chvrches – every open eye

every open eye cover
out september 25th via glassnote

chvrches have always made it a point to exceed expectations.  their strong early offerings landed them both consistent critical acclaim and a record deal with a major label subsidiary, and the glaswegian trio embarked on an ostensibly exhausting world tour following the rave reviews of the bones of what you believe.

lauren mayberry sang pristine hooks over equally-pristine synth arrangements, songs swelled to pre-chorus heights before exploding into the mind-boggling refrain itself, and despite this meticulous attention to detail and production, most of bones retained a raw, emotive component not readily available on the surface of most synth-pop albums.  chvrches spent six months writing and recording every open eye earlier this year, an ambitious follow-up that chases the highs of its predecessor.

it’s a sensible practice to emulate a previous success, but chvrches toe the surprisingly fine line between emulation and replication.  “never ending circles” opens forcefully and soon crests to a chorus as titanic as the trio has ever penned, though the track reads as a slight misdirection.  the strength of “leave a trace” tides the album over for a bit longer, but every open eye eventually wavers dangerously close to mediocrity, a territory previously foreign to chvrches.

nevermind that “make them gold” has a title that seems to exclusively pander to this generation’s optimistic hashtag users; the song’s delivery is flawed, its vocal pacing sophomoric, and the refrain’s melodic contour – arguably the most crucial component of a chvrches song – is painful, a glaring misstep that somehow survived the cutting-room floor.  “make them gold” joins “empty threat” as the chief byproducts of a recording period that was a bit rushed and ultimately suffered from bouts of tunnel vision.  the anthems that dotted bones were almost accidental in magnitude, and chvrches certainly don’t bat a thousand when trying to capitalize on their arena-caliber potential this time around.

it’s a shame that those blemishes are placed at very strategically poor points on the album, because every open eye does host some of chvrches’ finest work to date.  “clearest blue” is the sprawling centerpiece that bones decidedly lacked, and martin doherty’s lead vocal on “high enough to carry you over” makes it one of the album’s most compelling components.  the final third of every open eye is more indicative of the pop anthems chvrches are now capable of constructing, and both “playing dead” and “bury it” tweak the trio’s tried and true songwriting blueprint to refreshing results.

by the time “afterglow” hits, chvrches have completed another victory lap, albeit one less smooth than previously experienced.  every open eye avoids the sophomore slump and provides chvrches with sufficient material for an even more massive tour, but it also suggests that the band should tread lightly and spend considerably more time on their subsequent output.  luck won’t always be on their side.

the road chief – all my love

TRC - All My Love
out august 21st via cascine

mark mcguire stepped away from his role in the ambient electronic trio emeralds back in 2013 to focus on an even more experimental solo career.  mcguire’s work under the moniker the road chief stretches back even further; it’s a dj handle he’s used since the late 2000’s, and it recently became attached to mcguire’s output of comparatively sunny, groove-driven electro-pop.  seven of these tracks are packaged into all my love, an effervescent album to soundtrack the waning weeks of summer.

in both emeralds and his solo work, mcguire musical identity has been firmly rooted in the guitar; the instrument crops up here and there across all my love, but its role is secondary, riding comfortably in the backseat while the union of stuttering drums and a 1980’s-inspired synth palette powers the project.  tracks like “summer eyes” and “always open” flutter around effortlessly in the breeze, punctuated by handfuls of complementing melodic ideas that ride atop fat bass lines and even-keeled drum beats, while “thinkin about you” absolutely brims with confidence, its assertive backbeat never wavering as it ushers in each new segment of the song.

mcguire adequately avoids prolonged frivolity by occasionally getting introspective.  “is this really love?” anchors the album, and its slow build and gradual layering of nearly every synth tone in mcguire’s arsenal delivers a contrast to the runaway, feel-good effects established by his interpretation of electro-pop.  similarly, “that night” functions well as the de facto come-down track on all my love, using its fleeting arpeggios and penultimate placement to foreshadow the majestic sweeps of the closing number, “so alone.”

all my love is a good summer driving record.  whether you’re cruising rural county backroads in landlocked states or trekking up or down either coast in search of the ocean, the road chief will add aural cues to your visual memories.  no one track demands greater attention than the others; instead, the components of all my love form a cohesive bond, yielding a product suitable to be heard on a continuous loop.  give it a spin.

