I was going to post this a while ago (like two weeks), but things in my life have been weird and I’m mostly just been spending my time sitting on my bed watching Netflix. Oh, and True Detective. But now I’m out of my funk enough to tell you why you should be listening to Vulture Shit and their latest EP The Joys of Employment.
There are a lot of high(er) profile/less interesting punk bands making waves now and enjoying the sort of exposure that hard-working bands like Vulture Shit probably never will. And not to call bullshit, but, you know. Anyways, the band’s latest is the sort of electrifying punk rock that feels a bit grimy, a bit sleazy, with probably giant globs of snot and spit coming out of its unwashed face. My friend called the Jello Biafra comparison before I could, and while it’s not an exact likeness it’s enough for me to mention it now. Also the riffs give me the tinglies. Oh and the humor, there a giant, steaming mound of it found here too. So if that’s not enough of a glowing, in-depth look into why you should check these guys out then, well I don’t know what else to say.
Big things are happening for Donovan Wolfington! Not only did the band sign with Topshelf Records, but their new single premiered over on the AV Club today and now I’m grinning like such an idiot. I’ve been singin’ these kids’ praises for a goodwhile now (thanks to Chris Cappello) and I’m really happy for them that people in higher places than mine are taking notice. I’ve always maintained that they deserved so much more attention than they were getting and it’s cool that that wrong is being rectified.
On “Keef Ripper,” one of two singles from the band’s upcoming EP, they take their fun-loving yet mature song-writing, crank the knobs a little bit, and serve the track up in a big way. The driving punk chords go down nicely bolstered by a catchy melody and a spunky tempo. Then everything it topped off nicely by some throaty screams to ensure that you know that Donovan Wolfington means business.
Keep an eye out for the band’s EP Scary Stories You Tell In the Dark, out on 4/29 via Topshelf Records. Should be a good time.
Choosing just one track to highlight from this album was almost impossible. Michael Parallax runs the gamut on pooling all sorts of various genres and then picking and choosing generously over the course of his latest album Wilderness Years. Sure he opens the album with some Sufjan-indebted spiritual folk pop, but that doesn’t mean he won’t transition into some experimental cyber dream pop or synth-heavy Caribbean funk with autotuned vox just a couple of tracks later. But ultimately it came down to one track for me.
On “Heart, Kid” Michael toys with notion of blog pop by blending what sounds like a R&B-inflected MGMT with maybe a little bit of M83 on a sugar high (that saxophone). But don’t let that trite description dissuade you from pressing play though, because what Michael deals in most heavily is heart and melody. Both of which have a strong showing on “Heart, Kid” and the rest of the album as a whole. Now some people might find this sort of ADD-riddled genre-hopping to be a headache, but Michael’s indomitable spirit is the thread that can be found running through all of these seemingly disparate tracks. Well, that and his insane talent for doing pretty much whatever he wants and making it sound absolutely gorgeous.
Band Practice is the recently adopted moniker of super pal and all-around badass Jeanette Wall. And in her Brooklyn apartment with a beat-up guitar she spins beautiful little pearls in the form of pop songs and then sprinkles them down onto her Bandcamp page. Stripped-down and simplistically sweet, her songs find melody in the mundanity of everyday life, similar to the way that other ladies like Frankie Cosmos or Infinity Crush do.
On “Freddy,” one of several horror-themed ditties she’s been kicking around inside her head, she looks to everyone’s favorite dream killer Freddy Krueger for a metaphor befitting the up’s and down’s of a complicated relationship. She claims that it’s just a silly song, and I don’t know about you, but I’m in the mood for a little bit of silly right now.
Post-rock is a tricky one. It’s a pretty easy genre to mimic. Just go through the motions of a few key elements and boom, you’ve got it. It’s for that reason that I don’t find myself listening to much of it these days. A lot of it just sounds too homogenized. That being said, I’m not opposed to listening to it, should the artist find a way to make it their own. Recently there have been a couple acts who have managed to put their own spin on it to varying successful degrees, often times mixing it with other genres. See bands like Russian Circles, Deafheaven, and The Ocean who have particularly caught my attention.
