Anechois – Circles

Circles, as the name suggests, is in many ways geometrically inspired: repeating sequences, tessellating guitar lines, elliptical time signatures form Anechois’ bordering-on obsessive brand of progressive rock. It is a beautifully concise record, in that not a single note, beat or word appears excessive.

In this seven-track EP, released for Lomography’s Blue Hour Sessions, Anechois seems to be seeking a sense of clarity above all – instead of obscuring or obfuscating, as is the temptation for many technically sophisticated bands, the songs are illuminatingly transparent. The acoustic guitar figures, especially in ‘Emma’, sound especially blithe and pure; set against a susurrus of synths, they break forth in simple and liberated joy. There is, however, an undercurrent of pensive awareness, a vague sense of fleeting: a lyric in ‘Reverse’ goes, ‘If only I could see your smile, it hides when the dawn breaks.’

Anechois maintains an acute grasp of balance throughout, with vocals that are sparsely spaced, amidst dense and thickening textures. The standout track ‘Thumbprints’, is driven by a rhythmic, punctuating bass, which builds up to the climax of the EP – a beatific brilliance of sound that is fully and suddenly unleashed. The vocals of frontman Haziq echo resoundingly. The effect is incredibly cinematic; it’s easy to lose yourself in its midst.

The songs are lyrically fragmented, terse and vague. There’s some sense of contemplation, as if one were observing the world from a distance, a detached abstractedness. There are some meaningful turns of phrase: ‘We are running around in circles, but we barely reach the surface’ in the titular track, hints at the meaninglessness, or circularity, of routine, which possibly is the very essence of the EP.

This third EP from Anechois seems in some way to reflect the raw, pure side of the band, capturing a touching honesty that is more apparent than in their previous releases. It takes several listens to fully appreciate their remarkable technique and skill, so effortlessly rendered; there is also a meticulous attention to detail throughout. This is a record that deserves to be put on repeat.

Listen to: ‘Emma’, ‘Thumbprints’, ‘Circles’

Thumbprints:

By Li Shuen Lam

Atlas – Here Be Dragons

Here Be Dragons is a real seducer, with lyrics that evoke memory, identity, loss and fear set to deliciously crafted math-rock riffs and synth layers. There is a wonderful authenticity in each of the stories told by Atlas on this album, as gears shift abruptly, jumping from one recollection to the next — much like how we share our experiences in person with one another.

As a debut, Here Be Dragons is ambitious, but not arrogantly so. Atlas’s strength lies in cheerfully ignoring the limits of genre prescriptions as they stitch together varied emotional landscapes like ‘Genius (Life in Transit)’, which are richly textured yet easily communicated. The punchier ‘In (Im)Polite Company’, on the other hand, is reflective of a band in a constant state of exploration as it trudges through mental caves with great energy, leaping across synapses to find meaning in crevices of grey matter not seen or heard of before.

Young bands often feel the weight of obligation to pay respectful homage to their influences in their formative years – many revered icons, after all, started off with covers. While some end up making the mistake of sycophancy in the process, Atlas gracefully avoids doing so on ‘East Oriental Club’. This standout track honors the technical distinctiveness of Japanese math-rockers toe, but takes a bold step further, transforming into a glorious cinematic expanse that is rightfully set apart as the longest item on the track list.

Those who have followed Atlas through their many twists and turns up to the present will likely mourn the knowledge that this album is the only record we will see from the current lineup, but surely even they cannot suppress the excitement for what might come next. Until then, clocking time to the tune of Here Be Dragons is a fine way to wait.

Listen to: ‘Genius (Life in Transit)’, ‘East Oriental Club’, ‘In (Im)Polite Company’

East Oriental Club:

By Manoj Harjani

Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time

There has been a lot of buzz about a certain Sky Ferreira – from her touring with Miley Cyrus to her arrest for drug possession – but for those not familiar with the grunge-lite indie pop of the 21-year-old singer-songwriter-model, you might just recognise that very naked album cover instead.

Make no mistake – despite the darkness and vulnerability suggested by the sourpuss portrait of an exposed Ferreira in the shower on the cover (bearing a marked resemblance to Grumpy Cat), Night Time, My Time is, first and foremost, unmistakably a pop album.

