listen to a new song from phox

we’re less than three weeks away from the arrival of phox’s self-titled debut album for partisan records, and today the band has treated the internet to “1936,” a wonderful new song.  as is to be expected, “1936” highlights monica martin’s wandering, smoky voice while intertwining acoustic guitars and banjos deeper into the texture.  be on the lookout for phox come june 24th and take a listen or three to “1936” in the meantime, found below courtesy of the band’s soundcloud page.

message for address: my year in the eau claire house show scene

glassworks improv performing during playhouse fest at the glassworks playhouse. may, 2014.

the final two shows at the glassworks playhouse are in the books.  the softly, house will be holding its last extravaganza on friday, and my departure from involvement with the hudson house is very imminent.  naturally, it’s time for some reflection.  house shows and house parties are nothing new in any town, especially not eau claire.  the diy scene here may fluctuate in prevalence on a year-to-year basis, but there is never a marked recession.  last school year was my first exposure to the inner workings of the eau claire music scene, and it was a fairly slow learning process.  from what i gather, private performance spaces were scant; pussy haus hosted a handful of shows before permanently shutting its doors, and the short-lived camomile lawn played host to a couple of intimate living-room performances.  as i navigated the performance options for my fledgling band, i discovered that the only other places to play were the music venue on campus – which often requires booking months in advance – and a handful of bars around town.

the latter of these two public spaces underscores a prevailing problem with the music scene in eau claire: the decided lack of free, all-ages venues around town.  my bandmates and i were all under the age of twenty-one when we began playing bars – the only venues available to book with a decent turnaround time – and most of our friends couldn’t legally drink, either.  turnout from our fan base was never very high.  things began to change in the summer of 2013.  we moved into an old, turn-of-the-century house with an enormous living room perfectly suited for house shows, and our new friends in softly, dear opened up their basement as a performance venue as well.  right alongside us were the kids from glassworks, a long-form improv trio whose routines compliment musical acts quite nicely.  they had also rented a house together, and proceeded to turn their basement into the glassworks playhouse.

north house (left) and poozer (right) tag team a set in the softly, dear basement. april, 2014.

simply put, i don’t think there is a concrete number available for the amount of shows that took place at these three venues over the past year.  i will be the first to admit that the hudson house hosted few in comparison (additional hiccups occur with ground-level performances and elderly neighbors), but we averaged about one a month.  what was true across the board, regardless of venue, was the overwhelming turnout and continuous positive reception that surrounded each show.  common sense may dictate that the best times to host shows would be during the weekend, but forty people were just as likely to pack a basement on a tuesday night as they were on a friday night.

part of the draw was the tremendous fortune we often had of having out-of-town bands join the bills.  most hailed from southern wisconsin or the twin cities area and were passing through on tour, but occasionally we connected with artists from as far away as florida (see: austin miller).  on a very basic level, this fused a pleasant amount of contrast into our own local scene, but positive references from many of these bands caused the house show circuit’s stock to rise significantly.  a large tip of the hat is in order for the networking skills of alex adkinson, dave power, and johanne swanson, all of whom actively sought out or enthusiastically referred acts to play at one of the venues in town.

hounds before lions album release show in the hudson house living room. november, 2013.

perhaps most importantly, the house show scene in eau claire built a sense of musical camaraderie over the past year that i’ve never experienced before, and may never again.  each show knew no genre limitations; it was just as likely to feature one of the many local electronic artists as it was to happen upon purveyors of hip-hop, or any of the bands playing their own unique brand of indie rock.  further underscoring this diversity has been the constant support and promotion artists give to one another.  i was also personally exposed to a lot of music i don’t think i would have found in any other fashion, such as hannah hebl‘s soulful output, the off-kilter art rap of sayth, and the intricate folk-tinged music provided by rivers.

i’m still blown away by the amount of effort that continuously went into building and sustaining this microcosm over the past year, and i’m glad i was able to play a small role.  armed with nothing more than facebook events and word-of-mouth dissemination, house shows in eau claire became an excellent outlet for musicians to perform in a free, all-ages location.  over time, the tagline “message for address” became almost a formality; even if the exact numerical assignment wasn’t known, many people could pick out the unassuming houses for what they really were: a performance space.  i’m certainly not the voice of everyone who’s participated in this community – my opinion is just one of many – but the consensus has always felt very positive.

