Album Review: Mini Trees, Always In Motion

Last week, Lexi Vega shared Always In Motion, her debut album as Mini Trees. The release is a stunning contradiction – though initially borne from disillusionment, pain, and tragedy, tonally it is anchored with warmth, patience, and understanding, its narratives mainly about the inevitability of passing time and the formulation of identity. And yet despite its soft, honeyed tone, it does not attempt to sugarcoat nor lessen the actuality of any of these painful truths; ultimately, it is its realist outlook, its utter honesty, its complete and total resilience in spite of, that solidifies Always In Motion as one of the most genuine and beautiful albums of 2021.

As the daughter of a Cuban-born father and a Japanese-American mother, the concept of identity is a paramount theme within Vega’s music. Never quite fitting in with the predominantly white communities in suburban southern California where she grew up, and with few outside her family understanding the unique pain caused by such isolation, the feelings of disillusionment set in at an early age – this was made even more complicated after her father, a professional drummer himself, took his own life when she was only five years old. “Differently,” one of the album’s most earnest and heartbreaking tracks, touches on her relationship with her sister, the only other person in the world who shares her experience. And yet, while the album is, in part, a medium in which to sufficiently process these traumas, at the same time it acts as a physical reminder that life still manages to move forward, for better or worse. Though primarily rooted deeply in reality, Vega still makes clear that there’s also room for interpretation and healing, and that hope, though inherently fragile in nature, is still something worth holding onto:

“When you’re in the midst of something painful you long to get to the other side of it. You want to be free from that. Faith can mean that even though life is long and painful, there is hope at the end of it all. I like the idea of there being something better than this on the other side. That possibility acknowledges that while people go through periods of intense anxiety and dread, they make it through.”

Opener “Moments In Between” speaks to these anxieties, with several hard-to-answer questions peppered throughout the narrative: “Can you tell me what more are we waiting for?,” “Is it all a myth?,” “How long are all the moments in between?” She wants to daydream, to project into more favorable realities, but her physical surroundings call her back. “Carrying On” touches on similar themes and asks similar questions (“Is it over like that?,” “Was it all a wash?,” “Are we just fooling ourselves?”), swapping out the hazy, atmospheric instrumentals with something far more cathartic; Vega scoffs at the notion to not focus on the past – it hangs around like a ghost. “It haunts me that I can’t seem to be carrying on,” she admits, with later track “Numb” commenting on emotional fatigue as well as the function of apathy as a tool to cope. And yet, ironically the track also speaks to what we do outside of apathy; nestled inside a guitar-heavy expanse, she explains “we re-erase our memory of young mistakes/ We rearrange our time and place to make amends,” and, most importantly, always “long to be something.” Healing and progress is always present, no matter how muted. 

“Otherwise,” written about a close friend who lost their mother to cancer, is the most elegiac of these songs, not only for her friend but for Vega herself, who couldn’t help but feel a similar sense of confusion and sadness about her own loss while writing it. Floating above a glittering melody interwoven with stark guitar collisions akin to a reverberating heartbeat, Vega concludes that “some things don’t have their answers/ So I don’t ask those kinds of questions anymore.” 

“I liked the idea of ending on an unresolved note. It emphasizes that there’s no certainty until we reach the end. That’s the only truth that seems reliable. You can’t ever know what’s going to happen until you get there. And that doesn’t have to conjure up feelings of dread. Over the course of the album I teeter-totter between having questions and wanting answers, but the resolution is to be okay with not knowing.” 

These days, I’m also starting to move away from expecting happy endings from everything (not that I ever did in the first place, with my life-long realist attitude) – mainly because I know that life doesn’t work that way, not really. These past two years have proven, if anything, that simply surviving, healing, growing, can be revolutionary things – but they’re also slow, ongoing processes that have no foreseeable apex. In that sense, I’m grateful for Mini Trees, who reminds listeners that there’s a sense of peace that comes with the simple passing of time, the perpetual reminder that you’re alive, and everything is still, more or less, okay. It’s the most cliche of sayings, I know, but it really is true that time heals just about anything – you’re always closer to contentment than you believe, whatever it is contentment may mean.

Always In Motion is out now via Run For Cover Records.

