Album Review: Lab Partner, Century Neet

Much like the cover art of Century Neet, Jiles Beaver’s sophomore album as Lab Partner, each component within it works together to simulate the layering of paint on canvas, in each of its tracks a tonally different, yet equally striking portrait of sanguine melancholy that slowly emerges from each meticulous brush stroke.

This meticulousness seems to be a vital part of Beaver’s creative process, ever present in his confessional compositions and his enamored, esoteric narratives, the sentiment especially solidified after hearing Lab Partner’s debut I Fret, released this past July. Beaver mentioned that I Fret was an album made “out of necessity,” meant to help him work through overwhelming emotions and insecurities. In this regard, I Fret was an example of the quintessential debut in that it portrayed what it set out to portray in spite of its supposed imperfections from his believed lack of technical skill (comical, considering Beaver writes, records, and produces everything in both his debut and sophomore album). In fact, these constantly tangled and haphazard expulsions of emotion simultaneously seemed to house incredibly powerful, vivid moments of transparency that highlighted rare, but wonderful moments of victory over pain, and, perhaps more apparent now within his recent sophomore album, the role that art, music, and verse has in dealing with the more trying nuances of life. Beaver’s reliance to craft shows in the last few lines of the literal poetic description he provides for Century Neet, where he asks:

“Why does it take me so long,

To close the blinds and count the wrongs?

When all governs me to move on,

I’ll simply write a song.”

In this vein, this album seems to be a direct continuation of the ideas presented in I Fret, and, maybe as a result of its clear improved organization and orchestration, the songs that appear feel darker, heavier, lived in, perhaps closer to what Beaver wished to achieve the first time around –  melancholy in vignettes, corners dimmed, drawing your eyes to the hopeful, inquisitive heart that protrudes in the center, continuing to beat despite how tattered or faded it appears on paper.

At least this is what came to mind after hearing the soul bearing, cathartic track “Truths to Better Times,” a complex, textured ballad somber aesthetically but bright in the way Beaver addresses himself and his audience, as well as the hauntingly gorgeous, guitar heavy “Jitter,” a track touching on the ability of anxiety to affect us physically. “Jitter” slyly changes from third to first person perspective towards the end, further hinting at the scintillating overall confessional aura that exudes not only from these two tracks but from the album as a whole – softer tracks like the colorful “Ferry Back to Stockholm” and the gorgeously sung “Hum” do this as well as show Beaver’s range as an artist, able to narrate infatuation as well as introspection.

Also nestled within the lines of the album’s poetic bio is the slight admittance of guilt for allowing art to offer him sanctuary for too long, a crutch to lean on – the  soul bearing track “The Old Red Carpet Is Out” has him lamenting on allowing himself to remain trapped in his own destructive habits (“Is it wrong to have never tried/ When it’s been sprawled throughout my life?/ Well, there’s always tomorrow after another goodnight/ But what good is a tomorrow when I know I’ll lose the fight?”). And yet, in adhering to the aforementioned vignette metaphor, every diaristic track, every admittance of guilt, every confession of weakness that exists in these narratives work together to push us towards “Godspeed,” where Beaver tells us that “something’s sparked since” the events that transpired these past thirty some odd tracks, and that he now stares at his once avoided reflection with “hope in [his] chest,” bidding farewell to the person he once was.

Often, the path to acceptance looks like an abstract painting: emotions that come complimentary with trying life experiences can take the form of paint dragged against the grain of the canvas, poured in puddles that drip to the floor, splattered violently from corner to corner. And while they may look out of place at the moment they are added or conceived, valueless to the current image, if taken in stride, these paint marks, these components of melancholy, soon ironically begin to form an image of resilience.

9.0/10

 

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photo courtesy of artist
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Foxwarren – “Fall Into a Dream”

More than two years after the brilliant sophomore album The Party, Andy Shauf returned late last year as part of the folk group Foxwarren, performing with hometown friends Dallas Bryson and brothers Avery and Darryl Kissick. While there are distinct similarities to Shauf’s solo work, there was enough within this self-titled album to suggest equal and masterful collaboration, housing the casual energy of a jam session between friends rather than professional musicians, which makes sense considering they’ve technically been a band for more than ten years. Citing Paul Simon as a main influence for the album, Foxwarren features 70’s inspired compositions and honeyed croons within its ten beautiful songs, tracks like “Fall Into a Dream” showing their abilities for meticulous orchestration as well as their range, changing from a soft ballad to a psychedelic tinged guitar heavy track right at the midway point. Shauf’s vocals, bittersweet and earnest against the jauntiness of the melodies and the later bouts of distorted guitar, urges his subject that “if you fall into a dream/ forget about me,” the little pocket of hope in his voice that they will both find happiness without each other, perhaps exclusively so. It’s wistful and yet so structurally fascinating due to its sudden mood change in the center, and one of the many tracks that kept me happily guessing within the entirety of Foxwarren.

 

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photo courtesy of artist

Elder – “Sun Movement”

Brisbane group Elder – composed of vocalist and guitarist Matt Burton, bassist Thomas White, and drummer Talia Bond – released their stunning debut EP Cyril this past December, a scintillating, fervid handful of tracks housing structurally complex melodies and an irresistible cathartic, unhinged energy that never seems to falter. This energy  is so pronounced that just listening evokes the same aura as being at a live show, and they oscillate between jangle pop and post punk almost equally; White’s bass in “Squatter’s Daydream” and “Vagabond” feels almost tangible, while Burton’s bright, jagged vocals pierce through the dark murkiness with utmost ease. And yet, we kept coming back to closer “Sun Movement” due to its simultaneous softness and coarseness, the repeated, mantra like vocals that dissolve into haunting croons towards the end. Elder’s unique brand of indie pop is something that will no doubt continue to flourish, and we can’t wait to hear what they do this year.

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photo courtesy of artist

kid with a vinyl’s favorite albums of 2018

In every single one of these albums – whether quiet, delicate, and introspective, or brash, chaotic, and pained  – the idea of catharsis was beautifully housed and brilliantly expelled. Though visceral and unafraid in tone they did not mask that they were still vulnerable at their core, existing as the musical equivalent to a brazen shout into the void detailing innermost fears and insecurities, not knowing if the void would call back to them. Each artist put something deep within these works that they were working to overcome or to understand, and this year there was no finer currency than empathy – something that, unfortunately, constantly seems to need to be replenished in a world and society as unforgiving as ours. I found myself not only constantly inspired, but also comforted by each of the ten albums below, something that I know will be perpetual given their breathtaking honesty.


1. Ought, Room Inside the World

This is the only album in this list that I am giving a definitive number ranking. It is, without a doubt, not only my my absolute favorite album of 2018, but also my favorite album that Montreal art-punk quartet Ought has ever released. It almost feels wrong to write about it yet again after posting the review for it back in February when it first came out; I almost feel like I shouldn’t be dissecting it so much, it almost feels like desecration. It was the source of most of my existential dread this year, but also the source of most of my moments of peace due to the way it seemed to relay my own thoughts back to me, the way it set such deep, complex thoughts and ideas on vulnerability and the world to rampaging, eloquent guitars (“Disaffectation,”“These 3 Things,” “Disgraced in America”) as well as slow burning, smoldering instrumentals that erupt into cathartic masterpieces (“Desire,” “Into the Sea”). 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 in his signature croon – the same ones that house the most beautiful lyrics that Darcy has ever written. He advises us in “Take Everything” 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.

