Album Review: Cloud Castle Lake, Malingerer

I tend to throw around the phrase “performance art piece” quite a lot when dealing with bands and artists too beautifully esoteric, too tonally exquisite, too powerfully evocative to merely be called music. I’ve used the term repeatedly in the past to describe groups like Ought and the unapologetically delivered musings of its frontman Tim Darcy, I’ve attached it to near extraterrestrial, ephemeral groups like Sigur Ros and Radiohead, to those that tend to transcend and push the limits of what sound and voice can be. Now, I’m using the term yet again to describe Cloud Castle Lake, and this time, if I may aggressively pound my fist on the table below me, I really, really mean it. There’s something about them that screams passion, mystery, wonder, intrigue, something that has never been done, something that will never be done again. It deserves to both somehow be dissected and to be left alone simultaneously. Through their music, they strive to “juxtapose lyrical darkness and despair with an almost euphoric catharsis,” and Malingerer is the near flawless result.

The Dublin quartet don’t really have a set genre, at least, not to me – though you could probably take one listen to their debut EP as well as the first few seconds of “Twins” and tell me they’re unpredictable and fluid in nature, something that could only be described as experimental jazz. But I’ll let you in on a little secret, something I’ve only admitted to friends and family due to fear of being ostracized: I’ve never been the biggest fan of jazz. Don’t get me wrong. I respect it to the highest degree – I understand its intellectual nature, the unrelenting passion, patience, and skill it takes someone to compose and perform melodies that have no limits, no boundaries, no rules. I worked at a jazz radio station for two and a half years, blasted it day and night with my fingers perpetually hovering on the levels to get that perfect, balanced sound, memorized countless bands and artists like my life depended on it. And yet, for whatever reason, its a genre that I just can’t immerse myself in, no matter how hard I try.

I want to refrain from calling Malingerer a jazz album considering my aforementioned statements, but yes, okay, it truly does embrace jazz at its core, the way it purposely lacks pace, verse, chorus, everything that allows it to lean away from traditional music and more into the realms of experimental sound. Everything about it tends to reach beyond what is capable, everything – even the vocals of Daniel McAuley, a sharp, falsetto croon existing as the very definition of fragile and delicate, still manages to stretch and soar, and even when you think it’s about to crack, about to split open and spill all of its emotion, again it soars higher, again it stretches further.

It’s interesting to note that each track is longer than average, swelled and drawn out, and, while that can perhaps be considered needlessly prolix and overwhelming on first or second listen, its something that simply needs to be, instead referring to their utter tenacity in composing, performing, living and breathing what they produce. That time and space is needed to house every complex melody, to toy with every sonic structure they emit, and tracks like the lush, atmospheric “Fern” – a dream-like requiem lasting exactly eight minutes – and “Two Birds” – a slow-building ballad clocking in at twelve minutes – exist as direct results of that focused mentality. Yet they also prove that they can condense that energy as well in their shorter tracks, and those do tend to be the more powerful – mainly because they more effectively convey each member’s near telepathic manner of communicating, managing to play off each other in the most cathartic ways.

“Twins” is the true epitome of “euphoric darkness” all the way down to the fervid, unparalleled emotion in McAuley’s voice, making brilliant use of brass and orchestral instrumentals, not attempting to overpower or overemphasize. “Bonfire,” one of their older, recently revamped tracks alongside the wobbly, timid “Genuflect,” utilizes the haunting piano of Brendan William Jenkinson and the scattered percussion of Brendan Doherty, transforming from sparse and minimalistic at the beginning to large and threatening towards its close. Inspired by ancient Irish myth, its dark, cavernous sound is made further intimidating with the addition of Rory O’Connor’s thunderous bass and its choral interludes, making it one of their more pronounced pieces, as well as the most powerful. “Malingerer,” described by the band as the evocation of their true, unadulterated  sound, is smoldering and scintillating from the initial lamentations of McAuley, as is his signature. Then there’s Jenkinson’s wandering, fantastical piano a minute in, completely changing its tone, continuing to flourish and grow, carving curlicues into its woodwork with a dagger hot and jagged. Much of the album also deals with or evokes heavy themes like introspection and isolation, terms not far off in describing where it was recorded – Attica Studios in the north of Ireland, basically separated from the rest of the country. That loneliness comes out most beautifully in “A Monument,” where the instrumentals and McAuley’s voice fall in perfect, perfect consilience. The guitars are darker, intentionally muted with finesse, and yet bites and claws simultaneously, at the beck and call of the vocals that hover above. Sure, it’s the shortest track on the album, but somehow the most sprawling, the most unforgiving in the best way. 

I want to hearken back to “Sync” for a moment, the track that first introduced me to Cloud Castle Lake, the track I use to introduce others to them. Every time I listen to it, I realize new aspects of it, notice and emphasize different sounds, attach myself to different words. I don’t know what it is. The trumpets blare more passionately, the drums more aggressive and bleeding, the vocals teetering more and more on the border between pain and pleasure. What I mean to say is that I’m not done with Malingerer in the slightest – how could I be? Each track is a different world, a different environment housing a different atmosphere that requires its own set of tools and supplies to survive in. And though I’m still hesitant to merely call it music, I like music this way – threatening, intimidating, but with a little tenderness, with the ability to show itself as vulnerable, delicate, human beneath all the chaos.

9.5/10

P

photo courtesy of artist
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EP Review: Inning, D.C. Party Machine

When Evan Frolov studied abroad in Germany during high school, he lived in a town called Inning. Despite knowing German and the locals knowing English, he found himself lacking someone close to speak with on a deeper level, as conversations with those around him tended to continuously hover on the surface, void of intimacy or vulnerability. Frustrated, he turned to music for solace, and found himself suddenly paying far more attention to verse than ever before, closely analyzing lyrical content as well as why they were especially effective in soothing his frustrations, and, in the case of the music he subjected himself to, they managed to do so without indulging in needless metaphor or existential themes.

Ironically, in doing this Frolov ended up having that deep, emotional conversation he craved with another so intensely with himself instead, leading to his own creative pursuits when he returned back home. While it was during this experience abroad where he truly realized the power of lyrical narrative – and what inspired him to begin crafting his own – it was ultimately the looming desire to make sense of his continued experiences as a college junior entering adulthood where he ultimately had the opportunity to bring this newfound skill into play. Through this fervid interaction of inspiration and intent – as well as a few friends to rehearse with – finally came Inning’s stunning debut EP, D.C. Party Machine.

