Posts Tagged ‘stereo embers’

Thee Koukouvaya at Stereo Embers

Released in August, “This is the Mythology of Modern Death” by East Coast post-rock illusionists Thee Koukouvaya (John O’Hara, Brian Wenckebach), despite its gothy title, is an album of soaring, shimmering, sometimes sobering soundscapes that rather demands, forthwith, sole possession of the word ‘mesmerizing.’ Doesn’t matter if it sounds like ancient Sumerian drum ‘n’ bass excavated, pulled gently apart and woven back together by the genius hands of a cosmic taffy consciousness (“Anacona”) or presents as a Kraftwerk-considers-house-music, goes-back-in-time-to-invent-it-better-the-first-time workout like “Chicago Warehouse Party, 1995” or is tinged with the vibetronics of a mellow mad scientist in his sealed underwater lab like “Phantoms of the Last Age” is, the effect on the coils of the listening consoles deep within your mind will be the same: they’ll all light up in the radiant pastels of a pleasure center lost in the timely electronic mists.

Now, I realize I’m waxing all over-verbal here, bordering on some level of poetic hyperbole but what’s a guy supposed to do? The press release mentions the band as being “the conceptual aural sister city to Vilandredo, Rethymno, on the island of Crete,” which is no help at all – though they are actually from there, which only adds to the uncertainty – so I’m out here on my own (kind of nice out here, actually), so…

Consider the BBC Radiophonic Workshop gone off (or perhaps on) its meds – “40.207958.-74.041691” – resulting in a Martin Hannettized glimpse of fetching paranoic madness. Consider Eno and Roedelius basking in a programmed, sundialed heat, their lizard tongues darting, lolling, darting some more (“Prismatic Sun”). Consider the soundtrack to a state of suspended animation electrified by limitless possibility, composed in a dream state near a stone wall overlooking the Mediterranean (“The Magnetic State,” flat-out lovely). Lastly, consider an ecstasy that feeds on a highly agitated subdued-ness, balancing a snake charmer’s chalice in one hand, the cinematic equivalent of a bold wistfulness in the other, the product of which is called “A Life in a Portolan Chant” that ends the album on a note of bewitchment in its truest form.

A complete piece of work mindfully executed, This is the Mythology of Modern Death defines itself out on life’s teeming fringes where intimation is rich, innuendo riveting, where the disturbed and ecstatic mingle without either one having a hint of wariness for the other. The mood, overall, in short unadorned terms, is one of uplifting angst or something close to it, and it’s pretty great (and available here).

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SPC ECO at Stereo Embers

Once more in ‘Where have we been?’ territory we come to SPC ECO, the shadowy ambient electronic duo formed in 2007 and consisting of ex-Curve maestro Dean Garcia and dark-dream chanteuse Rose Berlin. Already, withDark Matter, six albums deep into their discography, the brief, waggish description would temptingly posit them as en echo (sorry) of Garcia’s former project rendered in sonic slow motion, as if narrating an apocalypse that’s happening at a pace so hypnotizingly deliberate we don’t even notice, which, thinking about it, is perhaps the point.

While the truth, of course, is far more complex than that, more nuanced, there is a morsel of truth to the tortured comparison if only in the fact that SPC ECO, like Curve, grabs your attention initially on a purely visceral level before revealing the chimerical secrets layered within. If anything, though – and it seems a bit surprising saying this – the great shoegazey shrouds of sound that Curve trafficked in from ’91 to ’03 pale, in terms of listener intrigue, to the explorations of menace and allure offered on Dark Matter.

From the aptly-named “Creep in the Shadows” with its echoey cadence like a tip-toeing dirge, quietly prowling bass and Berlin’s black gloss vocal, to the scraped textures and madhouse whispers of “Let It Be Always,” spare yet luxuriant and cast with a siren’s deathly hope, to “The Whole World Shines”‘ finely dissipated sheen, slightly fractured but almost unbearably magnetic, this is music that stalks you, at the same time emanating a powerfully lingering sexuality that pulls with the always irresistible frisson of danger. It’s a sultry emotional landscape first once traversed by Tricky – “I Won’t Be Heard,” in fact, reminds with shameless brio, of the errant Bristolian, signposting the path we wish the Massive Attack refugee had taken – but in SPC ECO’s hands it’s delivered with a far greater dynamism. The sprawling surety of touch may be similar but the seductiveness, somehow managing to merge the pure with the lurid, much more convincingly seduces. The transgressive thrill of “Down Low” alone, rumbling with deep urban cinematic reverb buried inside a slow thunderous groove, Berlin sounding as positively possessed as she does an enigmatic wraith come to save you, is enough to sell you on the mysterious, nocturne charms of this album. Put it on at midnight and protect yourself from the demons of ennui and mortal despair. Dark Matter runs just a breath past 47 minutes and we now know, finally, after all these years, precisely how long the ‘witching hour’ is. Released 11/20/15, pre-order here.

