Gus Dapperton – “Prune, You Talk Funny”

NY based artist Gus Dapperton has easily been one of our absolute favorite musical discoveries of the year, due to both his exuberant, yet surreal take on electronic pop as well as his seemingly poised and unperturbed personality that obviously bleeds into his work. His Yellow and Such EP, released this past summer, is also one of our favorite releases of the year, blending both color and texture seamlessly using synth, classic instrumentals, and various effects to achieve a cinematic, almost otherworldly sound. His latest release “Prune, You Talk Funny,” is definitely more guitar heavy, with a dreamy distortion that pairs incredibly well with his signature raspy croon. His lyrics, as usual, are on the poetic side, telling “Prune” that he likes “the way words come out” their mouth, how it takes him “many miles to make them out,” later in the chorus “treading on flower beds” among glittering synth and backing vocals of oohs and ahhs. The accompanying video is as whimsical and charming as the music itself, showing an underwear-clad Dapperton running from a girl’s father, guitar in hand, dancing at pools, parks, and school hallways dressed in 80’s friendly turtlenecks, sweaters, and blazers, and hanging out with his “bowl cut army,” all while possessing an inexplicable confidence that seems to burst through the screen.

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photo courtesy of artist
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Von Sell – “Hell No”

Von Sell’s self-titled EP was easily one of the best albums released last year, if not the best electronic album released last year. His sound tends to be the perfect amalgamation of the synthetic and the natural, creating moments of emotion within his music delightfully unique in nature and difficult to replicate. Despite each of its tracks being composed with seemingly unbreakable chains of glittering synth and layers upon layers of unique, otherworldly effects – sometimes allowing it to transform into something entirely different and multi-faceted halfway through – there is something about his music that remains intrinsically and genuinely human, perhaps because he accomplished most of the project entirely on his own, or perhaps due to his passionate vocals that seem hold everything together. And now, after a brief hiatus, Von Sell is finally back with the sultry, charming stunner “Hell No.” The introductory synth immediately arrests the senses, afterwards followed by deep, brooding vocals. But it is before the chorus where the tension is most enticing, the dramatic change in tone brought on by an unpredictable influx of synth, emulating the feeling of the ground falling out from underneath your feet. You fall fast, and you fall deep, and yet it takes a multitude of energy to not climb back up and fall into Von Sell’s world over and over again.

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photo by Andrew Segreti

Moaning – “Don’t Go”

No post-punk band since Title Fight has caught our ears so immediately and intensely as L.A. based trio Moaning, mainly due to the simultaneous emphasis and focus on highlighting both the abrasive and sensitive in their sound. Considering the unpredictability of punk rock that ultimately succeeds in making it extraordinary, their near-perfect balance and focus in their music may seem disingenuous at first – especially when looking at their ages – yet considering the ten years they spent playing basements and bars, its clear that focus comes from an immense love for the genre, and best of all, that passion is audible. “Don’t Go,” from their upcoming self-titled debut album, is both aggressive in its instrumentals and vulnerable in its lyrics, lead guitarist and vocalist Sean Solomon delivering his desperate narrative in a distorted, detached, yet unmistakably passionate tone. While the interplay between instrumentals are constantly enticing throughout the track, the cherry on top is the guitar solo towards the end, tenacious and brooding, creating an empty space for Solomon to deliver his final plea. Their band name is apt for the type of music they craft – somehow simultaneously existing as both a deliberate cry from pain as well as an escaped sigh of pleasure.

Moaning will be released on March 2, 2018.

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photo by Michael Schmelling

Baths – “Human Bog”

Baths is the experimental electronic project of Los Angeles based singer and multi-instrumentalist Will Wiesenfeld. Whether his work was tinged with childlike whimsy and nostalgia, as in debut album Cerulean, or steeped in darkness, illness, and strife as in sophomore album Obsidian, his focus and intent to remain true to his own identity, including his internal frustrations and outward struggles, never faltered, leading to some incredibly unique, incredibly textured, and incredibly beautiful tracks, all taken from a different place of his subconscious.