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photo by Danielle Parsons

Roller Derby – “Whatever Works”

Hamburg, Germany-based indie trio Roller Derby are slowly becoming one of our favorite new groups. Their music is mostly influenced by dream pop, synth, and twee, the music of the 60’s and 80’s, as well as current artists ranging from Alvvays to Angel Olsen; it perhaps goes without saying given these influences that their music is an absolute delight to the senses, despite each of their narratives are mostly about the “longing for love and enduring loss without losing its lightness.” Through their previous singles (from the catchy “Can’t See You” to the jaunty, introspective “Flying High”), the group – made up of Philine Meyer (vocals, keys), Manuel Romero Soria (guitar) and Max Nielsen (bass) – prove their stunning range; each seems to show off a different facet of their unique sound. 

“Whatever Works,” the trio’s latest single, just might be our favorite so far; absolutely gorgeous, reverb-soaked guitar, Meyer’s saccharine-sweet vocals, and splashy percussion all float and intertwine like leaves and petals caught up in the breeze, resulting in a dazzling tune perfect for that hazy, mellow time between summer and fall. That carefree abandon also shows in the lyrics, though here, it comes served with a freezing cold side of sarcasm: “Whatever works, it’s good / Whatever works, it’s fine / Do what you want and don’t think twice.” And yet, it’s a sarcasm that’s enjoyable to dish out: “I suppose my whole wide world keeps spinning around you,” Meyer admits at the start, half-annoyed, but unapologetically love-sick all the same. 

“Whatever Works” is out now. Watch the stunning music video below.

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Swiss Portrait – “Jackets”

Swiss Portrait is the dream pop project of Scotland-based artist Michael Kay Terence. Earlier this year, he released his gorgeous debut EP Familiar Patterns, completely self-recorded and produced in his tiny spare bedroom just outside of Edinburgh. Terence’s focused, introspective DIY approach (often utilizing repetition to create an aura of warmth, calm, and familiarity) consistently results in tracks that are gorgeously textured and atmospheric in tone, complete with subtle, yet esoteric narratives that transform simple emotions into stunning complexities. 

Earlier this week, he released “Jackets,” his first single since Familiar Patterns. Quite literally about the strange difficulty that comes with “putting your jacket back on and going back into the world after lockdown,” the track expresses empathy and understanding when it comes to fear and anxiety; the guitar, patient and welcoming, surrounds the listener like the arms of a friend. The lyrics speak to being consistent and earnest even when the world is anything but: “Shiver, all night/ but I’ll be right here,” Terence assures. And yet, at the same time he comforts, he pushes for eventual change, repeating “outside, outside” at the close as if insisting that better things are just beyond the horizon, should we have the strength to venture out towards them. 

“Jackets” is out now. 

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Orchid Mantis – “Never Knows Best”

Last week, Thomas Howard announced the release of Visitations, his sixth (!) full-length LP as Orchid Mantis. Howard’s songwriting has always been one consistently and beautifully obsessed with memory, place, and time, with signature dreamy vocals, unique, often surrealistic instrumental flourishes and an overall production that sounds “worn down by years of sun exposure.” But it isn’t sun-stroke, nor giddy, sun-soaked joy that will radiate through this album, but rather, something more ethereal and metaphysical – Howard explains further: 

“I wanted to try some things on this record I wasn’t confident enough to attempt in the past – longer, droning songs and minimal electronic pop. Its title could refer to funeral gatherings, spiritual or divine visitations, the appearance of loved ones in dreams, etc. This album is vaguely about all those things. It’s also about distance and time, and how they separate individuals – in proximity and in death, before and after.”

The album’s first single, “Never Knows Best,” is like a warm, sudden gust of wind, a beam of sunlight filtering in through the gaps in the trees. Howard’s voice is pronounced and bright throughout the track, the guitar instrumentals clean and earnest, the narrative honest and true. The lyrics speak to both the human condition (“that’s all any of us are / just waves and light / shining way too bright”) as well as life’s brittle unpredictability, and finally, our ability to push through confidently despite these anxieties and fears. He does not fight the impending future, but instead embraces the unknown with something like peaceful spite and stoic determination: “and never knows best / whatever comes next / I’ve made up my mind / I’ll see things through / to the end of the line.” There’s a brief moment of introspection at the end of the track, where the lo-fi cassette tone changes into something more atmospheric – indication that everything, at least for a brief moment, has perhaps fallen exactly into place. 

