Album Review: Alt-J – Relaxer

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

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

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

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

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

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

8.7/10

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photo by Gabriel Green / big hassle
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Album Review: Hinds – Leave Me Alone

When trying to decide which album would be the first to be reviewed for the new year (which overwhelmed me to the extent that it delayed posts), I found myself repeatedly coming back to Hinds. There’s just something about the Spanish garage-pop band that’s alluring in an idiosyncratic sort of way, meaning that their colorful, wonderfully peculiar tracks present themselves in a manner that demands your undivided attention. On their debut album Leave Me Alone, they don’t strive to reinvent the genre, but instead chooses to pepper it with constant energy and unbridled enthusiasm, providing an essence of vitality in the haze of confusion.

The quartet, formerly known as Deers, were forced to change their name for legal reasons, and settled on Hinds, another word for a female deer. Strictly from an aesthetic standpoint, this was cause for celebration, simply because the name Hinds fits their sound perfectly. Of course, there’s the fact that every member of the group is female, hence the female deer correlation, but Hinds just sounds more jagged and less concerned about what others think, which is what the band tends to convey in their songs. Their inspiration stems from artists like Mac Demarco and the Black Lips, and that dissonance resulting from this fascination with simultaneous indifference and confidence definitely shows through. Many of the tracks on Leave Me Alone were released back in 2014 when the group was just starting out, including the upfront track “Bamboo” and the bizarre “Castigadas En El Granero.” The newer tracks fit right into these, and I found myself noticing a pattern within the instrumentals . The guitar jangles and shudders as if it were spinning, and the bass lines are tight, creating a unique dissonance that it seems like only they could pull off. A few tracks really stand out on the album, which is mainly because of their mixture of joyful and serious. The powerful, confident “Chili Town” has wonderfully bright instrumentals, and the more energetic, yet dynamic “San Diego,” which showcases Carlotta Cosials and Ana García Perrote’s dual vocals. The slower tracks, including “And I Will Send Your Flowers Back” and “I’ll Be Your Man” portray the loving theme that the group was going for, and defy traditional standards of relationships at the same time. Of course, there are a few instances where some of the tracks tend to blur into each other, mainly because of the same, off-kilter vocals – at times you don’t know which of the two to listen to, and the result can be slightly disorienting. In fact, this was the main reason why it takes people (well, at least me, anyways) a few listens to really get into understanding their music – their unbridled energy can come across as too close and intimate for comfort, which is often times disappointing, considering their effortlessly fun and often smooth instrumentals.

However, there’s got to be something about it that was alluring, considering that I kept coming back time and time again to listen to “Garden,” the best track that appears on the album. It’s everything you could ever want in a garage pop song without going too off the rails, and everything from the stark opening guitars to the epic buildup to the end are brilliant. Leave Me Alone, in a nutshell, seems to be the claim from the band that, despite the image they present to the public, they’re not innocent or all fun and games – they’ve got bigger, better things in mind.

7.0/10

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photo by Salva López

Album Review: King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard — Paper Mâché Dream Balloon

I know you’re thinking it, so I’ll just say it: King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard is an absolutely bizarre name for a band. However, what’s even more bizarre is that I’ve gone this long without ever hearing about their own tantalizing brand of garage psychedelia, even more so considering they’ve amazingly released a total of seven full-length albums in the past five years. In Paper Mâché Dream Balloon, the septet’s most recent album, things get a little simpler, and the result is absolutely mesmerizing. Swapping those trippy instrumentals with what seems to be an entire acoustic and woodwind section makes these tracks sound lighthearted and euphoric, yet still incredibly focused.

In King Gizzard’s recent work Quarters!, released a few months back, the band literally took the album and chopped it up into fourths, each being a whopping ten minutes long. Each song seemed to have it’s own certain mood, and expressed it through crunchy, fuzzy electric instrumentals, and even a few strange sound effects here and there to keep everything sounding different from other psych-rock oriented bands like Tame Impala.Through Quarters! as well as their past work, it’s clear that the seven-piece Melbourne band knows a thing or two about intense experimentation, and that came in loud and clear with Paper Mâché Dream Balloon, an exclusively acoustic album. In fact, the sheer acoustic quality of this album practically sustains itself throughout its twelve tracks, here none of which exceed four minutes. It’s easy to think that with a purely acoustic album that the individual tracks would be bland, considering fans of King Gizzard have come to expect something grandiose. While its true that the tracks don’t seem to follow any set theme, this isn’t the case at all, and instead, intense technique and articulation seem to be key.

