Posts Tagged ‘Collapse Board’

High Violets at Collapse Board

Through my job, I’ve seen more gourmet cakes in six months than in my 25 years of admiring cakes. The real luxury in these confections usually isn’t the cake itself, but the two-inch glove of gummy fondant frosting, often curled into pink ribbons atop the solid white base. Now, most guests just can’t handle that much sweetness at once, and so we wind up trashing dozens of icing crusts and sugar ribbons. That’s the risk that some musicians face when they take on the sun-drenched side of their art – too much bliss, and the listener could tune out. But as veteran purveyors of dreamy indie rock, The High Violets know how to temper their dulcet tones, and Heroes and Halos, their fifth LP, showcases that finesse. Granted, it’s no three-tier wedding cake, but it’ll still sate a crowd.

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Jeff Runnings at Collapse Board

Come to think of it, “dreampop” is a horrible tag. Rarely anything that the indie world perceives as “pop” is ever popular, and then the stuff we perceive as “dreamy” rarely lulls us into any dream-like state of bliss. Mired in the existential angst of post-punk, “dreampop” done right leads us further into ourselves, to examine what fears hold us back, and drive us to forks between epiphany and manic depression. For me, no one was ever there to guide me through, so I drifted between the two poles. Lowlife steered me to the latter. For Against brought me to the former.

Biographical details are boring, so I won’t flesh them out here, but know that in college I fell out of time, and bands that existed 30 years ago defined my existence back then. For Against’s Echelons was one of those albums that I needed to subsist, to affirm that others could fall out from society and struggle to define themselves in a world that hustled past introspection. And while I’m not stuck in the 80s anymore, I haven’t really found a way out of the labyrinth in me, either. Adulthood is the biggest lie ever told – like religion, it gives us the illusion that we’ll reach some finishing line, and gives us things to do so that we don’t have time to stop and think. (I’ve a dim memory of some philosopher saying something to this effect regarding vacations – Montaigne? Or was it Machiavelli?) All this to say, it’s four years now since college and I’m still a hopeless drifting mess.

It soothes me, then, that Jeff Runnings of For Against still sounds like he’s trying to figure out the world around him, decades after Echelons. His edge has dulled, but then he wasn’t much for cutting anyway; no, for Primitive and Smalls the camera zooms in closer, so that dust motes swirl in the light and every leaf in the tree waves at us instead of one green blur. The subject material seems unremarkable on first glance – often Runnings focuses on how people connect, how they interact with each other, how they let each other down – but the very 4AD-like wash of frosted synths bewitches the scenes.

Now, “Travelogue” isn’t the best example of this enchantment – in fact, it’s one of the liveliest tracks on the record – but it proves another point. The gentle pulse and airy marble aesthetic invoke the black rose romance of Clan of Xymox, but Runnings doesn’t curl into the same submissive behavior – rather, he enacts the role of an everyday predator: ”you know there are things about you I wish you wouldn’t hide / when I found you I had hoped for an interesting ride”. There’s something sinister about that desire – and not the catacombs and corpse brides kind of sinister that the Clan was always hung up on, either. Runnings’ protagonist presents a far more mundane threat, uncertain but ever encroaching; the whispered “I was here” tucked under the last refrain emphasizes the unpleasant ending that lies under the synthy glaze.

Perhaps “dreampop” works, then. Dreams, after all, often resemble our own world, but simple gestures and words there resonate with meanings that we might never fully grasp. That’s exactly how Primitives and Smalls feels.

Primitives and Smalls is out on Saint Marie on May 8th. Pre-order here if ya fancy.


Witching Waves at Collapse Board

You feel misplaced too, don’t you? Some place was promised for us, for the talents that our teachers adored. This wasn’t supposed to happen. We shouldn’t be the ones stranded in apartments, stuck in the towns we hate, doing the work that no one with dignity would do. Well, then. You can just lie there in your bed, or stand in front of the bathroom mirror at noon with yr bathrobe still on, and accept this abyss gnawing at yr ego, or you can do something about it. You can’t change a thing, but that shouldn’t stop you. Don’t let anyone tell you that nothing’s wrong.

