Review: Helen “The Original Faces”

24 Aug 2015 — Evelyn Malinowski

One must rifle through something in order to reach Helen's The Original Faces full-in beauty, and it isn't distortion. The barricade between the album's heavenliness and our ears may or may not result from being over-familiar with Liz Harris' modus operandi; experiencing her vocal-puddling grandeur under a different guise partially informs this suspected barrier. The structural rock and friendly shoegaze, not to mention the application of a tambourine, distances us from longing, pleading, predictable, addictive Grouper. The Original Faces lacks any type of lull or shrugging shoulders. Executed in twelve short tracks, the band knows exactly what they want to accomplish and does it most succinctly. Be that as it may, I had a strange memory lapse in learning about the release. I thought to myself, "Oh, of course this is coming out, and that's great, and it feels deja-vu-y, and of course it's shoegazy, and there's a song called 'Allison,' which is probably a Slowdive cover." 

It's not; it's an original "Allison," and it's absolutely lovely. Throughout the album, lyrical layers accumulate and chantey with Jed Bindeman's hi-hat-heavy drums and Scott Simmon's slowly progressive electric guitar. "Dying All The Time" is a tight-knit snare, floor tom, and ride tapestry, one that digs and digs and digs through seemingly impassable surfaces. The tension and focus lifts every time Harris reenters, no matter the track. Finished in only thirty-three minutes, one might feel as if something has quickly washed over them, like an unnoticed storm that alters the temperature. Hit play again, and focus more. Find something to grab on to, such as the lingering vocals at the end of "Violet." 

Harris' indecipherable lyrics leave us fulfilled. The project is unique, and some Grouper fans likely rejoice in her appearance in a shoegaze band. The sound of Helen, on the other hand, is heavily habitual. If such is the case, how does the project still feel anomalous, a forces which satiates and calms someone who has been suffering from musical frustration? Gorgeous though it is, something about the album is fleeting, unavailable for grasping fully. Some people certainly love and prefer music like that.

Helen's freshman full-length will be out on September 4 on Kranky. You can check out their 7" from 2013, whose tracks will likewise appear on The Original Faces.

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Guest Post: Efterklang’s Rasmus Stolberg Recommends By the Lake Festival 2015

16 Aug 2015 — Editor

Rasmus Stolberg, member of Copenhagen veteran experimental luminaries Efterklang and Liima, is not only in charge of acclaimed radio station The Lake Radio but is also hosting and curating Berlin's By the Lake Festival, which is set to happen at the Freilichtbühne Weißensee on August 29. In anticipation of the event, Rasmus is introducing each of the performing artists. Watch videos by all of them and read his thoughts after the break. (ed.)

Find more details about the festival over here, and buy tickets here.

Timetable:

2:30pm Liima
4:00pm Lonnie Holley
5:30pm Burnt Friedman & Jaki Liebezeit
6:50pm Omar Souleyman
8:40pm Wildbirds & Peacedrums

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Auscultation “L’étreinte Imaginaire”

13 Aug 2015 — Evelyn Malinowski

Auscultation, in case you didn't know, is the name of technology used for listening to internal organs. The stethoscope is the best known and most timeless form of such technology. Not to comically liken recent Portland transplant Joel Shanahan's more cuddly project to stethscopic techno, "Promise You'll Haunt Me" is indeed a gentle harkening to what is up with the heart, whether it is that of the artist's or our own. The coating of analog film on the top layer of the album only briefly feels like the cold shock of the metal ring around the horn of a doctor's stethoscope. If you're accustomed to analog fuzz with house beats, this tape is your home. By the time lonesome-sounding "Drop Off" plays, the listening experience has evolved into a source of comfortable reflection via aurality. Each track is a soothing, melodic jam representative of Shanahan's particular craft, attention to detail, and willingness to do inner-work, which tends to be vaguely muzak-y, yet persistently enjoyable. Such qualities are found in the sounds of both Auscultation and his other moniker, Golden Donna.   

The latest Auscultation is out Friday, August 14, on 100% Silk.