Opener “Sense” shows these techniques first hand, with an absolutely beautiful, almost mesmerizing clarinet melody that repeats in different sections seamlessly. “Bone” and “Dirt” seem to go hand in hand, although “Dirt” is the more colorful and evocative of the two. I can’t help comparing title track “Paper Mâché Dream Balloon” to Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s specific style of crooning vocals and intricate instrumentals, but that doesn’t take away from originality in the slightest. Once you get through the tracks “Cold Cadaver” and “The Bitter Boogie,” its clear that this is folk music with somewhat of a darker, twisted twist, though you’d never know it through listening to the lighthearted melodies alone. However, with this in mind, it can’t help but sound maniacal at times, and almost as if there’s something lurking underneath all the layers. The album also tends to hollow out towards the middle, where the vocals get lost in the instrumentals and start to bleed together. Needless to say, it’s a little disappointing, considering their strong start, and tends to become a little tiresome to listen to without a dynamic riff or vocal line to latch onto. Their quirky track “Trapdoor” seems to be their most humorous track off the album, due to its offbeat repeated vocal line and enough eeriness to be mistaken for a bonus track off the Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack (just watch the music video, you’ll see what I mean). The main vocals are brilliant, however, and seems to effectively cut through the haze of background chanting and the incessant, anxious flute. It’s definitely a fun track to listen to, and seems to sum up what the album wants to become – a romp in the psychedelic hay.

Paper Mâché Dream Balloon is sort of a catch-all for just about everything – blues, pop, psych-pop, folk, and even some jazz sprinkled in there for good measure – but never sounds heavy or messy. In fact, with some of these tracks, they just about atone for their name, even though that in and of itself seems to be part of what makes them so charming.

7.7/10

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photo courtesy of artist

Album Review: Beach House – Depression Cherry

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Beach House has always been a band that embraced the quieter, calmer side of life as well as fantasy, and over the span of their last four albums, came to physically and emotionally define dream pop as a genre and solidify a space within it. Their music flounces beautifully and breathes deeply, expressing everything from sadness to jubilation equally through lush, textured tones. On their heavier fifth album Depression Cherry, one starts to wonder whether or not this alluring aesthetic can hold up for this long, and discovers that stunning beauty, along with everything else, also has the tendency to fade with time.

Bloom was an album that absolutely deserved all the affection it received, if not more. It was edgy, but still passionate; hazy, but still effervescent. It was everything you could have ever wanted in an explicitly dream pop centered album, and, if you’re anything like me, “Myth” was your anthem for quite some time. I had never heard anything like it, and everything from the swelling instrumentals to Victoria Legrand’s voice made me embrace dream pop worlds more than before. That was way back in 2012, however, and times have changed, but, surprisingly, the music hasn’t.  One half of the Baltimore based duo, Alex Scally, has even mentioned in interviews that he hates when bands change between albums, seeming to hint at the nature of tracks and albums as a whole. As far as change, Beach House haven’t altered much of their sound, and upon hearing Depression Cherry for the first time, it’s even clearer. Opener “Levitation” is aptly titled, considering the almost weightless quality the shimmering, opera chorus-like synth and enraptured sense of being. Its pace immediately lets listeners know that this particular album is more decadent, more caloric than it’s predecessors, and darker, as if that wasn’t obvious from the album’s title. The illusion of these empty calories comes from tracks like “Sparks” and “Beyond Love,” where the band ironically introduces distorted guitars and instrumentals, hard and jagged in comparison with Legrand’s soft vocals. Perhaps it was an attempt at shoegaze – which, in hindsight, isn’t too far off from their current genre – but the execution sounds too tired for it to be believable. That lethargic feeling in the instrumentals also tends to bleed into the vocals, which take a backseat to become more synonymous with trance and hypnotism – a bit disappointing considering Legrand’s incredible vocal abilities. However, the new techniques that are heard in stunners like “PPP” and “Wildflower” are absolutely breathtaking, and almost pays homage to their former selves. However, one wishes that the band would take more risks, and perhaps enhance their current sound rather than stretch it out to encompass more emotional ground.

