owen – “settled down”

owen shervin lainez
photo courtesy of shervin lainez

the first single from owen’s upcoming album, the king of whys, is certifiably bucolic.  “lost” is firmly grounded in mike kinsella’s voice and the subtle, rhythmic strums of his acoustic guitar, with lilting pedal steel phrases peppered in for supplemental texture.  it’s a logical outcome when kinsella’s minimal confessionals get paired with arrangements played by a lauded collective of eau claire session musicians; quite frankly, an entire album’s worth of material like this would be more than welcomed.

“settled down” isn’t exactly the antithesis of its predecessor, but it is maximal in comparison.  a polyrhythmic drum beat, reminiscent of kinsella’s work behind the kit in their/they’re/there, anchors the track, with steadily-arpeggiated chords weaving through a fuzzed-out foundation to create a series of sweeping passages.  the sparse interludes that do occur feel that much more impactful as a result; indeed, the coda is a particularly arrest respite from the dissonance that threatens to bleed through prior to its arrival.  a listless song with natural disaster as a central metaphor shouldn’t be this beautiful.

the king of whys arrives july 29th via polyvinyl records.  listen to “settled down” below.

alvvays – alvvays

– featured image courtesy of the artist –

the marriage of jangle-pop and post-punk has been a fruitful union; the latter sort of embodies the pessimistic outlook so often attributed to millennials while the former crusades against that preconceived notion, placing melodies and hooks in the foreground of an angsty wasteland.  a classic yin and yang of music.  

nestled somewhere in the midst of this movement is alvvays, a toronto quintet whose riffs long for sunny beaches (presumably on the west coast, but maybe not) yet whose lyrics are full of melancholy, self-doubt, and regret, creating somewhat of an apparent identity crisis.  on the band’s self-titled debut, however, they prove time and again that this is a carefully calculated method of expression.

standing at the center of alvvays is molly rankin, her bored demeanor and slightly sullen lyrics often tracing the very riffs she chimes out on guitar.  the album hits hard with the one-two punch of “adult diversion” and “archie, marry me,” its opening number demonstrating how effortlessly rankin and fellow guitarist alec o’hanley are able to weave their guitar parts around one another.  

supported by tongue-in-cheek lyrics with blunt questions that would leave the recipient sputtering, “adult diversion” segues into the mid-tempo, chord-crunching “archie, marry me,” a song that finds rankin enhancing her wry delivery by immediately conceding “you expressed explicitly / your contempt for matrimony” but trivializing the sentiment in the same breath with “you have student loans to pay / you will not risk the alimony.”

amidst the quick wit and humorous jabs lies a sense that rankin is grappling with darker, perhaps more pertinent emotions.  the subtle drum programming and wandering guitar riffs on “ones who love you” precede “next of kin,” a first-person narrative detailing the drowning of a boyfriend.  while the subject matter and its metaphor are morose, rankin manages to maintain some of her light disposition, and the duality of the song is further augmented by an earworm of a guitar riff (probably the album’s best) that crops up between chorus and verse.

the rest of alvvays finds the band trying on various identities for sides, usually with varying results.  the intervallic leaps throughout the chorus of “party police” get a bit repetitive and mundane, but the bare, ominous synth introduction to “dives” showcases a decidedly more delicate side of alvvays, one that is enhanced by the passive triple meter of the drum machine and the simple guitar arpeggios that stumble into the mix alongside rankin’s voice.  

“red planet” closes out the album on the opposite end of the spectrum from “adult diversion,” allowing rankin’s vocals to provide the melody while synthesizers and a bass guitar provide harmonic motion.  for the first time on the record, rankin and her lyrics are put squarely in the spotlight, and she shines as this wonderful summer soundtrack drives off into the sunset.

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 pillar point

to say that pillar point’s debut album is highly anticipated by this site would be a gross understatement.  scott reitherman has dazzled with all of his offerings so far, from the straight-ahead “eyeballs” to the slow-jam tendencies of “dreamin’.”  a month out from the album’s release, reitherman has shared yet another track, this time through brooklyn vegan; “cherry” is funky, melancholy, and grandiose, and you can stream it below.

listen to a new song from pillar point

pillar point, the mysterious recent addition to the polyvinyl artist list, will release a 7″ sometime this year.  we’ve already heard the a-side – “diamond mine” – and now the seattle synthpopper has shared the flip side with us.  “dreamin'” is much more subdued than its predecessor, retaining a post-chillwave feel, whatever that’s supposed to mean.  check it out below, courtesy of polyvinyl’s soundcloud page.

listen to a new song from pillar point

i don’t know too much about pillar point.  the project is currently shrouded in quite a bit of mystery, but i’m guessing this is a one-man show based on the promotional photos.  what i do know is that pillar point recently signed with polyvinyl records and will be releasing a 7″ sometime this year.  check out “diamond mine,” the a-side of the single, below via polyvinyl’s soundcloud page.  it’s commanding, ethereal, and downright addictive; polyvinyl hit the jackpot again.