pillar point – pillar point

pillarpoint-digitalcoverelectro-pop has become a polarizing genre; with a plethora of artists constantly tapping into the popular aesthetic, it’s just as likely for a project to be unceremoniously passed over as it is to be critically acclaimed.  scott reitherman took this risk when he shelved his indie project, throw me the statue, to focus on writing new music as pillar point.  two years of hard work and a relocation back to seattle paid off; pillar point’s self-titled debut album contains a collection of songs that meticulously explore all the nuances of synth-driven pop music.

a taste of pillar point’s dynamic and emotive capabilities was given last summer, in the form of a 7″ single containing “diamond mine” and “dreamin’.”  the single’s a-side would wind up being the lead-off track on the album, with its vintage synthesizers and distorted bass lines working in tandem towards slight reckless abandon.  “diamond mine” announces the presence of pillar point and showcases one facet of the project, but the album really begins to open up with “cherry.”  the third track follows an energetic one-two punch, bolstered by the excellent “eyeballs,” and is comparatively subdued, even slightly sinister in tone.  it’s here that reitherman’s lyrics finally reflect his music; they’re melancholy, but still contain substantial forward momentum created through narrative.

these two established components of pillar point’s aesthetic function as a metaphorical double-helix from this point forward; songs like “black hole” and “touch” are powered by insistent dance hooks that polarize their yearning and even downright sad lyrics, while slower jams like “strangers in paradise” and the aforementioned “dreamin'” place more of an emphasis on the somber words and their delivery.  pillar point was born out of substantial personal turmoil which is unabashedly presented across this album, but reitherman is savvy enough to masquerade behind less depressing sounds akin to lcd soundsystem and washed out.  with a groove that changes in tempo but never ceases to exist, a danceable backbone is built into the record that makes sure the listener never has the opportunity to become too depressed.

pillar point is a rare gift to the synth-pop world.  by blending his knowledge of pop songwriting with an affinity for darker electronic music like suicide, reitherman has created a product that truly stands out.  if you’re not immediately smitten by the analog synthesizers, the combination of pulsating beats and reitherman’s ethereal voice is sure to win you over.  a nine-song track list seems almost criminal, but there’s more than enough depth and emotion to unpack and digest.  pillar point is out via polyvinyl records on february 25th.  don’t miss out on this one.

8.6/10

listen to a new song from keep shelly in athens

if you haven’t heard already, sarah p. stepped away from her vocal duties in keep shelly in athens over the weekend, citing a desire to pursue other projects.  it’s a bummer of a piece of news to hear, and something sarah gave no indication of in her interview with dimestore saints last year, but there is a bittersweet silver lining.  in honor of her departure, keep shelly in athens has offered up “old time glory,” a new/old track, to stream and download via soundcloud.  you can check that out below.

keep shelly in athens will soldier on.  the band announced that they will continue with a new lead singer and guest collaborations, and that a new album can be expected later this year.  but for now, let’s take a moment and remember what a critical factor sarah p. was in establishing the band’s early success.

listen to a new song from pillar point

to say that pillar point’s debut album is highly anticipated by this site would be a gross understatement.  scott reitherman has dazzled with all of his offerings so far, from the straight-ahead “eyeballs” to the slow-jam tendencies of “dreamin’.”  a month out from the album’s release, reitherman has shared yet another track, this time through brooklyn vegan; “cherry” is funky, melancholy, and grandiose, and you can stream it below.

best of 2013: honorable mentions

in this segment, i present my annual list of albums that were pretty great, but that i couldn’t be bothered to rank.  2013 was an enormously great year for music, and i’m still reveling in that fact during the early hours of 2014.  the following handful of albums are presented in alphabetical order to save any clamoring; check them out.

keep shelly in athens – at homethe most striking aspect of at home was how dark and desolate the album was able to be.  front-loaded with infectious grooves like “oostende” and “flyway,” at home slows down with tracks like “madmen love” and “sails,” creating a truly polarizing album.  keep shelly in athens brought their a-game in 2013, and will continue to do so over the next year.

london grammar – if you waita super-arresting body of work from a trio of brits, if you wait is a sleeper album that has london grammar poised to break out in 2014.  hannah reid’s voice is nothing short of lush, and the instrumentation behind tracks like “stay awake” and “strong” recalls the winning downtempo formulas of the xx.  seriously, a band to watch.