The album’s fourteen tracks find their lyrics in vignettes of teenage romance and self-loathing in equal measure, but sonically Ferreira’s debut full-length is luminous. Night Time, My Time draws its influences from 80s dance synth-pop, 90s grunge and 00s indie rock. Hit-making producer Ariel Rechstaid (Vampire Weekend, Haim, Charli XCX) coats the record in a layer of sugared gloss; the combination of grungy guitars, bright synth lines and big choruses marks an album primed for cross-over onto mainstream radio with a bold, seductive edge.

Album opener ‘Boys’ is an infectious anthem of young love, a haze of sledgehammer riffs and plummeting beats set against a delicious spoken word refrain, while lead single ‘You’re Not The One’ matches air-tight synths with a sashaying chorus with an undercurrent of girl power.

Lyricism may not be the album’s forte – the insular and prosaic diction of Ferreira’s song writing doesn’t break new ground on the flightiness of young love or youthful hedonism – but what the the album lacks in poetry, it more than makes up for in those big riffs. Her songs strut and swagger. They don’t just arrive; they announce their presence. ‘Omanko’ is an inescapable earworm, thanks to a restless bass line that propels the fuzz nugget through a hodge-podge of off-kilter musings about Japanese Jesus and Japanese Christmas.

It is only on ‘I Blame Myself’ that Ferreira comes close to the unflinching, transgressive self-cross-examination that the album cover offers. This head-bobbing number throbs with shame and anxiety as Ferreira ponders her complicity in shaping her reputation as a controversial alt-pop princess (“Is it because you know my name/Or is it because you saw my face on a cover”).

Night Time, My Time is an immensely pleasurable – if at times uneven – pop record, but disappointingly falls short of delivering the sucker punch of gritty and naked storytelling that marks other pop records with gravitas. That said, in a time when pop is making a comeback in the indiesphere (see: Lorde, CHVRCHES, Future Islands), there is nothing shameful about making straight-up top-notch pop.

7/10

Listen to: ‘Boys’, ‘Omanko’, ‘I Blame Myself’

Boys:

[youtube width=”457″ height=”343″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0rRwQLAigeM[/youtube][spacer height=”10px”]

By Chen Shanshan

The Jezabels – The Brink

Februrary 2014 sees the release of the highly anticipated follow-up to The Jezabels’ 2011 debut album Prisoner, and it could be argued there was a lot riding on this one.

The group have built up quite the following and, after a long-ass tour around the world following their debut’s success, they settled back in London to get cracking on a new album, with a new producer on board (Dan Grech-Marguerat — Radiohead, The Kooks, Lana Del Rey) and a new label to please.

And the result is The Brink. On first listen – and I’m going to be blatantly honest – I found the Australian quartet’s sophomore effort to be underwhelming, bordering on difficult-to-listen-to, and after a whole lot of analysis, I can pinpoint my source of disappointment to a few factors.

Firstly, lead singer Hayley Mary’s vocals just don’t seem up to par. Rather, she comes across as weak and whining – a far cry from her standard persona.

Secondly, the grandeur that the album hints at is never quite achieved. It’s building, and building, but it never quite reaches that pinnacle. I’ve heard The Brink compared to a U2 sound (and I don’t think it was meant as a compliment).

Thirdly, the album is lyrically draining. Conveying anger and social frustration, The Brink is a bit of a downer. It’s clearly a lot more personal for the band, but I can’t help but get a teen-angst kind of vibe as a result.

Before all hope is lost, however, it’s necessary to highlight The Brink’s redeeming qualities. The main positive is the pretty excellent instrumentation throughout. It’s pretty when it needs to be, it’s strong when it wants to be, and it’s memorable. This is best illustrated in tracks like ‘Look of Love’ and ‘Got Velvet’.

They’ve also nailed the catchy-chorus formula. I found myself obsessed with ‘Beat to Beat’, despite the fact that I didn’t particularly like the sound of the song as a whole.