There’s a massive difference between the illusion of slowing down time and stopping it completely, and there are times in Depression Cherry where it was the latter; where it seemed perpetually trapped within itself and forced to use the same techniques over and over. However, Beach House is a band that knows their strengths and weaknesses incredibly well, and it does show in a few gorgeous tracks. The solidity of the album as a whole is definitely something worth noting, and in the end, the impenetrable gauze that they wrap around themselves has held up to the test of time.

6.8/10

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photo by Shawn Brackbill

Album Review: Foals – What Went Down

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In a way, Foals’ new album What Went Down has always been in perpetual motion. It’s been nearly seven years since the release of their debut album Antidotes, an album that seemed to create their entire reputation for the next two years – angry, intellectual, and incredibly skilled in the realm of math rock, a genre so rhythmically complex and fronted by none other than Steve Reich, which, in hindsight would send any music theorist reeling. Still, this was the image that Foals presented to the world, looking more like a young-blooded, indie heart attack with their asymmetrical hair and tight tennis shorts, yelping out lyrics and letting the instrumentals speak for themselves. It was a good move, considering the recognition this unique kind of gusto gave to the quintet, but of course, a buzzed out, angst-emblazoned foundation would only prove to be one-sided. Total Life Forever, their sophomore album, wiped away all the self-righteousness only to find a beating heart, one patiently waiting to be dissected and examined. Half the tracks dripped with an almost tangible sense of wonder, while the other half played with the concepts of darkness and vulnerability, a condition that seems to be synonymic with the mere idea of Foals as a band. The struggle between excitement and fear for the void may have been the result of having a multi-layered enamel surrounding singer and frontman Yannis Philippakis’ entire being, as well as a newfound darkness slowly settling into his heart. Just by listening to the album beginning to end was enough proof that the rage – from memories of being an outcast in his childhood, an outsider to his father, and frustrations with his own personality flaws – were slowly building. Three years later, Holy Fire came barreling through and changed the band’s image like nothing else before. It was nearly flawless in everything from its individual track construction to the placement and proportion of those same tracks, and the underlying themes of self-laceration and vulnerable anger made the album one that truly deserved the nomination of the Mercury Prize. The tracks raged and scratched into the skin with dirty fingernails, chugged and puffed with brute force, and most importantly, became the first time that Philippakis could really, really scream into the void. It really wouldn’t make sense that the void would ignore a band as volatile and skillfully impressive as Foals, and something seemed to beckon and echo strongly enough, considering the short amount of buffer time that occurred until What Went Down finally burst through the seams.

Yannis Philippakis has mentioned that usually, the band takes a break before hitting the grindstone again, but this time, it was back to their stinky, cramped Oxford studio almost immediately after touring for Holy Fire. They then transferred to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, the very same commune that housed the asylum in which Vincent Van Gogh sought solace after infamously chopping off his ear. That’s the sort of inspiration and history Foals thrive on, and judging by Yannis Philippakis’ need to channel an inner madman, it’s a pretty amazing place to complete any project. It was the fastest they have ever recorded an album, foregoing the perfectionist attitude that seemed to hold them back before. Because of this, one thing to realize when listening to What Went Down for the first time is that it’s structurally and emotionally different from anything else Foals has done. I truly want to say that it’s a culmination of all the thoughts and feelings presented, that it takes the youth of Antidotes, the awakening of Total Life Forever, and the mature rage of Holy Fire, but ultimately, the truth is that it deserves to be presented as the beginning of new ideas, albeit madness-induced ones. The title track “What Went Down” is a good representation of this, considering its rabid, foaming rage in which the lyrics compare men to lions and liars and bury hearts deep into the ground. It snarls and bites in its krautrock inspired instrumentals, and even though they sometimes overpower the vocals, they still succeed in getting the major point across.

