Review: Ellis Swan “I’ll Be Around”

24 Sep 2014 — Dalton Vogler

When it comes to learning more about the man behind the music, there’s not a whole lot we know regarding reclusive Chicago-based artist Ellis Swan. With the exception of a few Soundcloud plaudits and a brief feature from a local magazine, Swan has gotten pretty good at keeping his backstory from getting in the way of his music projects.

And to be fair, that’s where most of our attention should be focused. With his newest release, I’ll Be Around, Swan has constructed a beautiful, haunting album that borrows folk elements to create a uniquely “noir” sound. It’s a bedroom artist production, but only by name, as Swan’s mind-altering use of space transports you beyond an intimate setting.

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Relying primarily on a guitar and vocals, I’ll Be Around is a raw, emotional outpouring of fear and remorse, peppered with light storytelling to transition from track to track. In what could be considered the single from the album, “It Comes Tonight”, Swan’s sapped vocals and warbling delivery claw away at the listener. His fatigue becomes our fatigue, suggesting that it’s taking every ounce of strength to eke out the next verse.

On songs such as “Shooting Sparrows” or “Where the Road Ends”, his voice melds with the pervading static and gives off the impression that he’s on the verge of dissipating, as if the record will deteriorate in your ears before completion. It’s a rich, bizarrely pleasing sound that compels you to listen through, even if it aches to continue onward.

Though his self-described genre tag of “post-hillbilly” is what initially lured me into listening, the truth is that Ellis Swan’s LP is a decaying southern gothic world plucked straight from the mind of a displaced soul, a self-reflective odyssey that transports us into a long forgotten era. And it’s unlike anything else you’ll experience in music this year. 

I’ll Be Around is available for purchase here.

The Boy & Sister Alma “Lady Killer”

23 Sep 2014 — Evelyn Malinowski

I introduced you guys to The Boy & Sister Alma last year. At the time, I found their EP to be hands down perfect for the atmosphere of the holiday season -- they even made a Christmas song. In hearing their new material, which bears some immaculate quality from pop heaven, I find once again that they've graciously generated sounds that speak to the season. Hailing from Helena, Montana, Lenny Eckhardt and Jennifer Murphy manage perfect pop structures and breathtaking melodies that are both cool and nostalgic, especially in the case of their new single, "Lady Killer," a part of Retro Promenade's Vox Populi 2 compilation. Adorned with lyrical cadence and some furtiveness concerning desire tucked safely away in melodic undercurrents, this track should be dealt with as if a message from the autumn that is about to hit, the falling forward, the pre-nostalgia that arrives before the actual autumn.


 

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Miracle Sweepstakes “Maker’s Script” (exclusive)

23 Sep 2014 — Henry Schiller

On “Maker’s Script”, NYC-based Miracle Sweepstakes straddle a fine line between the instrumental gobbledygook of Pere Ubu and the neurotic fortitude of a secret show in a Bushwick basement (with some of the bloodshot sci-fi of Piper at the Gates of Dawn thrown in for good measure). In spite of a heavy sonic presence, “Maker’s Script” is instrumentally austere. The weight of the track is borne mostly on one guitar part that refuses to reconcile itself to either assaultive rhythm or semi-prodigal spasms.

Around this wanders caustic drums, which reverse at one point, and bass as sharp and precise as anything on Remain in Light. There’s a palpable psych pop influence with the theremin, vibraphone, and vocals sounding like an incantation being recited in an ancient English field. A middle section of the song, where the drums go backwards, feels like a Beach Boys sample is subtly encroaching no-wave.

In the Alan Moore sense, “Maker’s Script” is a Swamp Thing of a track. Taken part by part it's easily identified by a range of psych-pop, post-punk and lo-fi influences, but taken as a whole the amalgamation is no longer recognizable as anything other than something before unheard of; so fine and delicate is this monster’s stitching. “Maker’s Script”, and it's Dr. Frankenstein, Miracle Sweepstakes, share superficial features with other well known acts (The Fall and Pere Ubu come to mind), but as a substance unto itself, it is something unique and fired with urgency.

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Preview: Decibel 2014 NFOP Favorites

13 Sep 2014 — Evelyn Malinowski

Last year Kelsie and I had the pleasure of attending Seattle's beloved and rather large Decibel Festival. While the overall curation of this event was and will continue to be professionally executed, one thing that stuck out as a negative was the line-up's startling lack of female artists. This year, however, there are more than a handful female artists, as well as a wide range of acts that use electronic instruments in various ways to relay diverse messages. By presenting an expansive line-up, Decibel ends up appealling to all types of music lovers, whether techno and club music agrees with them or not, which is a deed that affectively and somewhat diplomatically assists in adjusting the North American attitude toward electronic music. Starting small and intimate, dB has turned into a crucial beacon for techno advocation and forward thinking in the States. It is put on yearly by passionate fans and strong believers in the many assets offered by this world of music and sounds.