while the house show scene here in eau claire will inevitably slow down after the closures of both the glassworks playhouse and the softly, house, it won’t grind to a halt.  the hudson house will continue to serve as a performance space, and already has some upcoming shows in the works.  just as an example, emily reo and cuddle formation will be stopping by in the middle of june, a show that should be attended at all costs.  furthermore, the guys from glassworks have plans to rent a new house together after they return from tour this summer, and hope to host shows through december of this year.  hudson street boutique, the eau claire-oriented tumblr offshoot of dimestore saints, will continue, and i’ll be posting information on as many local shows as i can via the site’s twitter handle.  eau claire will always be on my mind, especially after i move away.  there are too many bands to acknowledge and extend gratitude to individually, so i hope a blanketed thanks will suffice.  you all know who you are.  seriously, thank you.

apollo vermouth – fractured youth

a2075354742_10in one of those rare musical moments, alisa rodriguez has created a masterful body of work with little more than a guitar and copious amounts of personal reflection.  fractured youth is rodriguez’s latest effort under her ambient guise of apollo vermouth, but this album strips away most of the salient, dreamy traits of ambient music in favor of an ominous, distant barrage of noise.  it may be the milwaukee resident’s most profound collection of songs yet.

although the album is broken up into specified tracks, fractured youth lends itself well to continuous, uninterrupted playback.  chord changes are slow, and any sense of harmonic motion is usually obscured by the layers of white noise that accompany each song.  after two comparatively quick tracks, the album settles in with “aftertaste” and “never ending,” a one-two hazy punch serving as the centerpiece of fractured youth.

both songs flirt with the six-minute mark, the former falling just short while the latter spills over, yet each establishes and represents a fairly concise, contrasting element of rodriguez’s music.  “aftertaste” has a sense of urgency, its busy progressions hinting at explorations of pent-up emotions, while “never ending” paces itself more methodically.  harmonics from the drone tend to have more emphasis here, and the back half of the song seems especially stagnant.

after increased tension on “vacant lots,” fractured youth comes to an appropriate close with “drift,” a gorgeous coda that evokes an oddly distinct feeling of being lost at sea, perhaps a metaphor for dealing with a foreign situation.  together, the album’s six songs comprise a half-hour of minimalist, reflective music just as useful for falling asleep as it is for deep, serious meditation sessions.  fractured youth is out now via bridgetown records.  don’t miss out.

8.3/10

listen to a new song from phox

maybe “reworked song” would be a more apt description in the title.  oh well.  it’s been a treat to watch the rest of the world slowly catch on to the true gem that is phox.  there’s traffic here on almost a daily basis looking for the band’s 2013 ep confetti (sorry, they took it down), and the baraboo sextet have been picking up steam, playing sxsw and receiving coverage from npr all while working on their self-titled album, their first for partisan records.  the album is due out june 24th, and the band put up a bunch of pre-order information on their website today.  along with the pre-order comes “slow motion,” a re-recorded version of the opening track off confetti.  the overall structure of the song remains fairly consistent, but subtle nuances like organ swells and a greater presence of percussion make “slow motion” even sharper, building tons of anticipation for the rest of the album.  take a listen below, courtesy of the band’s soundcloud page, and look for phox to come to a city near you this summer.

good night & good morning – narrowing type

“heavy rotation” is a new monthly long-form piece designed to infuse dimestore saints with more intellectual writing.  while much of the content on this website is dedicated towards brand new and impending releases, music from previous years still carries a lot of merit.  each installment of this segment will examine an album that has been listened to frequently over the past month.  i’ll try my best not to ramble.

it’s kind of hard to ignore a supreme offering of ambient-infused post-rock these days if, like me, you live in a climate where said artist’s melancholy and pensive timbres perfectly complement bleak forecasts that are frequent in the early months of the year.  ironically, i first dug into good night & good morning’s narrowing type in the middle of last summer; the hazy reverb and the slow vibrato pulse of the vibraphone was incredibly soothing during the excruciating heat, and the album was best experienced late at night with the windows open, letting in whatever breeze there was.  even before the temperatures plunged into the subzero abyss, i knew that narrowing type was a dual-edged sword: an emotive album that was highly pertinent at any time of the year.