radiator hospital – something wildsam cook-parrott writes music befitting for fans of waxahatchee and swearin’, understandable since he hangs out with the crutchfield sisters on the regular.  radiator hospital’s newest album is chock-full of lo-fi garage pop songs that are often insanely catchy and always incredibly well-written; “our song” will make you dance the first time you hear it and listen intently on subsequent spins.

washed out – paracosmernest greene’s second album as washed out is a lush exploration of organic sound.  after largely using electronic elements to create his 2011 debut within & without, greene stuck with a bevy of vintage keyboards and synthesizers on paracosm, resulting in a much more psychedelic texture.

listen to a new song from school of night

about a month ago, we were treated to the first single from the antlers’ keyboardist darby cicci, who records his own music under the moniker school of night.  today he’s shared another track off of his self-titled debut ep, out october 15th; this one’s called “fire escape,” and it’s a melancholy slow-burner that feels right at home next to burst apart-era antlers songs.  check it out below, courtesy of school of night’s soundcloud page.

interview – keep shelly in athens

i’ve been watching grecian duo keep shelly in athens like a hawk for quite some time now, eagerly waiting their debut full-length at home and eating it up upon its release.  things got even more exciting when frontwoman sarah p. agreed to take time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions via email.  she shed some light on the incredibly simple ethos of the band, as well as some insight into the bevy of emotions found across at home and her impression of the recent turmoil in greece.  check out the transcript below.

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keep shelly in athens got a lot of early exposure online, especially on sites over here like gorilla vs. bear.  now that you’ve been working with a record label not attached the the blogosphere, do you notice any changes in how you approach making music and its dissemination?

not at all.  we are always the same two who are making music.  of course, we feel that we have evolved our sound in comparison to the early stuff, and i think that is best for every band – to unfold and develop.  definitely the support of our label it is really important.  we have got a really nice team around us that is helping a lot, that is true, but that did not bring any changes in our songwriting.

the intimacy created on at home is quite remarkable, especially for a duo operating within a genre largely defined by solo acts.  what’s your approach to songwriting?

we make the music that we love.  that is from where it all starts in the first place.  whenever we sit down to write songs, we do not know what we will come up in the end.  the idea it is to express yourself, no matter what.  is not that keep shelly in athens are musicians who studied in colleges about music; we are empirical musicians, driven by our instincts.  that is probably why our music is kind of layered and most of the times sounds a little weird, blending together all those influences we have.

 

as i mentioned in my review of at home, the songs at the beginning of the album decidedly upbeat in comparison to some of the downtempo explorations later on.  was this shift in mood consciously sparked by anything?

the whole album has this roller coaster mood.  you get high, then you know you’ll get down.  no matter what, it happens.  it is the atmosphere we wanted to build; it is that feeling we were exploring; it is all about emotions.  when you are experiencing something intensely, you have already made sure you’ll feel its opposite.  you cannot help it.

have the recent political and social events in greece impacted your work at all?

we might be spotlighted all the time by the media, but spotlights fade out and we are the only ones left around, experiencing the harsh results of this crisis, socially and politically.  with a flimsy society, not a stable foundation, greece at the moment seems to have a quicksand under her feet.  this affects the whole lifestyle, and definitely our work.  both at the creative process and at the “how to make that happen” question.

and remember, it is not just greece.  it is not just greece who appears as the black ship.

“flyway,” for example, is about all this.  the personal strife of every single person, who has to run after it all, to compete, to reach the other ones who are quicker than he is.  he might have lost his faith, he might feel weak, but he still has to fight, or else he will be left behind.  and that is not a good deal, not a good deal at all.

speaking of greece, that’s not a country you hear a lot of music coming out of, at least on an international level.  what’s the inside scoop on the athens music scene?

greek artists seem to be quite inventive lately, they seem to want to be heard outside the country.  this crisis of ours – financial, social, political – has changed our minds and we raised our voices somehow, we were determined that we will stand up tall.  it is true that greek artists are more active than ever, and we team up.  recently, i wrote lyrics and sang for the plastic flowers, a band you should definitely check out.

