Album Review: Andy Shauf, The Neon Skyline

Halfway through Andy Shauf’s latest concept album The Neon Skyline, one of his characters, Claire, asks the narrator “how hard is it to give a shit?” And even though she uttered it in a regretful, embarrassed tone in regards to her recently ignoring her young son, this sentiment seems to radiantly echo throughout the entire album, and on a much broader sense, throughout Shauf’s entire discography over the past decade. Shauf, if I can be crass for a moment, does give a shit – he always has. He sees these near-invisible details in human connection and communication, he sees the little unique ways people interact and talk, the way they love and grieve, the intimate ways they conceal their silent pain. “To You” still haunts me from the way it so brilliantly and perfectly captures the latter. 

But to be completely honest with you, this review was a hard one for me to outline because I really don’t consider the sounds within The Neon Skyline, as well as those in Shauf’s previous concept album The Party, to be “songs.” But wait, wait just a moment. Before you prepare to violently dismantle what little credibility I feel I have managed to accumulate for myself over the years, let me work through my thinking as best as I can. 

Concept albums such as Shauf’s’ are ultimately different in the sense that they hold lyric narrative to such a hyper-emphasized standard, to the point where you’re violently aware of the space they take up within the track as a whole. You hear it in the improvisational-but-not-trying-to-be-improvisational tone, the way he sings every word, insisting each one is important and necessary, all the way down to the “the’s.” I feel that we, as listeners, must listen actively, not only the first time we listen, but every single time in order to obtain every piece of this much larger universe that he has passionately cultivated over whatever period of time it took (for The Neon Skyline, it was 1.5 years, somehow boiled down from fifty tracks to eleven), which, much like The Party, can alter our listening experience into a listening experience. We owe it to ourselves to at least attempt to understand and to not be passive or dismissive, partly because of the damned time it took. I truly strive to do this for every album I write about on here. Because I mean, really, honestly, “how hard is it to give a shit?”

But I can understand how that can be difficult here, for I feel that Shauf’s works, at their core, aren’t really written for us – they aren’t meant to speak directly to us, or to provide vast, amorphous emotions that we can pull something out of and cradle and fawn over, as if they were our own, as if they ever become our own. While they might evoke situations from real life and real emotions, and are therefore still relatable, it’s still fiction – perpetually separate from whatever our perception is of it. They have a fixed setting, a cast of characters with predetermined pasts, characters that are concrete and forever static. And please don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean this as a negative thing – in fact, The Party is one of my favorite albums ever because of this; for it truly pushes me to extract every drop of what I sincerely hope to be my overflowing silos of empathy, for people I don’t know, and will never know, because they don’t exist. In this sense, these albums function for me much like great works of  literature do; they are absolutely beautiful snapshots of the human condition, of all its explicit and latent vulnerabilities. But I still don’t consider what Shauf creates “songs,” because they exist in a perpetually unreachable and intangible dimension. 

Speaking of altered dimensions, while Shauf was a fly on the wall in The Party, he is the nameless narrator in The Neon Skyline, stuck in a perpetual loop of meandering and pondering and reminiscing about a past relationship, all within in this dark, smoky psychic space where time has seemed to stop completely. Shauf:

“I kept coming back to the same situation of one guy going to a bar, which was basically exactly what I was doing at the time. These songs are fictional but it’s not too far off from where my life was.”

The album begins with the title track, where the narrator calls up his friend Charlie to join him at The Neon Skyline, modeled after the Toronto bar and diner, called, quite literally, Skyline. Soon, we meet Rose, the bartender, and Claire, another friend, and eventually Judy, the narrator’s ex-girlfriend and subject of most of these tracks. A lot of this album is a breakup album, with “Where Are You Judy” setting his mind into the initial whirlwind despite the charming, melodic tone. He admits, “I only miss her when the skies are above.” 

“Clove Cigarette” pushes us into the deep recesses of his mind as he recalls his past memories with Judy, the way she’d “touch [his] summer skin” and “toss [her] golden hair,” the guitar in the chorus whimsical in that eerie, slightly off-putting sort of way, evoking nostalgia as a sudden punch in the gut rather than a warm, caressing touch. The bad nostalgia continues with “Thirteen Hours,” where Judy gets hit by a drunk driver and breaks her hand and two ribs after they return home after a thirteen hour flight, the reason being that the narrator leaves the cab driver a bad tip, propelling Judy to run back across the street to make up for it. We see her muttering in the hospital, “If you weren’t such a cheap bastard I’d be at home.” He seemingly tries (and fails) to make up for it in “Things I Do,” and soon we see through to his psyche: apologetic, ashamed, a bit impulsive, as he seems to mostly think with his heart rather than his mind. “Living Room” and “Dust Kids” brings us back to the bar – the former a story told by Claire while the latter a conversation with Charlie on the topic of reincarnation – but as soon as they are leaving for another bar, “The Moon,” Judy appears. She hugs Charlie and ignores the narrator at first, but soon they joke again (seen more in “Try Again”), but the narrator misreads the situation and reaches for her hand, to which she explains “you know it can’t be like that.” 

