we’ll be singing yumi zouma’s praises on dimestore saints until the day we shut down.  the new zealand outfit was our favorite new artist of 2014, put out one of our favorite works of this year so far, and turned out to be delightful interview subjects as well.  they’ve also been working with allie avital tsypin’s production team bangs on a pair of music videos; the final one dropped yesterday.  tsypin’s treatment of “alena” is “a film about men through the female gaze” and proves to be a truly moving experience, where the line between the actor’s and the character’s emotions continually blur.  watch it below.

communions band

photo courtesy of rasmus jensen

communions was one of our favorite bands to emerge out of 2014 and the copenhagen quartet is picking up right where they left off with a self-titled ep, out june 2nd via tough love records.  yesterday communions unleashed “out of my world,” the closing track on the ep – and its lead single.  the song continues to pit the young band’s unbelievably sunny disposition against a more typical, gloomy post-punk backdrop, resulting in the marriage of soaring vocal melodies and rich, broken guitar arpeggiations.  it’s truly a sound to behold; take a listen to “out of my world” below.

photo courtesy of cara robbins

when anthony ferraro isn’t touring with chaz bundick in toro y moi, he’s writing music under his own moniker of astronauts, etc.  the oakland-based musician is prepping a new collection of songs and today teased “i know,” a swirling single tinged with psychedelic keyboard jabs and ferraro’s breezy, soothing falsetto.  take a listen to the track below.

lightning bolt fantasy empire

out march 24th via thrill jockey

lightning bolt has been obliterating ear drums while fastidiously adhering to the principles of its minimalist composer heroes for over twenty years now.  the providence, rhode island duo of brian gibson (bass) and brian chippendale (drums, vocals) crafted an instantly recognizable – and punishing – sound over the course of five home-recorded albums and a relentless touring schedule, one that finds itself noticeably polished and enhanced on their latest effort, fantasy empire.

the album’s opener and lead single, “the metal east,” initially presents itself as the duo’s typical auditory blitzkrieg: gibson’s bass lines alternating octaves at dizzying speeds to flesh out lightning bolt’s harmonic palate while chippendale pounds his kit into oblivion and sings incoherently through his heavily-processed microphone.  but one can already discern subtle tweaks to the aesthetic, like how chippendale’s drums cut through the mix even more so than usual, and how the low end of gibson’s register resonates to new depths on the song’s breakdown.  these nuances are the byproduct of the duo’s first outsourced recording experience, though it remains unclear as to whether they are ultimately helpful or a hinderance.

it feels more like a mixture of both.  the balanced levels make the act of listening itself a much more enjoyable activity, but lightning bolt does forfeit a sliver of raw energy as a result.  that energy is refocused as sheer power, however; churning songs like “horsepower” and “mythmaster” are absolute behemoths, in part because gibson’s low-end rumbles are incredibly discernible, and the band further supplements tracks across fantasy empire with dizzying synthesizer melodies like the one found on the back half of “king of my world.”  still, a shred of that impromptu nature and urgency that defined the duo’s earlier work is lacking, and it shows.

fantasy empire also charts lightning bolt’s evolution of songwriting.  on the bulk of earlier releases like 2001’s ride the skies and its follow-up wonderful rainbow, the duo seemed appropriately content to let one or two concrete melodic ideas bombard their audience before moving on to a new thought.  this formula worked well because it was augmented by chippendale’s frenetic drumming – often a lead line of sorts by itself – and the extra contour of his vocal lines.

chippendale seems to have less to say throughout fantasy empire, instead allowing gibson to further develop his own melodic ideas.  sometimes this works well; the aforementioned “mythmaster” is a wondrous display of gibson’s virtuosity on the bass guitar, and both “the metal east” and “runaway train” segue with ease and logic between a plethora of riffs.  by the same token, there are moments where this approach yields a bit too much bravado.  the prog-indebted “over the river and through the woods” is one of the most self-indulgent and downright formulaic songs in lightning bolt’s catalogue, and it blows itself out rather quickly.

despite a few missteps, fantasy empire is a very worthwhile album that certainly holds its place in the lightning bolt canon.  the songs largely reflect the duo’s appreciation of polished, technical metal riffs and, as a result, sacrifice some of the white noise definitive of their earlier work.  to that end, fantasy empire also showcases gibson and chippendale at their wisest and most patient, willing to spend the extra time and dime to craft their most sonically adventurous effort yet.

7.8/10

out march 24th via ribbon music

out march 24th via ribbon music

laura marling’s 2013 album, once i was an eagle, was perhaps the epitome of the english folk aesthetic she had developed over the past five years.  marling had perfected an intimate style of songwriting that also employed subtly intricate guitar work – reminiscent of, say, nick drake – and drew appropriate comparisons to sharon van etten and joni mitchell as well, but her voice was immediately recognizable: less mournful but just as frank.

still, acoustic timbres can run the risk of becoming severely limiting, especially after four albums in such a short amount of time.  it makes sense that marling felt burnt out, but we’re very fortunate that she’s returned to the game with short movie, an album that slowly eases into a vast and more inclusive soundscape.

there’s an immediacy felt on “warrior,” the static opener of short movie, that wasn’t as present in marling’s previous material.  the metaphor is thinly veiled to allow her exhaustion with her subject to easily cut through, and it’s delivered via a haze of white noise and plaintive guitar textures that all but foreshadow the album’s lyrical tone.  but rather than grinding out fifty minutes of sparse, sorrowful ballads, marling partially circumvents the heavy thematic material with a variety of tempo choices and more expansive arrangements.  “false hope” is the first taste of marling in a primarily electric setting, one that becomes increasingly familiar throughout the course of the album.  with a full band in tow one can almost get pulled away from the heartbreaking subject matter, but its unshakable presence is renewed with each cadence of the song’s title.