Scared to live like I want to
All of the time
I think I’m lonely
But I don’t know why

Oh, Witching Waves! They’re three people from London, as conflicted as the rest of us losers – trapped, but by no visible object; stifled, but still overflowing with thoughts. And man! If there’s a dictionary of proverbs somewhere, then their first album Fear of Falling Down would be the definition of “hit the ground running” – but this! Now Witching Waves are racing for yr humanity, to name the fear that binds you, and you, and you.

First, you’re struck by the NOISE, an ocean wave that slaps you flat to yr back. Then the drums kick in and now you’re surging down a rip tide, straight and fast and frightening unless you know how to swim away. In a nutshell, think the bare-bone structure of really early Cure or Wire songs, with a lot of Sonic Youth-ish dissonance and snarl, but with other bleeding hearts at the fore. When Emma Wigham comes in, she draws strength from a cool confidence, one that could crack but won’t through sheer will. When Mark Jasper comes in, he cracks and lays bare those scruples you’ve never dared to say aloud. Together they form that classic chiaroscuro of boy-girl vocals, that duality of expression and experience that unites both genders under one counter-cultural banner.

The words, though. Somehow Witching Waves capture the anxiety of growing up in the modern world, without telling linear stories or referencing certain things. “Make It Up” addresses that myth of adulthood, that we’ll hit some age and know exactly what to do with ourselves. ”Why can’t everything be the same? / So much worse when you make an aim”. The truth is, we’ve lost the dream, and now we’ve got to keep face. It’s not that Jaspar advocates lying – Nothing is worse than honesty – but that’s how we stay alive. A simple cynical strategy.

These are the fears that only close friends share in private, the pain that’s gone numb after months or years of carrying the burden alone. And that’s why Witching Waves burn so bright, so hot. In the three lines of the smoldering, Cure-like closer “Flowers”, Jaspar and Wigham condense that sinking feeling from a shapeless lump into a black diamond –

I want to sleep in the flowers
I want to sleep in the love and the hours
I don’t miss it, I don’t miss it that much

Of course they miss it. Why else would they repeat the lines, over and over? Cynical strategies, remember. You miss it, too, y’know. That’s the beauty of it – we displaced people have all lost some ideal, and we shrug off the loss to cope; the flowers stand in for whatever we want them to be. Same thing happens on “The Threat” – Wigham speaks of devils and wolves, but when Jaspar yells It’s always coming and you know the signs“, the real demons that plague you come to mind with a shudder.

Meanwhile, tucked within Crystal Café are these little interludes, something the band hasn’t done before. You can catch your breath in those spaces, breathe deep after flying into a rage. “Inoa” comes after the furious “Receiver”, a dizzying inner struggle on defining the self; “Red Light Loop”, the humble window display for the rumbling motorik of “Red Light”, floats down after the savage “Pitiless”; “Anemone” cushions the fall from “Make It Up”, albeit with a matching wary crawl. These instrumental breaks lend a sort of architecture to the album, like the stark buildings in cities that we pass by on our daily routes.

Look. Existence gets tedious sometimes. There are some weeks where only one day matters, and the rest slip by in an amorphous blob. You have to remind yourself of what you’re really working toward, who really matters, why people like you at all. Witching Waves understand this. They’ve been there. And they want you to know – you have every right to be pissed. This wasn’t meant to happen. Crystal Café snaps you back to your senses.


Halfsour at Collapse Board

Say you’ve gone out to see a gig in a new town. You’ve arrived early, as is your custom, but already people are crowding the couches and milling in bunches. You don’t know any of these people. Your legs lock as you stand at the threshold, scanning for somewhere unobtrusive to sit.

Twenty minutes crawl by. A prime table up front, the book you brought, and the beverage you’re nursing (I can’t order your drink for ya, geez) have done nothing to calm your jittery nerves. Two guys and a girl set up on stage, cutting up and joking with each other.

So they begin. And they start with this:

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Try the Pie at Collapse Board

Oh, god. Help me. I keep thinking about him lately and I don’t even know why.

OK. Calm down. No, don’t calm down. He didn’t come in tonight, Karl told me, because he was admitted to the hospital today. I tried not to ask too many times – Karl had to run glasses to the bars, anyway – but when he came into the dishroom and I inquired again, he read me one text from him. Something is bleeding and I don’t know where, he said.

