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.
Sometimes it’s good to just clear away all the distorted guitars, strip off the distortion, the tape hiss and reverb; just keep everything really clear and really simple. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t keep things interesting after stripping away all these things. Truth be told, it makes things even more interesting in some ways.
Acoustic guitars, piano, subdued vocals and drums lay down the foundation for Dylan Shearer’s “garragearray” LP, out last month on John Dwyer’s Castle Face records. Each track situates itself a little closer to the listener in a few different ways, not the least of which is this stripping away of extraneous effects and distortion; there’s also an element of rhythmic elasticity within many of the tracks. Phrases stretch out, slow down, add a few beats to a bar here and there, maybe just warp time a little bit to where it’s difficult to even tell what the meter is really supposed to be in the first place. And to have these elements of aleatory inserted into the songs without them coming off sounding like mistakes, having them grow in an organic way, that’s really interesting.
There are also some really unique harmonic choices going on throughout some of the songs. Chords slip in and out of the key, leaning more towards another tonality for measures at a time before comfortably slipping back the very same way that they entered. Every element of the songs throughout “garragearray,” because of these elements, and because of Shearer’s voice – itself shades of Nick Drake with it’s relaxed, though possibly agonized near mumble – that the album just feels more like a living breathing organism than some sterile studio effort. It’s a great take on the singer/songwriter tradition. And the delicate, carefully crafted melodies within the choruses shouldn’t be overlooked. A tune like the one found in “meadow mines (fort poilio)” is something that will stay with you for a while after listening.
“garragearray” is available on CD and limited vinyl as well as download from the Empty Cellar Records bandcamp site. It might also be worth mentioning that Petey Dammit from Thee Oh Sees plays bass on this album.
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.
Frontman of Thee Oh Sees, John Dwyer, is releasing a solo album entitled “Hubba Bubba.” You can hear the synth heavy (more like exclusively synth) track “Eggs at Night” below.
Last month Thee Oh Sees announced from the stage that “This will be the last Oh Sees show for a long while. So dig in.” I learned about it on twitter and quickly started to feel panic set in. It was impossible for me to fathom not having a few new albums by Thee Oh Sees coming out at the steady clip that they have been for the past several years. I see them as the lynchpin that holds the San Francisco scene together. When we all heard that the band was going on a break at first we all went to the worst cast scenario, which would be that we would never hear from them again (though that seems absolutely ridiculous thinking about it now. There is no way that John Dwyer could be away from music for any length of time, let’s be honest. So even if there weren’t any Thee Oh Sees shows he would still be creating music in some form, either solo or with Ty Segall. By the way, why hasn’t that happened yet? That seems like an obvious matchup…but I digress) and then we all came to the realization that a “long while” for a band like Thee Oh Sees, that have been touring non-stop for the past 5 years, is probably only a few months.
So I’m not intending this post to be a send-off to Thee Oh Sees by any stretch. I just want to take a minute and maybe get some other people interested in the band that may only have a passing familiarity with them. Thee Oh Sees are probably the last band that I have gotten really heavily, obsessively into, after seeing them only one time I was hooked. Their live show is amazing, and I can’t even begin to imagine how tiring it must be for them to do it over and over and over again. Not just tiring from the physical standpoint, but also add to that the fact that they are typically playing a very similar set night after night. It’s become noticeable of late that the jammy extensions of songs are getting jammier, which I think might be a way for the band to try to find new ways to keep things interesting. I’m assuming that this time away is just going to result in throwing all of the old songs out of the set-list and starting over again. Clear it out and start again.
With that in mind, I’d like to give my top 10 tracks by Thee Oh Sees. Sure, some of them are in regular rotation on their (former) set-list, but I don’t think that their live show really gives an idea of the band’s range.
