Author Archive

PAWNS

"Technical Age"

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If things have been a bit too cheery around your neck of the woods lately, go ahead and spin this track from Brooklyn band PAWNS. It’ll be sure to drop the temperature in the room by at least a few degrees.

Started by Richard Allison and Noel Mateus (formerly of NYC hardcore band Dead//Beat), the band also features Matt Sullivan (our friend at Ad Hoc) on drums. Playing a classic breed of post-punk, the band prefers to keep things cold, loose, and stripped-down. And in keeping with the throwback vibe, the fidelity and artwork are also spot on to the point that if a cratedigger didn’t know any better, they could easily think that they’d stumbled onto to some unknown, late 70′s post-punk gem.

The band’s self-titled 7″ is available for purchase now.

Pharmakon

"Body Betrays Itself"

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“Body Betrays Itself” is the first tinge of the nightmare that is Pharmakon‘s upcoming second studio album Bestial Burden. And at only five minutes long, the track is already more digestible than anything on her last album Abandon. When dealing with the industrial death screams of Margaret Chardiet though, digesting the music isn’t as much of a concern as surviving it.

And while Pharmakon’s music may seem like a place where chaos reigns, Margaret actually carefully constructs every minute detail of her challenging artwork. “Body Betrays Itself,” with its harsh nature and primal screams, may be too much for some listeners, but those who commit to the onslaught of noise will find a strange catharsis in the eye of the storm. Just make sure you hold onto anything that’s not nailed down until you get there.

Bestial Burden will be out on October 14th and is available for pre-order via Sacred Bones.

JJ

V

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It was a really special time in my life when JJ,f.k.a. jj, came out with their first proper album jj n° 2. It was my junior year of college and my best friend’s last semester of her senior year. Our time together was limited and coming to a close, and jj n° 2 was one of several albums that we were both head over heels in love with. The album soundtracked our rides in the car, our study sessions in the library, and even the weekend that we both caught the swine flu and were too sick to do anything but be completely miserable together. Funny how your love for something like an album can be bolstered when experienced together with someone you love dearly.

And though my love for JJ grew in conjunction with my friend, there were a lot of reasons why jj n° 2 became such a staple listen for me at that time; reasons that weren’t simply because of the environment I heard it in. The album was so bizarre in such a peculiar way, mostly stemming from the Swedish duo’s penchant for anonymity—an Internet ploy that, at that time, had yet to become a full-blown gimmick strategy. And yet on the surface, JJ’s music seemed almost conventional. Specializing in particularly dreamy Balearic pop, the band’s music was delicate and beautiful. But it was the bedrock that they founded it on that cemented their place in the realm of the strange. Odd samples, ghostly production, and an affinity for hip-hop that manifested itself in off-kilter but completely convincing ways; it all worked.

Unfortunately, after jj n° 2the duo succumbed to the dreaded sophomore slump in the form of their follow-up album jj n° 3. A plodding mess of an album, jj n° 3 was simply pushed out too early in what was probably an attempt to hold onto whatever hype was leftover from their excellently-received debut. Though it held a few solid singles, the album failed to maintain the mystery and charm of their deftly executed debut. Then from there it seemed as if JJ lost their footing a bit, stumbling from EP to mixtape to EP in a series of releases that were hit or miss at best. I don’t want to say that I had completely given up on the band, but I seriously began to doubt that the band would deliver a truly satisfying follow-up to jj n° 2. But then came V.

Embracing proper capitalization in a way that they never have before, the newly christened JJ feel like they are getting back to their roots on their third full-length album V. This album is a refresher course on JJ in the sense that it hearkens back to what made the group such an unexpected pleasure in the first place. I’d like to think that the band is doing this intentionally and that I’m not reading into things. For starters, there are small musical callbacks to their debut album, callbacks like the skittering accordion sounds that open the album that only those who have fully digested both albums will pick up on. They even go as far as to sample a track from their debut in a blink-and-miss-it moment on the instrumental opening.

Then there is the fact that the album features a song called “Dean & Me,” a track that acts as a sequel of sorts to jj n° 2 closer and highlight “Me & Dean.” The lost love on “Dean & Me” resurfaces on “Dean & Me” with Elin hitting rock bottom as she resorts to calling up this special other singing, “I know I’m drunk, I know it’s late, but I will call you anyway.” It feels good with her reaching out to this love of hers because it feels like we are also reconnecting with the JJ that we fell in love with back in 2009. With V, JJ are bridging any missteps that they’ve taken since their debut and are showing listeners that they remember who they really are, and more importantly, that they still have a lot to offer.

I suppose the main reason why V resonates with me on such an emotional level is that it takes me back to those important few months in my life. But just as things have changed a lot in the lives of me and my dear friend, the music of V is worlds away from the scrappy nature of JJ’s charming debut. Everything here seems so much more lush, the production feels like a warm blanket, and Elin and Joakim flex a confidence that has been honed in their time as a duo. It’s certainly been an interesting five years for JJ, but for all of the ups and downs that their career has taken, they’ve come back around to make good on all of the promises that they made back when everything began. The years have aged us and we are all different people now, but then again, maybe we aren’t. JJ are keen to show us that they are still those people and, well, I’m more than happy enough to let them take my ears back with them and listen.

