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.

Unholy Two - "Talk About Hardcore"

Stream: Unholy Two – “Talk About Hardcore”

If listening to this doesn’t keep you up and get you through the rest of the week then I don’t think there is any hope for you. Maybe you should check your pulse.

Track after track after track of chaos in the form of uncontrollable feedback, noise, screams, growls and static. The energy, immediacy and all out anarchy that has been committed to wax here is absolutely astounding. This is an aural assault the likes of which you don’t hear very often, if ever. It’s impossible to tell how many guitars are on here, because even though I know there are only two, at times it sounds like there might be ten or more. One is possibly just dedicated to generating feedback, it seems. Perhaps it is just left leaning up against a Marshall stack. Meanwhile another guitar pops up and might pluck out a bit of a solo. Either way, everything tends to (and by “tends to” I mean “definitely will”) descend into a swirl of unrelenting feedback, like on the fifth track “Muta Scale.” There, it seems, that the song at the beginning of the track is just a means to unleash a blast of feedback to assault the air in a loud spinning drone for the last few minutes.

“OKC1995″ bursts forth from the pall of feedback that has permeated a good 98% of the album thus far and presents the listener with an honest, blues(ish) based riff. It isn’t long before the bass alone is responsible for all the harmonic underpinnings before the guitars just go into aggressive shoegaze mode.

There’s really no great way to categorize what Unholy Two are doing on this album. The only thing left to do is to listen to this 30 minute hardcore offensive. The album is currently available from 12XU, and there might still be some limited edition, muta-mist green colored vinyl copies here, so check that out.

Nate Henricks - "Neon for No One"

Stream: Nate Henricks – “Neon For No One”

It just sort of floats out there, gradually taking shape and coming into existence before your very eyes. When it’s off in the distance it doesn’t sound like much, or maybe it sounds a little bit curious, or unorthodox. Or maybe that is just you. You are the one that stands in place while the music comes to you and by the time that it becomes fully formed, about 2 and 3/4 minutes through “Dead Fox Waltz,” the whole thing changes gears completely. Vanishing into the distance and leaving you there with something that doesn’t even closely resemble what you had first encountered.

Off-key, off-kilter weirdness strung together with bits of sound collage, and then delicate strings and lush horn arrangements (though paradoxically pushed way to the back), vocals that break through from time to time either drenched in reverb or in a full chorus; all of these ideas and more just start developing out of nothing as a sort of continuously engaging and shape-shifting event. And, no, it isn’t just about juxtaposing all of these ideas, smashing them together haphazardly, it is in the way that these threads are woven into the fabric so that the seams don’t show.

The experimental, post-modern spirit of the Elephant 6 collective is alive and well, at least in sound. Maybe we could dub it psychedelic sound collage. There are bits and pieces of catchy melodies, alternating the sweet, vocal harmonies of San Francisco circa 1969 with something that rocks a little bit harder, maybe from a garage a decade later. Everything is strung together in a suite, and like any good suite, by the time you reach the end you have definitely been taken on a journey.

The 10+ minute long “Dead Fox Waltz” that opens the tape isn’t the only song able to carry through with this kind of journey either. The follow up, “Deicide in Texas,” manages to do very much the same in just under 5 minutes. The way that the lyrics, the pop-song sounding part, is sandwiched in between two fragmented ideas, makes the whole thing sound like it was just a dream and by the time that you realize you might have missed it, and you try to remember, it’s already begun passing from your memory.

I could go on and on about all the great stuff here. Every minute or so I’m just finding myself hearing something else that really grabs me, and then something else, and then something else. Listen, you’ll see.

The tape is currently available from Crash Symbols and is limited to 99 or less. Check out the rest that they have to offer here.  You can also find them on Facebook.

Balue - "Quiet Dreamer"

Stream: Balue – “Quiet Dreamer”

It’s June already, and that means more summertime tunes. Here’s another one coming at us from Fleeting Youth records. This time they’re giving up some tunes that fit somewhere in the chillwave genre, but more it’s really more guitar driven than synth driven. Imagine Washed Out mixed with a bit of Mac Demarco. The harmonies are lush and benefitting from the tape recording, while the vocals are clear, and sung by a highly unique voice.

“Still don’t wanna grow up. That’s never gonna change. Still don’t wanna grow up. That’s never gonna change.”

