Articles by " Cactus-Mouth"
Max Basic is the newly adopted moniker of an artist who, at least for the time being, wishes to remain more or less anonymous. What I can tell you though is that his former project got some love from some rather prominent blogs a little over two years ago. He’s also an artist who I happen to love quite a bit, so this anonymity thing is killing me.
After hibernating for a couple years Max Basic has returned to the surface with a new name and a retooled sound. The first sampling of said new material is the single “That’s All I Said,” and it spots a sheeny 1980′s adult contemporary vibe a la Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, or even Peter Cetera. If the thought of that doesn’t make you grin ear to ear then you might want to get your pulse checked. According to Max, this new track will be part of a four-track sample EP that will serve as a precursor for a debut album. The EP should be available in a few weeks with the album following suit later this summer.
It’s been an interesting few months for Maryland lo-fi darlings Julia Brown. For the band who tried their best to shake the vestiges of past projects, things seem to moving a mile a minute. Hot off the tails of their well-received and much-loved debut to be close to you, the band has announced that they already have a new 7″ on the way. Not only is the new material professionally recorded and in surprisingly high fidelity, it’s also apparently been in the works since before the time their debut was recorded. What might seem like a shocking step for the tape-hiss-loving band actually turns out to be something that was in the cards for them all along.
The band was kind enough to let us premiere the updated version of their lo-fi hit “Library” and its accompanying video as well as answer a few questions about the new direction. Check it all out below.
So the band has gotten some pretty wide coverage since the album debuted. I know that that was something you guys, Sam especially, were aiming for. Did you think it would happen that quickly?
Caroline White: Yes.
Sam Ray: Absolutely not at all, personally. I thought that no one would listen to the album really besides friends, and for a while that was pretty much how it was, and I was pretty satisfied because I was super happy with the album either way. So like, yeah, it happening was cool because that was definitely the goal but not the expectation. Definitely not on the level it happened either. Nor so long after releasing it, but I think it’s definitely better that way since it’s pretty fitting for springtime.
John Toohey: I didn’t think that many people were gonna be into it, and it kind of sucks because I had been playing drums for like a week when we recorded it, and I fucked up a few times, and now people are hearing it and I’m blown lol.
SR: J2 you’re happier with the studio stuff, right? lol
JT: Yeah, definitely.
Which brings me to the studio stuff. What made you guys decide to A: make the jump to high fidelity and B: re-record older songs that already have a life of their own?
SR: Well originally the plan was to release a little demo—4 tracks (initially it was actually “falling in love”, “library”, “i will do this for the rest of my life”, and “to be close to you”) just really lo-fi, establish ourselves as a different band, not Teen Suicide again, etc. Much more serious, I don’t know. After that, we planned to do a more hi-fi release—ideally a 7″/single or an EP or something. Sort of get our foot in the door or whatever, state our intentions, songwriting-wise, etc.
JT: One day we were listening to the radio and we all sort of realized that the songs on the radio sound good and are not lo-fi, and we decided that if we wanted to get on the radio we probably couldn’t stay lo-fi.
SR: Anyway, “library” was the last song we recorded for ‘to be close to you’, and we always intended it to be at least a bit higher fidelity than the rest, but it wouldn’t have made sense. We chose to keep it that lo-fi so the release would work aesthetically together. And it fits really well and certainly is its own version, and not a demo or anything.
JT: Yeah, we really hope people don’t hear the hi-fi stuff and then think of the versions on ‘to be close to you’ as “demos” or anything because they really are their own thing.
SR: But definitely we wanted to give it the treatment we felt it deserved, or I did at least. The way we recorded it with Sean (the hi-fi version) is how I always kind of intended it after John started playing with us, and I wouldn’t call it like the “definitive” version, but it feels good to at least give it that treatment. Of the 7″ coming out, “library” is the only song from ‘to be close to you’ redone, so it’s not like just rehashing the album either at least. And ‘to be close to you’ to me is just kind of one thing altogether, too, which is something I always strive for. I think if we’d done a 7″ with “library” or any other songs in their original versions, it wouldn’t be the same, taking it out of context. So it makes sense both ways for me. I don’t know. We recorded the 7″ before ‘to be close to you’ was even released, so this was something we had in mind for a while.
JT: Yeah, I actually forgot about that. That’s super weird.
SR: Yeah, haha, it was like a while ago.
JT: Damn, and it’s still not out lol.
SR: Also, like, I don’t know if this ties in to anything later, but I don’t think we’re fully abandoning lo-fi—it’s a sort of branching out/moving forward definitely, but it’s not like there’s no looking back. I’m willing to risk looking back.
You guys have established a sound on the album that a lot of listeners connected with. A “lo-fi” sound that people, whether you want them to or not, are going to associate Julia Brown with. I mean, a lot of the really great comparisons people drew were similarly lo-fi music. Are you worried at all that the jump to hi-fi is going to be jarring for people?
