Brain Water [CS; MJMJ]
I often feel as if technological advancement is more a curse than a blessing. The benefits far outnumber the negatives, and yet those negatives far out weight the benefits. No one wants to be completely disconnected from the Internet of Things, nor does Brain Water achieve this unplugging with its very technological basis. Yet it makes me feel less apprehensive about being so plugged in and yet non-reliant. I don’t carry my cell phone everywhere. I don’t feel alone with my thoughts and myself without a bright screen blazing in my face. There is no aimless drift when the news of the day, week or month does not pass under my nose for a set period of time. Perhaps HAXXXORS understands. Though the magnificent spatial oddity of Brain Water is silicon bones, its flesh is far more humanoid. It’s not some scary future where we surrender our conscious to the machines, but rather what happens to ourselves when we are surrounded by the creature comforts we quickly erected to showcase our brilliant minds amidst a sea of emotional chaos. Technology has created just as many new problems as it has solved, but technology is often best when coupled with the human touch. So goes Brain Water, a blend of the computerized machinations of our muscled data processors possessing the robotic and clean functionality of technology. In the right hands….and these hands of HAXXXORS are surgical.Links: MJMJ
2 [CS; Self-Release]
What does a band do next when its first impression is quiet by lasting? If you’re Fountain, it’s work at your craft until the second result is as unrestrained as the first. The aptly named 2 is looser and wider, gaining mass like Marlon Brando to chew up scenery. Of course, Brando could always pull a convincing job when called upon, and Fountain are clearly capable of doing the same. The familiar odd stone-washed pop of Canada still permeates, but the kettle has become robust with the swells of nuanced pop from years (and decades) removed. Naming the whole spice shelf seems ridiculous, just know that when you’re hooked on strange pop frequencies and find that your stomach growls because it hasn’t been fed for some time, Fountain is always a go-to. 2 is another catchy set that feels at home on cassette because it’s timeless. It’s preparation is authentic, from the rather quick turnaround between albums and the self-released nature by which it enters the world. Minus Peter Grant and a major label, the growth and simplicity therein strikes a resemblance to the gods of thunder, expect replace the thunder with hand claps.Links: Fountain
Eleven Year Old
American Lizards [CS; Happenin]
Happenin Records has hit the mainline, tapping into the Americana zeitgeist often ignored for Route 66 and backporch nostalgia. I know I’ve fallen into that trap, as has the sort of garage rock Happenin buys stocks in with each release. And yet that sort of bread and butter version of rustic songs being banged and scrapped out of hovels and basements is no longer the same Dick Dale surfing dream of old. It’s barely Californian anymore if not for the hazy feel of the best garage prognosticators eking it out in middle America. Such goes Eleven Year Old, who hit my jammed radar for the first time with American Lizards. Being one to avoid hyperbole and proverb, let me hamfist this up by saying American Lizards is album of the year material for the garage rock set. Its steely bends, frenetic pacing and psychedelic shellac are all comforting forms of the genre scrunching together in an attic riddled with ancient artifacts long left to the dust bunnies and spiders. The giant billow of microscopic granules that rise from Eleven Year Old’s din isn’t to raise forgotten slices of Americana to prominence but rather akin to the plethora of relic hunters scouring every hoarder’s premises. They find that piece of lost freedom that tickles a niche. Such goes American Lizards, so while most will ignore it because the prospect of this much outlandish fun runs contrary to the serious reminisces of what passes for Americana, the dust cloud that causes the big sneeze among Eleven Year Old’s niche will be a welcome explosion of real happiness escaping every orifice.Links: Happenin
Unknown to the I [Cassingle; Dais]
Unknown to the I is only a cassingle but JESUS-LORD is it ambitious in its post-punk-y stripping-down of the 80s and its distinct sensibilities. A lot of artists plumb that ground these days but Drab Majesty take the cake and eat it, too, by injecting a life’s worth of sincerity into every aching, woozy, hazy (this IS a lofi take on the 80s, after all) detail. Much like Transfx, her Majesty take the music of a bunch of coked-up icons and turn it into quavering emotional gold, a celebration disguised in dark haze. For once, I find myself cursing instrumental “Saturn Inc.” (though it’s lurid and quite special in its own right) and wanting more time with the singer and the title track, a warped take on a Chameleons motif that, to the credit of its producers, sounds grand and ampitheater-HUGE despite the oft-unreliable cassette format. “Ultra Violet” is another stunner, this time more in the mode of Depeche, especially where the vocals are concerned. But that guitar; that’s the early 80s post-punk explosion in a nutshell. In other words: classic, with another winning job behind the boards. If Drab Majesty’s recent full-length LP (Careless) is anywhere near as captivating as Unknown to the I we’ll have a nice mess on our hands, won’t we?Links: Dais
Maintain [LP; Ehse]
Myself and a cavalcade of other “critics” love to toss komisch around like it’s a football on a cool autumn Sunday. We speak of it like a playbook, and position ourselves as backyard Lombardis and Knolls leading our team to winning seasons and championships. As if the Grammys, or a more worthy award governance, will rise up to bequeath the best of a niche musical movement with a gaudy trophy and an acceptance speech on behalf of the bands before who helped make this possible. The glitz of the ESPYs but for music, with the spirit of competition.
