Beach House : 7

It took me a bit before I truly could appreciate the magic of Beach House’s music. The Baltimore band’s appeal eluded me their first couple records. What I’d heard off of Teen Dream and then Bloom was nice in a passerby sort of way, but I didn’t know what all the accolades were about. What I heard was sort of a slow motion version of Cocteau Twins, but maybe a little sadder.

Then on a whim I bought Devotion at my local record store and things  began to make sense. It was a slow motion melancholy hidden under programmed drums and droning keys. Victoria Legrand’s vocals were a little raspy, but contained in them a wisdom of the soul beyond her years. The more you listened the more you felt you were hearing someone’s true essence being relayed through song. Alex Scally built these musical mazes for Legrand to get lost in and ruminate on life and the sadness that sometimes comes along with it.

What I’ve eventually discovered is that Beach House’s music is something that comes across simple at first, but reveals many more depths and layers with repeated listens. Teen Dream and Bloom proved to be little masterpieces, but for my ears Depression Cherry is one of their best. It dials down from their previous records and settles into a slow motion melancholy that comes to a beautiful and crushing finale with “Days of Candy”.

So as not to fall into a rut of sorts, Scally and Legrand went into their new album 7 with louder ambitions. They brought in producer Sonic Boom(aka Spacemen 3’s Peter Kember) to add some weight to the band’s bottom end. The result is a harder Beach House, but one that still retains the dream quality of their sound that they established over ten years ago with their debut. As with each of their previous records, every spin of 7 reveals a deeper beauty and a more complex emotional weight than before.

The first thing you notice with Beach House’s excellent new LP is it’s louder. They’ve taken their sleepy sound and have added a metallic sheen, a byproduct of Sonic Boom’s deft sonic touches. Album opener “Dark Spring” jumps from the speakers like My Bloody Valentine, but smoother and with less blunt force. I never thought Beach House needed to be louder and more gruff in their delivery, but “Dark Spring” makes me second guess that. There’s a vitality here that wasn’t there before. Those songs from the ether have been woken into a fever dream. “Pay No Mind” lulls back into Legrand and Scally’s usual dreamy state, but with more emphasis on the low end. “Lemon Glow” pops and flows like some lost 80s radio hit; a song you know you know but you’re not sure why. This is the proto-Beach House sound. It’s familiar and inviting, but with a noisier vibe. It’s Beach House, but with an industrial lean.

Beach House, for my money, never have to veer from the sonic world they’ve created. It’s a familiar place that I want to go to because I know what to expect and that I understand it’s place in my head. It’s nostalgic, but for something that never existed. Except for in the heads and hearts of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally. Lucky for me it’s an imagined world that I often long to be in. “L’inconnue” is one such imagined world. It opens like the petals of some exotic flower, inviting you in to exist within its colors and aromas. Legrand sings palates of hues; blues, pinks, whites, and deep reds. The simplicity of the beat lulls you into a place of near transcendence.

Beach House are transcendent.

Elsewhere, “Drunk in LA” captures some of that Cocteau Twins/This Mortal Coil magic. This is a near perfect track thanks to a mournful mood with an unexpected uplift hidden just under the surface. “Lose Your Smile” lives within the past and present. It has the sound of an old 60s European pop track, a Cowboy Junkies b-side, and something very current and vital. “Girl of the Year” is awash in dense, lovely keys. It’s regal sound and Legrand nearly whispering “You slide out on Sunset, Head west on Marest” takes you from your surroundings and drops you into her world. “Last Ride” spans over 7 minutes and ends the album quietly, in contrast to it’s noisier beginnings. It ends in a wall of subtle guitar squall that disappears into the ether.

Sonic Boom succeeds in expanding Beach House’s carefully-curated musical world without shaking things up too much. His touch is felt in the denser low end and noisier aspects of some of these songs, but this is still very much a Beach House album. It nods to Phil Spector-like sonics, 4AD melancholy, and an otherworldly feel that Beach House have perfected. 7 is an absolute stunning record of dark beauty and melancholy mood, and one of their best albums yet.

