You Love Her?” and “Get Her Off My Mind,” even at their most energetic, sound soft and frayed at the edges, the gauzy fuzz of the background repeatedly cut with passionate, layered vocals relaying tender narratives. Myrtle’s most recent EP Two Minute Bugs explores a quirkier side, with the lumbering “Spider on the Wall” and the playful, jaunty “Cyril the Slug” both with cleverly distorted vocals to perfectly match the insect persona he inhabits.

With the exception of mixing, Myrtle writes and records everything on his own in his bedroom, which has resulted in a near tangible sense of tranquility despite the immediacy of his instrumentals and narratives. His most recent track “Foggy” is a direct extension of these same qualities, existing as an introspective ballad on self-doubt and the inevitable sorrow that comes with lost love. It turns a bit cathartic towards the end, something which changes the track entirely in the most stunning of ways; the closing is marked by a bundle of irresistible guitar jangles that, ironically, given the wistfulness embedded in his vocals, seem to achieve the same result as the sun hitting a spinning pendant made of crystal, perpetually piercing through the bleak expanse of fog that strives to smother it on all sides.

If you happen to be in Camden on the 18th or 19th of December, pop into The Green Note to see him play these lovely songs live. Tickets available here.

 

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photo by Niralee Modha

Album Review: Boors, Decade of Pain

The closing track of Decade of Pain features a split-second moment that briefly dismantles the brooding, detached persona that frontman Jon Scott conjured and dutifully maintained for the entirety of the previous half hour: a quick laugh adjacent to the snarling, biting guitars, an involuntary chuckle between the comparably more despondent words escaping his teeth. It’s so quick you could miss it, but it’s there, and while some might argue and see this an oversight in the album’s production, I contend that it instead greatly humanizes it, given the flawless quality of their new wave, post-punk sound and seamless collaboration in conveying it, both of which astounded me countless times during the duration of this album.

Boors is a project that was started and is still currently maintained by Scott, with tracks that have been in constant development for years now; many tracks that appear on Decade of Pain have also appeared on Scott’s previous album Waiting for the Ice Age (which is how I found Boors in the first place) as well as his EP What’s More released last year. However, those now seem to be closer to demos considering their stripped down nature, far more relaxed tempo, and overall difference in tone from the fervid, unyielding surges of anxious adrenaline that course through Decade of Pain – swaths of energy brought on not only by the work of additional members to help bring Scott’s compositions to fruition – Tony Tibbetts on guitar, Frank Gilleese on bass, and Zachary Ellsworth on drums – but also by the near sadistic self-inflicted time restraints:

“[We] recorded the entire album in under 48 hours. It shows, but I also think that’s the charm of it. I wish the songs could have blossomed fully, but true creativity can really shine through in moments of pressure and stress. I believe we started recording at 4 pm or so on a Friday and ran until about 2 or 3 in the morning, only stopping for food, bathroom breaks, cigarettes, and coffee.”

Decade of Pain is, ultimately, more realized interpretations of songs Scott wrote, re-wrote, and released over the past few years, the collaboration helping to bring everything to a full-bodied boil; their stunningly intricate, radiant guitars and dense, compact percussion remain taut and darkened as side effects of perpetually supporting their frontman’s heavy vocals and resulting lyrical narratives but do so in the most brilliant and gorgeously resilient of ways, without sacrificing their own individual merits. Scott’s vocals, in the manner in which they are enunciated and expelled, are right at the razor’s edge of brooding and snarling, brilliantly laden and driven with such simultaneous realized pain and hyper self-awareness that throughout the album he repeatedly transforms into the epitome of catharsis, ultimately worthy of such constant, doting attentiveness from his fellow band members.