SR: Oh yeah, without a doubt. I figured it would be jarring before there was any attention to our album, but I never thought enough people would latch on to the first release that it would be a huge issue. I figured opening up our sound to a bigger audience (AKA selling out) would be worth that anyway, and ideally the songs would win the others over either way. A lot of the initial response to our album, press-wise and just among a general audience, was that the songwriting/songs/arrangements/whatever were great, but it was hard (or for some, impossible) to overcome the recording quality, and that was fine and totally how I figured it would be. So to get a lot of praise specifically (at times) or at least based around that aesthetic was a little scary considering we’d already recorded, mixed, mastered, the new songs and were in the process of getting a 7″ made. There’s not really any turning back at that point.
JT: I’m mostly worried about the songs that people have already heard lo-fi (like “library”). I hope people haven’t grown so used to those versions that they hear the hi-fi versions and immediately dismiss them or dislike them just because they’re different than what people are used to.
Alec Simke: Yeah, I think it’s definitely a situation where we’re hoping the new listeners that hi-fi recordings bring will far outweigh those who are upset about the switch.
SR: Honestly, it was/is the Pitchfork review that makes me feel a lot better about the possibility of alienating whoever from our sound—that the songwriting overcomes the recording limitation and though for some the static & tape hiss or whatever is its own instrument, it’s the songs themselves that are strong enough to work either way. I dont know if that’s true, and I can’t call myself like a good enough songwriter for that, but I have to hope haha.
JT: Hi-fi = more money.
SR: Anyway, what John said is pretty much where I still stand on it – I think that the new recording of “library” might confuse some people or even turn some people away, but the other songs on the 7″ should make the reasoning for the jump in fidelity clear, even if people don’t necessarily agree with it at “ethically” or whatever at first. In the end, we don’t want to be considered “just” a lo-fi band, if that makes sense. Even if we embrace that aesthetic and (at least in my case) love it completely, it’s not our only style or sound & it’s not the only thing we (or I) like, musically or sonically or whatever, and it would be limiting to stick to it. I think it’s limiting for people to find themselves turned off music over that reason too, whether it’s too lo-fi (which is a little more understandable) or too hi-fi (which is a bit obtuse but I understand it).
JT: Hi-fi = more money.
SR: Also like, look at Say Anything. They were sweet. Until the dude went crazy.
Ok, so if the first album was saying “Hi, we’re Julia Brown,” what does this 7″ say? And what if people hate it?
SR: Ideally it’s saying, “We’re more than just a lo-fi band, and we’re also going to attempt to be more serious than just that.”
AS: This 7″ says, “Where’s the weed at??”
SR: If people hate it, that’s totally fair. I’m sure “library” will be divisive, though. If people can remember that it’s not meant to supersede the other but just exist separately/in addition to it, it’ll make a lot more sense. The 7″ also says YOLO, because you only live once and we want to make the most of it.
JT: If people hate it I’ll be pretty blown, but at the same time I know that it fucking rules and that we made a sweet release. So whatever.
SR: Uh, but it should hopefully say, “Hey look, our arrangements are a whole lot more intricate and thought out than you might have realized, and our songwriting stands up beyond the tape hiss aesthetic thing, so that’s cool and it’s deserving of better treatment.” It’s the most ambitious thing I’ve ever worked on. It has so much going on. I got to arrange so many strings. Cellos, viola, harmonium. Rhodes piano. I couldn’t be happier. Harmonies are so much lusher. We can actually record in STEREO haha no more mono. Things are PANNED, imagine that.
JT: Now hopefully the critics don’t PAN it!!!
SR: I dont know, it certainly shows off an attention to detail that was prevalent in the first release but was easily overlooked. It also highlights the fact that we actually are a full, real band and we function as such. ‘To be close to you’ was much more of a solo effort even though everyone was involved—the 7″ is much more collaborative and demonstrative of the fact that, hey, we actually play shows now and stuff. We didn’t just write a few songs and record them a week later after 2 practices. So that’s good, and I’m happy about it. And definitely last, small point, but: when recording a lo-fi release like “to be close to you” that gets a lot (or even some) attention, the dialogue inevitably becomes about the lo-fi qualities of it, at least to some point. I think that a lot of the dialogue with the 7″ will probably be about how it’s not lo-fi, and that’s cool cause it’ll probably get a lot more people talking, even if they hate it. But ideally after this 7″ we can just move past either and the focus will be totally on the music—or, like, at least to a bigger extent, and that’s cool.
The new 7″ will be available on June 11th through Birdtapes. The band’s debut to be close to you is also still available so you might as well snag both while you’re at it.
Even though the single has been alive online for almost a year, it wasn’t until just now that Some Ember‘s “Flowers Open” got an official video. Directed by Alejandro Archuleta of Psychic Handbook, the video very much matches the nature of Some Ember‘s music in that it does a lot with a little. And seeing as some of the imagery from the video matches the single artwork, I’m going to assume that this collaboration has been in the works for some time.
Check out what Some Ember mastermind Dylan Travis had to say about the video and then check out the premiere below.