8.7 out of 10

Sing

When my oldest was 2 years old we used to get in the car – my wife, daughter, and myself- and we would drive. No real destiny other than a bit of sanity. My wife at the time was pregnant with our second child and we were more than ready for her to get that baby out of her. In order to calm down a bit we’d take our 2-year old, load her up in our 1994 Nissan Maxima, and hit the road for the Kosciusko County royal tour. Country roads, local lakes, parks, thru town, and long passages on various highways was a means of setting the timer back to zero. As good a toddler as our Claire was, she was indeed a 2-year old. Only so many games of Hi-Ho Cherry-O, Baby Einstein videos, and daddy’s old Star Wars action figures would suffice. Claire wasn’t much of a napper, either.

The car ride was a moment of zen for all of us.

During these rides I might occasionally get to slip in some music that I liked, but for the most part it was various children’s song collections. But as a bit of compromise we had a few collections that were artists covering kid’s songs. One of those collections was called For The Kids. I think out of all of the CDs we had for Claire this was my favorite. It had Sarah McLachlan covering “The Rainbow Connection”, Cake covering “Mahna Mahna”, Barenaked Ladies’ covering “La La La La Lemon”, and even Tom Waits singing “Bend Down The Branches”.

As far as compromises go, this was a pretty decent one.

But the song that still stands out to me is the Sesame Street song “Sing”. Not because of the artist that covered it(Ivy), or the connection that I had with it when I was a little kid, but because it was the one song on that whole CD that my oldest would sing along to in the backseat as we put miles on that Maxima. Just as the song instructs, “Sing, Sing a song, Make it simple,To last your whole life long, Don’t worry that it’s not good enough, For anyone else to hear, Sing,
Sing a song” Claire would sit in her car seat and sing this ancient song as if her life depended on it. Not a care in the world. It was shower singing. You know, the kind of singing one does when for that bit of time there’s not a care in the world. She wouldn’t get all the words right, but that didn’t matter. I mean, she was 2. What does one expect from a 2-year old? But in those little moments in the car, with her tangled head of red hair and light up slip-on shoes, Claire had zero cares in the world. And in turn neither did we.

Yesterday Claire turned 18 years old. In less than two weeks she will be graduating high school and in August she’ll be moving 3 hours away to attend a very prestigious liberal arts college. Her mom and I are proud of her beyond words. And we’re proud of ourselves for raising such a kind, thoughtful, and smart young woman. I’m honestly not sure how we did  it. I mean, we went from two desperate adults in their late 20s driving around aimlessly on a Saturday night attempting to find some semblance of normalcy with a 2-year old in the backseat singing her heart out, to sending invitations out to that 2-year old’s high school graduation in the blink of any eye.

Blink.

Of.

An.

Eye.

We somehow went from 0 to 18 just like that(insert finger snap.) Scrapes and bruises along the way, for sure. Missteps and mistakes strewn throughout, yes. But despite some bush league moments, we got that little red head with the big smile that loved to sing in the car(as well as occasionally along with the munchkins in The Wizard Of Oz) to a point in her life where the skies the limit, the world is her oyster, and the bull is firmly grabbed by the horns.

You do the best you can, you try to make the right choices for your kids, and you just pray to Jebus that they remember all those happy times over the stupid ones. Like the time you took them to the zoo, or the first time you saw a movie at the cinema, or that trip you took to the shores of Lake Michigan; as opposed to you drinking too much and acting like a dolt, or getting stupidly mad over something ridiculous, or not making good on that promise to go to Disney World(sorry.)

18 years in and I’m still the doting proud dad that I was at 26-years old. And with the gift of hindsight I’d say I wouldn’t change a thing. Despite by insecurities and imperfections as a parent Claire still turned out quite alright. Even when she’s out of the house, out of college, and with a life of her own we’ll always still have those car rides. And maybe when she’s needing a break from her own daily grind, I’ll gift her a CD that might help.

Let’s Go To The Black Hole Party

When you hear the name Thousand Foot Whale Claw, what comes to mind? Maybe some historical anthropological find? A lost Troma release from the late 80s? Maybe some mythical deep sea creature with razored digits to grab its prey? Well you’d be wrong on all accounts, but I’d give you an ‘A’ for effort.