 

what are you listening to as of late that constitutes more of a guilty pleasure than anything else?

i have no guilty pleasures, to be honest.  i am listening to it all; if i like something, i do not feel ashamed about liking it.  that’s a principle in my life.  it always depends on the mood you are in.

i see that you’ve got a good-sized north american tour slated for october.  what aspect of touring are you looking forward to the most?

we have been missing touring around.  it has been a while since we have last been on the road.  plus, what changed this time is that we have the support of our label, cascine.  rearrangements, new team, new songs, probably new people coming to our shows.  probably, hopefully.  it will be a new experience for everybody.  so i cannot wait for it all; i want to experience and enjoy every single moment.

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you’ll be able to check out keep shelly in athens next month when they hit north america for a string of tour dates; the full list is here.  at home is a fantastic record that you should definitely spin sometime if you haven’t yet gotten the chance, and a band this prolific is bound to churn out something really good again in the near future.  i can’t wait.

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keep shelly in athens – at home

grecian duo keep shelly in athens perhaps represent the gold standard of electronic bands that are able to make meaningful pop music in a post-chillwave era.  after forming in 2010 and releasing a string of eps and singles through forest family, the vinyl imprint of gorilla vs. bear, the two hopped on cascine records to cut their debut full-length, which is far more dark and atmospheric than i had expected.

it’s important to talk about “oostende,” the second single off of at home and one of my favorite tracks from this summer, but it’s pointless to dwell on it.  anyone searching for chillwave replications will quickly find out that this song is a misnomer; at the very best, “oostende” is a reference point for faithful listeners, reiterating what keep shelly in athens have built up to this point but using it to jump off into the next realm of musical exploration.  the subsequent three tracks send the duo descending into the downtempo realm, arriving on “madmen love” and “stay away,” a pair of songs that are just plain heavy.  sarah p’s vocals are as ethereal as one would have come to expect, but the production is notably more dense than earlier, hazy tracks like “recollection.”

keep shelly in athens continue to flirt with these two permutations of electronic music so expertly that sharp left turns, like the brief, gritty “knife” catch both active and passive listeners by surprise, but the duo is simply at their best on dreamy, downtempo numbers like “sails.”  a simple synth pad coupled with precise drum hits floats underneath the texture for most of the album’s deep cut, before giving way to a gorgeous cacophony that details the band’s paramount understanding of how chaos and harmony should complement one another.

at home is one of the few albums i’ve heard this year that absolutely demands the listener’s full attention.  while the songs lack measurable pop hooks, they make up for it with sheer intensity and sharp attention to detail.  i’d be remiss if i didn’t recommend this record.

7.8/10

washed out – paracosm

chillwave is like the betamax of indie genres: it was cool for a couple of years, and my uncle sometimes jokes that he wishes it was still around.  just three summers after its apex, chillwave’s largest proponents have started to distance themselves from that identity.  toro y moi underscored with this year’s anything in return that he no longer would stand to be pigeonholed, so it makes sense that his south carolina counterpart would follow suit.

it should be noted that, for all the transparency chillwave is/was purported to have, its two godfathers each retained their own individual tendencies, which have now been pushed to the extreme.  chaz bundick steered toro y moi slowly towards the r&b side of chillwave, crossing over elements of pop and working on collaborations with tyler, the creator in the process.  ernest greene’s trajectory was a bit different and initially mysterious; the man behind washed out remained largely silent between 2011’s within and without and the announcement of his follow-up effort, paracosm.

 

with the lead-off single “it all feels right,” greene effectively patented something he referred to as “daytime psychedelia.”  the trademark washed out vocal manipulations are still present and the overall ambience is similar, but what reigns supreme are the new textures that supplement that ambience.  synth sounds are more jarring and angular in comparison to greene’s previous output, which aids in keeping his songs from becoming derivative.

this psychedelic nature reigns supreme throughout paracosm, turning songs like “all i know” and the album’s title track into trippy experiences that slightly recall youth lagoon’s sophomore album from earlier this year.  but with all the conscious rejection of chillwave and its surrounding terminology, greene is at his best on songs like “don’t give up” and “all over now,” songs that recall salient traits of the genre.

the end result of paracosm paints a picture of an artist who’s trying to move in a new direction, but is taking his time getting there.  this overzealousness in musical reinvention may yield a product slightly inconsistent from what was hinted at, but it’s still a pretty gorgeous spectacle nonetheless.

7.8/10