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Marshmallow Coast at Stereo Embers

I’ve had to quit asking. Such has been the abundance of extraordinary music crossing my desk from heretofore unheard-of (at last my me, and here I thought I was pretty aware of the lesser-known corners) that I just can’t ask inside my head as still another modest but exquisite gem of an album makes my pleasure chakras glow like it’s Christmas Fourth of July and sex all tangled together: “Where did they come from?!”

Whereas it often seems that they’ve crawled out of the sub-strata of the sub-strata of the woodwork, most often, as is the case with Marshmallow Coast, those responsible have been at this for a while, with a substantial body of work behind them. In the case of Andy Gonzales I suppose I might have known better – his CV includes of Montreal, Music Tapes, and SEM faves Mind Brains – but the fact remains that Vangelis Rides Again, misleading cover art aside, lands with a flurry of deft, if very synth-rich, surprises.

Whether it be the lonely popsike elegance of “Hash Out Cash Out” that purrs with a dark radiance, the way “Hills Are Alive” takes Sound of Music‘s most famous refrain and injects it with as glint of unease more native to The Hills Have Eyes even as it sighs with the warm reassurance of a soft electric piano and Gonzales’ pining timbre, how the title track takes its name-checked artist and lures him into a shadowed but shining moonstruck cul-de-sac, all floating rural synth, lurking but nimble bass, and a melody to (maybe literally) die for, “Homeless Baby” borrowing liberally from “On Broadway” while permeating it with the hollowed horror of the mundane shame to which its title alludes – synthy echoes bounicing off the city’s buildings on just another night of neglect – or “Forever” obliquely referencing “Over the Rainbow” while drifting through a numinous out there where the immortal clocks in with the sadly temporal, one synth dripping bright silver rain as another scampers slowly underfoot, the track both ephemeral and desperately finite, Vangelis Rides Again tweaks mystery, curries curiosity, and comes this close to solving the world’s problems. Escapist in its pleasingly disorienting way, the album is also as centered as any work I’ve heard this year.

Gem city, folks, gem city, and available here.

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Knowlton Bourne at Stereo Embers

Existential slacker blues nonpareil, Mississippi’s favorite son Knowlton Bourne has produced a debut record that deserves the type kudos we reserve for the preternaturally talented ‘very young.’ Just 23 years old and thus defining ‘precocious,’ Mr Bourne’s brand of molasses-grooved rock’n’roll has a thematic affinity with the Kurt Vile-Adam Granduciel axis of unsprung indie naturalism that suggests some sort of underground musical railway link between the magnolia mellow sway of his deep Southern roots and the urban stoner reflexes being explored up north in Philly and Minn/St Paul. Whatever, SEM is proud to present the debut single from Knowlton Bourne, who’s insatiably sweet mojo has seduced (and reduced) us into a state of helplessly acquiescent, head-nodding bliss. Full album review coming soon, but in the meantime, drink in the syrupy, ecstatic sound of the new New South.

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Presents for Sally at Stereo Embers

Just recently we made the comment about Saint Marie Records that “the relatively young label [is] among our most essential,” and here now arrives, in the form of UK band Presents for Sally’ sophomore effort Colours & Changes, stingingly good proof that we weren’t wrong. Lashing about the mast with both swagger and sweetness while betraying an unabashed love of a certain generation of footgear-staring bands that emerged from the British Isles some twenty plus years ago, P4S nonetheless find myriad ways to shape those influences into their own image, speak it in their own language. Either (and mostly) washing over you in lush melodic waves or bashing you lovingly upside the neural pathway with glorious swaths of windblown, pop-driven guitar noise, Colours & Changes, umm, presents us with a hypnotizing case of the mind-bendingly cerebral meeting the swayingly sensual. The result is a finely-tuned (and sometimes detuned) work aimed straight at the more intuitive corners of the heart.

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Bunnygrunt at Stereo Embers

Born in the tweedledum, B&S-addled mid-nineties (their 1995 Action Pants! debut is an aggro-primitivist lost classic of that most precious of canons), St Louis band Bunnygrunt has done what few bands have the guts, gumption, or reckless heart to do any more: they hit the neverending road and ground it out, criss-crossing the frayed ribbons of our once-mighty land like wayward indie pioneers in a combination Econoline van and Conestoga wagon, finding along the way a grueling redemption that has left them taut, lean, and beautifully jaded, experience etched into their collective psyche like an outlaw gang’s initials carved in a deathless oak. What’s resulted is a transformation, the band evolving via that truest and most mythical of American rock’n’roll litmus tests into a mini-rager of seasoned rock band, albeit one with that pulsing pureness of ramshackle spirit still under-girding the cumulative dimensions of noise built above it.