listen to a new song from the road chief

photo courtesy of the artist

mark mcguire spent the last year or so cultivating material for his debut full-length as the road chief, an outlet for his more off-the-cuff electronic output.  all my love is set to drop august 21st via cascine, and mcguire shared the album’s second single, “is this really love?,” earlier this week.  “is this really love?” is the shuddering centerpiece of the record, its laid-back tempo and broad explorations of pitch register anchoring mcguire’s otherwise-effervescent tendencies.  take a listen below.

listen to a new song from elohim

elohim
photo courtesy of chase o’black

elohim surged to prominence in may with “she talks too much,” a massive electro-pop introduction to the los angeles songwriter that has since been repurposed by dimestore favorites gosh pith, among others.  as elohim prepares to release her debut 12″ on friday via b3sci records, she’s teased the other component of the aa-side record.  “xanax” is a syrupy comedown track, its slow synth swells the perfect contrast to the more frenetic tendencies of “she talks too much.”  take a listen to “xanax” below.

best of 2014: eps

the ep is the multi-purpose tool of musical formats; established acts can release them as placeholders before new albums arrive (see tennis, panda bear) or as containers to hold supplemental material from a recording session.  they’re the perfect companion for touring bands wishing to give their audiences extra incentive to purchase merchandise, but above all, the ep is a logical stepping stone for many young artists seeking to release something more cohesive than a single or free mixtape.  all five of 2014’s best eps fall into this final category.  this year saw a bevy of new artists vying for attention, but those on this list seem like they’ll be sticking around for awhile, regardless of whether or not they have major label support.  read our thoughts below.

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 bad habitat cover5. sayth – bad habitat

 it’s not a stretch to assert that eric wells is one of the hardest-working musicians in wisconsin’s diy scene.  while this blog has a soft spot for and a deep connection to the midwest, the fact that sayth’s second ep shows up on this list is not a concession to that relationship; it’s an acknowledgement of the artistic identity wells has crafted.  using alternative hip-hop as his delivery method, wells covers a lot of lyrical ground on bad habitat: being a gay rapper in a heteronormative climate, metaphysical musings attached to a video game, and the untimely death of a close friend.  bad habitat is billed as a solo effort but wells benefits from the help of his frequent collaborators, as north house provides some beats and wealthy relative drops by for “chirp,” a song that recalls the duo’s dream feast joint effort.  sayth may be stylistically indebted to other art rappers like open mike eagle and milo, but his content is always wrapped up in personal narrative.  on “esc,” by and far the ep’s most poignant cut, wells laments not only about the loss of a friend but the insensitivities that surrounded his death, leading him to conclude that “it feels so evil / this is why we name hurricanes after people.”

vsc winter cover4. vancouver sleep clinic – winter

last year’s recipient of our inaugural “best new artist” award followed through with an atmospheric ep that reflects its seasonal namesake while retaining a strong degree of warmth.  tim bettinson is the young architect of vancouver sleep clinic, and the maturity of winter is strikingly uncommon for a seventeen year-old high school student.  the ep is clearly anchored by bettinson’s pair of 2013 singles, “collapse” and “vapour,” but its other four songs are crucial in understanding his artistic vision and ambitions.  lush orchestrations and a fragile falsetto seem to be at the core of vancouver sleep clinic’s aesthetic, yet the surging sigur ros-indebted outro of “rebirth” suggests a very strong secondary interest, one that might be explored further on subsequent efforts.  bettinson should also be commended for his striking lyricism; after peeling away the layers of ethereal falsetto and effortless melodies, one can find a wealth of personal narrative blended with metaphor on cuts like “flaws” and “stakes.”  if vancouver sleep clinic keeps delivering music of this caliber, we’ll probably be talking about them again this time next year.

hell can wait cover3. vince staples – hell can wait

the fact that shyne coldchain vol. 2 is the better of vince staples’ two 2014 releases and that hell can wait ends up so high on this list should paint a clear picture of the sheer amount of talent and work ethic staples possesses.  he trades the short song durations and soulful loops found throughout vol. 2 for fully-formed, intense offerings throughout hell can wait.  staples’ sneering monotone has always been his calling card, and that abrasion is compounded by a punishing low end that prevails on the ep and is especially prevalent on “fire” and “blue suede.”  that sneer is also responsible for delivering some of the most brutally honest lyrics in rap music right now; staples is incredibly intelligent but does not mince words when discussing the polarities of his life, especially his relationship with gang culture and its impact.  the synth tone that dictates “blue suede” is as piercing as the song’s content, which not only details a materialism enticed by drugs and violence but staples’ own admission that a focused music career has kept him out of prison and the grave.  perhaps the most important track on hell can wait is “hands up,” a no-bullshit critique of the rampant police brutality against people of color which carries extra weight in light of the non-indictments in ferguson and new york.  “paying taxes for fucking clowns to ride around” indeed.