1. “No Spell” off of their most recent album, 2013’s “Floating Coffin.” Now, it is really hard to choose a song from this album, there are just so many great tunes. “No Spell” sits toward the middle of the album, tucked away between songs that are more typical Oh Sees fare. I think that what really does it for me is the textless “chorus.” It’s just different enough from anything that they have ever done, and just has a great emotional grab to it. It’s not the typical structure that one would come to expect either.
2. “Tidal Wave” from a 7″ b/w “Heart Sweats.” Short and sweet and right to the point. The clipped guitar style in the verse with the slap-back echo that bursts into another textless chorus with John’s yell. It’s just catchy as hell, and may go unnoticed by some because it doesn’t appear on an album….though it has probably been heard by more people than any other song of theirs thanks to it being used in Breaking Bad.
3. “Enemy Destruct” from “Help.” There are few bands that know how to open an album as well as Thee Oh Sees do. This is definitely a set-list staple, and for good reason. The guitar stomps through each beat with great intensity. Noisy throughout, and heavy.
4. “Stinking Cloud” from “Castlemania.” This album just doesn’t fit in with any of the others. It’s experimental for them. John sings in an affected croak, saxophones and flutes appear on many of the songs, there are acoustic tracks that trot out a distinct Kinks influence. This track in particular is a bit of a slow burn, with some oddly insightful lyrics.
5. “The Dream” from “Carrion Crawler/The Dream.” This album is the one. If you need to know where to start with this band, this is it. And this song is maybe their best live. You have to imagine this songs going almost twice as fast when it’s played live. And as soon as those opening chords start to ring out in all their open-stringed glory, all hell is about to break loose and you had better hold on.
6. “Lupine Dominus” from “Putrifiers II.” This one let’s the not-quite hidden krautrock come out, sounding closer to something that Cave would release, but it still makes complete sense. Psych-krautrock.
7. “I Was Denied” from “Warm Slime.” Another anthemic live staple. How could you even go wrong with a song that has a line “I got fucked up, suffice to say. la la la la la, lalalala la, lalalala la, lalala la…” Bonus points for the brief freakout toward the middle of the song.
8. “Toe Cutter-Thumb Buster” from “Floating Coffin.” Amazing opening. The last time that I saw them live this is the track with which they opened. The piercing squeal of feedback followed by the bone-crushing low end distortion is something that can’t be beat and will never not be effective.
10. “The Coconut” from “The Master’s Bedroom is Worth Spending a Night In.” I picked this one just because it is another one of those songs that show the band stretching out and trying new things. It’s moody, a bit slower, and focuses a bit more on vocal harmonies and lengthier, more legato melodies in the verses.
Supposedly, despite the hiatus (JPD insists that the band is not breaking up), there will be a new album released within the next month or two. I will definitely be covering that as soon as I can get my hands on it. Until then, enjoy these, and enjoy the solo track.
I know that I’ve at least mentioned this album in passing before during past posts, but now that I have finally had the chance to actually sit down and listen to it a few times I figure that it would be a good time to actually talk a bit about it.
Ty Segall, famous for being almost comically prolific, releasing several albums a year, usually with at least a few different bands, has released an album with his newest band Fuzz that features Ty on drums while retaining vocal duties. This, actually, isn’t the only thing that Fuzz will release by the end of the year. In addition to this self-titled debut release they’ve put out two 7″(1, 2) and then there is a live album that just came out this week, recorded in San Francisco at the Eagle, Ty’s home base, for his birthday in which Fuzz, along with Total Control, opened for Thee Oh Sees.
In that teaser one can hear Ty being barely able to contain his excitement when drumming, as the pulse ebbs and flows with each verse and chorus, but Mootheart and bassist Roland Cosio follow Ty’s lead.
And though the garage elements of Ty’s music will surely never go away, they are part of who he is, I think that Charlie Mootheart’s guitar style and tone adds a bit more of a Black Sabbath, early classic rock vibe to all of the tracks. His thick, bonecrushing, distorted guitar tone is way up front on this one. It seems that for the most part, despite Ty being center stage, that Mootheart is actually the “frontman.” His endless and effortless solo work merges seamlessly with his duties as rhythm guitarist. Sometimes, for example on the opening track “Earthen Gate,” he can take the entire song in an unexpected direction, and with a simple harmonic shift pulls the band in a completely different direction.