After discussing the album with Frolov, which he explained was about self-identity, adulthood, and love at twenty, I had a strong feeling – especially after listening to the EP numerous times – that conveying the latter, this highly specific, self-titled subset of love “at twenty,” was the most crucial in this release, despite listing it last in the email. After all, the album itself is organized to simulate falling in love, touching on everything from locking eyes to wistful introspection after the fact, with each track representing a different, but incredibly specific aspect of the experiences in between. As far as sound goes, Frolov mentioned that he started inning with something particular in mind, something with the haziness and warmth of Beach House mixed with the lyrical directness of The National. While the songs on D.C.PM more or less tend to be what he initially envisioned, an incredibly unique aura takes over them at the same time, perhaps the result of Frolov letting more of his own emotions and thoughts bleed through into their lyrical narratives, rather than merely creating what he thought others might like to hear.

In this regard, the album begins with “D.C. Party Machine,” a quirky ballad on falling in love with yourself before falling in love with anyone else. Written after interning in Washington D.C., the track has Frolov slowly growing accustomed to working as a young adult, while at the same time going to parties in which he suddenly found himself having access. The heavy guitars, while minimal at the start, soon become lush and colorful as Frolov takes advantage of the latter half of his situation, exclaiming to no one in particular “I love D.C.!” after the rush of meeting someone that night. The guitars inflate along with his ego, then come down again with the bright, nostalgic solo that stretches towards the end, hopeful and youthful, but also with an overarching, unshakeable naivety. However, the best part of this album is the fact that Frolov is incredibly self-aware in his writing, and “Feels Like It Did” sounds like a warning to himself to not get carried away with infatuation so quickly. The textured guitars, with the same cadence and pacing as a pounding heartbeat, try to fight his hazy vocals anyways, but ultimately fall victim his internal psyche telling him he’s been down this path before. What results is beautiful tension, a flawless auditory representation of the head and the heart’s perpetual battle.

It is here where the album takes a turn in terms of sound. Whereas the first two tracks were minimal and punk-inspired, the last three take more after dream pop and shoegaze, as they touch on, according to Frolov, the “uncertainty and anxiety about love.” And true to form, with “Expensive Flights” everything suddenly becomes heavier, the instrumentals swirling into each other to create a thick, impenetrable fog of self-doubt. Though it is written in his ex-girlfriend’s perspective, it’s hard not to imagine Frolov feeling the same way, especially with the pressures and frustrations of maintaining a long distance relationship. Fittingly, it sounds overwhelming towards the bridge, as they remember all the specific things they like about each other but not having the means or immediate opportunity to express them. Amidst all the uncertainty, however, a phrase is repeated throughout, one that sticks out beautifully amidst all the noise: “I miss you like hell.” Closer “Philly Nice” is introspective and incredibly honest, as it follows Frolov coming to terms with people that have left, as well as the people he’s let go. He finds himself lamenting (“I’m afraid if I lose you/ I might lose a part of me too”) but never wallows – the instrumentals don’t let him, maintaining their composure. The overarching ego that reared its head at the start has dwindled to the size of a penny. He admits “I’ll always love you,” but in in a voice confident in his own ability to move on, to take what he’s learned from every failed relationship.

Inning is at their best, however, when Frolov completely and irrevocably gives into the power of his own vulnerability, and despite its brevity, it is for precisely this reason “Glow !” remains the magnum opus of D.C. Party Machine. A dream pop track in the purest sense, it’s warm and encapsulating, with enamored, luxurious swells of guitar that radiate upon each strum. It’s almost as if Frolov is singing from within a potent hallucination of his own doing, falling deeper and deeper into the dream-state with every specific detail he remembers about the one he’s enchanted with. He reassures this faceless, nameless entity: “even when you’re not around/ you still are here.” Though we know how it will inevitably end, there’s something soothing about being in this brief moment, reminded of what love, even infatuation, can be at its very best.

If you’re familiar at all with the poetry of William Blake, you’ll know that he was known for two collections – Songs of Innocence, and Songs of Experience. While I am aware this miiiight be an audacious reach, there was something specific about the pacing and organization of D.C. Party Machine that reminded me of some sort of amalgamation of the two. Taking the feelings of youth and following it up with the nature of emerging adulthood, Frolov, in his direct, yet impassioned writing style, has managed to not only capture their specific feelings and situations, but to do so in a way completely self-aware of what also has the potential to come next, almost as if, like Blake, he stands at a safe distance while making sense of everything before jumping back in again. Regardless of my own presumptuous literary comparisons, Inning is still a remarkably versatile, honest, and, most importantly, thoughtful musical project, housing an aura that can only grow more impenetrable as time goes on.

9.0/10

P

photo courtesy of artist

Album Review: Moaning, Moaning

Moaning is an apt band name for the type of aggressive, yet latently vulnerable music that its members create, existing somewhere between a resentful cry from pain as well as an escaped sigh of pleasure. After spending the last ten years developing their sound in the Los Angeles DIY scene, Sam Solomon, Pascal Stevenson, and Andrew MacKelvie signed to Sub Pop records and began working on their debut album, and with it their reputations for being post-punk wunderkinds were born – as well as their underlying desires to craft the sort of noise-heavy, lyrically personal and evocative anthems that seemingly any twenty-something can relate to their own personal ideologies, broken and weary from the increasing pressures of modern society.

There’s a specific mentality in millenials that if you’re not successful by the time you’re twenty-five, you might as well give up on your dream entirely. It’s an incredibly toxic, stunted way of thinking, even more so for those in a purely creative field, where it was always incredibly difficult to find success anyways. Of course, the threat of failure has never stopped creators from creating, and all cynicism aside, I honestly feel there has never been a better time to be in the creative field than right now, despite all of its frustrations – modern technology has made it so simple to readily express your thoughts and feelings, to do research on just about anything, and, most importantly, to seek both inspiration and solace from other creators. And yet, ironically, the struggle to somehow sculpt all of that into a stable living still remains.

This is the exact society that Moaning exist in, “one where the endless possibility for art and creation is met with the fear and doubt of an uncertain future” (Sub Pop),  a concept they express through simple, yet piercing language, and, perhaps fittingly, also mostly exists as a series of questions – in “Artificial” he asks either us, a past lover, society, or perhaps even all three “who is it for?/ was it thought through?/ can I have more?/ is it all for you?/ will you learn to share?” He asks similar questions to a faceless lover in the fervid, post-punk anthem “Don’t Go,” desperately wanting to know “do you care ‘cause I do?/ are you there ‘cause I am?” And finally, he begins the shoegaze heavy “Tired” in a bout of introspection, asking himself “is it in my head?/ is there anything to do?/ was it something I said?” And yet, through the smoldering wails of guitar and Solomon’s tired moan towards the end of each of these tracks, it’s clear these questions are all rhetorical, and will most likely never be answered. And ultimately, their frustrations with this sound most powerful and realized in the self-aware beast “Artificial,” where Solomon, surrounded on all sides by red hot, turbulent guitar, shouts “nothing is fair” before again falling captive to Stevenson’s disjointed bassline, and indirectly, the pressure to fully accept that observation.

