morly – in defense of my muse

Morly - In Defense of My Muse WEB
out august 14th via cascine

katy morley removes the e from her surname and performs as morly, and this subtractive practice embeds itself in her music.  after disappearing into her bedroom with a handful of instruments in 2013, the minnesota songwriter emerged earlier this year with in defense of my muse, an incredibly-focused debut ep containing a smattering of haunting, minimalist compositions.

the intimacy of in defense of my muse should feel immediate.  morly is adept at crafting microcosmic worlds of sound that each have their own storied histories, from the juxtaposition of muted acoustic piano and warped vocal loops on “you came to dis sky” to the piano’s gorgeous union with foggy synth pads on ‘and sooner than we know it…”, but it would be short-sighted to attribute morly’s impressionable aesthetic solely to the warmth and familiarity that permeate her music’s outer shell.

woven into the unquestionable beauty are extended passages of agitation – particularly the discordant synthesizer interjections throughout “seraphase” – that delve into a second, comparatively unexplored dimension of morly’s persona.  there’s a side of her music that swaddles you gently in a blanket next to a wood-burning stove, while the other embodies the flames in the fire, capable of lashing out at unpredictable intervals.

each song on in defense of my muse can be peeled back to its original, minimal piano sketch; it’s easy to imagine these slowly coming to fruition in a state of introspective solitude.  these simple melodic fragments impose no musical limitations, though, and that’s the truly impressive component of morly’s approach to songwriting.  whether they’re grounded in brooding textures, integrated into more euphoric dance explorations, or converted into subterranean harmonic progressions on “drone poem (in defense of my muse)”, the motifs serve as the ultimate reference point, and the piano’s versatility is the perfect analog to an artist that resists genre confinement.

morly’s debut effort is fulfilling.  there’s enough artistic self-awareness throughout in defense of my muse for it to function well as a standalone unit, should morly ever decide to step away from her solo project, but the subtle intricacies of the dissonance she explores almost beg to be developed further.  hopefully this is just the start of something.  in defense of my muse is out friday via cascine; stream it here.

communions – communions

out june 2nd via tough love records
out june 2nd via tough love records

communions are already sonically far-removed from their debut effort, last year’s cobblestones ep.  this fact hasn’t exactly presented itself as a revelatory flip of a switch, but rather a gradual – albeit accelerated – progression; their 7″ that followed traded raw, gloomy horizons for unabashed sunshine, a big first step out from under the shadow of fellow copenhagen post-punk outfit iceage.  on their new self-titled ep, the young danish quartet continues on their journey of carving out their own recognizable niche.

vast improvements in fidelity are immediately evident, but it’s imperative to set that fact aside for a moment.  opening cut “forget it’s a dream” finds communions retracing the path back through the dystopian abyss that birthed them to a more dance-oriented palate adorned with synth pads, textured palm-muting, and a prominent trebly bass line that dictates the song’s entire momentum.  the guitar countermelodies that are layered on top suggest a further shift away from former formulas: arpeggiations are delivered with a distinct purpose that moves beyond outlining the song’s harmonic structure and more towards providing clear and invigorating contour.

similar strategies are again practiced throughout the ep, particularly within the lead lines on “wherever” and the insistent, minimalist repetition at the beginning of “summer’s oath.”  when traditional arpeggios do surface they’re often relegated to supporting roles buried lower in the mix, although “restless hours” is a forgettable chunk of this record precisely because it falls back on old habits.  “out of my world” reads as indicative of everything communions strive to be on this ep: hopeless romantics with a sunny disposition that’s at times warped by heavily-saturated soundscapes.

communions are a very young band that have a very good full-length album brewing inside of them.  their embracement of a higher fidelity runs parallel to their drastic improvement as songwriters, with each added nuance afforded the proper amount of clarity to be fully recognized and appreciated.  in a genre that can be cripplingly formulaic, communions have begun to take the necessary preliminary strides to expand their possibilities, resulting in a solid second ep stuffed full of ambition ambition and triumph.

yumi zouma – ep ii

out march 10th via cascine

yumi zouma enjoyed a rather comfortable ascension to prominence throughout 2014.  the new zealand-based trio quietly amassed a stellar debut ep while spread across the globe, relying on word of mouth and the sharp foresight of their label, cascine, to pass the word on to the masses.  the outfit’s aesthetic rests largely on muted synth production reminiscent of nostalgic 1980s pop augmented by kim pflaum’s breezy vocal melodies; it’s a winning combination that yumi zouma tweaks even closer to perfection on ep ii.

three of the ep’s five songs have been readily available for some time; “alena” was let go last fall in conjunction with yumi zouma’s tour with lorde, and both “catastrophe” and “a song for zoe & gwen” turned up early this year.  while all three tracks work extremely well as standalone singles, their context within the ep provides extra dimension of deftness.  opener “dodi” continuously pits a hesitant guitar melody against more aggressive, brassy synth pads, which are ultimately calmed by kim pflaum’s breezy vocal melodies.  “alena” provides a necessary contrast between “dodi” and “catastrophe,” a persistent four-on-the-floor drum beat propelling the song – and the band – to previously unattained anthemic heights.

