As we’ve seen before, there is currently no shortage of great music coming out of Chicago. After Twin Peaks released my favorite album of 2013 I’ve continued searching out what else the city has to offer and as such I just happened upon this newest release by Ne-hi.
In a nutshell their sound is pretty close to that of Beach Fossils’ first EP with hints of surf-rock, a shading of reverb soaked guitars, and a touch of lower-fi production. Ne-hi’s songs tend toward the more hook-laden end of the spectrum, pushing pretty close to anthem status with some of their more exuberant songs like “Turncoat.” The vibe of a live performance is captured particularly well on that track, brought out by the production.
Every song is filled with the kind of sunny melodies that make a good summertime mix-tape. And with that sunny, reverb-soaked-ness comes the suggestion of the West Coast sound of the early 60s with their carefree vocal harmonies and jangling guitars. Some moments seem to come straight out of the San Francisco pop song writing guide, while others are more related to the experimental East Coast scene. Strains of Real Estate make their appearance throughout some of Ne-hi’s more downtempo material.
Closing song, “Sun Bleed,” takes a beautifully unexpected turn at the end, leaning way back into the groove and tacking onto it a coda of soaring vocals awash in crash cymbals and high harmonies.
The album is available as a 12″ LP from Manic Static right now, as well as through Bandcamp as a download. After listening to the entire thing above (highly recommended) you can check out the video for album opener “Since I’ve Been Thinking,” also above.
I find it really hard to believe that, according to last.fm, Abram Shook has fewer than 500 plays, with only 171 people (including myself) having scrobbled at least one of his tracks. His album “Sun Marquee” is full of laid back, sunny tunes that any listener would find impossible to resist. With his laid back delivery and lush production this is the kind of album that deserves to be in heavy rotation, and might even help to quell the depression that usually sets in this deep into the winter.
Saying that his delivery is laid back might be somewhat misleading, as his delivery isn’t anything less than earnest, but one can be earnest and delicate at the same time, can’t they? The delicate delivery, and the precision of the guitar line, not to mention the production on tracks like “Taken” bring to mind Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s sound-world. But in there, amongst the swirl of guitars and the hushed vocals is a bass-groove that eases its way to the fore with flashes of grooving virtuosity. Take “Hangover,” a song that is, at least instrumentally speaking, completely driven by the bass. While the guitar and voice work together to create layers of melody and harmony until they mix together in an ethereal wash of sound, the bass envelops that entire sound and takes the lead. And “Distance,” from above, is much the same way with an effortless bass-line taking hold, sounding like Nate Brenner (tUnE-yArDs) is laying it down.
Every single track opens up new possibilities. Following “Hangover” is “Coastal,” where we find Shook’s voice moving from Washed Out territory to that of Mark Bolan. The falsetto is the same, but the overall timbre, and the doubling, bring out some previously hidden, rougher, attributes.
Throughout “Sun Marquee” a jazz influence is right out front, and when you take the mastery of an instrument that is required for playing that repertoire, combine it with a little rock and chillwave production, then the resultant sound is pretty captivating to say the least. It’s a complex collage that is impossible to pinpoint exactly. With all the comparisons listed above, we can add that “Black Submarine” adds a little Dave Longstreth to the vocals, and even to the guitar playing, with playing that takes sudden dramatic and unexpected shifts like one would expect from Dirty Projectors.
“Sun Marquee” is out now via Western Vinyl as a CD or LP that includes a digital download. Check out the tracks above and click the links below to learn more.
First thing’s first, I’ve got a couple tracks today from artists with albums that have just come out. The first is a video that comes to us from Jack Name, one of the guitarists currently working with (one of my personal favorites) White Fence. The album, “Light Show,” is out now on Drag City through Ty Segall’s “God?” imprint. There are samples of each of the songs over on the Drag City site, but over on Youtube there is a video for the track “Out of Sight.” The video is basically a collage of what seems to be part found footage, part Live-Leak videos and other such ephemera. The song matches the video in tone, or I suppose that it’s the other way around, but either way there is an air of darkness all over both. A monotonously repeated melodic pattern on a gritty sounding analog synth supports the entire track with a vocal that is haunting in its higher register. Everything about this track and the accompanying video is elegiac and hypnotic. For me, it called to mind the work of Paul A Rosales and Wonder Wheel. You can check out that video below.
Next up is a band from Athens, not Georgia, but the real Athens. Yuri’s Accident may not be dark in the same way that Jack Name’s tracks are, but there is an aura of 80’s dance-pop that comes off sounding a little darker. That the band has relocated to London before releasing these tunes explains them sounding a bit, maybe, like Depeche Mode with guitars, or earlier songs by The Cure; or maybe I’m picking up a little more on a post-punk/Interpol kind of vibe. Either way it’s kind of two heads from the same coin. Dark-ish, brooding guitar driven rock. This 2 track single was also released earlier this week, on January 20th and you can check it out below. There’s a video for A-side “Lights (on her eyes)” as well. The single is available for download from the Yuri’s Accident bandcamp, which can be found here.