With this album also came a lush production quality that Moaning hadn’t yet embraced due to their exclusively live presence over the past ten years, and there are moments – like the slightly bizarre, off kilter synth and elastic vocals of “Close” – where those experimental desires shine through, and, combined with their unique, youthful energy, they more than get away with it in the end. In fact, I kept wanting those desires to come back –  especially in the last half of the album – as tracks like “For Now,” “Useless,” and even closer “Somewhere in There,” while razor sharp in tone, ultimately sounded like angry filler, just a thick, impenetrable wall of sound, noise for noise’s sake.

The existence of these three tracks are especially frustrating, considering that Moaning already proved earlier in the album that they have the ability to flawlessly deliver a classic noise punk track, one with unpredictability, energy, and dimension, one that manages to check off every box on the list for all that they introduced at the beginning, being youthful angst, frustration with modern society, and yes, even heartbreak, and it is for these reasons that “The Same” exists as the clear stunner of this debut. Solomon begins with a deep, slurred drawl barely audible above the thick expanse of guitar and bass, then slowly grows in power, asking the most existential question of them all: “what’s next?” then provides the catch phrase of every twenty something trying to find success in their particular field – “we’ll see how it goes.”

It is the not knowing that makes it both incredibly exciting and incredibly frightening to be a creator, no, fuck it, anyone trying to make it in anything these days, and proves just how resilient the human spirit has to be in order to keep going – Moaning manage to sum it up in one simple phrase: “we’re the same, everything else has changed.”

7.5/10

P

photo by Michael Schmelling

Album Review: Ought, Room Inside the World

The creative freedoms of art-punk make it an incredibly fascinating subgenre of punk rock, able to be highly intellectual, or raw, brooding, and volatile, or, if you’re lucky, a wonderful amalgamation of the two. Montreal band Ought have been the poster boys for the anomalous genre of art-punk since their debut album More Than Any Other Day back in 2014, which mostly had to do with their impressive grasp on the genre – in fact, some say they may have even invented it due to their fearless, cathartic delivery, something that critics still like to relate back to the Quebec student protests that may have had a hand in their creation. Even a year later with the release of sophomore album Sun Coming Down – which sounded lighter and more colorful tonally – the quartet still sound wonderfully earnest in the themes of isolation, alienation, and the constant struggle and frustration with the monotonous minutiae of everyday life, and in Room Inside the World, the group’s most ambitious release to date, they not only elevate those same signature themes, but finally emphasize something that, until now, has been subtly coursing underneath, yet simultaneously coiled like a snake, ready for the right moment to strike – vulnerability.

If you’ve been following us for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been a little (okay, very) biased towards Ought throughout the years, and that’s something that I’d like to expound before going into this album. When you’ve been in the creative sphere for the majority of your life like I have, there are many moments where you stop and think, with the utmost, unwavering conviction, that your words, your work, your creative pursuits, simply do not matter. I was a literature and creative writing major in college and started this blog around the same time, and while I was thrilled to finally be putting my entire being into what I was doing, even in my spare time, the thought that I would never find success with it lingered in my mind. It still lingers, to be honest. It’s frustrating – and even embarrassing at times – to be the one that repeatedly gets caught up in words and emotions to the point of over analyzation, to be the one that cares too much in a world where quick, lucrative thought and productive reason is repeatedly emphasized and rewarded. Bertrand Russell said years ago that “we think too much and feel too little,” and I have honestly never felt that more than today. When I first started listening to Ought, truly listening to the group’s smoldering, improvisational compositions, to Tim Darcy express to me his innermost thoughts and demons in such realized, poetic language despite the assertive manner in which he expelled them vocally, I realized just how important it was for me to continue what I was doing, to make sense of all the noise through varied forms of written word, and to do so as beautifully as one can despite it coming from a hollowed out place of strife.

Frontman Tim Darcy is no stranger to this process, nor is he a stranger to intense sensitivity and the vulnerability that comes along with it; his debut solo album Saturday Night touched on everything from the frustrations of the creative process to toxic masculinity, and in a lot of ways Room Inside the World seems to be a direct extension of those same themes, not to mention the amount of time spent on its creation due to the desire of it being a studio record rather than one that bordered more on being a live album. Sun Coming Down was recorded in two months and More Than Any Other Day was recorded in an unbelievable three days, Room Inside the World took the longest to record by far, at five months. However, that doesn’t mean that this album isn’t as raw and intensely improvisational than the last two – in fact, Darcy mentioned that with this project, they “didn’t want to lose that intensity, but really go deeper and think about craft.” As a result, the songs that appear on the album are patient and more drawn out, less in the way that sacrifices energy or intensity but more in the way in which they manage to appear even more thoughtful and respectful to their own work than ever before, existing as the well-ripened fruits of steady, consistent, collaborative labor.

Something that Ought has brilliantly managed to perfect is the delicate process of evolution as well as introducing it in a gradual manner, and the first three tracks are placed perfectly for a slow submersion into previously uncharted territory marked by varied compositional form. Opener “Into the Sea,” with its National-esque vocal and instrumental pacing, still sounds incredibly distinctive for the quartet the moment you hear Darcy’s frustrated, pained yell into the newfound expanse of echoed guitars and bass delivered by Ben Stidworthy, and the narrative is strangely synonymous with the pressures placed on the band (“these eyes that cling to you/ faked clean and washing through/ they seem to want something new/ fleeting, wanting, holding). “Disgraced in America” begins reminiscent of their Sun Coming Down days, especially with Tim Keen’s frantic drums and Darcy’s yelps (“What a blessing/ what an imitation/ what a blessing/ what an imitation), that is before he suddenly sinks into the melted pool of instrumentals halfway through and transforms his voice into the fluid instrument it always had the potential of being – also managing to make the word “demarcation” sound more sensual and poetic than it ever has, and perhaps ever will. With these two opening tracks they also give us a makeshift thesis statement for the album – that it will ultimately address intellectualism and creative, artistic desires and vulnerable emotions persevering and struggling to survive in a poisoned world stained with judgement and corruption.

One very important thing that you have probably already concluded for yourself – especially if you have been a fan of Ought since the beginning – is that it is near impossible to listen to them if you have an aversion to lyrical narrative. You cannot simply listen to these songs without at least glancing at the liner notes, without the burning desire to know exactly what Darcy is communicating, and they are especially piercing in Room Inside the World. The best tracks are the ones that tap into the frustrations of being soft in a world that rewards being stoic and detached, the ones where Darcy plays both the poet and the prophet.