Frankly, Scott’s voice is an instrument, like many of his predecessors’; his vocal tone oscillates between the likes of David Byrne, Morrissey, and, at very specific times, even Tim Darcy of the Montreal art-punk band Ought (who, ironically, gets compared to Byrne constantly, to this day), which further adheres to the influences Scott as well as Tibbetts, Gilleese, and Ellsworth individually brought to the table for this particular album, composed of everything from Bauhaus, Joy Division, The Clash, Talking Heads, even Orange Juice and Porches. As a result, the album is a potent cocktail of post punk, new wave, and art punk, harnessing the raw, borderline improvisational energy of their instrumentals in order to express vulnerable, introspective narratives, frequently sampling, as Scott put it, the “little flavors of sadness” that come complimentary with the tumultuous, emotional journey through adulthood:

“[The album title] comes from a saying my grandmother would tell me when I was going through a rough patch or post anxiety attack. Everyone believes that your twenties are filled with joy and excitement, but my experience has been the opposite…Maybe I grounded it too much and put a certain image in everyone’s mind with a title like Decade of Pain – but ironically it comes from a place of sincerity and comfort. Even in a morbid sense: humor – though mostly warm feelings for the grandparents who raised me.”

Most, if not all, of these tracks were created in the dim afterglow of pain and frustration, with the two part opener “Regenerate” the most telling of this idea; Scott mentioned that “Pt. 2” was actually the catalyst in the production of this album:

“I was drunk, depressed, and up late one night hitting the same few notes on my bass when I decided maybe I should hit record and see where it goes. The next morning I set out to finish the song I had started realizing that it needed another section, entirely separate from its own. I look back and think that I was really pulling from a deeper state of awareness as to my own situation because the song itself is a cry for help.”

“Pt. 1” suggests a sort of lethargic melancholy that soon steadily builds to the unpredictable jerkiness of “Pt. 2,” meant to suggest both dissociation and anxiety, and in the narrative, ravenous bouts of self-doubt. It brought to mind Ought’s flawless track “Disaffectation,” about the similar feelings of wanting to be numb and yet simultaneously possessing the perpetual desire to succumb to everything – love and loss, pain and ecstasy – and just as Darcy tells us this practice  “makes me feel alive” and that “I’ll do it again,” Scott admits that his “true contentment’s feeling out of touch” before readily falling through the jagged thrashing teeth of guitar.

Speaking of guitar, as far as instrumental work, the stunners within Decade of Pain have to be opposites “Ten Years” and (my personal favorite) “Rash Decisions,” the former gritty and serrated, with absolutely stellar guitar work, the latter smooth and silken, Scott’s vocals dialed back to an anguished croon and, at times, a gorgeous falsetto. Although, it would not be terribly random to include “This Should Be Easy to Show” due to its slower, yet intricate guitar as well as its perfectly rhymed verses, written in a rare “moment of endearment” rather than in the throes of loneliness, as well as “Heartbeat Slow,” written to be a lullaby, although the meaning is far more visceral:

“The premise of the song is about how I feel regarding my heartbeat. I have many fears and one of the more unfortunate ones happens to be hearing or feeling my own heartbeat, knowing that you’re mortal – I guess to some people that’s a comfortable thought.”

It’s clear then, that Scott’s enamored voice and his instrumental accompaniments, while beautifully controlled, are duplicitous, both able to hide and emphasize the embedded despair within his narratives – but nothing is more insidious than “Exit and Re-Entry” with its playful guitar, the push and pull pointing directly towards Scott’s internal monologue, which is at its most realized as he acknowledges his destructive behaviors:

“Often I find myself sheltering away; avoiding communicative means with everyone – friends and family. This plays a destructive role in maintaining meaningful and lasting friendships and relationships. Maybe that’s something some people can connect with… I get overwhelmed from pushing myself all the time to be social, go out and see people, try to form relationships and maintain the old ones. So I crawl back in my cave and wait until I’m ready to emerge with a vengeful optimism of never needing to recede back there again. So the cycle continues: Exit & Re-Entry.”

That escaped laugh in the last minute has an entirely different meaning once you’ve listened through the album a few times; it resembles a much needed pressure release, the equivalent to slashing up blackout shades in order to violently bring in light rather than simply drawing them to the sides. Decade of Pain embodies a similar dichotomy – both wildly cathartic and delicately meditative, it bites at the wound and promptly bandages it, perpetually fighting the urge to look under the gauze.

