video age – pop therapy

– featured image courtesy of sarah wagner –

staying on top of every new release is hard.  staying on top of every new release is even harder when your blog uses language that suggests multiple people are cogs in the machine, but really you’re just flailing helplessly by yourself, trying not to drown in a heavily-saturated inbox.  “fashionably late” is a remedy, an intermittent feature designed to showcase particularly special albums or EPs that evaded us (there i go again) during their structured press cycle.  next up is the sophomore full-length from video age.

A song of the summer is among the last bastions of the monoculture, something still largely dictated by radio play and its overall utility.  an album of the summer is a bit more fickle.  the latter isn’t as ubiquitous, in turn exponentially more subjective, and the date of its arrival a bit less indicative of its endurance.  pop therapy, the sophomore full-length from the new orleans duo video age, makes a strong case for contention as this year’s go-to album of the summer, its eleven tracks an instant portal to FM synth-laden, compressed guitar-driven sonic nostalgia.

on their 2016 debut, living alone, bandmates ross farbe and ray micarelli turned in a guitar-pop masterclass coyly disguised as a deep dive into 1980s synthesis.  its successor sheds any semblance of a veneer and puts its synths squarely in the foreground, with lush pads, aqueous bass lines, and brassy squelching leads all converging as an aural thesis for an incredibly timeless new wave exercise.

opening number “lover surreal” is a no-holds-barred take on this approach, a legion of yamahas cresting towards the crystalline cadences of the chorus, but the synth’s reign is often more subtle, machiavellian even: “days to remember” masquerades as the most immediate callback to living alone, only to be disrupted by a buoyant synth motif that instantly shifts the track’s tenor, while the gorgeous, understated fantasy “paris to the moon” is underscored by pulsing chord progressions and the soft detuned wanderings of sustained notes.

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admittedly, it’s rather easy to get lost in the glassy production and utmost care that farbe and micarelli put into the arrangements across pop therapy.  if the first listen is defined by the album’s immediate accessibility and awareness of what constitutes a memorable hook, then subsequent passes through can easily be dedicated to nuance, either by exploring each timbre in isolation or examining how they function in concert, often shifting fluidly from melodic to counter-melodic to rhythmic duties.  pop music is, for better or for worse, often defined by the applicability of its lyrics, however; video age don’t disappoint in this realm, either, turning in a booklet that demonstrates their understanding of a simple refrain’s impact alongside an introspective depth.

dealing in the wistful and the nostalgic is all but expected of a band with such a sonic palette, but farbe drills beneath surface level observations across pop therapy.  “hold on (i was wrong),” a mid-tempo number with the split personality of a dance track and a ballad, hones in on the minutiae of a concession; the fantastically-meta “echo chamber” makes references to its digital namesake while emulating the recording structure, the couplet “in my catacomb / slap-back telling me i’m not alone” solidifying its place as a studio engineer’s anthem; the gait and brassy synth swells of “scenic highway” converge on a portrait of a contemplative scenic drive.

as its title implies, pop therapy finds video age exploring the genre’s propensity for healing.  indeed, its title track contains their most direct and compelling mantra: “pop therapy / it’s easy.”  in an interview with the new orleans advocatefarbe pushes back on the cynicism attached to the concept of pop therapy, saying “it’s actually positive. i’m quoting ray here, but the ’80s music we listen to has a really victorious, heartwarming, enthusiastic feeling to it.  and it’s just these specific chord progressions a lot of times.  so ray said, ‘it’s easy! you can make yourself feel better by playing these chords.'”  with nearly two dozen songs under their belt to back up that proclamation, it appears that video age may be onto something.

tomberlin – at weddings

– featured image courtesy of the artist –

staying on top of every new release is hard.  staying on top of every new release is even harder when your blog uses language that suggests multiple people are cogs in the machine, but really you’re just flailing helplessly by yourself, trying not to drown in a heavily-saturated inbox.  “fashionably late” is a remedy, an intermittent feature designed to showcase particularly special albums or eps that evaded us (there i go again) during their structured press cycle.  next up is the debut effort from tomberlin.

The postscript at the bottom of tomberlin’s bandcamp page reads “my fifth of a century,” a simple reminder of the youth that accompanies the incredible weight and poignancy of at weddings, her debut album.  with little more ammunition than a guitar and her voice, tomberlin excavates artifacts of listlessness and loneliness across the album’s seven tracks, self-doubt and hesitation wrapped up in lyrics capable of utter devastation at a moment’s notice.

throughout at weddings, tomberlin consistently accomplishes something rather notable: crafting memorable sentiments without relying on conventional refrains for reinforcement.  instead, it’s the vocal melody that often remains consistent throughout a given track, lilting contours pausing or altogether evaporating for maximum effect.  even on album centerpiece “you are here,” the lone instance of a discernible chorus, tomberlin achieves the desired impact through a combination of melodic familiarity and intimate points of view that truly underscore the song’s resounding abandonment.