Closers “Fire Truck” and “Changer” are arguably the two most beautiful tracks on the album, due to the way they act as if they are carrying within their walls every emotion the album has expressed thus far – they feel heavy, weighed down, lived in, in that weathered, tired sort of way that feels so incredibly human. In “Fire Truck,” the narrator recalls seeing a neighbor’s house burn down, tinged with a sense of jealousy because the family will soon be granted a new beginning to their lives. He thinks this, simultaneously aware that he’s been burning his own relationship to the ground all this time, that he can never rebuild it. Teary eyed, he thinks to himself, “now that I’m dancing in the ashes/ I just want it to be whole,” an absolutely beautiful lyric the more I ponder over it. “Changer” is the only one that feels separate from the entire night, one that feels instead entirely within the narrator’s heart rather than his mind. He stops overthinking, he begins to forgive himself, just a little, as much as he is able. 

Through its pure, yet passionate simplicity, Andy Shauf evokes within The Neon Skyline a sense of beauty for the little nuances and coincidences of life, of everything from friendship to heartache to hope, the latter perhaps more than anything else. Shauf insists:

“There’s moments on the album where the characters are thinking ‘this is the end of the world.’ But there are also moments with some clarity and perspective: Nothing is the end of the world.”

The Neon Skyline is out today.

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photo by Colin Medley

Alexandra Savior – “Can’t Help Myself”

Alexandra Savior’s recent sophomore album The Archer easily sounds as if it is lost in time, a stunning collection of tracks that, from their immediate warmth, it’s delicacy, it’s skilled and constant evocation of nostalgia, you swear were already long since ingrained in you. Throughout the album’s thoughtful narratives and sepia-toned, retro-inspired instrumentals, Savior explained that she wished to portray some sort of gathered strength since the release of her debut Belladonna of Sadness, the recent album itself direct output of what the twenty-four year old Portland-born artist has learned, seen, and felt during her incredibly successful past years of songwriting and touring, alone as well as with Alex Turner (Arctic Monkeys, The Last Shadow Puppets).

Vulnerability, pain, and honesty hang heavy in her voice, not only in the somber, more confessional tracks like the absolutely gorgeous opener “Soft Currents,” slid in softly amongst the pinpricks of piano, but also in the more upbeat tracks like “Can’t Help Myself,” a short, sweet ballad about the frustrations that come with overwhelming emotion with a crush. Soft ocean waves crash into shore in the track’s opening only to be suddenly overtaken by Savior’s dynamic, arresting vocals, explaining that the person of her desire “wants a bit of this sweet melancholy,” that he can “get it at any time of day,” adding emphasis in her enunciation to the point where we can practically taste it when she calls his lips sweet, like “pink lemonade.” The piano and percussion, like the components of a beating heart, are constant in the background, synth glittering and shining like crystal. Though she claims she  “can’t help” herself around him, nothing about the track seems superfluous or in excess, the definition of taking both emotion and intellect in stride. 

The Archer is out now. 

 

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photo by Dana Trippe

Bombay Bicycle Club – “Do You Feel Loved?”/ “Racing Stripes”

Just hearing the name Bombay Bicycle Club evokes a series of memories for me, all triggered by a different track: listening to “Always Like This” and “Shuffle” while driving downtown through the rain with my friends, locking myself in my dorm room and playing the opening melody to “Ivy and Gold” and “How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep” over and over on my guitar until my fingers cramped, walking home from class in pitch black darkness with the piano and soft vocals of “Home By Now” blaring through my headphones and holding back tears, finally seeing them live during the So Long, See You Tomorrow tour with my best friend after high school graduation and being enchanted by the visuals during “Feel” and “Carry Me,” still among some of the best visuals I’ve ever seen at any show to this day. Their music also, obviously, evokes a series of feelings – nostalgia, euphoria, whimsy – but the most potent of these feelings, I’ve realized, would easily be a beautifully overwhelming sense of comfort. I feel safe when I listen to Bombay Bicycle Club; vocals and instrumentals linger in the air only to slowly descend and drape themselves across your shoulders like a sonic blanket.