Below is a list of NFOP-recommended artists who are playing this year. Some of them you will know, some of them might be new to you. Some we have collaborated with and reviewed, others we will be supporting, or continuing to support, in the years to come. I'll post a recap post-festival.

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Natasha Kmeto – Portland (Dropping Gems/Federal Prism)
Natasha has made several appearances on NFOP. For proudest example, she contributed a guest post last year in response to our feelings on Decibel's 2013 line-up. Apart from proving to be a reliable voice in political matters within the arts, Natasha's music is compelling, bold, successful in blurring the lines between genres, which helps blurs the lines of conventions, and, yes, it is sexy. With its hues of r-n-b, otherwise clubby grooves and understatedly fantastic beat work, there is something for everyone in her grooves. Further, her live sets are brilliant, full of energy and sweat. She works the crowd like an MC, like a DJ, like a back-up singer taking center stage for thirty minutes or more, like a professional performer. I've seen her live twice now, and I imagine the third time will be even sweatier.

Natasha's performance will be part of the commencing showcase, or Opening Gala, Sept. 24th at the EMP Sky Church. Accompanying her groove will be visual work from EFFIXX, whose aesthetic consecrates the place where all tricksters hang out, that nexus of unlikely components. In this case, its technology, mysticism and mythology.

Ana Sia – San Francisco (Frite Nite)
With Ana Sia, you can experience both some minimal techno attitude and comprehensive, animated percussion. The tracks are filtered through aberration, equipped with frequent swells and corresponding perigees, and embedded with archetypal vocal samples, Detroit style - it's nastily delicious. It's upbeat but semi-dark, breakbeat-ish, and demonstrative of Ana's playful command. Take “Imma Boss” for example, where a warehouse melody greets us with cadenced drums, which transform around more than that rave melody. Isn't it usually the opposite? Ana Sia runs appropriately with the Bay's Frite Nite crew.

Ana Sia will be playing the 24th at Neumos for the Bassdrop Presents Showcase between Seattle's WD4D and the one and only Prefuse 73.

Sassmouth - Chicago (God Particle)
Sam Kern aka Sassmouth has been behind the wheels for years upon years, actively pursuing the challenge of connecting songs as seamlessly as possible, without ever dropping the mood. Sometimes, such a task requires smaller bits and bolts, neutral ground, and suggestive, repetitive flare. As the founder of the God Particle label, which operates solely to manufacture, release, and promote simple, straightforward bits and bolts to fill and level out mixes, Kern can be considered a conduit for the house DJ continuum, a clever fan and musician who has augmented and celebrates the side of DJing that requires "filler" songs. She is also somewhat of an icon for the neverending pure, midwestern house mix, even though the mix does end. 

Sassmouth will be playing Sunday the 28th alongside Brian Lyons vs. Nordic Soul and London's T.Williams at Re-Bar.

Total Freedom – Los Angeles (Fade To Mind)
I've had two random club-drop-ins where Total Freedom was in overwhelming command of the crowd. Both times, I freaked out dancing uncontrollably, throwing away the idea that I was only going to be there for thirty minutes. Ashland Mines' authority is accomplished and maintained by frequent song-changing and a fast-but-not-too-fast tempo. Additionally, there's some kind of appetite for noise afoot in his sets as well as productions. It isn't dubstep, it isn't d-n-b throwback either: it's Total Freedom. Additionally, Mines is an active and influential collaborator, and has worked with Kelela, Gang Gang Dance, Nguzunguzu and many others.

Total Freedom will appear at the rather enthralling Optical 1: Kinesthesia Showcase on Sept. 24th at the EMP Sky Church. Basically, it's important that you make it to this session, because Arca will be performing with Live/AV from Jesse Kanda followed by more live/av from Max Cooper and The Sight Below. Optical 1 is likely to be a comprehensive experience in where noise, post-pop hip-hop, and techno mysticism all collide.