The feeling of strength and fervor is succeeded with “Albatross” and “Snake Oil,” the more volatile of the bunch, although a little strained in inspiration and consistency. There’s a Black Keys vibe somewhere in there, in between the raging guitars and Jack Bevan’s vitriol infused drumming, which actually weakens it somewhat, yet doesn’t take away from the intense skill itself. The album, at times, tries to reinvent the concept of a riff, and What Went Down is chock full of them, no matter if they’re clean and bright, or dark and grungy. However, it seems as if the constant display of these riffs take away from everything else the tracks have to offer, and ultimately only serve as a way for Foals to desperately prove their worth. They have proven that they the masters of simplicity, and thus should have stayed with the rough, minimal sounds of Holy Fire while also experimenting with their new sound. Again, the riffs aren’t bad, but they just make you miss what once was. However, the major themes repeated throughout the album strengthen it again, and it helps the initial lack in consistency and inspiration in the first listen. Nature is something that seems to be an inspiration to Philippakis, considering that in most of his compositions he’s floating in the middle of the ocean, the desert, or anything that proves to be vast and terrifying. It definitely works, and I found myself imagining the sun-stroked river in math rock stunner “Birch Tree,” the murky blue lagoon in “Night Swimmers,” and of course, the daunting mountain in the upbeat track “Mountain At My Gates,” the little sister to Holy Fire single “My Number.” However, no three tracks come close to the gorgeous ballads “London Thunder,” “Give It All,” and closer “A Knife In the Ocean.” There’s a new sense of empowerment and rejuvenation found in these tracks, and the more I listen to them, the more ideas present themselves to me. It’s among the best Foals have ever written, and especially with “Give It All,” the passion is clearly still there. The falsetto that opens it is world’s different from Yannis Phillippakis’ signature voice, and everything from the lyrics to the images they create make it an absolute stunner.

In the past, Yannis Philippakis has used music as an emblem of pure honesty – a no-nonsense sort of writing that uses metaphors and images in a way that isn’t meant to be ambiguous, but evidence of the true human condition of vulnerability, passion, and conflagrant anger. With What Went Down, that cerebral sound is traded for one more visceral, and even though it’s clear that Philippakis is still hurting, the music is no longer glorifying those feelings. Rather, it seems to be more evocative of coming to terms to his own condition and trying his best not to savagely rip pieces of himself away anymore, or embrace brutality for brutality’s sake. Even though it’s clear that in What Went Down the inspiration and readability is hazy and distant at times, the heart never fails to show itself. Foals are still that muscular, beating heart found in Holy Fire – an album that truly changed my perception of beauty and honesty for the better – but now it’s one that’s getting closer to finding a warm body in which to call a permanent home, even though the journey is far from being over. In the meantime, they’ll go back to doing what they do best – portraying real, human emotion as it’s meant to be portrayed.

8.0/10

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photo by Nabil Elderkin

Album Review: Teen Daze – Morning World

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Teen Daze’s bedroom recorded electronic dream pop that was heard in his debut All of Us, Together proved to remain in it’s own strange world, and with time, it seems that it’s better that way. His particular take on the chillwave genre is one that strives to briefly make you feel something in the least complex way possible before dissipating with reckless abandon, and as a result, his sound has evolved accordingly. In his new album Morning World, Teen Daze leaves behind that sort of sun-bleached, digital atmosphere and instead attempts nostalgia in a new complex way that evokes something a little deeper.

