Author Archive

Andy Boay

"Bullwhip Strides / Roll On River"

NAC_3-Panel_JcardTemplate_FRONT

Andy Boay has been in the business of making bizarre, almost hymn-like tracks for years now. Going back as far as 2008, he cut his very particular teeth as one half of Tonstartssbandht, but for the last couple years he’s been honing in on a solo sound which he’s tinkered with over the course of various EPs and cassette releases. Helping him add to that growing list is Hausu Mountain, who will be putting out a split between Andy and future lizard-person and fellow Brooklynite Jerry Paper. It’ll be an interesting release to say the least.

On “Bullwhip Strides / Roll On River,” Andy loops and layers his voice into oblivion before laying down a pitch-shifted melody in a mounting bit of post-Person Pitch gorgeousness. Of course this is all before the track transitions into an almost gospel-like chant that could easily play you out into a pleasant nap type situation. Arms folded across your chest and everything.

The Andy Boay / Jerry Paper split will be out on April 22nd via Hausu Mountain.

Signor Benedick the Moor

"I. A Boy A Man A King"

signor benedick

With a new standalone single that finds him “examining pain, power, and violence,” literary Los Angeles rapper Signor Benedick the Moor continues his streak of releasing mature yet unhinged material with a skill that puts many a rapper to shame. “I. A Boy A Man A King” is apparently the first in a series of singles that will continue to develop the aforementioned theme and, true to his style, manages to jam pack a lot into the confines of a small space.

On a bed of skittering production, Signor Benedick raps with a manic furor about escaping the clutches of tyranny, spitting words faster than the human ear can transmit to the brain. Even reading the lyrics can result in tinges of cerebral strain, so repeated listens are certainly recommended. Simply put—if this kid keeps releasing tracks this good, then flying under the radar should become a thing of the distant past.

Symbol

Online Architecture

symbol

Living in Pennsylvania I can attest that the weather has been frustratingly uneven for the past few weeks. Where most loathe winter, I love it, but when it’s time for spring I’m more than ready to hang up my coat and scarf and enjoy the increasingly warm weather. But with the way the weather has been recently, it’s been hard to do that. Just when I think that things are finally warming up and I can go outside and enjoy the sunlight, a curveball in the form of a freak snowstorm crashes the party and sets everything back a few weeks. Then there is the eventual slush and mud and sludge to deal with before going outside to enjoy the weather can become a reality. Because I’m the kind of person who loves to match music with the perfect environment, my listening habits of late have been just as schizophrenic as the uneven weather. Though one constant, no matter what the crazy surroundings, has been Symbol‘s Online Architecture, a surprisingly versatile album, especially when considering that it’s a collection of quiet, ambient works.

For the past few weeks I’ve tested Online Architecture out under many different circumstances and it’s held up well to all of them. Whether I was in the shower, doing some much-needed yard work, or just lazing about, the music of Christopher Royal King has proven not only to be adaptable but surprisingly fitting as well—rain or shine. This, of course, shouldn’t really come as a surprise, as King is a founding member and lead guitarist for post-rock group This Will Destroy You and is no stranger to creating music that is heavy on atmosphere and feeling. But Online Architecture is a different beast and wastes no time in revealing itself as such. And while it takes its time setting up to pull you in, the magnetism is strong and steady and begins to work its magic on your before you realize it. Before long, you find yourself completely in King’s headspace, tuning in to his very specific frequencies.

When I featured the album’s first single, “Clear Passage,” a few weeks ago, I commented on how the track managed to feel both organic and alien. It was as if King had tapped into some lost transmissions on some unknown frequency that have, over time, become one with the outreaches of space itself. Fortunately, that weird but enjoyable dichotomy is largely present on the album as a whole as well. There is a warmth that radiates from these delicate, plodding tracks that feels like the gentle background hiss on your favorite cassettes, and yet at the same time the album feels distinctly electronic, almost mechanic. And though Christopher King has unmistakably absorbed his surroundings, reinterpreted them, and put them to tape, the face behind the music becomes blurred as the songs take on lives of their own. They churn, breathe, and swell as if the first whispers of life that King breathed into them has made them these independent entities. Living up to its name, the whole of Online Architecture is a collection of these living, fluid structures whose true joy is derived from just standing back and taking in their grandeur.

This brings me back to the versatility of Online Architecture. Although it’s an album that aims at a very specific aesthetic, the end product ends up being very much elastic and malleable. It adapts to its surroundings and merges with them in a strange display of musical synthesis. And while ambient music has largely been the fodder for background noise whether as the soundtrack for a film or mood music for a spa, it’s also a genre that is hard to truly master. I can count on one hand the number of ambient albums that have resonated with me on an emotional level in the last couple of years, and that’s largely because these albums became more than the sum of their parts. They tap into something inherently human and pull the emotion right out of me. I’m happy to say that Online Architecture is one of those albums. Christopher Royal King has distilled himself and his experiences down into something beautiful and universal—an album that requires effort from its listeners but the rewards are exponential. It’s currently cold and raining and incredibly windy, so I think I’ll go spin Online Architecture one more time. You should consider joining me.