10/10

 

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photo courtesy of artist

Foliage – “Be Transparent” // Andrew Younker – “Thankful”

In a wonderful stroke of luck, next month bedroom jangle pop maestros Foliage (also known as Manuel Joseph Walker) and Andrew Younker will release a split EP, further adding to the amount of gorgeous music they have both already individually released this past year – for Walker it was his stunning album III, and for Younker his beautifully textured EP Well Wishes, both released back in April. Both releases showed off the sheer immediacy in their production as well as their creator’s poetic lyrical narratives, and with the split EP, they will not only expand on these skills but also show their respect and adoration for each other’s work, considering it will also feature a cover of Foliage’s “Value” by Younker, and Younker’s “Nervous to Exist Around You” by Walker.

With the news also came the first two singles from the album, beginning with Foliage’s newest track “Be Transparent,” a gorgeous, textured ballad on being open and honest with your emotions. The synth laden, rampaging beat grows even more incessant and unyielding as it gets to the chorus, where Walker repeats in a half-exasperated, half-relieved tone to the person who has been stringing him along that “that’s not how you treat someone/ Who’d be down for you/ But you’ll never know that will you?” The latter relief shines through in the enamored synth work that follows, as well as the piercing sentiment just beforehand that he’s just “glad i’m not the one who’s leading on whoever comes/ as a scheme to try for devotion,” clearly emerging as the victor just as the song comes to a close.

Second was Younker’s complex, shimmering track “Thankful,” which, although cousins in regards to tone, is, funnily enough, completely opposite from Walker’s in terms of it’s lyrical narrative, casually switching out the salt with the sweet. The track practically bleeds color in its flawless, crystalline synth work as well as Younker’s smooth, infatuated croon, explaining in the deep, hollowed out chorus that “at first I  found it hard to write for two verses at a time/ but then I met you,” going on to explain all the little things the person of his devotion does for him that bring him joy, from sharing her heart to helping him make dinner. It’s romantic and starry-eyed without being naive, the constant, stable melodies all hinting to a deeply realized sentiment that had been building for quite some time.

There’s no doubt in my mind that this split EP will be one of the best collaborations of the year, so do yourself a favor and pre-order it – jangle pop is great on its own, but everyone knows its even better in stereo.

 

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photo courtesy of artist(s)

EP Review: Ösla, Moony

As Ösla, Henry Armbrecht makes the sort of music that should come packaged with bright red warning tape wrapped around the sides of the box until the cardboard is no longer visible, tape labeled multiple times with the overlapped words fragile: please handle with care. And of course, aesthetically, this garish, unsettling image I’ve just constructed is the complete opposite of his most recent EP Moony; everything from the shimmering, pastel tinged piano melodies to his consistently palliative vocals perpetually hints at something otherworldly and delicate in composition – so much so that it often seemed like a single jagged breath from me as a listener would have completely shattered it.

In my conversation with Armbrecht about Moony, I was taken with the details of its production, due to the fact that they seemed so simple, yet so incredibly unique at the same time:

“Most of the EP was written and recorded in Park City, Utah last winter. I work mostly every day during the winter [as a skiing instructor] and would come up with a lot of ideas while skiing or hiking in the backcountry and would sing them into the voice memos app for later use. The Park City Library has a great media center with a sound booth, which is where I recorded most of the vocals. Almost all of the music on the EP was played on a Mellotron and a Rhodes piano.”

From these subtle, beautifully telling details, it was clear that the majority of the EP was written,  recorded, and produced in the near tangible quiet of deep, oscillating isolation, and although this separation from society is often needed for musical projects such as these, there’s something about the finished product that suggests that this isolation was absolutely vital for the end result to be as pronounced as it is. There’s also something blatantly human about the desire to take advantage of every moment to create, something in which Armbrecht definitely did, solidified with the charming fact that he came up with the melody for “Interlaken” while teaching a skiing lesson, remembering that he had to quickly ski ahead of the person he was teaching so that they wouldn’t hear him sing it into his phone.

