Washed Out – “Hard To Say Goodbye”

Washed Out, also known as Ernest Greene, has recently announced the release of his upcoming album Mister Mellow, following his 2013 chillwave stunner Paracosm. “Hard To Say Goodbye” follows the recently released first single for the album “Get Lost,” and the sound is just as dreamy as ever, save for a few subtle tweaks, including more emphasis on funk. The new sound is a tad cleaner and clearer than his hazy, carefree past catalog, with the vocals more pronounced and the synths even more cutting and jagged than before, perhaps due to the theme of the new album – the meaning of boredom in a state of privilege. His use of orchestral harmonies intertwined between the arresting synth beats and falsetto vocal effects are euphoric, his own soothing voice overlaid like a sealant to a bursting, but stable, dependable foundation.

Mister Mellow will be released on June 30th.

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photo by Alexandra Gavillet

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

Hoops – “Rules”

Indiana chillwave quartet Hoops released their self-titled debut EP last August, and now they’ve announced the upcoming release of Routines, their debut full length. “Rules,” the first tease from the new album, shoots out from your speakers with concentrated bursts and waves of lo-fi guitar, and rapid drums and gauzy vocals appear shortly after to smooth everything out. Despite the track being short in duration, the group makes up for it with fine details, effects, and overall charm that practically oozes out of every second.

Routines will be released on May 5th.

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photo via fat possum

Year in Review: The 10 Best Albums of 2016

Even though we seem to say this every year, the sheer quality of music that was released these past twelve months has been absolutely stunning. So many deeply personal stories were shared in the form of pained, honeyed voices and passionate instrumentals, through thoughtful lyrics and complex, ambitious compositions. There were hopeless romantics and stoic cynics, expressing their desire for love as well as their disgust for its intricacies. While it was impossible to keep up with all the albums (and EPs!) released this year, the ten listed here were chosen based on their emotional dispositions, meaning that they were honest, raw, and unapologetic, never shying away from vulnerability and sensitivity, whether that meant sharing soft, sweeping ballads, nostalgia-tinged odes, or desperate shouts into the void, surrounded by aggressive guitars and shards of synth (and even though they’re numbered, many of these could easily be swapped around; I know I never had one set emotion this past year). Even though 2016 was not the best of years socially or politically, it was a beautiful one for music; unforgiving pressure makes for the most magnificent diamonds.

10. Ice Choir – Designs in Rhythm

Kurt Feldman’s newest release as Ice Choir was a gorgeous journey into a sugar-soaked digital world, where he brilliantly toyed with 80’s electronica, glittering synth, and even a little bit of the humorously controversial vaporwave genre. Though the genre is has the nature to be cold and standoffish, Designs in Rhythm was the exact opposite, as tracks like “Windsurf” and “Unprepared” were far too whimsical to be considered anything but warm and euphoric. Feldman’s voice is soft and lush, and he controls it well within the context of his instrumentals, perhaps due to his past work in sound design. It’s an album that lets you make what you want of it, though we doubt it will be anything other than pure joy.

photo by Ebru Yildiz

9. Weyes Blood – Front Row Seat To Earth

When Natalie Mering’s third full-length album as Weyes Blood was released, I remember listening to it in full over coffee, then immediately going to purchase a physical copy at the record store across the street. The vocals were so gorgeously haunting that I couldn’t get either “Used to Be” or “Do You Need My Love” out of my head for the next few days. Her voice is so potent and emotionally arresting that it almost exists as a physical entity, reverberating freely in the hollows and spaces that the instrumentals repeatedly create. The push and pull between loneliness, isolation, love, and desire made for nine absolutely breathtaking tracks, existing somewhere between the past and the present.

photo by Katie Miller/via npr

8. Japanese Breakfast – Psychopomp

Psychopomp was an album fueled by heartbreak and mourning, yet somehow seemed to have a tinge of hope nestled somewhere underneath the sadness. Michelle Zauner devoted her debut album as Japanese Breakfast to her mother – who recently passed away from cancer – and her presence is everywhere, from the somber “In Heaven,” detailing the grief and frustration she (and her dog) felt days after her mother’s death, and even to “Everybody Wants to Love You,” the bright, sunshine streaked blaze of joy. “Triple 7” showed off Zauner’s poetic songwriting, and the line “call out my name/ like something from a bottom of a well” stayed with me long after the album was over. Sure, it’s an album soaked in grief, but there are moments where the celebration of life was emphasized more than anything else, and that devotion was beautiful.