Online Architecture is available now via Holodeck Records.

WIFE

"Heart Is a Far Light"

wife

If this is your introduction to WIFE, then chances are you’d never know that Irish producer James Kelly also fronted the forward-thinking but now defunct black metal project Altar of Plagues. Their 2013 album Teethed Glory and Injury was surely one of last year’s highlights, but now that the band has called it quits, Kelly is pressing onward albeit under a much different musical umbrella.

From his upcoming debut album, What’s Between, Kelly has highlighted “Heart Is a Far Light,” a single that acts as a serious step in a new direction and finds him trading darkness for warmth and a bed of silky electronics. And though he’s flexed his vocal and production muscles previously on the Stoic EP, this is the first time we’ve gotten to hear his unencumbered voice approaching something that sounds like melody via some hazy R&B. It’s quite the jump for a vocalist who spent the better part of the last few years brandishing his manic, wretched screaming like a war cry.

What’s Between is out June 9th via Tri Angle Records.

SoftSpot

MASS

MASS

The digital age has done a lot of weird things to music. I’d argue that it has largely been a good thing, but it’s also bred a weird sort of ADHD in people and their listening habits. Gone are the days where eager young listeners would buy an album and pore over every facet of it, whether the artwork, the lyrics, or the long-winded thank-yous. This also isn’t reserved strictly for listeners. The internet has also paved the way for complete musical over-saturation. Not only in the number of artists vying for your attention, but also those artists who write something and immediately post it online without giving it another thought. I’m not complaining, mind you. It’s nice to have an endless amount of options at your fingertips, but I’d be lying if I said that it hasn’t changed the way I approach music. Fortunately there are bands like SoftSpot that are doing their part to take us back to the days of being hands-on with our music, both in the way that they craft it and the way that they hope it is received by their listeners.

On their sophomore album MASS, the band has gone to great strides to create an experience that stresses the connection between the mind and the physical body. Every detail that went into MASS had this connection in mind, and the more you allow yourself to get pulled in by this alluring album, the more you’ll find that to be true. For example, the woman on the cover, who coincidentally acts as a mascot of sorts for the release, is a contortion artist named Amazing Amy who lives and performs in New York City. This woman, whose performance art focuses on pushing the human body to its extremes, is the perfect metaphor for SoftSpot’s music. It bends and breathes and moves in sometimes unsettling ways, while always maintaining a graceful, otherworldly beauty about itself. And in a move that further illustrates SoftSpot’s focus on those things that we can touch and feel, the band invited Amazing Amy into their home and photographed her for the striking cover using a Polaroid camera.

Following their debut album Ensō, the band settled on a decidedly different approach for its followup. Though they wrote the album in Brooklyn, they retreated back to their former home in North Carolina to record it. In this new rural setting and with plenty of time on their hands, the band breathed life into the new tracks patiently. They afforded the songs a much longer gestation period than anything they had done in the past, giving the songs a chance to be flexed in a live setting before recording them. Along these lines, the band also wrote and recorded for the first time as a trio, allowing things to come together organically and on their own time. They also employed several field recordings that further serve to set MASS in a corporeal universe. For example, the vocal take for “Black Room Blues” is particularly haunting as it was recorded during a thunderstorm. Listen closely and you can hear the gentle fall of rain and the thunder roll in the distance. It’s those little touches that make MASS such a moving experience.

All of these things work together to make MASS something to grab onto, something to give it weight. And at a time when music is largely broken down into click bait, news bites, lazy premieres, and other ephemera, it’s nice to have something so substantial to latch onto and meditate on. SoftSpot has put so much of themselves into this release that really the only proper way to digest it is respectfully and intently. Of course, all of this is only made easier by the fact that it’s one of the lushest, most gorgeous releases that I’ve heard this year. But then again, that is just my own assessment—you’ll have to make your own. So do yourself a favor and explore the corners of MASS. Heavens knows there are plenty of corners to get lost in.

MASS is available digitall and on 12″ vinyl now via SoftSpot’s Bandcamp page.

Mindtroll

"Oh Well"

oh well

Always up to cause a bit of a ruckus, Brooklyn weirdos Mindtroll are starting the process of rolling out the welcome wagon for their upcoming album in the form of their new single “Oh Well.” Staying true to the band’s form, the song imbues the sort of wide-eyed craziness that has typified Mindtroll’s music up to this point. The same sort of crazy that stumbles along mumbling to itself until all of a sudden it’s right up next to your ear shouting in earnest about, well, something or other. It’s up to you whether or not you’ll pull your earbuds out and listen.