While the vocals on Morning World aren’t exactly something to write home about, it’s the instrumentals that take center stage throughout the album. They’re the same, quintessential instrumentals that are found in chillwave and dream pop – peppy guitar strums, layered synth, and unashamed simple drumming – and most of the time, it works. Tracks like “Along” and “You Said” seem to have this style embedded within them as well as a jazzy beat, and as a result, are the standout tracks of the album. At this point, one starts to wonder if this is what they really want to soothe their nostalgic induced wounds, and unfortunately, the risk in wanting to secure that sort of outcome is where Morning World takes a dive. The inclusion of orchestral instrumentals, like the cello in opener “Valley of Gardens,” only seem to distract from the real emotions present, despite their gorgeous, alluring sound. Filler tracks like “Life in the Sea” are simple little jaunts, but fail on giving the listener something substantial to latch onto. However, there’s depth in those tracks that want it, and their specificity and expertise in delivering those feelings definitely succeed. Title track “Morning World” is actually one of the best on the album, because while it’s simple, it doesn’t aggressively want to be so. It sort of grooves and moves along on it’s own accord and carefully smooths itself out when there’s a snag. Again, Teen Daze’s vocals aren’t the most impressive, but it only plays up the intense skill that he shows when not fiddling around with digital loops and riffs. At its core, Morning World succeeds in being a fine example of a rural, simple collection of songs that pull at heartstrings, but in a way that wont make them fray and break apart.

Morning World will be released on August 14th. The full album is now streaming on NPR’s website, so go check it out!

7.0/10

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photo courtesy of artist

Album Review: Ducktails – St. Catherine

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As the guitarist for New Jersey based band Real Estate, Matt Mondanile has shown his particular set of skills in the vast, shimmering realm of nostalgia driven indie music. At first glance, Real Estate and Monadile’s solo band Ducktails seem similar in nature, but in his fifth album St. Catherine, it’s clear that this is absolutely not the case. As the follow up to 2013’s The Flower Lane, St. Catherine further explores the tortuous feelings of yearning and absolute desire, all wrapped up in a warm, comforting package.

While Real Estate houses a more uniform, organized sound evocative of maturity, Ducktails proves to be more flexible and emotional. Perhaps this is because Mondanile is an emotional person himself, and what couldn’t be expressed in his more professional ensemble is on full display in St. Catherine. First being a Real Estate fan, I first heard of Ducktails’ beautiful, nostalgic sounds back in when The Flower Lane was released. It’s standout tracks “Letter Of Intent” and “Assistant Director” opened my ears more towards this style of guitar-based indie pop that bands like Toro y Moi and Wild Nothing have worked so hard to achieve. St. Catherine evokes the same sort of feelings as its predecessors, although more relaxed and inhibited in nature. Opener “The Disney Afternoon” is a hazy, woozy instrumental track that’s dripping in synth alterations and lo-fi sound. Although it is glorious in and of itself, it sort of starts the album off on a shaky note that makes the listener lose their footing. However, Mondanile makes up for it by placing stunner track “Headbanging in the Mirror” right afterwards, which is a track that journeys into nostalgia just as wonderfully as the listener does. In fact, that’s something that Mondanile does incredibly well. His songwriting takes you with him into his pastel-colored, sun dappled world and spins you around until you are filled with nothing but a newfound contentment, and whether that feeling is forced or eased doesn’t really seem to matter. “Into The Sky” is another gorgeous track with obvious rhyming lyrics and a sense of childlike innocence in the vocals that seems to run rampant throughout the album, while the title track swoons and swells with intense, yet subtle trepidation. However, on first listen it’s easy to see the flaws in St. Catherine, and most of it lies mostly in the actual nature of the tracks. In the last half of the album, the songs seem to grow weary of themselves and droop accordingly, with the exception of “Medieval,” which actually seems to be the edgiest, sharpest track on the record.  While the instrumentation and vocal tracks are as lovely and warm as ever, the content seems to drag and get caught up in its own listlessness. However, this doesn’t bother me too much, considering there’s also a redeeming playful sound that exists in St. Catherine. Tracks like “Surreal Exposure” and “The Laughing Woman” broadcast that firsthand, and it’s actually quite tasteful and refreshing to include this sort of track into the repertoire, since it shows another side of Ducktails – one that doesn’t float listlessly by, but instead dances across with excitement.