Those lyrics ring out as the focal point of “Grow Up.” It seems appropriate that those words are delivered in a laid back (way back) manner, over soft hand percussion and a guitar line that’s gently plucked out and pushed ever so subtly back. The song paints a picture of someone staring up at the clouds, daydreaming. And it seems that this one-man band from New Mexico –Balue, aka Eli Thomas– is trying to get across more than anything a very specific mood. The inside cover of the limited edition (only 50 copies) cassette reads “Grab some headphones, dim the lights & relax. Close your eyes; walk down the stairs to the basement of your mind. Take a deep breath, press play & enter my dreams. Music is the best drug of all.”

Meanwhile “Charming Flow” drives a little bit harder, with punchy guitars and comparatively aggressive vocal delivery. Less daydreamy, but not any less moving. The change-up in sound is pretty refreshing to hear. Thomas’ pop sensibilities are strong as is his ability to pen a catchy hook. The song is really good, even if it does hint at a contradiction in that he’s “got more charm than a hundred bill, hundred dollar bill rolled up in your nose.”

You can pre-order the tape from Fleeting Youth right now. And you can also download these two tracks for the price of name-your-own-price right now from their bandcamp page. Eleven tracks of dreamy pop await you.

Swans - "To Be Kind"

Stream: Swans – “A Little God in my Hands”

Swans’ latest offering “To Be Kind,” their thirteenth album, just hit stores a few weeks ago, and “A Little God in my Hands” is a little glimpse into that world. Though, it is only one track off a 3xLP, and those don’t happen very often. But I guess you need a lot of space to contain some of these ideas.

This track is pretty much a through-composed, one-parter, save for the blast of noise that enters only a minute and a half in. And that blast of noise makes its return about six minutes in to the seven minute track. It begins in a much different place, however. The seemingly gentile harmonies that open the track start off well-intentioned, but are then turned through incessant repetition and the addition of steady downbeat accenting from the bass. Things are made to sound all the more heavy thanks to a sneering, restrained vocal that presents short fragments of a shallow vocal range. The more things repeat the more unsettling it all feels. It seems like I spend most of the time listening to this track waiting for something exciting to happen, but the trick is that that waiting for something exciting to happen is the exciting thing that is happening. The fact that Swans are able to hold the listener in suspense for almost seven minutes with very little harmonic or melodic interest is actually quite a feat.

Of course, like I mentioned, the payoff comes toward the end when the noise doesn’t so much erupt as it does descend down upon the track that has grown stronger through its persistence.

This one is coming off of Swans’ latest, “To Be Kind,” which is out now. You can find it here on vinyl and as a double CD (with or without bonus DVD) or as a download from iTunes and you can find tour dates below as the band is currently touring Europe and the U.S. Check out the non-video for “A Little God in my Hands” below and try not to stare at the album art for very long. It’s kind of creepy.

Swans on tour:

May 31 – Birmingham UK @ Supersonic Festival – Custard Factory *
June 01 – Leeds UK @ Cockpit
June 02 – Brighton UK @ Concorde 2

June 17 – Quebec City, Quebec @ Le Cercle #
June 18 – Montreal, Quebec @ Theatre National #
June 20 – Toronto, Ontario @ MNW Festival (Yonge-Dundas Square) #
June 21 – Detroit, MI @ St. Andrews Hall #
June 22 – Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall #
June 24 – St. Louis, MO @ The Ready Room #
June 26 – Dallas, TX @ Trees #
June 27 – Austin, TX @ Mohawk #
June 28 – Houston, TX @ Fitzgerald’s Upstairs #
June 30 – Nashville, TN @ Exit / In #
July 01 – Charlotte, NC @ Neighborhood Theatre #
July 02 – Louisville, KY @ The New Vintage #
July 03 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Rex Theater #
July 05 – Buffalo, NY @ Tralf Music Hall #
July 06 – New Haven, CT @ Toad’s Place #

Sept 02 – Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theatre
Sept 04 – Seattle, WA @ Showbox
Sept 05 – Vancouver, BA @ The Venue
Sept 06 – Portland, OR @ Roseland Theater
Sept 08 – San Francisco, CA @ Independent
Sept 11 – Hollywood, CA @ The Roxy Theatre

  • = w/ Jenny Hval
  • = w/ Xiu Xiu
Sharon Van Etten - "Are We There"

Stream: Sharon Van Etten – “Are We There”

I know that nine chances out of ten I’m trying to keep this blog full of music by artists that probably aren’t getting too much attention around the internet, but I couldn’t help taking a day to talk about the new Sharon Van Etten LP.