the secret linchpin of ep ii is “second wave,” the yumi’s most subdued effort this time around.  the marriage of guitar and synth is noticeably more harmonious than on previous songs, and the contours of each line eventually coalesce into relaxing polyphonic bliss.  “second wave” segues well into “a song for zoe & gwen,” a grand finale purported to be an ode to school dance dates.  it’s here that the trio finally links the nostalgia found in their music directly to the nostalgia contained in their thematic content, crafting a song especially befitting of any john hughes film score.

ep ii reads as another smart and concise outing from yumi zouma.  the band’s core members seem content nestled in their respective corners of the world, slowly churning out indelible pop gems.  no progressive boundaries are shattered but none are really in need of being broken; yumi zouma has an exceptionally keen ear for charming melodies, and each one is as captivating as the next.

8.5/10

diet cig – over easy

diet cigdiet cig crams a lot of material into just ten minutes of music.  the new paltz duo is still green and a bit rough around the edges, but that rawness lends itself well to the bevy of emotions contained inside their over easy ep, out today via father/daughter records.

five tracks is just enough space for alex luciano to run the gamut from sarcastic to shameless to sheer loathing.  “breathless” immediately showcases her wit (“i don’t have any kitchenware / but i can walk around in my underwear / in my first apartment / where i pay so much for rent”), and while a murmuring delivery initially suggests a quaint apathy, the true dichotomy of the duo’s dynamic range is unveiled towards the end of the song.  noah bowman’s floor tom-centric drumming may be an underlying condition but luciano’s unabashed wail is the true catalyst of diet cig’s peak volume, her voice clearly piercing through an otherwise-grainy mix.

“scene sick” is the most sonically polished track on over easy, and for good reason: it contains luciano’s most relevant commentary.  besides airing her grievances pertaining to local music scenes, luciano ruthlessly takes an ex to task on “harvard” (“fuck your ivy league sweater” yelled repeatedly might be the best moment on the entire ep) and shows a similar aversion to inflated egos on “cardboard.”

diet cig sets the bar at just the right height with over easy.  the tempo rarely fluctuates from song to song, easily allowing a cohesive enjoyment of the ep and a general understanding of what the duo stands for.  like almost any act dabbling in pop-punk, diet cig does not abstain from poop references (see: “pool boyz”) nor from taking swipes at exes, but the meat of luciano’s lyrical content is so gloriously tongue-in-cheek and ridiculously on-point that those juvenile transgressions are somehow even more amusing in contrast.  new paltz has been an interesting microcosm of the east coast music scene for some time now, and diet cig only adds to the intrigue.  block out twenty minutes for over easy.

7.9/10

teen daze – a world away

the trajectory of teen daze’s relatively short career is exhausting to cover, as his prolific nature and a general curiosity have prompted over a dozen releases in the past four years.  the abbotsford producer truly hit his stride with 2013’s glacier, a monumental album that found him juggling his electronic and ambient ambitions with aplomb.  but his trajectory is by no means linear, and teen daze has proven that he’s inclined to shed certain acquired attributes like live instrumentation if it’s beneficial to his creative intellect.  his newest ep, a world away, is an interesting side-step, one that finds him delving deep into dance music without throwing in the towel on his ambient palate.

boasting six well-developed tracks, a world away flows and technically qualifies as a full-length album despite its rather utilitarian purpose as a tour ep for teen daze’s upcoming stint in europe.  while it’s ultimately a placeholder for his follow-up to glacier, the ep still feels like a cohesive, standalone unit and is anything but hastily prepared.  “reykjavik, january 2015” retains mere minutes of its acoustic piano motif before being swallowed whole by muted drums and persistent synth jabs, perhaps the perfect musical allusion to the duality of teen daze’s musical persona.  the ep’s strongest tracks, “another night” and “than,” feel somewhat indebted to house music despite their occasional chilly moments.  “than” is the longest piece on a world away, clocking in at nearly nine minutes, but any semblance of redundancy disappears once his commanding use and development of polyrhythms in separate drum tracks becomes apparent.

teen daze closes out a world away with “i feel god in the water,” a customary ambient track that has almost become his calling card.  above all else this project has always felt incredibly pensive, and the fact that jamison continues to end his recordings with a placid, stagnant piece is a telling indication of just how intimate his music truly is.  though his next full-length isn’t due until later this year, a world away is still an important juncture in teen daze’s discography and goes beyond the purpose it serves to offer potential insight into his future endeavors.