Though the CD and cassette versions sport eight additional tracks we think it best to treat it like the vinyl LP thatVol 4 was born to be. Within that framework you’ll find such gems and oddities as the Velvet Underground sounding like an apostate Monkees covering the Dwarves (marvelous closer “Still Chooglin’ [After…]”), Vaselines-like workouts (“Just Like Old Times,” “Gimme Five Bucks”) had those crafty Glaswegians somehow acquired a healthy layer of midwest American punk crust, a “Neat Neat Neat”-based rave-up studded with mega-nimble bass playing, a summer-driving guitar solo and abiding stoner modesty (“The Book That I Wrote”), plus a raucous live outing (“Frankie Is A Killer”) that morphs from a vague PiL bassline intro to Ramones-y new wave – while sounding exactly like neither – in the blink of a lager-lidded eye. Trophy, though, goes to the 7-minute opus of bolt-cutter pop “Chunt Bump,” titled like a Fall song but played like Rocket From The Crypt on continental holiday, an autobahn of sound repurposed for the Great Plains blue collar breadbasket.

Whereas “indie as fuck” can have multiple meanings these days and for good reason (gee, whatever happened to Animal Collective?), these guys earn that badge for all the right reasons. A resplendently American don’t-give-a-damn rock album that cuddles with its spikiness. √√√¼

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Mind Brains at Stereo Embers

Twice I’ve torn away pages beginning this review. Do I bring up the fact that the CD arrived unbidden in a slightly oversized envelope with a full-color promo sheet and sandwiched between two slices of white bread each with a perfect heart cut dead center, or leave out that detail as extraneous information no matter how delightfully this bit of postal hijinks struck its recipient? The answer, rather obviously, comes in the asking of the question in the first place. The quirky means of its arrival has already been mentioned and the situationist packaging prank has done its work. I likely would have paid attention anyway, even without the attention-getting inclusion of squishy carbohydrates, given who’s involved here – it’s another Hannah Jones joint (fun saying that) wherein she’s joined, again, by erstwhile Elephant 6’ers etc; Ms. Jones, you may recall, last graced these pages as the main drive behind the eclectic post-punky The New Sound of Numbers – but with the flood coming in daily through every portal, piquing one’s interest via Wonder Bread is a worthwhile ploy, not least as the music inside matches in playful verve, out-of-left-field unexpectedness and haywired inventiveness the wrapping in which it came.

Sounding everything and nothing like the who’s-who list of young Athenian bands that populate the band – of Montreal, Dark Meat, Olivia Tremor Control, M Coast, the Music Tapes and many others; it’s a busy album from a busy scene – this self-titled debut charts wrecked, deteriorating electronic landscapes with an ADD prowess that’s as impressive as it is disturbing, managing to inject a sufficient level of subliminal listenability to prevent the auditory meltdown that might otherwise occur. The type album that can initially seem just pure daft with its own experimentation, a repeat listening or two reveals layer after nuance of reward-granting method to their unique brand of madness, and since I’m tempted to apply it to nearly every track let me just say it out front: there’s a lot of bewitching going on here, a fair amount with surprisingly sylvan undertones, much of it wound inside the convoluted architecture of circuits and ruined mainframes, and a small but notable portion of it taking Eno mountain by strategy. An intriguing amalgam, you must admit.

Opener “Happy Stomp” takes its sunny fractured patchwork intro and lets it unravel into a spaced-out idyll somewhere between a Sun Ra daydream and a St Albans children’s choral track drifting through the cosmos and pulled in by some kid’s trusty transistor in some lost exurb on Ios; “Strange Remember” emerges as an avant-vernal gambol before we find ourselves exploring the bloodstream of an electronic body at rest, floating through arteries at a leisurely pace, the walls dripping with the slowed-down diastolic echoes of those that have come before, the intrepid traveler from the edenic end of the krautrock spectrum, your Clusters, your Harmoniums, while ultimate track “Bouncy Clock” pulses forward with a wiggy safari beat that plants the Residents out on the savanna with only their invincible wits and some craftily damaged synths to save them.