But it’s a stupid dream. And worse, our overuse of such flippant terms has taken the edge away from them. So after wasting a paragraph setting up some promised premise, I’m going to do you better and talk about Wume as I would have any band I loved in my youth. They groove. They make you feel high even when you’re sober. They make great late night cruising music for those of you who remember what life was like on the open highway before city life and public transportation became a thing. Or if that’s always been your life, Maintain is night bus music. But back to the whole groove thing, because Maintain is black light and incense music. It’s a return to all those fun rhythms that made us excited to run amok in a world unable to completely hold our interest. Yet Wume does, despite the simplistic presentation. That’s the difference in youth and knowledge; Maintain recalling both at their best. So while I want to throw kraut-related nonsense at you, I think it’s best to let my inner child handle this one. Because it rocks. There is no other reason to it.Links: Wume - Ehse
Problem Child [LP; Mind Rider]
The recitation of “Danny Boy” with a punkish sneer is often the grounds for divorce; ask how the Sex Pistols’ extolling of “My Way” ruined a generation on punk. Yet Sophie Weil mutates the force of nostalgia differently. The title track of Problem Child is a perverted attempt to reclaim some of that old smirking punk humor without disavowing the warm intent of the drunk lament. It’s the heart of the whole album, Weil viewing many musical cycles through a warped snow globe. Some work very well (the Mazzy Star psych isolation of “No Man Goes”) while others seem to do little to propagate the best of Weil’s ideas (the awkward electronic moans of “Sailor Song Pt. 1”). Yet the thick coat of snow laid onto the best of genres is a cold thicket worth enduring, digging out, and diving into. Problem Child is not a definitive statement of intent, but rather a clumsy pound at the door on a cold evening, asking for a quick shot of brandy and a playful noogie before sauntering back out into the howling winds and blizzard conditions. It’s not so much a problem child as a wiseass. Right now, the post-teen is in the phase of ignoring its inherent talent for the fun of vice. But soon Weil is going to wake up, realize her full potential and the world will take notice as it pleases. So we’ll hold onto Problem Child as ransom; to keep her cool just before celebrity rips her away from the youthful machinations that make this album fun and endearing.Links: Syko Friend - Mind Rider
Sometimes I’m Cruel, Sometimes I’m Mean [7-inch; Sweaters and Pearls]
A buddy and I, back when I was in sixth grade and he in fifth, recorded an album or two using my drum set (yep, I had one, and was privileged in that way I suppose) and a semi-expensive keyboard my dad had purchased during a strange era wherein he suddenly wanted to learn how to play and sing REO Speedwagon songs. If someone had dropped in during our sessions and yelled, “Guys, you sound too much like Def Lepp/Motley/etc.!” it probably would have ruined our fun, or at least have caused us to unnaturally alter the way we wrote songs (which, I learned later in one case, was to copy them word-for-word from Bon Jovi lyrics). And I don’t want to be that guy, bursting in like the Kool-Aid man and screaming, “Dude, someone loves Ariel Pink a little too MUUUUUCH!!!” and deflating everyone’s hot-air balloon-sized excitement over Part Time. But Jesus how could I not mention it when this 7-inch is spinning? His voice is a carbon copy of AP’s, and the music doesn’t stray far away enough from Pink to render me comfortable glossing over the connection altogether (I tend to give benefit of the doubt when possible). Regardless, I’ll be damned if David Loca isn’t one of the more clever songwriters out there, able to stir summer synth magic into a peppy brew that glides like rollerskates over hot, steaming pavement. The title track is ABBA chewing/stretching on a bunch of Abba Zabas at the 80s rink, Dave Chappelle-style, charming and bleached bright blonde. “Pictures on My Walls” is a perfect song, replete with perfect synths, perfect vox, a perfect vibe, and perfect drum robots tapping away a perfectly simple beat. Enjoying this smear of sugar is akin to lapping up ice cream; don’t question why it’s good (as I just did for way too long in the intro), just get your fill and enjoy it before it melts into your shirt. Apparently the 7-Inches blog is no more (RIP) but that guy is still putting out records under the Sweaters/Pearls flag and this is a quality item; keep the format alive and buy this little orange-wax Jolly Rancher, willya?Links: Sweaters and Pearls