Visitations is out October 1. Pre-order it here. You can also read our 2020 interview with Howard here

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Febueder – “Pasiphae”

A little over a year after their stunning debut album Tomalin Has Etched In, UK-based avant-indie duo Febueder (pronounced Fe-byou-der) have returned with their newest single “Pasiphae.” Composed of vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Kieran Godfrey and percussionist/multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Samuel Keysell, the two have been creating incredibly cerebral works of beauty that truly are their own genre. Their 2017 From An Album EP still brings shivers and goosebumps from the songwriting alone (listen to “Stilts” and “Morning Yawn,” please). The new single further proves the duo’s utter talent, with Godfrey explaining the inspiration behind the new track last week:

“’Pasiphae’ is an ardent new offering about finding calmness and sanguinity in deadlock. It’s a reminder to look beyond the immediacy of stagnation, rather than letting it envelop you. For so many people the past year has brought with it an almost ever-present sense of gridlock. When you’re understandably tetchy about such matters, stubbornness is born; however, when you allow this to dissipate, self-esteem prevails.

One of the more minimal, yet gorgeously cathartic Febueder tracks, “Pasiphae” (perhaps named for a past queen of Crete, whose name meant “wide-shining”) stirs the listener into a blissful state of introspection and rumination, with the calming, almost ritualistic drum beats and instrumental flourishes echoing the state of deep-trance meditation. Within the lyrics is the idea of letting go, of forgetting for the sake of one’s own sanity and well-being: “You said I should breathe, and let you go with/ You said I should too, and let you go away.” And yet, this sentiment is not without a sense of the resurrection of spirit, of new beginnings and chances.

“Pasiphae” is out now.

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Midi Memory – “Anywhere, Anytime”

Midi Memory is the electronic side project of Cathedral Bells’s Matt Messore. Inspired by the stark, emotive minimalism of Black Marble and the textured expansiveness of New Order and the Cure, the project embraces the quiet, yet resilient intensity of darkwave and new wave while still keeping intact the delicate glimmers and flourishes of dream pop. Messore explained that the project arose from wanting to “create dark tones, separate from Cathedral Bells’ format of writing,” as well as attempting to “focus on lower/ deeper vocal tones, a heavier electronic sound, and synth driven” melodies. 

“Anywhere, Anytime” is the latest single since Midi Memory’s debut “No Return,” and brilliantly follows this formula; deep, darkened, reverb-heavy vocals float gingerly above an industrial-tinged, warped analog tone, relaying a vulnerable narrative of frustration and uncertainty: “I fell into a hole, underground/ Had nowhere else to go/ I won’t be anything but a broken memory/ It hurts to be so cold.” Shuddering percussion and synth soon closes out the track with the listener left blissfully in media res.

“Anywhere, Anytime” is out now via Spirit Goth Records.

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Letting Up Despite Great Faults – “Gemini”

Austin-based shoegaze group Letting Up Despite Great Faults have announced the release of their upcoming album IV, their first full-length release in 8 years. They will remain true to their shoegaze sound (with the album even being mastered by Simon Scott of Slowdive), but will also feature experimentation with pop melodies and vulnerable narratives about “growth, nurture, loss, and regret.” With the news also came the album’s first single “Gemini,” a shimmering, atmospheric ballad about infinities: 

“Gemini” is centered around the idea of forever. Friendships and loves can generate this enormous space, yet it can be such a small feeling on a day to day basis that we easily, and often, forget how almost impossible it is to find someone that fits us forever. The song immediately creates an almost chaotic world of fuzzed noise, but when the patient, whispering vocals cut through, we see our different worlds can thrive together, hopefully forever. 

Fuzzed-out, textured guitars and synth create a slight dizzying effect on the senses, plunging the listener into a state of brief disarray, only for it to be smoothed over by the dreamy, velvet-like vocals. They express a narrative of adoration and praise, with glimmers of light and sparkle lingering somewhere inside all the haze: “Will you be my gemini with me all the time / I love that you’re always the first to dance / I love that you’re always the one around to say it’s okay.” By “Gemini’s” end, it has blissfully transformed from an unforgiving atmosphere to a bright, intoxicating daydream, with a message of hope and acceptance lingering well after the final note. 

“Gemini” is out now.

