two meters – “captive audience”

– featured image courtesy of margo dellaquila –

tyler costolo’s output as two meters has been spare but incredibly affecting thus far.  his debut single, “left behind,” shrouds traumatic loss in a colossal soundscape built on an unassuming foundation of acoustic guitar and vocals, a glimpse of his forthcoming self-titled extended play.

the magnitude of the aforementioned project has been further clarified by “captive audience,” which doubles down on the affectations provided by hushed guitar and vocals while exploring the ramifications of a physical altercation.  costolo’s labelmate pastel again makes an appearance, this time singing whispered harmonies as the track soaks in its implications.  with its distant, dissonant piano undercurrents coursing through the texture, “captive audience” retains a haunting aura complementary to the catharsis of its predecessor.

two meters is due out june 15th via very jazzed.  take a listen to “captive audience” below.

hovvdy – cranberry

– featured image courtesy of bronwyn walls – 

“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: hovvdy.

Austin duo hovvdy’s 2016 album taster is warm, understated, and timeless; its eleven tracks are doused in a collective nostalgic haze, a collage of comfort that executes its function time and again.  double double whammy reissued taster in april of last year and rumblings of a follow-up soon began percolating.  the end result, cranberry, finds charlie martin and will taylor tightening up hovvdy’s core blueprints while confidently venturing out into new sonic territory.

cranberry is compact and potent: twelve songs that clock in around thirty-five minutes.  it’s clear from the hushed vocals that tentatively trace the outlines of opening number “brave” that hovvdy is intent on basking in its signature blend of warmth, the edges obscured by crackling overdrive and arrangements that slowly unravel back to their foundation.  this theory is further supported by singles like “in the sun,” “petal,” and “late,” a trifecta of hovvdy’s core tenets which easily could have nestled in on the album’s predecessor.

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listen closely, however, and these pillars of cranberry feel less anodyne than they may first appear.  the production has shifted cautiously out of a lo-fi realm while still taking time to maintain that appearance, and the arrangements are often fleshed out by foreign timbres.  in this sense, martin and taylor seem to be easing themselves – and their audience – into the aforementioned sonic departure; case in point: the pastoral synth lead that meanders through “in the sun” presages the largely-electronic composition of “thru,” and returns as a familiar touchstone throughout the rest of cranberry.

this practice of using familiarity to anchor tangential ventures eventually yields “truck,” a gorgeous turn at alt-country filtered through hovvdy’s slow-core lens.  in hindsight, the use of banjo sprinkled throughout previous tracks all but foreshadows the song’s arrival, but the beauty of its pedal-steel treatment is difficult to adequately describe; it’s best to just be heard and felt.  zooming out, “truck” is indicative of what martin and taylor are able to accomplish across hovvdy: growth and maturation as collaborative songwriters who are confident enough to tweak the foundation of their aesthetic as needed.

the enduring gift of hovvdy is the duo’s use of space.  it’s easy to spot and appreciate on sparse tracks, like the penultimate cut “colorful” and the woozy instrumental interlude “tub,” but even full-bodied tracks like “petal” contain unbelievable levels of headroom that is hard not to marvel at.  that wide-open, panoramic end result is partially due to compositional choices – such as the openness of guitar chords and the relaxed feel that permeates the percussion – to be sure, but it’s also implied by the ubiquity of the album’s lyrics, intimate snapshots that leave room for interpretation based on personal experiences.

like its predecessor, cranberry is sure to age gracefully as a strong asset in hovvdy’s catalogue.  the album is out now via double double whammy; stream it in full, below.

hovvdy – “in the sun”

– featured image courtesy of bronwyn walls –

austin’s hovvdy are slated to release their sophomore album, cranberry, on february 9th via double double whammy.  the duo’s three preceding singles have all reflected the impending warmth and comfort this album will be capable of providing; its fourth single, “in the sun,” accomplishes the same feat through slightly different means.

a mix of acoustic and electric guitars bleed together and coalesce around a soft back-beat, a muted palette that swaddles a tender lead vocal occasionally laid bare.  the linchpin of “in the sun” paces timidly in the background, a pastoral synth line with just enough buoyancy to float to the surface when needed before receding back into the greater texture.

like the very best of recipes, “in the sun” is infinitely greater than the sum of its parts, a beautiful collage of frank, minimal pop.  listen in below.

alexei shishkin – 3

– featured image courtesy of graham w. bell – 

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.  closing out the year: alexei shishkin.