Not exactly obscure by any stretch of the imagination, I think that it is pretty fair to say that the secret is out about Van Etten. Her renown grows with each release, and after 2012′s “Tramp” it seemed that she’s reached a new peak, but that only means that the stakes were that much higher for her next album.

I think that it was because of that expectation that I had a hard time coming around to listening to “Are We There” for as long as I did. I’ve had several opportunities to listen, as whomever is behind her marketing is doing a pretty great job. No matter where I turn to on the internet there are ads, on Tumblr, on Facebook; and then there are all the blogs that are talking about it. Not that I have read any reviews. I wanted to experience it on my own for the first time. I knew that I would get around to it eventually, but I was tentative. The same thing happens whenever of Montreal releases a new album. I’m such a huge fan that I get nervous that I’m not going to like their latest and I’m going to have to move on from them.

Anyway, it only took a few seconds to realize that “Are We There” was not going to be a disappointing listening experience. Her voice is as confident as ever, maybe even more so. Production-wise, “Are We There” covers similar ground to that of “Tramp” but a little bit of the polish is stripped away. Van Etten’s powerful, emotive, voice is front and center. With her distinctive voice, melodies and lyric material it’s clear that Sharon is constantly pushing herself, and the results on this album are quite striking. The hook that is sticking with me right now is the haunting chorus of “Taking Chances,” perfectly orchestrated to outline Sharon’s upper register, while the verse remains mainly concerned with her breathier alto.

Songs are expertly arranged, and I think that this is most evident on “Your Love Is Killing Me.” It’s on that track that we really hear something being built from the ground up. Beginning with an echoed and distant drum track, an organ eventually makes its entrance, followed soon thereafter by Van Etten’s voice, the guitar slips in almost unnoticed and then the chorus. The way that the entire verse is designed to really launch into that first chorus is pretty powerful, and creates enough tension to propel through to the end of the song. Sharon’s voice grows continually stronger throughout, and by the end one is left struck by how powerful it can be.

I’m sure you’ve probably been hearing a lot about this release already, but (unlike an Arcade Fire album) this one is worth whatever hype can be thrown at it. It’s out now from Jagjaguwar, and Sharon is currently on an extensive tour, just in time for the Summer festival season! If you recall, her last show before taking time away from touring to record this album was in (near) Portland at the Pickathon, and I posted a few tracks here if you are curious.

Pick up “Are We There” anywhere, and catch her on tour everywhere.

Find Sharon on Facebook//Twitter//Instagram//Web//

Fri. May 30 – Barcelona, ES @ Primavera Sound
Sun. June 1 – Koln, DE @ Studio 672
Mon. June 2 – Berlin, DE @ Privatclub
Tue. June 3 – Amsterdam, NL @ Bitterzoet
Thu. June 5 – London, UK @ KOKO
Wed. June 11 – Boston, MA @ Sinclair
Thu. June 12 – Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall at Williamsburg (Northside Festival)
Fri. June 13 – New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
Sat. June 14 – New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
Tue. June 17 – Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club
Wed. June 18 – Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer
Thu. June 19 – Millvale, PA @ Mr. Small’s
Fri. June 20 – Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Ballroom
Sat. June 21 – Nashville, TN @ Exit In
Tue. June 24 – Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theater
Wed. June 25 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge
Sat. June 28 – Los Angeles, CA @ El Rey Theatre
Sun. June 29 – San Francisco, CA @ The Independent
Mon. June 30 – San Francisco, CA @ The Independent
Wed. July 2 – Portland, OR @ Doug Fir
Thu. July 3 – Portland, OR @ Doug Fir
Sat. July 5 – George, WA @ Sasquatch Festival
Sun. July 6 – Vancouver, BC @ Rickshaw Theatre
Tue. July 8 – Calgary, AB @ Republik
Wed. July 9 – Edmonton, AB @ Starlite Room
Mon. July 14 – Fargo, ND @ Aquarium
Wed. July 16 – Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue
Thu. July 17 – Madison, WI @ University of Wisconsin
Fri. July 18 – Chicago, IL @ Pitchfork Music Festival
Sat. July 19-Sun. July 20 – Louisville, KY @ Forecastle Festival
Thu. Aug. 7 – Sun. Aug. 9 – Goteborg, SE @ Way Out West
Sat. Aug. 9 – Olso, NO @ Øyafestivalen
Tue. Aug. 12 – Bezirk-Landstrasse, AU @ Arena Wien Open Air
Fri. Aug. 15 – Hasselt, BE @ Pukkelpop
Sat. Aug. 16 – Crickhowell, UK @ Glanusk Park – Green Man Festival