However, Wiesenfeld’s most recent album, Romaplasm, may be his most gorgeous, emotional, and honest album yet, honest in the way he expounds on his “at-home obsessions” with an added emphasis on the fantastical mediums in which he draws the most emotion – things like anime, books, and comics, but portrayed an brilliantly indirect manner where only the emotion derived is placed on display. Described on the album’s bandcamp profile as a “post-modern take on Romanticism,” each track from the album is a deeper step inside a new glitchy, colorful, and otherworldly environment, attempting to take both the immense pain and beauty of life and place them on nearly equal pedestals, where one does not exist without the other. “Human Bog,” one of the more dense, emotional tracks, is the perfect amalgamation of these two ideas, and among the most stunning tracks Baths has ever released dealing with personal identity, clear when paying close attention to its poetic lyrical narrative. Wiesenfeld admits in an increasingly fraying, porous voice, between puddles of murky, treacherous synth, that he’s “queer in a way that works” for whoever he’s with, and “queer in a way that’s failed [him], and ultimately laments on “the lengths [he ] goes to get held onto,” the instrumentals afterwards introducing soft orchestral flourishes that again allows the track to be both sad and beautiful, self-indulgent but honest. It’s no secret that being honest with yourself, no matter how difficult or frustrating that may be, makes for more genuine art, and with Romaplasm, Baths has realized that tenfold.

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photo by Mario Luna

Pearl Sugar – “Lock You Up”

Pearl Sugar is the dark synth-pop project of Chris Bugnacki, based right outside of Hartford, Connecticut. Although only having two official released tracks since beginning the project last year, his sound is distinct and stylistically clean, and, considering his inspiration comes from artists like Porches and Blood Orange, also moody and dark on the surface, yet with something nostalgic and oddly euphoric lingering just underneath. This is heard especially well in their most recent single, “Lock You Up,” the first of what will most likely be part of an EP released early next year. Bugnacki’s voice hovers above chime-like synth and sparse, minimal percussion, all dormant and waiting until the last minute, where its as if the gates containing them are finally unlocked, allowing them to expand and to float into the ether. Half a desire “to not let past ideologies hold [you] back from experiencing future joys,”and half a sentiment to the winter months spent in New England, the track contains an almost tangible tension that lingers well after the last few flourishes of synth.

 

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photo courtesy of artist

Tame Impala – “List of People (To Try and Forget About)”

Yesterday, Tame Impala, also known as the psychedelic brainchild of Kevin Parker, released the B-sides and remixes to his brilliantly colorful and atmospheric third LP Currents, released back in 2015. The album contains three brand new tracks as well as gorgeous remixes of singles “Let It Happen” and “Reality in Motion,” each managing to add something new and fresh to its stunning progenitor. Opening track “List Of People (To Try And Forget About),” is both dreamy and jagged in its composition, with thick swells of synth and sharp, pounding percussion, actively creating a space for Parker’s elastic voice to settle within its textured folds. Towards the end everything dramatically drops out, leaving only those swirls of synth, as well as plenty of open space for both it and Parker’s now clearer vocals to grow and expand in perfect rhythm.

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photo by Matt Sav

Ought – “These 3 Things”

I think it’s safe to say that Ought basically reinvented art-punk, or at least, brilliantly resurrected it from where it began back in the late 70’s and early 80’s, where intellectualism and sophistication as well as the unrelenting, raw energy of unrest and strife combined to form a unique, often esoteric genre that placed a greater emphasis on artistic ambition and expression, to value the spoken word at the same level as musical sound. Their debut and sophomore albums More Than Any Other Day and Sun Coming Down express this tenfold, due to the nature of the band’s often times lucid, borderline improvisational instrumentals and the calculated poetry of frontman Tim Darcy’s lyrics and vocals. Today, the Montreal four-piece have announced the release of their third full-length album, titled Room Inside the World. The news comes with a stunning new single, noticeably different from the grit of their past repertoire, instead leaning towards the gorgeous instability and unpredictability of post-punk, complete with synth and dulcet orchestral tones. Darcy’s voice sounds different as well, more mellifluous and elastic than ever, only occasionally returning to the brooding, acerbic tone he emulated in their past work, the unique vocals that immediately and unmistakably identified them as Ought. However, despite the stark differences in tone, “These 3 Things” stays true to the feelings of suppressed turbulence and anxiety and instead sounds like a seamless progression for the band, an evolution that still thankfully takes advantage of their unique recording style – where it constantly sounds as if, through the separate energies of every component involved, that something large, potent, and powerful is brimming just underneath the surface, gaining energy, yet only to stay trapped, smoldering and hot to the touch, that tension more coveted and gorgeous than if it had burst.