I could honestly talk for hours and hours about this album, but I’ll leave it there. Ought 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. With Room Inside the World, they were 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.

photo courtesy of artist/ merge records

The rest of this list has no ranking – please view it any way that you please.

Cloud Castle Lake, Malingerer

It is near impossible, I’ve found, for Dublin quartet Cloud Castle Lake to create anything but absolute beauty. That opinion has never faltered since hearing their gorgeous track “Sync” back in 2014 (please, please go listen to that song, I’ve never heard anything like it), and it was only enhanced by their stunningly brilliant debut Malingerer, released back in April. Each track within it is a completely different world, an altered environment with its own esoteric atmosphere that required its own set of tools and supplies to survive in – “Two Birds” was a ghostly stroll through an abandoned aviary, an impenetrable fog in the distance; “A Monument” an intrepid trek through the marsh, slashing at tall grass and swatting flies at your neck; “Bonfire” a hymn sung huddled around a hearth in an empty forest, shivering from the cold. Daniel McAuley’s incredible falsetto is your guide through it all, juxtaposing the “lyrical darkness and despair with an almost euphoric catharsis,” as the band eloquently describes. Malingerer deserves your full attention when listening – it is a journey unlike any other.

photo courtesy of artist

Haley Heynderickx, I Need to Start a Garden

I Need to Start a Garden is somehow both expansive and quiet and emotionally purgative, detailing dense narratives of self-doubt and lovesickness that are brilliantly and poetically written. Her voice throughout the album is resilient, focused, but beautifully flexible – “Untitled God Song” is stunning and delicate in its enunciation to the point where it almost feels four dimensional once it gets to her comparably more free form melodies, “The Bug Collector,” with its brilliant use of metaphor, makes wonderful use of layered choral vocal effects. Accompanying herself for the majority of the album, her guitar melodies border on folk and bluegrass, meticulous and unrelenting, housing within it something just lingering beneath the surface, hot to the touch. Though most of it is directed inward, it all comes out in “Oom Sha La La,” a fun, playful ditty on the meaning of life. It’s a gorgeously versatile album, yet true to Heynderickx as an artist who will undoubtedly continue to flourish.

photo by Alessandra Leimer

Vansire, Angel Youth

Angel Youth is a testament on the more vulnerable parts of the human condition: how we respond when we’re truly alone with our thoughts and emotions, and ultimately how we process our own pains differently, choosing to either find solace in other people or the more creative mediums of music, film, and art. Half of the album features collaboration from other amazing musicians, including Mellow Fellow, Ruru, and Paul Cherry on the exhilarating “Lonely Zone,”  FLOOR CRY on the saccharine sweet “Nice to See You,” and a stunning trumpet solo on the idyllic“KW” courtesy of Kyle Matthees. And yet, the consistently seamless collaboration between members Josh Augustin and Samuel Winemiller throughout the album is what makes it truly remarkable, and are at their best when they work to each other’s strengths to the point where they perpetually act as one fluid body. Augustin’s intellectual-tinged songwriting simultaneously expels and absorbs both enamored and self-conscious observations of himself as well as the world in which he exists, perpetually hinting at the power of creative mediums on these thoughts – “Synth Man” ultimately as a thesis statement for the album: “A cryptic message/ On how your heart feels/ ‘Cause sometimes the art heals.”

photo courtesy of artist

Mutual Benefit, Thunder Follows the Light

I’m going to wear my heart on my sleeve just a little bit here for this next one: When I was deep in the throes of my graduate school application essay, there were times where I broke down while trying to organize all my haphazard, enamored thoughts into a coherent paragraph. I knew that getting into this program was what I wanted more than anything, so why wouldn’t my brain cooperate with me in helping me get there? Why were my emotions about what I was writing get in the way of progressing it? I’d sit at my computer until three in the morning some nights, eyes burning, fighting back tears. Thunder Follows the Light, as well as Jordan Lee’s other albums as Mutual Benefit, was a source of solace for me during this particularly isolating time –  I needed something meditative yet genuine, and, despite its somber immediate outward appearance, Lee’s music is always, always hopeful behind the veneer of gauzy folk. Each track flows into the next seamlessly, allowing you to get lost in its compositions, emulating with its added nature sounds the feeling of being caught in a cool breeze, just at the edge of winter. Jordan Lee has been a huge inspiration to me for a long time, and the fact that he can create art for himself and yet keep it from swallowing him whole is something that I still need to learn how to do for myself. One verse in “No Dominion” on the nature of creating art has since stayed with me, one that has since tattooed itself under my skin, especially if I do get into graduate school and I begin to empathize more vividly and cathartically than before: “say you will brave the storms that rage in you still; for a heart can stir at the toll it takes, but a soul can never break.”

photo courtesy of artist

Andrew Younker, Well Wishes

I never knew synth could sound so luxurious, so emotional, so self-sustaining, that is until I stumbled upon Andrew Younker’s debut album Well Wishes back in June. Each of his meticulously crafted dream and jangle pop tracks sound incredibly intimate yet painfully distant at the same time due to this impeccable synth work, chaotic and overflowing yet filled with such gorgeous, genuine immediacy that it doesn’t end up sounding heavy or disingenuous, instead the complex little details and flourishes he chooses to use ultimately adding to its warmth and color. The album, recorded, mixed, and mastered by Younker himself, holds love songs as well as those that sound more introspective in nature, all prefaced with the idea of turning twenty, of being a “grown-up” without having any “grown-up intentions.” Many deal with the idea of catharsis in both its lyrical narrative as well as its instrumentals – anxious synth merged into a murky haze in “Lucky Saw The Lights” as well as the nostalgic, near technological sounding blubbery chimes in “Wasting My Life” that project a wistful glow that surrounds the track. Younker ultimately creates immersive environments – exhilarating and textured, with an aura that lingers for days afterwards.

photo courtesy of artist

Her’s, Invitation to Her’s

Whereas their debut mostly housed muted, moody jangle pop tracks like the dense, smoldering, guitar heavy  “What Once Was” and the starry-eyed, brooding “Marcel,” The sophomore album from Liverpool neo-retro duo Her’s – composed of singer/guitarist Stephen Fitzpatrick and bassist Audun Laading – was equal parts fun and earnestness, housing everything from narratives on love and the lack thereof ( “Blue Lips,” “She Needs Him”) to quirky stories about giant imaginary rabbits (“Harvey”). In this vein, the instrumentals were complex, and, at times, even gorgeously cinematic, with color and texture exuded every second. Fitzpatrick’s baritone croon changes to breathy falsetto at the drop of a hat, and stunners “Carry the Doubt” and“Breathing Easy” were among the most gorgeous examples of his range – you can hear every emotion nestled adjacent to Laading’s pounding basslines, his enunciation is of that of a bleeding heart. His voice sways and swells, starry-eyed and weathered all at once. Compared to their far moodier debut, the enamored collection of tracks plays luxuriously, with a more potent sense of immediacy despite all the details and flourishes.

