Archive for the ‘Horizons’ Category

Not SXSW #4: The Home Team

Friday, March 16th, 2012

Journalistic shorthand often requires inventing easy categories. One of the most notorious and ill-conceived of the modern era is “the Brooklyn scene.” This monolithic tag is applied to all kinds of bands, and although you could accurately state that there are certain bands who have affinities or connections with each other in Brooklyn, this is true to an extent in all local scenes. Crucially, bands that hop from blog pages to trendy labels in the blink of an eye and are given the “Brooklyn” designation represent just a tiny sliver of the musical diversity in the borough and NYC at large. For this round of bands not participating in SXSW, I’ve chosen a number of under-exposed New York artists.

Brachiosaurus: “The Nature of the Rulers”

Brachiosauras hail from Astoria, in the musically under-appreciated borough of Queens. The band have a straightforward approach that leans heavily on instrumentals, but there is enough creativity in their use of guitar textures and distortion to transcend the banalities that plague much “heavy” music. They’ve just released their self-titled debut and you can find them on Tumblr in addition to Soundcloud and Bandcamp.

Tezeo: “Open Windows”

Tezeo are a duo from Brooklyn working in the extremely fashionable electronic pop idiom. There is a shimmering optimism to the group’s recordings, foregoing the damaged, sample-based scuzz of some of their peers for a clean, welcoming sound. I prefer the flip of their just-released “Friends”/”Open Windows” single on Dummy (instructively, the single is mastered by Sam Haar of Blondes).

Jerry Paper: “I’m A Body”

Jerry Paper is the current moniker of Lucas Nathan (formerly Zonotope™). The Brooklyn-based artist’s Vol. 1 tape is imminent from Digitalis Limited. His damaged pop sensibility is an inversion of the confessional singer-songwriter method, deadpanning ambivalent platitudes over murky plongs and campy whirrs. The result is disorienting and singularly weird, a fully-formed aesthetic space that deserves more attention.

Words: Max Burke

Not SXSW Round #2: From the Depths of the Internet

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Since opening up my call to artists who are not attending SXSW, I’ve been inundated with an array of great new music. As the clock ticks away at SXSW, I’ve attempting to listen to and sift through all this material as fast as possible. In the next few days I’ll have some more elaborate and well-defined features, but for this go-around I wanted to shine the spotlight on some artists who have a minimal Internet presence beyond a Bandcamp or Soundcloud page, and whose sound should have much wider appeal. Underground music has reached a critical mass of outlets and points of distribution, and day after day music pours itself out of artists and onto the Internet. The greatest and most awe-inspiring result is how excellent much of this music is, how it fulfills the promise of discovering your new favorite band out of nowhere.

Alex Tedesco: “Trust”

Alex Tedesco is an artist from Detroit who started off working in sound collage and ambient modes. With his just-released Pretty Lies album (available on Bandcamp and Soundcloud) he has gone all in on songwriting. His deep baritone is most strongly reminiscent of Magnetic Fields, but the inventive production and theatrical flourishes of his music bring to mind Xiu Xiu and a host of other nu-goth cohorts who have wedded transgressive lyrical content with the benefits of cheap and easy access to sophisticated production techniques. “Trust” is one of the more beautiful and understated tracks, but Pretty Lies is a fully formed musical statement, worthy of your time and attention.

Wapinitia: “Bed”

Wapinitia is a one-man bedroom recording project from Maryland. “Bed” is a gnarly, no-nonsense jam that dates from 2009. Most of Wapinitia’s material is acoustic, but the blown-out distortion of “Bed” is more compelling to my ears. As far as new music credibility goes, this is the first time that any Wapinitia material has been highlighted online.

Soft Parts: “Bay 12”

Soft Parts’ music came to me in the most mysterious way possible: in an email, with the subject “Submission” and  just a Soundcloud link. The Bandcamp page is no more enlightening: “just some guy,” it states in the headline. The music on offer is sound collage, a bit too dynamic to be ambient or droney, instead reminiscent of scene luminary Oneohtrix Point Never’s sample-based symphonies in miniature or a damaged take on Monster Rally’s goofy po-mo pop. “Bay 12” is a bite-size chunk of the oeuvre to date, concisely conveying the dizzy, transporting vibe and brittle atmosphere that exemplify the Soft Parts sound. The longer “Carbon Dating” is also highly recommended; a bit more space to breathe allows the compositional sophistication of Soft Parts to reveal itself.

Palmz: “Teenage Heartthrob”

Finally, Palmz from beautiful Santa Cruz, California bring us a video that some classic footage from the Florida Department of Tourism with a gorgeous, throwback doo-wop song. Palmz is led by Lexie Corfiatis, and the group’s embrace of early rock’n’roll aesthetics is refreshingly devoid of irony, avoiding the contrivances of Best Coast and often achieving the haunting catharsis of contemporary masters like The Sandwitches. All of this is on display on the mini-album X-Ray of Fun, which glides effortlessly between ethereal, shoegaze-influenced guitar jams and pitch-perfect girl group pop. It’s a miracle that the group hasn’t found a wider audience, as they seem to be hitting all the right points of influence in a highly personal and refreshing manner.