Today, the U.K. based quartet – composed of long-time friends and collaborators Jack Steadman, Jamie MacColl, Suren de Saram, and Ed Nash – officially released their beautiful fifth album Everything Else Has Gone Wrong, their first full-length release after their nearly six-year hiatus, five years after announcing their break-up. The band mentioned that this album in particular was about “finding hope, safety and comfort during times of despair, when everything is seemingly crumbling all around you,” about “finding light in the dark, and the cathartic role that music can play in bleak situations,” ideas that nearly everyone has the ability to relate with at some point or another – at least I do, as a twenty-something that still has no idea what she’s doing. 

Along with the title track and excellent lead singles “Eat, Sleep, Wake (Nothing But You) and “I Can Hardly Speak,” there are other stand out tracks that deserve just as much attention, that directly relates back to these intentions. “Do You Feel Loved?” unfurls softly, Steadman expressing patience, love, and understanding in his vocals, reaching that signature falsetto at the bridge where he asks “throw your arms around my neck and hold me tight,” noting “all the cracks around your head fill with light,” highlighting the importance of pure human connection in an increasingly disengaged world. 

“Racing Stripes” is one of the simplest, and yet one of the most beautiful tracks that the group has ever released, also the first song Steadman wrote after a long and frustrating period of writer’s block. After a gorgeously minimal opening, the group all repeat, like a stunning incantation, that “this light will keep me going,” easily referring to the comfort music can bring in vulnerable situations, that if you stay involved, stay creative, that you can summon something substantial for yourself.

The new album, as a whole, comes with a reminder: sometimes, the most beautiful things result from the most trying of circumstances.

Everything Else Has Gone Wrong is out now. 

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photo by Josh Shinner

Moaning – “Ego”

Moaning’s excellent self-titled debut still stands out among other contemporary post-punk, mainly due to the trio’s simultaneous and equal emphasis on the aggressive and the vulnerable, their wonderful dichotomy of light and dark. The 2017 LP was the result of Sam Solomon, Pascal Stevenson, and Andrew MacKelvie spending the previous ten years developing their unique sound in the Los Angeles DIY scene before signing with Sub Pop Records, proving not only their utmost passion for the genre and absolute finesse as performers, but also their radiant collaborative energy that goes into every single track. The debut was dense and, at times, unapologetically impenetrable in its instrumentals; it was a sweltering room with all the windows blacked out and painted shut, the doors locked and the key buried outside in the dirt. 

Speaking of vulnerability, during the recording sessions of Moaning’s upcoming sophomore album Uneasy Laughter, Solomon celebrated his first year of sobriety, and the complex emotions resulting from the milestone infused themselves into his lyrics, emotions in which our society unfortunately tells men they cannot have – Solomon explained in a press release that “men are conditioned not to be vulnerable or admit they’re wrong,” but with this album, he “wanted to talk openly about my feelings and mistakes I’ve made.” The album’s first single “Ego” beautifully falls in line with this intent, resulting in, along with the conscious switch from guitar to synth-heavy composition, in a slightly airier, lighter sound that still has that sweltering, irresistible post-punk punch to the gut. As far as the narrative goes, Moaning explains:

The lyrics are about letting go of your own bullshit to help other people. Wanting to love yourself to love others. The ego can make you feel like you’re the greatest person in the world or the worst. It makes you think your problems are abnormally different which is isolating and rarely true. The song is a reminder that listening to other perspectives is important and beneficial to both parties involved.

Solomon, surrounded on all sides by synth so sharp, shrill, and serrated it could cut steel, repeats in the chorus that “I wanna be anybody but myself/ I wanna love anybody but myself,” after reminding himself in the verses that “there is beauty in the mundane,” that “narcissism is not empathy,” that “if God is real/ you are not them.” The closing moments expand to fill the aforementioned room, but this time, the windows are open to let the light shine through.

Uneasy Laughter is out March 20 via Sub Pop Records. 

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photo by Michael Schmelling

Citrus Daze – “Blue Summer”

While it might still technically be winter here in the U.S., Australian five-piece Citrus Daze are fortunately bringing some sunshine and nostalgic warmth early on in the year with their debut single “Blue Summer,” a ‘60’s inspired dream pop stunner. The single, written and produced by lead singer Chloe Magee and guitarist Josh McLeod, features elements of both jangle and dream pop within the instrumentals, swelling in size and rising up to meet Magee’s evocative, brilliantly unique vocals.

Despite the colorful, crystalline synth and saccharine sweet chorus, however, the narrative focuses on materialism and superficiality, about the feelings of inadequacy and of having to constantly “dress to impress.” You’re able to hear those little moments of frustration and disappointment at the bottom of the verses right before it spirals into the iridescent glow of the chorus; the soft synths sharpen into points and Magee’s vocals grow more introspective as she admits “and I wish I could remember/ what it felt like last December/ in the summer/ with you.” The wistfulness is covered up by jubilant, repeated da-da-da’s, an attempt to smile “through your teeth,” to get through the sadness and pain the reminiscing brings.