“These 3 Things” has Darcy addressing the simultaneous passion and dread that comes with being easily susceptible to the fragile, excitable nature of inspiration and the creative process that spurns from it (“See your soul/ feel it sway/ hear the world screaming/ listen, your name”). He voices his frustrations with the process, wondering if he can be genuine (“Will I hear my soul?), but then calms down enough to explain the importance of letting inspiration flow freely, advising us before Tim Keen’s cinematic violin instrumentals “if you’re made of stone/ then turn into clay.” Stunner “Disaffectation” not only introduces the especially evocative 80’s inspiration the boys had this time around, but also solidifies their aggressive intellectual edge by the first mention of the philosophical term that is its namesake – the term suggesting that certain people are “psychologically separated from their emotions, and may have lost the capacity to be in touch with interior psychic reality.” It also brings to mind an affliction that simultaneous intellectuals and creatives may suffer from – the process of being so entranced by the pain and strife they endure and simultaneously actively seek out from other creatives to the point where their intense strength in being empathetic becomes a double edged sword, and soon it becomes harder and harder to escape from the feeling. In “Disaffectation” Darcy explains in a half-crazed, half-impassioned croon that he has “all these strange visions/ come to [him] at night” and he hears “with satisfaction” as they “sing the words [he] likes,” and with them he lays in bed, “high” on the feeling, afterwards bitterly saying that there is medication to get rid of this – “you can get it through the phone.” The anxious slew of bass and drums bounce up and down during these dense verses, providing enough bravado for Darcy to excitedly deliver an brilliant line, one where you can almost hear the satisfied smile that comes with it –  “disaffectation is holy/ it makes me feel alive!”

It is “Take Everything,” however, that most directly addresses this frustration of being too soft and too wrapped up in your own passions – those that are insidious in the way that they both bring pleasure as well as pain – as well as the track that houses some of the most beautiful lyrics Darcy has ever written. In a tired, lurching vocal delivery and inbetwixt snarling, growling guitars, he advises us once again that “when the feel of a flower/ keeps you at home for an hour/ throw it away/ there’s a garden there to be deep in.” He looks out for our well-being while perhaps at the same time reminding himself of his own creative flaws. It’s entirely possible to love something too much to the point of remaining inside yourself and showing utter disrespect to the object or concept you are admiring –  it is instead what results from that love, what is created as an extension of that love that should be rewarded.

Speaking of love, slow-burner “Desire” might be the most sensual song Ought has ever released, as well as the most self-aware. Beginning with dreamy flutters of synth and subtle distortion, we hear the most deliberate, softest vocal delivery from Darcy pour in before he resorts back to his signature, deep-throated drawl, delivering a narrative of equal parts romance and vitriol. He expounds a relationship that has long since deteriorated, repeating that “it was never gonna stay: throughout the track, and yet compares his love to a “moon in a basket of weeds,” remembers the “feel of [their] honey in the corner of [his] mouth.” Darcy, hurt but not broken implied by the immense inhumanity of this nameless person, “won’t accept the conceit any further,” promises to return it “in a fervor,” and like clockwork in comes the seventy piece choir that elevates his argument into the stratosphere.

Regardless of my own personal bias, Ought nevertheless remains as one of the most innovative, passionate, and intellectual bands currently working today, and it is simply because they prove that the written and spoken word, even in its most polarizing poetic and lyrical forms, still has meaning, importance, power. And now with Room Inside the World, they are more than willing to express the importance of drawing out as well as praising the feeling of vulnerability amidst a world of stoicism, indifference, and anger, expressing the sheer validity of the messier, more esoteric parts of the human condition when it is far easier to ignore them completely. The fact that they have again managed to tap deep into the inner workings of my soul – a place that I thought was impenetrable compared to my far more permeable heart – with those thoughts that I have had throughout my life as a writer but, ironically, could never put into words, is more than enough to make Room Inside the World among the few true works of art that I personally will not only consider a unarguable masterpiece, but one that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

10/10

P

photo courtesy of artist/ merge records

Album Review: Alvvays – Antisocialites

Through nostalgic, lo-fi dream pop and insanely clever lyrical wit, Alvvays’s self-titled debut album mostly explored the many details and nuances of a two-person relationship, touching on the serious as well as the more jocund. Though built on an aggressive and striking foundation, the debut still evoked the sun-drenched, bubbly mood of retro pop, as well as included unique instrumental flourishes to add moments of delicacy, the amalgamation of its contrasting tones of hard and soft being Molly Rankin’s breathy, and at times, beautifully dreary vocals. Following their signature style of hiding dark, visceral lyrics under the facade of bright, shimmering instrumentals, Alvvays’s sophomore album Antisocialites doesn’t stray too far from the path they’ve paved, but does change its lyrical tone. Mostly gone are the narratives that touch on dependence on another’s touch; instead, the Toronto four-piece explores the ideas of separation and escapism, at the same time fleshing out their jangly, colorful sound, resulting in a saccharine sweet, yet remarkably tenacious collection of tracks without the sugar crash.

The 60’s are still very much alive within Alvvays’s music, but the way in which they alter its components to fit their particular aesthetic almost seems like a parody on the genre itself; the fact that such somber topics lurk underneath shiny, bright instrumentals (see: the drowning of a loved one in the peppy tune “Next Of Kin” on Alvvays) is a brilliant reconstruction of a period of time where the music always seemed just a little too happy. Regardless, the ways in which they do evoke the style are wonderful – Kerri MacLellan’s fuzzy day-glo piano that introduces opener “In Undertow” beautifully swells and grows to provide ample room for Rankin’s velvet smooth voice and accompanying bass line to grab you by the shoulders and pull you into their world. The almost eerie doo-wop of “Not My Baby” house murky instrumentals and Rankin’s sinuous vocals weave around them, the flourishes of synth shimmering just underneath the surface, the bridge evoking a glimmering, refulgent light hovering under a pellucid body of water. “Plimsoll Punks” is more upbeat, cut up into equal moments of unrest and clarity, rebelliousness and frustration. Apparently, the track is about Rankin’s frustrations with being in the public eye and resisting the idea of authenticity in music, leading to the idea that we’re all just “punks” underneath our civilized disguises.

The most wonderful aspect of Molly Rankin and Alec O’Hanley’s lyrical narratives is the fact that they feel lost in time – they’re relatable to almost anyone, regardless of generation. Even though they have the tendency to occasionally reference items and ideas that irrevocably belong in the past (“Archie, Marry Me”’s mention of breadmakers, for instance), the seamless way it sits within the rest of the track only adds to their immense lyrical charm, which is even more pronounced in Antisocialites. “Lollipop (Ode to Jim)” reverts back to the the atmosphere of pinstriped, sherbet serving dance parlors of the 60’s, is one of the most effervescent, Rankin seemingly interrupting her own ebullient tone in her mile-a-minute vocals. “In Undertow” has Rankin exploring the feelings of doubt and insecurity in a relationship, but without really caring if they resolve it or not – the fact that she asks him “rhetorically” if they can be saved as well as the repeated epiphany of “there’s no turning back” during the chorus and the breakdown points to a woman that wishes to explore isolation for a while. “Dreams Tonite” is the experience of seeing someone you once thought you knew perfectly in a completely different light, its hazy, delicate tone making it one of the most earnest, unpretentious tracks in Alvvays’s career. “Not My Baby” provides a moment of epiphany for Rankin, where she explains that she “traded [her] rose colored shades for a wide lens,” focusing on more realistic ideas that include retreating back into her own subconscious instead of voicing her thoughts aloud in the past.