Although Moony is incredibly minimal in composition, the songs that appear within it are each vividly atmospheric, existing as vast, expansive sound scapes aesthetically equal with the environment in which they were conceived, where enamored thoughts scatter out as fast as they come in. This also also directly relates with one of the central themes of the album of the lack of permanence, both in regards to physical locations as well as personal relationships. “Taciturno,” with its playful, glockenspiel-esque piano melodies, deals with the contrasting, conflicting emotions of romantic attachment, while “Settle Down”is the closest, according to Armbrecht, to a conventional pop song, literally about travelling to various places and visiting friends after an tumultuous and emotional couple of months. In the midst of focused, piano pinpricks, he admits “I can’t feel my arms/ I’m safe in my car where I can pass the time.”

It is “Canyon,” however, that is one of Armbrecht’s most stunning compositions as Ösla, due to the way in which it strives to capture the complex feelings of betrayal and melancholy with only a few thoughtfully chosen notes, solidifying the strength in his minimal approach. Considering the track is about the concept of gaslighting (meaning to manipulate someone in order to make them question their own sanity), it is one of more painful tracks, but it is the manner in which it portrays and expresses that vulnerability that ultimately also makes it the most irrepressible. The piano and subtle orchestrals that close out the track simulate greedy tugs on already dangerously frayed heartstrings, housing in those brief moments a deep, irrevocable sadness brought on by intense deception as well as the inability to predict it, but also nestled within them exists the hope that one day it will simply be a memory of a memory of a feeling, nothing more.

Moony, though incredibly fragile, is nevertheless resilient like this, allowing for multiple plays with varying levels of emotion each time, proving that there really is strength in simplicity, power in delicacy.

 

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photo courtesy of artist

Review: Baths, Romaplasm (KWAV Revisited Series)

Even though I’ve been a fan of Will Wiesenfeld for years, the first time I finally saw Baths live was back in April. Apart from the incredible show, one of the most piercing memories from the night was another fan that was on the other side of the stage as me. The venue could only fit about fifty people, so I noticed him right away mainly due to the fact that we were both at the front, and he kept moving around. Before the show I saw him buy merch from Will as well as one of the opening bands, and I noticed him disappear every so often to change into them while his friend held their spot. By the end of the night he had three t-shirts on.

He had this wonderfully inexplicable look on his face the whole night, a mixture of anxious excitement, and, perhaps more apparent from his perpetually starry-eyed expression, absolute joy. I couldn’t help but glance over at him every so often during the set, and each time I did, I saw that the look grew more enamored with every phrase Will sung. He’d excitedly look at the crowd during the songs as if attempting to absorb everyone’s enthusiasm, only to turn back even giddier than before. It was incredibly innocent, like he had never been to a show before. Hell, it was so pronounced it was like he had never heard music before. I am purely guessing, of course, since I do not know this person nor can I pretentiously claim to know the inner workings of their psyche, but I couldn’t help but think that the night gradually became closer to an emotional awakening for him, like he had finally found a place in which he felt accepted.

That look on his face has since been one that I can’t get out of my head, and honestly, its a perfect image for Will Wiesenfeld’s music. It’s often felt futile to attempt to write about his work, dancing around and throwing words at it when it’s obviously meant to be felt and appreciated like this – but I am a writer after all, and after listening to his most recent album Romaplasm more thoughtfully since it was released and learning far more about it, I think I need to expound what it is about this album that allows it to transcend reality.

Earlier this year Wiesenfeld took to twitter to let his fans in on a few nifty easter eggs that were nestled within Romaplasm, allowing for a deeper level of attachment and involvement with the already dense narratives. Seeing as though they further prove his incredible passion and attention to detail in writing, sampling, and recording, they serve particularly well in this particular Revisited article and so they’ll be peppered in as is necessary – plus, if I can break the often overtly formal persona I take on while writing these things for just a moment, they’re just way too cool for me not to include them.