photo by Neelam Khan Vela

Devon Welsh, Dream Songs

When I think of Dream Songs, the first thing that comes to mind is not the music. It is, in fact, the cover image, the blurred, candid image of happiness on Devon Welsh’s face. It was something I rarely saw when I was neck deep in Majical Cloudz’s discography, were heavy concepts and equally heavy feelings were constantly brought to light – but when listening though Dream Songs, I found myself no longer oscillating between those heavy, torturous feelings, mainly because I noticed that Welsh wasn’t, either – instead, he delivered within each track a wistful, teary-eyed narrative that, while introspective and intimate  at its core, all seem to point to something incredibly positive and healthy, including a list of desires that fall in line with what I admittedly want for myself, too – “to love more and better,” “to surrender more, “to live with less fear.” One listen to “Dreams Have Pushed You Around” and I could almost physically feel his intent to do just this – Welsh’s signature vocals now had ample room to swell to near atmospheric sizes, but still remained gentle due to their constant adherence to the delicate nature of the instrumentals. With this album, its a little easier to believe that you can make absolutely beautiful art while focusing more on the positives rather than the pain that surrounds and threatens to pollute it.

photo courtesy of artist

Boors, Decade of Pain

Boors’ debut album Decade of Pain was one that attached itself remarkably quickly to my skin upon hearing it for the first time, and that was for a rather nostalgic reason; the stunning new wave and post punk tone that oozed out of tracks like “Ten Years,” “Heartbeat Slow,” and “Decade of Pain” took me back to when I was younger and entranced by all the music my older brother would show me while growing up, music from artists like New Order, Depeche Mode, and Talking Heads – I never got tired of the sentiment they’d unearth, both somehow willingly and hesitantly, like secrets long since buried. Boors is a project that was started and is still currently maintained by Providence artist Jon Scott, and Decade of Pain was the result of bringing in other members to help bring his ideas to fruition. Yet, each member still brought their own influences; as a result the album was a potent cocktail of post punk, new wave, and art punk, harnessing the raw, borderline improvisational energy of their instrumentals in order to express vulnerable, introspective narratives, frequently sampling, as Scott put it, the “little flavors of sadness” that come complimentary with the tumultuous, emotional journey through adulthood. Scott’s vocals, in the manner in which they are enunciated and expelled, at times were right at the razor’s edge of snarling, brilliantly laden and driven with such simultaneous realized pain and hyper self-awareness that throughout the album he repeatedly transforms into the epitome of catharsis, which was absolutely stunning to witness. The review I posted for it was among one of my favorite things I wrote this year.

photo courtesy of artist

Porches, The House

I listened to this album a lot when I was in San Francisco earlier this year, mostly when I was on the subway. Though gorgeously minimal at its core, the oscillating flourishes that hemmed the compositions made for some particularly introspective journeys, especially when I was seated directly next to the window – the pounding beat of “Ono” matched so perfectly with the underground lights that appeared and disappeared with such strange resilience –  it was almost hypnotic, and I found myself both within and without. The album as a whole was tinged with pain and longing, often to the point where it was surreal, otherworldly, alien-like – “Åkeren,” featuring vocals from Okay Kaya, was one in particular I found especially haunting. Maine’s voice was beautifully strained yet somehow filled with tenacious passion – “Goodbye” is a teary-eyed, hopeful ballad on overcoming the past, “Now the Water” a magnetic melody that sways back and forth like a flag of surrender caught in the wind. It’s a beautiful album that not only deals with fear and anxiety, but also its honesty, and the latter was something I found myself returning for time and time again.

photo by Jason Nocito

Thank you again for the best year in KWAV history. I hope you have a wonderful rest of the year – see you right back here in 2019. 

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graphic made by Stephanie Cree

kid with a vinyl’s favorite songs of 2018

This year I tried my best to search for music more thoughtfully and thoroughly, to make more of a point to reach out to artists for features rather than just the other way around. Both were the two best things I ever did for this blog in the four years I’ve been running it, and yes, I know that these actions are probably painfully obvious for anyone running a blog and not as revolutionary as I’m trying to make it sound, but you have to know that when I first started back in 2014, I had no clue what I was doing. KWAV was initially a way for me to shout out my opinions to the world about the music I liked – which, back then, was not as eloquent or structurally correct as I probably thought it was –  as well as a way to escape the degree I was pursuing at the time, which was the opposite from anything creative. I was was taking classes full-time and working part-time, and although virtually every other waking moment went into running this blog, I didn’t search as deeply as I wanted, or perhaps more truthfully, I wasn’t yet made aware of the many ways to do so.

Since then I’ve had the chance to learn about running a blog, and it has gotten a bit easier throughout the years to detach from the anxious persona I began with and evolve into a writer more aware of the ever changing indie music climate, which, of course, includes not only those backed by excellent independent labels but also those solo artists and groups that write, record, and mix alone, and self-releasing their work through the many incredible platforms available. This year has been especially trying, as I’m sure you all know and can relate with, and as a result, music just sounded different, more cathartic. It was like everyone was trying even harder to make their voice heard, to be unafraid and wear their heart on their sleeve, and I was so lucky to have witnessed that this year.

I have since graduated, so this year I did have a bit more time to work on KWAV in between looking for a job that doesn’t make me want to denounce everything I’ve ever known and applying to graduate school (surprise, the latter was why I went on hiatus a few months ago). As a result, I had more time to venture deep into bandcamp and scour the vast expanse of soundcloud, and I’m so glad I was gifted the time to do so – for along with getting the chance to feature arguably the most unique, wonderful, brilliant music the blog has ever featured, I have also managed to make a few friends along the way, which, being an incredibly introverted person by nature, is something I never thought would happen.

If you have sent in your music, graciously humored my inquiries over email, or have read even a single word of any of my articles this year, please know that I am incredibly thankful. I have never enjoyed running this blog more than I have during these past twelve months, and it is solely because of all of you.

These are my favorite tracks of 2018. It has no ranking – please view it any way that you please.