Ducktails is, after all, an intensely personal expression of multiple emotions, and Matt Mondanile has done a terrific job of bringing those emotions to light through gorgeous, guitar-driven indie pop. Throughout it’s hazy echoes and shimmering instrumentals, one begins to see the appeal in drifting towards and living inside the very idea of nostalgia, and over the years, I’ve found that this idea never loses it’s sense of fulfillment.

7.8/10

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photo courtesy of artist

Album Review: Crushed Beaks – Scatter

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London indie post-punk band Crushed Beaks’ debut album is one filled with almost tangible feelings of angst, vulnerability, and at times, pure fascination. Scatter serves as a medium in which the band can express multiple emotions and inspirations, and even though that may sound too ambitious for its own good, the album still flawlessly manages to sound cohesive, sharp, and addictive. Their sound is unique and different than other indie punk bands, and because of their specific quirks, they have slowly become one of my favorite discoveries of the year.

Opener “April” is pretty standard on the surface – an opening melody that builds and builds as the song progresses – but immediately the listener can recognize that frontman Matthew Polie’s vocals are a force in and of itself, and that realization continues with stunner (and my favorite) “Overgrown.” This track was the one that introduced me to the band in the first place, and everything from the grungy, Morrissey-esque vocals to that powerful, repeating guitar riff makes it a total winner. The energy provided by drummer Alex Morris really makes all the difference, as heard in “Overgrown” and in companion “Rising Sign.” This track was perhaps the most joyous and exuberant of them all, considering that it’s about becoming free of a sour relationship and realizing that your happiness is more important. “Choices” and “Feelers” serve more as filler tracks than anything else, and it’s here where I can recognize Scatter‘s main problem. It’s filler tracks – including the old tracks “Grim” and “Memory Loss” – take away from the feeling that the band was trying to cultivate. Since this genre of music is so fast and unapologetic, it creates this cloudy, indeterminate feeling that left me feeling a little neglected. However, the feeling of vulnerability that I see in this album makes up for it’s hiccups, and no track really showcases it more than “History.” The instrumentals are warm and inviting in the way it shimmers and envelops Polie’s vocals, which seem to be gorgeously pained and introspective.

Overall, Scatter is an album that definitely deserves to be listened to attentively and felt deeply. It’s feverish, excited nature will have you craving its own unique brand of euphoria, and make you fall in love with Crushed Beaks just like I did.

8.5/10

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photo by Eleonora C. Collini

Album Review: Son Lux – Bones

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Son Lux, also known as the experimental electronic project of Ryan Lott, has always experimented with sound and the force behind it. Lanterns, his 2013 release, seemed to be steeped in both minimalist and maximalist overtones, and, because of the brilliant way it was orchestrated, made it one of the year’s best albums. Since then, Lott has added guitarist Rafiq Bhatia and drummer Ian Chang to the group with an attempt to make a more meaty, deep rooted sound with more technique and experimentation. However, when hearing the band’s fourth full length album Bones for the first time, all these sounds constantly fight for attention, and as a result, it feels a bit too ambitious for it’s own good.

One of the most redeeming qualities that Son Lux possesses is the unique timbre of Ryan Lott’s voice. It quivers and falters, all with a scratchy, yet vulnerable feeling that proves that whatever lyrics he’s singing he really feels. However, this is perhaps the only thing that ends up saving the album in certain ways. From opener “Breathe In” to closer “Breathe Out” (both instrumental tracks), its a cacophony of sound, all fighting to be recognized. Experimental electro-pop is a lofty genre to attack in the first place – so this struggle is expected – but, seeing as how successful Lanterns was, it was shocking to hear this sort of disconnect. “You Don’t Know Me” is harsh and dark, with an eerie, carnival music sort of sound, while “I Am The Others” incorporates industrial noise with deep vocals. Even more shocking is that this album was supposed to document some sort of positive, uplifting change, as mentioned in the album’s single “Change Is Everything” as well as “Your Day Will Come.” Rather than feel inspired, the listener feels under attack for the majority of the time spent listening, which is perhaps because of the lack of context or story.

