grebes – house creature

– featured image courtesy of malcolm donaldson –

house creature, the debut effort from jacob ungerleider’s new solo project, grebes, is an intimate affair. across a sparse setting of eight songs, ungerleider navigates a more muted realm of pop, one populated by soft vocal hooks, enveloping synthesizers, and faint percussion.

the album’s opening third houses its singles; “one trick pony” is the syncopated prelude providing misdirection before “wyd” and “beleev” land, each of which use synths as means to subtly different ends.

“crown” and “halo” function as similar complements, another indication of ungerleider’s attention to thematics and sequencing. “halo” is the more fleshed-out of the two, easing in to a smooth backbeat punctuated by a lead vocal that flirts with falsetto and a crystalline synth motif that wanders in and out of the foreground.

the final section of house creature begins with an about-face: “always home” trades electronics for delicate, finger-picked acoustic guitar, an organic palette for ungerleider’s whispered vocal that’s eventually answered by a soulful, brassy countermelody. with “plum” and the standout closer “always new” in tow, house creature leaves its mark as an exemplar of introspective isolation, an aural companion for late nights of solitude.

house creature is out now via broken circles. listen in below.

true blossom – heater

– featured image courtesy of rob lambert –

true blossom is an uncannily accurate moniker for a young band with a debut this polished, this confident. the atlanta-based quintet formed around the collaborative spark of vocalist sophia cox and guitarist chandler kelley in the humid early summer of 2017, accumulating its final three members and writing many of the songs that appear on its first full-length, heater, throughout the rest of the year. across ten tracks, true blossom turns in a vibrant portfolio of pristine synth-pop, one that pays astute homage to its studio-focused forebears while still keying in on diy aesthetics.

after the irresistible lead-off single “baby” and a triumphant bloom of synthesizers on its companion piece, “me & u,” heater hits its stride on “flu punks,” the core aural tenets of true blossom coalescing in a tidy package; prominent, elastic bass lines, brassy synth leads, and crisp guitar bell-tones weave a tapestry atop a robust percussive foundation, a rich template that informs many of the album’s subsequent tracks.

on heater’s title track, cox and synthesist jamison murphy engage in an abstract conversation, a droning synth response coming in reply to cox’s admonition of “i hear you buzzing / don’t want to hear any more of your talking,” along with a more measured, melodic counter to her parting shot of “you think it’s cool / it’s never as cool as you’re thinking.” this fracturing is an excellent precursor to the album’s final trio of songs, a triptych of loss and longing that leans on true blossom’s glossy affect as both the perfect foil to and embellisher of its more melancholic moments.

true blossom’s first nine original songs (the album’s tenth, its functional interlude, is a gorgeous, glassy cover of mount eerie’s “grave robbers”) are formidable in their cohesiveness, their assured demeanor an excellent foundation upon which to construct future works. heater is out now via citrus city records. stream the album in full below.

mr twin sister – salt

– featured image courtesy of karen sofia colon –

the new york quartet mr twin sister has, in a relatively quiet manner, released one of this year’s finest albums.  salt, the band’s first full-length in four years, is incredibly measured and rich, its nine tracks pulsating with a singular blend of jazz-inflected electronic pop, mood music for tumultuous times.

grounded in andrea estella’s fluid contralto timbre and featuring the titular marionette on its cover, salt is striking, both aurally and visually.  opening number “keep on mixing” is very much in the foreground, its commanding heartbeat throbbing as estella’s lead vocal contorts itself around a bleak lyrical outlook, elastic in its exploration of syllables and contour as it unearths fleeting silver linings.

elsewhere, mr twin sister let themes of consumerism soak into successive tracks; most prominent throughout the slinking “buy to return,” material lust is also on the periphery of the soothing electric piano soundscape of “koh-i-noor” and dovetails with admissions of insecurity on “tops and bottoms.”

if estella’s vocals are the album’s focal point, it’s only because the support structure settles so effortlessly into place.  gauzy keyboard textures and syncopated percussion (the latter often courtesy of pablo eluchans) are standard fare; the aqueous and complex landscapes that populate “deseo” and “set me free” are particularly memorable.  augmenting that electronic foundation is eric cardona’s saxophone work, the defining timbre of “alien fm” and the cool eventual conqueror of the stuttering, brassy “taste in movies.”

with ambitious and honest thematic explorations slotted alongside exquisite instrumentation and musicianship, the latest from mr twin sister is a rewarding experience, a fitting sonic nightcap for an exhausting year.  salt is out now via twin group.  stream mr twin sister’s excellent new full-length in its entirety below.