This video is a result of a collaboration between the band and our good friend Alejandro, who we have been playing shows with and hanging out with for days. He is in numerous bands in Oakland, all of which are great—Believe, Pine, Opulence, Ajavision, the list goes on! The video is a mix of found footage and stuff we shot on the cheapest possible camera I had lying around at my old house on 29th Street. Alejandro made it look amazing.
Some Ember‘s Asleep In the Ice Palace is available now on Night-People.
Following a successful Kickstarter project, Virginia-based synthpop project Mirror Kisses has eagerly released his latest album Heartbeats, the follow-up to last year’s niche-popular Bad Dreams LP. And following in the same vein as his previous work, Hearbeats comes alive in a splash of glitter, flickering LEDs, and smeared makeup.
Operating in a shamelessly catchy 1980s pop universe, George Clanton writes pop songs that would normally come off as well-constructed kitsch, but he saves himself by delivering them with a straight face and honest intentions. That conviction goes a long way and elevates the project from being merely reminiscent of yesteryear to something very much of the now. Plus, he steps up where a lot of modern synth-pop projects tend to slack off these days: the vocals. Looking to lion-throated titans of the 80s like Tears for Fears, Duran Duran, and even David Bowie, George fully commits his big personality to his even bigger choruses and churns out earworm after wriggling earworm. It’s the kind of music that prods you to sing along even if you don’t know the words—just follow George’s bold lead.
You can stream the album in full below, and as a special for PORTALS readers, for the next four days you can get 50% off the download price. Just enter the code “PORTALS” and you’re good to go.
I love when music gets filtered through my brain in very cinematic terms. I suppose I should clarify that statement a bit. I am not talking about envisioning grandiose gestures or pretentious arthouse drivel… no, it’s more like cult trash favorites. B-movies, exploitation, low-budget shlock, generally just stuff that other people consider garbage. That’s where I wallow. So when I first listened to Oberlin, Ohio synth duo Wax Monsters‘ recent self-titled album my mind went right to my brains back catalog of outsider cinema.
You see the album play out in very movie-like terms, and the best part is that it is content to hop around from place to place, leaving it the responsibility of the listener to play catch-up. At times it sounds like the score for some lost 1980′s horror gem before switching to something much more science-fiction-based, all while operating safely within the world known as pop music. In fact, the first thing I asked member Matthew Gallagher about the album was if any particular genre movie scores played a part in inspiring the album’s sound. From there he told me about looking to artists like Philip Glass (who, don’t forget, scored Candyman and its sequel!), Oneohtrix Point Never, Joy Division, as well as a myriad of 1980′s pop stars for inspiration.
I also asked Matt to share some thoughts on the album. Here’s what he had to say:
This is album feels like my bar-mitzvah… or at least some kind of weird coming of age ceremony. As I sit here writing this, my bandmate Luke is probably off somewhere programming something badass or drinking something with gin in it, but I know he feels the same. This very well might be the first and last Wax Monsters full-length ever made, and that’s why it was so crucial that we make it definitive of who we are. During the making of our first two EPs, Luke and I often found ourselves at odds. We would sit down to write together, and it was pretty tough to reconcile our disparate ideas. I like to produce dark, psychedelic tracks and Luke is into quirky lucidity. It took us two years of experimentation, but we finally made a record that successfully combined these two sensibilities in a way that satisfied us.
Luke and I also have a serious love for old analog synths. The machines we used to create this album have influenced us almost as much as the artists who used them when they were cutting edge. We had the supreme pleasure of getting a very old and battered Korg MS-10 on loan from the conservatory at Oberlin. It’s definitely the most dynamic and unpredictable of the synths we used on the record. It can sound like an abstract version of anything—a roaring tidal wave, a mewing kitten, a distorted guitar, or phatty bassline. Using the MS-10 definitely allowed us to push the boundaries of our synth programming and access a greater degree of weirdness in our tunes.
By now you can probably tell that we’re both really into machines. Which brings me to the next reason this album is really nerdy: Luke and I needed a common theme to inspire us in our songwriting. Luke is a really brilliant programmer and I’m into sci-fi and cyberpunk video games, so it was only natural that we write songs about the technological singularity (duh). Each song in this album represents a different vignette in the lived experience or imaginary world of the singularity. I’ll give an example: the tune “Disentanglement” on first listen is a simple pop song, but its actually about quantum encryption. “(lambda <3)” sounds like a love song, but its really about open source software and the urgency of keeping information free.
Ultimately, this album was about taking risks and challenging ourselves. It was about doing whatever the fuck we wanted to and not caring who thought it was dorky or dated. It was about making a diverse and immersive album mixed and mastered at a semi-pro level. It was about loving our friends and trying to find a deeper connection with them through dance and movement. Most of all though, it was about exploring a world of increasingly powerful information technology and confronting the fact that it can be used equally for the purposes of hatred or love. Whatever is in store for our feeble human frames in the future, Luke and I will be there to stand with those who believe that all minds and (cybernetic?) bodies should be free
This post is dedicated to all those cyberpunks who fight against injustice and corruption every day of their lives.
Wax Monsters is available as a free download as well as on limited cassette through Buddha Tapes.