bing & ruth – “quebec (climber)”

– featured image courtesy of tonje thilesen – 

since 2012, the new york-based website stadiums & shrines has been quietly and carefully commissioning an ongoing sequence of songs collectively titled dreams: an invitation for artists to evaluate black-and-white collages of 1950s tourism photographs and interpret them in their aural likeness.  after accumulating over three hours of dreams over the course of six years, stadiums & shrines has made a capsule of twenty tracks, to be released as a double album alongside a multimedia booklet this june via cascine.

s&s victoria masters.jpg

– s & s curators dave sutton & nathaniel whitcomb (victoria masters) – 

the compilation’s second single, “quebec (climber),” comes from the minimalist-inclined, classical collective bing & ruth.  a six-minute wash of cascading acoustic pianos, haunting strings, and distant warbles of clarinet, “quebec (climber)” is the precise type of lush introspection stadiums & shrines has been known to hang its hat on for a decade now.  with an inherent momentum born from its seafaring inspiration, “quebec (climber)” is a welcome glimpse of things to come from stadiums & shrines’ twenty-song double-album.

dreams is out june 15th via cascine.  listen to bing & ruth’s wonderful “quebec (climber)” below.

morly – “plucky”

morly
photo courtesy of the artist

morly is sitting on her sophomore ep, something more holy, due out april 8th via the inimitable cascine.  the minneapolis-bred producer and songwriter has since pulled up roots and relocated to los angeles, but her home state’s chilly atmosphere lingers in her compositions; the ep’s second single, “plucky,” is bundled up in morly’s tranquil vocals and dexterous drum programming, while steely tones work to generate more heat on the off-beats.  take a listen below.

watch the music video for isaac vallentin’s “stewardess”

isaac vallentin has released music with pony girl and under the pseudonym josef pollock, but the ottawa-based singer-songwriter has never explicitly attached his name to a project until this year.  hedera, vallentin’s debut full-length, dropped independently last friday; it’s a thirteen-track exercise in filtering organic instrumentation through an electronic lens, with vallentin effortlessly superimposing shuddering bass lines and steady synth arpeggios over his home-recorded guitar and vocal tracks.

one of the album’s strongest tracks, and its clearest proponent of vallentin’s aesthetic, is “stewardess.”  polyrhythms quickly manifest and are further solidified when the bass drops, but the instrumentation ultimately bows to vallentin’s first powerful lyrical turn, delivered in a soothing baritone.  the principal single from hedera preceded the album’s release with a jarring music video.  its two characters convey the song’s dialogue through interpretative dance and the minimal use of props, resulting in a cathartic experience that becomes more apparent with each viewing.  you can stream and download hedera here; watch the video for “stewardess” below.

listen to a new song from sea oleena

after a lengthy hiatus, sea oleena is back with her highly-anticipated debut album shallow, due out september 30th via lefse records.  earlier this summer she shared the arresting “if i’m,” and today she delivered its successor.  on “paths,” a smooth ostinato guitar line dictates oleena’s wonderfully lethargic vocal melody, further supported by whispered harmonies and brief swells of feedback.  take a listen below.

listen to a new song from grouper

liz harris has been recording as grouper for nearly a decade now, offering up collections of hushed, ambient-laced songs on an almost-yearly basis.  her new album, ruins, is due out october 31st via kranky records, and harris recently spoke to vogue about its first single.  “call across rooms” is about as sparse as a song can get, confining harris to just her voice and a piano.  but it’s a testament to her prowess as a songwriter that harris can make these perceived limitations work to her advantage; a single melody is shared between the two instruments and the percussive nature of the piano constantly threatens to overpower her lyrics, forcing a close and intimate listen to parcel out the song’s poetic content.  harris also describes “call across rooms” as having a dual meaning, a second layer of complexity underlined by the types of chord qualities and resolutions not typically found in pop music.  but then again, adhering to convention has never been the tendency of grouper.  check out “call across rooms” below.

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

best of 2013: albums

good things come to those that wait, right?  does this phrase even really apply to this situation?  probably not.  it may be a bit delayed, but my albums of the year list is finally done.  i’ve written long-form essays on my favorite fifteen records of 2013 over at playground misnomer; you should definitely head over there and check it out, along with lists from the other contributors to that site.  if you don’t feel like reading, below are some quick and simple pictures of my top five albums of 2013.  enjoy.

5. milo – cavalcade

chvrches4. chvrches – the bones of what you believe

daughter if you leave3. daughter – if you leave

2. caroline smith – half about being a woman

majical cloudz impersonator.jpg1. majical cloudz – impersonator

best of 2013: songs

i’m upping the ante and treating you to my ten favorite songs of 2013, as opposed to last year’s five.  my choices don’t necessarily reflect contenders for album of the year, but don’t be surprised if some of the same names show up over the next couple of weeks.

10. oostende – keep shelly in athens: “oostende” was my first true glimpse at sarah p.’s vocal personality, which stretches from hesitant to confident within the duration of a verse and a chorus.  the synth pads are brooding throughout, but the lead line that kicks in three quarters of the way through the song routinely gets stuck in my head.  easily the best track off of the duo’s debut album at home, the power of “oostende” is only bolstered by an incredibly heart-wrenching music video.