Tomberlin At Weddings

meandering, finger-picked acoustic guitars are the album’s primary accompaniment, the instrument’s timbre consonant, therapeutic.  on “untitled 1,” it works in tandem with the whispers of a brassy synth to create a hypnotic aura; on closing number “february,” plaintive arpeggios ebb and flow peacefully, mirroring the lyrical delivery while belying its mournful content.  the moments that do deviate from this norm, like the chiming, descending wurlitzer foundation of “tornado,” are a necessary jolt to the status quo, a vague timbral equivalent that extracts additional facets of tomberlin’s aesthetic.

owen pallett’s presence throughout at weddings is more so felt than heard.  the multi-instrumentalist handled the album’s engineering and production while also providing secondary instrumentation, like the murky, distant synthesizer pads that flesh out a handful of tracks.  he factors in most prominently on “self-help,” a later cut saturated with disorienting, abrasive interludes that splice up an arresting lead vocal delivered by both tomberlin and pallett.  but most importantly, pallett doesn’t imprint any of his distinctive fingerprints onto at weddings, sagely allowing the album to be singularly tomberlin, through and through.

at weddings is an intimate affair presented in modest fashion; although ultimately the byproduct of two people working closely in concert, the salient components of the album emanate directly from sarah tomberlin’s core.  this is a project that gently asks to be consumed slowly, with care.  appease it.

kedr livanskiy – january sun

– featured image courtesy of liza zubkova –

staying on top of every new release is hard.  staying on top of every new release is even harder when your blog uses language that suggests multiple people are cogs in the machine, but really you’re just flailing helplessly by yourself, trying not to drown in a heavily-saturated inbox.  “fashionably late” is a remedy, an intermittent feature designed to showcase particularly special albums or eps that evaded us (there i go again) during their structured press cycle.  first up is the intimate, surprisingly cozy effort from russian producer kedr livanskiy.  have at it.

press play on kedr livanskiy’s debut ep, january sun, and a rich bass synthesizer immediately filters through both stereo channels before gradually becoming muffled, as if someone placed a thick pillow over its output source.  perhaps it’s due to the title or perhaps it’s livanskiy’s backstory, with its harsh, desolate imagery of russian winter threaded through the narrative, but the opening seconds of “razrushitelniy krug (destruction cycle)” initially registered as austere and unforgiving, foreshadowing a hypothetical soundscape that would reflect the environment it was sculpted in.  the rest of the song – and january sun, for that matter – couldn’t be more contrary to that notion.

using a relatively simple palette of muted drum programming, mournful synth pads, throbbing bass lines, and reverb-soaked, obscured vocals, livanskiy creates a six-song cycle of underground dance music that thoroughly explores facets of every 1990’s act she admits being indebted to: the haze of mazzy star; the introspection of boards of canada; the volatility of aphex twin.  the end result certainly isn’t bright, but it does feel familiar, a surefire source of comfort for when temperatures inevitably plunge once again.

kedr livanskiy january sun cover

january sun is probably best-enjoyed in one sitting;  although the ep isn’t through-composed, the jarring chord changes on its title track don’t feel nearly as ominous when they’re not immediately followed by the unchecked kinetic energy that comes tumbling out of “otvechai za slova (keep your word),” while “winds of may” and “sgoraet (burning down)” work in tandem to precipitate the latter’s explosive coda.

the phrase “kedr livanskiy” translates from the russian to lebanese cedar, a type of tree repeatedly referenced in the bible that can also be traced back even further in written history to ancient sumerian culture and religion.  while it’s completely possible that the moniker is at least somewhat informed by livanskiy’s given name, yana kedrina, it’s much more fanciful to imagine her work as analogous to this storied, revered artifact.  and maybe it is; january sun is largely predicated on music influential at the beginning of livanskiy’s life, and there are noticeable elements with origins that predate her birth.  these staying forces have endured an admittedly brief but sensory-overloaded lifetime to inform a nostalgic collection of woozy house music that at times feels more like an intimate retrospective than the ambitious, transformative debut that it truly is.

maybe it’s overly ambitious to stack the historical significance of livanskiy’s moniker against the significance of the timbres that molded her core ideology.  maybe it’s paradoxical to consume an ep so indebted to desolate frozen tundras in the dead heat of summer.  it is clear, however, that there’s no single correct lens through which to view a body of work that emits this type of immediacy.  january sun feels like music rewardingly scribbled down as therapy, an explanation of self.  the catharsis yana kedrina undoubtedly felt while crafting these songs resonates deeply in their final form; its strength and pertinence will only grow as leaves become crisp and the winds begin to bite yet again.