Author Archive

HOMESHAKE

"Making a Fool of You"

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Newness from HOMESHAKE is always cause for a smile. As it is I’m sitting here snacking on a bag of popcorn-flavored Jelly Bellys that I found in my room and spinning his latest single “Making a Fool of You” for probably the fifth time in a row. The two go together really well, and it’s a vibe that I’m not ready to shake just yet, probably because I know that I have to wake up and go back to work tomorrow.

So for now I’m listening to Peter Sagar and picturing him leaning back with his guitar—probably in a sunroom or comfortably lit parlor—getting funky with some buttery guitar licks. Like much of HOMESHAKE’s music, the track is laid-back and languid and fits squarely in what could best be described as the “easy listening” category. Just not the same easy listening that your dad insists on listening to on long car trips.

“Making a Fool of You” is from HOMESHAKE’s upcoming album In the Shower—out October 7th via Sinderlyn.

Code Orange

I Am King

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Several years ago when Converge played a show with Pittsburgh’s Code Orange Kids, frontman Jacob Bannon saw something of himself in the young band. Something that struck a chord deep within him. The band’s violent and confident take on metalcore, a genre that Bannon himself had a hand in birthing, was enough to seal the deal and it wasn’t long after that Bannon signed the band to his label Deathwish Inc for their scrappy debut album Love Is Love/Return to Dust. Boasting a strong, classic metalcore sensibility, the album was a fine beginning to an energetic hardcore band that was just waiting to hit it big. And though the album was a lot of fun to listen to, the ambition of its reach didn’t extend too terribly far. Very obviously raised on a diet of their new mentors Converge as well as bands like Botch and Terror, Code Orange Kids put a steel-toed-boot-clad foot forward that, while not exactly reinventing the wheel, showed that the band had potential out the wazoo as well as a degree in knowing how to really tear things up.

In the two year span since Love Is Love/Return to Dust Code Orange Kids have kept themselves pretty busy. On top of a rigorous touring schedule and putting out several EPs and splits, the band has taken a big step as far as careers go—changing their name. Sure, they have only dropped the “Kids” part of the name officially making them Code Orange from here on out, but still the alteration carries some serious weight. It’s as if the band has retreated into a self-made cocoon before the unveiling of their hotly-anticipated sophomore album I Am King. They’ve taken serious steps towards maturity, both in their overall aesthetic and their songwriting. The most obvious and probably corny way of putting it is that they aren’t Kids anymore. Go ahead and roll your eyes if you must, but in dropping the juvenile portion of their nomenclature, Code Orange has stepped into a larger arena. They are sitting at the adults’ table now, and they are more than adept at holding their own there.

I’ve always maintained that the four members of Code Orange don’t look anything at all like the ferocious music they make might suggest. With their moppy hair and baggy clothing, they look less like the typical metalheads and more like extras from a lost episode of Freaks & Geeks—and I mean that in the absolute best way possible. If nothing else, the way in which Code Orange choose to present themselves serves to tell listeners that this isn’t the typical metalcore band. Don’t let their unassuming exterior fool you though. As I Am King will show, this band with their brutal riffs, can run with even the heaviest of bands. It’s not a bait-and-switch as much as it’s a defying of expectations and the further you dig into I Am King, the more you realize that any expectations at all will do best by being left at the door.

It’s no secret that metalcore is a genre that’s in serious trouble. What was once an exciting genre on the frontlines of style hybridization has now become a cut-and-paste checklist that results in style way before substance. Thankfully though, Code Orange has re-emerged with I Am King to remind listeners that all is not lost and that metalcore can once again be exciting to listen to. Overhauling the notion of what the genre means, the band has taken everything they know, put it in a blender (with generous dollops of sludge metal, doom, grunge, and some other experimental bits), thrown the resulting mess against the wall, and then gotten their hands dirty. Smearing a visage into the thick mess, the band has turned it into a jarring mural that’s as brutal as it is forward thinking.

And with every bizarre little moment that pricks the ear, Code Orange are stretching themselves and it shows. Right off the bat, I Am King reveals itself to be a metalcore album that’s more concerned with inverting expectations than lazily meeting them. The title track opens with alternately muted and buzzing guitar tones that feel like something lifted straight from a horror movie and the shadows only gets darker from there. Like the album’s artwork, the macabre nature of I Am King is grotesque and ugly to behold, but if you can get past the shock factor that Code Orange very obviously want to project, there is a lot going on behind the scenes that would require you use your brain cells rather than headbang them away. The chaos is orderly with a strangely beautiful aesthetic that feels almost mathematical the more you listen. But to keep things from feeling too familiar, every time Code Orange begin to build something where you can see the details forming, they turn around and burn it down before you can get your fingers around. It’s a cruel game, but one that keeps listeners on their toes.

One of the biggest compliments that I can pay Code Orange is that they’ve learned how to use their natural resources—most notably Reba Meyers. Not to single her out, but she is a short spitfire who is the band’s ace in the hole, and it would be criminal to ignore her very specific contributions. On I Am King, the band takes advantage of the diversity of vocal range that she enables and utilizes it to full effect. Though not the lead vocalist, Reba lends her voice to some of the album’s more melodic moments and sets the work apart simply by doing so. Modern metalcore is a genre that flirts dangerously with gross misogyny, and while Code Orange are far from being the typical metalcore band, it’s still refreshing to see them not only stare those prejudices down, but view their female contributor as an integral part of their very unique equation.