While Bay Area band Wander don’t really do anything new with the genre like those previously mentioned, they do manage to inject some life and emotion into its old bones. Thanks in small part to their high levels of intensity and some genuinely fist-pumping guitar lines (which remind me of bands like Fang Island or Pan) that help its spirit soar, Wander accomplishes more than enough to merit elated, repeat listenings. “Inspiring” might be a cheesy cliche to lean towards (especially when talking about post-rock), but some of the songs on the band’s recent album Calamity really do reach those heights. So if you, like me, have sort of yawned the post-rock genre off in recent years, I’d suggest giving Wander a spin. Maybe they’ll spark something in your eye (or ear, rather) like they did mine.
PS - The album was produced by Jack Shirley who has worked with Deafheaven, Loma Prieta, and Whirr. Take that for what it’s worth.
I’m sorry to drop some more death metal on you, but I can’t help it. I’m pretty much obsessed with this release and I need to throw some words at it for my own peace of mind. You know what? I’m not sorry. So, deal with it!
Now I realize that extreme forms of metal like this are not for everyone. And even if you are one of those people who typically avoid it for whatever reason, I’d suggest giving Inferi at least one track to work their magic on you. Their dark, dark magic. On “Those Who from the Heavens Came,” the opening track from the Nashville band’s latest album The Path of Apotheosis, the band unleashes the full force of their power to start things off with an epic bang and it truly feels like you are caught in the crossfire of the battle raging on the album’s cover. Inferi makes sure to parade their technical prowess in front of you right off the bat before a crash of thunder signals the track’s true beginning. From their it’s a runaway train of soaring, melodic guitar solos, blinding percussion, and raspy screams straight from the pit of hell. For a six-minute song it sails by on a bolt of lightning leading you right into the rest of this absolutely incredible album.
I love getting emails from Shota Kaneko AKA Teen Runnings. This last one was a bit unusual though. Instead of pitching some new music that he’d been working on, Shota told me about the new label he had recently started. Called Sauna Cool, the label will focus on releasing underground Japanese music, much like that of Teen Runnings.
Outside of a compilation release, the first real album being put out by the label is car10’s Everything Starts from This Town. The first single from said album is “I Don’t Meet You” and on first listen it’s very obvious why Shota chose this band to be on his label. They’ve got a similar vibe with warbling guitar distortion, a sunny beach pop melody, and plenty of “awoo”s to go around. But where Teen Runnings was laid back, car10 is rambunctious. The energy bleeds from the track, getting all over you, making you a believer all 65 seconds.
Profound Lore continues to be the best label around for quality metal releases. Following a string of stellar 2013 albums, the Canadian label is gearing up to make sure that this year is just as brutal with releases from artists like Avichi, Coffinworm, and Artifical Brain. The latter’s Labyrinth Constellation is one, in particular, that I am really looking forward to hearing. The forward-thinking, Long Island band has only released two tracks from the album, but both have packed enough punch to make sure that this album will be one to look out for.
One of those tracks is “Absorbing Black Ignition” and it’s a dizzying display of technical ability and pure, animalistic ferocity. Now I’m usually not a big fan of pig squealing, but the vocals on this track feel primal and organic where others feel corny and forced. The self-proclaimed “space death metal” band run the gamut on tempos and levels of rage on the track, leaving a wake of twisted metal and gnarled bodies behind them. Which, I suppose, is the vibe they were going for considering the theme of the album and its unbelievably awesome Paolo Girardi artwork. Space! Robots! WAR! Great, now all I can think about is getting my hands on this album. And I had every intention of cleaning my room today!
Jimmy Spice has been quiet but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been busy. Somehow while in the midst of working on his next album as Liquid Skulls he found the time to start another new side project with his friend B. Harris called Wasted Colours.
Turning their noses up to conventional song structure (as Jimmy is wont to do) Wasted Colours focus on vibe and feeling more than anything else. This is deeply impressionistic music with guitar tones serving as deep brush strokes while the obfuscated vocals crack and whither like drying paint. It’s tagged as “devotional” music on Bandcamp and I’d have to say that that’s pretty apt. Color and warmth emanate from these four rough recordings causing the release to come alive with a personality all its own. So just put it on and meditate… or nap… or do whatever it is you do to relax. This’ll help.