It’s true that Rankin spends more time emphasizing the feelings of separation, escapism, and isolation in this album – seemingly in that exact order – but the last two tracks gradually introduce another character, close to Alvvays’s infamous marriage-hating, alimony fearing “Archie.” in “Saved By A Waif,” Rankin criticizes a faceless “Adrian” among surf guitar and bombastic drums, claiming he “wanted to get it together” but doesn’t, and has no plans to do so in the future. And Rankin won’t wait for him either, apparently. However, it’s clear that Rankin still has a soft spot for whoever it was she was trying to cast aside for ninety percent of the album, because closer “Forget About Life” has her inviting him back to forget about their troubles for a while “under this flickering light,” going back to the youthful excursions introduced in the debut – images of sitting alone with someone that knew you well, drinking awful wine and talking deep into the night, but you can’t help feeling that the relationship that once was has since dwindled, resulting in a bittersweet, nostalgic tone that feels agonizingly tangible for those that can relate all too well.

If Alvvays‘s pragmatic, yet still carefree approach was made up of primary colors, the softness of everything in Antisocialites point to something more pastel in appearance – but don’t attribute the candy like color palette to something without substance; despite its initial sugary sensation, its earnest, unyielding aftertaste houses something fervid and tireless, something that can only continue to grow in strength as Alvvays continues to enhance their unique, unparalleled sound.

8.0/10

P

photo by Arden Wray

Album Review: Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins

Grizzly Bear have always made the sort of stylistically complex music that’s been hard to place in any one genre or even accurately convey to another person – they’re just… Grizzly Bear. Sure, you could spend an hour explaining what exactly chamber and baroque pop are, but the only way to truly understand Grizzly Bear is to listen. Their true charm lies not in their individual talents, but the way in which they bring those talents together while writing, recording, and performing, as if they exist as four heads resting comfortably on top of a large, singular body, complete with a harpsichord under one arm and a guitar in the other. Having since evolved from the Ed Droste fronted debut Horn of Plenty in 2004 to a four member group, the band has played around with different aesthetics throughout the years, afterwards with each member taking the time to understand their own style and purpose in the band as well as society. And now, five years since 2012’s Shields, they’ve returned with a stunning and, as is their want, an amazingly complex, textured album flawlessly conveying the process of decay, epiphany, and, partly, the slow, grueling process of rebirth, projecting those concepts inward into the self as well as out into the world around it.

Forget for a moment that Painted Ruins’s opener “Wasted Acres” is about riding an all terrain vehicle through a field and instead focus on it’s haunting repeated lyric sung by Daniel Rossen: “Were you even listening?” Although the rest of the song feels awfully esoteric and unfamiliar to the point of uneasiness, it’s an incredible strategy for the overall flow of the album – Rossen’s hollow tone mixed with the sensation of brooding, fantastical drums is the invitation into another one of Grizzly Bear’s intricately designed, heavily textured worlds, and he proceeds to ask you if you’ve ever taken the time to listen to your own desires, if you’re listening to the voices within yourself in the midst of a changing environment, begging you to tell him what you need, to trust him. Rossen repeatedly acts as your direct link connecting their world with the one in which you are familiar, being for the most part direct, outspoken, and hopeful, while Droste acts as the constant, incessant internal noise, the one that you feel you’ve battled and dealt with time and time again, even if you’ve never had to endure the pain of a breakup, the pain of not fully understanding yourself, or even just the pain of existing in a morally corrupt society lead by an equally corrupt leader, the last bit unfortunately being more accurate today than ever.

Despite the emotional weight of Droste’s contribution, Painted Ruins nonetheless explores the idea of re-enamoring yourself after the process of breaking apart, and is repeatedly explored in the lyrics, and we hear Droste’s laments of decay at an almost equal par with Rossen’s hopes of rebirth. Subsequently, there’s a wonderful sense of tension as well as a sense of resilience from enduring that tension, each song sounding like a catalyst for some sort of meaningful epiphany. As a result, Painted Ruins feels warm to the touch, housing a smoldering, aggressive nature begging for the chance to be released. Their instrumentals ricochet off each other while Droste and Rossen act as a tag team vocally, “Mourning Sound” being a wonderful example of their powerful dynamic. Droste sets the tone with his deep drawl, lamenting his mistakes and the slow decay of his love (“Let love age/ And watch it burn out and die”) and Rossen meanders in afterwards, riding the wave of bright guitar strums and electric synth, awoken to sounds reminiscent of wartime chaos, including “dogs,” “distant shots,” and “passing trucks.” It’s the first of the songs mostly dealing with decay and ruin, followed by the somber “Four Cypresses” and the idea of slow deterioration, the cypresses themselves directly symbolizing death as well as the life that came before it. Rossen repeats twice within the track that “it’s chaos, but it works,” which seems to be a catch-all phrase for their entire discography, from the quiet calamity of Yellow House to the colorful, bombastic Veckatimest, to the textured, complex Shields and now to this aggressive, brooding masterpiece.

“Three Rings” is the first to question the emotions long since buried deep inside, Droste asking through the midst of experimental, industrial sounding instrumentals if this is “the way it is” before sinking into a somber, teary-eyed “Ready, Able”-esque bridge of desperation and anguish, begging his beloved “don’t you ever leave me,” promising he can “make it better,” to make himself better too, if he can fit it in. It’s one of the handful of tracks that address the concept of epiphany, and as a result, the instrumentals usually begin with Christopher Bear’s relatively minimal chunky percussions and Chris Taylor’s disjointed bass plucks, only to later be met with a wave of techniques and styles that wash over to fill the space. Another, “Cut-out,” one of our absolute favorites on the album, also addresses the idea of letting go, to carve away at the parts causing you pain and eviscerate that “invading spore” within your body, “inhale your older self,” and move on. Instrumentally, it’s also one of the most interesting, beginning with a beautiful, subtle guitar melody and Droste’s voice swelling and deflating with ease, Rossen later acting as the chorus to his lead narrative, the voice of reason and action.