All in all, The Brink is a darker, less-good nod to its predecessor. The Jezabels are still going for that anthemic feel – full of big instrumentation and big vocals – that made them stand out in the first place. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be moving forward all that much. It’s an album, in my opinion, for those fair-weather-fans, they like it ‘cos its cool, but the relationship doesn’t go much further, and probably won’t pay off in the long run. Only time will tell.

In the meantime, here’s hoping The Jezabels get their balls back soon. They definitely had a good thing going on; it simply appears that it’s taking some personal days.

4/10

Listen to: ‘Beat To Beat’, ‘Got Velvet’, ‘Look of Love’

Beat to Beat:

[youtube width=”457″ height=”343″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5aDZkk96Zo[/youtube]
By Eleanor Turnbull

Suzanne Vega – Tales from the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles

The latest album from Suzanne Vega comes after a seemingly long-drawn creative slump: it’s been a whole seven years since the contemporary folk singer-songwriter’s last release of original material.

Naturally, one would expect fresh ideas, new inspirations and perhaps a change in musical direction after this long break. After all, Vega has been in the business for some time – at 54, she belongs to the ranks of pioneering, folk-revival musicians of her generation.

On first listen, Tales From The Realm of the Queen of Pentacles seems adequate, but not outstanding; satisfying, but unsurprising. Undeniably it delivers the charmingly classic Vega sound, which is mature and intelligent, articulate and self-aware, but it is also this predictability that makes it underwhelming.

The songs from the album are reminiscent of Vega’s older work in many ways, even sharing some noticeable similarities in chords and structure: ‘Portrait of the Knight of Wands’ sounds distinctly like ‘Bound’ from Beauty and Crime. Only ‘I Never Wear White’ stands out for its uncharacteristic grunge-rock bent.

There are, admittedly, some creative moments, but these are so few and far between that when they do appear, they seem out of place. For instance, the sampling of 50 Cent’s ‘Candy Shop’ in ‘Don’t Cork What You Can’t Contain’, when blended into Vega’s acoustic-folk style, comes off as rather incongruous.

But after the first, disappointing taste of the album, there emerges a level of lyrical depth to these songs that somewhat redeems them. Her songwriting mastery is, as always, impeccable — “The thing about a stoic is he’s always understated; I don’t know about happiness but virtue’s overrated”, she sings in the penultimate track ‘Laying on of Hands/Stoic 2’.

Somehow, Vega manages to artfully straddle the fine line between honesty and crypticism – she draws you into a magical realist world of queens, Greek mythical figures, shadowed characters, yet reveals very little, leaving it up to the listener to piece things together.

Tales From The Realm of the Queen of Pentacles is more retrospective than forward-looking: it settles for familiarity, instead of breaking new ground. But perhaps the consistent quality of Vega’s work is admirable, if boring to some, as this album is still a treat for fans who have enjoyed Vega’s mostly unchanging style for the bulk of her career. Ultimately, while it is a creditable effort, it is not as strong a comeback as it could have been, meeting expectations but failing to exceed them.

6/10

Listen to: ‘I Never Wear White’, ‘Don’t Uncork What You Can’t Contain’, ‘Silver Bridge’

Silver Bridge:

[youtube width=”457″ height=”343″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rz9ZqfWzjEs[/youtube]

By Li Shuen Lam

Cheatahs – Cheatahs

Shoegazers are a peculiar lot. Approach one and you’re likely to catch a whiff of superiority complex veiling a tolerance of song-oriented albums. Some even display a hint of individualistic pride in enjoying 120-decibel feedback. Cheatahs, on the other hand, disregards the artistic psychedelia of the gods of ‘90s shoegaze, and skips straight to the noise pop aspects of the genre.

Cheatahs is a debut record dressed to impress, filled with a reasonable mix of edgy guitar and buzzing vocals. Somewhere through the engaging hooks of ‘Mission Creep’ however, it almost feels indulgent in its influences, synthesising old feelings a bit too unabashedly. Its dye drizzled album art even, lies just a few shades more orange than that of a familiar 1991 record. 

Don’t fret though. ‘The Swan’ and ‘Cut The Grass’ are fresh tracks definitely worth staying for. The former opens with an anthemic line so catchy even the most die-hard of stoned Ride fans can’t help but nod their heads. (Speaking of Ride: Hey! That sounded much like a Ride guitar lick!)

