Arbes – “Beach Side”

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Dreamwave trio Arbes released their debut EP Swimmer this past summer, but even from a quick listen, it’s clear that their gorgeous, hazy sound translates well into the fall and winter months. Their track “Beach Side” evokes slight psychedelic vibes from the punctilious guitar-plucked melody, and the vocals have just the right amount of both hard and soft to seal everything together. It’s a track that’s short, but deserves to be understood, and that addictive guitar hook that appears every so often should be enough to keep your attention.

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photo courtesy of artist
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Lust For Youth – “Better Looking Brother”

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Swedish electronic post-punk band Lust For Youth have recently released “Better Looking Brother,” their first new single since their 2014 album International. The metallic-sounding, melancholic guitar melody that erupts and propels the entire track is bathed in swirls of thick synth and heavily punctuated by strong, meticulous drum beats, giving off a beautifully regretful tone reminiscent of 90’s synth pop. The title also adds some feelings of inadequacy and self-consciousness, which is further expanded by frontman Hannes Norrvide’s passionately lethargic vocals. It’s as dreamy and hazy as it is stark and dramatic, which is a tricky combination that I feel only works when done with care. Lust For Youth have proven in the past that they definitely know how to take something dismal and create something absolutely enchanting, and hopefully the release of this track means something even bigger for the future.

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photo by Kelsey Henderson

Album Review: Disclosure – Caracal

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Guy and Howard Lawrence of Disclosure have proven that they take everything about the electronic pop genre personally, and that they don’t play games. Over the years, they have have honed their skills in both instrumentation and collaboration, and have slowly become the ideal representation of energetic, mature music. Their sound is practical, organized, and strict in it’s construction, but it still flawlessly allows ample room for expressing those vivid feelings of exaltation. Their contradictory, rebellious techniques were perfect for their re-imagined dance-house vibe they embraced on Settle, their excellent debut album. Now, on their sophomore album, Disclosure seem to leave that meticulous, structured aesthetic behind and instead focus more on the art of functionality rather than the beauty of intense jubilation.

Settle practically revolutionized the realm of dance music, and basically set the reputation for Disclosure as a highly skilled producing duo. Their tracks were hot, fiery, and unapologetic, releasing structured stunners like “When A Fire Starts To Burn” and of course, the show-stopping anthem “Latch,” which basically branded itself as radio bait from the beginning. However, it’s clear that the duo grew tired of catering to the same fast beats, and as a result, the tracks on Caracal are introspective, slower, and more reserved, adding an emphasis on collaboration and a change in influence. There’s no one clear theme or idea that the album epitomizes – considering the album has different vocalists for each track – so the album doesn’t necessarily flow in the best way, but instead focuses intently on individuality. Each track sounds like it’s own vocalist, which gives an impenetrable characteristic to the album as a whole, almost like a game with unlockable characters. Opening track “Nocturnal” introduces the slinky R&B influence that the duo have mentioned flows through incessantly, and it wouldn’t be out of place on The Weeknd’s own album; again driving home the point of characterization and personalization that Disclosure care so intently about. Lorde’s track “Magnets” takes her own jagged, hard-as-nails personality and presents her in a more upbeat light; Miguel’s track “Good Intentions” is seductive and suggestive; and Lion Babe shows off her R&B infused pop in “Hourglass.” It’s a nice touch that resonates incredibly well, even though the songs focus more exclusively on functionality and perfection, leaving the tracks just a touch colorless and void of true energy as a result. The tracks seem to have a calmer disposition, which isn’t necessarily disappointing as it is a backseat to what the duo can really do, and the constant focus on trying to achieve something new tends to grow tiresome towards the end of the album.

However, Disclosure still know how to make an excellent, catchy track, and “Jaded” is exactly that. It features electric vocals from the duo’s own Howard Lawrence, a minor change in their reputed repertoire, and beautifully expands and shrinks with pristine timing and impeccable instrumentation. Despite the changes, the brotherly duo still find their old selves somewhere in the mix, and bring back old techniques. Their initial influence of structured house music is rediscovered in “Holding On” featuring Gregory Porter, and bonus track “Bang That” is as Disclosure that anything could possibly get. They also collaborate with Sam Smith a second time, and the mysterious track “Omen” becomes the textured, exposed descendant to the ambitious, revolutionary “Latch.” It’s still an amazing track and both the vocals and powerful instrumentals compliment each other in a meticulous way that beckons so sweetly to the past. In the end, no matter the influences, Caracal still sounds like Disclosure. When the bar has been set so high from the beginning, it’s hard to keep things going, and at times, it seemed like the duo were so focused on the structure and composition of everything that they forgot to inject the energy. However, with Disclosure, the passion is always, always there, and that’s what ultimately makes them such a force to be reckoned with.