Ought – “Disaffectation”

Disaffectation, a term coined by French psychoanalyst Joyce McDougall, is defined as the idea of being so overwhelmed by your emotions to the point where you lose the capacity to be in touch with your own reality. It is not the inability to feel, rather the inability to contain and reflect over those emotions in a healthy manner. It is something that intellectuals and creatives tend to suffer from – the process of being so entranced by both pain and beauty to the point where the intense strength in being empathetic instead becomes a double edged sword, and it is one of the afflictions that Ought explores in their third full length Room Inside the World, essentially a look inside frontman Tim Darcy’s creative process. 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 – later when thoughts of love circle him “like doves,” instead of taking them in normally, he “runs a mile,” not knowing what to do with the onslaught of emotion. The anxious slew of bass and drums bounce up and down during these dense verses, providing enough bravado for Darcy to both excitedly and painfully deliver an brilliant line, one where you can almost hear the look on his face that comes with it –  “disaffectation is holy/ it makes me feel alive!” It’s an incredibly cathartic experience, as is all of Ought’s absolutely brilliant work, and this particular narrative was something that I as a writer and as a person found myself relating with all too well, shouts into the void and all.

photo courtesy of merge records

Petite League – “Raspberry Vines”

It’s remarkable how a single song can make you believe that you’ve lived the life conveyed within its lyrical narrative even though the images and feelings are so specific and detailed in nature to the point where you couldn’t possibly have, not even a little bit. And yet there’s something there that manages to bind you to the melody, something about the way the words are sung that gets deep into your bones and nestles close to the marrow, drawing out something beyond empathy. Petite League’s “Raspberry Vines,” an alternate version of “Raspberry Seeds” from his sophomore album No Hitter, was that song for me this year. All of Petite League’s music seems to house an incredibly unique, exhilarating energy, each song somehow pained, jagged, and soft all at once, sepia-tinged and grainy but cherished like an old fading photograph in its instrumentation, each narrative a vignette – and this track was no exception, putting frontman Lorenzo Gillis-Cook’s signature raspy croon at the forefront as he relays a young father’s words to his child. The father switches back and forth from reminiscent details about the past (Baby’s first steps/Holding onto my two legs/ I was only 21/ Your mother was only 18) to desperately assuring us that “I’m trying oh/ I’m trying oh/ I’m trying so much harder than ever before,” the guitars raging and yet still allowing enough space for the bright melody underneath to pierce through. Suddenly the change from seeds to vines makes sense – seeds have yet to be planted and are at risk of being blown away, and vines hint at something constantly evolving, growing stronger and more resilient with each passing year.

photo courtesy of artist

Haley Heynderickx – “The Bug Collector”

I’ve listened to this song from Haley Heynderickx’s brilliant debut album I Need to Start A Garden countless times and I still don’t know what I like best – the meticulous guitar work or the absolutely perfect use of metaphor. Heynderickx, amidst bright, radiating guitar plucks, equates the various insects she captures and shoos away for her lover to metaphors for helping to rid them of their paranoia and emotional demons, even explaining in my favorite metaphor of them all that they think that the “praying mantis prancing on [their] bathtub” is really a “priest from a past life” out to get them. She sings in a soft, at times delicately layered voice that she repeatedly must try her best to prove that nothing will cause them harm, even though judging from the somber horns and slowing guitar melody towards the end that this is often a thankless task, but in a more hopeful tone, also about all the little ways we show we care about the people we love.

photo by Alessandra Leimer

Andrew Younker – “Oracle Girl”

“Oracle Girl” houses the one of the most stunning examples of musical catharsis not only within the entirety of Well Wishes, Andrew Younker’s LP released back in April, but also out of the jumble of tracks released this past year. Powered by a gorgeously distinctive, coursing surge of jagged, brooding synth, Younker pleads that he “don’t wanna be the boy of her dreams/ ’cause no girl should be wasting her dreams on me,” self-deprecation enhanced as soon as he steps foot into the chorus. The harpsichord-esque instrumentals that mark the bridge is where the catharsis begins and ends; the melodies grows louder and louder, Younker adding in additional flourishes haphazardly to the point where you think everything will run over the sides. But at the very last moment he takes back control, that same mesmerizing synth appearing as a saving grace for us to latch onto like a life preserver in vast expanse of violent ocean.

photo courtesy of artist

a. harlana – “Textile Workers”

Juno Roome’s vocals are the very definition of otherworldly. Even though the instrumentals that reside within his recent single “Textile Workers” are direct, the vocals remain just out of reach, perhaps due to the immensity of what they strive to convey – pained and constant introspection of character, the various complexities and intricacies of intimacy, both deeply tinged with a strong sense of desire despite the far more apparent reality of detachment. His breathless voice dances in curlicues, falling in perfect line with the instrumentals like delicate footsteps in fresh snow, lovesick but not naive – he tells a faceless past lover that “redolent of my musk/ you go back/ to the bed of your man,” perhaps meant to be a slash on her character, but instead reads as a reminder to himself to never get mixed up in this sort of torment ever again.  The track later morphs into a savagely cathartic soundscape, where any emotion still lingering behind surfaces and dissipates just as soundlessly as it materialized, but despite the chaos, it still sounds delicate, soft, powerful.

photo courtesy of artist

Vansire – “Brown Study”

“Brown Study” stands apart from the rest of Vansire’s gorgeous LP Angel Youth due to the way it fully indulges in the melancholy that perpetually stays on the sidelines throughout the entirety of the album – which is fitting, given that the title of the track refers to a moment of vulnerable thought so intense that you soon begin to lose sense of the world around you, and by extension, logic and reason. The track has Josh Augustin constantly on the brink of dissolving into his own thoughts, succumbing to the less organized feelings of infatuation: “Pardon my semantics/ It’s somewhat pedantic/ But your outline against the Atlantic/ Well it’s idyllic and highly romantic.” The synth swells to atmospheric sizes, his voice growing more enamored with each word he utters, and like all of Vansire’s music, manages to take you to an entirely different dimension, where both intellect and emotion can intermingle freely.

photo courtesy of artist

Kero Kero Bonito – “Swimming”

Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time this year to review Kero Kero Bonito’s recent sophomore album (and debut album for  Polyvinyl) Time ‘n’ Place, but I did have the time to listen to it. It was a bit of a divergence from the bright neon kitchiness of their debut, and far, far away from anything as lyrically quirky as “Flamingo” (see: meme). Sadly, that mature divergence in sound was a result of band members Sarah Midori Perry, Gus Lobban, and Jamie Bulled suffering from the loss of close family members and childhood pets, and at times, the album sounds painfully visceral, but also gorgeously mature at the same time. “Swimming” is the most nostalgic and smooth, conveying a wistful narrative about Perry and her mother’s tradition of going to the beach. Listening closer, between the carefree melodies and waves of synth drifts a sort of self-awareness, the thought that though you’ve grown older, the places and people we love still have their comforting role within our lives.

photo via polyvinyl records

Porches – “Goodbye”

During the last half hour of my flight to San Francisco earlier this year, I, for whatever reason, chose to listen to “Goodbye” from Porches’ recent album The House ten times in a row. It’s such a strangely vivid memory, too –  I just put the song on repeat and stared out the window, letting the intense white of the clouds burn into my eyes as we slowly drifted downwards to land on the tarmac, letting Aaron Maine’s voice burrow into my subconscious as he delicately sang of anxiety and fear amidst the accompanying stark, jagged electronic instrumentals. I was motionless, sitting in that airplane seat, but my mind was running a thousand miles a minute, excited but also strangely apprehensive at the same time, as I tend to be when throwing myself into any new experience. I’m always fine after the first five minutes of trying anything new, but the initial fear, I’ve found, is often enough to ward me away from doing it in the first place. “Goodbye” is a song so versatile and sparse that it could honestly have many different interpretations, and I still don’t know which is correct. But for me, it became closer to the admittance of sheer, perpetual vulnerability and, in this scenario, perhaps also weakness, and yet fearlessly conveyed in a powerful, piercing manner, with shards of synth piercing through the haze like lightning bolts – and it was something that was incredibly refreshing to hear as someone who often needlessly fears the inexplicable and intangible. The music video was also probably my favorite of this past year – its sad and yet strangely uplifting, give it a view or two.