Wiesenfeld’s writing is beautiful, and like with every other album that I write about on his site, I will once again stress the importance of listening to Romaplasm while reading through the lyrics at least once. I wish I could relay to you exactly what I see and feel with each line, but we’d be here forever, and that isn’t what music is about – the beauty lies in how you perceive and attach it to yourself outside of what the artist and critic have mentioned, and so on and so forth. I will, however, argue that one of the main themes of this album – one that took me nearly a year to realize was actually complementary to the fantastical that has now since become signature with Baths’ music – is the complicated but divine nature of human attachment, entertaining every feeling that goes along with it, ranging from the shyly infatuated to the rapturous and sensual.

Within the former exists opener “Yeoman,” the narrative pointing to a charming love affair with an airship captain, where Wiesenfeld takes on the role of an excited passenger in his company. His voice gets mixed up in the clamor of forks and knives in the dining room, and he asks the captain, starry-eyed, “are these your fellow crew?/ Where are we headed?”/ Would you show me green/ And would you show me blue?” The chorus is a waltz in both its whimsical synth and the dance with the captain, where the protagonist insists that he “left my life on the ground/ To dance with you in the clouds,” and we never quite know if he says it out loud to his partner or as an internal, giddy reminder to himself. “Abscond” is set in medieval times, Wiesenfeld taking on the persona of a handsome vagabond scaling castle walls to win the heart of the prince inside, asking him “to come down from his chamber” and “get used to the wrongs” he’ll do in order to be with him. He lays out an elaborate plan, insisting that he “know[s] a route out,” that they “could be far enough by daylight.” The prince is convinced and our hero is slightly taken aback, awash in his love; Wiesenfeld asks “do you have everything?” in a shaky whisper before escaping the castle. The orchestral instrumentals blossom and flourish more brilliantly, now powered with the guarantee of love and acceptance; against the backdrop of the night sky and the perpetual rhythm of galloping horse hooves, he assures the prince repeatedly that though “you’re the ire of your father/ You’re the other half of me.”

The more sensual tracks are unsurprisingly the more textured out of the bunch, seeing as though they ultimately express the nature of human touch and intimacy. There is also a wealth of religious imagery throughout the latter part of the album; attempting to dance worries away is described as “communion in the church of grease” in the beautifully vivid and cathartic ballad “Out”; church bells appear in most of the breaks in “Coitus” to express the idea of “sex as a religious experience.” Wiesenfeld also mentioned that “Human Bog,” “Wilt,” and “Coitus” are meant to represent the ideas of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven respectively, scoring the transition from shame and loneliness to complete ecstasy. Each is not without its respective quirks in production that reflect these concepts: the rhythm in “Wilt” evokes irregular rushes of blood, with vocals distorted and skewed; the texture that introduces “Human Bog” is the sound of skin rubbing together.

I honestly feel that “Human Bog” is among the most beautiful songs Wiesenfeld has ever created due to its sheer vulnerability. Wiesenfeld first states his grievances of both night and day, emphasizing the ironies of outward personality; superficial or not, the more he “conducts [himself] invisibly” due to his differences in how he chooses to spend his time, where he finds solace, who he decides to love. He cannot even find peace “by moon,” admitting “the lengths I go to get held onto” like a painful secret he’s held in for far too long. Wiesenfeld continues to expound in an increasingly fraying, porous voice between puddles of murky, treacherous synth that he’s “queer in a way that works” for whoever he’s with, but “queer in a way that’s failed” him, the instrumentals directly afterwards introducing soft orchestral flourishes that again allows the track to be both self-indulgent but honest.

Closer “Broadback” has Wiesenfeld take on one last persona: a man pleading with his warrior partner not to push himself too hard in battle. He tells him “of course you’re strong and all that/ But what hope am I should you collapse?” His voice is elastic and tender, but heavy with worry. The sounds in most of the breaks are of an arrow being pulled back and fired, which finally explains the album cover, where Wiesenfeld holds onto someone caressing his face, his hand with a single wrapped finger, characteristic of archery.