I’m at home now, in bed, writing this into you…but my mind drifts off, over and over, spinning like the ceiling fan above me. Sometimes I wish I could just tell someone, anyone, about this feeling – how I shudder when he comes near, not of fright but sheer joy; how I ache when his knee gives out; how I loathe the loitering crowds that he loathes to serve. If only I could sing like Bean Tupou, maybe it’d be easier. Just sing, to only the desk lamp and the laptop, with just a guitar or a ukulele and maybe a little drum or something and share the CD-Rs only with your closest friends. She’s already stolen the line I’d say:

To be quite honest with you, I’ve had this feeling all along, and it’s been eating at my bones / and you probably think it’s strange that I’ve waited all this time to tell you so

See, that’s why I hate this furtive journal-writing. Cos right now, I don’t know if, if – the urge to find this hospital that he’s in, the pity that washed over me when he told me about the seizure that threw him down the stairs, the happiness that bounces in me whenever he’s happy and cracking jokes – if that’s all what love entails. But Tupou can share her feeling in a song, and she never has to explain who she’s referring to, and I could tell her, if ever I saw her, that I’ve felt that way about someone, too, and it’s not strange at all. Secrets eat at my bones, and I can’t let them out, either.

I guess that’s my other obsession lately. I can’t stop listening to Try the Pie. Sometimes I try to envision that apartment, especially in the quiet where you hear the cars rushing underneath. But mostly, I listen to her proclaim the little nagging thoughts that always haunt me – like when she laments how her legs move away from the one that loves her, and how “all my hours are spent thinking about how all my hours are a waste”.

And the bravest words, the admission tucked in the warm curl of “Alot of Things” – “Sometimes I find it so hard to be just your friend”. (Why can’t I say this out loud?)

The songs nestle in my head, and they nurture these thoughts, these concerns I shouldn’t have. Maybe I’m OK. Maybe he’s OK. Maybe I’ve never desired love until sweet folk like Tupou describe it in such hushed, holy terms, with such precision and care that you could rest your head on its shoulder.

All I can do, diary, is wait.

Tupou’s ad hoc solo endeavor Rest is out now on HHBTM Records. Order it here.



SPC ECO at Collapse Board

She’s not trying to stalk him. She just doesn’t know how to say hello.

He always arrives just before the first bell, dashing in to his locker by the band room. And Chelsea always slips to the water fountain, right at 7:55, just for a little glimpse. Someone’s usually there at the lockers waiting for him – the mousey girl with the glasses, or the perky dark-haired one that everyone assumes is Hispanic (even though her skin is fair), or the blonde chalky boy that speaks like a broken robot.

Everywhere he goes, someone else follows. Chelsea watches from ten feet away, as students trek in a mob up the hall to third period; from her hiding place by the theater she spies him and his entourage crossing campus to the cafeteria; she glances down the drumline during band practice, whenever the conductor drills the trumpets for the umpteenth time. He is never alone.

“Oh, yawn, girl. Get the fuck over it.” Stacy perches on the low brick wall, her little paunch jutting out over her crossed legs. Chelsea sits next to her, with her ginormous music history textbook still in her lap. She never knows when Stacy will find her. “So did ya listen to that Curve CD I gave ya?”

“Um. I think so,” Chelsea says. Stacy gives her lots of CDs, since clearly Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Return to Forever were “old folks shit”.

Stacy sighs, shaking her curly-haired head. “Look, you’ve got to give up this romance shit and give in to the music, girl.” She coughs. “Stiffs like that guy don’t know what’s real. They stick to their wanker rock shit and don’t know anything.”

“I liked that Massive Attack one,” Chelsea offers, meekly. Just the mention of it triggers the ghost beats again in her head, rattling as they did alongside the cliffsides and grease ropes in her physics questions. Sometimes she hears the woozy raps while she’s watching him down the hall. And she didn’t think she liked rap music, either.

“Oh yeah?” Stacy grins. “Well, I asked bout Curve, cos a friend’s gonna let me have this new thing from their producer dude. He says it’s kinda trip hoppy, so maybe you’ll dig it.”

“OK,” says Chelsea. The bell rings. She scans the passing crowd for his face.

“I’m telling you,” says Stacy as she hefts up her backpack. “get the fuck over it.”