7.7/10

listen to a new song from teen daze

teen daze released his stunning, poignant album glacier late last year, snippets of which you’ve undoubtedly heard floating around in mixtapes on this site for quite some time now.  after letting go of the excellent tour ep paradiso this past spring, the man behind teen daze took some much-deserved time off before trekking down to tiny telephone in san francisco this fall to record the follow-up to glacier.  while details about that album still remain scarce, an entirely different project has come to fruition.  teen daze has announced a european tour in january, and he’ll chart his course with a new ep in hand.  a world away isn’t set to drop until january 13th – the day before his first show in helsinki – but teen daze has already shared its lead single.  “reykjavik, january 2015” is an imagined timestamp, a six-minute odyssey that blends soft and warm synthesizers with muted drum programming while evoking an accurate sonic portrayal of northern europe in the dead of winter.  while a world away isn’t correlated to the recording sessions he detailed earlier this fall, any new music from teen daze is always welcomed.  take a listen to “reykjavik, january 2015” below, and click through the soundcloud link for a full list of european tour dates.

field division – reverie state

fielddivisionepcoverartmusic conceived or created in the midwest often contains a distinct, singular tone.  regardless of the genre pursued, there always seems to be an acute awareness of the fragility that accompanies living in a four-season environment and a need to convey its emotional byproducts.  field division are champions of this musical mindset.  though currently based out of nashville, the duo’s origins are firmly rooted in des moines and their music frequently embodies the vast skies and endless open fields characteristic of iowa.  after slowly releasing five very strong songs over the past two months, field division has packaged them into a cohesive unit entitled reverie state, an ep that proves to be a grandiose, cathartic release.

while each song holds up on its own without question, the sequence in which they’re presented on reverie state provides some extra weight.  “faultlines” is an appropriate opener, one that finds evelyn taylor and nicholas frampton experimenting with chamber pop harmonies akin to those pursued by fleet foxes and other folk-minded outfits.  perhaps that’s why “of lives we’ve never known” feels so contrasting.  while “faultlines” explores the pastoral realm of field division’s sound, its immediate successor is much darker and more sinister in instrumentation, a subterranean bass line more so felt than heard holding the track together.  combined with taylor’s soaring vocal melody throughout the chorus and frampton’s spacious, rolled guitar chords, “of lives we’ve never known” finds the duo quickly flexing an equally-impressive dream-pop muscle.

genre confines aside, field division blends old with new very well.  “hollow body weather” is an amalgamation of the band’s two schools of thought, while “modest mountains” finds taylor and frampton enlisting the help of milo greene’s andrew heringer, a wise feature that enhances their already-rich vocal harmonies.  reverie state closes with “to innisfree land,” a conscious effort by field division to save their finest offering for last.  it’s the most texturally dense song on the ep – flute countermelodies and multiple guitar lines are constantly vying for attention – but the musical union of taylor and frampton is clearly front and center, their vocals mixed equally as they take on the song’s chorus in tandem.

reverie state is a concise package that showcases a young project of seasoned musicians with a bright future.  just as the colder months begin to set in, field division have provided a batch of songs to us warm while simultaneously stirring up nostalgia for the summer of yesteryear.  dig in.

8.4/10

stream and download the new sayth ep

still riding the buzz off of his past two singles, “eating alone” and “rare candy,” eau claire art rapper sayth has wasted little time in delivering his next cohesive project.  bad habitat is a five-track collection featuring the aforementioned singles along with three new songs, and finds sayth working again with frequent collaborator wealthy relative.  take note, however, that fellow eau claire artist north house is also given production credits (those appear to be his signature beats on opener “with the crocodiles”), suggesting that sayth is becoming even more invested in his hometown music scene.  you can stream bad habitat below and grab a download at a pay-what-you-want rate; a limited run of cds are also available through sayth’s bandcamp.  check it out.

school of night – school of night

it’s been two years since the antlers’ last full-length album, but the time has passed quickly.  i had all of 2011 to digest burst apart, an album that fell short of the sheer emotive brilliance of hospice yet displayed an enormous growth of musicianship within the tight-knit trio.  the back half of 2012 was sprinkled with consistent listens to undersea, a masterful ep that hopefully foreshadows the material to come on the band’s next studio effort.  amidst all of the touring and recording, multi-instrumentalist darby cicci found time to write and record songs for his own project, school of night.  on his self-titled debut ep, cicci clearly displays his dedication to the antlers’ core aesthetic without really adding anything significant to the palate.

an aspect of school of night readily available to discuss is cicci’s voice; it’s a dead ringer for peter silberman’s natural tessitura, so much that it can trick the casual listener into thinking they’re listening to an antlers track that sounds vaguely familiar.  but while the antlers have time and again blended rock with electronic successfully, cicci chooses to focus only on the latter, creating a body of work that quickly begins to feel stagnant.  school of night eclipses the half-hour mark despite only being five songs long, an issue that proves crippling to the success of cicci’s goal.

a song like “fire escape” is fantastic on its own; slow-burning and incredibly dreamy, it’s reminiscent of a b-side on burst apart that never actually existed.  but when five tracks with an almost identical aesthetic are strung together, listening gets tiresome.  if, like me, you’re looking for some antlers material to tide you over until the next studio album drops, school of night isn’t a terrible choice.  i just wouldn’t recommend listening to the entire ep in one sitting.

5.7/10