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photo courtesy of artist

bandanna – “fire escape”

From the focus on vocals to the tone of their instrumentals, there’s a lovely, distinct warmth and brightness to Tallahassee-based indie group bandanna that emerges in beautifully subtle and wonderfully unpredictable ways. Formed a little under two years ago around then-solo artist Anna Griffith and after signing to Cat Family Records, the band has grown to include bassist Tim Holder, drummer Nick Bell, and keyboardist Mason Palanti; “Fire Escape,” released this past summer, is the group’s first single as a collective band, and the first from their upcoming debut album uncertain/ty. After a quick count to three in French at the opening, the guitar immediately goes to work laying a stable foundation for Griffith’s soft, yet remarkably resilient vocals, floating and hovering gently at the chorus when that same foundation falls out from underneath them. 

Despite Griffith’s honeyed tone, the narrative points to a relationship with someone unreliable, for she sits and waits for them, “wondering if [they’re] gonna call or if [she] should go home.” However, there’s a sense of unconditional love for this person in spite of their blatant, seemingly consistent unreliability, for she finds herself lingering, both on the fire escape as well as in her thoughts, admitting “cause I won’t lie/ you make me wanna try.” But even after an guitar-fueled, color-laden bridge akin to a brief, but potent moment of personal rumination, it returns to her sitting on the fire escape, indicating a potentially never ending cycle. 

 

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photo courtesy of artist

Sarpa Salpa – “Say Something”/ “Lost Time”

Late last week, UK-based quintet Sarpa Salpa released their fantastic debut EP Say Something, showcasing their synth powered, guitar heavy sound that borders on everything from indie pop to post-punk to math rock in five excellent tracks. Their debut single “Smith” was one of the first indicators of their unrelenting energy along with EP stunner “Before It Goes Dark,” with meticulous guitar melodies sharp and direct as an arrow, as well as passionate vocal delivery that feels as if they are perpetually reaching some sort of cosmic catharsis. Thankfully, that same addictive energy appears repeatedly throughout the EP, expressing a near-tangible sense of tenacity in their instrumentals and vocals that never seems to back down, and never fizzles out. In fact, personal favorite “Lost Time” is rife with a dire immediacy that grows in power as it courses through the verses, reminiscent of the spark of a lit fuse slowly getting closer and closer to the massive firework display it leads to, exploding into color and texture once it gets to the chorus. It basks in its own brilliant afterglow, with incendiary guitars and scintillating vocals that make it, much like the rest of the EP as a whole, an instant repeat. 

Say Something is out now. 

 

 

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photo courtesy of artist

favorite albums of 2019

Back in August I started graduate school, which made this year feel like it was split in two completely different halves, mentally and emotionally. This might sound silly to you, but the overwhelming wave of absolute relief I felt when I found out I was accepted into a Masters program after a few particularly frustrating years was a feeling I’ll never forget – it felt as if I could finally breathe normally after having my neck stepped on for so long, as if I was suddenly granted a sparkling new sense of self-worth. I’ve always felt most comfortable in an academic setting, admittedly, so it was wonderful to return to what felt like my normal state and be immersed in such a supportive environment for the past six months, surrounded by other passionate and hard-working writers, all trying to make something of themselves. At the moment I’m in a better place than I have been in quite some time, which I am so thankful to be able to say. 

My demanding courses and my TA job made making time for kid with a vinyl a little challenging, but I still wanted to make it an absolute priority because this blog still means the absolute world to me. I can’t even explain how happy I am that I started this project back in 2014, and in fact, it’s been my longest running one – January 1st will mark six years exactly. I say this not because running kid with a vinyl helped my writing skills and help me get my foot in the door for other opportunities, but because it has, first and foremost, allowed me to find some absolutely incredible music and communicate with the incredibly talented artists and musicians that created it. Whenever I write anything, academic or otherwise, my ultimate goal is to better understand whatever it is I am writing about, so that was always the best part of running this blog – connecting with artists and learning more about their creative process, their inspirations, their lives. If you were one of the artists that we have featured this year, please know how honored I am to have communicated with you in some form, and how thankful I am that you wanted to be a part of this little project in the first place. I know we posted a little less this year than in the past, but I am still completely in love with everything we’ve featured over the past twelve months, and I hope that you, dear reader and listener, are as well. 