Alexei shishkin is remarkably effective at parlaying seemingly-mundane observations into couplets that suggest pause should be given.  he opens his aptly-titled third album, 3, musing that he’s “always floating, on an ocean / ever golden,” the final syllable locking into the accompanying chord progression’s ascension to boost the mood.  and, indeed, is an undeniably catchy album, a collection of breezy pop songs that all seem to be competing to have the most memorable hook.  shishkin is equally gifted at weaving these guitar motifs through the greater arrangements, sometimes doubling them with vocals, sometimes letting them pull their own weight.

of course, not every moment on is as sunny as the beginning of “pushing my luck.”  shishkin explores impermanence and imagination on “fourteen hour,” ramifications of communication breakdown on the infectious “muddled,” and a fleeting sense delivered through an abstract lens on “celeb dog,” each facet delivered in his patented unassuming monotone.  an even-keeled exterior may prevail, but there remains ample space for shishkin to sort out the more nuanced components of his narratives.

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the majority of was written in 2015, before shishkin’s cross-country move from portland to new york.  drums came a year later, tracked remotely by jon fust in boise; final vocals were touched up this year in new york.  jess pierson’s voice lightly traces shishkin’s throughout the album, often joining forces with a keyboard or guitar to further support a hook, giving 3 an understated but effective aural anchor that breathes familiarity and comfort.

thirteen tracks gives shishkin ample space to stretch out and venture into newer sonic territory.  various horns pop up across 3, warm electric piano turns populate successive tracks “umm” and “talkback machine,” and a prominent envelope filter renders standout cut “pittsburgh” gently psychedelic.  and then there’s “slowerr,” a three-minute ostinato predicated on shishkin’s hypnotic looping of the phrase “i didn’t mean it” buried deep within muddied guitar chords and pillowy piano flourishes.  having already solidified his pop bonafides, these supplements allow shishkin to burrow deeper into a more nuanced iteration of his songwriting persona.

3 is a wonderful and important addition to alexei shishkin’s already-promising catalogue.  it’s out today via the reliable forged artifacts; click through the link below to stream and purchase.

 

hovvdy – “late”

– featured image courtesy of bronwyn walls – 

austin duo hovvdy made a lasting impression with their debut full-length, taster; released by sports day records in 2016 and reissued by double double whammy earlier this year, taster embodied charlie martin and will taylor’s knack for writing hushed, intimate lo-fi pop, songs that easily could have been exhumed from an older sibling’s tape collection.  after taking time to tour and enjoy the well-deserved accolades that have followed taster, martin and taylor are forging ahead with cranberry, their sophomore album, due february 9th.

an initial sampling of cranberry arrived late last month in the form of “petal,” a lilting slow-burner that turns on a disarming, whispered chorus delivered in falsetto.  hovvdy’s newest single harbors subtle contrasts; the vocals throughout “late” are assured and nestled in the foreground, and the guitars feel a bit more blown-out, creeping closer to the cacophony of their slowcore forebears.

but “late” is also about tenderness and compassion overcoming initial feelings of anxiety and inadequacy, as the song revolves around the couplet “circle point of view / i’ll come around to you.”  appropriately, a pastoral synth pad seems to be perpetually hovering underneath the more immediate timbres, paying homage to the thematic warmth radiating outwards.  “late” functions particularly well on repeat, a new component sinking in on each new listen until the track coalesces into something greater than the sum of its parts.  embark on your journey through the link below.

little kid – sun milk

– featured image courtesy of the artist – 

“album of the fortnight” is a (recently revived) 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: little kid

This site has extolled the virtues of the toronto-based outfit little kid for much of its existence.  while still approaching the band largely from a recording-project perspective, kenny boothby turned in the heavy, complex river of blood in 2013; last summer, after a prolonged, somewhat frustrating period of dormancy, boothby emerged with the sprawling flowers in hand and a solidified line-up in tow.  the stability of having a reliable pair of collaborators at hand is perhaps what led to the comparatively quick arrival of sun milk, little kid’s fourth full-length album, which the band self-released last week.