There there’s “Whistle Tips,” fooling us into thinking we’re stuck in the Olduvai Gorge with its distorted huffs from a caveman’s lungs before flipping into Mind Brains‘ rockinest moment that, despite its odd volume drops and one strategic bang on the bottom of an aluminum pot (maybe), charges along with a tight, bass bomp rhythm that reminds, frankly, of a lost track on a Dutch compilation circa 1981 which delights yours truly no end, even considering its brief 2-minute tenure. On the Eno tip, “The Morning Before the Morning Before Dawn” exhibits the type of disorienting time-slip pop the bald prophet pioneered on tracks like “Backwater,” this one just a mite scarier with something of a candle-flickering ritual about it underlined by an unsettling vocal that manages ‘menacing’ and ‘soporific’ to an equal degree, while the droning bed of lively hypnotics and pop electronic poltergeism (yep, made that one up) of “Body Horror” takes that song title and transforms it via sly studio trickery into “Paw Paw Mind Brains Blowtorch.”

All of this, it should be noted, is animated by an unquenchable spirit that suggests, at every turn, playfulness in the face of the surrounding dark, and nowhere is that disorienting child-likeness more exemplified than on “The Era of Late Heavy Bombardment,” taking as it does the implied template of the melodic refrain of ‘ashes, ashes, all fall down’ and applying it to a blitzkrieg scenario. While it’s anything but easy listening it’s also likely the most emotionally evocative audio picture of a child’s innate playground-centric response to the terrible wonder of a bombing campaign you’ve ever imagined.

Aside from the slight “Sea Shore Minor” – a wisp of existence that gets lost in its own sonic mist and, though eerie enough, never finds a mooring to tie up to – and a handful of placeholder tracks that I’d say shall go unnamed except the band themselves leave them untitled and off the tracklist (itself a bit of charming subterfuge, I felt), Mind Brains is essential to the health of our collective modern music soul. We need more records like this (with tips of the hat to fellow travelers Tunabunny and The Bastards of Fate and no doubt others we’ve yet to hear), ones that sneakily undermine our comfortable assumptions of what a ‘rock’ record should be, that discomfit, make us look askance at everything else around. Ones that frolic at the edges of our consciousness where most other records fear – or are simply unable – to tread. It’s both refreshing and no wonder that bands coming out of the Athens scene continue to surprise and even unnerve. It’s as if some torch from Akron drifted south a few decades ago and lit the fires of weird exuberance that has been yielding all these strange dividends for years now.

Ain’t music wonderful?

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Mind Brains at Stereo Embers

Apparently being the driving force behind avant post-punkers The New Sound of Numbers isn’t quite enough for Hannah Jones, as she’s recently joined forces with Kris Deason (Dreamboat), Eric Harris (Olivia Tremor Control) and fellow NSON’er Emily Waldron – oh, let’s just call them all Elephant 6 alumni, shall we? – to form the marvelously off-kilter Mind Brains, and SEM is thrilled to offer an exclusive look at their newest video.

Sounding like no less than the Residents at an afternoon tea party where Syd Barrett turns out to be the Mad Hatter (just as we always suspected), which in turn naturally precipitates a visual treatment that’s something akin to a Yoko Ono hostage video, Mind Brains’ delirious “Strange Remember” is just the most recent piece of beguilement from down Athens way. We used to wonder ‘What the hell is it about that place?‘ but frankly we’ve just given up asking. So long as it keeps on coming, whether it be in the form of pop trompe l’œil like this or the regional take on classic melodicism with which the place made it’s name, we’ll be happy. In fact, we’ll be deliriously so. Check it out.

[Mind Brains’ self-titled review is available from Orange Twin here]

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Noon:30 / Tanya Donnelly / Bunnygrunt at Stereo Embers

Noon:30 – Brought to us with the description “grimy trip-hop urban post-punk,” you can imagine how instantly that got our attention. To this we’d add tribal, moody, whispering with danger, breathing with menace. The product of two young women from D.C. – Blue, vocals and bass, Aissa Arroyo-Hill, guitar and sound design – we’re pretty certain that they are at least among the more intriguing, adventurous entrants into 2015’s debut class.


Tanya Donnelly – How exciting is this? Founding member of legendary Throwing Muses, part owner of the lasting Breeders legacy and prime driver of mid-90’s juggernaut of melodic suss Belly has, if you’ve not been following, been self-releasing a series of Swan Song EPs over the past couple of years, numbered 1-5, “an ongoing series of EPs made up of collaborations with various musicians, authors, and friends,” according to a note below their Discogs listings. Swan Song the album will include many if not all of the tracks from those EPs – tracklisting was still being determined at press time – and we here at SEM couldn’t be more thrilled if Belly did a reunion gig in our front room.