This year I’m only posting one “best of list,” sharing my 7 favorite albums (and 2 EPs) of 2019. Admittedly, I have a rather personal attachment and bias to this list, considering that every single one of the albums listed below were also, like me, suspended somewhere along the journey to self-forgiveness, acceptance, and potential rebirth after a long period of internal strife, of mental and emotional exhaustion and frustration. They float along this path brilliantly – not by ignoring the past, but by embracing it wholeheartedly, taking the swaths of residual pain in stride, somehow still soft and inviting though they are weathered by constant introspection and rumination, previously broken but cobbled back together with gold like kintsugi, perpetually gritting their teeth for anything the future brings. They are incredibly honest and unapologetically vulnerable. 

Not only have every single one of these albums inspired me this year, but they also have been something to lean on during times of frustration and hardship, a source of comfort and reassurance in my own personal journey towards some sort of mental and emotional revival, towards a potentially tighter grasp on my own sense of self-worth that I have managed, somehow, to recover. All deserve higher praise than I could ever give, as does absolutely everything I have featured – and will continue to feature – on kid with a vinyl. 

I’ll stop rambling now. Without further ado, these are our favorite releases of 2019. Some of these I have written full-length reviews for, and they will be marked with an asterisk. They have no ranking – please view them in any order that you please. 


Angelo De Augustine, Tomb

Angelo De Augustine’s hauntingly gorgeous LP Tomb was his first full length album recorded in a studio, marking a new beginning in the Los Angeles artist’s career. This choice thankfully brought his absolutely gorgeous vocals to the forefront; in the past, Augustine’s vocals have more or less stayed homogeneous with his instrumentals – hazy and gauzy, just blissfully out of reach, but his voice throughout Tomb is crystal clear, a touch louder than everything else, but intimate, echoed, reverberating freely above delicate melodies that feel as fragile as gossamer thread. True to the album’s title, the potency of its melodies makes you feel as if you’re completely ensconced, suspended within a blissful fever dream, caught inside a cave as rain makes a curtain at the entrance. 

All I could think about during my birthday this year was how desperately I didn’t want to be twenty-four. I felt old, unaccomplished, and painfully boring. I went to the record store downtown, had dinner with friends, and then went home and watched music videos until morning, pensive and despondent and ironically, a little immature in staying up all night, because I didn’t want the day to be over. I tried, using sheer willpower, to make time move backwards. Ironically, the live version of Angelo De Augustine’s “Time” performed with Sufjan Stevens, chosen at the tender hour of 3 am, was one of the only things that soothed my hypersensitive brain that night; he sang about how time moves on, but how we can potentially move faster, how we can move on from our pain so gorgeously and gracefully it was as if we never lost that time at all. Angelo De Augustine’s guitar and voice is the equivalent of someone delicately cradling a baby bird, laundry still warm from the dryer, a seaside at dusk – god, I could give you hundreds of synonyms for how unbelievably safe his music makes you feel. Perhaps it isn’t just due to the warm, sepia-tinged tone his vocals perpetually emit, but due to the poetry he relays – how above all, he strives to be honest: 

“[Tomb] is a motion towards positivity, addressing lost love, the worthwhile cost of honesty, and the ramifications, of regret. In the end…it isn’t about burying or hiding something away, it’s about opening the seal and letting something new emerge. It’s about telling people how you feel when you feel it, instead of burying everything over the span of years.”

There is nothing wrong with admitting how you feel and admitting it often, as long as the feelings are genuine. Tomb is a lovely reminder to do just that, to forgive yourself when you need to. 

Required listening: “You Needed Time, I Needed You,” “Wanderer,” “Tide”

photo courtesy of artist

Petite League, Rattler*

No matter the season in which you listen to Petite League’s discography, it’s always as if you can feel the warmth of summer on your skin. Lorenzo Gillis Cook’s previous albums embraced this feeling, nestled between periods of finding and exploring identity, of making mistakes and memories while young. But, eventually, both youth (and summer) must come to an end; his fourth full-length album Rattler had the expat switch out his signature baseball bat with a cowboy hat, summarizing a stunning transitory phase. Explaining that he was “under the dominion of a quarter life crisis,” for the first time Gillis Cook embraced being “unhinged,” simultaneously understanding that “the music would come when it felt right” instead of constantly willing it to happen. What resulted was an incredibly thoughtful album with the same irresistible lo-fi charm as years past, but with a newfound sense of worth within its songs – clearly because ample time was taken to ruminate over them. 

Despite the occasional heartsick lyric every now and again, Petite League’s music will always be one of the immediate gateways into the pure, wholesome feeling of summer and youth, and I’ll forever be grateful for it. 

