Me Jane - "ISON"

Stream: Me Jane – “ISON”

Further evidence that Chicago is the place to be when it comes to interesting new bands sprouting up constantly. Me Jane is a quartet that met in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood and has since released a demo and a single, and now their debut full-length entitled “ISON.”

The production is stripped down and transparent, making the overall sound of the songs reminiscent of Wire’s “Pink Flag,” or early Cure, but the songs here have a tendency to be somewhat more ebullient at times, alternating with inquisitive melancholy – or at least nostalgia. Me Jane walks a tightrope, balancing the stark production with touches of dream-pop and deeply affecting guitar leads.

Take the track “Ghost” for example. As the guitars fade in and the synth emerges from the background a multi-layered song structure is beginning to take shape. More instrumental than lyrical, I think the band’s ensemble work and craftsmanship really shines on “Ghost.” I can’t help but feel that, on the track that immediately follows, “Racket,” the singer is channeling a bit of Wild Flag era Carrie Brownstein. The sharp crescendos that punctuate each vocal phrase, and just the delivery in general – with the backing vocals also owing to the Wild Flag sound – borrows elements from a style, without coming off at all like a cheap imitation.

It’s the moments where the guitar breaks free a little bit, with a kind of reverbed surf-rock tone, that really define Me Jane’s sound. They seem to be testing out a bunch of different approaches across the album, but their distinctive and original voice is most certainly coming through loud and clear.

“ISON” came out this past May and can be purchased either digitally from their bandcamp page, or on limited edition white vinyl directly from the Me Jane site. They also have a few shows coming up in September in Chicago if you happen to be in the area. Dates and other things can be found at their awesomely named website: mejaneyoulisten.com

Seatraffic - "Man on the Coast"

Stream: Seatraffic – “Man on the Coast”

There’s something about a really thick square-wave synth tone that hooks me in. Seatraffic had me with “Man on the Coast” straight out of the gate based on timbre alone. The more I listened to the track the deeper my connection with the track.

To me the sound created on this track is evocative of traveling, landscape unfolding outside a train window taking you to some new place where there’s a whole new and exciting set of expectations. Something new seems to be on the horizon, and sure all of these feelings that have nothing to do with the music but everything to do with the sound are what hooked me in, but there are lot of more universally understood machinations at work.

Music bloggers, present company included I’m sure, use words like “expansive” a great deal without ever nailing down exactly what it means. Well, specific to this track at least, the manner in which the track opens with the lowest point and gradually elevates the tessitura with the addition of a synth chorus (maybe mixed with some synth strings?) and follows that with the vocals and another bit of staccato synth sounding a bit like a palm-muted guitar that bounces from channel to channel.

One can also consider the rhythmic layers that are at work as well. The slow buzzing square wave that opens the track with the soaring legato vocal, with an underpinning of the staccato synth sounds to me like two different time streams simultaneously. It’s as if the piece is partly moving in slow motion. It’s that tension, and the timbres within this track that really pull me in.

Seatraffic’s forthcoming album “Beauty in the Night” is set for a September 9th release. You can pre-order the album on white vinyl from Seatraffic’s Bandcamp page, and check out another album track, “Precious Stones.” You can also find a lot of information regarding upcoming shows (none as of right now, but I’m sure there will be some coming as the release date approaches) and other merch on Seatraffic’s webiste.

La Hell Gang - "Thru Me Again"

Stream: La Hell Gang – “Thru Me Again”

Chilean group La Hell Gang brings a batch of songs that are beautifully hypnotic, slowed down, super stoney bits of otherworldly psych rock. Released on July 22nd, “Thru Me Again” hits a few bluesy notes early on in the album opener “Inside My Fall” that brings to my mind the sometimes equally hypnotic Spiritualized. But by the time we get to “Sweet Dear” things have opened up a bit to include some truly lush explorations of sound completely awash in echo and haunting slide work. In some ways the elements of stoner-psych here are reminiscent of shoegaze.

