sniffle party’s initial arrival last fall felt like a covert operation. a lone song, “all the snow is gone,” dropped on soundcloud without much fanfare, yet its rubbery bass lines and swirling, reverb-laden vocals evoked a nostalgia that gradually pushed the track outside the parameters of a well-kept local secret. the project was quickly enveloped under the umbrella of lowkey radical, an arts collective that uses the i-94 corridor between minneapolis and eau claire to shuttle its aesthetic into two key midwestern markets; the song eventually became a precursor to something more substantial.
if witch house truly died and was buried, then sniffle party exhumed the genre’s body and pumped it full of stadium-pop steroids. serena wagner’s contralto lilts with an affect that straddles melancholic and maudlin across the entirety of her brand-new debut ep, peach dream, rising and falling with the effortless cadence of a sigh. this decidedly moody, haunting timbre is certainly fodder for eric charles christenson’s production cues, but neo-noir atmospheres occasionally blossom into grand, sweeping gestures, like the cascading synth arpeggios bolstering the hook on “cavalier” and the bubbling undercurrent that pushes wagner into the stratosphere on “wanderer.”
peach dream premieres here on the dimestore, right below this paragraph. it’s a beautiful collaboration, yet another reason why the collective mindset of lowkey radical has the capacity to resonate far and wide beyond their geographic confines. this is a soundtrack for sunsets, for reflection, for twilight drives through backcountry roads. dig in.
baby blanket’s output thus far has been sparse – a guest vocal on sayth’s body pillow ep last year, followed by his solo debut – but each wisp on an aesthetic seems to have built to his latest single, “i tried so hard to sleep the sad away.” a subtle about-face, “sleep the sad away” again finds the minneapolis songwriter teaming with fellow lowkey radical member north house to flesh out a minimal, melancholic foundation, although glitchy percussion and elastic synths factor in more heavily this time around. beneath the surface lies a tender account of finding refuge from paralyzing social anxiety; take a listen to “i tried so hard to sleep the sad away” below.
eric charles christenson is somewhat of a renaissance man. a managing editor at a local magazine and an active member in the chippewa valley’s burgeoning stand-up comedy scene, christenson has also been creating slices of lo-fi pop for years, first as wisconsin built and more recently as two castles. last spring’s dream room ep found christenson incorporating more electronic elements into his home-recorded template, a practice that extended to, and was refined on, subsequent two castles tracks like “bonfire” and “liquor.”
a new year has yielded new material. christenson’s latest two castles ep, night talk, is a concise three-song collection (plus a supplemental remix), with mournful vocal melodies stretched across an intimate digital soundscape. we caught up with christenson outside a coffee shop in eau claire at the tail-end of 2015 to talk about transitioning projects, songwriting approaches, and his involvement in the minneapolis-based collective lowkey radical. after appearing in a slightly different form on a split cassette last month, the finished version of night talkis premiering in full here on dimestore saints; find the tracks embedded in our exclusive interview, condensed and edited for clarity, below.
you phased out wisconsin built & started doing two castles towards the end of 2014. what was the precipitation behind switching projects?
wisconsin built kind of phased itself out. it was one of those things where we all abruptly moved away, and none of us took it seriously enough that we thought about it when we weren’t together; it just kind of dissolved. i wasn’t really thinking about playing music that much because i was working and moving around a lot and figuring that whole thing out. i’d dinked around on some sounds when i lived in minneapolis, but the creative energy in eau claire once i moved back made me want to write songs again.
i always thought of wisconsin built as pretty lo-fi, yet organic in the sense of its instrumentation, but two castles feels decidedly more synthetic.
it’s a shift in production. i used to worry more about live instruments, but then i started plunking around with electronics and making samples and stuff. i did that a bit with wisconsin built, like recording weird sounds, then sampling them and repeating it and making rhythmic things out of noise, but it had never been so central to the song. they were either guitar-driven or organ-driven, basically. i haven’t lived in a place where i could have a drum set for a long time, and i’ve grown to like electronic music a lot more, so i don’t know, it’s been a natural progression towards starting to think about that stuff.
do you find any tenets of wisconsin built’s core methodology seeping into two castles?