Rrose – New York (Eaux/Sandwell District)
Deliberately obfuscating and somewhat politically satirical via dark yet rich textures, Rrose is doubtlessly one of today's most innovative producers. Spiritual and avant-garde, Rrose emerges from the Sandwell District realm, a place revered for poignantly perfect techno packaged by images of skulls, dead birds, and other Halloween-all-year tokens. Despite this tone, the sounds of Rrose are extremely healing by way of their intrinsic softness, gradualism, and unapologetic repetitiousness. Parts of what is represented through this act touch on the same ethos that Nik Void of Factory Floor and Chris & Cosey evoke, however with less colors: a history of techno before techno gestated, combined with modernity's industrial weariness, all in the language of contemporary techno.

The Pitchblack Showcase at Re-Bar on the 24th will likely be one of this year's strongest events, complete with Vatican Shadow and Black Asteroid.

Cock & Swan – Seattle (Hush Hush)
Our own Kelsie Brown noted Cock & Swan's musical longevity half a year ago. Their sound can be described as indie dreamscape with soothing lyricism, as it uses just enough electronics to get to where they need to go. At times they display inclination toward old school downtempo, Lamb-like or Alpha-like structures. As part of the Hush Hush label, where Slow Year and Chants likewise reside, Cock & Swan stand out as perhaps the more organic act available on the roster; that isn't to say they don't fit harmoniously in what the overall atmosphere of Hush Hush is. I find Hush Hush a bit nostalgic for the early Leaf Label, with solemn and well-garbed artists. It's music that channels the sound of rain against the window on most days.

Cock & Swan will play the Hush Hush Showcase Friday Sept. 26th at the JBL Theater with Slow Year, Hanssen, and Kid Smpl.

Braids/Blue Hawaii – Montreal, CA (Arbutus/Full Time Hobby/Flemish Eye)
Braids and Blue Hawaii are NFOP all-stars, and their commonality, Raphaelle Standell-Preston, can be regarded as one of our favorite singers. Braids are originally Calgary and now Montreal-based production geniuses, touching on glitch, experimental, and pop. Their rather devoted international fan base speaks a volume or two to the quality and emotionality of their live performances. It's indeed fascinating to watch drummer Austin Tuffs play the piano part in the gorgeous, rainy track “Girl” on his drum pad (which he isn't doing in this video); it's stimulating to witness their detailed electronic songs deconstructed and played by physical movement. Braids are an exemplary and literal electronic music band.

Blue Hawaii is made of Standell-Preston and her dear friend Alex Cowan. Their second release “Untogether” caused quite a ruckus within the NFOP community as well as the neo-pop subculture. Its dancey, sentimental complexity, seen by the cover image of the two members embracing and disappearing as they do, reflects on the contemporary attitude toward relinquishing youth, physical distance, and confusing friendship for romance. Check out NFOP's BCR show with Alex here.

Definitely catch Braids do their spectacular thing at The Crocodile on the 24th for The Haunted Pop Showcase, which also will host Son Lux, Manatee Commune and Helado Negro. Blue Hawaii will play the Sines Of Life Showcase on the 26th at Showbox alongside El Ten Elevent, Yppah, and Vox Mod.

Andy Stott – Manchester, UK (Modern Love)
Stott is the prince of slow disco, or perhaps by now, the king. Drawing on UK bass, ambient, dub and some other kind of divine but not cheesy force, Stott's work engenders that we silently contemplate ephemeral matters, impermanence, and wet dreams about time travel as the music washes over us. Frequently coded over with striking vocals while the melodic aspects throbbingly waver in and out of clear earshot, this is the music of the death of summer as well as truths about where the big 2012 cultural shift is leading us – not to an apocalyptic place, I'd say. That's too singular of an answer.

YES YES YES YES Modern Love Showcase also with Millie & Andrea (Miles Whitaker and Stott) and Demdike Stare is at the EMP Level 3 on Friday the 25th!!

ASC – San Diego (Auxiliary/Silent Season)
Really excited to see James Clements on the line-up. I've liked his sparse, beautiful music for some years, as it can go into either aggressive jungle territory or back to childlike wondering-what-it's-like-to-fly curiosity. With plenty of indication of UK hardcore and drum-n-bass in his work, ASC also manages to bring something timeless and personal to the world of ambient pad music. It's a pastoral, overcast, chilly place, which makes one think, “Just five more minutes, then back inside for tea.” Clements' latest Truth Be Told is Bvdub-esque, meditative lamentation for something perpetually out of reach. It was released by Vancouver's Silent Season imprint, which lauds the vastness of foggy temperate rainforests and the creatures that dwell therein. As opposed to some of his older work, Clements' fresher sound is coded with genuine praise for all things beautiful and the human experience. Such declaration correlates with the growing cultural trend of using technology and digitally produced sounds to better commune with the natural world. There is so much to learn from this seeming paradox, and I'm not just saying that because it's been important to me for most of my life.

