Playlist: Hallow’s Eve

It’s been so long since I’ve posted a new playlist, and seeing as though we’re one day away from Halloween, it seemed more than appropriate to bring it back. So, in lieu of an album review today, please enjoy some spooky/groovy tracks that seem to capture the overall vibe of the season, including a few by Beach House, Pulp, Gorillaz, Majical Cloudz, and more! It was hard to cut my initial list of around thirty tracks in half to fifteen, but I think these work quite nicely. Enjoy the weekend, and I’ll see you back here on Monday!

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Cloud Castle Lake – “Genuflect”

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Cloud Castle Lake is perhaps one of the best band names I have ever heard, and it’s even better when the music matches the beauty and the frailty of the name. Their sound is so beautifully transcendental that it seems to surpass worldly emotions, and, magically, almost seems to exist exclusively within it’s own beautifully pained planet. Last year, the Dublin trio released their debut EP Dandelion, one of the best releases of the year, as well as the uplifting, brilliant single “Sync,” which was my humble pick for the best song of the year. Now, they have since released new material, the most recent being the absolutely gorgeous track “Genuflect,” from their upcoming debut full length album. The seven minute long masterpiece goes through individual phases that, in turn, contribute to a magnificent, textured song that beckons further towards inspirations like Radiohead and Sigur Rós. Dan McAuley’s vocals are nothing short of a superpower at this point, and the way that it bobs and weaves while also straining to reach that perfect falsetto is such a wonder to behold. The instrumentals go wonderfully berserk towards the apex of the track, and finally, ends with a drum beat miles away from where it started. That’s the true beauty of Cloud Castle Lake – the journey is just as important as the destination.

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photo courtesy of artist

TOPS – “Hollow Sound Of The Morning Chimes”

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Montreal dream pop band TOPS have released yet another new track since last month’s “Anything,” which was a dark, brooding, and wonderfully hazy dream. The track had a few subtle differences from the instrumentals and vocals that were heard in last year’s excellent debut album Picture You Staring, and those variations are heard further in “Hollow Sound Of The Morning Chimes,” an ethereal seven minute romp. The slow, soothing, jazz-like instrumentals compliment Jane Penny’s vocals well, and hopefully with the release of this track, news of a sophomore album can be anticipated.

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photo by Takuroh Toyama

Dianas – “UFO”

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Dianas, the recently released album from the Perth duo of the same name, is filled with gorgeous, lucid sounds that seem to cover just about everything. There’s hazy, swirling psych rock, rolling surf-inspired pop, and ethereal, grungy dream pop, all seemingly intertwined together. However, the most intriguing, impressive track off the new record has to be “UFO,” in which hazy, low-fi guitar takes center stage. It’s the perfect track to represent the dark, celestial theme that seems to run through the album, which, in and of itself, should be enough to give it a couple of listens.

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photo courtesy of artist

Album Review: The Milk Carton Kids – Monterey

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I had the privilege to see Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale perform in a tiny, crowded theater in the wake of winter with my father about two years ago, fresh from the release of The Ash & Clay, and I will never forget the specific way in which they set up – one solitary microphone in the center of the stage, with the two of them harmonizing on either side – or their hilariously deadpan sense of humor that takes a split-second of realization to fully appreciate. The renditions of “Snake Eyes” and “Michigan” seemed to put the whole theater in a trance, and by the time the soothing, paternal track “Charlie” came around, I was fully convinced of the power that these two men possess in conveying the most delicate of feelings. Even though Monterey, their fourth studio album, was released back in May, I feel it’s necessary to revisit the sounds that complete it, and take a moment to marvel at what makes it so delicately self-aware.