Bunnygrunt – This St Louis-born  band began life as a kind of cuddly proposition but over the last 20 years have grown into an altogether different breed, casting their net wide into melodic grunge/punk, classic rock, cynical singer-songwriter fare a la Warren Zevon, and the ever-irresistible lure of power pop. Though somewhat relegated over the years to the fringes, we’re figuring that the upcoming Vol. 4 just might land them on some bigger stages. But whether that happens or not, all we can is: we’re happy!

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Black Watch at Stereo Embers

Here’s a question: is it preferable, in terms of consistent quality, for a hyper-prolific ‘cult’ band to stay that way, to maintain that staunch underground status rather than cross over into the broader spotlight? Though it shall remain an open question bandied about mostly by critics and geeks (as if there’s a difference), there’s nonetheless, to many of us, some credence to the answer being ‘yes.’ It’s not an uncommon opinion that GBV’s Under The Bushes, Under The Stars, the record that brought them into the mainstream – or anyway as close as a band like that can get – was their last great record. And though we may need strike the ‘hyper-‘ from the above formulation, there’s little question that both the Flaming Lips and Brian Jonestown Massacre saw their art suffer mightily under the glares of their respective celebrity (I’m not counting “She Don’t Use Jelly,” by the way. Fluke hits do not celebrity status make). We here at SEM believe, however, that there’s one musician who deserves to challenge that tacit equation and that’s John Andrew Fredrick, who has been trafficking under the lower-cased band name ‘the black watch’ for well on twenty-six years now and whose new album sugarplum fairy, sugarplum fairy (the lower-case insistence now extends to album titles as well, it would seem), due January 27th, arrives full of rock’n’roll suss and staggering promise.

Whereas one remains skeptical as to the likelihood of the watch breaking out any time soon – which is far more a comment on the commercial environment of the times than a reflection of Fredrick’s perennially considerable potential – if any album’s going to stamp that ticket it’s sugarplum fairy sugarplum fairy. At times as indebted to Hüsker Dü (the fuzzed charge of “There You Were”) or the Who (the windmill-chorded, Moon-pounding “Scream”) as to his beloved Beatles, not to mention nodding with eager winking and knowing elbow jabs to late 60’s psych pop (“Darling, I’ve Been Meaning To”), SPSP distills the breadth of Fredrick’s songwriting skills as if it’s a cross between a no-holds-barred songwriters smackdown and an advanced-course seminar in R’n’R composition.

Over forty-one plus minutes, from the philosophic throb of the name-halved title track that opens the record, its pinging acoustic yang being balanced by a soft shredded yin of distortion as Jean Renoir makes a quick cameo (Fredrick’s Ph.D in English lit has often found discreet outlet in his songwriting) to the brief epistolary “Dear Anne” that carries us out – two equipoised acoustics delicately thundering above a dashed-off love letter – we’re treated to a widescreen songbook worthy of any of those mentioned above as well the likes of Joe Henry, Jimmer Podrasky, Bradley Skaught or any other Beatles-inflected American songwriter you’d care to name. Or Welsh, for that matter, as “Dear Dead Love”‘s longing melancholic lyricism, its stoical romanticism, puts one in mind of John Cale circa Paris 1919 and who doesn’t want to visit there?

Elsewhere, a similarly somber pop aesthetic gets a look-in on “Good Night, Good Night, Good Night,” a lullay charmer, “Nothing” ripples with hook-filled devotion and whipsmart couplets (drink dry ice/then go smoke in bed), “Quietly Now” breaks out with a smooth insistent roar that disputes its title with a blurred power-pop panache and a lengthy cymbal-smashing coda that, simply put, celebrates the pure frisson of rock’n’roll, while the sweet declarative “Anna of Leaves” – I believe we have a man in love here, folks – with its Cohenesque wordsmithery and ageless yearn pitches itself midway between a coffeehouse pop/folk anthem and a ballad of intimate hope that one could easily imagine being adopted by lovelorn couples across the country.

Though still a touring unit employing new recruit Tyson Cornell replacing Steven Schayer on guitar, longstanding drummer Rick Woodard and bassist Chris Rackard – and SEM will be the first to let you know the details of any forthcoming tour – sugarplum fairy, sugarplum fairy was not only written and almost wholly performed by Fredrick (engineer Luke Adams handled the drums) but produced as well. That production, along with the mix provided by longtime TBW producer Scott Campbell, has an unfussy mien to it that makes for a sound that’s honest, simple, and direct, exactly the bedding this set of songs requires. True to the black watch core aesthetic, SFSF is a trumping addition to the band’s cultish legacy. We’re tellin’ ya, get into it, and them, before the band gets popular on us.

 

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