ASC is part of the Silent Season Showcase on the 26th at the JBL Theater. Be sure to not miss a DJ set by label founder Jamie McCue, Segue, nor visuals from Danthon.

Oneohtrix Point Never + Nate Boyce - New York (Warp)
DID YOU KNOW that OPN recently went on tour with Soundgarden and the Nine Inch Nails? It's true, shocking, and pretty profound. This tidbit probably settles with most of us agreeably, for OPN's music implies a type of laziness and Nintendo Peter Pan personality, who still has Soundgarden posters up in his bedroom, above the dirty clothes bin. Boyce's early 90s, glistening apartment aesthetic fits OPN's melted video game cartridge sound. Need I say more?

OPN + Boyce will be performing at Optical 3: Playful Discord alongside Kangding Ray and Atom TM's HD/AV at the EMP Sky Church. Really looking forward to this - it'll be an event that re-centers its audience about where/how the recent exhumation of interest in walking through dissonant, atonal spaces originated.

Nordic Soul – Seattle (Decibel/Studio 4//4)
Nordic Soul is Sean Horton's DJ guise. As the founder of dB, Horton commonly plays showcases, which is doubtlessly one of the ways for Horton to more fluently interact with attendees, attendants, and artists. I had the pleasure of first catching a Nordic Soul set here in Missoula, Montana during the inaugral DAT Music Conference. Horton threw down classics new and old, covered a range of styles but never with any kind of strain, confusion, or lack of vividness. There remained a certain amount of dreaminess throughout those two hours. It was wholesome, devoted, and somewhat transcendental.

Catch Nordic Soul and Bryan Lyons dualing set Sept. 28 at Flammable: Decibel Edition going down at Re-Bar alongside Sassmouth and T.Williams.

Isis Graham – Calgary, CA (Substation)
There's been more and more substantial material being broadcasted out of Alberta. Apart from Normals Welcome, an Edmonton-based label, Calgary's Substation Recordings has the goods. Isis Graham, a considerably prolific producer and remixer, gets the job done with cadenced house and easily consumable clubby grooves. As an integral part of the Girls On Decks collective, Graham can be treated as a succeeding advocate for quality techno plus gender awareness in Canada. Such a revival in Canada surely speaks to a greater North American call-to-arms for forward thinking electronic music. At it since the late 90s, Graham is a hand of perseverance and stylistic wisdom.

Go out with a bang closing night at the All Gone Pete Tong Showcase with Tensnake and Pete Tong himself Sept. 28th at Q.

Vatican Shadow – Los Angeles (Hospital Productions/Blackest Ever Black/Modern Love)
Complete with Reich referencing, black and white color scheme, and dark, hypnotic, and militant tracks, Dominick Fernow's project concurringly affliates with Blackest Ever Black as well as Modern Love, but mostly releases on his own Hospital Productions, along with work by Silent Servant, Ron Morelli, and Kevin Drumm. Since the late 90s, Fernow has been busy working to bring industrial techno and meandering, dark dance music together in unqiue ways, and so far, we're barely touching the tip of the iceberg. His latest, Death Is Unity With God, is an extensive release bearing several apposite titles for the moniker created only to comment on and convey post-Catholic apocalypse esoterica. 

Catch VS Sept. 24 for the Pitchblack Showcase at Re-Bar.

HOMESHAKE “Making A Fool of You”

12 Sep 2014 — Henry Schiller

Montreal-based musician Peter Sagar’s nominal motto of “all caps, all the time” gives the name of his solo project HOMESHAKE the look of an advertisement in a garden center. It feels like the capitalization is the actual name, and that the scramble of letters are just flavoring.

Why is this relevant? Because on “Making A Fool of You”, a track from HOMESHAKE’s upcoming In The Shower LP, presentation is everything. Like the capitalization that turned Homeshake into HOMESHAKE, “Making A Fool of You” has the affectation of force – a snappy drum ride and almost aggressively slick bass – but plays it off like it's just a bit of nothing special. As with anything that has to do with typefaces, the track's supposed suaveness is all a front for some sort of higher-order anguish.

HOMESHAKE is the subtle rush of a cool glass of water drunk on a day where all you wanted to do was drink a cool glass of water. On "Making A Fool of You", soothing, smooth jazz overtones are buttered with pillow talk moans of vocals that sound like they originate from the sore throat of someone who’s been crying, filtered through a moustache that could only be described as ‘righteous’. Sagar, an Edmonton transplant, names Canada’s icy landscapes as a source of inspiration for his music's chilled disposition. Indeed, "Making A Fool of You" feels like it could soundtrack a steep, dangerous descent into the bowels of a glacier made by two college-aged lovers on a weekend getaway. Aww.