In the last couple of weeks, I Am King has pretty much dominated my airwaves. Catchy music isn’t necessarily melodic so with that in mind, man, this is one catchy album. Despite that shell of ugliness that the album is surrounded in, it’s a compulsively listenable experience that, despite its jagged edges, goes down easily and rewards relistening… and more relistening. Music that hits with the weight of a sledgehammer rarely gets this fun and each time they bring that metal down it’s even better than the last time. It hurts so good as the saying goes, and though they’d never deliver the blows with a smile, I’d be willing to bet that Code Orange are having one hell of a good time as they do it, even if they aren’t kids anymore.

I Am King is out now via Deathwish Inc.

BEIJU

"Narcissistic"

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If you were a fan of the well-loved but short-lived Brooklyn band Night Manager, then you probably already know about Blood Sister, the new-ish project of founding member Ezana Edwards. What you may not know however, is that Ezana is not the only member of Night Manager to continue writing music under a different name. As the frontwoman for a new project called BEIJU, vocalist Caitlin Seager has apparently also been keeping busy. And it’s good to have her back.

“Narcissistic,” BEIJU’s first official single, debuted earlier this week on a newly minted Bandcamp page, and it’s easily one of this week’s best surprises. On top of a slinking bass line, stormy synth work, and a shit-ton of reverb, Caitlin’s vocals pierce through the noise with a punchy melody and some relaxing ooh’s and ahh’s. Add to that some biting lyrics about dependence on social media and, well, I think we’ve got a hit on our hands.

Advertising

Pull

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Working minimum wage jobs in stressful conditions is tough. Although if you were to talk to my parents, they’d wax poetic about the virtues of holding such positions because they not only test your character but they also provide colorful life experiences. I’m currently stuck in one of those said positions as delivery driver for an Italian restaurant. After having spent the better part of two years searching for a “real job,” I had to eventually swallow my pride, accept the job market for what it is, and take the only job I could find. So here I am. It hasn’t been all bad, though. The money is actually pretty good and I like the people that I work with, so I really shouldn’t be complaining. But if I’m being honest here, this delivery gig is actually one of the most stressful jobs I’ve held down. I’m currently working six days a week (including weekends) and since I am only one of two drivers at the restaurant I’m on the go pretty much nonstop. And though I’m thankful for the income, I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t taking a toll on my personal life. It’s made things like finding time for friends and family, running a label, or even writing here for Portals really complicated.

When talking to Ricky Balmaseda of Brooklyn band Advertising, I wanted to sort of pick his brain about what exactly went into the recording of Pull, the band’s debut album. I’ve been listening to it a lot lately, especially while driving deliveries to and fro, and I was surprised that the sentiments that went into the writing seriously mirror what I’ve been feeling lately. During my chat with Ricky I found out that the album deals heavily with feelings of being lost, restless, and just being frustrated with trying to figure out exactly who you are.

This relatable sentiment is reflected in not only the album’s lyrics, but its intentionally chosen title. Advertising understand what it is to be pulled in many different directions and to feel like you don’t really have complete control of your life. The band also use this angle to represent the way that a lot of young people are feeling these days. Ricky went on to mention larger topics like “police brutality,  gentrification, the banality of day jobs, lost loves from different cities, [and] the obvious influence of the mass media on our generation.” That’s a lot of heavy stuff to take in, and the more you dwell on it, the more you can begin to feel suffocated. Fortunately the band also know that dwelling on all of the noise isn’t healthy, and their larger message is about bringing the people that matter to you in close and succeeding via togetherness.

Of course, all this talk would be made even heavier if the music weren’t so damn catchy. They’re poking at some really serious things, but Advertising also know how to have a good time. Having gotten their start in the peculiar Syracuse music scene, the members of Advertising have spent their time playing in numerous other bands (SSWAMPZZ, Gyaos, etc). Once together they would geek out on the music of Women and bands of the post-Women ilk like Each Other and Un Blonde. They tinkered with different genres and styles and then boiled all of what they gathered together down into the angular math rock that can be heard on their adventurous album Pull.

Math rock by its nature is rigid music whose boundaries are more or less defined. When you listen to Pull, you’ll no doubt hear a very math-y foundation, but little about it has anything to do with rigidity. There is a loose quality to their music that keeps it feeling lanky and unpredictable. It’s the same sort of quality that makes fellow Brooklyn bands like Ava Luna and Celestial Shore such a joy to listen to. These bands know their own capabilities and trust their instincts enough to let those capabilities run wild. One listen to the unhinged, ramping madness of some of Advertising’s tracks like “Monolith” or “Ending” will tell you that. It’s angular and punchy and seems to thumb its nose at convention, but it does it with an impish grin and a tight grip on melody.

This sense of fun is essentially what holds the album together amidst its heavy message. These days it’s so easy to look at the news and everything that is going on around and become discouraged. Keeping yourself from sinking into a cycle of dread can be a daily struggle. “Ending” goes, “Comfort for your shaking hand, I just dread this apartment again.” Advertising know what it means to feel stuck and to not always know a way out. They sing, ”Hallelujah, today it’s a Wednesday. Follow the tightrope, walk through the door way.” As for me, I’m heading back to work tomorrow. Back to the grind of walking the tightrope. Thinking about it now is stressing me out a bit, but then again, I still have a job and I still have Pull on my iPhone. And for now, well, that’s good enough for me.

Pull is available now via Prison Art.

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.