photo by Jason Nocito

Boors – “Rash Decisions”

Jon Scott is an incredibly talented songwriter, and also possesses one of the most unique voices I’ve heard in quite some time, housing an energy far beyond his years. His most recent album as Boors offered up some of the most stunning post punk and new wave tracks of the year, but it was the short but stunning “Rash Decisions” that I found myself playing over and over due to its purgative nature. Scott’s fearless admittance of his own destructive behaviors bleeds through in the narrative, telling us in between striking, piercing guitars that he only has to “think a little” to “feel [his] pain,” that he isolates himself from others, “thinking that’s okay.” His vocals go back and forth between an anguished croon and a gorgeous falsetto akin to the release of a secret held in for far too long, and yet afterwards everything seems to be reset, the upbeat, fervid nature of the instrumentals afterwards conveying the possibility that Scott might be caught in a never ending loop.

photo courtesy of artist

Her’s – “Blue Lips”

“Blue Lips” was one of the most stunning tracks from Liverpool duo Her’s’ sophomore album Invitation to Her’s, which, honestly, is not saying much considering the sheer amount of color, whimsy, and brilliance that surrounded it. The track is a strangely wonderful doo-wop waltz with singer Stephen Fitzpatrick showing off everything in his vocal repertoire, from lovesick croons to brooding drawls to falsetto flourishes, while bassist Audun Laading offers up the most playful, bounciest of beats. Fitzpatrick oscillates between emphasizing his former lover’s emotional stoicism but missing her despite the fact, mentioning how he’ll always ironically miss her “cold kiss,” despite the pain she’s brought throughout the years. His voice never falters, staying at that irresistible croon for the entirety of the track, which, quite honestly, is far too short.

photo by Neelam Khan Vela

U.S. Girls – “Rosebud”

In a Poem Unlimited was Meg Remy’s best album yet as U.S. Girls, with “Rosebud” being her most stunning track to date, at least to us. It was more realized and immediate than anything she had ever done, breathless and passionate, but with a razor sharp edge of restlessness and frustration, which came through beautifully in the visuals released in accompaniment. The video shows birds in cages scampering to the feather light beat, even mouthing along with the lyrics, all while guilt seems to envelop the man who tends to them, splashing water on his face in epiphany as the orchestral instrumentals along with Remy’s voice reach its most exhilarating point. He takes one of his birds and releases it into the wild after seeing reports of species going extinct, but the weather is far less than favorable – he may have doomed that bird far more than he thinks. Yet when we hear Remy’s voice reverberating against the thick carpets of snow that “It’ll hurt, I promise you,” it doesn’t sound like a threat, instead a promise that you’ll be okay in the future, and the camera panning up into the heavens with Remy’s isolated vocal at the very end is nothing short of breathtaking.

photo via 4AD

Snail Mail – “Pristine”

Was there a track this year as blatantly starry eyed and youthful and yet as simultaneously matured and weathered as Snail Mail’s “Pristine?” Aside from the absolutely stunning guitar work, the narrative was painfully honest and vulnerable, and I found myself screaming along to it while driving home far too many times to count. Despite Lindsey Jordan admitting the fact she’s still young in the track, and thus “untraced by the world outside,” she dismisses it with a simple, yet resentful “anyways,” proving that she still knows what heartbreak feels like, detailing the experience of falling in love too quickly, giving too much of herself away and having all her efforts go unreciprocated. But still, it doesn’t matter, she “won’t love anyone else,” giving into that feeling that every adolescent (and, more often than not, adult) feels – the one where we feel like we would rather cease existing than come to terms with rejection. Accompanied by perfect, meticulous instrumental work, she then focuses further inward for the remainder of the track, ending just as vulnerable and honest as where it began.

photo courtesy of artist

Lab Partner – “We’re Bombing Out”

Lab Partner’s debut LP I Fret was one album I found myself returning to many, many times since reviewing it back in July. Despite it being an album made “out of necessity,” one meant to help artist Jiles Beaver work through the overwhelming wave of emotions he found himself drowning in, it is also one that highlights the rare bouts of strength over your insecurities, the little victories over whatever’s haunting you, and, most importantly, the power that creating music can have in dealing with stress and pain – intense catharsis that leads to peace. It’s a tightly bound bundle of emotion that unravels the more you spend time with it, and, after changing it many times, “We’re Bombing Out” is now my favorite out of I Fret, mainly due to the vocals that appear towards the middle to the end, which, in my opinion, seems to convey that idea of catharsis the most beautifully. He accepts that his relationship isn’t working out, that they don’t care about him anymore, lamenting in a gorgeous croon that perhaps its because he’s “so critical,” mentioning earlier that he’s not one for getting too close, and perhaps in a more superficial tone, that their hands were just too clammy. And yet, he realizes his mistake, spiraling into a textured bout of crazed desperation that goes on until the end, repeating phrases “I didn’t want it to end,”  “I don’t know”, “no no no” in a medley of different cadences and tones as if there’s five of him circling the real Jiles in the center. Honestly, I could go on and on about the last minute, its so tonally unique. I never get tired of it.

photo courtesy of artist

Devon Welsh – “Summer’s End”

“Summer’s End” was the very first song I listened to from Devon Welsh’s debut solo album Dream Songs, and I was a little embarrassed that I never knew that Welsh could sing so delicately before this, so beautifully free of the worry or despair that seemed to exist within it during the Majical Cloudz years. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved that heaviness – I listened to Majical Cloudz so much when I was college, and Welsh was a constant source of inspiration to me because of his candidness and unique, unwavering voice, his fearlessness when dealing with deep, complex subjects and his minimalist, poetic narratives – when they broke up two years ago I felt that we had lost something truly special in the world of music and art. And then, when I heard the “Summer’s End” a few months ago, with Welsh’s voice so incredibly different and yet so strangely familiar, now singing of light rather than darkness, love rather than loss, hope rather than hopelessness, I was happy to find solace in Welsh’s music in another way, one that hinted at the desire for peace and acceptance rather than the constant humoring of anguish. The narrative seems to effortlessly flow out of his soul, addressing his father as well as himself, assuring that “we will never grow old,” that “this is not the first time we’ve seen the last of the green,” the entire track existing as a resilient ballad that extends its resilience beautifully to its audience.

photo courtesy of artist

Ösla – “Canyon”