i think so. well, a little bit. i mean, i didn’t completely throw out the playbook; i feel like the songwriting is still the same. i write songs in two chunks usually: a theme and a verse, and then a chorus. it would just be two halves, and then i wouldn’t go back to the verse or anything. just do it and get it over with. so that’s kind of the same; i still find myself writing two castles songs in chunks, but they’re just more complex chunks.
night talk feels a bit sharper, more pristine. is that an evolution of what you want your sound to be like, or is it more a result of you learning how to get the most out of your setup?
i think it’s both. two castles has been a learning process. i’m playing live instruments, but they’re midi-controlled, and i’m learning computer programs and patching sounds and learning how to manipulate new effects. there’s certain tricks electronic producers have that acoustic artists don’t, so it’s learning how to do all of that while maintaining the lo-fi aspect.
i felt like the wisconsin built concept was a bit too lo-fi, even for my tastes. it used to be okay with me when i was casually putting stuff out, but it frustrated me when i started taking things more seriously. i still crave that lo-fi sound and want to produce that and have it be accessible. you can still make it fuzzy and sound like you know what the fuck you’re doing, you know? people don’t trust lo-fi music because they don’t think the artists are taking it seriously, but adding an extra level of intricacy gives me a little more clout, which is nice. i think people trust that the lo-fi thing is on purpose when everything else lines up.
these are all songs i’d written this fall, or added to and figured out. “two tuff” is probably the most straight-up pop song i’ve ever written. when you write a chorus like that, it’s hard not to repeat it. it’s definitely the biggest song i’ve ever done; everything had been sort of minimal up until that point. i want to be thought of as someone who’s good at pop hooks and can writing interesting and complex songs, not just someone who makes shitty lo-fi stuff.
are you listening to anyone different on purpose to go after that sound?
i’ve gotten into the soundcloud game; that’s where i find the majority of my music. people are putting out half-beats all the time; it’s really casual, and you can see how that creative process works. i’ve been trying to find lo-fi stuff, but there isn’t a lot. a lot of people rip vinyl, make it lo-fi and add chill hip-hop beats behind it and have all their album artwork as anime characters, but i don’t know if anyone’s going at it as seriously or at the same angle as i am.
jamie xx has some lo-fi flourishes in his work; i loved his record that came out. people like shlomo have that lo-fi flavor while keeping really fast hi-hats and fuzzy bass tones. i fuck with that vibe. my older stuff is shlomo-influenced, shuffly sounds and stuff. i’m still listening to a lot of indie rock, and i think that comes through.
you’ve been doing releases a bit differently than before: a string of singles and now this ep. is this a more desired way of putting out material now?
i used to detest this, but this is what a lot of mainstream pop artists do: they just put out five singles and then drop a six-track album or something. i don’t need to drop an album or anything. i don’t have enough songs where i’m jonesing to release a huge statement piece. i enjoy making songs, so when i finish one i have the urge to put it out. i feel like that’s an efficient way to do it; you make sure people hear each song, and it’s a gradual way to get people into your stuff. when you do that too, people can see your progression as an artist.
you don’t see yourself ever putting out a full-length?
not for awhile. eventually, probably, but at this point i’m fine just doing a little bit at a time. it’s easy for people to digest, it’s easy for me to make.
how are live shows going?
i’ve been playing some really sweet shows, like the local aire festival and leaqfest. i played at lake house a bunch of times; we had a show at the mousetrap in october with ego death from the twin cities and danger ron & the spins. i think people fuck with it; when you’re a lo-fi person, the sound is always dicey, no matter where you play. sometimes it sounds amazing, like at local aire, and other times it just sounds like fucking trash. i’ve had more really good shows than the handful of weird shows that have happened. i really fuck with this material though, more so than with the wisconsin built stuff; i never really felt good about that. but it’s nice feeling confident about the stuff you’re putting out so you can actually give a shit about what you’re doing.
it seemed like everyone left in the eau claire scene in the fall of 2014 started merging together, started working with each other exclusively on new projects, so i wasn’t too surprised to see lowkey radical come out of that. i’ve only really talked to eric (wells, bka sayth) about it; what’s your level of involvement?