Actually, Thousand Foot Whale Claw is an electronic/heavy synth band out of Austin, TX(of course it’s Austin.) Within that musical world TFWC is a supergroup of sorts, with members of S U R V I V E, Troller, Future Museums, Single Lash, and Ugly Kid Joe making up the band(you got me, there is nobody from Ugly Kid Joe in this band.) They release music via the excellent Holodeck Records and what these guys do is heady, deep space electronic jams. Imagine S U R V I V E and Future Museums completely freaking out on peyote inside the Adler Planetarium just off of Lake Michigan in Chicago with the ceiling screen in full end of the world display, as heavy doses of Zeit and Cluster & Eno are running thru a stack of PA speakers.

The results of that is what comes to mind when listening to Thousand Foot Whale Claw.

So the music might be a little more coherent than peyote-induced flashbacks, but TFWC do go for intellectual vibes with a healthy dose of zone out drones. The exciting news is that they have a new album coming out next month called Black Hole Party, and from the title track/lead single I’d say we’re in for a treat.

It’s not often you can recommend a video, as videos these days just don’t have the same quality as they used to. Not enough thought goes into the process. So it makes me very happy to say that the video for “Black Hole Party” is pretty damn cool. Bonus points for the fact that the song is amazing. It sits more into a groove than a drone. This is the kind of song that will get the heavily-bearded dude wearing Buddy Holly glasses, their dad’s flannel shirt, and $250 lumberjack boots to set their plastic cup of warm PBR on the table and maybe get up for an attempt at dancing. Or at least cajoling with his date on a dance floor of some making.

The song brings to mind Cliff Martinez’ incidental work on the Drive S/T at times, before it breaks into a more driving beat. It’s like OMD scored a Michael Mann flick with directions to occasionally sound like Cluster imitating Depeche Mode.

Or something like that.

Either way, watch the video below and preorder the record here. It’s available June 29, 2018 via Holodeck Records.

Language : Plymouth EP

Language as a whole hail from Brooklyn. But apart the members, which include Omar Afzaal(gtr, vox), Charles Sloan(bass, vox), and Wes Black(drums, vox) all arrived in New York from different directions with ambition and a singular desire to create great art. If you’re at all familiar with Language’s work then you know their sound is jagged like post-punk but adventurous like the best art rock from the late-70s and early-80s. Listening to their 2015 debut EP Remus was like a shot of Polvo and Deerhoof through the lens of EVOL-era Sonic Youth. There was an edge, but with a sense of abandon. Junket EP followed in 2016 and had more of a sense of urgency(no part in thanks to the political climate at the time.) The Brooklyn trio had tightened up their sound to a well-oiled machine, with almost King Crimson-esque precision.

We’ve arrived at 2018 and the political climate hasn’t gotten any better kids. Two years ago saying it couldn’t get any worse really felt like a truthful statement(I think preppy White Nationalists holding Tiki torches in Charlottesville and christian conservatives giving the President a pass on an affair with a porn star says otherwise.) One thing that has gotten better since 2016 is Language. They’ve signed a record deal with goodeyerecords and are presenting the world with their brand new EP titled Plymouth. Afzaal, Sloan, and Black have put plenty of shows and sweaty practices under their belts and their new EP shows it. It’s a tour-de-force of aggression with a purpose.

“Where To?” opens the EP with a tribal feel. Language create a gritty explosion of noisy guitar and jungle rhythms that seem to say things are getting real and we know it. “Game Piece” is the heaviest Language have gotten. They move through the track with sheer punk authority, yet there’s still a playfulness in the delivery that truly grounds the song. Afzaal lays down some effective octaves with his guitar while Sloan and Black create a rock solid rhythm section. “Standing on a new rock, kinda like the old one” Charles Sloan sings on the title track as the guys absolutely scorch the earth around them. This is a big old rock and roll track that you won’t be able to get out of your head.

Elsewhere, “Into And Out Of” borders on proto-metal with an absolute blistering guitar and drum attack. The EP closes out with “Square Winds”. A jagged post-punk number that practically melts the speakers. It’s like the Descendants and At The Drive In banged this one out in some Midwest basement while neighbors worried the end was nigh.