photo by Phobymo

7. Frank Ocean – Blonde

Blonde is an incredibly important album is because of its complete and utter devotion to emotion, how it refuses to shy away from vulnerability and refuses to suppress sensitivity in its correlation to Ocean’s “boys don’t cry” aesthetic. As a result, the album sounds gorgeously intimate in its muted, muffled instrumentals and deeply poetic in its lyrics, with Ocean voicing his deepest desires in love in tracks like the fantastical “Seigfried” and the nostalgic, heartfelt “Ivy.” Even in the most upbeat tracks like “Nights” and “Solo,” there’s no mistaking the intense feeling put into the creation of this album, nor the passion of Ocean himself, who sounds as if he is breaking into tiny pieces as he pours out his soul. He seems to understand the importance of feeling everything in this world so deeply and intensely – even the little things – and the way he manipulates various emotions throughout Blonde is nothing short of brilliant.

photo courtesy of artist/npr

6. Mitski – Puberty 2

Happiness and sadness have reoccurring roles during adolescence and young adult life, often times occurring far too frequently and haphazardly to live normally. In Mitski Miyawaki’s fourth and most personal album to date, she battles depression, anxiety, and other insecurities bravely and succinctly, with her lyrics acting both as shouts into the void (“A Burning Hill,” “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars”) as well as a fiery balm to soothe her wounds (“Fireworks”). She also discusses love and the lack thereof, with “Happy” and “Your Best American Girl” being the two most stunning tracks in her entire career due to their intense, raw instrumentals and subtle, soft vocals. Although you have to search for it, Puberty 2 does have moments where both happiness and sadness coexist almost harmoniously, to the point where it no longer becomes a place for Mitski herself to voice her frustrations, but also something in which the listener can relate with as well.

photo by Ebru Yildiz

5. Von Sell – Von Sell EP

Though this is technically not an album, Von Sell’s debut EP has enough finesse and feeling to be mistaken for one, chock full of complex, intricate compositions and eccentric lyrics. It’s mixed thoughtfully and masterfully, a quality incredibly important in crafting a successful electronic pop album, where aspects like vocals and vocal effects can become distorted and murky. Here, his vocals are powerful and vibrant, sounding commanding and striking in “Names,” and soft and gentle in “Miss Me.” He even plays around with his own creations; “Ivan (Revisited)” is a gorgeous retake of the original, adding in a jangly guitar riff to keep things loose and carefree. At its core, Von Sell is an album conveying differing aspects of the human condition, and its simply gorgeous.

photo via impose magazine

4. Night Moves – Pennied Days

Night Moves’ sophomore album Pennied Days is an absolutely wonderful example of the eccentric country-psych genre, consisting of pained, honeyed voices and bold, sweeping instrumentals, where heavy themes of desire and passion are expressed without restraint. Frontman John Pelant has the kind of magical voice that can change in tone with a flick of the wrist to soak rapidly into its surrounding instrumentals – it’s energetic and elastic in “Staurolite Stroll,” focused in “Border on Border,” and soft in “Kind Luck.” The theatric, atmospheric “Carl Sagan” also had one of the most stunning music videos released this year. As far as their instrumentals go, they go all out; there’s rarely a lull in the album or a spot where there could be more girth. There’s always some sort of gorgeous riff, or a vocal harmony, or a deep rooted drum beat filling the space, but it still manages to sound transcendental, a living thing succumbed to passion.

photo courtesy of domino

3. Pillar Point – Marble Mouth

Scott Reitherman’s self-titled debut as Pillar Point is one of our absolute favorite albums to listen to in the colder months, due to its moody, complex synth as well as the warmth of the vocals (“Touch” has been on the top of our playlist since October). However, it can sound restrained at times, timid in its construction, not wanting to overstep its bounds. Marble Mouth is the result of Reitherman overcoming that fear, and it sounds vibrant, euphoric, yet still conveying his intense skill as a producer. “Strange Brush” is quirky and bold, its vocal effects puncturing and dissolving into the underlying beat like watercolor paint, while the synth in “Black Fly on a White Wall” wobbles and whines like something alive and kicking. “Underground” and “Dove” revisit that moody past persona, showing that Reitherman still values emotion and feeling above all else, regardless of how much color reflects off his work.