Two weeks later, and Chelsea rests alone on her bed, with SPC ECO drifting across the room like frozen dust. She’s never heard a singer so strung-out on Autotune before. It reminds her of Massive Attack, but slower. Less hop, more trip, she thinks.

The other day, she found him in the alley between buildings, during fifth period, while she was sneaking out of PE. The dark-haired girl was waving her arms and yelling at him. Chelsea watched from in the hall. The next day, only his guy friends met him at the lockers in the morning, their faces grave and frowning.

SPC ECO thumped softly in her head when she trekked up the steep hall, eyes ever tracing him. He recoiled from his omnipresent followers, avoided each one’s gaze. Crowds surge and shift around him – and did he tremble as he finally turns a sharp corner and vanishes out the door?

At lunch, Chelsea sits on the low brick wall and waited for Stacy. She wanted to tell her how much she loves the CD, how it unveils new hiding spaces, how it suspended her in a candle-lit netherworld above and within her known desires. Her music history tome rested unopened beside her.

Nothing. No one. Just one fucking butterfly in the flowers. Chelsea sighed, put away lunchbox and book, and retreated to class, her back on the passing crowd. There are essays to write, after all.

The next morning, Chelsea didn’t visit the fountain at 7:55. She ate her lunch in the classroom, after everyone leaves. His name drifted in whispers around her in the halls, but she did not strain her ear. There was a vacant space in the drumline at band practice (and the conductor yelled at them more than usual). Chelsea kept her head down, and tried not to care.

So she rests now, on her bed, leaning back from the laptop and staring up at the spinning blades on the fan. Perhaps she’ll never know how to say hello. That’s fine. She’d lose herself in SPC ECO instead.


Antlered Aunt Lord at Collapse Board

Antlered Auntlord.
Antlord Aunt Lard,
Aunt Lured Antlered.
With every encounter, you faced a different creature.

The first time I met some Antlords in Athens, they were a trio, and they set up right in front of us, no need for a stage – Brent with the heavy metal drum face, Ted the really tall bass guy, and that curly-haired whirlwind Jesse in the center that would teeter a foot from my face. They would rush from fast to slow, and Jesse’s words spilled off beat, and everyone was jumping and I felt like I was riding my first roller coaster.

Another time, still the trio, but now a row of TVs line the edge of the stage, and they’re playing this dorky guitar tutorial video from the 80s. The long-haired dude on the screens strikes a chord and it rings through the Antlords’ set at just the right key.

Then the Aunt Lords would multiply – and one night, you’d have seven people sitting on the floor strumming guitars. And sometimes they’d shrink, to the point where just Jesse would sing to us on his guitar (notably less hair by now). He listed twenty of his songs on paper, and gave each a number; when he finished one song, he’d roll a 20-sided die to determine which would come next.

There is no stone-set lineup of Aunt Lords. Heck, I’ve been an Antlord on three occasions, and I’ve never even practiced with the gang. Jesse would just come up to me two hours before the show with a bag of percussive props – maracas, a tambourine, a clapping thingy – and so there I’d be, staring at the ceiling and shaking that thang like my dissertation depended on it.

The best gig, though, was the one where Jesse lugged in a 4-track, rigged a triangular reel across the stage, and roped in everyone he could muster for an improvised loop jam freak-out. Three guitars, I think? One sublime Tunabunny plucking synth keys; another Tunabunny held a guitar by an amplifier just for the feedback. There was one drum on the stage (snare or floor tom? My memory fails me), and one drum stick, so I seized both and took to my corner of the stage. Jesse (also a Tunabunny, by the by) didn’t play at all; he bounced around with a microphone, hovered near one of us long enough to snag a loop, then backed away and basked in the racket.

All of this, I probably would’ve told you regardless of which song I chose. But “Monopilot” reminds me of the last Antlord formation I’ve seen, half male half female and four strong, a laughing bunch of friends that welcomed me in their fold. And it reminds me how much I miss that feeling, of being adopted and accepted. It rings with joy, the glorious joy of singing and playing together that I haven’t felt since, well, the last time I became an Antlord. Made me almost cry over the steering wheel when it came round on the album! But I’m OK. And one can’t cry for too long in the presence of Aunt Lords.

Antlered Aunt Lord’s upcoming debut, Ostensibly Formerly Stunted (and on fire), won’t manifest into being until November 20th, but you can still pre-order it from HHBTM here.