“Neighbors”’s grandiose composition and heartbreaking narrative hints at the idea that pain and strife are everlasting and seemingly impossible to prevent despite the human ideal to move on, perhaps even claiming it as part of the process to rebirth. Droste lamenting in drawn out breaths that “face to face/ We’ll watch our bodies break,” while Rossen lurks underneath with his own lucid tone, agreeing that yes, they “left [him] broken” and “helpless.” Closer “Sky Took Hold” is also one of the most stunning on the album, as it utilizes the power of Droste’s voice in the context of soliloquy, arguably where he shines most. After a soft, gentle introduction, the metallic synth that follow resemble five concentrated lightning strikes, which Droste uses as fuel to propel his voice higher until it seems to dissolve into the ether. At the end, he confides in the listener in the battlefield of instrumentals: “Since I was a young boy it was always there/ Inside me growing none of it seems fair/ I’ve grown to accept it, let it take the stage/ And leave me helpless, watching far away.” It’s a moment of clarity despite the noise it unravels itself in, and serves as a brilliant conclusion to an already dense, beautifully esoteric work.

Although the album contains the feelings of self-doubt and unease, the sense of hope and the chance for rebirth always seems to sit idly by, even sometimes embedded in the fibers of its complex instrumentals. In this, the image of the title’s painted ruins comes to mind, in both its negative and positive connotations; on one hand, the process of painting over something that has shattered seems fruitless, but on the other, it also symbolizes the act of moving on, taking into account your pain and your flaws and using them as the foundation for something even more beautiful than it was before. And sometimes, internal noise and external noise has the ability to cancel each other out, leaving in its wake something calm and lovely, and Painted Ruins is a fine example of just that, perhaps even one of the finest of the year. 

9.0/10

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photo by Tom Hines

Album Review: Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up

When I got my first car, Fleet Foxes and Helplessness Blues were two of the very first albums I bought, partly a side effect of my frantic attempts to absolve myself from succumbing to the toxic abyss of pre-teen pop music that still had a hold on me judging from my music library, but mostly because I had become infatuated with the music itself. I remember I wanted something more, something better from music at that time, and that I specifically wanted physical copies to put in my car’s driver’s side pocket even though during that time it seemed to me as if everyone was still drunk on digital downloads, still in the honeymoon era of marrying technology with, considering the state of affairs today, no divorce in sight. I listened to Robin Pecknold’s honeyed, passionate vocals and his guitar’s melancholic plucks mixed with the feeling of warmth due to the sunshine filtering through the windshield and the potent smell of my old volvo’s musty seats, and soon I began to equate Fleet Foxes with the ideas of freedom and independence, both of which I had to briefly set aside the moment I unbuckled my seatbelt and stepped onto the pavement. Pecknold’s commanding, intellectual songwriting and intricate, thoughtful compositions managed to rid my adolescent mind of any anguish I had compiled throughout the day, and I could focus on the road ahead of me, save for the occasional existential thought now and again.

With the gift of the car came a series of unavoidable events that come with growing older – graduation from high school, entrance into college, the required reading of what seemed like hundreds of poems and essays for my English degree, writing countless papers over the research of countless literary ideas, and finally, early graduation from college with said English degree – and afterwards, perhaps because I didn’t seize as much from the experience as I should have, I couldn’t help feeling as if I was ripped painfully down the middle, simultaneously reaching for the future while beckoning for the past to continue. Pecknold drew a similar conclusion for himself after touring for Helplessness Blues, and in turn, returned to college and took up several recreational classes to clear his mind, shortly afterwards returning to music once he realized those things didn’t help him return to a sense of peace as much as songwriting and composition did.

And now, six years after the release of Helplessness Blues and five years after sliding it into my car’s cd player throughout the stress of growing up and realizing personal responsibility, I know that if I tried to listen to Crack-Up while driving, it wouldn’t give me the same freeing feelings of independence, but hopeful wistfulness instead – Pecknold’s journey, while perhaps not able to be replicated or even fully understood by the next person, the emotions experienced throughout are at least, to some effect, relatable, and after a few trying years of my own I understand that due to living in a world so unforgiving and unfair, it seems necessary to indulge in one’s own thoughts and desires – while at the same time avoiding to some extent the pressures and recent events of society – in order to provide it with any form of worthwhile contribution. And, Crack-Up, beautifully cinematic and painfully thoughtful, might be Fleet Foxes most meaningful contribution yet.

Part of the reason why Fleet Foxes and Helplessness Blues (as well as their Sun Giant EP) were so highly regarded when they were released was due to their sheer accessibility while simultaneously expressing such intellectual and visually dense narratives; you could instantly be transported to the Blue Ridge Mountains where no one knows your name, or lost and starry-eyed on Mykonos, or be placed at the edge of the ocean with hope and wistfulness wound so tightly together you couldn’t tell which you were feeling. The music, pure indie folk at its core, evoked ‘60’s instrumentals and nostalgic tones, somehow managing to be soft and piercing in delivery. The lyrics were thoughtful, even prophetic at times, as Pecknold lamented his struggles so eloquently you’d think they were yours – and in a way, they were, for his writing addressed relatable topics, including growing older, pining after love, and the various idiosyncrasies that come with being a human being – one listen to “Montezuma” and you’ll notice they can nail all three within a few minutes.

Crack-Up, on the other hand, doesn’t seem geared towards immediately pleasing the masses, or inciting one same stirring feeling of warmth or acceptance for a packed festival crowd. Instead of being a prophetic voice, Pecknold takes the role of quiet (and at times not so quiet) observer, making his comments on the injustices of the world then stepping aside for someone of higher privilege to take command. And, when considering all that’s changed since the release of their sophomore album, listening to Crack-Up just makes sense, more if you consider the current state of affairs to be even a little bit askew, or if you find yourself pining for who you used to be. Even the title, which is taken from an F. Scott Fitzgerald essay of the same name, is a reference to the state of being broken, evaluating everything that has happened up to the point of breaking, and ultimately having to venture back inside yourself in order to come out whole, albeit shaken, on the other side.

Whether you take Pecknold himself, the world, or even your own experiences into consideration when listening is completely up to you – even just regarding Crack-Up as a purely aesthetic album filled with beautiful noise would surely be completely valid in Pecknold’s eyes – there’s that much happening all at once. Of course, there are moments where Pecknold addresses said social injustices – “Cassius, -” narrates his participation in protests following the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and “If You Want To, Keep Time on Me” as well as the title track both address post-election anxiety. All three, however, sound so incredibly heavy in terms of instrumentation and emotion and not easily able to latch on to in terms of a set melody or vocal line, solidifying his desire to not be that higher voice that guides others, and be more of a supporter of those who can do so more eloquently. Gone are the soft, colorful images of working in orchards and sitting in ragged woods – Pecknold instead places you at the edge of the jagged cliffs that appear on the album’s cover, forcing you to think rather than sing along with the melody so comfortably.