photo courtesy of artist

2. Whitney – Light Upon the Lake

Drummer and vocalist Julian Ehrlich and guitarist Max Kakacek have created a truly beautiful masterpiece in the formation of Whitney, a band vintage in sound but modern in feeling. Their mellow, 60’s and 70’s inspired sounds combine aspects of psych, americana, and pure guitar pop, with Ehrlich’s gorgeously shrill voice and Kakacek’s nimble fingers at the reign. The title track is muted and shadowed, and despite being a seven member band, shows off their delicacy and intricacy, as well as their restraint and respect for past musical styles. The theme of the amalgamation of love and loss exists not as something somber, but something in which to derive beauty – “No Woman” and “Dave’s Song” show that as well as meticulous instrumentation. It’s more than a mere “heartbreak” album – to call it that would be selling it short – it’s something otherworldly and rife with feeling, from a band that know the meaning of closeness.

photo by Laura Harvey

1. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

Will Toledo is the personification of succumbing to your emotions. There’s never a moment on Teens of Denial where he’s not clawing deep into his heart or gouging out his soul; though it’s painful and uncomfortable, these are the things you need to do in order to conjure up something pure and honest. It’s an album fueled by depression and anxiety, yet it never sounds crude or self-indulgent; rather, the fact that Toledo can operate within the vicious, isolated world of depression (“Fill in the Blank”) as well as provide dense, sprawling narratives and stunning, meticulous guitar melodies to intelligently express that depression shows his immense talent as an artist as well as his nature as a human being. His lyrics are direct, simultaneously obsessed and repulsed by society, showing what it means to be a cynical, yet fearful twenty-something teetering on the edge of life. “Vincent” is piercing and volatile in its phrasing, “Unforgiving Girl (She’s Not An)” is milder and more concerned with relationships, and “The Ballad of the Costa Concordia” is the definition of dense, its eleven minute duration full of references and the most honest expression of fear of being an adult in a world that never bothered to teach you how to be one. It sounds like the beautiful expulsion of ideas kept in the mind and soul for far too long, the result of emotions finally being set free. It’s ambitious, intelligent, and often too much too fast, but it’s still human, through and through. And it all began in the backseat of a car.

photo by Cecilia Corsano-Leopizzi

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Birthday – “Night Rider”

Birthday is the collaboration between vocalist Kamran (Fake Laugh) and producer LUKA, where they specialize in hazy, lush soundscapes. We loved their last two singles, “Do It All The Time,” and “We Need To Talk,” now, they’ve released a third track from what we’re hoping is something much bigger in the future. “Night Rider” has the same shaky, delicate vocals and gauzy, lo-fi production, this time forgoing the deep, pounding bass line for a bright, wavering guitar melody and sparse, clapping synth. It’s trance-like and euphoric all at once, remaining a perfect participant in the dream pop genre.

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photo by Iga Drobisz

Hoops – “Gemini”

Indie quartet Hoops released their self-titled EP this past week, which serves as a continuation and expansion of their breezy, carefree chillwave aesthetic. They’ve already had quite a bit of experience under their belts, even touring with Whitney and Twin Peaks. “Gemini,” the standout track on the new EP, is a perfect marriage of lo-fi and hi-fi sounds, complete with gauzy, bright guitar, a strong bassline, and wonderfully fuzzed out falsetto vocals, saving room for a magnificent guitar solo right at the end. Considering summer is nearly over, let this track be the wistful farewell to those hot, nostalgic days.

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photo courtesy of artist

Ducktails – “Don’t Want to Let You Know”

Real Estate’s Matt Mondanile has nonchalantly mentioned that he’s almost finished with his latest album as Ducktails, despite the fact that St. Catherine was released just a few months ago. St. Catherine was colorful and incredibly intricate, and was an undeniably stunning example of the indie dream pop genre. “Don’t Want to Let You Know,” however, seems to take a different direction, and focuses more on texture and heaviness rather than meticulous and delicate experimentation. Everything from the instrumentals to the vocals sound much more relaxed, which makes me think that Mondanile is heading towards more intense chillwave with this next record. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if it pays off.