V is out now via Sincerely Yours & Secretly Canadian.

LVL UP

"I Feel OK"

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Here’s a jangly new one from true dudetectives LVL UP. The New York-based band is gearing up to release their excellent sophomore album Hoodwink’d next month, but in the meantime “I Feel OK” is the second single to surface from the album and, well, it’s here to make you feel OK. Does the daily grind of work have you feeling down? Listen to this track for a pick-me-up. Have you taken one on the chin lately? Don’t sweat it, because LVL UP has your back. These guys are about as dependable as a band can get these days, and it’s nice to know that they’re in my corner.

Hoodwink’d will be out September 23rd via Double Double Whammy and Exploding In Sound.

Panopticon

Roads to the North

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A couple of weeks ago I was sitting in a bar with some friends after we all got off work. I ended up striking up a conversation with one of them about the music that we listen to. My friend jokingly shouted above the bar noise that he and his friend wanted to start a “blackgrass” band. Not quite hearing what he said I leaned in closer and asked him what exactly that was. With a smile he said “a bluegrass black metal band.” Of course I didn’t really pick up on the the fact that he was joking and so I excitedly whipped out my phone to try and play some choice selections from an album that came out two years ago called Kentucky. An album of, you guessed it, bluegrass black metal. The irony of the situation is that I didn’t realize he was joking, and in turn, he thought I was joking when I wasn’t. Although in his defense, bluegrass and black metal are two genres that seem like they couldn’t be farther removed, but thanks to the reclusive artist named Austin Lunn, a.k.a. Panopticon, here we are talking about it.

If Kentucky somehow escaped your radar two years ago then you certainly missed on one of the best and most interesting concept albums I’ve heard in a long time. Now in the best of situations, concept albums can be tricky bastards, but in the worst of situations they can come off as a gimmick. And yet somehow Lunn was able to navigate those tricky waters and create an organic work that not only worked on a purely visceral level, but also sold its concept on heart alone. Its heartbreaking tale of the hardworking mining communities in his native state was made more powerful in the way that Lunn decided to deliver it. Needless to say it was an album that left me eagerly anticipating what he would do next. It would be over a two-year wait for a new album, but with Roads to the North, Panopticon has proven unequivocally that all good things take time.

Opening with the sound of a cold wind blowing through the trees, the crunch of feet in the snow, and the distant howling of wolves, Roads to the North establishes an atmosphere right off the bat that feels very much akin to the Appalachian folk setting of Kentucky. But where Kentucky focused on coal mining communities, Roads to the North feels like it’s abandoned all civilization altogether for a hermetic existence in nature. And just as the album feels like its distanced itself from humanity, Lunn’s music also feels like it’s taking steps away from the heavily bluegrass-influenced music on Kentucky. Although folk music certainly plays a part on Roads to the North, those elements are fewer and far between as the album opts instead for the harsher, darker territory of pure, blistering metal. The tracks are relentless, punishing, and often times push the 10+ minute mark. If he is aligning his music with the unforgiving power of Mother Nature, the fury of his music is spot on. But just as the cold winter slowly melts away revealing the beauty of spring, the segments on Roads to the North that seem the most harsh often give way to moments that end up being the most beautiful music that the album has to offer.

Apparently Lunn wrote and recorded this album during some pretty significant transitional moments in his life. Not only did he make a move from his home in Kentucky to that of Minnesota, but he also became a father. When taking it all into account it makes perfect sense. There is almost a restlessness to this album, where its unmistakeable feeling of movement corresponds to the changes in Lunn’s life. And just as things have changed so much for him, this moment in Panopticon’s timeline feels notably different as well. Roads to the North feels momentous, a mature step forward whose understanding of space, construction, and movement has resulted in an album that feels like a complete journey just waiting to be taken.

When all is said and done, Roads to the North cements Panopticon’s place as not only one of the most original and ambitious projects on the USBM scene, but also one of the most consistently great and criminally underrated. Knowing that Lunn slaved over every detail of this album recording off all its many parts himself (barring guest spots, of course) is nothing short of mind-blowing. And for those who either typically avoid black metal or are cautiously looking for a fitting entry point, Roads to the North works as a fitting introduction by delivering an excellent work of art whose powerful and rough edges are exceeded only by its unabashed beauty. It’s a long and arduous journey to be sure, but the climb up the mountain is made worth it by the breathtaking view from the top.

Roads to the North is available now via the band’s Bandcamp.

XIAN INTL

"Patriarch Angel"

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Christian Church is no stranger to strange experimentation and dark pop music. As one half of Alligator Indian he’s been honing his peculiar songwriting abilities for the past several years to a very interesting degree. Now it seems he is branching out even further and applying his arsenal to a solo project called XIAN INTL.

