Francine Thirteen “Lady Mary, The Fire/Pars Una”

26 Jun 2015 — Anaïs Duplan

Francine Thirteen is important. An afronaut hailing from Dallas, Francine Thirteen describes her latest work as "ritual pop." This is a smart move – not only because "ritual pop" is indeed a fitting picture of the Venusian's music, but also because of the mutual power that the two words "ritual" and "pop" lend to each other. ‘Ritual’ evokes the transformation (and conglomeration) of mundane acts into efforts-toward-the-supernatural. In that way, 'pop' acts as a storehouse of possible mundane actions from which ‘ritual’ draws. Popular music, insofar as it is widely enjoyed (by the 'populace'), must be in some way mundane and repetitive. That is pop's plainspoken charm. But of course, the pop worth surrounding yourself with works so much harder than that. It's not interesting unless it does things you don't fully understand. Introduce: ritual. Introduce: the unknown, the superhuman, forces that signal either toward the greater good or the greater vice. The Venusian seems to know this dearly. She appeals to the dissonant, the odd musical variables, the imperative narrative, and to her own high and hyper-feminine voice which is, in the best way, sonically disruptive. On her new track, "Lady Mary, The Fire/Pars Una," she chases the divine as though it were an ever-retreating vision, never quite attaining beatification but striving all the same. Ritual pop is still, after all, pop – still essentially earthly and therefore appealing in the way that pop music must be. Francine Thirteen’s work tickles the senses with rich tones; it is almost animal-like ('universal') in its gritty rhythms and grounded beats. And in that way, the Venusian, the demi-goddess, acts as a conduit between our present reality and some other unattainable world.

“Lady Mary, The Fire/Pars Una” will be featured on Francine Thirteen’s forthcoming EP, 4 Marys and the King.

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Blondes “Persuasion + Rein”

26 Jun 2015 — Evelyn Malinowski

Continuing to make music over some distance has nurtured a new approach for Sam Haar and Zach Steinman, aka Blondes. In tossing digital files back forth, a seamless fifty-minute display of comprehensive, atmospheric techno was created, one where dancefloor music of the "banging" variety is gradually as well as professionally on offer. Rein bears thoughtful amounts of prog house bass and intricate beatscaping. Shrills of UFO-synth at times sit on top of earthy glitch, and eventually a harp-like, circular melody pushes through the crowd. As its sustain level varies, tail ends of gorgeous nether-layers are suddenly perceivable, dare I say comparably so to whale tails shooting up and spraying everything before sinking back into the cool, watery depths. By the middle of the ongoing jam, we can almost visualize the shimmery alphabet of this particular group's language. If you want to learn Blondes' language, Rein is the manual for you. 

Rein, in turn, inspired the three track EP Persuasion, which seems to have sifted out all the bigger, more stomping qualities from these sessions. Each track is lengthy yet succinct, beginning with title track "Persuasion," which is mostly about a conversation between some claps and low octave acid. Entering in the middle of track is what sounds nearly identical to a more notable part of Stellar OM Source's "Elite Excel," a part that Kassem Mosse capitalizes on in his remix of the song. "Son" has a certain harmless pride to it. It is a full-blown set builder or turning-point-of-the-night anthem. "Inner Motive" is spacious, demanding, and rhythm heavy, which is delicious. Every now and again, the tides are cleared, cathartically, immediately before the accumulation begins once again, just like daily thunderstorms on a desert mesa.

Rein will be appropriately released on cassette for limited purchase on June 23rd. Persusasion is available August 7th on vinyl and digital formats. These sibling releases are brought to you by RVNG Intl.

Photo by Joyce Kim.

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Watch: Kvien & Sommer “Kwan” (exclusive)

24 Jun 2015 — Henning Lahmann

Kvien & Sommer is the collaborative project of two highly acclaimed Norwegian musicians, vocalist and improviser Mari Kvien Brunvoll and composer/multi-instrumentalist Espen Sommer Eide. We're not sure if Weathering, the duo's four-track mini album, is a one-off affair or even the result of a set of spontaneous creative impulses. But it certainly reaffirms Karelia-based imprint Full of Nothing's position as one of the most adventurous and forward-minded cassette labels out there. Described as containing "four broken suites for voice, modular synthesizers, bagpipe and various sound objects", Weathing is an unassuming yet subtly bold collection of contemporary exerimental music. Of all tracks, "Kwan" is the easiest to access upon first listen, a quiet, pensive movement focused on a fractured rhythm pattern, with melodic fragments merely insinuated at most. The piece only reveals its hidden marvels when taken together with the accompanying video by Piotr Pajchel, an equally abstract series of circles and grainy waveforms in black and white. Watch it below.