Required listening: “Blood Gardens,” “Yung Bubblegum,” “Rattler”

photo courtesy of artist

SPARKLING, I Want to See Everything*

Despite the jagged textures and raw, unrelenting energy, German post-punk trio SPARKLING’s absolutely fantastic debut album I Want to See Everything translated seamlessly to the comforting idea of empathy, radiating brilliantly within the album through its narratives as well as the fantastic album cover – literally wanting to view another person as they are, to understand them fully by looking them square in the eye. With lyrics sung in English, German, and French throughout, there is a universality they push to achieve that also relates directly back to this idea– the title track switches from language to language, but repeats one single desire: I want to see everything, I want to see the world. 

Although there are thrashing guitars and heavy percussion, there was a moment within each of these songs that rips through the catharsis and instead expresses vulnerability through an unexpected 80’s/90’s synth wave or electronica melody, a softer instrumental tone, a subtle shimmer running under Levin Krasel’s explosive vocals, acting like soap slivers cutting through oil, bright light breaking through smoke. In dealing with such a heavy genre, little effects and flourishes like this make the songs not only stunning and memorable, but able to be played again and again without gumming up the stereo. 

SPARKLING’s debut speaks to the latent human desire to understand the world we live in, to not take everything directly as it comes. It reminds us that perhaps we should strive not to open that proverbial third eye, but to simply open our given eyes just a little bit wider.

Required listening: “We Don’t Want It,” “The Same Again,” “Something Like You”

photo courtesy of écoute chérie

Brahny, moon EP

Brahny’s recent EP moon houses all the stunning elements of dream-pop, but on a stunningly elevated level – on his debut, he’s mastered absolutely irresistible, sensual synth beats, saturated, ethereal vocals that seem to float weightlessly over the melodies like delicate, yet lingering, potent strains of perfume. The Toronto- based musician subtly inserts influence from his Chinese heritage within his artwork and instrumentation alike, resulting in an effortlessly luxurious and beautifully unique take on the genre, achieving a warm and genuine tone for reasons apart from his obvious technical skill. 

“I want[ed] moon to capture and reflect a feeling of suspension, of movement not with purpose but out of necessity. It comes at a time where I find myself spending more energy than ever deciding how I want to grow as a person and who I want to become. Frustrated at trying to navigate a newfound adulthood blinded by opportunity and purpose. Feeling separated from the world and trying to get back into its orbit.” 

I absolutely adored moon because of these exact intentions, ones that directly mirrored my own over the past year. You can hear the resilience and glorious determination within these six tracks, so potent and meticulous and chock full of texture and color it’s as if it’s beyond a full LP. It’s thoughtful and precise, made with skill and, most of all, clear and unrelenting passion. 

Required listening: “Prosperity + Rain,” “Paradise,” “Sunburn, AZ”

photo courtesy of artist

Lab Partner, Century Neet*

The path to acceptance has the potential to look like an abstract painting: emotions that come complimentary with trying and emotionally painful life experiences take the form of paint forcibly dragged against the tough grain of the canvas, poured in puddles so heavy that they eventually drip onto the floor, splattered violently from corner to corner. And while they may look out of place at the moment they are added or conceived, valueless to the current image, when taken in stride, these paint marks, these components of melancholy and introspection and attempts at understanding, soon ironically begin to form an image of resilience. 

This is what I wrote at the end of our review for Jiles Beaver’s stunning sophomore album back in January, and I’d like to stick by it, for it is still what comes to mind not only upon, of course, viewing the album cover of Century Neet, but, most importantly, upon truly taking the time to listen to the songs that linger within the canvas over the past year. The narratives of these fifteen tracks, through Beaver’s skilled story-telling, explore anecdotes, abstractions, imagined scenarios, and all evoke those aforementioned brush strokes, adding to an abstract painting that, by the end, draws your eyes to the thoughtful and inquisitive heart that beats in the center. 

While these narratives are worthy of study in their own right, I’ve since realized that Beaver’s music is brought to life exclusively through his unique, unabashedly earnest, and arresting vocal delivery, and the absolute potency of his vocals is what ultimately makes Lab Partner such a memorable and incredibly genuine musical project. There’s a scintillating confessional aura both enchanting and haunting, as if suspended by his own emotions – which does not feel far off, considering Beaver wrote, recorded, and produced everything you hear in both of his albums. 

Also nestled within the lines of the album’s poetic bio is the slight admittance of allowing art to offer sanctuary for too long, a crutch to lean on. There’s a guilt that comes with relying too much on art and music to help us feel normal, to forcibly will ourselves to succumb, time and time again, to addictiveness of melancholy; I know this, because I too am guilty of it. The beauty of Century Neet is that it indulges in this theory, but every diaristic track, every admittance of guilt, every confession of weakness that exists in these narratives work together to push us towards the close, where Beaver tells us that “something’s sparked since” the events that transpired these past thirty some odd tracks, that he now stares at his once avoided reflection with hope. At times, Century Neet feels as if you’re intruding on someone’s own catharsis, but thankfully, Beaver never shuts us out. 