7.0/10

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photo by Tom Spray

Majical Cloudz – “Are You Alone?”

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Majical Cloudz have announced that Are You Alone?, the follow up to 2013’s excellent album Impersonator, will be released on October 16th. Along with the news, the duo recently released the beautifully dismal single “Silver Car Crash,” which surprisingly emanated warmth instead of their usual cold aesthetic. Now, the duo has released the title track, which plays around more with Devon Welsh’s unique voice. It’s also less minimal and definitely experiments more with synth and beats, hinting towards change with the album as a whole. If the album has more of Welsh’s hauntingly gorgeous falsetto like in this stunning track, it’s bound to be another masterpiece.

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photo courtesy of pitchfork

Broken Bells – “It’s That Talk Again”

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Broken Bells, composed of James Mercer of The Shins and producer Danger Mouse, have debuted new material since the release of their energetic sophomore album After the Disco, which was released last year. “It’s That Talk Again” revisits those same beats heard in their past work, but with a fresh, funky twist, adding in a tantalizing bass line that almost seems to swaddle Mercer’s signature croon. Hopefully it’s a sneak peek to a bigger project in the works, but for now, the track’s upbeat, mysterious grooves are more than enough.

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photo courtesy of the line of best fit

Album Review: Ought – Sun Coming Down

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Ought is a band that beautifully thrives off of the mundane. When thinking about their impeccable past work, their songs are almost like loaded streams of consciousness; conversational admissions slowly turning into epiphanies though the duration of the carefully delivered, passionate instrumentals. They derive inspiration from anxiety, from the coinciding fear and distaste for the future, from the little inexplicable things that make humans, well, human – while at the same time comforts in the way it assures the beautiful ordinariness of everyday life. Perhaps this is why the Montreal quintet’s debut More Than Any Other Day was such a brilliant and thoughtful album, and that massive success transposes itself into into the emotionally lighter Sun Coming Down, their fantastic sophomore release.

While they are a band born out of protest, Ought’s music has never gorged itself on rage or unrest – not even in their fiery debut, where stark instrumentals and shouts into the void are put on display. Rather, the band generally seems to gracefully express their subtle distaste for their surroundings and their current situations through simple, tastefully orchestrated instrumentals and educated, intellectual commentary as anxiously dictated by frontman Tim Darcy, who yelps rather than sings. That system is further practiced in Sun Coming Down, where Ought remove their weathered armor after their ascent into epiphany, and instead take comfort in exposing a soft, yet toughened underbelly. There are fewer moments of intense realization, and there aren’t exactly any equivalents to the stunning ballad “Habit” or those specific feelings. However, in the way that this album is orchestrated, it doesn’t need one, and spends more time addressing as many things as possible with an added emphasis on emotional depth.

Opener “Men for Miles” is exactly the kind of track to start things off with, based on it’s unyielding, unrelenting nature of Darcy’s frantic, mile-a-minute vocals and the fact that the instrumentals seem to do their own dance, which is succeeded with the fervid, energetic track “The Combo.” The vocals and lyrics are really the main focal point of the album, whether its meaning or the sounds in which the actual words make. The only time it takes a breather is in “Passionate Turn,” where the band executes their most “romantic” song to date. “Beautiful Blue Sky” further explores their underlying theme of the mundane, but here we hear Darcy listing random grievances with modern life before exploding into a slew of run of the mill questions fit to ask standing around a water cooler or a work barbecue (“How’s the family?/ How’s your health been?/ Fancy seeing you here!”), repeating them incessantly to the point of suffocation. Towards the middle of the song he interrupts himself with a blatant yes as if to show his contentment with all methods of living life, which seems to sum up the album’s intent to embrace the ebb and flow of the everyday, or simply the release of tension. One of Ought’s greatest strengths is talking about the mundane without actually personifying its monotonous nature, and Sun Coming Down is chock full of  examples. Where the album really shines is in it’s moments of repetition in the lyrics, something in which I feel that only a few bands can successfully pull off. However, the track that really makes this album a stunner for me is the mercurial track “On the Line,” where the band does something riskier and fresher in composition. It flawlessly switches between spoken word poetry with vivid imagery and a fast, unapologetic guitar track in a frantic daze before dissolving passionately into submission. The instrumentals linger on Darcy’s every word, showing off their group dynamic and proves their abilities to become one unrelenting force. It’s a track that solidifies Ought further for me personally, not including More Than Any Other Day‘s “Pleasant Heart.” The album closes with the impassioned track “Never Better,” leaving a jagged edge and a sense of fulfillment.