Mark Van Hoen at Collapse Board

Back in high school, I kept a log of my dreams. Nothing fancy, really – under each entry, I noted the people that appeared, and the events that occurred, and then an explanation for why I thought those events and people materialized. My initial goal was to sound out my subconsciousness – why did this guy from my high school band recur so much? Why was I always crashing cars? Why did my brother shoot me? And when the sky spiraled down to me and I tried to scream, was that death?

A few years later, I stumbled upon the term “lucid dreaming” in my brother’s dorm room, in a book that one of his roommates owned. It was as if I’d learned that magic does exist. A world you could mold with your mind! Hours reclaimed from the void of REM (no, not that REM)! The powers of flight!

After eight years of intermittent practice, though, I can’t say I’ve ever reached a lucid state. Once, in my freshman year of college, I willed dragon wings to sprout from my back – but pain shot through my shoulder blades so fast that I wished away my control. Which was a bad idea, because then my dream self went on to munch a ceramic plate. And that also hurt.

But I can at least attest to what my dreamscapes look and feel like – sometimes high schools with inverted or upside-down halls; sometimes crystalline caverns; sometimes green bunker tunnels descending to a pixelated hell. I hear all of this in Mark Van Hoen’s music, and especially here, with the woman that speaks but not in words. She’s one of those people that appear in my dreams, and whom I inexplicably know, in some parallel memory bank that I can access just like my real memories. In these worlds, there’s also objectives the protagonists (I don’t always star in my own dreams) must do, which seem perfectly clear in the moment, but then vanish the second the alarm goes off. “Froese Requiem 2” seems guided by that sort of goal, drifting as it does from hallowed temple to mirrored labyrinth.

Hoen knows what he’s doing, though. Since 1981, he’s been in groups with names like Locust, Seefeel, and Children of the Stones, and owns an imprint of R&S named after the Greek god of divination, Apollo. I suspect, with such chops as these – and with such sunken worlds like “Froese Requiem 2” – he must be a pro at lucid dreaming. Teach me, O wise sage, of the magicks you wield beyond the waking world.


Thee Koukouvaya at Collapse Board

People can disappear behind their creations. I used to – all day long, I’d run a story in my head, and act out the dialogue under my breath. Long walks shifted into expeditions to far away kingdoms and alternate dimensions; the playground transformed into an alien planet; my mom’s bed (never mine) was a prime stage for tropical lizard adventures. Whenever I retreated to these worlds, I no longer had to worry about myself getting in the way. I’d just leave the real me behind, and I could do anything.

Electronic music-makers like Thee Koukouvaya thrive on this invisibility. By removing their selves from their craft – and donning the mask of their baffling band name – the duo are free to build their imaginary metropolis of crystal and steel. And, what’s more, since there’s no human identity to guide or distract, the listener can explore that world unhindered.

“Drunk Machine” offers lots of possibilities – is it a bustling space station, with monitors clicking and whirring whilst you’re awaiting your next orders? Is it a dark alley way in Chicago in 2023, just outside of a building that you’re about to infiltrate with your remote-controlled spy camera? (Oblique video game reference. My specialty.) Your call. Whatever you imagine, the gently pulsing tune lends just enough texture to your escapade without demanding any prerequisite place or time. Mouse on Mars got really good at this kind of lively ambiguity; maybe Thee Koukouvaya could be writing their own soundtracks for dystopian futures or long lost civilizations if they keep at it.

But that’s such a weird name, you say. Yeah, well. I’m sure I gave myself a lot of weird names when I went exploring. Fantastic worlds demand fantastic monikers.


Static Daydream at Collapse Board

Y’know, that character I conjured for the Viet Cong review wasn’t a total fiction. That pathetic, miserly anti-ego still rips holes in my skin, still tells me I can’t write whenever I sit down to the keyboard, still gets off on corpse-resting-on-marble-tomb stuff like Clan of Xymox. I know it’s that side of me that falls for Static Daydream. Go on, you can have your whole pint of ice cream to sulk with; I prefer being slashed by guitars and numbed by cold pulsing drum machines. Mind, these guys come on like ordinary JAMC-worshipping pop-happy shoegazers (re: Victoria Falls) at first, with the deceptively star-bound “More Than Today”:

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