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Watch: Kepla “Ordinant 6”

12 Aug 2015 — Henning Lahmann

What has made London blog/label No Pain In Pop so important in the past years is not so much the fact that mastermind Tom King has impeccable taste and the right ear to predict what the world the Internet wants to listen to tomorrow; others surely have that ability, too. No, it's rather that King somehow knows how to look at places no one else seems to even have access to. In this sense, the title of NPIP's ongoing series of compilations – The Bedroom Club – is anything but arbitrary. The new talent showcased here is almost exclusively composed of artists who indeed seem most comfortable in the reclusive semi-anonymity of their bedrooms; the music produced is not exactly depressed, but there's a certain noirish feel to almost all of it. A sentiment that of course has quite a tradition at NPIP, with a past roster including A Grave With No Name, Echo Lake, and of course Forest Swords. The compilation series' third edition is by no means an exception to this rule. The six tracks are slow, careful and intimate, exuding a gloomy atmosphere. This is music that not only seems to be made in isolation, but just as much made for it. For rainy Sundays after long club nights perhaps, when there's really nowhere else to go. The press release tells us accordingly:

Liverpool producer Jon Davies aka Kepla is one of those highly talented bedroom producers that I would likely never have got to know were it not for NPIP; and his track "Ordinant 6" is the prototypical Bedroom Club contribution. Informed by both noise and fading rave memories, the track only reluctantly unfolds over the course of five minutes. Largely rejecting discernible structure, it implies distant troubles, an effect that is beautifully augmented by the accompanying video with its abstract frames and occasional, disconcerting interruptions hinting at other things that might be going on here. We're premiering the video below.

The Bedroom Club III is out August 21. Pre-order the compilation on vinyl now over here.

Kepla will support William Basinski on his UK tour in September:

Tues 15 Sept - Cafe Oto, London
Weds 16 Sept - Islington Mill, Salford
Thurs 17 Sept - The Kazimier, Liverpool

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Visionist “Victim”

11 Aug 2015 — Henning Lahmann

After a string of 12" releases over the course of a few years on labels like Lit City Trax, Ramp Recordings, and Berlin's Leisure System, London's new grime pioneer Visionist has finally readied his debut full-length proper. Safe will be released by PAN on October 9, a new home for the artist which, of course, makes a whole lot of sense. Not only did PAN's Bill Kouligas and Visionist recently announce the merging of minds with new label Codes, which has had a terrific start with inaugural release by Acre & Filter Dread.

Even more significant seems to be the fact that by way of its still growing expat community, the reconfigeration of grime that has reinvigorated the UK scene in the past two or three years has slowly but steadily started to infiltrate the more challenging and captivating undercurrents of contemporary Berlin music, be it DJ sets or the local artists' own productions – think Janus, of course, but also a large part of CTM's focus as of late, and most recently the output of Joe Shakespeare and Kuedo's Knives imprint. In that sense, 'new' grime may be, alongside variations of Chicago footwork, one of the few actually forward-looking styles that have managed to break into and undermine the city's puristic techno/house prevalence. With Kouligas' open-minded and farsighted approach to signing, PAN has played an important role to pave the way for this welcome shift – last demonstrated with Janus affiliate M.E.S.H.'s excellent LP Piteous Gate. 

Visionist's Safe is music that, for the time being, could only really come out of London. But having found PAN as its creative home, the album will enable further change in Berlin, too. And that's something we should be grateful for.

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Review: Ducktails “St. Catherine”

11 Aug 2015 — Zachary Taube

Ducktails – the solo project of Real Estate's Matt Mondanile – has played a very important role in my life for reasons that I'm still unable to really put my finger on. Perhaps it's because Mondanile's earliest music never took itself too seriously; Ducktails' first few albums were filled with nothing more than the joy of experiment – lo-fi bedroom pop made by and for the 21st century suburban daydream. Mondanile wrote songs about pizza, the mall, about everyone's favorite importer/exporter, about the vibe and how not to kill it. When I first got on the Ducktails train some six years ago, I fell for Mondanile's effortless, even coy ability to produce no-pressure songs for no-pressure times – songs to get stoned, borrow your mom's honda and drive around the suburbs to. 

Since signing with Domino in 2011, Mondanile has left his hazy bedroom pop behind for a cleaner sound, more complex song structure, and, on his latest LP St. Catherine, a lyrical honesty that's been unseen in any of his catalogue up to date. St. Catherine is, in his own words, “mostly a breakup record. It’s a story, the beginning of the record is moving to the west coast and experiencing that, and then falling in love and then falling out of love, and then going back into it and then eventually it dissolves at the end.” It is in this effort to tell a story through an entire album that we find Mondanile pushing Ducktails into a completely new direction – one driven more by honesty and emotional exposure than by effortless, tongue-in-cheek pop experiment.