Sun Coming Down is the contented, more relaxed follow up to More Than Any Other Day, but it is presented in a way that begs for it to be further embraced and understood just like its predecessor. While I do prefer the darkened, cynical edges of their debut, I still appreciate the fastidiousness in which they complete projects, and the fact that this album came as a complete surprise to me was what made me love it even more. The endearing qualities about Ought is that they always try to maintain a level-head while also entertaining the desires of madness and passion in their music, and the fact that they always help you take comfort in your own skin.

9.0/10

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photo by Hera Chan

TOPS – “Anything”

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TOPS’ debut album Picture You Staring was one of the best soft rock albums of the past year, and has slowly made it’s way into my most beloved playlists. From my countless listens to the record, it’s a stunner simply because of the the nostalgic, well orchestrated instrumentals and Jane Penny’s gorgeous vocals, all determined by the complex feelings of both desire and reservation. Their new track “Anything” takes a somewhat different approach to their unique sound, trading in their pastel drenched, sun soaked aesthetic for something more gritty and seething. It’s minimal in composition, but Penny’s vocals still make it something that’s completely indistinguishable from anything other than TOPS.

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photo by Takuroh Toyama

Seoul – “The Line”

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Electronic dream pop band Seoul have a knack for capturing the deeper, more intense forms of nostalgia, as well as skillfully compressing those same feelings until something ironically atmospheric is created. “The Line,” off of their debut album I Become a Shade, sounds intimate, but dynamic and expansive all at once.  This is most likely a result of the dense synth and the soft vocals that swim through them, along with the inexplicable feeling of transcendence that proves itself inescapable.

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photo by Christopher Honeywell

Empress Of – “How Do You Do It”

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Empress Of’s debut album Me was released just last week, and already it’s being regarded as one of the best electronic pop albums of the year. Among the impressive tracks, “How Do You Do It” stands out due to it’s resilience and diverse techniques. Lorely Rodriguez’s voice has the unique ability to falter and strengthen at ease, and it makes the vocals incredibly versatile against the strong synth and upbeat instrumentals. While it is a dance track, there’s still enough honesty and vulnerability to see it for more than just a fast beat and some quick vocals.

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photo by Zhenya Posternak

Album Review: Beach House – Depression Cherry

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Beach House has always been a band that embraced the quieter, calmer side of life as well as fantasy, and over the span of their last four albums, came to physically and emotionally define dream pop as a genre and solidify a space within it. Their music flounces beautifully and breathes deeply, expressing everything from sadness to jubilation equally through lush, textured tones. On their heavier fifth album Depression Cherry, one starts to wonder whether or not this alluring aesthetic can hold up for this long, and discovers that stunning beauty, along with everything else, also has the tendency to fade with time.

Bloom was an album that absolutely deserved all the affection it received, if not more. It was edgy, but still passionate; hazy, but still effervescent. It was everything you could have ever wanted in an explicitly dream pop centered album, and, if you’re anything like me, “Myth” was your anthem for quite some time. I had never heard anything like it, and everything from the swelling instrumentals to Victoria Legrand’s voice made me embrace dream pop worlds more than before. That was way back in 2012, however, and times have changed, but, surprisingly, the music hasn’t.  One half of the Baltimore based duo, Alex Scally, has even mentioned in interviews that he hates when bands change between albums, seeming to hint at the nature of tracks and albums as a whole. As far as change, Beach House haven’t altered much of their sound, and upon hearing Depression Cherry for the first time, it’s even clearer. Opener “Levitation” is aptly titled, considering the almost weightless quality the shimmering, opera chorus-like synth and enraptured sense of being. Its pace immediately lets listeners know that this particular album is more decadent, more caloric than it’s predecessors, and darker, as if that wasn’t obvious from the album’s title. The illusion of these empty calories comes from tracks like “Sparks” and “Beyond Love,” where the band ironically introduces distorted guitars and instrumentals, hard and jagged in comparison with Legrand’s soft vocals. Perhaps it was an attempt at shoegaze – which, in hindsight, isn’t too far off from their current genre – but the execution sounds too tired for it to be believable. That lethargic feeling in the instrumentals also tends to bleed into the vocals, which take a backseat to become more synonymous with trance and hypnotism – a bit disappointing considering Legrand’s incredible vocal abilities. However, the new techniques that are heard in stunners like “PPP” and “Wildflower” are absolutely breathtaking, and almost pays homage to their former selves. However, one wishes that the band would take more risks, and perhaps enhance their current sound rather than stretch it out to encompass more emotional ground.

There’s a massive difference between the illusion of slowing down time and stopping it completely, and there are times in Depression Cherry where it was the latter; where it seemed perpetually trapped within itself and forced to use the same techniques over and over. However, Beach House is a band that knows their strengths and weaknesses incredibly well, and it does show in a few gorgeous tracks. The solidity of the album as a whole is definitely something worth noting, and in the end, the impenetrable gauze that they wrap around themselves has held up to the test of time.

6.8/10

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photo by Shawn Brackbill