good night & good morning started out as a duo nearly a decade ago, with champaign/urbana residents ryan brewer and pat elifritz creating a lo-fi musical and visual aesthetic.  after a couple eps, the two decided to enlist milwaukee native sahan jayasuriya to play drums on narrowing type, the band’s first and last album.  my colleague at heartbreaking bravery summed up the essence of this record quite concisely in his 2012 review for popmatters, honing in on key influences and the glorious apex of the album that is “median i” and “median ii.”  after seeing narrowing type pop up on quite a few year-end best-of lists in 2012, i decided to seek it out myself and confirmed what everyone else had already learned: good night & good morning had created a true masterpiece capable of leaving a strong lasting impression on virtually any listener.

it’s a shame the band came to an end, but the three members should take solace in the fact that they created something so monumental.  narrowing type kicks off with “jill,” a brief introduction that molds passive static with a hesitant melodic figure.  piano drives most of the song, with hints of guitar fading in and out along with sparse, percussive interjections.  this foreshadows “philadelphia,” immediately defined by jayasuriya’s understated but firm 6/8 feel on the drums.  brewer’s voice enters relatively uninformed by the triple meter, instead elongating many of his syllables and blending their delivery with his arpeggiations on guitar.  everything is slow and hazy and full of nostalgia; this only becomes more evident as the song progresses and more instruments are added in, most notably the vibraphone counter-melody and the sparse string arrangement towards the end of the song.

arguably, the most quintessential good night & good morning track is “key studies,” but that opinion comes with the concession that a convincing argument could be made about any of the tracks on narrowing type.  personally, the more commanding guitar melody and vibraphone interplay make this song extremely appealing, and the subtle percussion provides a sturdy foundation for brewer’s ethereal vocals, which loop the dreamy phrase “i’ll turn up in boston” for most of the song.  after firmly establishing their presence, good night & good morning embark on a twelve-minute quest towards the climax of the album with “median i” and “median ii.”  the first installment begins incredibly subdued, with vibraphone swells that eventually crescendo into a mountain of guitar feedback, supplemented by cymbals and additional white noise.  this bleeds seamlessly into the second part, which marks the return of brewer’s voice and guitar lines.  jayasuriya’s drums enter around the two-minute mark in a similar fashion to his work on “philadelphia,” but his purpose is to give the song forward momentum that culminates in the grand wall of distorted feedback supporting an insistent vibraphone melody.

after such a taxing endeavor, the band takes the final fifteen minutes of narrowing type to cool off.  “japanese thread” contains a stagnant, pulsating guitar arpeggiation that rarely deviates from its initial declamation, regardless of the amount of feedback it has to combat, and “abroad & neutral” is one of those rare moments of delicate beauty that has the capacity to completely swallow up an audience for the entirety of its ten-minute duration.  even though narrowing type is only seven tracks and forty-two minutes long, the album still contains a substantial amount of imagery and landscape to unpackage.

oftentimes, ambient music emits a decidedly desolate tone, and it’s often evident that the artists are intentionally trying to evoke that state of mind.  while listening to narrowing type in all of the correct hypothetical circumstances could inevitably lead to a depressed state, i personally take away quite a bit of warmth from this record.  guitar arpeggios are like a second language to me, and there’s something about the timbre of the vibraphone that makes me feel safe, like i’m enveloped in a cocoon of chimes.  my first in-depth experience with good night & good morning was during the hottest months of summer, when the haze in the sky matched the haze on the record.  listening to narrowing type alone on long walks in the brutal wisconsin cold is a different experience in some regards, but that association with warmth always makes me a bit more content.

wisconsin built – drinkable

wisconsin built went on hiatus for much of 2013, allowing frontman eric charles christenson the time he needed to settle into his post-collegiate life.  the year was marked by temporary residencies in multiple towns, including a couple of stints at his parent’s place, and this pseudo-transient lifestyle led to many of the songs on drinkable, the band’s second full-length album.

just like with 2012’s rest less, christenson recorded all of drinkable in solitude, dabbling in bedroom-recording techniques that feature heavy doses of chord organ and a substantial amount of samples.  the traditional spoken-word snippets that have been tied to wisconsin built since its inception are still prominent throughout drinkable, but the new album also finds christenson experimenting with spliced samples of his own voice and other instruments, expanding the album’s rhythmic palate.

wisconsin built has always been defined by the brevity of their songs, and drinkable is no stranger to that trait.  the average track clocks in at around two minutes, but the beauty of wisconsin built’s songs is that they don’t really need to be any longer.  christenson excels at telling snippets of stories: narratives that insert the listener into a specified moment in time and show them life from his perspective.  for example, take “fuckers,” a brief song about loud kids in a park across the street, or “country mile,” a simple narrative of the walks christenson’s father takes around his neighborhood.  the simple arrangements tend to put the focus squarely on his vocals, but the washes of reverb christenson uses tend to turn his voice into the most important instrument in the song, giving listeners two very crucial aspects to pay attention to.

drinkable is bolstered by retouched versions of “church bells” and “andrew bogut,” two songs that originally appeared as demos on 2012’s maps ii, but the other nine tracks are brand new material.  the album is an impressive display of christenson’s lo-fi pop sensibility, and shows that he is just as adept at creating an interesting narrative as he is at developing an enticing soundscape.  drinkable is available now through wisconsin built’s bandcamp page at a pay-what-you-want rate.