Hypnotic explorations take center stage at the mid-point of the album on “The Beginning Remains the End,” clocking in at exactly 8 minutes. The instrumental focuses on the swirls of sound created over top of near static harmony. The blueprint followed here, and elsewhere on the record, includes an omnipresent near-clean-tone guitar that slowly arpeggiates the progression is contrasted by the sound of a distorted and delayed guitar off in the distance. That dynamic helps to create some perspective, and some additional depth to the texture. Every once in a while the clean guitar will pick up some overdrive and hit a more classic-rock influenced riff before falling back into its role as harmonic underpinning.

“Last Hit” picks up the pace a little bit, while “What You Want You Got It,” another epically long jam, really dials up the psych-shoegaze. Really, by this point I don’t even know if I am sure what the difference between shoegaze and psych are anymore, and I’m not sure that it really matters how one would classify this. If anything the album artwork explains things a bit better with its alien landscape. The music on “Thru Me Again” is in some ways otherworldly, transporting the listener to uncharted domains via hypnotic explorations of sound.

The album can be downloaded from their bandcamp page or ordered on vinyl here.

Nicholas Nicholas - "Cave"

Stream: Nicholas Nicholas – “Cave”

Today we’ve got here a mellow, shoegazey two parter from Nicholas Nicholas’ upcoming sophomore album, “Wrong,” which is set for an August 19th release.

At the very opening of the track we hear a bellowing low note from which the music will soon blossom. We’re given all the instruments at once after only about a second, but the way that they grow out of that initial low note is so organic that it feels more like a warmth washing over you than it does anything drastic or jarring. A guitar enters, its echoes bouncing off every available surface and ringing across the the track. Backed by a wash of synth patches that leave trails in the distance and a steady drumbeat, the song isn’t treading on unknown territory. “Cave” traces a path through shoe gaze and chillwave, something that makes complete sense, but I don’t think has been much explored before. It’s as if the wall of sound was stripped away from a My Bloody Valentine song, leaving only the vocal technique and the idea of creating a sound that encourages some sort of contemplation.

The vocals are maybe the most interesting element of the song. Drawled out from a register well below any of the other instruments it sounds to be slowed down significantly, in essence really drawing out that effect of stretching time and laying so far back in the beat that the rest of the track seems almost resistant to the pulse. The music seems to pull the voice through the track, despite its desire to stay behind.

The piece more or less does away with a traditional verse/chorus/verse structure, instead choosing to sidestep via an extended coda. In some ways it sounds as though we have two different songs going on back to back here, the way the first dies out completely before the coda comes in. There is just enough contrast between the first and last half of the track to consider them as contrasts, but not so much contrast that they don’t go together.

“Wrong” is available as a cassette for pre-order right now through the Miscreant Records bandcamp for $5.

Sprïng - "Celebrations"

Stream: Sprïng – “Celebrations”

How can one band so deftly switch from crunchy, distortion laden spastic bursts of rhythmic intensity to dreamy neo-psychedelic vocals? You’ll have to ask Vancouver’s Sprïng. Their most recent release, March’s “Celebrations,” starts off with the track “To Accuse” that does just that. We’re first met with an onslaught of guitars before it takes about 30 steps back, where sweet vocal harmonies enter only to be destroyed by the guitars again.

That seems to be pretty much their M.O. It’s the loud/quiet/loud that we’ve heard so many times before, but there is so much complexity in the louder parts, and so much subtle craftsmanship in the quieter parts that Sprïng’s music is fairly resistant to any genre shoehorning.

Intricate layers of fingerpicked guitars wander through a free flowing progression, while sharply shifting harmonies undercut changes in texture throughout “Show don’t…” and “Follow.” Pulling back a bit it’s interesting to note that Sprïng doesn’t seem interested so much in conventional song forms as they are interested in developing ideas from beginning to end. That’s not to say that there aren’t catchy hooks planted in each track – because there most certainly are – but equally exciting are the instrumental arrangements. If I was going to attempt to compare Sprïng to another band it would probably have to be Akron/Family. Both have a similar style of experimental, noise injected psych freak-outs usually followed by crisp, clear acoustic textures. Both bands seem to be interested in capturing the same overall atmosphere of intimacy with sometimes hushed vocals and clean, up front guitars.