A second listen flags out the closing song as one adopting the ‘Shoegaze fuzz-out’. Yet, it adopts phrasing so satisfying that any angry fingers jeering a lack of invention are quickly quelled. Maybe this record deserves some points for using the right inventions?

By no means is Cheatahs entirely bad, surely no respectable artist would trash an eponymous work. It is a record that hits all the right notes provided you haven’t gotten into shoegaze yet.

It does a reasonably good job of blending influences and more crucially, avoids regurgitating an incredible genre. In point of fact, it does accurately tighten lyrical structures intentionally left loose earlier by My Bloody Valentine’s landmark album (not that anyone finds awe in improving lyrics as nonsensical as “sleep like a pillow, downward and, where she won’t care, anyway where”).

Cheatahs will be a band to watch as soon as it’s done rehashing old ideas, and those chugging, spinning, guitars can attest to that. Its new album is a pleasing first step, especially to those new to the concept of spacing out amidst colourful swirls of distorted guitar. And most importantly, Cheatahs feels good. Californian-sun-good.

6.5/10 

Listen to: ‘The Swan’, ‘Cut The Grass’… and then there’s always Nowhere and mbv.

The Swan:

[youtube width=”457″ height=”343″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0t6mI8vnzY[/youtube]

By Edward Eng

Dum Dum Girls – Too True

Back in 2008, out of an L.A. basement emerged Dum Dum Girls, a one-woman project from singer/songwriter Kirstin Gundred (who would soon be known by her more glamorous moniker, Dee Dee Penny).

Signed to Sub Pop in 2009, Too True is Dum Dum Girls’ third album and collaboration with producer Richard Gottehrer, whose previous credits feature Blondie and The Go-Go’s. As a result, it’s an album that would be equally at home featuring on The Breakfast Club, and pumping out of the living rooms of 2014’s hipster population.

Dum Dum Girls produces fuzzy lo-fi pop, complete with 80s guitar riffs, ambling and consistent drum beats and pretty straight-forward melody lines. Penny cites Suede, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Madonna, The Stone Roses and Patti Smith as her influences on the album, and this becomes clear pretty quickly.

For example, second track, ‘Evil Blooms’, echoes a late-80s Madonna, both in songwriting style and Penny’s vocals. Similarly, following track ‘Rimbaud Eyes’ – the lyrics referencing 19th century French poet, Arthur Rimbaud – has a distinct backing reminiscent of The Bangles’ power-pop.

Released as the album’s first single, ‘Lost Boys and Girls Club’ embraces those souls on the road to nowhere with a mellow melody and cutting lyrics. It essentially sums up the vibe of the album as a whole; it’s got a depressing edge to it, hinting at an artist who’s on a journey that she doesn’t quite get.

Other highlights include ‘In the Wake of You’, ‘Too True to Be Good’ and closing track ‘Trouble Is My Name’ – a sweeping conclusion to an album that is relatively slow-moving, but refreshing in its take on modern pop.

All in all, Too True is an interesting release, with a level of consistency that compliments each and every track. Though it’s not groundbreaking by any means, and doesn’t deviate all too far from previous Dum Dum Girls releases, Too True appeals in the way it is put together, with moody melody lines and unusual instrumentation echoing the lyrical content of mystery and uncertainty.

7/10

Listen to: ‘Rimbaud Eyes’, ‘In the Wake of You’ and ‘Lost Boys and Girls Club’

[youtube width=”457″ height=”343″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=coYvUvy7S7U[/youtube]

[spacer height=”10px”]

By Eleanor Turnbull

Childish Gambino – Because The Internet

Childish Gambino’s Because The Internet leaked online a week before its official release date. This, his second album, follows a string of mixtapes and his 2011 debut album Camp (which was absolutely savaged by Pitchfork: 1.6/10). Childish Gambino is Donald Glover, and vice versa: Glover has worked as a writer on 30 Rock and has starred in Community as Troy Barnes. 