Though Henry Armbrecht’s recent EP as Ösla can be considered minimal in orchestration, I can assure you that the emotions conveyed within it fill the space gorgeously. In fact, the minimal composition was well needed in such a chaotic, busy year, so the time I spent listening to Moony was coveted, as it allowed me to be somewhere near the introspective state Armbrecht was in upon its creation. I found myself entranced with the second half of “Canyon,” marked by delicate pinpricks of piano that seemed to evoke greedy tugs on already frayed heartstrings, housing an irrevocable sadness brought on by the aftermath of betrayal and gaslighting as well as the inability to predict its occurrence or realize its presence during the fact. But do not mistake these beautifully chosen notes for weakness, for their sparsity only adds to their piercing density, simulating the climb back to who you were before, a beautiful journey towards regaining and rediscovering what precious things you left behind.

photo courtesy of artist

Margot – “Tired”

There’s an absolutely beautiful heaviness that exists within Margot’s music. Everything they’ve released this year was gorgeous in its own way, not without the little pockets holding equal amounts of pain and hope sewn to the sides of their full-bodied, passionate compositions, with observational narratives remarkably close to reality  – “Tired,” inspired by overhearing a father express how difficult it was to relate with his teenage daughter, feels more powerful than just another love song, tinged with a far more immediate sense of desperation, the feeling that he’s losing precious time. Frontman Alex Hannaway effortlessly takes the place of the father, lamenting to his daughter that “I just don’t know you anymore,” begging and asking her “oh god, won’t you get off your phone/ and tell me how you feel?” Somewhere within the repeated, echoed swells of guitar, you can almost hear his voice breaking, the way he drags out his words saturated in listlessness and lethargy. The last section proves Margot’s skill in immersion, laden with bright, stunning orchestral instrumentals, and addresses the father’s acceptance and desires to change, realized so strongly to the point that the violins and guitars practically lock into place, beaming like something delicate and cherished that had long since been lost.

photo courtesy of artist/ Kelly Fung

Kalm Dog – “Lakitu”

Out of all the songs on this list, “Lakitu” from Kalm Dog’s recent EP Fixie Wave might be the most fun, which is kind of ironic, given the narrative it conveys. The guitar that surges through is energetic and colorful, gritty and nostalgic, reminiscent of the beloved game Kris Nguyen uses as a perpetual metaphor in order to express the fears and frustrations of growing older as well as the reality of  navigating through the rainbow road that is adulthood, all through thinking about simpler times, of warm summers where things seemed simpler, free of responsibility: “Shake me some soda pop/ Lakitu, don’t let me fall/ Let’s play some 64/ Catch me on koopa beach shores.” Once you know the lyrics, its hard not to sing along, and, quite honestly, the immediate addictiveness of the track, as well as how it manages to maintain it throughout, is sort of amazing – we root for him to stay in first place, to get the green shells he wants, maybe because we relate to the desperate emotions in the track, and we want to win too.

photo courtesy of artist

MGMT – “James”

Given MGMT’s long history of beautiful grime and sludge, “James” might be the tamest, most delicate song they’ve ever released, and that’s why I absolutely love it. The duo returned back in February with Little Dark Age, their first album in five years, marking a huge divergence from their original sound with the heavy use of synth pop. Dedicated to Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser’s close friend and live guitarist James Richardson, the song is a ballad detailing their time together all these years, telling him “If you need a friend/ Come right over, you don’t even have to knock/ And I’ll be home/ The door is always open” adjacent to smooth swells of synth and crystalline flourishes. I’ve always felt that there is not nearly enough mention of platonic love as there is romantic love in creative mediums, and any time I see it I find myself latching onto it. There’s something so beautiful and pure about having someone to rely on at any time, someone that’s seen you at your worst and at your best, and honestly, I never thought I’d hear something so wholesome in a song by a band known for some of the most bizarre narratives and visuals in indie pop.

photo courtesy of artist

Foliage – “Take Your Time, I Don’t Mind”

I’ve listened to this Foliage track countless times and I still can’t get over how incredibly arresting and crystal clear the guitar sounds. It practically encapsulates your ears when you’re wearing headphones, it fills the room like vivid plumes of smoke and reverberates against the walls when you play it out of your speakers. It is my absolute favorite track from Manuel Joseph Walker’s third LP as Foliage, a collection of irresistible jangle and surf pop gems that, true to the word, all individually seem to glimmer and shine a different way each time they’re played, the result of constant work over the past few years. The instrumentals house this wonderful tenacity, the guitar bobbing and weaving while the vocals touch on a different kind of strength – the strength and skill that lies in being patient not only with the ones you care about, but with yourself as well.

photo courtesy of artist

Night Beds – “Jade”

I had to include this track from Night Beds because, well, Night Beds, starting this year, is no longer an active project. I had to pay tribute in some way, not only because “Jade” is a beautiful song, but also because Winston Yellen’s stunning track “Ramona” from his 2013 debut Country Sleep was one of the very first tracks I wrote about for this blog, and it holds a special place in my heart. It’s clear something substantial and irreversible happened between then and this year, considering Yellen wiped all the social media pages clean, taking with it any trace of past work. In a tweet he deleted close to ten minutes after posting it, he wrote that he had fallen in love with his manager and that it had ended badly, but he now had some songs to share, which took the form of an EP titled Dear Jewell. There was always a visceral loneliness and melancholy within Yellen’s music, but it somehow sounded even more pained in a track like “Jade,” where the somber narrative constantly plays hide and seek with a far more upbeat melody. He explains to a faceless entity that “you hate me when I do/ love me when I don’t,” that “everything you want/ is everything I’m not,” wrestling with his own emotions repeatedly to the point where it no longer feels like it is addressed to a past lover, and more as if he is singing to himself. If ending Night Beds is what it takes to help Yellen get back to himself, I am happy he did so. The least I can do is thank him for the memories I’ll have with his music.

photo courtesy of artist

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a. harlana – “textile workers”

While severely procrastinating my other writing responsibilities, I found myself scrolling through bandcamp’s recent dream pop releases, eventually hovering over a cover of Estelle’s classic “American Boy” from someone by the name of a. harlana, which I later discovered was a NY based musical project fronted by Juno Roome.

After I got over my infatuation with that particular song (it practically dragged me back to middle school), I soon noticed how Roome managed to breathe new life into the track – literally, considering his lightweight, breathy vocals were the part that seemed to more gracefully jut out from the rest, lingering over each word differently than the last. This then led me to a few of his other tracks, where I was pleased to hear that his vocals were once again the center of attention but also beautifully out of reach, perhaps due to the immensity of what they constantly strive to convey – pained and perpetual introspection of character, the various complexities and intricacies of intimacy, all deeply tinged with the same strong sense of desire, an unrelenting focus despite the pain of detachment. The ten minute video of Roome in the subway station slowly and delicately building and layering his song “Faces” shows this indisputable focus first hand.