Both albums are available now so check out the links in the post above and head over to Drag City to pick up Jack Name’s album on vinyl or as an MP3 or FLAC file. You can also head over to bandcamp to download the Yuri’s Accident tracks.
Instead of three short posts, I think I’d rather just do one post that will (most likely) introduce you to some bands being released through the Greek indie label Inner Ear based out of Patras.
First up is the electro-dance pop of Fever Kids. Their single “Holding Grass b/w Peter, Debbie, Mary” is a shot of chillwave with the itinerant 80’s vibe that brings to mind Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer,” especially with the palm-muted guitar and vocal harmonies. “Holding Grass” just captures a dark quality that is occasionally brightened up in the chorus. This is their first official release, which came out just two weeks ago on January 8th, though the band has been together and writing since 2011. You can check out both “Holding Grass” and its b-side, “Peter, Debbie, Mary,” that moves into Eurhythmics territory with a lead vocal giving us its best Annie Lennox. Pure-pop, and worth checking out.
Next up is the super-fun beach-rock of Melt Mountain. Their self-titled 7″ was released the same day as the Fever Kids single. This is an EP full of jangling, reverbed guitars and echoed out vocals. Actually, it stands somewhere between a single and an EP. With about 10 minutes of music over 4 tracks the music runs the gamut from the playful insouciance of “Golden Brooms and More Hopes,” to the downtrodden and defeated sounding “Try” that closes out the release.
Lastly, a full-length from Egg Hell. “Once Part of a Whole Ship” is fairly understated in its delivery. Clean guitars and expansive arranging that calls to mind, perhaps, The Decembrists, or (dare I say it) a touch of Neutral Milk Hotel. The lead vocal is confident and shouting one second, shaky and tentative the next. “Suffering” calls to mind the Decembrists in particular, while the string arrangement on the track that follows, “Gingerhead,” shows the band striving to achieve something more. And, the entire album comes off that way. It sounds like a band that is reaching out, fixated on a distant goal and just going for it. In certain ways “Once Part of a Whole Ship” doesn’t sound like a debut album at all, as the songs and arrangements are all expertly executed. With a little bit of luck the band could have an album full of viable singles on their hands. You can listen to the entire album below.
All the releases above are available as digital downloads for only a couple bucks, or physical copies (though U.S. people, be aware that the shipping charges get kind of out of hand, so maybe the digital download would be the best way to go). There is also plenty more music to check out at the Inner Ear bandcamp page. You can get anywhere you need to by following the links below.
I’m going to take some time today to write about something that I have been wanting to write about for a long time now. I think that it is time to start introducing some posts that aren’t about varying levels of obscure-guitar driven plugged-in music. Today, though unfortunate given the circumstances, seems like the perfect day to start introducing some non-indie rock writing.
When I started college I found myself working toward a degree in music composition. Now, when I say that I “found myself” doing it, I mean that one minute I hadn’t been involved in music at all and then the next minute I was in a program with a slew of serious musicians that knew far more than me about everything. The composition students in particular were known for their breadth of knowledge (as they should be), and someone like me, with little to no knowledge of concert music, found themselves listening to anything that they could get their hands on in order to keep up with the rest of the crowd.
One work that kept coming up time and again was Alban Berg’s opera “Wozzeck.” For those of you that don’t know, and I’m not about to give a synopsis here, the opera is incredibly dense, complex and difficult for all involved. As it would turn out, this was maybe the first opera that I ever connected with. I’m still not particularly interested in opera much to this day, but there was something about Berg’s that really grabbed me. As I watched on VHS in the library, I noticed something interesting about the conductor. During the interludes, since the camera had nothing on stage to focus on, it panned through the pit, and fixed itself on the conductor. As I watched him work I noticed that he never for a second looked down to glance at the score. As I kept watching I got a quick look at his podium as the camera angle changed and I noticed that there was no score even on the podium at all. At that point in time I couldn’t even fathom the possibility that someone would be conducting anything from memory, let along a piece of music as dense and complex as “Wozzeck.”
I kept watching that performance. Come to find out it is the preeminent performance of the opera. It’s always the one that people refer to, and for what it’s worth, it is up in its entirety on youtube. As I watched and grew as a musician, I slowly realized that there was a lot more to conducting than simply memorizing the score (which hardly any of them even do. Abbado was particularly gifted), their job is not just of interpretation, but of working with the musicians day-in, day-out for months and months ahead of the performance. They shape the lines, possibly change dynamics (or sometimes more) in the score in order to bring out details in the music that they find important and interesting, they decide on tempi, how drastic any changes in dynamic are going to be, they cue instruments during the performance, they are in charge of the action, everything, everyone is literally taking their cues from the conductor.