Interestingly, the album was released with a screenplay — it was written by Glover and is intended to be read while listening to the album. There are also videos to watch while listening to the music. The story starts with a bunch of kids coming home from summer camp and being picked up by their parents. The screenplay is 76 pages long (you can read it online here), which sounds long, but because it’s a script you’ll get through it pretty quickly. He uses a good deal of colloquialisms and some amusing pop culture references (“my favourite flavour popsicle is DICK!”). Plus, he states that one character, Marcus, is to be played by Chance the Rapper, and it also features Jhené Aiko.

The screenplay isn’t total garbage, it is an interesting format and the idea doesn’t suck. It’s clear that Glover is trying hard and wanting desperately to be liked, to be cool, to be respected as a multi-disciplinary artist — and to be honest we kind of do like him. But we also feel pretty sorry for him. The whole experience is uncomfortable. Glover is a 30-year-old man who writes screenplays for himself to star in, which he also scores, and then hires somebody to direct. You know what those are called? Vanity projects. He’s made himself the central focus of this album and its surrounding material — and it’s a gross, solipsistic focus. If you ever forget who this album is about, just check the cover. To quote from Ian Cohen’s review of Camp for Pitchfork, this shit is “preposterously self-obsessed, but not the least bit self-aware.”

So, anyway: the album. Is it any good? Production-wise, Because the Internet is a step up from Camp’s angry nerd vibe. Details of the production are still emerging, but we do know that the majority of the album was recorded in Chris Bosh’s mansion in LA. Gambino has also been hanging out with beat god Flying Lotus: the combination of that influence and Gambino’s natural drift towards a more mature aesthetic has produced some pretty okay, contemporary beats ranging from trap to wholesale Drake-brand R&B.

Still, it is clear that Kanye West remains Gambino’s greatest influence and as a consequence of that there are a number of tracks (‘The Party’, ‘No Exit’) that limp along in the stylistic shadow of Yeezus. ‘The Worst Guys’ is Gambino’s third collaboration with Chance the Rapper — it’s a pretty jolly tune featuring 808s and a woozy beat which eventually devolves into a grating guitar riff. Gambino is no rap god, but there’s still something kind of appealing in what he’s doing. Rhyming ‘fuck’ with ‘fuck’ isn’t great, and it’s hard to hear a grown man use the word vag without wondering what’s wrong with him, but that candidness is sweet — we’ve never heard a rapper talk about dick problems before. The contrast of that big dick bravado with erectile dysfunction is pretty nice.

Despite having its moments, overall Gambino’s style hasn’t developed. The structure of his verses is still: set up joke, deliver punchline, change subject, repeat. His style is centred around references (anything from Ace Hood to toothpaste), but isn’t amusing or insightful in any real way. It’s just a reference that you either do or do not get. Overall, this is a pretty choppy album, oscillating between swagger, misery and really barf sentimentality, but some people might like that and might not think it’s barf so that’s fine.

Maybe you’ll relate to Because the Internet because it panders to pothead sad kids or because this guy gets lots of attention, maybe appreciating this album/screenplay wank combo makes you feel smart, maybe you like him because he’s cute, and you’ve seen him on TV, maybe you just think it’s good, or maybe you don’t. Whatever, just remember there’s loads of legitimately great, positive music out there so you don’t have to listen to this if you don’t want to.

6/10

Listen to: ‘The Worst Guys’, ‘Pink Toes’

The Worst Guys:
[youtube width=”457″ height=”343″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfYprYmslio[/youtube]
By Katherine Pollock

Sebastian Grainger – Yours to Discover

A few words come to mind when listening to Sebastian Grainger’s Yours to Discover: Nostalgia. Generic. Laughter. Twerking. Southern Cali. Blink-182 concerts. 1980’s disco princes.

The former Death From Above 1979 frontman/drummer has pioneered an album so electronically and sonically diverse that it might seem confusing at first listen. Packed with electronic beats, crazed yelpings, a blatant Neil Young record (“I’m looking for a hand”), and preppy synth hooks, Sebastian Grainger’s debut effort feels like a sketchboard of bored musings, a creative output in place of DFA 1979, instead of a proper decent record.