Monterey still has those wonderfully frayed, yet cathartic feelings that enraptured their last albums, but instead of bending over backwards, it takes a more relaxed position in conveying them. Most of the tracks are beautifully listless, and the lyrics are slow and steady, almost as if they’re careful not to express the wrong thing. Overall, it sounds comfortable, lived-in, and intimate, perhaps having to do with the fact that the album, in its entirety, was recorded live. As a result, it’s easier to hear the vocal harmonies and the specific lyrics that embrace each track, and tracks like “Ashville Skies” and “Monterey” sound almost like a private conversation that sounds wrong to eavesdrop. Since it’s such a deep, introspective album, most of the subject matter is less than palatable at times, despite being drenched in such nostalgic, pastoral imagery. It does have the tendency to sound tired and sleepy, which unfortunately tends to blur some of the tracks together. However, the upbeat, lively tracks “High Hopes” and “The City of Our Lady” fulfill my desire to hear some of their past sound, namely, Kenneth Pattengale’s skilled, almost machiavellian way in which he treats his guitar. As much as I love these upbeat tracks, I keep coming back to “Secrets of the Stars,” a gorgeous, multi-faceted gem of a track. It’s the most Milk Carton Kids-y song that you could possibly imagine, and it’s perhaps one of the most delicate and thoughtful songs they have ever recorded. The lyrics are absolutely gorgeous and hymnal, and ultimately, makes Monterey a more impressive album due to the mere fact that this track appears in its track listing.

Over the past few months, I’ve found myself willingly waist-deep in the unknowingly existential goop of post-punk, the brooding waves of electronica, and the darkness of synth pop, simultaneously attracted and inspired by their individual inspirations and lamentations, but was feeling a little lost in other genres. In fact, this entire week I was all set to write a review of an album that fits these exact specifications, but then it rained for the first time in months, which had to be a sign. I’m not quite sure what it is about drops of water falling aimlessly from the sky, but its soothed my hardened exterior and reawakened that sense of soft, yet stark beauty that often times is too difficult to explain. That inexplicable characteristic is what seems to define the music of The Milk Carton Kids, a duo that ironically strives to go above and beyond what minimalist Americana has to offer. Obviously, I see no problem in continuing to indulge in that darker, brooding side of music, but during my anticipated bouts of mania, I’m comfortable knowing these soft, nostalgic sounds continue to flourish.

7.5/10

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photo by Andrew Paynter

Pillar Point – “Part Time Love”

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Pillar Point, also known as Scott Reitherman, makes music that’s consistently sleek, refined, and utterly intelligent, yet somehow manages to maintain a sense of wonder and exaltation in whatever it is he releases. His self-titled debut album was released just last year, and already his new album Marble Mouth is set for release sometime early next year. After a Depeche Mode-esque intro, it’s clear “Part Time Love” revisits the same sort of gritty, underground inspirations that brought about stellar tracks like “Cherry” and “Eyeballs,” with synth and drums that evoke dark, brilliantly dilapidated dance vibes.

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photo courtesy of artist

U.S. Girls – “Woman’s Work”

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The haunting, disillusioned sounds that erupt from “Woman’s Work,” one of the singles from U.S. Girls’ fresh new album Half Free, seem to enrapture more than frighten, showing off the beauty of self-expression. Meghan Remy’s lead vocals sound frayed and strained, and quickly grow stronger and more passionate as the track does. Hysteria and frenzy seem to envelop each throbbing, pulsating beat and in turn, enhance the nature of the lyrics, which have a rebellious, sarcastic tone all it’s own.

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Art of Sleeping – “Bleeding Out”

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I’ve been a fan of Art of Sleeping ever since their song “Above the Water” was released a few years ago, and I was so happy to find out about their newly released debut album Shake Shiver, chock full of their peppy, yet heavy indie rock sounds. I shared their other single “Voodoo” a while back, but since then they’ve released an official video as well as the video for “Bleeding Out,” another incredibly addictive track. The instrumentals jump around in frantic bursts and mix well with Caleb Hodges’ deep, energetic vocals, and its utter simplicity begs for repeated listens.

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photo courtesy of the au review

Album Review: Majical Cloudz – Are You Alone?

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Majical Cloudz make music that constantly makes you question the ideas of comfort and contentment. At least, that was the case with their stunning debut album Impersonator, where the stripped, expository tracks put subject matter like death, isolation, and loneliness on display, but presented it in a way that didn’t feel morbid or dismally self-congratulating. Devon Welsh and his incessant, unflinching stare while performing meshed well with Impersonator‘s introspective vibe, and over the years, seeing him along with instrumentalist Matthew Otto was almost like stepping into some strange performance art piece. However, it’s exactly that specific brand of discomfort that usually yields absolutely beautiful epiphanies, and by actively indulging in their lush, minimally crafted melodies, it’s hard not to feel some kind of contentment. In their gorgeous new album Are You Alone?, the duo picks up right where they left off, but instead tries to drown the somber soliloquies in waves of ethereal, optimistic synth, attempting to make the dark aspects of reality that much easier to swallow.