Weathering is out now on Full of Nothing. Get the cassette over here.

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Interview: LYKANTHEA

23 Jun 2015 — Henry Schiller

In her video for "Parturition" ambient artist Lykanthea walks slowly from an ancient Etruscan burial ground before settling in the sea. The mythic, almost otherworldy video is fitting: The Rome-based Chicagoan, whose real name is Lakshmi Ramgopal, wrote much of the EP Migration while studying ancient ruins on the remote Greek island of Delos.

Last week I spoke with Lykanthea over email about her time spent on Delos, the Sumerian mythology that inspired her EP, and the difficulties of pursuing a music career and a PhD at the same time. Check out the video for "Parturtion" below, and read my interview with Lykanthea after the jump.

 

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To start things off, I’d be interested in learning a little more about how Migration came together in Delos. Was there some point in your time there when you decided to record the EP, or was it something you had been thinking about beforehand?

When I went to Delos, I was in the early stages of researching my dissertation and needed to visit the island to study and photograph some of its archaeological ruins. I had decided even before I left the States that I wanted to start writing my record while I was traveling, so I brought a tiny Akai midi controller with me to Greece. I would get up at 3am in the morning, thanks to jetlag, and fiddle with the controller while I sang into my laptop until the sun came up.

How much of the EP would you say was recorded on Delos? How much of it was put together when you got back to Chicago?

The record was written and recorded all over the place - on Delos, in Athens, in Chicago. "Telos," which I wrote almost in its entirety on Delos, remained the least changed throughout the writing, recording and mixing process. I spent a lot more time agonizing over "Aphonia" and "Hand and Eye," since I spent months rearranging and rerecording them in Chicago. In the end, everything came together at different times and places. For instance, I didn't touch many of the low-fi vocal takes I recorded with my laptop mic for the demo of "Telos," since they included quirky little ambient sounds that the mic picked up from the chair I was sitting in while recording. But I replaced the original vocal parts in other songs with studio retakes in Chicago. That's also where I added guitar and live drums.

How did the experience of being in such an isolated place influence the songwriting? Did it push the record in a direction that your music may not have been going in before?

I'm sure it did. I didn't consciously set out to write a dreamy, inward looking album, especially since my old band wrote electronic dancepop. Initiating my first solo record while living alone on this rocky, raw, mostly uninhabited island put me in a mindset that helped me go deeply inward in a way I hadn't experienced in songwriting before. That mindset stayed with me for a long time after I left. I think it's what made the album's world feel so complete in the end, at least to me. And maybe even a little solipsistic. I'm speaking to myself in it because I'm alone.

In addition to being almost uninhabited, Delos is pretty famous is Greek mythology as the birthplace of Artemis and Apollo - I was also curious as to what kind of influence mythology might have had on the record.

The Sumerian story of the goddess Inanna is the original inspiration for a lot of the ideas contained in Migration. Inanna is described as a terrifying force of creation and destruction who voluntarily makes her way to the underworld and is then involuntarily held there against her will. The process of entering and finally leaving the underworld changes her, since it forces her to confront her weaknesses, her dark sides. I was immediately drawn to the Sumerian myths that frame these ideas of birth and death, of claiming yourself despite yourself. I wanted to build on their narrative structures and symbolic language to make myths of my own.

Is an interest in mythology what lead you to graduate work in Classics?

Actually, no. I've never been that interested in Greek and Roman gods. I headed to a grad program in Classics because I'm a historian at heart. I want to know what people did and why, I want to know how they come to understand themselves. Mythology definitely plays a part in self understanding. But for me, it's the people, not the gods, who pull me in.

There have been a couple of other artists who have balanced very interesting recording projects with academic commitments. Do you think there’s anything about the academic lifestyle that contributes – positively or negatively – to your work as a recording artist?

I'd say there's plenty of good and bad. Being a grad student has given me lots of freedom to decide when and where I do my work. I've been able to spend a lot of time on writing music and touring in addition to being a researcher and teacher. It's amazing to be able to do that. Plus, my academic field allows me to travel, and that travel changes me and gives my music a lot of texture.