While the fingerprints of Alligator Indian can still be found on his debut track “Patriarch Angel,” the single is very much Christian’s own show. His voice (though altered and auto-tuned) is front and center and it slides up and down a weird R&B melody. In fact, the single would be downright conventional were it not for the fact that Christian dresses it up in chilly electronics, bizarre samples, and general eeriness.

Born Gold

"I Want to Be Naked"

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Last week, out of the blue, Born Gold dropped a brand new single called “I Want to Be Naked.” Now for those of you who complain about wanting the Bodysongs-era Born Gold back, feel free to listen to the track and then go ahead and shut your mouths. Because, yes, it definitely hearkens back to the big pop moments of his first album in a fair bit of fan service, but what’s more important is that “I Want to Be Naked” is also the kind of ambitious, forward-thinking pop music that only Cecil Frena can make.

Now while “I Want to Be Naked” is a standalone single, it’s not exactly a one-off. In addition to being in contention for song of the summer, the single also kickstarts No Sorrow, a new single/video series that will reboot every month. Motion to rename the 22nd Born Gold Day. Anyone wanna second that?

Smokey Emery

"Afore"

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In the past, Smokey Emery‘s music stuck out to me for the way that Daniel Hipólito was able to cull together disparate sounds and make something new and soothing out of them. And while he is still working with audio manipulation, his methods on “Afore” are a bit different than what we’ve heard him tackle in the past.

Taking a simple guitar line, Hipólito loops the sound until it’s lodged firmly in our mind. Then once we’ve become comfortable with the gentle repetition, he slowly begins to warp the track’s reality, adding background noise and a touch of reverb. Finally he layers the track on top of itself and twists the knobs until it no longer resembles itself. Then it disappears completely into the white noise.

“Afore” can be found on Smokey Emery’s latest album Soundtracks for Invisibility III: Qui Mal y Pense, out now via Holodeck Records.

United Nations

The Next Four Years

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United Nations‘ sophomore album The Next Four Years opens with a monstrous blast beat that immediately finds you looking down the barrel of a gun—actually, make that a canon, that is the band’s fiery sophomore album. This is no black metal outing, though. The band, which is really more of a collective, isn’t afraid of throwing anything and everything at the listener in service of obliterating ear drums. Of course this isn’t their only objective; the band also acts as a concept-of-sorts about the hypocrisy found in modern day punk music (the Black Flag-inspired cover even has something to say). But the music, particularly Geoff Rickly’s vocals, is so out-and-out ferocious that you’d have to sit down with the lyrics in front of you to really discern what they are unpacking.

Don’t worry though, if you’re just tuning in, there is plenty of fun to have with The Next Four Years that doesn’t entail unraveling its somewhat heady concept. In order to really appreciate what The Next Four Years represents, though, it’s important to know what the album was born out of. There is an undeniable amount of anger that flows through its veins, an anger that not only comes across in the album’s lyrics, but also its pure hardcore fury. And though the band features a rotating cast of members from bands like Converge, The Number Twelve Looks Like You, Glassjaw, and Pianos Become the Teeth, United Nations is largely the brainchild of Geoff Rickly. And once you’re aware of what the last few years have held for Rickly, the furor begins to make more sense.

I was fifteen years old when Thursday’s Full Collapse came out. And while many people would point to one of the band’s later albums as their pinnacle, I maintain that Full Collapse was the perfect moment in the band’s career. In a lot of ways, that album changed my life by forever altering the course of my music listening habits. It was hugely important to me, and in a lot of ways it still is. So it really blows my mind that many former Thursday fans are almost ashamed to say that they once listened to the band. This band that I damn near worshiped. And what’s worse is that frontman Geoff Rickly knows this full well. Adding further salt to the wound, the band itself came to an unceremonious end without Rickly’s input a few years ago. Knowing this makes the blistering heat of The Next Four Years feel all the more vital.

And yet for as angry the album is, there is plenty of winking here as well. I mean, one needs to have a healthy sense of humor when looking at the current state of punk rock music. I’m afraid that it’s that or choose the depressing black hole of cynicism that would surely follow. For example, just look at the trendy (and coincidentally sold out) Minor Threat t-shirt that you can pick up at your local Urban Outfitters—a t-shirt that Ian MacKaye happens to be perfectly fine with. It’s this sort of ridiculous watering-down that United Nations are taking issue with. Instead of righteous indignation though, the band smirks, shrugs it off by distilling the emotion down into two-minute blasts of shrieking hardcore madness.

Like I said earlier though, all of this conceptual business is secondary to that very hardcore madness that lies right there waiting for you on the surface. The message would be nothing without the vehicle of the music to get it across, and fortunately for Rickly and the rest of United Nations, The Next Four Years is one of the best hardcore albums I’ve heard this year. Its controlled chaos edges it close to power-violence territory as the songs are typically short, brutal and unrelenting. And at less than half-an-hour, the album is over before you know it. Quick and painful. Just how I like it.

The Next Four Years is out now via Temporary Residence.