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photo courtesy of artist

Fyfe – “Holding On”

Fyfe, musician, for NBOTD

I’ve really been missing the sounds of chillwave and electronic music lately, which is ironic considering that exact genre is basically all I listen to during the cold winter months. There’s just something about synth and hard, dark beats that envelops you and creates a lovely warmth, and it’s unlike any other feeling. That being said, I’ve found a new artist to add to my never-ending playlist: Fyfe. Composed of musician and vocalist Paul Dixon, Fyfe became his main project after his old persona, David’s Lyre (whom I have written about in the past). “Holding On” mixes together hard, metallic beats and soft spoken vocals that are both heartbreaking as they are beautiful, and the way they are sung keeps you chained until the shattering closing. I’ve noticed that it sounds similar to Dixon’s old tracks, but with a new, more vulnerable edge. Still, it’s wonderfully simple, which is what makes it that much more impressive.

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Band Appreciation Friday – Washed Out

landscape

Washed Out has time and time again been an incredibly impressive example of the chillwave genre. The genre has obviously grown over the years, and with it, the techniques used along with the ideas responsible have solidified and matured as well. Synthesizers willingly take a front seat while guitars and other instruments remain as accompaniment, and vocals are hazy, soft, and dreamy. Although these instructions might sound simple on paper, execution takes both a steady hand and a steady mind in order for the product to not sound messy and forced. Basically, Ernest Greene knows what he’s doing, and it’s clear with each listen.

Greene’s debut album Within and Without was released some time after his EP Life of Leisure, and houses a lot of the same blissful, atmospheric tracks. Opener “Eyes Be Closed” sounds dreamy and celestial, brimming with positive energy and synth that seems to illuminate with each beat. “Echoes” diffuses more into a dance track, with it’s bouncy, metallic sounds and fast-paced drums, and it’s here where we can hear a slight comparison to fellow chillwave enthusiasts Toro y Moi and Tycho. “Amor Fati” is probably my favorite off of the album, simply because I feel it’s one of the only ones that voluntarily takes you on a journey from start to end, much like the content of it’s music video. It actively sounds optimistic, deep, and introspective, and it’s these three ideas that seem to bounce off each other so beautifully. “Soft,” much like it’s title, is lovely, mellow, and beautifully lyrical. Greene’s voice is gorgeous, and the fact that the words all blend together make it even more fantastical. While you might have to actually look up the lyrics to understand them, that effort is worth the beautiful imagery that’s enhanced with the music. Within and Without is a wonderful album that eases you in gently into the world of chillwave, lovingly omitting the intense, complex ideas that often times steer others away. I enjoyed Washed Out’s sophomore album Paracosm a bit more, mainly because of the fact that it sounds more mature and sophisticated. It’s album cover was bright, colorful, and more intoxicating than their debut, which was more intimate. Immediately from the tropical sounding track “Entrance,” and it’s repeated aviary sounds give it a beautiful, exotic edge that streamlines wonderfully into “It All Feels Right.” Here, it’s clear that Greene took on a more psychedelic, MGMT style approach with these songs, although it’s extremely muted. “Don’t Give Up” is lush and vibrant, with a deep, intricate vocal track, that, for the first time attempts to break free from the normal progression that it usually takes. Greene’s voice is more readily and clearly heard, which is all I wanted from the first album. “Weightless” rings true to it’s name. The sparse arrangement of drums and percussion mixed with the broad, expansive dreamscape that is the synth is breathtakingly gorgeous. I’ve found over the span of these two albums that something that Washed Out is skilled at doing is providing a narrative and plot to his sounds, which is what makes him a force to be reckoned with. Speaking of which, “All I Know” follows the same path as what I feel is it’s predecessor, “Amor Fati,” I see  them as equals, both in their delicate, yet powerful construction and it’s intense, yet beautiful melodies. Title track “Paracosm” merges well into the closing tracks “Falling Back” and “All Over Now” with a triumphant, amazingly overwhelming sense of pure confidence. While With and Without is better considered a nocturnal masterpiece, Paracosm is more of a brisk, light listen meant to be enjoyed driving over sun kissed highways and basking in the warmth of the outdoors. Washed Out, despite his hilariously ironic name, is anything but. He knows how to evoke feelings of love and harmony with the bitter emotions of loss and pain, and that honesty shines through effortlessly.

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