Room Inside the World will be released on 2/16/18 via Merge Records.

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photo courtesy of artist / merge records

Porches – “Find Me”

Last week, Porches, also known as the synth-pop project of artist Aaron Maine, announced the release of his third full-length album, The House. The news came with a brand new track, following the album’s debut single “Country” as well as its accompanying cinematic video released earlier this month. “Find Me” has Maine forgoing instrumentals and instead using synth exclusively, stacking the varying layers on top of each other seamlessly and thoughtfully to create a stable, unwavering foundation for a minimal, yet highly emotional narrative that touches on the painful nature of anxiety and the urges to escape. Maine, through a jungle of tense, earth-shattering synth, desperately begs a faceless, nameless being not to let “it” find him, simultaneously allowing the listener to fill in the blank with whatever is currently poisoning their subconscious, but, whatever it is, it must be something that takes a large amount of emotional strength to avoid, something large and unmistakably physical. Despite his attempts to resist, “it” eventually finds him just before the chorus, and with it comes a powerful wave of bouncy, glitchy synth that washes over as Maine succumbs to the influx of thoughts and emotions. Yet his voice towers over the surge in acceptance, and he explains that he’ll go “somewhere else, where I can sink into myself,” and asks those around to watch him go, to watch him try and escape from himself, to attempt to find peace through internal chaos.

The track comes with an equally gorgeous cinematic clip, showing Maine restlessly readying himself in various ways – shaving, fixing his hair, working out – seemingly all for that moment where he escapes to various places, the pool, the woods, an overpass, an empty field, the last image the most gorgeously expressive of his narrative. The video ends with that same image of Maine as the speck of red in a vast field of green, the high-pitched, animated tone of the words “watch me go” lingering for a moment as the last drops of synth dissipate into the air.

The House will be released on January 19th via Domino.

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photo by Jason Nocito

Rhye – “Taste”

Last week, Los Angeles based indie duo Rhye returned with their third new track of the year, following the previously released stunners “Please” and “Summer Days,” both tinged with the potent auras of painful, unrequited desires and deep-rooted nostalgia  – an amalgamation of emotions that Rhye has always emulated flawlessly through deep, brooding basslines and soft, breathy vocals. “Taste” uses both of those elements in a new arrangement, with Mike Milosh’s relatively deeper, yet still delicate falsetto at the center of a vortex composed of bass and synth, playful and eerie all at once. With the new track, the R&B duo has added a third aura to their repertoire – mystery – but as the track simmers down with the entrance of somber piano and strings, its clear that the emotions that make up your foundation is harder to escape than previously thought.

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photo by Dan Monick

 

Sufjan Stevens – “Wallowa Lake Monster”

Since it was released back in 2015, Sufjan Stevens’s emotionally dense, beautifully self-aware, and stunning autobiographical masterpiece Carrie & Lowell has become an unparalleled expression of love and loss. A devious, sly, yet mostly lonely, reverential, and lovely creature, the album reveals itself to the listener in layers, and, if you’re highly susceptible to emotion, or can relate to Stevens’s subject matter in any way, each layer becomes more painful and more beautiful than the last. In fact, it seems like it has always been Stevens’s mission to make anything painful sound beautiful beyond what is humanly capable, and that’s exactly the case with “Wallowa Lake Monster,” the first tease of the upcoming supplemental album filled with outtakes, remixes, and demos from Carrie & Lowell. The track follows the same narrative of love, loss, and regret potent within the album, offering another otherworldly, almost transcendental narrative on the death his mother, as well as their troubled, strained relationship. Both piano and voice are somber and delicate, each trying not to overshadow the other, conveying a sense of mutual respect and admiration in signature Sufjan Stevens fashion. Though the track exists as a continuation of the solemn nature of its larger work, its clear that this is perhaps the most solemn of all, due to Stevens’s absolute acceptance that “no oblation will bring her back,” that he has seemingly understood everything within the span of its seven minutes. His breathy vocals periodically rise into a beautiful falsetto during certain parts of the verse, strained and tired in response, but beautiful all the same, greeted with a cacophony of angelic wails that seem to carry a lovely weight towards the heavens.

The Greatest Gift will be released 11/24 via Asthmatic Kitty.

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photo courtesy of Asthmatic Kitty Records