You can stream the entire album above (highly recommended), and check out their latest video for single “Pax Calx” below. The band is also currently on a West Coast tour (lucky for me), dates of which can be seen here, and “Celebrations” is also currently available on vinyl and CD (lucky for you. And me. Us.).

Xerox - "Xerox"

Stream: Xerox – “Revision”

Punk rock jams out of Iowa City? Who knew? Well, now you do. Xerox recently released their debut on Hard Art Records, and “Revision” is the first track that has been made available and it’s a good one. They may be from the midwest, but they are definitely bringing their best sneering English attitude for this one.

The arrangement and verse/chorus/verse structure straddles the line between straight up punk rock and something a little more pop oriented. The crystal clear production and tight ensemble work really takes this out of the realm of the usual ultra-gritty, quick and dirty live sound and into the realm of the polished. Not too polished, let’s not get crazy here.

Clear cut guitar, no feedback squealing throughout every silence like we’re so used to hearing by this point. But the track is no less powerful in spite of it’s more clean and clear nature. This is still firmly rooted in the tenets of punk, but why can’t you find a good balance between greater accessibility within the greater aesthetic. Especially interesting is the way the song builds up right to the end with 16th note snare hits over top of muted guitar strings that seems to point to the development of a new section, but only serves to drive the track to its end.

Check out the track above and head over to Hard Art Records to grab a copy and hear all six tracks of the band’s debut EP.

The Swan King - "Last So Long"

Stream: The Swan King – “Last So Long”

For some reason or another the band Pelican popped into my mind just yesterday. I was mentioning some metal bands to someone, and all of a sudden the memory of that band sprang to mind, even though I wouldn’t be able to name a single song of theirs if I tried. I do remember listening to them a while back and I can feel their sound in remembering them. So I thought that it would be fitting to post about The Swan King today, seeing as how Pelican’s guitarist is playing with them; that and both bands seem to conjure the same sound-images in my mind.

Heavy, palm-muted chunks of distortion, but not the kind of uncontrolled distortion like what I posted about yesterday. This is the precise and sharp cut of thrash metal. Think Pantera without all the mid-rangeyness of Dimebag’s guitar. I guess while I’m comparing things, I could draw a line from Mastodon to The Swan King, though the latter is significantly more straightforward in their approach. The guitar work is equally dexterous, and the riffs arguably just as powerful, if a little slower. Slow usually translates to heavier though, and add to that that it sounds as if the guitar here is at least a minor 3rd down from standard tuning. It’s got a nice, almost warbling crunch to it, most noticeable on “Closer to the Source.”

The pulsating chug of “Built to Break” has about as close to a hook as a metal song can have. It’s on that track the band really shows that they aren’t relying solely upon punishing riffs, but can also think a little more melodically, with clear, open voiced chords fitting right in with a crunchy low string barrage in the bridge section. The fact that there’s a nice modulation right before the vocals comes in is also a nice touch. Along the same lines, the title track is equally as affective at creating catchy hooks out of thrash metal material. There are sections of “Last So Long” that are pretty close to what could easily be described as “anthemic.” The band also displays a penchant for extended instrumental sections between verses that aren’t necessarily filled with busy fretwork. Instead, it’s in these sections that the band tends to ruminate on some extraneous ideas that fit nicely within the song’s context. They will, however, not wait too long to remind you that they are here to shred, as evidenced by the opening of “As It Is” with it’s sweep-picked runs and persistent double kick drum action.

“Last So Long” was officially released this past Tuesday, June 3rd. It was recorded in their hometown of Chicago at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio. You can check out the entire album above.