As far as production goes, St. Catherine is impeccably clean. Songs like "Surreal Exposure" are formally straightforward, combining baroque countermelodies with the Ducktails' classic phaser-ed guitar tone. "Heavens Room" – perhaps the most impressive song on St. Catherine – pairs a silky bass line with Romantic string orchestration and a chorus hook distantly sung by Julia Holter (the song is slowed down and revisioned on the last track of the album, "Reprise", which ends the record with a melancholic and nostalgic shudder). Mondanile's voice is equally present and his lyrics precise – he approaches feelings of frustration ("Headbanging in the Mirror"), amorous captivation ("Heavens Room") and jealousy ("Medieval") with unabashed emotional transparency – and he's no longer afraid to hide his voice behind a multiplicity of effects.

Yet it is the very concept of St. Catherine that sets the album apart from any other Ducktails release. The motif of religiosity is abundant; song titles like "Heavens Room", "Church" and "St. Catherine", as well as the cover art – a photo of religious sculptures in a seemingly Italian Renaissance church (pardon my inability to distinguish classic works of art from a distance) – point to a certain holiness, and assert that the entire album should be taken as a work or "high(er)" art. St. Catherine is certainly sentimental, and even a bit melodramatic at times, yet it is precisely this fearless sentimentality that makes it Ducktails' most riveting album to date.

St. Catherine is out now on Domino.

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Graham Dunning “Retort”

31 Jul 2015 — Richard Greenan

Some time back Henning mused on the death of the music blog, and the rise of the micro label in its place. I'd say this is a fair assumption. A good case in point would be London's Seagrave – a steady stream of neon-tinged cassettes and the occasional 12", etched with everything from harsh noise (Cementimental) to rough-around-the-edges hip-hop instrumentals (Mute-Tiny). Cycling through these releases is a bit like tapping into a stranger's iTunes playlists, or indeed blog – except you now make a small donation, and are sent a colourful artifact in return. It's this inclusiveness and affordability that marks the transfer from 'blogosphere' to a DIY democracy of small imprints.

Seagrave's recent digital comp is a good example of this shift. An extensive collection of lolloping, transgressive electronics, hand-picked by label founder Tim Matts, Agave Res can be yours for three quid. These tunes fizz with the awkward menace of a pirate radio rip, or some discarded demo that came too hot through the mixer. Perhaps the centrepiece is Graham Dunning's "Retort" – a cut from his mad mechanical techno project. That's right, Dunning stacks records like pancakes, adorning the tower with contact mics and other gizmos – swinging like the arms of some deranged Rube Goldberg machine – to create woozy, aleatoric techno. Long live little labels.

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Cherushii “Memory of Water” (exclusive)

30 Jul 2015 — Evelyn Malinowski

Between her freshman release and upcoming tape, San Francisco's Chelsea Faith aka Cherushii has been busy applying her distinctive style to a variety of areas. Given that she is an active DJ and music maker, we can find plenty of self-released material on her Bandcamp, such as delightful Nobody's Fool EP and Starlight Express EP, whose feelgood watercolor artwork is provided by Faith's sister. Her one-year old remix of Fina Fisken's "Save The Day" is a strongwilled, trancey must-have, even if "trancey" steers you clear.

While it's laughably typical to describe the world of Cherushii as glitter-filled, SF to a T, rave pop, or techno textbook, these catchphrases nonetheless fit the bill, although Faith has an easy time excercizing her broader musicality. Memory of Water, for example, is a melodic journey within pop framework and solacing ambient overtones. It departs from 4-to the floor confetti and eases the listener into a sweet, warm storyline. Starting off with "I Dreamed I Saw You By The Lake," an absorbent, beatless anthem, our ears are effortlessly nestled into this album's particular mood and tuning. By the time "Pillow Palace" begins, sentiments like smiling and intrigue are submitted to. "Thin Line" features Not Not Fun all-star Maria Minerva, a real life homegirl and tour companion of Faith. It's really nice to hear Minerva within this context, and I would love to see a music video for this piece which feels like a long-lost Petshop Boys hit. Other tracks like "Ultraviolet Nights" and "Moonflower Galaxy" have their appositeness to the dancefloor, but, supplant tracks always take us back to a spacious, at-ease destination. "Everything Is In Color" is a Neverending Story, Moroder-esque statement of vibrant severity, a testament of how intensely enrapturous - and fun - space and time can be (if you think about it). That's an utterly Sagittarian quality.

Memory Of Water is highly recommended and out as soon as August 14th on 100% Silk.

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