Language have upped themselves with each successive release. Plymouth EP shows this Brooklyn three piece continuing that trend; becoming heavier, wilier, and catchier in the process. Once the last song ends you’ll want to listen to it again. And again.

Plymouth EP is available everywhere May 18th via goodeyerecords. Preorder the cassette here.

7.9 out of 10

Phantom vs Fire : Swim

I’ve been sitting here trying to wrap my brain around the beautiful and mysterious Swim by Phantom vs Fire for a few days now. I’m still struggling to put into words what’s going on here. While it could sit comfortably in the imagined soundtracks genre, I think to label it as such would be doing the extraordinary work Phantom vs Fire’s sole composer/creator Thiago C. Desant has put into making the dream-like world contained on Swim. The pieces do feel as if they’re accentuating scenes and moods, yet there’s so much more going on here.

Simply put, this is a one of a kind album that you must immerse yourself in to truly appreciate the magic it contains. You need to open your brain to its alien worlds and meticulous production values and explore the darker corners, as well as the lighter ones. Swim is a mysterious world that begs you to get lost in it.

The wonderful thing about Phantom vs Fire is that you can’t pigeonhole the sound. Desant mixes organic and synthetic instrumentation wonderfully. Woozy synths collide with grandiose strings, acoustic drums melt into syncopated, robotic rhythms, and symphonic structures give way to old school electronic. All of this makes for a dream-like state as you lose yourself in Swim. Something like album opener “Breathing”, for example, gives you the impression of walking thru the hallowed halls of an ancient structure. As the song moves along tension rises as strings quicken and tighten, as if the floor is disappearing under your feet. Title track “Swim” bounces in on staccato strings and airy drums and vibes. This is not the norm, and that’s a very good thing. “The Beach House” has an almost island feel in the rhythms. As to not completely let you get lost in the Caribbean vibes, some electronic wooziness is added to throw you off a bit. “Nightmares and Dreams” lays down some dread. Think 80s late night horror, but with modern touches. Desant seems to revel in the tiniest of production and sonic details, which makes this track a smorgasbord for the ears. The piano touches give this track some NIN weight.

Desant works within the realm of film composer for sure. He builds scenes, moods, and emotions as if he’s guiding us through a story. There is a dichotomy of moods here. On one hand you have what feels like old school soundtrack vibes, complete with woozy synth structures and the rhythmic waves they ride in on. On the other hand there are these producer-heavy tracks that ache to be played for a club and a sweaty crowd.  Something like the pulsating “Atlantic” leans more towards the sonic worlds of Arca and Baths as much as it does Carpenter and Frizzi. It’s delicate percussive clicks and snaps push along the melodic tension beautifully. “Nightwalker” floats along on a cloud of unease and sickly synths. It permeates a certain kind of dread that invites repeated listens. Then there’s the exquisitely subtle “VHS Hypnosis” that starts out with a Boards of Canada lean but sinks into rather Gothic waters. This song is a perfect example of all the voodoo Desant works with to create his unique sound. “The Invisible Sea” is yet another example of the creative work being done here. All the musical pieces seem to swirl together into a kaleidoscope of sonic textures and unresolved tension.

Thiago C. Desant’s Phantom vs Fire seems to be a project of endless ambition and emotional release. On Swim there’s a sense of putting in everything plus the kitchen sink. A lesser artist might’ve made a mess of this record, but Desant’s steady production and engineering prowess weaves together these sonics with precision and deftness.

Swim is a bold statement from a bold artist.

8.1 out of 10

 

 

 

Latest Obsession : Vi-Res’ “Pulse”

Over the last couple of years I’ve dabbled in the dense, gauzy sounds of Vi-Res. Vi-Res is a heavy synth musical project based out of Australia. I first heard his work on the first SNDTRK album, a Disco Cinematic Records-curated compilation with some absolutely amazing artists(like Xander Harris, Wolfmen of Mars, Slasher Film Festival Strategy, and Repeated Viewing) coming together to create the vibe of an old school horror/sci fi score. Vi-Res hangs in the darker corners of heavy synth. Think Phaedra-era Tangerine Dream with a bit of Timothy Fife’s more modern touches. This isn’t synthwave, guys. This is seriously heady, dense, and analog-driven music to trance out to.