In The Shower is out October 7 on Sinderlyn.

 

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Anjou “fieldwork”

11 Sep 2014 — Henry Schiller

Anjou reunites Labradford's Robert Donne and Mark Nelson. The project is their first collaboration since the release of Labradford’s Fixed::Context LP in 2000, and “fieldwork” is a track from their upcoming self-titled debut. Joined by percussionist Steven Hess (Locrian, Fennesz), “fieldwork” sounds less like groupwork and more like a single entity that's shrugged its way out of the dead leaves and ivy; there are no egos fighting for dominance, just a swampman's organs living in delicate synchronicity. “fieldwork” is reminiscent of fellow Kranky artist Tim Hecker’s recent output, as well as the kind of sonic naturalism found in the work of avan-garde ocean explorer Jurgen Muller. Indeed, following Muller, “fieldwork” feels more like a journal entry in some naturalist’s aural notebook than it does a piece of ambient songcraft.

“fieldwork” is a meditative ode to habitat: an ode to thorny thickets and neglected gardens, and to the almost contemplative stillness that is survival for so much life (plant life, mostly) on planet Earth. Arboreal foley work lingers in between the lulling static and Hess’ earthen strikes on a Viking drum. There are delectable (and unpredictable) shifts between resonant fixtures and more bellicose, nerve-wrecking moments, which are evocative of wild – though ultimately not very obvious – shifts in nature. “fieldwork” is an impressive piece of ambient music; Anjou never seem to worry that they might lose their audience to its mesmerizing tranquility, and as such the hints of more frenetic fare are subtle decoration rather than garrulous impositions.

Anjou is out September 15 on Kranky.

 

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Tomboy “Moths”

10 Sep 2014 — Henry Schiller

We are certainly not afraid of pop, but it can still be somewhat daunting to write about a track that does not try to obscure its pop sensibilities behind a sham of electronica and ambience and, instead, wears them loudly and proudly on its sleeve. “Moths", the latest from Brooklyn duo Tomboy (Sarah Aument and William Shore), belongs to that latter group of demons. "Moths" is an electro-pop earsplash that both respects and subverts the contemporary presence of pop music. No, Aument’s clear and powerful vocals are not necessarily challenging any radio pop norms, but they do sound quite anomalous in a world of filtration, distortion, and trigger-happy studio subterfuge. 

The production on "Moths" is austere: the track's brunt is borne by sparse syncopated beats, which rest halfway between tonal and percussive, and as a result straddle a strange line between bedroom electronica and hip-hop. On the other hand, “Moths” sounds kind of like Homogenic-era Bjork as reinterpreted by AlunaGeorge. Though definitely more midsummer than early autumn, Tomboy give "Moths" enough flexibility to make a proverbial jump in a pile of leaves feel like a dive into a swimming pool.

Tomboy play Brooklyn’s Glasslands on September 23; their self-titled debut is out this fall.

 

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Axxon N “Petri Dish”

09 Sep 2014 — Henry Schiller

It took four years for UK producer Axxon N (whose pseudonym is an appropriately obscure reference to David Lynch's Inland Empire) to construct  “Petri Dish”, a nearly danceable mishmash of savage samples and percussive experimentation. The length of the recording process seems to have had nothing to do with a lack of ideas on Axxon N's part: “Petri Dish” feels like it's been packed to a bursting point with four years worth of samples, headaches, and technical ingenuity.

Rather than a digital drum machine, the knife-sharp percussion on “Petri Dish” sounds like it might have been generated from samples of:
a) quarter inch cables making brief contact with active inputs
b) microphones getting too close to a singer’s mouth, then shattering
c) trash can lids that have somehow been hooked up to phase shifters

Choppy and repetitive, “Petri Dish” bears some resemblance to a version of Kraftwerk that’s been turned on its head. Rather than take something emotive and turn it into something technological and methodological, as Kraftwerk did with their pop music forebears, Axxon N turns the inhuman and digital into something feral and organic. And so, “Petri Dish”, an apt title for Axxon N’s high-energy samplethon; it's a science experiment. A living explosion of activity that feels like it's caught between a biology student's thesis and the catastrophic release of a dangerous pathogen.

Axxon N’s debut album Heal is out October 13 on Domestic.

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