However, positivism and sensitivity are present in this album after all, but it takes longer to find. “Flight” finally gives the listener some sort of meaningful emotion, and “Undone” possesses both a vulnerable and primal urge that is absolutely breathtaking, making it the best track the album has to offer. It’s a shame that an attempt at brightness so easily dissolved back into darkness, especially since Son Lux has already mastered the sullen, introspective sound on his last album. Even though the album fails at delivering the sort of feelings it intended, in the end, I can’t fault it too much for having such a humanistic desire to search for something new.

Bones will be released on June 23rd.

5.5/10

P

photo courtesy of artist/npr

Album Review: East India Youth – Culture of Volume

East India Youth for Subbacultcha

In his stunning second album as East India Youth, William Doyle takes on a obvious electronic pop aesthetic, complete with the fascination of dance tracks, heavy beats and synth, and a strong focus on lyrics and passionate vocals. Culture of Volume, on first listen, seems like the peppier, more colorful cousin to 2013’s Total Strife Forever, which reflected a darker, more introspective persona. Yet, when analyzed, it’s clear there’s more underneath those synth layers, and we see Doyle as a man who’s keen to learn. Even though I loved the last album in terms of it’s raw emotion and self-entombment, it’s refreshing to hear these changes, and Doyle presents them in an intelligent, highly emotional way.

The album as a whole seems to represent a few central themes. There’s the obvious, overdone feelings of insecurity brought upon by society and it’s constant pressures, as well as the bitter emotions of love, but this somewhat cliche subject matter is effectively reworked by Doyle with delicate innovation, creating an entirely new platform to work on. The musician has said in interviews that he wanted to recreate himself as a sort of “pop star”, as it were, and one that isn’t afraid to create dance tracks that would almost known as “mainstream,” although I can say with pure confidence that this album is anything but. Opener “The Juddering” is among the deep electronic instrumentals on Culture of Volume, and presents the album in an intense, highly complex narrative that seems to expand as it plays on. It explodes into “End Result,” a track that seems to express the feelings of unhappiness, grief, and hopefulness simultaneously through the use of repetitive, yet haunting vocals. “Hearts That Never” as well as “Entirety” and is the best examples of Doyle’s take on the EDM genre, but they’re somehow my least favorite, making me think about how often times throughout these tracks it’s hard to take him seriously as this “pop star” that he so longingly desires to be. I can’t help but remember him as the brooding, serious personality he took when recording Total Strife Forever, and almost feel as if this newer one is somehow forced. However, Doyle makes up for this one grievance almost completely with the tracks “Turn Away” and “Carousel,” where I can finally hear honesty and instrumentals that seem to drip with raw emotion and dreamy vocals, as well as an eerie edge underneath the skin that amplifies the apocalyptic feeling and keeps it from getting too reserved. The most vulnerable track, however, is the absolutely beautiful “Don’t Look Backwards,” where both vocals and synth go on a journey to a mystical, higher ground. Culture of Volume also includes “Manner of Words,” a ten minute saga that encompasses the general feelings of the shifting genres and ideas of the album as a whole. “Beaming White” is definitely the most stunning track on this album, and I say that with intense infatuation. It floats and hums in delicate waves, exploring complex beats and shifting moods. It’s here along with the divine track “Turn Away” where I can clearly hear Doyle’s influence from Pet Shop Boys, considering that the beats and vocal style is almost fine-tuned with their specific aesthetic, especially reminding me of their track “More Than A Dream.” However, Doyle does manage to make it his own, and everything from his glittering vocals to the shuddering, metallic synth and electronic beats are pure perfection.

Culture of Volume is an absolute masterpiece of an album once the listener gets over the shock of a slight aesthetic change, and realizes that it explores more fantastical and complex ground instead of a dark reality. It does so magnanimously and pompously, but executed with love and passion, and these contradictory qualities cancel each other out to create a delicate balance. William Doyle seems to have grasped the concept of pop music that’s filled to the brim with experimentation and emotion without sacrificing your mind and sanity in the process. And as for fluidity, the main concern of his debut, the layered format of this record’s instrumental to vocal tracks fit together like musical puzzle pieces – forming the magnificent image of a man reborn.

9.0/10

P

photo by Isolde Woudstra