Though Pecknold has stated he doesn’t quite understand the over-analyzation of lyrics in music criticism, it’s incredibly difficult not to at least address them in Crack-Up, for they are incredibly and unbelievably beautiful – the main subject of the medieval, rustic tinged “Kept Woman” is addressed as a “rose of the oceanside,” and she’s asked to “widow [her] soul for another mile,” perhaps worn after years of being someone else’s possession. Pecknold claims she is not broken, but instead stronger than he, and, insisting he’s changed, claims they’re bound to be reconciled at some point in the future, revisiting that half-hopeful, half-wistful character once again.

Crack-Up is best, however, when Pecknold is caught up in his own emotions and possessed by real-world nostalgia, so taken with what he’s communicating that the instrumentals all tend to blur together into euphoria. “Fool’s Errand,” perhaps the cleanest and most evocative in terms of composition, are the first of the cinematic tracks, as the jolted, piercing instrumentals simulate galloping horses or crashing waves, while Pecknold’s vocals soar and glide in betwixt them. He is both enchanted by and disgusted with his desire to remain in his current state until he sees a sign, until his “sight dream” comes to mind – the chorus sang and supported instrumentally with such simultaneous chaos and frustration that it begins to sound like divine catharsis. It’s even better when the track has a moment of sudden epiphany – “On Another Ocean (January / June)” begins, as the title says, in January, with Pecknold riddled with suspicion and hesitation, then suddenly transitions to June, where all those questions are treated with sense of self-reliance where Pecknold screams into the void amidst blossoming instrumentals that, in one of the most beautiful phrases of the album – “I won’t bleed out/ if I know me” – back to emphasising the importance of self-indulgence in order to survive in a continuously changing society.

And of course, there’s the nine minute epic “Third of May / Ōdaigahara,” the track that is nostalgia epitomized, the track that is more for Pecknold himself than anyone else – and that’s okay, given just how much honesty and genuine emotion oozes out of every second. It is essentially a track detailing the close friendship of Pecknold and band co-founder Skye Skjelset, and details of him are everywhere, including the title (Skjelset’s birthday falls on May 3rd). It’s an anthem for friendship as well as personal responsibility – Pecknold is “only owed this shape if [he] makes a line to hold” – and both seem to be needed today more than ever.

Crack-Up, though not as immediately warm and inviting as its predecessors, still succeeds in evoking that sense of breathless admiration and intellectual emotion Fleet Foxes began with, as well as the feeling of being lost in time. Even if you’re fortunate enough to have never experienced your own crack-up, the search for something bigger and bolder than yourself is, for the most part, universal.

9.0/10

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photo by Sean Pecknold

Album Review: Alt-J – Relaxer

If there was a singular detail that separates Alt-J from their modern contemporaries, it would have to be the immense thought and care that goes into crafting their specific narratives, often times only immediately accessible to a certain few. Their music is not designed to be a fleeting, faded sound to be heard in the background, but exclusively reserved for those who wish to isolate themselves, peirce its thick, compact flesh, and let the juices freely flow down their chin. Relaxer, the trio’s third full length album, offers the chance for this savage practice tenfold, perhaps even more than their past work. But, true to its name, it also takes the time to release some of the pressure in order to tell wonderfully dense and detailed stories, most of which deal with how people perceive the idea of love and lust, satisfaction and sadness, either as individual concepts or how they interact simultaneously.

Relaxer might be the most obscure and experimental album Alt-J has ever released, as well as the most sensual; it’s almost as if it exists as a perfect amalgamation of their first two albums, taking the moody unpredictability of An Awesome Wave and the delicacy and romance of This Is All Yours. The sensuality, however, is at times placed not in a forgiving landscape, but instead an glitchy, savage wonderland where all rules go out the window, and somehow, Alt- J more than manage to get away with it. In fact, it’s the blatant, brilliant contradiction of their graphic, emotion soaked narratives to the fantastical, effect laden sounds that keeps the madness from gaining too much momentum – their thoughtful minds stabilize their feet that so desperately wish to float into the ether.  Of course, that doesn’t mean their more bizarre thoughts don’t bleed into their creations every now and again, and the ones they’ve chosen to include this time around are their most perplexing and arresting to date.

“In Cold Blood” begins with a slew of binary, arresting, piercing and esoteric, as is their want. While the track sounds bright and energetic, a deeper listen and glance at the lyrics reveals that a man has been killed during a pool party, and that same positive energy turns frantic and chaotic, the horns and glitchy keyboards mingling together in some sort of demented, violent menagerie – and it’s absolutely mesmerizing. “Adeline” is, literally, about a Tasmanian devil that falls in love with a woman after watching her swim, but from the amount of care and passion in both the smooth, milky guitar and piano instrumentals as well as Joe Newman’s vocal swells, you’d think the devil were a complicated being with a highly sensitive, bleeding heart, able to feel such complex emotions as mankind. Again, the listener sees and hears the contrast and concurrent communication between the savage and delicate as the creature must turn away from the object of his desire, for their lives are far too different. At the end of his journey through his emotions, he wishes her well as the urges in his head and heart battle each other, expressed through a thick, dense forest of vocal samples and grandiose instrumentals. The trio even messes around with the Animals’ 1964 hit “House of the Rising Sun,” where instead of a man chained to the world of gambling and alcohol, his father is chained instead, and his mother can’t help but sew jeans to pay for his addiction. As a result it sounds even darker, completely furloughing the miniscule shard of hope the original managed to secure.

The focus on differing perspectives on love and lust is also very much prominent throughout Relaxer, in both its blatant and subtle forms. “Hit Me Like That Snare” is very much in the former category, and exists not only as the British trio’s most bizarre and uncomfortable tracks, but perhaps one of the strangest tracks in the history of alt indie music. After what seems like a cowbell induced orgasm, Newman delivers a vocal line that resembles a drunken, hysteric drawl, with as many euphemisms for sex you can imagine. “Deadcrush” exists in the middle, where Newman and Gus Unger-Hamilton tell us about their “dead crushes,” photographer Elizabeth “Lee” Miller and Anna Bolina, referring to Anne Boleyn. It’s a narrative that hasn’t been touched on much in the past, but this as well as the long, drawn out “Last Year” and “Pleader” are tracks that will only immediately make sense to a certain few, and at first glance, may be far too overwhelming to fully embrace like the others.