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Augustine – “Summer Wine”

Today, Swedish singer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Augustine released his beautiful new single “Summer Wine.” It’s the latest in his already stunning discography, all born from his love of chillwave and 70’s pop, and consistently marked by thoughtful, piano-based instrumentals and signature falsetto vocals. Though all of his music comes from a place of pure honesty and vulnerability, there’s something about the delicate brevity of “Summer Wine” that makes it our favorite single he’s released thus far. About “feeling trapped in the aftermath of a relationship’s demise and desperately trying to find a way to free yourself from the memories of what you’ve lost,” the track has a gorgeous heaviness that shows itself with every verse; Augustine further explained the track earlier this week:

I wrote most of the lyrics in spring, on a train to my family’s house on the Swedish west coast. The weather got brighter each day and people seemed so happy and hopeful, but I felt more distant than ever. “Trying out our summer wine” became a symbol for the little things that you took for granted with someone, until it’s over and you just can’t get them out of your head.

Recorded on an old-school analog Telefunken tape machine, the track has a nostalgic, far-away feeling, anchored on a simple piano melody and made even more wistful through the eventual orchestral accompaniment. “I’m about to wither away,” Augustine admits towards the end of the track, wishing aloud that he had his past love in his arms. The short length of the track feels deliberate, in this sense, as if it was too much to explore these feelings any more than he already has. In the end, it’s a losing game: excess rumination only seems to end in permanent heartache, but feigning apathy (“I’m not looking to the future/ or the raging past/ I’m mostly just watching the days pass”) seems just as painful.

“Summer Wine” is out now. 

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Photo by David Sahlberg

Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine – “Back To Oz”

This fall, Angelo De Augustine and Sufjan Stevens will release their collaborative album A Beginner’s Mind. The album will feature fourteen songs “(loosely) based on (mostly) popular films,” touching on genres like survival horror, fantasy, and high-adrenaline action, but still brought to life through their inimitable soft vocals and dynamic, meticulous instrumentals we’ve come to expect and love from both De Augustine and Stevens. During a month-long sabbatical in upstate New York, their creative process consisted of watching movies by night and drafting songs by day, where “plot-points, scene summaries, and leading characters were often displaced by esoteric interpolations that ask the bigger question: what does it mean to be human in a broken world? “Back to Oz,” released this past week along with the equally gorgeous “Fictional California,” is the latest of these ponderings. De Augustine explained the deeper meaning behind the track:

The words reference an erosion of a central character’s internal reality. A loss of innocence is the impetus for a journey to find inner truth. In the film, Dorothy returns to the world of Oz to find its landscape in ruins and its citizens frozen in stone. Only she can find the ruby slippers and return peace to Oz. Only we can save ourselves, but we first have to remember who we truly are.

Opening with delicately muted guitar strums and De Augustine’s patient vocals, the track slowly unfurls and blossoms with bright flourishes by the chorus where Stevens joins in, both relaying an inner desire to get back where one once was: “Though it wasn’t there / Get it back, get nowhere / Get it right, follow my heart / Back to, back to Oz / Where I was born at the start.” Stevens admits that “it’s a sad song – being mostly about disillusionment -” but there’s an underlying tone of warmth and subtle, melancholy shimmer that indicates something good just beyond the horizon, should we have the residual strength to drag ourselves there. 

A Beginner’s Mind is out September 24. 

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Jungle – “All Of The Time”

Today, British duo Jungle released their third album Loving in Stereo, follow up to 2018’s For Ever. Over the past eight years, Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland have been producing tantalizing electronic dance-pop stunners with a meticulous focus on instrumentation and texture (with expertly choreographed music videos to match), and Loving in Stereo is no exception; each of its five singles released in anticipation for the album have been some of the most exuberant and addictive the two have ever released. After “Keep Moving,” “Talk About It,” “Romeo” (ft. Bas), and “Truth” was “All Of The Time,” perhaps our favorite out of the bunch. Lloyd-Watson and McFarland explained the track earlier this week:

“All Of The Time” explores loss and spirituality, the passing of time and the feeling of growing apart from someone close to you. These themes are juxtaposed with the euphoric nature of the track which sonically challenges you to accept and grow through positivity in body and soul.

When it comes to electro-pop, immediacy and vitality are two qualities I tend to look for, and that’s exactly what this single radiates, with its groovy, electric instrumentals, gnarly guitar undertones, and a breathtaking falsetto vocal that has since become signature of any Jungle track. The duo believe they’re close to reaching their creative pinnacle with Loving in Stereo – fearless, carefree, and not looking for creative validation, and instead simply making the music they feel needs to be in the world. 

Loving in Stereo is out now. 

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