There are so many great cassette tape labels working today and it seems like more are constantly popping up everywhere. Of course the blogosphere, being the way that it is, likes to focus on only a couple of these labels as if they are the only ones worth mentioning. Bull honky. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that labels like DZ Tapes have been quietly plugging away for years, churning out quality content. Just look at the quirky label’s most recent release, The Sweets’ Greatest Hits.
The project of two brothers from Winston Salem, NC who, over the course of 2013, wrote and recorded over 50 tracks of lo-fi pop sweetness. For this cassette release on DZ Tapes, the Sweets decided to cull together the best 18 of those tracks and humorously slap a Greatest Hits title on it. Even paired down to 18 tracks through, a release that long can be a big chunk of music to digest. Fortunately this is a non-issue since the songs go down so easy. Recalling bands like Tyvek and maybe even some echoes of This Is It-era Strokes, The Sweets keep things simple yet varied. Really the whole thing is a joy to listen to, so if you dig on lo-fi bedroom pop then scoop this goofy little release up. You won’t regret it.
Little Ruckus is not for everyone, but for the people who respond positively to him there is almost nothing better. The scrawny little bundle of energy and sweat has nothing but honest love for everyone and he does his best to spread that crazy love through his music- his insanely catchy and bizarre music. His lyrics aren’t sung at you as much as they are shouted earnestly with neck veins pulsing. The samples are carefully selected for maximum enjoyment and the need to sing along even though you don’t know the words is ever present. The joy is designed to be infectious and I would like to believe that even the staunchest skeptic who stands with their arms crossed in the corner could find at least something here to make them smirk.
With Eyes Wide Shut Little Ruckus says that the five songs on the EP are his “dark songs.” In Ruckus’ world though there really isn’t much darkness, which means that “dark” here really means “written in a minor key.” So dig into these five glittery, explosive anthems and feel the mellow melt away.
So it turned out that Slow Warm Death (the garage rock band of former Snowing frontman John Galm) was destined to be a short-lived project. The band is not saying that they are 100% over and done with, but with John moving from the East coast to the West, things aren’t looking good. So in the meantime, members (or a member, I don’t know they weren’t exactly clear in the email) of the band have moved on as The Beds. There are a couple of tracks on their Soundcloud, but if you want the whole EP you’ll have to clink on this link.
Given the fact that the jump from Snowing (emo) to Slow Warm Death (garage) wasn’t exactly logical, you’d be forgiven for think that the jump to The Beds would follow suit. And you’d be right, sort of. The band has cranked the volume knob, scuzzed things up quite considerably, and put on their meanest faces for these tracks. Leaning more towards punk, these songs are loud, brash, and blow the hell out. It’s not certain what sort of project The Beds will turn out to be quite yet, but for now they seem to be having enough fun that that question doesn’t presently matter.
OK, this last guest post comes from my pal Ricky Balmaseda and it’s a best-for-last sort of situation. I got to know Ricky through his music with Syracuse scuzz punkers SSWAMPZZ and then later more properly through our mutual friend Jeanette Wall. Ricky is a really great guy with beautiful, beautiful hair that I covet and what’s more he is gaga over a lot of the same bands I am. Here he dishes on a couple of them.
In my head there exists this very loosely defined fake genre I’ve made up by proxy of hating the idea of taking new microgenres seriously that I’ve affectionately come to refer to as “the ballpark”. Bands “in the ballpark” vary in sound style and mood but usually find common ground in guitar driven blends of obstinate time signatures, sour moods, psych-y compositions, and catchy/melodic pop. This isn’t exactly the newest idea, as it historically has roots in progressive rock, post punk, jazz, and no wave, but a new crop of bands have been doing it serious justice, most notably the late great Women out of Calgary.
A ton of awesome new Canadian bands seemed to sprout up/become more visible in the wake of Women’s success and unsurprisingly fall within that super loose idea of the ballpark to different extents, (Each Other, Absolutely Free, Faux Fur, Un Blonde, Telstar Dugs, Crosss, Freak Heat Waves, Long Long Long, and The Diet, just to name a few). Ian’s love for Un Blonde and the Canadian post-punk scene was a serious bonding point for us when we met this fall, so I figured I’d talk about some releases in the fringes of this style that I’ve been super into. Here I want to highlight some of my favorite 2013 releases from some very real bands in this very silly fake genre.