the lowkey radical thing acts more as a collective than as a label. eric hit me up about it awhile ago. we were already playing shows together and collaborating on different things; alex (tronson, bka north house) and i are making songs together, alex and serena (wagner, bka sniffle party) are making songs, serena and i are making songs. it was sort of a natural spirit of collaboration. we all have different styles, so it made sense to put an umbrella on it.
do you think having that collective platform helps broaden your accessibility to audiences that wouldn’t otherwise find you?
i’ve seen it, yeah. we dropped this tape and now i think a lot of people are going to hear my stuff that haven’t before because of sayth. i don’t want to feel like i’m leeching off his popularity, but anytime anyone releases something, the squad just puts out the call and you make a big splash on social media. it’s teamwork. it’s a lot easier to go at something from a collective standpoint, to think about where the label’s at and how your stuff can fit into that puzzle. if any one of us happens to blow up, it would have this residual effect on everyone else. we’re all taking bets on each other, and it helps that we really actually fuck with everyone else’s music.
we can collaborate on different things musically, but i can hit eric up about a show or something, we can share a pool of resources and brainpower. the label elevates the level of our music, i think; it’s nice to have people to bounce ideas off of, especially when you’re a solo artist. alex and i always bounce beats off each other. he’s the person i send all my stuff to, even when it’s not done.
do you want to step back and do more physical releases?
i think so. i think i could put this ep out on cd or something. it would be nice to have, especially after a show, because people might really like the music, but i’m relying on them to go to my soundcloud page. and i’m not even telling them to do that when i’m on stage. i’m having fun writing songs and playing shows, but if i’m going to take this more seriously there’s going to have to be more stuff like that. the fact that i’m not relying on this financially helps.
does that lack of urgency help your creative process?
i think so, yeah. i’m a slow writer in almost everything. it takes me awhile to fully form an idea, so this gives me time to get things right. i take a lot of old ideas and let them sit for a minute, then revisit them and polish. i’ll make a minute-and-a-half beat and i’ll bounce that, put it on a mix cd and drive around listening to it in my car, maybe write some lyrics to it and record them on a voice memo. if you listened to the voice memos on my phone it would be hella embarrassing because you can barely hear the beat through the speakers and it’s just me belting while i’m watching traffic hoping no cop sees me.
it takes time to collect all the pieces i need to feel good about a song. that happened with “porch.” i had an old version of that song that i thought was done and i was sitting on it forever, then i revisited it and added some layers, and now it’s ready.
you can acquire a digital copy of night talk by navigating to this link. for more two castles information, click any of the following options below.
eric wells’ output as sayth is becoming more refined, more sobering; his collaborative ep with north house, body pillow, is often a bummer in tone yet beautiful to listen to and digest. “maybe god is afraid of us?” is an especially listless cut about a fracturing relationship and its aftermath, sentiments explored in detail throughout its brand new music video. wells’ brother spencer again helms the director’s chair for the clip and pieces together a melancholy montage of coping mechanisms that culminate in a scene that’s simultaneously tranquil and jarring. check out the video below.
dan forke’s output as wealthy relative has always meandered towards the philosophical, experimental side of hip-hop, a calling card that allows his latest ep, a four-track collection entitled post-clarity, to function in a profoundly introspective environment. on “bad things (our body),” forke wanders through the track’s hook before settling in on a mantra of “i don’t know what feels right / but i know what feels good,” one that feels particularly paramount to his present headspace. you can stream and download post-clarity in its entirety here; take a listen to “bad things (our body)” below.
the ep is a beloved format here at the dimestore, the perfect stop-gap for artists in between full-length projects and an extended offering for those just beginning to imprint their dna in music’s genome. the five selections from 2015 skew largely towards the latter; dive into our picks below.
you’d be hard-pressed to find a duo that had more flat-out fun in 2015 than diet cig. the new paltz two-piece offered up their debut ep, over easy, early this year, a compact five-song venture into jubilant power chords and flippant observations about the waning moments of teenagedom. diet cig may market themselves as slop-pop, but there’s nothing sloppy about alex luciano’s underlying wit, or how she accosts small-town narcissism on “scene sick” and gloriously howls “fuck your ivy league sweater” at the climax of “harvard.” more of this in 2016, please.