caicos – promised lands

– featured image courtesy of tory williams – 

alex frenkel’s work as caicos is doused in vibrant polychrome, its rock-solid pop foundations meandering through fields of bucolic folk, minefields of electronica, and the abstractions of art rock.  our first taste of frenkel’s debut project came this spring in the form of “turned again (crux)”; the new york songwriter is now gearing up for the release of promised lands, a seven-song extended play sprawling beyond its twenty-five minute run time.

the aptly-titled opening number, “watercolor (mala),” is packed with saturated hues, a thematic distillation that prefaces many of the tropes that subsequently appear.  while the coursing second single, “vega,” feels like the project’s largest sonic outlier, the straight-ahead misdirection is grounded in the assured coolness of frenkel’s lead vocal, stretching into falsetto with ease and laying the framework for sly future callbacks.

promised lands hits its stride with the soft acoustic shuffle of “southeast,” a relaxing exercise in reassurance that parlays its existence into the first panel of a breezy triptych; “the push and pull” revels in motifs that evaporate in wisps of reversed delay while the standout penultimate cut “salvo” trades acoustic guitars for airy synths and bell-tone counter-melodies.  frenkel saves the title track for his finale, a measured rumination that pares back to just a finger-picked acoustic guitar and proves to be just as compelling as its predecessors.

with just seven songs, frenkel is able to turn in a fully-realized presentation of what caicos is: a stirring electro-acoustic project that relishes nuance and rock-solid songwriting perfectly timed for the changing seasons.  promised lands is due august 10th via very jazzed, but you can listen to it a few days early right here on the dimestore.  dig in.

danielle fricke – body

– featured images courtesy of sophie harris-taylor –

“album of the fortnight” is an occasional feature that digs into a recent release of note. the articles will run roughly during the middle and at the end of each month, always on a friday; the album or body of work in question will have been released at some point during that two-week span.  this column focuses on art that resonates deeply, on pieces that necessitate more than just a knee-jerk reaction.  next up: the new extended play from danielle fricke.

Danielle fricke has been hibernating for the better part of three years.  the london, ontario, musician released her hypnotic full-length, moon, at the tail-end of 2015, its dozen tracks blurring the lines between glacial ambience and plaintive singer-songwriter stylings while precluding the lengthy silence that would follow.

last week, fricke quietly released BODY, a six-song collection of new material that functions as a cursory addendum to its predecessor with plenty of wonderful nuances to unpack.  the extended play’s front half is a familiar palette, its slowly-evolving soundscapes providing the foundation for fricke’s haunting vocal exercises.  “intro” is a sustained prelude, its twilight field recordings melding into intimate, ambient chamber music.  the strings’ hesitation becomes more pronounced as the track reaches its conclusion, anticipating the blizzard of white noise that blankets “everything,” fricke’s voice finally emerging from the fray and embarking on a tenuous expedition with a small group of synthesizers in tow.

danielle fricke.jpg

at the approximate center of BODY lies “enough,” a quintessential danielle fricke offering that is also the extended play’s lone moment of sustained clarity.  nearly seven minutes long, “enough” finds fricke’s voice unobstructed as she makes her plea against a backdrop of guitar arpeggios, a pairing that was her hallmark across moon.  squalls of distortion percolate to the surface in the song’s final minutes, aiding fricke in her farewell as she journeys on to the collection’s last three tracks.

“cold, blue, even” and “SRGNG” are such marked sonic departures for fricke, each in their own singular way.  the former is through-composed, picking up on the vestiges of “enough” and enduring two minutes of subterranean synth quakes before discovering a piano chord progression replete with wordless vocal motifs; the latter is a glitchy choral exercise, pitch-shifted vocal loops stuttering and restarting while low reeds pulse in the background.  taken together with the extended play’s brief coda, the final ten minutes of BODY go a long way to cement fricke’s experimental bona fides and to reward active listeners with layer upon layer of nuance.

just six songs in length, devotees of fricke’s signature brand of hushed, exploratory world-building would be remiss to hope that BODY is anything but a stop-gap, and that more music is on the way.  in the meantime, stream the extended play in its entirety – preferably with headphones – below.

two meters – two meters

– featured image courtesy of margo dellaquila – 

tyler costolo’s earliest offering as two meters was a force to be reckoned with.  when we premiered the florida songwriter’s debut track, “left behind,” at the end of april, costolo’s ability to transform profound grief into a cathartic was readily apparent, and he was able to subvert that catharsis – donning the millstone again – on the haunting follow-up, “captive audience.”

last friday, costolo released his self-titled debut extended play via the houston label very jazzed.  three additional tracks accompany the aforementioned singles, altogether providing a cohesive introductory statement for his whispered brand of bedroom pop confessionals.  “current sequel” is a weary interlude, paying homage to its title by repurposing the harsh, grating textures of “left behind” for its own mourning metaphor, while the distant arpeggios that populate “trapped inside” are perfect conduits for costolo’s spare exploration of loneliness and isolation.