After the release of their first two singles of the album along with the title track about a month ago, it was obvious that the duo had taken a different stylistic approach, due to the more lived-in, full-bodied sound that rivaled the minimalism that ravaged their debut. Impersonator‘s allure came exclusively from Devon Welsh’s isolated, Gahan-style croon, constantly propelled by Matthew Otto’s meticulously minimal and highly skilled synth production. When listening closer to the sounds that complete Are You Alone?, it’s clear that Welsh, although still beautifully stark and focused in his delivery, can’t help but sound more enamored and sensitive, almost like an intense weight has been lifted off his shoulders. The album as a whole simply feels lighter and less aggressive, despite the fact that the tracks deal with the same sort of dismal subject matter that was presented in their debut, but that in no way diminishes the beauty that takes the helm. Speaking of which, “Control” sits comfortably within that realm, presented almost like a confessional, where Welsh asks questions that may or may not have a direct answer. “So Blue” is simple in construction, but in turn represents that unassuming power that the duo so securely holds in their hands. Title track “Are You Alone?” is the finest example of Welsh’s gorgeously pained voice, and the few seconds it turns into falsetto is enough to evoke a sense of pure bliss. He is a man that truly is his own art, and it shines through tenfold with every simultaneously soft and harsh vocals.

While Devon Welsh does seem to take all the credit for the duo’s impressive presence, these tracks would cease to gather quite as much attention if it wasn’t for counterpart Matthew Otto. The synth on many of these tracks almost becomes an unrelenting force, morphing and changing along with Welsh’s vocals. “Heavy” is the perfect example of this now-perfected technique, and it becomes one of the most beautiful tracks on the album. Stunner “Downtown” evokes those classic nightlife stereotypes, drawing comparisons to Petula Clark while also remaining comfortably inside their own aesthetic, and it’s in this track where we hear Welsh really straining to truly be heard as he is meant to be heard. Most of the duo’s music has Welsh practically stripping himself bare, and he’s not afraid to do so, but Otto has this talent as well, although he’s harder to recognize. “If You’re Lonely” and “Game Show” are the perfect mix of each contributors’ specific talent, showing the distinct ways they play off each other so well. The lyrical content of Are You Alone? is absolutely amazing as well, and it’s astounding to see Welsh pack so much meaning into a few words. Perhaps that idea is most well presented in the Smiths-esque song “Silver Car Crash,” which is perhaps one of the most mesmerizing songs that the duo have ever produced. The sharpness in both the vocals and the metallic instrumentals punctuate the content incredibly well, and while it’s a sort of anti-love song that sometimes erupts into fatal video game sound effects, the deep, unadulterated passion still transforms it into something beautiful.

Are You Alone? definitely proves to be the least confrontational of Majical Cloudz’s impressive repertoire, although it never skimps on emotion or sense of purpose. While I do prefer the heavier, sharper, and darker sounds that enraptured Impersonator, it’s refreshing to see a band succeed in securing the same feelings initially evoked so long ago, while presenting them in a fresher, more ambitious way. While the subject matter may prove to be daunting or even morbid at times, it’s ultimately a way to feel more comfortable with yourself and your own less than perfect thoughts. So, Majical Cloudz may ask you if you really think you’re alone, but when listening intently to these tracks, it’s clear that the answer is a resounding no.

8.2/10

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photo by Tonje Thilesen

Mothers – “It Hurts Until It Doesn’t”

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Most of the emotions embedded deep within Mothers’ meticulous, fervidly unapologetic tracks come from a place of simultaneous insecurity and inflated ego, along with a deep rooted sense of humanity. “It Hurts Until It Doesn’t” is a direct example of that very idea, and the contrasting lightness of the instrumentals and the pained, yet passionate yelps of frontwoman Kristine Leschper actually create this honeyed, somber epiphany that tells you to let go of the feelings poisoning you on the inside, and instead strive to rise above your past self. Listening to Mothers can be a complex, emotional experience, and it definitely requires a lot of introspection – but mixed with the punk-inspired sounds and the intricate instrumentals, at the end, that’s exactly what we need every now and again.

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photo by Kristin Karch