I first stumbled upon Viet Cong through a friend (and fellow Women fan) who found a link to their bandcamp early in the summer which had a single live recording simply entitled “Quality Arrangement”. All I knew about the band then was that it was the new project of Matt Flegel (bassist of Women), and that the song was murky and pretty difficult to hear. The same friend tipped me off to their site with much excitement in early September as it housed a full six-song release. What I heard then was a fulfillment of everything I could come to expect from that initial recording and more: wiry dueling guitar lines, melodic bass grooves, and super tasteful drums all anchored by Flegel’s unexpectedly emotive howl, all coated in a beautifully hissy sheen. The songs range in mood and structure from the poppier and straightforward rocker “Throw It Away” to the frenetic goth freakouts of “Structureless Design”. Cassette only “Dark Entries” even sounds like Joy Division steriods. The tape, which was partially released to get them through tour sounds even better in person, as I was fortunate enough to catch Viet Cong’s amazing live show a couple weeks after the tape dropped. After seeing that show and learning that Flegel brought Mike Wallace (drummer of Women) along for the ride in the new project I became a true believer. Probably my favorite release of the year, the Cassette has unfortunately disappeared in full on Viet Cong’s bandcamp (only the singles remain), however whispers of a full-length release in mid-2014 promise that what is left of the mark they made this year will not be the last you hear of them.
Yeah I don’t really know whats up with the name either, but shit would you look at that artwork? From what I can tell Hellier Ulysses is an Atlanta based trio comprised of Charles Hellier, Patrick Meyer, and Thomas Ulysses. Their release Ulysses Hellier brings new meaning to the word economical, bringing five distinct tracks to the table in around 8 minutes. Recorded by Greg of Athens based psych-pop gurus Bubbly Mommy Gun, Ulysses Hellier dabbles in sun-drenched spaz-pop that lurches and grooves with a seriously addictive attention deficit. What makes these guys especially awesome to me besides the fact that their songs are so damn catchy is that at the moment besides their hometown pals in Red Sea, I actually haven’t heard much “ballparky” stuff (especially in this really brief/jagged style) coming out of the states. There are fringy ballpark offshoots that get more abrasive and skronkier (Guerilla Toss and No Babies come to mind) , but conserving that melodic vocal element hasn’t really been a thing stateside as far as I’ve heard. Maybe there’s something in the water in Atlanta? All I know is I’m hooked.
Have you ever tried to recommend somebody a band you really think is gonna blow their mind only to have them one-up you with an unfairly awesome counter recommendation? This happened to me last fall when I tried to turn a friend on to the Montreal based math-pop harmony wizards of Each Other (unsuccessfully, somehow?) and walked out of the transaction with the video for Celestial Shore’s “Dark Still.” A couple months after that encounter the consistently on-point Bushwick tape label Prison Art put out a CelShore split tape that blew my mind and easily ended up being my most played cassette of the year. When 10x lead single “Valerie” dropped in February I was primed and ready for a full album worth of material from these guys, but a last minute label switch/merger postponed the release from April all the way back to September. When it finally surfaced I was beyond stoked to hear them fulfill the promise of their previous releases with 28 minutes of total psychedelic immersion, each track its own unique pool to dive into. Yes, this record is busy (the members met in the scene surrounding Berkley), but there are tons of memorable and moving moments like the absurd twister of guitar lines in “Stairs Under Stars”, the straight up smile-inducing bass groove that caps off the impossible shreddage of “Sleep”, and the drum solo that sends “Hour Minute” into hyper-space (just to name a few). Sure, like Guerilla Toss, you can feel the music school history at work here, but it doesn’t take away from their place as outliers in the ballpark or the statement they craft over the course of the album.
Ultimately a record that seems to be about the struggle of finding your way in the constant distraction and confusion of the present, 10x offers up a slice of optimism in the face of millennial dread: through the absolute storm of instrumentation sit Sam Owens’ and Greg Albert’s comfortably cooed vocals trying to make sense of it all. In a fast forwarded world where millennials are scrambling to find their place, 10x’s feet are planted firmly in dealing with the hypercritical and dismissing the vapid but its still left asking whether or not you know the recipe to success at the end of the day. Maybe thats the best you can hope for these days? I’m guessing that’s their point.