closing out the project is the slightly macabre yet endearing “web,” its idiosyncrasies bottled up in the angular piano motifs perched atop the texture.  additional production from label mates get a life and pastel feature throughout two meters, and the latter lends their vocals to the finale, wordless echoes that accentuate the project’s haunting thesis.  at just under fifteen minutes, two meters is a compelling debut best – and easily – consumed in one sitting.  listen to the extended play, streaming in full below.

stadiums & shrines – dreams

– featured image courtesy of victoria masters – 

“album of the fortnight” is an occasional feature that digs into a recent release of note. the articles will run roughly during the middle and at the end of each month, always on a friday; the album or body of work in question will have been released at some point during that two-week span.  this column focuses on art that resonates deeply, on pieces that necessitate more than just a knee-jerk reaction.  next up: a compilation curated by stadiums & shrines.

What is a music blog, anyways?  caught up in a seemingly endless stream of press releases and promotional blasts, sites might adopt a reverse-chronological feed, posting multiple items per day; others may adhere more towards a one-a-day policy (hello); still others may publish more intermittently.  regardless of frequency, this small community is passionate about the craft, making a strong case that discovery and curation by human beings can be much more intimate and impactful than the work done by algorithms.

since 2011, the new york-based stadiums & shrines has drifted away from the daily grind of release cycles in favor of an excellent radio show and multimedia collaborations with beloved musicians.  the result of the latter is dreams, a sprawling compilation powered by visual artist nathaniel whitcomb’s collages and contributions from more than twenty artists.  a project that’s equally auditory, visual, and tactile, the physical release of dreams comes with a gatefold book containing “handmade collages and written vignettes — creative exchanges between musicians and … stadium & shrines,” says the site’s dave sutton in an interview with goldflakepaint.

those collages, assembled from a 1950s book on tourism, each contain images from a specific landmass – usually a country, sometimes a province or a state.  after assembly, sets of collages were delivered to specific artists; the “dreams” were the sonic interpretations that were returned, with sutton and matthew sage then adding a written narrative to the audio-visual product.

s&s dreams

many of the resulting songs can certainly be classified as ambient, but perhaps exploratory is a more thematic adjective; indeed, a handful of contributors selected their collages based on places they were visiting or would travel to soon.  wisps of maria usbeck’s tropical buoyancy swirl around the digital bonus track “mexico,” while the pastoral strains of mutual benefit are very much present in his ruminative “bali.”  while quibbling about genre could certainly occur, it’s clear that dreams did not mandate the sacrifice of an artist’s identity for the sake of a predetermined, prescribed aesthetic.  calling cards at times juxtapose or complement their counterparts, providing the compilation with a lush, three-dimensional palette.

tracks that subsequently appeared on an artist’s own project – teen daze’s “alaska” opens his 2013 full-length glacier, while ricky eat acid’s “algeria” is housed within a longer composition on three love songs – feel re-contextualized and reinvigorated here, a testament to stadiums & shrines’ dedication to sequencing.  of course, dreams also boasts stunning pieces that are brand-new to its release, like yumi zouma’s french excursion and the spanish getaway taken by julie byrne and eric littman.  julia lucille’s “norway” in particular stands out, the inherent and effective sparseness of her arrangements lending itself well to a frosty, nordic REM cycle.

like any seminal compilation, the effects of dreams can be felt in myriad ways.  the physical version of the album is bookended by sea oleena and gem club, two artists whose signals have gone dim over the past few years; hearing “portugal” and “england’s countryside,” respectively, feels akin to the familiarity and comfort that washes over when running into a long-lost friend.  on a larger scale, dreams is an affirmation of the outsized power of human relationships and collaborations, proof that enduring and endearing projects can be cultivated at comparatively glacial speeds.  the change of pace is refreshing.

dreams is out today via the fine folks at cascine.  spend some time with the album in full, streaming below.

sun june – years

– featured image courtesy of bryan parker –

the debut full-length from sun june would be formidable on the strength of its four singles alone.  the lilting “discotheque,” the churning “slow rise ii,” and the understated “young” combine for a veritable triple threat right out of the gate, while the impossibly wistful “records” sets the bar for the album’s flip-side.  spread across years, howeverare six more gems of equal strength, a testament to the austin quintet’s effortless ability to sequence an album as melancholic as it is instantly memorable.