marling’s electric guitar doesn’t feel like a crutch or a gimmick; it doesn’t change how she approaches songwriting harmonically nor does it become the singular focus of short movie, but it does provide her with new, complementary timbres (“walk alone”) and the extra weight to handle dense compositions (“false hope,” “don’t let me bring you down’).  if anything, it’s a necessary tool needed to dole out the stark musical contrast absent from her previous albums.  marling is still at her best on acoustic-charged numbers like “strange” and “easy,” and this new foil ensures that they aren’t glossed over.

short movie reads like another break-up album, subject matter that marling handles with aplomb.  feelings of inadequacy and moments of self-doubt are so dutifully chronicled that although marling is speaking from personal experience, many issues and scenarios feel within the grasp of the audience.  still, marling never shows her full hand; short movie comes across as a non-linear storyline, with pledges of self-betterment (“divine”) and sly all-knowing sneers (“gurdjieff’s daughter”) breaking up the darker emotions with which she grapples.

the weight of marling’s subject matter was never unbearable on previous outings, but the absence of a clearly sequential narrative breathes a bit of new life into her album structure.  lyrical turns are sometimes unexpected and are augmented by the subtle timbral enhancements that inform each song’s composition.  short movie is a logical permutation of marling’s well-crafted sound, one that leaves a slim margin for error or inaccessibility.  whether or not this somewhat conservative approach appeals to all is another question, but marling is still one of the most enthralling songwriters at work today.  give short movie a spin.

8.2/10

photo by michael schwartz

photo courtesy of michael schwartz

somewhat buried in this month’s unrelenting avalanche of album releases was tinashe’s amethyst, a seven-track mixtape released as a thank you to fans for their support of last year’s aquarius.  tinashe has offered up an alarming volume of work already in her short career, tirelessly working with a multitude of producers to craft her own immediately distinctive brand of r&b.  amethyst is no different; over its seven tracks she dials up almost as many producers, including “wrong,” a particularly strong collaboration with ryan hemsworth.  tinashe’s voice is to autotune like a hand is to a well-worn driving glove, sliding in and out of the tool with complete ease while hemsworth dictates a disarmingly simple yet compelling beat underneath.  the song’s subject matter is certainly nothing new, but tinashe delivers “wrong” with a level of acidity that is almost unprecedented in pop music today.  check it out below.

first drake, then kendrick lamar, now earl sweatshirt; the former odd future linchpin became the third major rapper to roll out a surprise album this year, although its announcement was apparently botched.  i don’t like shit, i don’t go outside showed up on itunes last night accompanied by a detailed track list, a release date (march 23rd), and a lead single entitled “grief.”  earlier this morning earl tweeted the link to the music video for “grief,” a sparse, dark joint appropriately shot in a negative contrast.  the song finds the increasingly hermetic rapper in a similar mindset to the one that dictated doris, although the beat is murkier and more distorted than most of his previous output.  it’s hard to tell if “grief” is indicative of earl’s new album or if it will merely be a component better understood in context – perhaps somewhat like “i” on to pimp a butterfly – but regardless, i don’t like shit, i don’t go outside will command a large swath of attention when it drops next week.  watch the video for “grief” below.

iron-wine

photo courtesy of warner brothers records // iron & wine

sam beam has ventured far from his humble beginnings.  his last two albums as iron & wine, ghost on ghost and kiss each other clean, have been lush and expansive studio endeavors, but beam first made his mark with the sparse home-recorded whispers that populated 2002’s the creek drank the cradle.  vaguely biblical and always poignant, the early iron & wine material is forever soothing, a comfort music of sorts for those quiet nights of solidarity.

beam launched an archival series of his earliest material back in january; its first volume contains sixteen tracks written and recorded around the time creek was released, and a few of them are performed live for the first time in ‘dreamers and makers are my favorite people,’ a new short film released last friday via iron & wine’s youtube channel.  the film centers around beam’s performance at jerry run theater, a small independent arts center in rural cleveland, west virginia.  while the early stages of beam’s tenure in the music industry are rightfully highlighted, the subplot of the documentary delves into the history of jerry run itself.  pretty cool that founder dusty anderson built the place completely by himself and completely on a whim.

you can stream ‘dreamers and makers are my favorite people’ in its entirety below.  if you are interested in purchasing this film, click here.

st. vincent vogue

photo courtesy of vogue magazine

if one were to shortlist progressive musicians making serious waves in today’s modern climate, st. vincent would undoubtedly reign near the top of said list.  annie clark’s extreme command of her guitar and the cohesiveness of her songwriting may have been best on display with last year’s st. vincent, but even a casual listener would concede that there had been prior sustained flourishes of prodigiousness.

take 2011’s strange mercy; clark pulled a sonic 180 degree turn in just four years and three albums, cultivating an aesthetic that is perhaps most truly her own (one could argue quite convincingly that st. vincent carries a bit of david byrne residue).  on record it’s difficult to differentiate between synthesizer timbres and clark’s guitar tone, and it’s damn impressive to witness those hand-offs happening in a live setting.  shortly after strange mercy dropped, annie clark brought her full band along to cut an impressive session for her label, 4ad.  her’s is the first installment of this series to lack an audience, but the performance is so visceral and visually stunning that the presence of spectators would almost inhibit her full potential.  check it out below.

———

chloe in the afternoon

surgeon

strange mercy

year of the tiger

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