Though similar in certain ways to Ty’s “Slaughterhouse” album, the hard-driving energy blast that propels these songs takes them out of the territory of sludge in which many of the tracks of “Slaughterhouse” seemed to live. The energy is directed, while the overall sound is allowed to remain more or less raw. The solid guitar work is underpinned with Ty’s explosive drum fill blasts that pop up at every opportunity.
I’d say that this album falls squarely into the category of stoner rock, if that even means anything. But, seriously, nothing screams “sitting in a dimly lit basement bedroom with a group of friends surrounding a bong” than that album cover art. Steady, straight ahead, heavy garage thrash. Stoner blues as I’ve read it described elsewhere online. Songs like “Hazemaze” sound like a few dudes just jamming on 4 chords. Power chords in the verse, solo riffs in the chorus. Simple formula, but contrasting a staid verse with an unhinged chorus is something that works, just ask Thee Oh Sees. In “Hazemaze” Ty gets a chance to really stretch out and show off his drum chops, wildly filling in any and all empty spaces between sections. Another track, like a combination of “Hazemaze” and “Earthen Gate,” “Loose Sutures” takes the 4 chord jam to surprising territory in the verse, and to an honest shredding guitar solo that really allows Mootheart to let loose for a while before giving Ty another shot.
Probably my favorite of Ty’s releases to date. From the classic rock guitar stylings that are brought out more than on any of his other projects, to the more direct and punishing material like “Preacher,” this is really a bit different than anything that Ty has been involved with, though not too different. It’s not like anyone is going to listen to this album and be surprised that it’s a Ty Segall album, but if one is to listen closely it’s Ty’s music coming to us from a different angle. Worth a listen or two, which you can do with the handy youtube video below. You can also head over to Midheaven Mail Order to purchase “Fuzz.”
Again, my story is the same as before: I get obsessed with certain albums during the year and other ones that are equally worthy of several listens start to fall by the wayside. Foxygen’s “We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic” is one such album. And of course after I realized on what I had been missing out I started listening to the album several times a day. I felt like this was a penance of some sort, or maybe in some ways a way for me to “catch up,” if such a thing is possible.
The thing is though, that even after all that listening, I still can’t quite put my finger on what makes this album so great, and why I can’t stop listening to it. There isn’t just one thing, it’s the amalgam of poppy melodies, retro sounds, catchy hooks and the mixture of sounds past and present. One second there are Beatles-esque horns (“In the Darkness”) and the next thing you know Neil Young walks in the room and takes over an entire verse (“No Destruction”).
Speaking of Neil Young, it’s not like the verse of “No Destruction” simply reminds me of that of “Barstool Blues” from Neil’s “Zuma” album (my favorite of his), but it really just is the same verse with the words changed. I’m not faulting Foxygen at all for this, and there’s two reasons why: first of all, if you’re going to rip someone off do it unabashedly and obviously and steal from the best. Secondly, they use Neil’s verse as a starting point, it is merely the seed that the remainder of the verse springs from. They take everything in a different direction. Where Neil’s song is tense with pain and heartache, Foxygen finds relaxed thoughtfulness.
There are many points like that across “We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic.” I know that I probably use the term “post-modern” far too much, but it’s so often apt for bands lately. Foxygen has some of the same characteristics of Brian Jonestown Massacre or White Fence, where you’d swear up and down that there is no way that this album came out this year. On the other hand, Foxygen retains that ability to use their influences as jumping off points, reaching beyond them, touching upon them and then following them wherever they may lead.