Pop Life/Of [2xLP; Drawing Room]
One of the base joys of music is finding that local or regional band that scratches an itch you never knew you had. Sometimes you find it outside of your boundaries by happenstance, stumbling onto an artist working in a medium you admire but their own hometown crowds could be happy to ignore. It’s the excitement in which Chinese Girls find their albums Pop Life and Of re-released more than a decade after their Little Rock debut. But when you hear the product of both albums, it’s hard not to feel the excitement of Drawing Room’s honchos infecting the music of Chinese Girls. When you place it in the early aughts and recall what was popular both in the mainstream and underground, it’s no surprise the odd rock pop cannonball of Pop Life failed to make a dent in our conservative culture. It’s buried in neo-psychedelia and globetrotting noise. It’s raucous and rowdy at a time in our history where we fell into the fog of somber seriousness. Of follows the trajectory of pop music’s back-to-the-futurism as it occurred in 2003, but rather than climb the flagpoll of 70’s electro-disco and 80’s soul-pop, it delves into those juicy nuggets of abandoned college rock for the Gen X crowd. Borrowing from New Order, Galaxie 500, and The Jesus and Mary Chain, Of is gritty and hungry. It speaks to the precedent of the Smell sound that birthed a teeny movement all its own just a few years later. Of represents a band that truly found solace in the past without living in it. All of this happening from the will of two men living in Arkansas. There’s no question had Chinese Girls held out for a few more years, they’d have been the toast of the blogosphere. But that came with its own set of issues and I’d hate to find an inventive and self-contained band swallowed by uncouth critical acclaim or their big-small city environs.Links: Drawing Room
Red Boiling Springs
Environments [CS; Nailbat]
How do you picture your childhood home? I have every square inch of mine mapped out in my head, from what the ceiling looks like viewed from the crack between the headboard of my bed and the wall, to how the light formed wavy rectangles between the coats in the closet. None of it is accurate though; everything is overlapped, views from different angles and heights, objects simultaneously elongated and shortened as successive memories of them are stored and corrupted. An infinite-exposure of snapshots in time.
These are the environments contained on this cassette; not places you can go, but places you have been–still dream of being–places that never existed but you have memory of. Voices flit in and out, the sounds of life through a lattice of images amalgamated from locations real and imagined. The sounds here are noisy, scratched, distorted, burnt, crushed, blasted, and damaged. It’s the thick residue of the subconscious; all the sounds, feelings and images your brain filters out from your immediate attention but files away to carve the crevices at the edge of dreams. Memory unfurling in a vain attempt to fill an endless black.
Minor Trials [CS; Life Like]
I’m trying (hard) to resist the urge to make every tape I review representative of some bigger thing I have to say about physical media in post-internet society. That said, Minor Trials, the new tape by Ann Arbor, MI performance artist Emily Roll AKA Haunted, is a sterling example of where putting out a tape is not stupid and wasteful (whereas 97% of current tapes, in my eyes, are the opposite). The whole thing is available online, but it just doesn’t seem right to listen to it there… it’s too personal, too secret. It sounds like it belongs on tape.
Minor Trials largely sticks to a format of bare-bones, funny spoken word in the venerable tradition of Suckdog, Algebra Suicide, or those Kill Rock Stars “Wordcore” records, with Roll accompanying herself with dreamy saxophone lines that recall a post-punk version of early John Klemmer or Roland P. Young. She is occasionally joined on drums/percussion by Life Like prime mover Fred Thomas (he of many bands, currently “Fred Thomas”). Some of these pieces would probably resonate most among friends in local basements, which is totally all well and good, but my personal favorite sections find Roll gazing well past her navel and out into this incredibly weird world. I’m not sure how one does that with all the guts in the way between those two things, but there it is.Links: Haunted - Life Like