a co-sign from the 1975 certainly helped amplify exposure, but amber bain would have snuck into the internet’s collective awareness regardless. her work as the japanese house thus far is affecting, a haunting palette of minimalist textures wrapped around bain’s penchant for stacking brooding vocals. although her second ep of 2015, clean, already showcased bain expanding her horizons, pools to bathe in feels like definitive japanese house, from the warped acoustic guitar foundation of the ep’s title track to the chilling narrative of an alter-ego on “sister.” in an era when pristine, layered production is as coveted as ever, the japanese house serves as an acute example of how to subvert that practice’s outcome and obtain an incredibly intimate final product.
cascine is our reigning label of the year in part because they regularly brought exceptional acts like morly to the forefront of our inbox. on in defense of my muse, katy morley harnesses the dexterity and beautiful simplicity of fragmented piano melodies and weaves them through sparse electronic soundscapes, resulting in a body of work that can be just as euphoric as it is ominous. case in point: “and sooner than we know it…” briefly emerges from an eerie choral haze to indulge in a subdued dancehall catharsis, but the surrounding tracks ascertain that morly is ultimately a project of introspection, not delayed hedonism.
eric wells and alex tronson held down the art of the short-form record for the wisconsin/minnesota border in 2015. on body pillow, tronson’s moody amalgamation of trap beats and polychrome textures coaxes out some of sayth’s densest lyrical material yet, from sharp commentary on the perpetual state of limbo felt by twenty-somethings to heart-rending, vivid navigations of fleeting romance. body pillow also aligns many of the salient members of wells’ burgeoning collective, lowkey radical; wealthy relative creams the ep’s sole guest verse on “a formal apology to grandma wells” while baby blanket made his inaugural appearance on the hook of “maybe god is afraid of us?” but some of the finest moments happen without any outside help. closing number “pink pistols” pads lush synth swells and stuttering drums around an ode to sayth’s entire contingent, which compounds rapidly and builds towards the ep’s final, visceral couplet: “macklemore made a million off of gay rights / thanks bro, this is actually my real life.”
being spread across the globe doesn’t seem to hinder yumi zouma; if anything, the quartet thrives off of displacement. our reigning best new artists turned in their much-anticipated second ep mere months after receiving the accolade, one that showcases a more intricate understanding of how to intertwine soaring hooks and intimate textures. “alena” and “catastrophe” are both baleric anthems, indulging in their respective melodies to craft compositions that feel like extroverted extensions of the subdued persona yumi zouma initially embodied, but they’re necessary foils if the desired end-result is “song for zoe & gwen,” the universal missing component from every 1980s soundtrack that finally pairs the band’s nostalgic sonic palette with thematics of the same stature.
eric charles christenson is slowly carving out a niche for himself, resorbing the lo-fi tendencies of his early work as wisconsin built and sowing their seeds in the glitchy electronica of two castles. following a pair of strong summer singles – “liquor” and “bonfire” – christenson returned today with “two tuff,” a chilly new cut that arpeggiates freely over reverb-obscured vocals. as a bonus, fellow lowkey radical member north house jumped on a remix of the track, which was released today as well. take a listen to “two tuff” below.
lowkey radical is the arts collective you never knew you needed. the minneapolis upstart boasts longtime dimestore favorites like sayth and two castles as members, but also plays host to a handful of younger, promising artists. luke mathison sang the hooks on the sayth and north house collaborative ep body pillow under the moniker baby blanket; his warm, syrupy tone established the mood on “maybe god is afraid of us?” and foreshadowed the aesthetic he toys with on his debut solo effort, “i never liked my birthday anyways.” on “birthday,” mathison embodies the song’s downtrodden title with a maudlin vocal turn, languidly developing over a nocturnal beat co-produced by north house. after signing off with the evaluation “we both have some growing to do / me more than you,” the track veers off into a beautiful instrumental coda, replete with a melancholy synth line that pines for the song’s central figure. “i never liked my birthday anyways” is premiering here on dimestore saints; take a listen below.