After the introductory reversed tune of pianos in ‘Overture’, the album immediately kicks into into a resounding punk track, ‘Waking Up Dead. ‘Waking Up Dead’ is a straight-up punk record, a record that throws a firm nod in reminescent of DFA 1979’s glory days. Things seem to go increasingly crazy from here, with the album transforming into a molten pot of electronic beats, soul, half- baked lyrics and 1980’s synth-pop disco.

‘The Streets Are Still A Mess’ is a trippy song, a political salvo at characters in the geo-political scene, while ‘I’m Looking For A Hand’ is a folk track which Grainger attempts to channel his inner acoustic spirit over elongated, screechy choruses and vocal beat sampling. ‘A Second Of Love’ is a decent track, launching preppy indie-pop synth beats that turns into a giant, sloppy love ballet, and lead single ‘Going With You” has Grainger singing like Bruce Springsteen over Van Halen’s keyboard riff in Jump.

One track that stands out from the cacophony of 1980’s dance music is ‘Let’s Move To NYC’, a sterling track which mixes palm-muted funk grooves over soft, whispered singing. The album then leads into ‘I Want Sebastian Grainger’ — a deathly epilogue that throws the album back completely into oblivion.

Packed with a couple of nostalgic disco hits and a decent punk song, Yours to Discover lacks solid direction. Ultimately, Sebestian Grainger’s debut effort feels like a record of all sorts, and a confusing listen for listeners in general — a good listen for oldies, but somewhat out of place in this 21st century. We’re still waiting for DFA 1979 to put out a promising record. Six years and waiting: it’s been a long time.

4/10

Listen to: ‘Let’s Move To NYC’, ‘Going With You’

Let’s Move To NYC:
[youtube width=”457″ height=”343″]http://youtu.be/BSEqem28ofI?t=15m7s[/youtube]
By Evan Woon

ANECHOIS and Paris In The Making – Polymorphous EP

A couple of weeks ago, we got some news that ANECHOIS and Paris In The Making were teaming up to release a split EP. And, having listened to it recently, all we can say is that we’re extremely proud of these boys. You might have heard some of these tracks at some of their more recent shows like Sayonara Superboy, but it’s nice to finally be able to listen to the tracks whenever and wherever we want.

The first track off the EP, Paris In The Making’s ‘Entity’, opens with a certain stillness and tranquillity from its sparse guitars, before the rest of the band enters in full form, led by Salihin Sadon’s harsh vocals. Immediately, the track is transformed into a whole ‘nother animal and remains in all of its force before ending off with some samples.

‘Origins’ — now this is the true gem from PITM on Polymorphous. The entire song is a beautiful, slow and steady build up, consisting of  instrumentals until it reaches a breakdown in the middle of the song, which puts one in a calming mood. It then steadily goes back to building up the rest of the song, and at the same time, sends you a wave of emotions as you’re listening to the track, before ending it on a high note with Sadon’s powerful vocals.

‘Love and Serenity’ and ‘Future’, both of which are part of the Side B of the EP and ANECHOIS’s newer songs, which they have played at recent shows, continue to get us off our seats and move along to the energy of these tracks. In ‘Love and Serenity’, the odd time signatures combined with the amount of stress put on the guitars on this track causes one to just fall in love with the enthusiasm and simplicity of this track.

‘Future’ starts off on a brighter note, with some light-hearted guitar riffs that you can’t help but to smile to. The bass-line on this track is the most infectious and evident throughout the whole EP. The line which Haziq sings, comes forth as a sort of anthem that one can sing along to and at the same time connects the listener to the band’s feelings and energy. The track closes with a kind of fervor; the instrumentals blending together, along with a synth line complementing the track at the end.

Now we get down to the title track of the EP, ‘Polymorphous’ which is, put simply: amazing. The final track of the split EP, it masterfully combines the elements, influences, and growth of both bands in just under ten minutes. Haziq’s vocals come in first, with a softness that later alludes to Salihin’s more powerful vocals, carrying the track to a powerful end and providing a close to the EP.

We can say that the hard work from both bands is evident throughout the EP, and we are definitely excited to see what both bands, respectively, have in store for us in the future.

8/10

Polymorphous:


By Irfan Margono