Expect an EP from the band on April 12th, with an album following shortly thereafter.

The Body

I Shall Die Here

i shall die here

Last week I was driving home alone late at night after hanging out with some friends. I live relatively out in the country, so my drive found me taking back roads; roads that weave back and forth through forested areas and are mostly, but not always, paved. I remember it being especially dark, cold, and damp that night, so I had both the music and the heat blasting. However, it wasn’t the weather that made this particular night stand out to me, but rather the truck behind me. I saw the truck when it drove up behind me, but it wasn’t until it got way too close for comfort and began flashing its high beams at me that I really took notice. At first it just annoyed me, but when the driver kept doing it for miles through these obscure back roads, I started to get a little freaked out. The more I thought about it, the more my mind raced and began recalling the stories told in all of the true crime docu-series that I’d been binge-watching on Netflix. Did this person want to scare me, or worse, were they warning me of someone hiding in my backseat (come on, I’ve done my urban legends research)? After a while though, the driver backed off and took a right turn, but the damage to my psyche had been done. I was scared.

Now that the event is separated from me by a few days I can see that I wasn’t really in any danger that night. In reality, I was probably just driving too slowly on a one-lane road which, in turn, pissed off the person behind me. But in the moment I was fairly certain that my abandoned car was going to be found a few days later with no sign of me in it. And yet, for as frightened as I allowed myself to be during those fifteen or so minutes, I also felt completely alive. Corny as it sounds, my heart was racing, my senses were heightened, and I was acutely aware of everything around me. In a way it was an exhilarating, visceral experience. Of course the timing of this event was perfect considering that I’m now talking about The Body and their latest album I Shall Die Here and how absolutely terrifying it is.

The Body has long been a band that has dealt in the very darkest aspects of the human heart. They surround themselves with macabre imagery, their videos and promotional material are like something out of a horror movie, and their music is so oppressively dark and heavy that it feels inescapable. None of this is news, as the duo has been dealing this very specific form of darkness for ten years now, but I Shall Die Here finds the band trying on a much different mask than before. Working with The Haxan Cloak on production, an artist who also knows a thing or two about scaring his listeners, The Body has crafted an album that is easily their most forward-thinking and flat out unsettling work yet. And while it brandishes a lot of the touchstones of the band’s music, it filters those sounds through an electronic, industrial mesh, mechanizing it in the process. Their once organic, decaying material now feels re-animated, industrial, and bionic. These are the the sinister sounds of Tetsuo happening, where the borders between flesh and wire are becoming increasingly unclear and the resulting monster gains strength with each passing moment.

What truly sets I Shall Die Here apart from the rest of The Body’s previous work though is how truly terrifying it sounds. I mentioned that the album is unsettling, and I mean it. It’s an album that taps into the same morbid curiosity that drives people to compulsively watch horror movies or read about serial killers. But where most of those people consider their macabre interests just that, interests, The Body are utterly fixated on them. And on this album, we are inhabiting their world and therefore must play by their rules. While death is certain, it’s also unknown. Peering into the abstract ugliness of I Shall Die Here affords the listener a chance to stare the darkness and death straight in the face and have it stare right back.

As to why they celebrate such things, everything is pretty much summed up in the track “Alone All the Way.” In an extended bit of dialogue, the band lifts entire segment from The Suicide Tourist, a documentary about the assisted suicide of a man named Craig Ewert. It goes:

At this point, you know, I’ve got two choices. I either actually go through with it, or I say, ‘You know what? I’m too scared right now.  I don’t want to do it.’ If I go through with it, I die, as I must at some point. If I don’t go through with it, my choice is essentially to suffer and to inflict suffering on my family, and then die, possibly in a way that is considerably more stressful and painful than this way. I’ve got death. I’ve got suffering and death. Well gee, you know, this makes a whole lot of sense to me.

This is all really morbid stuff to think about, and any sane person would question why. Why listen to something so fixated on death, darkness, and suffering? And while a valid question, I’d posit that you don’t even really need to have an answer to enjoy the experience of I Shall Die Here, so I’m not even going to try and come up with one. When it comes down to it, it’s like that night I was driving alone on those back roads. It’s terrifying and ultimately unsettling experience, but also an exhilarating one and, who knows, maybe it will even make you feel just a little bit more alive—if you don’t die screaming first.

I Shall Die Here is available April 1st via RVNG Intl.