although just seven songs long, sun milk is a daunting, though thoroughly rewarding, body of work to consume.  one must traverse all the way to its coda before encountering a track that dips below the five-minute mark, and even then, “like a movie” arguably makes up in gravity what it lacks in length.  an exploration of ambient missives and noisy vamps that began on flowers is whittled down on its successor, maybe not to a more precise formula but certainly to one that breathes with the ease of seasoned veterans.

a self-inflicted allergy to electric guitars that afflicted boothby throughout the duration of flowers is immediately vanquished on sun milk; opening number “the fourth” bristles with saturation, as does the album’s centerpiece, “slow death in a warm bed,” ushering in perhaps the flat-out loudest iteration of little kid yet.  for a band that has long relied on outsized dynamic contrast for maximum effect, this embrace of grit only makes tracks like the lo-fi piano ballad “fog” that much more potent, as if an aural equivalent of the prodigal son returned and immediately became the workhorse of the entire operation.

Little Kid Sun Milk Album Artperhaps as a reminder that songs do not solely exist within the vacuum of an album cycle, a recent track-by-track guide for gold flake paint deconstructed the various iterations that many songs on sun milk went through, sometimes over the course of years, before arriving in their presently-recorded form.  this copious vat of detailed information (highly recommended if this album resonates with you) serves to further underscore the immediacy that little kid has operated under: recording in quick, concentrated bursts, ensnaring whatever feels natural at that moment.

as little kid approaches a decade of existence, patience seems to be an overarching theme worthy of ascribing to the project.  the acquisition of both paul vroom and brodie germain as stable members – after years of a rotating cast of characters – has yielded two monumental albums in a row; as the songs on those aforementioned albums grow longer, they unfold with care and determination, and loose, meandering passages are seamlessly tightened up when the moment is right; the inner mechanisms of those aforementioned songs are a wonder to unpack, with arduous three-person synth wranglings, carefully-placed tape hiss, and poignant found sounds threading a lived-in, nostalgic narrative.

little kid is methodical, a songwriting refuge equally capable of volatile bursts of energy and muted, minimal passages of restraint.  with sun milk, the trio has crafted its strongest effort yet, a sprawling structure anchored by its sonic forebears and accented with intimate glimpses of a profound lyricist’s tireless explorations.  step inside and stay awhile.

fog lake – “side effects”

– featured image courtesy of david aaron mitchell –

aaron powell’s work as fog lake has been perennially sparse yet affecting, and occasionally downright haunting.  ambient collages of static and drones merged with bedroom pop sketches on 2014’s masterful virgo indigo, and powell duplicated that feat on last year’s follow-up, victoria park.

powell’s pop chops have developed into a formidable tool over the past three years; on “side effects,” the second single from his forthcoming album, dragonchaser, powell effortlessly culls an unforgettable melody from a skeletal structure, weaving in and out of the track’s hypnotic, ticking pulse with a reedy falsetto in tow.

dragonchaser is out february 10th via fog lake’s longtime home, orchid tapes.  press play on “side effects” below.

interview – little kid

– featured image courtesy of the artist –

Little kid doesn’t venture much outside of their hometown, but you’d be quick on the draw to peg their music as insular.  the toronto trio, founded and fronted by kenny boothby, has churned out introspective lo-fi musings sprinkled with religious imagery and philosophical pondering for more than a half-decade now.

last month, little kid released their latest album, flowers, a fuzzed-out, sprawling epic that could easily serve as the band’s definitive piece of work.  we recently caught up with boothby via e-mail for an in-depth conversation about aesthetic choices, the lack of electric guitars on flowers, and new lyrical focuses.  check out the transcript below.

there’s been a three-year gap in between river of blood and flowers, which is a longer break between any of your other projects, i think, by a considerable amount.  was this gestation period intentionally long?