 

9. collapse – vancouver sleep clinic: the second of just two tracks released by vancouver sleep clinic this year, “collapse” easily proves what tim bettinson is capable of doing with his voice.  retaining an incomprehensible aesthetic akin to bon iver, “collapse” evokes a frigid winter landscape that has already become relatable.  the production behind the vocals is also impressive, molding some james blake drum pads with soft-rock, folky guitars.  both vancouver sleep clinic songs have been firmly distinguishable so far, but “collapse” flexes the ensemble’s potential the most.

 

8. graceless – the national: trouble will find me still hasn’t fully settled in yet.  while the cohesive aspect of the album may be lacking, i know that “graceless” is probably one of the best songs the national have ever written.  there’s that underlying post-punk tone that harkens earlier tracks off of alligator and boxer, along with a truly anthemic final chorus.  the national is a band that ages well, and a sustained break from their earlier influences helped to add depth to that sound.

 

7. diamond mine – pillar point: i love a good mystery.  when i found pillar point through polyvinyl’s twitter page, the sheer absence of a biography or any sort of personal identity attached to the project made me appreciate the music that much more.  “diamond mine” is a chillwave standout that mixes a multitude of pulses, but that lead synth line is always an earworm, whether syncopated or straight in time.  the lyrics are a bit melancholy, juxtaposing the sunny, up-beat accompaniment, but that only adds to the overall sophistication of the songwriting here.

 

6. tennis court – lorde: i could talk about “royals,” but everyone talks about “royals.”  lorde stands for something that goes against the mainstream materialistic values and idolization of glamorous pop stars, but she’s also still a kid, barely out of high school and three years away from turning twenty.  that doesn’t detract from the fact that she’s very self-aware and intelligent; i think “tennis court” showcases this the best.  its lyrics are less about dissociating from material goods and more about defying social trends and chasing perfection.  “tennis court” is fairly autobiographical, highlighting lorde’s naivete in the music industry, but her skeptic tone suggests that she won’t buy into its extravagancies.  i guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

 

5. savage – majical cloudz: there’s a lot to be said about majical cloudz and their fantastic, under-the-radar year.  devon welsh’s voice is routinely haunting, pairing well with the minimalist compositions that define the aesthetic of the duo.  impersonator was an admirable record, but i was drawn to “savage,” a bonus track released just last month, more quickly than any song found on the album.  the ostinato keyboard part sets the tone for welsh’s lyrics, a fairly direct romantic narrative.  the first time i heard him break from his declamatory phrasing to croon “high on lsd with you,” i was sold, and i’ve felt the same tingling sensation every listen since.

 

4. summer skin – teen girl scientist monthly: someone likened teen girl scientist monthly to the pains of being pure at heart on steroids, a comparison that works especially well for “summer skin,” the opening track on their newest album modern dances.  the opening guitar line sells the song as an instant earworm of powerpop, but the gradual additions of keyboard textures and gang vocals find the brooklyn ensemble as an amalgamation of the answering machine and arcade fire.  “summer skin” is the kind of song you would wait around for hours to hear on the radio, but thankfully, you don’t have to do that.

 

3. comrade – volcano choir: “byegone” garnered understandable praise for volcano choir, with its anthemic folk rock feel reminiscent of bon iver’s sophomore album.  but “comrade” is the essence of what volcano choir has become: the marriage of collections of colonies of bees’ post-rock leanings and justin vernon’s vocal tendencies.  responsible solely for the lyrics and vocals on repave, vernon was in his element, generously modifying his voice to embellish the experimental aesthetic of the band.  the autotuned coda at the end of “comrade” makes the song and is gloriously powerful live; watch the video below for a frame of reference.

 

2. lungs – chvrches: any song off of the bones of what you believe could contend for a spot on this list.  chvrches was one of the most impressionable bands of 2013, seamlessly blending pop hooks with indie sensibility and dance floor beats.  “lungs” is buried deep within the album and is a syncopated gem; lauren mayberry’s voice is subtly doubled with a vocoder, adding a harsh undertone to an otherwise crystal clear timbre, but it’s the quarter note-triplet pattern fed through a filthy bass synthesizer that defines this song.  friends of mine who almost exclusively listen to electronic dance music appreciate chvrches due to this song, further showcasing the band’s accessibility across a wide variety of genres.  “lungs” is on par with every single released off of the bones of what you believe, and is probably better than some of them.

 

1. boat rich – dads: it didn’t take long before “boat rich” was my most-played song of 2013.  clocking in at under three minutes helps, but the fact is that the guitar work is too catchy to not listen to on repeat.  dads started to receive some national attention this year with the resurgence of emo, but the new jersey duo are just as likely to throw a quick meter change into a song as they are to wear their hearts on their sleeves.  the chorus of “boat rich” is anthemic in nature and each repetition builds, culminating in a climax following a triplet-based interlude.  check out dads’ pretty good ep if you haven’t already, and keep your eye out for more material in 2014.  i know i will.