Marie Davidson

"Perte d'identité"

Perte d'identité

Marie Davidson doesn’t spin songs as much as she summons worlds where dark shadows linger around every corner. Her latest venture, “Perte d’identité,” finds the Montreal native becoming perhaps even more sinister and abstract than where she left off on her self-titled EP last year.

On the bony back of a skeletal drum beat, Marie lays the track out in front of you like a vast, nebulous abyss before pushing you helplessly over the edge. As you fall downwards into the void, her breathy spoken words and pulsing synths nudge your limp body around in all directions before finally laying you down on a bed of warbling organ chords. Then with a final whisper, she gently closes your eyes.

Perte d’identité is out on April 4th via Weyrd Son Records.

Michael Parallax

Wilderness Years

two years

How do you quantify something like success? Even when you narrow it down to speaking specifically about music, it’s a nebulous concept. Most people would argue that financial gain is a definite measure of success, while others would jump to fame or material possessions as a litmus test. And while those things definitely ring true, especially in a capitalist society, I would posit that there are more meaningful and nuanced ways to gauge a musician’s success. For example, let me tell you about something that I experienced at SXSW this year.

Following a crowd of good friends, I once again found myself sauntering into a dimly lit fetish bar called the Chain Drive. I had been there the previous year, so I knew what I was getting into (doorless bathroom stalls, etc.). It was a friendly place, though probably not the best-suited to being a music venue, but I didn’t really care about that. I was there for three reasons: to see Alligator Indian, to see Ava Luna, and finally to see Michael Parallax. And while the other bands ended up being fantastic and pretty much everything I wanted them to be, I was particularly amped to catch Michael’s set. I had heard from friends that his live performance is something special that needs to be experienced, and so there I was smashed right up front with everyone else clamoring to see the short Florida wonder do his thing.

Clad in a white Sunday suit and surrounded by electronics, Parallax began his set unassumingly enough before his power over the modest crowd became readily apparent. As Michael’s catchy pop music filled every corner of the tiny bar, the people became more and more in sync with the vibe and before long everyone was jumping and dancing with big, stupid grins on their faces. A giant paper bag of silver confetti was passed around with each person grabbing a giant handful before handing it off to the next eager participant. As the music pulsed and Michael’s voice soared, handfuls of shimmering confetti rained down from the rafters and Michael stripped down, trading his white suit for an orange NASA astronaut suit. As he whirled his magic for a few more tracks, confetti continued to fly, and Michael stripped down once again, this time revealing some rather patriotic and sweat-soaked undergarments. It was at this point that Michael jumped over his synthesizer and led a more-than-willing crowd in a rendition of Macy Gray’s “I Try” that took us out the front door of the Chain Drive and out into the streets. Like a fizzy explosion following a shaken-up soda can, it was the perfect ending to a crazy set.

I realize that it probably had a lot to do with the setting, the night, and the friends, but I can’t remember the last time a show left me feeling so purely happy. I overheard someone in the crowd say that they typically don’t go for that kind of music, but that they really enjoyed what they had just witnessed. It’s as if Michael existed in some other world that he willingly transported us to, if only for a short time, before bringing us back down to Earth slightly different people than we were before.

A few weeks before I saw him play in Austin, Michael released his latest full-length, WildernessYears, an album that I eagerly scooped up. And yet listening to it is a vastly different experience when compared to his live show. Featuring a much more stripped back approach, you could say that the songs float from one to the next in various forms of balladry. Strange for a guy whose live set comes alive in an explosion of color and light. And yet that same current of exuberant joy weaves its way back through each of these tracks, each one joining hands with the next. I’m sorry, but for as lovely and enjoyable an experience Wilderness Years is, you really need to experience Michael’s music firsthand in a live setting to truly get it. I apologize for saying that because I used to hate hearing that about my favorite artists when I was growing up in rural Pennsylvania. But, alas, here we are.

This brings me back around to my initial question: what does a successful musician look like? Does Michael Parallax fit that bill? Depending on who you ask, the overwhelming answer would probably be no. But again, what are we taking about when we say “success”? I guarantee that Michael does not make enough money to sustain himself as an artist, but I’d also be willing to wager that that was never his intent anyway. Probably traveling in a smelly van, lugging his gear from house show to house show, dive bar to dive bar, peddling his gospel to anyone willing to listen; his success lies elsewhere. His dedication gives birth to earshot tales, tales that in turn give birth to a desire the experience. Looking at the elaborate light set ups, the parachuting bedsheets, the glitter, the quick-changing costumes, I realize it’s all a part of this larger story. Michael is selling a very specific sort of experience, and it’s one that will leave you changed for the better—if you allow it. And it’s because of that that I’m proud to say that Michael Parallax, this glowing Florida angel, is more of a success story than most.

Wilderness Years is available now via Spirit Cat.