Required listening: “Jitter,” “Truths to Better Times,” “The Old Red Carpet is Out”

photo courtesy of artist

Foxes in Fiction, Trillium Killer

Warren Hildebrand explained that while their last album Ontario Gothic was meant to reflect healing and regrowth, Trillium Killer was a reflection of the moments where we instead succumb to our pain and see ourselves stumbling backwards, allowing emotion and vulnerability to course freely through our bodies rather than attempt to block it out. However, this obviously comes with its own setbacks – Hildebrand mentioned in a statement:

“The initial idea for this record came after a period in my life where…it felt like there were two parts of me fighting against each other; one that was plotting the steps towards getting better, seeking help and staying alive,  and another that was bent on violence and annihilation.”

In this vein, we are able to view Trillium Killer as referring to the act of self-sabotage, especially when considering the three-petaled Trillium flower, which quite literally represents recovery. The album was delicate in this brilliantly insidious manner, its crystalline, diaphanous synth and porcelain-like vocals effortlessly braiding into each other and ironically constructing this impenetrable fabric of intense self-awareness. The thoughtfully written lyrical narratives touched on all the various facets of mental health, as well as the immense, torturous guilt – the thought that perhaps you are creating and relishing in your pain in order to punish the people around you – that unfortunately seems to come complimentary. Hildebrand both works with and against this notion throughout their poetic verses, with beautifully haunting lines that often pierce through to the subconscious – the un-immediate, but the real.

Throughout Trillium Killer, throughout the soft synth that swells with graceful abandon, Hildebrand ultimately evokes a strange thankfulness and appreciation for our various coping mechanisms, self-propelled or otherwise; ultimately thankful for, as in the absolutely beautiful “Rush to Spark,” the “lie” that keeps them “hopeful for a second life.” It isn’t an immediately satisfying hope, sure, but it’s a hope nonetheless – it’s a heart that continues to beat despite all that is repeatedly hurled at it. 

Required listening: “Rush to Spark,” “A Softer World,” “Second Chances/Vantablack”

photo courtesy of artist

Girlpool, What Chaos is Imaginary*

Girlpool undoubtedly had a hand in shaping the diy scene back when they were still teenagers – the unique energy within the raw, stripped-down guitar and explosive vocals in 2015’s Before the World Was Big, the industrial nature of Powerplant after they brought in a drummer two years later. But there have been ongoing changes since their first two albums, graduating from high school, and fully entering “the real world,” including the ever-growing battle with mental health and, perhaps most immediately discernible in the gorgeous What Chaos is Imaginary, Tucker’s transition and hormone replacement therapy, which has brought their voice down an octave. The search for identity and individuality after the dizzying haze of youth resulted in tracks varying in sound, freely placing shoegaze next to pop punk, synth heavy goth rock next to sweeping orchestral ballads. The lyrics, though esoteric at times, are visceral, jagged, but still strangely beautiful and incredibly heavy in emotion, they calmly rage, unashamed; the title track is the most beautiful representation of the latter. 

What Chaos is Imaginary is reliable, perhaps initially painful but then soon reveals itself to be something akin to a medicinal salve – pain and vulnerability in the background, self-healing and forgiveness at the forefront. And while it might sound cliche, it also beautifully speaks to how powerful a friendship can be – having that one person to support you and love you, no matter what life brings, that perpetual and everlasting source of reliability in a world filled with, well, chaos. 

Required listening: “Pretty,” “Hire,” “What Chaos is Imaginary”

photo by Gina Canavan

A Beacon School, Cola

I’m cheating a little bit here for this one, for although technically Cola was released in 2018, it was pressed to vinyl for the first time this year, along with three previously unreleased bonus tracks: “Glue,” “Fade in Nylon,” and “Cut Thru.” Along with my (not so secret) penchant for vinyl, Cola itself was also one of my go-to albums to listen to while studying this semester, with “Fade in Nylon” one of my go-to tracks, so I had to include it. 