rounding out the a-side is “johnson city,” its contemplative slide guitar work further broadening sun june’s already-spacious horizons, and the nesting behavior of “homes,” a low and slow saxophone undercurrent dovetailing with warm vocal harmonies.  the album’s final four tracks rest comfortably in the vestiges of “records,” each latching on to a certain timbre or cavernous echo and exploring it fully.  the light four-on-the-floor pulse of “baby blue” and the descending turnarounds that populate “apartments” in particular work to provide respite, subtle gestures that drape sun june’s aesthetic with nostalgia and comfort.

while years registers primarily as a guitar-centric album, michael bain’s motifs and interjections pasted to a wall of reverb, laura colwell’s electric piano treatments don’t deserve to be overlooked; the instrument’s chiming vibrato is the linchpin of penultimate cut “i’ve been,” stretching into its upper register as the song swells to a conclusion.  taken together, years is a compelling inaugural outing, its ten tracks calibrated for optimal contemplation.

years arrives on friday via keeled scales, but you can stream the album in its entirety early, courtesy of hype machine.

juliana daugherty – light

– featured image courtesy of tom daly – 

there are myriad quaint moments on juliana daugherty’s impeccable debut album light, ones of such commanding stillness and solitude that stand in stark contrast to the three-alarm fire that is the current collective everyday existence.  the charlottesville, virginia, resident largely eschewed the macro-level political trappings on her latest, but its message is still radical: the reclamation of self from mental illness.

the mildly propulsive opening tracks ease gently into daugherty’s intimate world, “baby teeth” especially, aided by its steady, syncopated guitar and warm keyboard interjections amidst daugherty’s meandering lead vocal.   a ten-track collection that sees no merit in trafficking in conciseness, light rewards the listener who engages critically from start to finish, hitting its stride halfway through and becoming truly powerful in its final third.  in particular, the rhythmic playfulness of its title track is the perfect segue into the home stretch, the pensive “come with me” pairing with the sparse “california” to present daugherty at her finest.

armed with a classical music upbringing, a multi-instrumentalist’s ease, and an mfa in poetry, daugherty is uniquely poised to turn in an album of this caliber.  light is chock-full of arresting moments – the cinematic majesty of “sweetheart”; the slow-burning assurance of “bliss”; the rich, unexpected vocal harmonies throughout “easy” – but what endures is daugherty’s unparalleled confidence, charting its course to emerge from the darkness.

light is out now via western vinyl; stream the album in full below.

yours are the only ears – knock hard

– featured image courtesy of alyssa yohana –

“album of the fortnight” is a bi-weekly feature that digs into a recent release of note. the articles will run roughly during the middle and at the end of each month, always on a friday; the album or body of work in question will have been released at some point during that two-week span.  this column focuses on art that resonates deeply, on pieces that necessitate more than just a knee-jerk reaction.  next up: yours are the only ears.

Even after susannah cutler began sharing her music publicly in 2014, its dissemination was incredibly measured: a track here, an extended play there, each release a quick glimpse inside a setting so intimate it’s nearly indescribable.  with knock hard, her first full-length release as yours are the only earscutler has finally allowed full immersion into the innermost depths of her private world.

the album’s nine tracks contain a standard palette so sparing that each foreign element introduced carries weight of seismic proportions; the aqueous synth pads on “to be alone” whisk the track away on a solitary voyage to sea, while the melancholic slide motif at the tail end of “seeds” seems to add a second wistful character to the conversation.  the sparseness is a necessity – best not to bury one’s soul being bared in the mix – and comes in handy for a project so centered around the second person, light finger-picking progressing softly in the background as cutler confides in hushed tones.

yatoe knock hard.jpg

despite its enduring sonic warmth and inherently bucolic tendencies, knock hard grapples with the darker questions of existence and belonging, from opening number “saturn” through to its finale, “low.”  there’s a quiet existential crisis housed in the early standout “fire in my eyes,” cutler’s voice embodying the album’s fragility as it cracks over the repeated inquiry “am i a good person?,” while the gritty “enter me” ruminates on the effects of abrupt abandonment, observing that “comfort makes a funny face / when it goes away.”

clocking in at just under thirty minutes, knock hard is a tidy bundle of understated folk songs, acoustic guitars supplemented by well-placed synth countermelodies and barebones percussion.  songs frequently eschew identifiable refrains, cutler instead favoring streams of consciousness that may be tied together by a common vocal melody or a simple but potent mantra.  it’s this choice that gives knock hard its gravity, a versatile strategy that allows cutler to either chart a linear course towards reckoning or to disappear into the contours of a specific emotion or situation.

an album at least four years in the making, the debut from yours are the only ears is essential listening, the strength of its whispered intimacy becoming more apparent each time the needle contacts the wax.  knock hard is out now via team love records.  listen in full below.