There was something about the emotive power of that opera that really got me. It’s an extremely intense piece. Later, when I discovered the music of Gustav Mahler, I found myself drawn once again to the recordings of his symphonies that were conducted by Abbado. Mahler’s works are all intensely colorful, descriptive, emotional, and powerful in general, and Abbado was, in my opinion, able to bring out all of those qualities more effectively than any other conductor that I have heard that has recorded Mahler’s works. There was just something about Simon Rattle, Leonard Bernstein and even Bruno Walter’s (who worked with Mahler) recordings that weren’t able to capture the same magic as his.
Listening to Mahler’s 9th Symphony today, my favorite work of his, I could hear all the beautiful contrasts, the delicate shading of timbre, the drastic shifts in tempo and dynamics and in articulation. There are parts in the middle of the first movement that are so transformative one can’t help but pay closer attention. Mahler’s works, due in part to their length, are very immersive works, and nobody helped the listener to become more immersed in these great works than Claudio Abbado. Just listen to the ending of the last movement of Mahler’s 9th symphony with him at the helm. The diminuendo at the end is executed so perfectly, with such delicacy and precision as to transport the listener, to nearly physically move them. I know that I can’t help but sit in silence for at least a little while after hearing that movement in particular come to a close.
I have listened to many of his recordings over the years, I have grown up as a musician with him, and I learned so much about what it means to interpret a work because of him. I was truly saddened today when I heard of his passing and there will be a large void in his place that won’t soon be filled. He was great for reasons that far exceed my own personal feelings, Abbado was a champion of new music when there were very few people that supported the avant-garde. He conducted orchestras through the works of Schoenberg, Stockhausen, Nono, Maderna, as well as the works of Verdi and Rossini. He was programming experimental music when none of the other big orchestras were doing so. He insisted that concert repertoire is not simply for the upper-class, and would bring his orchestra to factories to play for the people. He worked with children to foster a love for the arts and to encourage their interest in music. Claudio Abbado was a man that was interested in making connections and sharing a universal language.
For these reasons and many more, I think that it is important to take a step back and realize the contribution that he has made to our culture. Take a listen to the final movement of Mahler 9 above (all 26 minutes of it), and check out the video of him conducting the interlude to “Wozzeck” with the Vienna State Opera in 1987 as well. His obituary can be read here.
Not that I knew it at the time, but this would be the last Sonic Youth album I would listen to regularly for a while. They started to fall off significantly after “Washing Machine” came out and Sonic Youth and I started to part ways for a while. It definitely wasn’t because this is a bad album, because it isn’t. I think that this is one of the stronger albums in their oeuvre. They seemed to attach themselves a little bit more to that wide open and thinner aesthetic that showed up on “Experimental, Jet Set…” The sound of “Winner’s Blues,” if you will, became the guiding voice. At least that is how I hear it.
Everyone that’s reading this already knows that the wheels started to come off not long after this album was released. A lot of gear was stolen (stolen SY guitars are still turning up here and there) which found the band not just investing in new instruments, but a whole new approach given the instruments that they had at their disposal. More on that later.
This album is most notable, not only for having, strangely, their most instantly recognizable cover art since “Goo,” but also for the magnum-noise-opus “The Diamond Sea.” It was no surprise, yet still an odd choice, to release the 19+ minute track as the single off the album. Obviously it needed to be edited down significantly for mass consumption, which seemed like something very un-Sonic Youth, while at the same time sending out a song such as “The Diamond Sea” as a single is very Sonic Youth.
One definitely got their money’s worth when they purchased this album. At about an hour and 8 minutes the album is only a minute or two short of maxing out a CD. Come to find out even the 19+ minute version of “The Diamond Sea” is an edited down version. The fact of the matter is that it stands as one of Sonic Youth’s most intensely beautiful and emotionally driven tracks. It sounds like an ending, a farewell of sorts. If I had been old enough to think about such things when I was 14 and hearing this for the first time I would have been worried if it was going to be their last album. What a way to go out, with 10+ minutes of pure guitar feedback and a wall of noise.
The whirling cloud of howling guitars is at once acknowledgement of past work, looking back from an entirely different world. It’s a farewell of sorts, and little did they know exactly how fitting that farewell would be for at least a little while. I think that a song that epic, especially when used to conclude an album, can’t help but sound like a closing off of something, or maybe everything. It has so much power that everything afterward can be viewed as a coda in their career. They had made it this far, 13 years and 9 albums, without a misstep. Maybe “The Diamond Sea” is the band reminding us that even after a career that at that point had surpassed nearly all their contemporaries in longevity and (relative) commercial success.
Whereas “Bull in the Heather” was a “hit,” a song that even people that didn’t know Sonic Youth, knew; “The Diamond Sea” resonated deeply with long-time fans. At least this is how I perceived it when I was hearing “Washing Machine” for the first time.
It would be a few years before another “proper” Sonic Youth release, meaning another release on DGC. Two years after “Washing Machine” was released the band started working on their SYR series of albums, showcasing their instrumental and more experimental material. To me the albums are sonic sketchbooks, where material for future albums will occasionally appear within different contexts. That was the power of “The Diamond Sea,” it fits well within the context of a mass market album, yet guides us smoothly into the band’s own world of music exploration.