But it was ultimately his ballad “Textile Workers” that had me closest to being within that same trance-like state he seems to always be in while writing and playing, due to the way it seemed to portray everything I’ve already mentioned simultaneously. It beautifully houses atmospheric instrumentals deep and bottomless like an abyss, along with distant, gorgeously indiscernible vocal work that seems to further succumb to emotion with each word he utters (the two seconds within the second chorus where he breaks free of the form he’s established for a moment in order for his vocals to float further into the ether on the word “last” remains the most magical part of the entire track). The lyrical narrative reads like a poem on paper, but a shout into the void when placed adjacent to swells of guitar, a call to someone that had once occupied the space next to him but has since left for the arms of another. He’s lovesick, but sadly, he’s not surprised – a brief twinge of bitterness exists in his words when Roome tells her “redolent of my musk/ you go back/ to the bed of your man.” After a few choice guitar strums, the entire track morphs and transforms into this cathartic soundscape, where any emotion still lingering behind has the chance to surface and dissipate.

In lieu of a traditional bio, Roome sent over a roast that one of his friends conjured up for him – something that I wish to present verbatim, considering I very much enjoy it:

“Juno Roome could be America’s poster child for “Least Suspicious Egomaniac,” which is hilarious considering he printed 500 f*cked up business cards. He really wanted a much larger font. So between the business cards and the new guitar, he could pull off subtly overcompensating with a hip aesthetic. Juno also powerlifts and subsists off chicken and vegetables, which makes him the nerdiest bro I know. And it’s honestly sad because he’ll never be truly accepted by nerds, or validated by bros. He is an art bro, a breed all their own.”

Aside from this playful attack on his character – as well as referring to his own music as Britney Spears mixed with Explosions in the Sky – Roome’s work as a. harlana nevertheless remains beautifully immersed and introspective. His music exists as vast, swirled, kaleidoscopic worlds where the contrasting concepts of thought and emotion are able to mingle freely, to the point where they appear seamless, evocative of something stunningly inexplicable.

“Textile Workers” is officially out tomorrow, and a. harlana will release their debut EP on January 25th.

Also, go listen to that cover – trust me.

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photo courtesy of artist

Homeshake – “Nothing Could Be Better”

Homeshake – also known as Montreal based musician Peter Sagar – recently announced his fourth full length release Helium, the follow up to last year’s Fresh Air. The new album has Sagar perpetually working to evolve his chillwave bedroom synth flourishes and dense, bubbly beats realized in his previous works into something that ultimately better reflects his “much clearer mental state,” solidified with Helium’s first single “Like Mariah,” a breathy slow jam flanked on both sides with chunky, echoed Seinfeld-esque bass and teardrop shaped synth effects. Given Helium was recorded and mixed by Sagar in his apartment, the track houses a strange intimacy and immediacy that oscillates between soothing and eerie (perhaps due to the use of computerized effects), but nevertheless remains delicately vulnerable at the same time, evocative of something exclusively human at its core. The latter also seems to apply more towards his most recent single “Nothing Could Be Better,” a romantic ballad sung entirely in a crystal clear, razor sharp falsetto croon. On the track’s meaning, Sagar explained that “sometimes on the way to a social function you gotta ditch and hang out with your sweety instead because love is beautiful.” In that vein, the synth seems to pulsate and pound like a beating heart, Sagar’s vocals growing more honest and specific with every verse, even hoping he never has to blink so that he can look into his sweetie’s eyes forever. He ends the track admitting that they’ve got him “smiling finally,” offering up an image simple in appearance, but beautifully complex deep within.

Helium is out 2/15 via Sinderlyn and Royal Mountain Records.

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photo by Salina Ladha

John Myrtle – “Foggy”

The phrase ‘lost in time’ is thrown around quite a lot when describing music inspired by the past, but London based artist John Myrtle is one musician in particular that truly deserves the sentiment, and beautifully so. With influences spanning from The Kinks, Harry Nilsson, and the Las, the music he has self-released throughout the years has flawlessly evoked the intricacies and delicacies of these jangle and brit pop masters, to the point where it is close to uncanny; past stunners “How Can You Tell If You Love Her?” and “Get Her Off My Mind,” even at their most energetic, sound soft and frayed at the edges, the gauzy fuzz of the background repeatedly cut with passionate, layered vocals relaying tender narratives. Myrtle’s most recent EP Two Minute Bugs explores a quirkier side, with the lumbering “Spider on the Wall” and the playful, jaunty “Cyril the Slug” both with cleverly distorted vocals to perfectly match the insect persona he inhabits.

With the exception of mixing, Myrtle writes and records everything on his own in his bedroom, which has resulted in a near tangible sense of tranquility despite the immediacy of his instrumentals and narratives. His most recent track “Foggy” is a direct extension of these same qualities, existing as an introspective ballad on self-doubt and the inevitable sorrow that comes with lost love. It turns a bit cathartic towards the end, something which changes the track entirely in the most stunning of ways; the closing is marked by a bundle of irresistible guitar jangles that, ironically, given the wistfulness embedded in his vocals, seem to achieve the same result as the sun hitting a spinning pendant made of crystal, perpetually piercing through the bleak expanse of fog that strives to smother it on all sides.

If you happen to be in Camden on the 18th or 19th of December, pop into The Green Note to see him play these lovely songs live. Tickets available here.

 

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photo by Niralee Modha

Album Review: Boors, Decade of Pain

The closing track of Decade of Pain features a split-second moment that briefly dismantles the brooding, detached persona that frontman Jon Scott conjured and dutifully maintained for the entirety of the previous half hour: a quick laugh adjacent to the snarling, biting guitars, an involuntary chuckle between the comparably more despondent words escaping his teeth. It’s so quick you could miss it, but it’s there, and while some might argue and see this an oversight in the album’s production, I contend that it instead greatly humanizes it, given the flawless quality of their new wave, post-punk sound and seamless collaboration in conveying it, both of which astounded me countless times during the duration of this album.

Boors is a project that was started and is still currently maintained by Scott, with tracks that have been in constant development for years now; many tracks that appear on Decade of Pain have also appeared on Scott’s previous album Waiting for the Ice Age (which is how I found Boors in the first place) as well as his EP What’s More released last year. However, those now seem to be closer to demos considering their stripped down nature, far more relaxed tempo, and overall difference in tone from the fervid, unyielding surges of anxious adrenaline that course through Decade of Pain – swaths of energy brought on not only by the work of additional members to help bring Scott’s compositions to fruition – Tony Tibbetts on guitar, Frank Gilleese on bass, and Zachary Ellsworth on drums – but also by the near sadistic self-inflicted time restraints:

“[We] recorded the entire album in under 48 hours. It shows, but I also think that’s the charm of it. I wish the songs could have blossomed fully, but true creativity can really shine through in moments of pressure and stress. I believe we started recording at 4 pm or so on a Friday and ran until about 2 or 3 in the morning, only stopping for food, bathroom breaks, cigarettes, and coffee.”