yumi zouma cover

2. yumi zouma – yumi zouma

we’ve already heaped praise on yumi zouma here, but some of that praise bears repeating.  the new zealand trio breathed originality and stability into a genre that seems to be in a perpetual state of reinvention with a sharp self-titled ep that many have likened to the golden years of kate bush.  particular comparisons aside, yumi zouma was undoubtedly on point throughout their debut effort.  “a long walk home for parted lovers” is indicative of the trio’s aesthetic: muted, bass-heavy minimal synth-pop delivered with a shrug of apathy.  yumi zouma’s music is a counter to the over-the-top ambitions of so many of their peers, a counter that’s been especially welcome this year.

field division reverie state cover1. field division – reverie state

field division bills themselves as “folkwave,” a portmanteau that accurately describes their sound to those that seek new music exclusively via genre tags.  in actuality, the five songs on reverie state are so much more.  they’re the byproduct of an incredible musical relationship between evelyn taylor and nicholas frampton, two iowa natives who linked up once they moved to nashville.  despite the duo’s relocation, reverie state still embodies the bucolic sounds characteristically associated with the midwest.  the rustic nature of “faultlines” and “modest mountains” is indebted to folk influences both new and old, but the marriage of that influence with more ambitious textures is what makes field division really stand out.  “of lives we’ve never known” is dictated by an absolutely huge bass line while the ep’s finest cut, “to innisfree land,” mixes in flutes and multiple guitar countermelodies to support taylor’s and frampton’s vocal duet.  after such a strong first outing with reverie state, a full-length effort from field division feels all but inevitable, yet the richness of these songs is so potent that there’s no rush for that album to come to immediate fruition.

interview – mannequins on 7th street

armed with just a handful of songs and providing only the scarcest bit of biography, mannequins on 7th street have nevertheless made a lasting impression in the online music community over the past few months.  their tracks are pristine and polished; each subsequent offering has been a subtle refinement of their melancholy sound, which feels right at home with british heavyweights the xx and darker, brooding electronic music.  i caught up with alexandre lambrecht and tim de fontaine, the forces behind the band, to learn more about the origins of mannequins on 7th street, the history of the band’s name, and their plans for the near future.  check out the transcript below.

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aside from the fact that you have a trio of really well-crafted songs, i realize that i don’t know too much about the history of your band. can you give me some background on mannequins on 7th street?

we met each other in the fall of 2012 at the jazz studio in antwerp, belgium.  we lived in the countryside right at the outskirts of brussels.  whilst at school, we quickly realized we had a lot in common as to our musical influences as well as to our ambitions.  we started playing together and found out we also wanted to create the same atmosphere; that there was a whole universe of music we shared.  we wrote “wailing of hesione” the first time we played together and moved to london at the end of the school year.

 

your project’s name comes from a poem by tamar yoseloff of the same title. what drew the two of you to her work, and why is it fitting for your band?

i found her collection of poetry, the city with horns, quite randomly.  i bought it without looking much into it but rather because i liked the title.  when came the time to find a band name, i looked through all my books to find something interesting that would depict the essence of our music.  “mannequins on 7th street” seemed to do it.  the meaning is not to be taken literally, but rather as an ambience.  we are very much inspired by the chaos in cities; the way people race by without giving much thought to what surrounds them; people’s looks lingering in the void, avoiding each other’s eyes; people being alone among an immensity; personalities blurred by consumerism and advertising; to a stereotype of the body and way of life imposed by society; how meaningless and powerless we feel; “all dressed up, and nowhere to go.”  mannequins are a kind of metaphor for this life that we look up to in the western world, but perhaps there isn’t much to look up to after all.

you’ve developed a dark, minimalist pop sound over your first three songs, but one aspect of your music i admire is the melodic interplay you achieve, such as the guitar and keyboard lines on “out of sight.”  who and/or what have been some of your influences while writing music for mannequins on 7th street?