Perhaps this was why I was so taken with the enchanted face of that other fan at the Baths concert, because there’s always been something gorgeously inexplicable about Wiesenfeld’s face here as well; his eyes express multitudes of emotions depending on which context you view it through – it exists as a mixture of shock and relief, of epiphany and infatuation, perpetual reverence and attachment. It’s such a simple image, but it conveys so much.

Will Wiesenfeld has shown that he’s meticulous in how he pieces together his compositions, but it is ultimately these narratives Wiesenfeld weaves throughout them that tend to break free from logic and intellect, instead allowing both to remain a testament not only the complexities of human emotion and imagination, but of the beautiful subtleties of love. Somehow, he manages to fit the lore of a different fantastical world within every track he crafts, worlds he’s spent time formulating and perfecting to reflect his own personal experiences as well as his inspirations and obsessions. And yet, despite the emotional energy that it exhausts, he has never, ever shut us out. He instead motions for us to follow him into these dream worlds, conveying to us the thought that we too could find a place within them if we so please.

10/10

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photo by Mario Luna

 

Orchid Mantis – “Porch Song”

Earlier this year, Orchid Mantis released Kulla Sunset, a collection of tracks based on a memory of Thomas Howard’s from when he was younger. It begins and ends with him running through the fields of his grandparents’ yellow summer house in Sweden, trying to chase the slowly setting light of the sun through the tall grass, where the horses graze. It’s heavy with the feelings of curiosity and wonder with bits and pieces of introspection and wistfulness peppered in, and, perhaps more from the lovely tone of the anecdote, it also contains some level of ease, of certainty, in both its positive and negative connotations – negative in the thought that things, even the carefree feelings of childhood, must, at some point, come to a stopping point, but that, perhaps more importantly, there is also the chance for those positive memories to be replenished once again in your second form. Howard points to this in his upcoming full length album, a continuation of that same memory:

Last year, an emblem of my childhood, my grandparent’s yellow house in Sweden, was sold and repainted, forever altered. As if predestined, that same year my friends and significant other rented out a new yellow house – in physical terms, this is where I spent the last year writing and recording this album (and parts of the last), but in a larger sense, the yellow houses represent the synchronous, cyclical patterns the trajectories of our lives seem to adhere to: nothing is ever truly here, and nothing is ever truly gone – leaving and returning, reoccurring.”

This idea of cycles, unsurprisingly, translates particularly well into the haze of dream and bedroom pop, and “Porch Song” feels like the most ideal track to introduce the theme, existing as perfect little melancholic swirls of guitar and atmospheric pools of synth, breaking the perpetual melody only to deliver his passionate chorus: “What did you want to be/ eternal now/ After all this life/ I don’t know now.” His vocals melt into the fraying colors and textures of the instrumentals, but after each chorus the guitar always seems to end bright and strong, delicately teetering on the cusp of another beautiful cycle.

Yellow House is out November 11.

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photo courtesy of artist

Jerry Paper – “My God”

Jerry Paper is not who he seems. No, Jerry is not his real name, and get this: he’s apparently not even human. He’s an advanced entity using the body of twenty-eight year old Lucas Nathan as a musical host, paying homage to its homeland and graciously tagging all of its creations as “eleventh dimension pop.” This is, of course, if you take that as well as the other hidden hints in the liner notes of his various bandcamp releases seriously – “music and lyrics channeled through Lucas Nathan,” “special thanks to Lucas Nathan for donating his body to the cause,” “special thanks to Jerry’s host body, Lucas Nathan.”