Wow, I’ve really been slacking. Oh well, I have two more of these guest posts to do before things can get back to normal. Today’s comes from Tyler Hanan of Nothing Sounds Better, a blog I was introduced to by former writer Malcom Lacey (Arrange). Tyler’s a pretty cool dude with great taste in music. He’s also got a soft spot for emo and pop music, which gains him some bonus points around these. Here Tyler unloads some of his favorite pop music moments of the year.
Tyler Hanan’s Pop Nonsense:
Pop music impossible to quantify (there’s also the possibility that I’m just stupid, but we’ll ignore that). There’s mainstream pop and indie pop and lo-fi pop and altpop and art pop, and they’re all pretty much the same thing at this point. The year in pop was fantastic, though, and because I already wrote about my ten favorite records of 2013 somewhere, I’m going to talk about some of my favorite pop music of the year. Again, I have no idea what pop really means. These people are just good at it.
It was looking like a messy year for Sky until she dropped Night Time, My Time, one of my favorite records of 2013. After that, she can get caught with as much ecstasy or film as many creepy, drugged out music videos as she wants. You do you, Sky. You bum around with Ariel Pink in a “My Molly” video and dye your hair black. It’s fantastic. I’ll keep tweeting out into the internet ether asking if you are okay, which I was doing well before you said “Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Okay).” It’s impossible to pick a single best song, but I took great pains to opt for “I Blame Myself” over the also fantastic “Heavy Metal Heart.” I don’t have a good reason. I just had to make a choice. They’re both better than anything the bigger pop stars released this year.
The number of times I’ve called Janelle Monáe “the electric lady” is shameful, and that’s before considering how lazy a descriptor it is. It’s accurate, though. She’s magnificent. Monáe radiates like a supernova in every live performance or music video. I don’t know anything, and even I can tell she’s a superstar. If there’s a world out there where people don’t feel lovestruck when watching “Primetime” or the need to shake their hips when listening to “Dance Apocalyptic,” I hope to never visit it.
I’ll never forgive Miley for taking the album title Bangerz before Icona Pop had the chance to use it. I don’t care about the tongue or the teddy bears. Give Bangerz back. Icona Pop are the real manufacturer of bangers. Their suped up, strobe-soaked shout singing is perfect for pulverizing whatever’s going on in your skull. It would’ve been understandable to assume they wouldn’t have much beyond “I Love It,” but much of This Is… Icona Pop is just as fun. Well, almost as fun.
Speaking of pop superstars taking album titles better suited for others, Julia Holter released the real ARTPOP of the year. My nigh-obsession with Holter’s work is well-documented, and I’ll do just as little to hide it here as I do elsewhere. Her pristine, precise arrangements and hyper specific inspirations are to die for, with the open spaces of “World” being some of the most tantalizing sounds and silences that I’ve ever experienced. Additionally, the live arrangements are rapturous, and that’s not hyperbole. I went to heaven.
So everyone is all up on Chvrches, and I’m just another dude on that train. I didn’t think the album was that great, but there are a few songs on here (you know, the ones everyone’s heard a few hundred times) that are jaw-dropping with their sugary sweetness and perfect pop sheen. It’s like cake. I don’t know if I should be having so much of it, but I can’t stop.
So Frozen was only a decent movie, but its existence is justified by this (those people who told me it was better than Tangled are liars. When the world’s newest X-Man Elsa runs off and has her castle-creating, ice dress-tayloring tour de force, it elevates the whole movie. Idina Menzel brings a certain sass, stank, chutzpah, something, to the film that none other can match. Demi Lovato certainly didn’t on that monstrosity of a single version. That crime was even worse than Miley copping Bangerz.
I was grotesquely late to this one, as usual, and so I don’t have much to say about it. Mvula is a fantastic talent, though, and I can’t wait to shamelessly laud her like I’m Chris Hardwick in the coming years.
There should be more lo-fi stuff on this list. Emily Reo was someone I only just started listening to this year (again, I’m slow) with the Clubhouse Split (fantastic cassette), but I was nonetheless madly excited for Olive Juice. It was as fantastic as I hoped. It deserves more words than this, but I fear I wouldn’t do it justice.