Decade of Pain is, ultimately, more realized interpretations of songs Scott wrote, re-wrote, and released over the past few years, the collaboration helping to bring everything to a full-bodied boil; their stunningly intricate, radiant guitars and dense, compact percussion remain taut and darkened as side effects of perpetually supporting their frontman’s heavy vocals and resulting lyrical narratives but do so in the most brilliant and gorgeously resilient of ways, without sacrificing their own individual merits. Scott’s vocals, in the manner in which they are enunciated and expelled, are right at the razor’s edge of brooding and snarling, brilliantly laden and driven with such simultaneous realized pain and hyper self-awareness that throughout the album he repeatedly transforms into the epitome of catharsis, ultimately worthy of such constant, doting attentiveness from his fellow band members.

Frankly, Scott’s voice is an instrument, like many of his predecessors’; his vocal tone oscillates between the likes of David Byrne, Morrissey, and, at very specific times, even Tim Darcy of the Montreal art-punk band Ought (who, ironically, gets compared to Byrne constantly, to this day), which further adheres to the influences Scott as well as Tibbetts, Gilleese, and Ellsworth individually brought to the table for this particular album, composed of everything from Bauhaus, Joy Division, The Clash, Talking Heads, even Orange Juice and Porches. As a result, the album is a potent cocktail of post punk, new wave, and art punk, harnessing the raw, borderline improvisational energy of their instrumentals in order to express vulnerable, introspective narratives, frequently sampling, as Scott put it, the “little flavors of sadness” that come complimentary with the tumultuous, emotional journey through adulthood:

“[The album title] comes from a saying my grandmother would tell me when I was going through a rough patch or post anxiety attack. Everyone believes that your twenties are filled with joy and excitement, but my experience has been the opposite…Maybe I grounded it too much and put a certain image in everyone’s mind with a title like Decade of Pain – but ironically it comes from a place of sincerity and comfort. Even in a morbid sense: humor – though mostly warm feelings for the grandparents who raised me.”

Most, if not all, of these tracks were created in the dim afterglow of pain and frustration, with the two part opener “Regenerate” the most telling of this idea; Scott mentioned that “Pt. 2” was actually the catalyst in the production of this album:

“I was drunk, depressed, and up late one night hitting the same few notes on my bass when I decided maybe I should hit record and see where it goes. The next morning I set out to finish the song I had started realizing that it needed another section, entirely separate from its own. I look back and think that I was really pulling from a deeper state of awareness as to my own situation because the song itself is a cry for help.”

“Pt. 1” suggests a sort of lethargic melancholy that soon steadily builds to the unpredictable jerkiness of “Pt. 2,” meant to suggest both dissociation and anxiety, and in the narrative, ravenous bouts of self-doubt. It brought to mind Ought’s flawless track “Disaffectation,” about the similar feelings of wanting to be numb and yet simultaneously possessing the perpetual desire to succumb to everything – love and loss, pain and ecstasy – and just as Darcy tells us this practice  “makes me feel alive” and that “I’ll do it again,” Scott admits that his “true contentment’s feeling out of touch” before readily falling through the jagged thrashing teeth of guitar.

Speaking of guitar, as far as instrumental work, the stunners within Decade of Pain have to be opposites “Ten Years” and (my personal favorite) “Rash Decisions,” the former gritty and serrated, with absolutely stellar guitar work, the latter smooth and silken, Scott’s vocals dialed back to an anguished croon and, at times, a gorgeous falsetto. Although, it would not be terribly random to include “This Should Be Easy to Show” due to its slower, yet intricate guitar as well as its perfectly rhymed verses, written in a rare “moment of endearment” rather than in the throes of loneliness, as well as “Heartbeat Slow,” written to be a lullaby, although the meaning is far more visceral:

“The premise of the song is about how I feel regarding my heartbeat. I have many fears and one of the more unfortunate ones happens to be hearing or feeling my own heartbeat, knowing that you’re mortal – I guess to some people that’s a comfortable thought.”

It’s clear then, that Scott’s enamored voice and his instrumental accompaniments, while beautifully controlled, are duplicitous, both able to hide and emphasize the embedded despair within his narratives – but nothing is more insidious than “Exit and Re-Entry” with its playful guitar, the push and pull pointing directly towards Scott’s internal monologue, which is at its most realized as he acknowledges his destructive behaviors:

“Often I find myself sheltering away; avoiding communicative means with everyone – friends and family. This plays a destructive role in maintaining meaningful and lasting friendships and relationships. Maybe that’s something some people can connect with… I get overwhelmed from pushing myself all the time to be social, go out and see people, try to form relationships and maintain the old ones. So I crawl back in my cave and wait until I’m ready to emerge with a vengeful optimism of never needing to recede back there again. So the cycle continues: Exit & Re-Entry.”

That escaped laugh in the last minute has an entirely different meaning once you’ve listened through the album a few times; it resembles a much needed pressure release, the equivalent to slashing up blackout shades in order to violently bring in light rather than simply drawing them to the sides. Decade of Pain embodies a similar dichotomy – both wildly cathartic and delicately meditative, it bites at the wound and promptly bandages it, perpetually fighting the urge to look under the gauze.

10/10

 

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photo courtesy of artist

Foliage – “Be Transparent” // Andrew Younker – “Thankful”

In a wonderful stroke of luck, next month bedroom jangle pop maestros Foliage (also known as Manuel Joseph Walker) and Andrew Younker will release a split EP, further adding to the amount of gorgeous music they have both already individually released this past year – for Walker it was his stunning album III, and for Younker his beautifully textured EP Well Wishes, both released back in April. Both releases showed off the sheer immediacy in their production as well as their creator’s poetic lyrical narratives, and with the split EP, they will not only expand on these skills but also show their respect and adoration for each other’s work, considering it will also feature a cover of Foliage’s “Value” by Younker, and Younker’s “Nervous to Exist Around You” by Walker.

With the news also came the first two singles from the album, beginning with Foliage’s newest track “Be Transparent,” a gorgeous, textured ballad on being open and honest with your emotions. The synth laden, rampaging beat grows even more incessant and unyielding as it gets to the chorus, where Walker repeats in a half-exasperated, half-relieved tone to the person who has been stringing him along that “that’s not how you treat someone/ Who’d be down for you/ But you’ll never know that will you?” The latter relief shines through in the enamored synth work that follows, as well as the piercing sentiment just beforehand that he’s just “glad i’m not the one who’s leading on whoever comes/ as a scheme to try for devotion,” clearly emerging as the victor just as the song comes to a close.

Second was Younker’s complex, shimmering track “Thankful,” which, although cousins in regards to tone, is, funnily enough, completely opposite from Walker’s in terms of it’s lyrical narrative, casually switching out the salt with the sweet. The track practically bleeds color in its flawless, crystalline synth work as well as Younker’s smooth, infatuated croon, explaining in the deep, hollowed out chorus that “at first I  found it hard to write for two verses at a time/ but then I met you,” going on to explain all the little things the person of his devotion does for him that bring him joy, from sharing her heart to helping him make dinner. It’s romantic and starry-eyed without being naive, the constant, stable melodies all hinting to a deeply realized sentiment that had been building for quite some time.

There’s no doubt in my mind that this split EP will be one of the best collaborations of the year, so do yourself a favor and pre-order it – jangle pop is great on its own, but everyone knows its even better in stereo.

 

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photo courtesy of artist(s)