But it's also hard being an academic and a musician. Plenty of academics think that peers who use their time for serious, non-academic work are unserious about their academic work. I've received comments about this throughout graduate school. That's really hard, to feel like you can't be yourself in a community you're part of, to feel like you have to hide an essential part of yourself.

Do you have a community of artists – removed from the graduate community that you’re a part of -  that you work with frequently?

I do! Musicians and designers and artists, many in Chicago and the rest scattered around the world. I know a lot of them through social media networks, and those relationships have yielded a lot of amazing collaborations, like the capsule collection with Hvnter Gvtherer and the video with Krist Mort. These relationships have been so creatively nourishing. They've pushed me to keep raising my standards and also defy any instinct to fit into any particular genre, musical or otherwise. It's important to work with other people, otherwise you get stuck in your head and develop an ossified way of thinking about things.

Speaking of your work with Krist Mort: the video for “Parturition” was shot in an Etruscan burial site at Orvieto – how did the two of you decide on that particular location?

I've been drawn to the textures and gloomy interiors of Etruscan tombs since I first visited them in college. They have a weird, alien quality, maybe because they're architecturally less familiar to people than, say, Roman ruins. They immediately came to mind when Kristina and I decided to shoot the video. Since Migration deals partly with the idea that we emerge from phases in life as new people, I wanted to shoot at a necropolis, which literally means "city of the dead." Our original plan to apply for a permit to shoot at a site at a town called Cerveteri. The permit was rejected by the division of the Italian archaeological commission that runs that site, probably because the video has nothing to do with Etruscan archaeology. So then we applied to shoot at Orvieto. Amazingly, the request went through.

You just played a spate of shows around Europe – what kinds of recording software and audio devices are part of your live repertoire?

My live shows are mostly improvised versions of songs from my album. I do a lot of singing, which I loop heavily and run through a mix of EHX and other pedals. I also play synth parts with a midi controller hooked up to my laptop, use backing tracks and play a guitar with a cello bow. In the past I've performed with choruses, clarinetists and violinists onstage, and I'm hoping to make that a more permanent thing. Having more people onstage makes the music bigger, more texture, more energized.

 

Stefana Fratila “Tugging”

22 Jun 2015 — Henning Lahmann

According to herself mainly considered a performance-based artist (check out her incredible and important live piece "no history" over here and make sure to read the accompanying explanation), Romanian-born and Vancouver-based musician Stefana Fratila released her latest recording Efemera right in time for summer solstice yesterday. The ten-track work explores intersecting narratives of noise, electronica, and psychedelic pop, all interwoven within and across the individual tracks. Some parts are dominated by straightforward 4/4 beat patterns, while others meander along seemingly unstructured washes of sonic interference. "Tugging", which you can stream below, lies somewhere in between: built around an intricate rhythm that slowly dissolves into a house-informed beat, the song is mainly carried by Fratila's layered, deliberately salient vocals. Originally recorded years ago and then revisited earlier this year, it would be interesting to reconstruct the individual steps of the song's evolution.

Efemera is out now on Trippy Tapes. You can buy it on cassette and digitally over on bandcamp.

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Watch: Katapulto “Blue Eyes” (exclusive)

22 Jun 2015 — Henning Lahmann

There are basically two ways to do an Elton John cover. You can either make an attempt to out-romance the master himself, in which case you should ensure that your video involves tiny cats and Super-8 videography. Or you try something else, like going all meta for instance. Enter Bristol-via-Poland artist Wojtek Rusin, whose work as Katapulto has been described as "kinda like a brighter, ostensibly straighter adjunct to Autre Ne Veut", a comparison not necessarily obvious (or convincing) if the two didn't happen to be championed by Olde English Spelling Bee, still one of the most important underground labels of the last five years. For "Blue Eyes", a song taken from his recently released full-length Powerflex, Rusin not only reinterprets the original itself, turning it into the greasy synth anthem John actually should have come up with in 1982. Almost carrying the joke too far, on top of that he encroaches on the video, extracting the original's overblown white grand piano and presenting it in glaring high definition, before rather literally deconstructing this ultimate symbol of decaying pop grandeur.

Powerflex is out on Olde English Spelling Bee. Get it over here.

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Review: Good Moon Deer “Dot”

22 Jun 2015 — Anaïs Duplan

This past April, at a small venue in downtown Reykjavík, Icelandic producer Good Moon Deer's live setup looked misleadingly straightforward. A small table housed all of the equipment from which Guðmundur Úlfarsson played tracks off his newest album, Dot. He stood perpendicular to the audience’s gaze. To his right, and directly opposite where I sat, a video projection of ballerinas’ legs in faded VHS colors seemed to dance oddly along to the mechanical commotion.