7.8/10

listen to a new song from yellow ostrich

one of the perks of following ryan matteson’s muzzle of bees account on twitter is that i’m routinely keyed in on new releases from all of the great bands he’s currently managing.  one that i’ve been following for quite awhile is yellow ostrich, the psych-rock sad bastards that originate from my humble home state.  they’re based in brooklyn now, and they’ve got a new record coming out on february 25th called cosmos.  check out the lead single “shades” below.

listen to a new song from yohuna

it’s been a relatively slow weekend due to the holidays, but i thought i’d pass on a great new yohuna song that i’ve been listening to a lot over the past few days.  “apart” was recently featured on a sold-out cassette for le sigh and was up on 420 love songs for awhile, but you can stream it below, via yohuna’s soundcloud page.  it’s perfect for the lethargy that accompanies a weekend like this.

scallops hotel – poplar grove (or how to rap with a hammer)

if you’ve somehow missed out on milo’s output this year, let me give you a quick crash-course.  on new year’s day, the mc released a double-ep called things that happen at day/things that happen at night.  this past july, he dropped cavalcade, an excellent mixtape with exquisite production from riley lake.  the three bodies of work together exhibited an enormous amount of artistic growth over a short period of time, as milo continued to develop his philosophical, spoken word-tinged rhyme delivery over beats that were more interactive and at the forefront of each composition.  i think most people would have been beyond satisfied if he had called it quits for 2013 after cavalcade,  but milo’s prolific tendencies dictated that even more material was necessary.  i can’t really complain about that.

with poplar grove (or how to rap with a hammer), milo’s first full-length release for his scallops hotel side project, the young rapper furthers his case for being consider among the year’s best artists.  poplar grove also marks somewhat of a return to milo’s earlier, independent days; although there are smatterings of hellfyre club found throughout the album, his decision to release it through his own personal bandcamp is telling.  the tracks are much more intimate and eclectic than milo’s previous work this year, and they’re largely devoid of hooks.  this return to a more stream-of-consciousness approach is akin to what initially drew me to last year’s milo takes baths, but it’s been juxtaposed by deeper, pitch-shifted vocals and comparatively haunting instrumentals.

when the occasional melody does appear, it’s wonderful.  “bergamot gamut” traces the same melodic figure throughout with milo appropriating his words to its contour, changing the content when need be and slipping in and out of spoken and sung phrases.  the improvement of his singing voice is notable, but what’s even more impressive is milo’s growth as a songwriter, not so much in terms of lyricism as in terms of form and overall structure.  i saw some deviation from his established formula in penobscot expedition, a fan-made b-sides compilation that also surfaced this summer, and it’s nice to see milo continuing down a path to diversify his sound.

poplar grove isn’t milo’s defining album of 2013, and it really shouldn’t be.  this excellent foray under the moniker of a side project allows him to prove that his output will never run the risk of becoming one-dimensional, and probably will help him pay for rent next month, too.  in order to fully understand milo’s musical realm, poplar grove must be inserted into a continuous stream of his entire discography from this year.  once you do that, i hope you’ll understand why milo has become a force to be reckoned with.

8.0/10

listen to a new song from milo’s side project scallops hotel

as if releasing a fantastic pair of eps and a damn good mixtape this year wasn’t enough, wisconsin rapper milo plans to release a new ep from his side project, scallops hotel.  the ep, entitled poplar grove (or how to rap with a hammer), is set to drop on november 19th and features production from iglooghost, lee bannon, and busdriver.  if you can’t wait five days to hear the whole thing (i can’t either, don’t worry), milo has remedied this situation by streaming the ep’s lead single, “xergiok’s chagrin (a song for jib).”  the self-produced joint is dark and contains some of the best lyrics i’ve ever heard this guy proclaim.  check it out below.