One of my favorite traits of a lot of the songs is the way that the band is able to use a switch from simple-time to compound-time as a means for separating the verse from the chorus, take for example “On Blue Mountain,” with the the ultra soulful singing of Sam France taking center stage. And rightfully so, France’s wailing in the verse allows one to easily picture him dropping to his knees, arching his back and shouting to the skies, eyes closed, microphone in hand, as he sings “I was looking through a bible.” Similar rhythmic modulations and soulful singing appear on the funky, mellotron and synth lead song “Shuggie.” The breaks in “Shuggie” take on a life of their own as the funk and soul gives way to a bouncy outro with a tack-piano buried in the back of the mix.
But this soulful rasp that evokes images of James Brown is immediately contrasted with the gentle and sweet singing that appears on the following track “San Francisco,” a lilting melody appropriating the wall of sound. Doe-eyed hopefulness and peace are presented with the help of a glockenspiel and distant echoed backup singing.
I suppose, yes, I do hear the Rolling Stones influence through their songs, but to me there really is more of a focus on psych-rock, as evidenced in the shambling guitars and horns of “Bowling Trophies.” This really is, simply put, a melting pot of early rock, funk, and soul, and it’s a damn groovy album as a result. Every track is noteworthy and catchy as hell, making this one of the year’s best albums.
I find it hard to believe that I haven’t written about this album already. I’ve had it for so long that I couldn’t even remember if it came out this year or last, but how could I have forgotten that 2012 was the year of “Family Perfume Vols. 1 and 2”?
Never before has consistency felt so good. On “Cyclops Reap” we’re given 11 more tracks of maximum grit and garage-folk. Probably the best work that we’ve heard from Tim Presley to date. Every song on here would be at home on a year end mix.
I’m going to be talking about the Foxygen album that came out this year as well, soon, but for those of you that have heard that album you’d know that they share a post-modern take on indie rock. It’s definitely been mentioned on many blogs other than mine that White Fence takes its cues from The Left Banke, which is a route that I don’t think many other people have been taking lately. The fact that Presley is attached to the San Francisco scene that also includes the likes of Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees provides connections between those diverse acts in ways that are improbable, though when White Fence and Ty Segall worked together on “Hair” a few years ago, Ty injected some serious noise and energy into White Fence’s sometime lulling, folk sound.
Songs like “Beat” shamble through the speakers in an endless verse with no real beginning and no real ending. “Cyclops Reap,” like all previous material from White Fence comes off sounding like a mixtape that a friend has handed you of stuff that they have been working on at home on their 4-track tape-recorder. The only difference here being that this is worth listening to. The fragmented nature of some of the songs lends a lot to the sound. One simple idea per song, and sometimes that idea is developed a little further in the next. It’s a stream of consciousness of sorts that carries the listener through the album.
There is a lot more lead guitar action on this album than previous. Whenever there are no lyrics, there is a guitar soloing around in the background, lending an added layer that I don’t think has been explored too much on “Family Perfume” or “…Is Growing Faith.” Take “Trouble is Trouble Never Seen.” The wildly strummed acoustic guitar is doubled by a static distorted electric, and a simple 2-part melody, until the lead line comes in and the song immediately begins to fall apart. Twice. Beautifully.
Following “Trouble is Trouble Never Seen,” “Live On Genevieve” begins with several of the aforementioned fragments cutting in and out. But I think that my favorite track off of “Cyclops Reap” has to be “To the Boy I Jumped in the Hemlock Alley.” The slide guitar melody that comes in and out of play, the incessant interruptions from the overly reverb drenched organ. The whole thing ends up sounding like 60’s psych folk one second and then demented country music the next.
If you haven’t gotten on board with White Fence then start here. Or, alternatively, you could wait maybe another month or two, as I’m sure that Presley won’t be able to not release anything for very long.
Speaking of which, he has recently put out a live album on John Dwyer’s (Thee Oh Sees) Castleface Records. “White Fence Live in San Francisco” was released earlier this month (November 5, 2013) and you can pick up a copy from Midheaven mailorder here. Though I haven’t caught him/them live yet, I’m sure that when I do it is going to be one to remember.