Úlfarsson bounced. Each touch to his equipment seemed a touch of destruction. With every tap, the beat fell apart, the strings splintered, vocal samples abruptly ended. He bowed his head with every stride from right to left, delighting in the tumult he seemed to so easily generate with a touch of the finger. The disorientation was thrilling. And perhaps the only experience that compares to watching Úlfarsson break things apart live is listening to his debut LP, Dot. Ominous and brooding and yet bright, Dot is an opus of the Internet age.

Úlfarsson's background as a graphic designer, and more specifically a typographer, seems worth mentioning. Dot is designer's album, though not in the sense that it flashes or bedazzles. It holds to a minimal aesthetic, though not in the sense that it lacks. Admittedly, words seem to fail me as I attempt to arrive at what it is that Dot does. It is negligent but not under-done, it is ominous but not evil, it is masculine but feminine like a ballerina all the same.

There are eight tracks on the album, each one word long. Strung together, the track-list reads: And be gone after karma run love under. Strung together, these eight words seem to issue a warning, about the inevitable death of love in the face of insurmountable karma, the blindly ruinous forces of nature as they topple over the hopeful intentions of the human heart. Of course, I don't mean to suggest that Úlfarsson planted this message in his track-list, but only that the statement, "And be gone after karma run love under," seems to come from the same world that the album does – a world that is ruthless in its adherence to order (read: composition).

Úlfarsson gives vibrancy to techno, bringing the genre into dialogue with the more contemporary, if nostalgic, synth-pop sensibilities of producers like Nosaj Thing, Shlohmo, and Caribou. Úlfarsson is cautious, however, to conjure up the desolation of tech-age without resorting to the familiar sound of retro-irony. Make no error, Dot is playful, but it isn’t subversive. It merges the bright and the dark, the organic and the mechanical, without giving way to either one, without declaring a winner. It poses a question without succumbing to the pessimistic answers of apocalypse pop.

Part of Úlfarsson's success with this debut album owes to his skillful use of the human voice. On the seventh track, "Love," the bass line in the introduction threatens to evolve into an outdated bossa nova ballad. That is, until a disorienting child-like voice eliminates all hope for easy listening. I found myself laughing all through Dot, especially in moments like these – though here I mean laughing with Dot and not at it. The album has "just kidding" moments sprinkled all over it – moments when you think you know what will happen next, when you say to yourself, "Oh, I understand what's happening here" only to have your expectations dashed by atonal vocal arrays: the sound of karma eventually wreaking its havoc.

Naturally, what is most powerful about the notion of karma is that it is immeasurable. In fact, the saying, "Karma's a bitch" is founded on the false assumption that you can track the karmic outcomes of your actions. Instead yogic philosophy tells us that it is impossible to determine karmic end-results (making the concept all the more terrifying). In the same way, later tracks on the album seem to signal at earlier moments, seem to suggest a cause-and-effect relationship, but never answer the question definitively. The last track, "Under," features decorative flourishes on the piano, just as the first track, "And" does. But the parallel is not so neat as that. "Under" is not a reprise, and in fact the very idea of a reprise – which merely reiterates what has come before – is foreign to the universe of Dot. There are only incomplete connections here, only a riveting simulacrum of the chaos of daily life.

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Reanimator “Damaged Bads”

20 Jun 2015 — Evelyn Malinowski

Pure abstract electronic music. That's what this full length brought to you by faceless duo Reanimator references: Mouse on Mars, aspects of David Morley, and maybe even DJ Soulslinger. Timeless though it seems, there is a cleanliness to Damaged Bads that simulatenously defends its accurate context of production. Tinkles, thrashing doodles and blasts, as well as familar bass breaks are the meat of this work, one which equates to a serial statements made in a foreign, esoteric language (hence the straightforward reach to abstract electronica). The album is somehow full of personality yet one you can't put your finger on. Dense, dissonant, and aggresively harmless, one might suggest that the best occasion for such a listen is when feeling delightfully insane and anxious free. Maybe something like drinking gin with old buddies from your comp science program you attended at whatever state university. 

The Community Library label is run by Paul Dickow (aka Strategy) and David Chandler (DJ Brokenwindow). You can check out their lean yet attractive discography here.

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