i wouldn’t say it was intentional – to be honest, i was frustrated with myself for how long it took, but it’s just the way it ended up happening.  brodie and i started recording in january of 2015, thinking we’d definitely have it finished by the summer of that same year since it was mostly already written.  

the primary cause of the delay was just the three of us having busy lives – we are all working full-time with very different schedules, so it was sometimes hard to get together.  we started playing more shows around toronto, too, which was great, but it definitely seemed like when we did manage to get together it was more often to rehearse than to record.  i have no regrets, though!  i’m happy with how it turned out, and being able to play live more often definitely helped us figure out what we wanted to do with some of these songs.

a certain lo-fi exterior still remains on the bulk of flowers, but the arrangements underneath feel thicker and more ornate this time around.  was there a specific tone or timbre you sought for this album, and if so, was it consciously different than past works?

the overall sound of the album was fairly deliberate, and i think we started with at least a vague idea of how we wanted to approach this one, but it certainly went through some changes over the course of recording.  i recall having some conversations with brodie early on, and we agreed that we wanted to play around with some more unconventional sounds and recording methods than we had on river of blood.  

the plan was always to have paul play some bass on the album, but brodie and i did a bit of the initial recording ourselves with the plan to have brodie mix it, as he had with river of blood.  but we ended up playing a few shows with paul on bass until it felt like we had a good thing going band-wise, and paul is more experienced with mixing, so we asked him to take over.  

from then on, it was very much a team effort, with us all coming up with ideas for arrangements and recording techniques.

this might be an addendum of sorts to the last question, but a liner note on bandcamp i found rather intriguing was in regards to the lack of electric guitars on this album.  you still manage some absolutely massive walls of sound in their absence, but i’m wondering if that omission was due to exhaustion or if it was posed as a sort of challenge?

it was definitely posed as something of a challenge.  the songs i was writing early on seemed at first to be songs that would lend themselves to the electric guitar, mostly because i was strumming hard and bending a lot of notes – some somewhat non-traditional stuff for a classical guitar, i guess.  

but i liked the way the demos sounded – usually a couple layers of classical guitar, and sometimes some piano or casio keyboard – and for some reason i wanted to just keep playing them on the classical. brodie and i were occasionally having conversations about what we might try with little kid next, and that idea stuck around long enough to become a sort of rule.

i like albums that have some sort of restriction to them – for example, the headphones album that is purely live drums and one or two synthesizer parts, or gillian welch’s time (the revelator)‘s emphasis on first takes.  i love that shit.  it’s why i prefer writing demos on the four-track, too – having some sort of limitation seems to stimulate ingenuity or something.

anyways, it was sometimes challenging to create interesting dynamics without electric guitars.  during live shows, i have typically been playing the classical through a guitar amp and pedals, and we use a lot more distortion for dynamics, but on the record we wanted to stay away from that and try for some lusher, stranger sounds.  

some of the ambient bits came from a day brodie and i spent playing keyboards through guitar pedals, and i spent many an afternoon alone in my room playing around with micro-cassettes and my memory boy (honestly, the best guitar pedal).


biblical images and references were pretty overt on river of blood; they’re still around on flowers but they don’t necessarily feel as explicit or immediate.  was this a conscious shift?

i’d say it was a mix of conscious and unconscious.  i remember having some conversations with friends who don’t have any history with christianity and wondering what it was like for them to listen to the songs i had written that relied a lot on those images and references.  i imagined it could easily become either boring or alienating.  i started thinking about, like, led zeppelin or prog-rock bands who sing about lord of the rings and shit – i don’t necessarily want to listen to people drop semi-obscure references to bodies of work i don’t have any connection with.

obviously, for people who had a similar upbringing, those types of songs can be really meaningful, and i don’t regret spending some time exploring those concepts when they felt very real and important to me.  but, i don’t spend much time with those ideas in my personal life anymore, so it wouldn’t make too much sense to keep writing about them.

but i don’t think it was necessarily something i was consciously thinking about while writing.  it wasn’t like “oh shit, i mentioned jesus again – better cut that line.”  it seemed a little more natural than that.  i just wrote about the things i was thinking a lot about during that time.