These jokes, of course, do not take away from Nathan’s remarkable skill, nor his brilliantly written, ambitious lyrical narratives that touch on everything from religion to metaphysics to the occasional dystopian nursery rhyme (his 2016 album Toon Time Raw! is…an experience, to say the least). In fact, this penchant for humor within his comparably more meticulous, focused music – a tantalizing mixture of lounge music, psychedelic synth pop, and bossa nova – as well as his bizarrely clever music videos is ultimately what makes his music all the more charming, solidified by a wonderful article on Nathan by the FADER in 2014:

“He’s cloaking serious ideas in the midst of surrealist frivolity, like a spoonful of sugar to philosophy’s medicine. Other artists may fear not being taken seriously, but Nathan can’t imagine a world where his metaphysical pop tunes wouldn’t be infiltrated by mirthful runs of sub-Seinfeld slap bass. “There’s no point in not having fun with it,” he says. “It’s not even an option. It just seems like a false reflection of life.””

However, despite the vast aesthetic range of his past releases, Nathan recently explained that his upcoming full length Like A Baby – which will also be his first official release for Stone’s Throw Records – will most likely be the most “realized version of his fantasy” yet, partly due to how many people he got to help him with it – people like Natalie Mering of Weyes Blood, Mild High Club’s Alex Brettin on individual tracks, and Matty Tavares of BADBADNOTGOOD co-producing the entire album with him – and partly due to the jarring feeling of the period which it was created, in the aftermath of moving back to his native California after living in New York for the past decade. Despite the latter part of that statement, his first two tracks “Your Cocoon” and “Grey Area” are nevertheless crystal clear and near flawless in production, also emphasizing something not completely in the spotlight before – his smooth, rich voice. In fact, his voice is the main stunner in his latest tease “My God,” a humorous, yet somewhat too-true-to-life narrative on capitalism’s firm grasp on us, complete with the ability to follow you well into the afterlife.

Nathan tells his next of kin in-betwixt deep, brooding basslines to bury him “with receipts,” to “calculate the cost of [his] life down to a single cent” to make things easier for the entity sending him to his final resting place. The instrumentals swell and build, but his sarcasm still soars above them, explaining in a rich, honeyed croon that “when I cross through/ Those pearly gates/ I’ll toss all my paychecks/ At the feet of my God,” and that his minions will “add [his] net worth” to his checking account while they’re at it. The eerie, unsettling horn section that closes out the track acts almost like an ironic little serenade played by the cherubim, welcoming him into whatever version of the afterlife he’s imagined. Or, since the accompanying music video shows his papers being denied, he’s most likely going to have to start all over (hint hint).

Like A Baby will be released on October 12 via Stone’s Throw Records.

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photo by Joe Leavenworth/ Stone's Throw Records

Helena Deland – “Lean On You”

A few months ago, Montreal artist Helena Deland announced the release of her collection From the Series of Songs “Altogether Unaccompanied” Vol. III & IV, the five track follow up to Vol. I & II released back in March. The fact that these remarkably varied collections, which Deland explains exists as a “happy mix of different years and contexts,” don’t adhere to the traditional structure of a full length album works incredibly in her favor, considering each volume seems to be based on variations of the same general theme of attachment and the lack thereof  –  while I & II deal with “the feeling of being often completely lost in the company of others,” III & IV convey the feeling of “weaving in and out of relationships” but also about “wanting to be close with someone,” to hopefully stop all the aimless searching at some point. Her latest tease “Lean On You” is a direct extension of the latter idea, more specifically, as Deland explained to CBC, “about having a crush that you’re kind of resisting because you don’t want to surrender mental space” to it.” The poetic, introspective lyrics – “Why don’t we go mingle with the people?/ ‘Cause I don’t need/ I don’t need/ To lean on you” – act more like a reminder to herself rather than a stern reminder to the subject of her unexpected infatuation, and When mixed in with the languid drum beat and the heavy, hypnotic guitar strokes, her elastic voice, along with the floating oohs and ahhs, becomes the last part of this quick incantation, this makeshift ritual to keep herself from succumbing to the eventual heartache.

From the Series of Songs “Altogether Unaccompanied” Vol. III & IV will be released on October 19 via Luminelle Recordings.

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photo courtesy of artist