Cola was exciting because it seemed to be indifferent to conventional genre, moving from dream pop to post-punk seamlessly. “Glue” added to NY based multi-instrumentalist Patrick J Smith’s skill in flawlessly evoking texture and substance to simple synth, and presented a series of highly specific images alongside more industrial sounding effects and flourishes – the most apparent lies after the last verse, where synth rushes and bolts from left to right like bright white flashing lights, a pendulum perpetually oscillating. Throughout the album, and especially in “Fade in Nylon,” Smith’s crystal clear vocals, somehow both subtly hidden and jutting out from the cryptic, experimental, complex instrumentals, flow and expand akin to water poured on glass, the residual fragments of those same vocal flourishes circling around like a cool breeze. There’s something about it that feels restless in every sense of the word – improvisational, even – but in an incredibly exhilarating manner; catharsis is one of the most incredible things to evoke within music, and Cola takes you along for every step. 

Required listening: “Fade in Nylon,” “Algernon,” “Glue”

photo courtesy of artist

John Myrtle, Here’s John Myrtle EP

The phrase “lost in time” is thrown around quite a lot when describing music, but London based artist John Myrtle is one musician in particular that truly deserves the sentiment, especially with the stunning debut EP released back in July. With the exception of mixing, Myrtle wrote and recorded everything on his own in his bedroom, which has resulted in a near tangible sense of tranquility despite the flawless immediacy of his instrumentals and narratives, sounding brilliantly soft, grainy, and far away, a willing daydream. His thoughtfully sung narratives are sincere, free of any trace or shred of irony; though he instructs us to steer clear of love by the album’s gorgeous close, there’s something perpetually lodged within his music that is fueled on the feelings of playful adoration and sweet melancholy, something that hearkens back to a time where everything seemed to be based a little less on pretensions, and more on possibilities. 

Required listening: “Beware of Love,” “There Must Be Something More to You and Him,” “Foggy”

photo by Niralee Modha

Thank you so much for an incredible year. See you in 2020!

P

Moses Sumney – “Polly”

This week, Moses Sumney released the second single from his upcoming double LP græ, the highly anticipated follow up to his stunning 2017 debut Aromanticism as well as last year’s EP Black in Deep Red, 2014. “Polly,” following incredible first single “Virile,” is comparably a far more introspective, delicate track, a heart-wrenching, evocative stunner that floats over a stable foundation of purely acoustic guitar. Told through ethereal, gorgeously haunting vocal effects, the narrative touches on the emotional agony and confusion stemming from the effects of a polyamorous relationship, from the perspective of the side that feels helpless, both in the way they feel they can’t keep up as well as the possibility that they might be slowly fading away from their shared love. Sumney asks in the first half “If I split my body into two men/ Would you then love me better?” 

“Polly” is about wishing you had a few more arms than you do.

Sumney’s voice is pained, raspy, deep in the throes of melancholy but still somehow resilient, the pitched-up vocal harmonizing reminiscent of a cup perpetually under a running faucet, overflowing. He laments that he is a “cornucopia of just-in-cases,” the one looked over, the one always underappreciated, concluding saying “Whoa, Polly, Polly/ Obviously don’t think much of me,” sung with a heart-breaking tone of acceptance. The accompanying lyric video, where Sumney sits in front of his computer and lets his tears run as the narrative flashes by, amplifies the song’s fearless vulnerability, the strength in bearing your innermost demons and emotions. 

Part one of græ is out in February.

P

photo by Alexander Black

Brahny – “Nirvana”

Brahny’s recent EP moon houses all the stunning elements of dream-pop – absolutely irresistible, sensual synth beats, saturated, ethereal vocals that seem to float weightlessly over the melodies like delicate, yet lingering, potent strains of perfume. The more I think, the more that this sense of lingering and perpetual yearning feels like the correct descriptor, especially considering the Toronto musician’s own thoughts on the EP:

I want moon to capture and reflect a feeling of suspension. Of movement not with purpose but out of necessity. It comes at a time where I find myself spending more energy than ever deciding how I want to grow as a person and who I want to become. Frustrated at trying to navigate a newfound adulthood blinded by opportunity and purpose. Feeling separated from the world and trying to get back into its orbit.

Color and texture is what immediately comes to mind when you listen to moon – personal favorite “Prosperity and Rain” evokes the smooth, luxurious feel of violet velvet in it’s thoughtful, orchestral instrumentals, while first single “Paradise” evokes a slowly setting sun, pierced with tones of peach and orange crush. “Nirvana” is no exception, and the recent accompanying video, directed by Brahny himself, solidifies his skilled command and utilization of color tenfold. Beautifully awash in hazy, grainy shades of red and blue, the cinematography aligns with the absolute opacity of his songs; impenetrable melodies, resilience even when considering their bleeding-heart narratives. He wonders if “maybe I could fall/ into your mind/ forever,” imagining a perfect world free of irony or insincerity, a utopia where there is no limit to the nature of love. 

moon is out now.

P

photo courtesy of artist