little kid songs have never been shy about wandering beyond a length perceived as conventional, and that’s certainly the case on flowers.  furthermore, i’m picking up on ambient addenda, patient vamps that eventually border on monolithic, and lyrical codas that haven’t really factored into your songwriting before, at least not to this degree.  were there any bodies of work that were specifically informative to the creation of this album?

i don’t think the three of us discussed too many direct influences in terms of song structure as we were recording and writing the album, but i know towards the end, as we were sequencing and mixing it, we spent some time talking about how the album was taking shape and what we wanted to accomplish with it.

in hindsight, we had just finished “missionary” and it was one of the most unconventional in terms of its structure, with that long repetitive jam and the noisy bit in the middle, and i think, having gone there with that song, we might have felt a bit more inclined to mess with the other songs and the overall sequencing a bit more.

i remember brodie was saying he felt like the album had started to have a bit of a similar feel to (modest mouse’s) the moon and antarctica – which is alright by me because that’s possibly my favorite album.  for me, i think wilco – in particular yankee hotel foxtrot and a ghost is born – kinda snuck in as a big influence, as well.  believe it or not, i hadn’t heard any wilco records prior to, like, late 2013, but it was pretty mind-blowing for me when i finally heard it.

so i think the whole “pop song with weird shit going on underneath” thing we have going on in some of these songs is definitely influenced by yankee hotel foxtrot, and some of the more seemingly-self-indulgent aspects might come from a ghost is born, as well.  i don’t think the songs themselves resemble wilco songs very much at all, but the approach to recording and production might be similar in some ways.

i do remember we had decided, before we even started recording, that we wanted to make an eight-song album.  i’m not sure why initially – at least in my case, i just like the number eight and the way it can be split up into halves and quarters nicely (although in the end, our album turned out to be five songs on side a and three songs on side b, which makes me mathematically uncomfortable…)

anyways, i know we definitely talked a lot about great eight-song albums like the king of limbs, on the beach, owls.  i don’t think flowers has a whole lot in common – sonically or in terms of the sequencing – with any of those albums, but we’re in good company.

the last time we spoke, little kid was primarily a recording project that occasionally functioned as a live band, but couldn’t really tour or play out all that frequently.  have circumstances changed?  are there any plans to tour in support of flowers?

circumstances have changed a fair bit – we are definitely able to play more often and even occasionally venture out of toronto.  for the last year and a bit, little kid has had a stable lineup of myself, and my two good friends, brodie germain and paul vroom, on drums and bass, respectively.  we all went to high school together and have played music together for years, so it’s a really great time playing with them.  we mostly just play a show in toronto every couple months, but we’ve got to play with some awesome bands this past year.

we are thinking about trying to put together a small tour within canada sometime in the next year, but i don’t know exactly if and when we’ll be able to get that together.  we’re hoping to keep up the momentum of playing together regularly, but we’re planning to play fewer shows and focus on writing and recording a new album right away.  we’re wanting to do a lot more live recording this time, and we have a new practice space that is going to make that a lot more feasible, so we can hopefully get something interesting finished a little faster – we’re hoping sometime next year.

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a grave with no name – “house”

– featured image courtesy of the artist –

alexander shields has finished a new album under his a grave with no name moniker, wooden mask, due out august 12th via minneapolis imprint forged artifacts.  the album’s first single, “wedding dress,” accompanied its initial announcement and burned slowly, weaving haunting stabs of dissonant guitar through a steadfast andante tempo; now, shields has offered up another cut entitled “house,” and it’s equally eerie, with a mournful, more pronounced lead vocal sitting at the helm of an ambient wash of clean guitars and spacious percussion.  take a listen below.

fog lake – “rattlesnake”

Fog Lake rattlesnake 1.jpg
photo courtesy of the artist

aaron powell has provided a steady output of sparse, affecting bedroom pop over the past couple of years as fog lake, yielding 2014’s virgo indigo and last year’s victoria park.  the st. john’s-based artist will release an as-yet untitled full-length this fall, again via orchid tapes; today, powell shared “rattlesnake,” a new single from the project featuring angular melodies spliced into a warm, more inviting backdrop that is eventually swallowed up by the crinkling sounds of an aging tape machine.  take a listen below.