A couple of weeks ago Vi-Res dropped a couple new tracks, “Staple” and “Pulse”. Both have been getting heavy rotation in my brain, but “Pulse” has been hitting the right Berlin School/Kosmische spot lately.

Starting out with circuit-driven growls and menacing mood, it quickly gains momentum with a Krautrock synth groove as the song builds upon itself. Whooshes of noise fly by your ears as the song moves along like an ancient beast woken up from a centuries-old sleep.

At times it comes across as dark ambient; like some of those acid-burnt Froese explorations that took place in ancient Germanic churches(ones that were still standing in 1972.) But throughout the nearly 12 minute run time the song morphs into something more post-counterculture Berlin and heads to mightier and headier heights.

Vi-Res is a bit of a mystery. I can’t find much information on this musical project. It seems to have appeared from the wilds of Australia, fully formed and eager to share with the world a musical landscape filled with dark atmosphere and sci-fi-leaning sounds. I think not knowing adds an air of mystery to the whole thing, really.

What’s not a mystery is that “Pulse” is a damn good and epic track. Give it a listen and see for yourself.

Interested in what went into making “Pulse”? Check out the list below:

Juno 60 
RX7 
Logic Pro X 
Mooer Ana Echo 
Nux Tape Core 
EHX RTG 
Waves 
Focusrite Saffire DSP

Broken Lamps : Turn Signals

You hit play on Broken Lamp’s debut Turn Signals and you’re instantly transported to some alternate universe. A universe where every person you meet seems to be hiding something, every woman is alluring but dangerous, and people can still smoke unfiltered Lucky Strikes on commercial flights from Milan to New York City. At every turn you could meet your fate at the hands of a psychotic killer, ancient witchcraft, or a hot and alluring(but dangerous) model named Bibi you met at a Milan discotheque the night before. Broken Lamps taps into the late 60s and early 70s world of Giallo films and smoke-filled French coffeehouses with a blend of jazzy drums, buzzy synth, and electric piano with psychedelic flourishes. Turn Signals is a breezy shot of secondhand grooves and eerie vibes.

Broken Lamps is the work of multi-instrumentalist Eric Bowr. The music is described on the band’s website as “Original library music inspired by cult cinema and rare film soundtracks of the 60s and 70s.” I’d say that sums up the vibe of this record perfectly. I like this bit even more. It’s a description of how the album came together. “Turn Signals is a compilation of experiments written and recorded by Eric Bowr in the fall of 2015. The title depicts a sense of awakening to ones presence in a flawed society suggesting self transformation.” That last part about self transformation really makes sense while getting lost on Turn Signals. Library music in and of itself is different bits of musical identity created for the sole purpose of being used in film and TV where they are needed. These tracks have a feeling of scoring various moods and scenes.

Take a track like opener “Anamnesis”. I could hear this opening some early 70s Mario Bava film about murder, mayhem, and buxom brunettes. It’s fiendishly groovy and with Bowr’s use of real instruments, as opposed to the one man synth operation, the song breathes and expands like a living creature. “The Next Left” continues that Italian vibe, but with more movement and absolutely exquisite production by Bowr himself. It’s obvious Bowr is a student of those macabre films of the 60s and 70s. Both Gothic and classicist, the sonic world we’re led into is very nostalgic, but never gimmicky.

Elsewhere, “Cat’s Eye” feels like a drive thru the French countryside with the top down and Catherine Deneuve in the passenger seat. “CXLIV” goes full Goblin with a very Dawn of the Dead vibe. “Absent” is a beautiful piano interlude, while “Gallows” is a melancholy acoustic number with a “spaghetti western in space” feel to it.

Broken Lamps’ Turn Signals is a moody musical appetizer filled with eerie vibes, colorful musical moods, and enough musical nods that will allow you to put together one hell of a film in your head as you’re listening. “Turn Signals is the story of a life held hostage with death as the final release.” Death is indeed the final release. Or you can hit play again on Turn Signals, resurrect, and live to listen to Broken Lamps another day.

7.6 out of 10