The magnum opus of the album must be “3WW,” as it seems to utilize Alt-J’s unique composition style found in Relaxer the most eloquently. Much like the idea of love itself, it is multi-faceted, sounding like a love song one moment and a glitchy, eerie nightmare the next, as it focuses on two separate, but intertwining perspectives. The plucks of guitar simulate the “wayward lad’s” soft, anxious footsteps as he leaves the comfort of his pastoral life to discover love, or at least offer a love “in his own language.” He wishes for something more substantial, for the words “I love you” have become worn with overuse like the “rubbing hands of tourists in Verona,” referring to those who have ruined the patina of the statue of Juliet in Verona, wanting luck in love. The instrumentals become more industrial and sterile as he learns the hard way that others’ ideas of love are not as sincere and meaningful as his – the girls that take advantage of his purity leave him a note the morning after their encounter, asking him with a laugh if it was his “first time.” The instrumentals become quiet and ashamed, but the boy repeats his desire to love another the way he thinks is the most substantial, his morals remaining the last pure, quiet breath into the corrupt world he left everything to experience.

Relaxer is at the least a deep dive into the highly functioning minds of three incredibly talented musicians and songwriters, at the most a strange, yet rewarding third installment of a musical project that will never be replicated.

8.7/10

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photo by Gabriel Green / big hassle

Album Review: Mac DeMarco – This Old Dog

Over the years, Mac DeMarco has become a series of contradictions; he’s either the talented slacker, the goofy sentimentalist, or the rich bum, titles so securely attached that even the mention of his name triggers the smell of cigarette smoke. Being the extremely confident, carefree person that he portrays himself to be, he finds ways to make his cartoonish media derived image work in his favor, or, even better, disqualify his so called “slacker” persona entirely through his skillful, complex melodies and genuine, poetic lyrics. His first three albums almost perfectly follow the growth and maturation of a human being, complete with the musings of young suburban life, the idea of newfound fame, and the concept of love as well as all of its derivatives. His newest full length This Old Dog follows that succession with the deeper thoughts and desires that come with growing older, and expresses in more muted tones what seems to be DeMarco’s final form – his inner self, free of outside opinion.

The first thing you’ll notice about This Old Dog is that it is considerably quieter than DeMarco’s past work, both in the technical sense as well as an appropriate extension of what the album represents – wistful emotion, steady maturation, and coming to terms with things you’d rather just forget. It’s also necessary to point out how much of the album utilizes acoustic instruments and simple composition rather than purely relying on complex guitar melodies and atmospheric synth. Each track feels unbelievably somber yet strangely hopeful, a combination of emotions that never quite existed in DeMarco’s repertoire until now. The giddy, frivolous demeanor he assumed throughout the years which brilliantly offset the hazy, languid sound of 2, Salad Days, and Another One now also appears to have been a wall he built to put off writing about the demons that haunted him, one of which being the strained relationship with his father.

“My Old Man” expresses DeMarco’s fear of becoming his father as he grows older, his voice hung in a surreal, dreamlike state that contradicts the nightmare he explains. Closer “Watching Him Fade Away” is perhaps the single most heartbreaking song DeMarco has ever written, and it’s incredibly difficult to listen to his voice sound pained and teary-eyed as he explains just how hard it is to watch his relationship with his father dissolve into nothing, though he assures us that they barely knew each other. He sounds tired more than anything, as if he faced reality far too late, which makes it the perfect closing track. We all have to face our innermost demons eventually, and DeMarco shows us that its better to do it now rather than later. “Still Beating” even proves to fans of his goofy demeanor, carefree antics, and wacky behavior that “honey, [he] cries too/ you better believe it.”

Needless to say, the honesty embedded DeMarco’s composition and songwriting is the highlight on This Old Dog, and it’s absolutely beautiful.  “Dreams from Yesterday” is tender and delicate with a strange familiarity, his voice expressing through muted guitar that no amount of sadness can bring back your youth, nor the dreams you once had. “One More Love Song” utilizes the crackling falsetto croon of “Still Together,” and “One Another” is Jim Croce like, with upbeat vocals and colorful guitar plucks.” The title track assures us that DeMarco, now 27, isn’t about to forget all the wonderful things that will happen in the future.

It’s a far cry from singing about cigarettes, that’s for sure.

8.0/10

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photo by Coley Brown

Album Review: Hoops – Routines

More than anything, Indiana-based indie trio Hoops seem to understand the euphoric feeling of summer, considering their warm and addictive chillwave aesthetic perfected over the past few years. Their self-titled EP released just last summer featured moody, lo-fi guitar powered gems, all remarkably smooth and clear despite the fact that it was recorded primitively in their homes. Routines is the result of of that same aesthetic mixed with the wonders of a proper studio where that sun-drenched sound gets the depth and richness it deserves, and the boys get a chance to better flesh out their wistful narratives.

Considering that genres like chillwave pride themselves on being carefree and loose, Routines slyly attempts to sound perfectly imperfect at times. Even though being a perfectionist with a such a finicky genre might be detrimental with other groups, Hoops seems to pull it off mainly because its members are dedicated to constantly discovering their own sound through constant experimentation, with this group as well as their own projects – founder Drew Auscherman explores garage pop in his side project Permit, and bassist Kevin Krauter recently released one of the most gorgeous, delicate EPs we’ve heard in quite some time – allowing that time spent tinkering on their music to come off as charming rather than unnecessarily tedious.

Hoops are at their absolute best when a strong, vibrant guitar melody weaves itself through the rest of a track’s instrumentation and takes the helm by force, with electrifying opener “Rules” leaving the listener no time to think about anything other than the rambunctious medley of instrumentals that drive the sound. As if the echoed effect on the opening melody wasn’t enough for unyielding attention, the distorted, sour effect during the bridge triggers nostalgia, a feeling that’s always underrated in our book. “On Top” has its own delightful guitar morsel after the chorus, the bouncy guitars almost changing color as they play on. One main grievance, however, was the number of tracks that sounded like filler, a mere derivative of the ones that came before or after. Unfortunately, there’s only so much you can do before that same hazy sound can start to appear gratuitous, with the softer, more emotionally powered tracks rudely left in the minority. Tracks like “Underwater Theme” add to the band’s versatility, considering emotion is one of those concepts incredibly hard to fake – and the band does it so delicately that we wished there were more moments where that vulnerability was more potent. As if Hoops read our minds, closer “Worry” succeeds in being the most sincere track on Routines, based on the sultry, metallic sounding synth chimes as well as the guitar twangs reminiscent of dream-pop past. The deep throaty vocals offset the smoky vibe of the instrumentals, but also introduces the equally hazy saxophone shrieks that perfectly seals everything inside flawlessly.

Summer is often thought to be this euphoric, carefree time of the year, filled with nothing but sunshine, happiness, and the occasional fling, but many forget the lonely side – where the constant warmth, once exhilarating, can quickly turn commonplace. With Routines, Hoops do their part to soundtrack both of these phenomenons, and the result is wonderfully inviting.

7.0/10

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photo courtesy of artist