we’ve only known each other since last year.  we’ve had quite a different childhood and therefore grew up with a very different sensibility for songs.  what we have in common is definitely our love for jazz and melancholy.

alex – chet baker, the do, velvet underground, pulp, and sky ferreira
tim – polka, bonobo, four tet, chet faker, shohmo, and russel malone


how has relocating from belgium to london been beneficial for your band?

we came to london to get more opportunities, get into the hype, be aware of all the new stuff coming out since we are both very passionate about the london music scene.  we are also studying music here, taking songwriting (alex) and production (tim) classes, courses that are very hard to find in belgium.

you released “wailing of hesione” and “sofia” within weeks of each other, and then were quiet for a few months before “out of sight” dropped.  should we be expecting more new music from mannequins on 7th street soon, perhaps in the form of an album?

yes, we’re actually working on releasing an ep at the moment, which will probably be ready by april.  we’re finally starting to gig around a bit as well, which we’re quite excited about.  we have a gig in cambridge on friday; come and see us!

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if you’re an avid reader who happens to live across the pond, attending tomorrow night’s show in cambridge might be a pretty good idea.  each song mannequins on 7th street delivers leaves an audience yearning for more, a situation that should be rectified with april’s ep released.  keep your eyes and ears peeled.

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vancouver sleep clinic – winter

tim bettinson alludes to the album artwork of winter within the first lines of “collapse.”  he lingers on the phrase “and they’re all frozen over” ever so slightly before the understated electronic drums enter in the foreground, and then vancouver sleep clinic takes off.  it’s not as if we haven’t heard this song before; “collapse” has been floating around the internet since late last year and “vapour” has been around even longer, but both songs hold more significance within the context of the rest of the band’s debut ep.  it’s easy to pinpoint contemporary influences throughout winter, with bettinson’s falsetto evoking bon iver’s justin vernon and the sleep clinic’s instrumentation referencing minimalists like james blake, but there’s a stark sense that the trio is contributing to the advancement of this little ethereal niche, instead of merely emulating their heroes.

up until the release of winter, the songs offered up by vancouver sleep clinic had all been relegated to the realm of pop; “flaws” is a three-minute slice of downtempo goodness, complete with metaphoric heartbreakers like “tangled in the bones of this love/melding to the flow of your blood,” and “vapour” belongs in a hypothetical pantheon of dreamy, soft-rock perfection, but the rest of the ep tests boundaries on either side of radio-edit length.  “stakes” is the most expansive offering found on winter, with a false ending and subsequent coda that is almost majestic, complete with brass swells that complement bettinson’s laments.  the song is juxtaposed with “(aftermath),” a short, simple piano interlude that proves vancouver sleep clinic doesn’t only excel at extravagant.  closing number “rebirth” is an extended exercise in this simplistic practice, with acoustic guitar arpeggiations wandering off into the distance.

it shouldn’t matter that the three members of vancouver sleep clinic are only seventeen, but their age in comparison to the maturity of their music speaks volumes about the body of work they have created.  winter is a collection of songs that all complement one another, with no single track standing out ahead of the pack.  but that’s the way it’s supposed to be; bettinson waxes poetic about the basic emotions of adolescence in a way few others are capable of.  do yourself a favor and spend twenty-five minutes getting lost in the sounds of vancouver sleep clinic.

8.2/10

watch the music video for pillar point’s “dreamin'”

i’m exhausted after a three-day wind symphony tour, but there was nothing more relaxing than coming home to pillar point’s brand new music video for “dreamin’.”  the video features an extended introduction to the song before a slow-motion dance takes over, perfectly complementing the aesthetic defined by pillar point.  true visual art like this is a rarity in the realm of music videos; take the time to check this one out.

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 sylvan esso

one of my favorite things to do on weekends is catch up on any music news that may have slipped by me.  a glaring omission from the last couple weeks of dimestore saints material has been “coffee,” the hook-laden single from duo sylvan esso.  amelia meath from mountain man handles the vocals while nick sanborn, who also plays bass in megafaun, takes care of production, meaning there are some cool, somewhat-distant ties to wisconsin in this project.

“coffee” will be released as a 12″ single along with b-side “dress” via partisan records on march 25th, and expect the band’s debut album to drop sometime in may.  for now, check out the track below, courtesy of sylvan esso’s soundcloud page.