Words: Max Burke

Vapor Girls: Puro Instinct, Image Control, and Music Writing

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

This piece was originally published on The Girl Can’t Help It, which is a Tumblr where I post my (generally 3rd Wave and Sex Positive) feminist writings. I have recently been troubled by the underlying misogyny that I’ve noticed in recent criticisms of the band Puro Instinct, so I decided to discuss it here…

So after several months away, I’ve decided to get back into the action with this here weblog. I was partially inspired by my girl Molly Lambert over at This Recording, and partially inspired by this strange, wonderful, but often troubling word that we live in.

Puro Instinct, who are one of my favorite bands currently doing it, recently put out their debut LP, Headbangers in Ecstasy. Although we’re just under 2 months into the year, I can already say that this one will be high on my list. From top to bottom it is a moody sonic experience that is equal parts cotton candy pink and melancholy gray. It moves effortlessly from dream pop, to an intriguingly intangible fuzz of vintage, FM radio near hits. In short, it was an output that was beyond impressive from a band that had already been wowing me.

When Pitchfork‘s Ian Cohen reviewed the record, he had a different take on it.

Now I’m not saying its a sin to dislike something that I love. I can certainly see an angle from which someone might not be feeling this record, and on top of that we’d collectively die of boredom if we all vibed on the same stash. My issue with Cohen’s near slam of the record was his use of off base references, and (more topically to this web space) his thinly veiled use of gender in the overall critique of the record, and the band.

In case you didn’t know, the two main members of Puro Instinct are Piper and Skylar Kaplan who, as many male music writers have pointed out, are young (blond) sisters. Cohen opens his review by pointing out this oft repeated bit of biographical information. As he continues, his review spends just as much time editorializing about Los Angeles culture as it does on the actual sound of the actual record.  He wraps it all up by describing the record as a “sonic embodiment” of the album’s cover, i.e “pretty, vacant.”

This is the album cover

My Drone Year: Part 2: of Emeralds and Expos

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Expo 70

In my previous column, I discussed the challenges of discussing “the year in music” when I spent a good part of that time listening to a narrow strain of drone and experimental music. This time I’ll discuss two groups so prolific and talented that it wouldn’t be hard to spend an entire year focused on them alone.

Two groups in particular defined my experience this year, through their primary outlets and various side and solo projects. The first of these is Kansas City’s Expo 70. Expo 70 is the nom d’artiste of one Justin Wright, who also designs the vast majority of the artwork for Expo 70’s releases. Since the 2005 emergence of the Surfaces CD-R on Kill Shaman, Wright has issued more than thirty different releases under the Expo 70 name, ranging from limited-run tapes and mini-CD-Rs to thick slabs of vinyl with drone epics etched onto their surfaces. Early work was confined to Wright, but lately he has been joined by Matt Hill on bass and electronics.

The dominant sound of Expo 70 is a spacey, atmospheric drone, a formula revisited with each release. Sometimes flirting with pure noise, but never committing and impossibly patient, Wright’s music earnestly embodies the spirit of imagined ’70s drone and space rock. Wright riffs on the slow, meditative aesthetic that runs from Tony Conrad, La Monte Young and John Cale’s early minimalist experiments to the slow-burn lurch of doom godfathers Sleep. What separates Wright from other contemporary practitioners is the immediate impression that Wright has absorbed this material and not merely name-checked it. Expo 70’s sound is the product of someone who has taken the time to fully absorb the impenetrable churn of  Table of the Elements‘ landmark New York In the 1960s box set, rather than the uninspired din of yet another disheveled basement-dweller disinterestedly plucking at a detuned guitar while tapping on a delay pedal.

Listening Through The Wall: How To Dress Well and the New Blue-Eyed Soul

Saturday, December 18th, 2010

In one of my few surviving childhood memories, dated around 1991 or 1992, my first exposure to FM radio coincides with my first taste of a second type of “pop”: a classic green can of Schweppes Ginger Ale, emptied with a straw over a slice at Smiley’s Pizza on 7th avenue in Park Slope. Long before I knew that I was listening to R&B and hip-hop — or that the word “pop”, musically speaking, derived from the word “popular”– I somehow got the idea that the high-pitched vocal melisma droning pleasantly from the ceiling-speakers originated in the tingly feeling that carbonated beverages produce in the nose. “Ginger Ale Music”, as I called it, involved a distinctly nasal type of singing– best reproduced by filling the lungs with air, plugging the noise, and flitting acrobatically around a sassy melody line. It also exuded an aura of “otherness” – not yet linked to anything so complicated as race or sexuality (for it was only disembodied radio voices that I heard), but amplified by the fact that I only encountered it at Smiley’s, once or twice a week, while indulging in other parentally controlled delights, like pizza and soda.

The other thing about “Ginger Ale Music” was that it combined everything I heard at the Pizza place into one, uninterrupted musical idea. Unlike hip-hop and R&B, it was a form without authors (none whom I could personally identify, anyway), and was composed of a continuous stream of half-remembered fragments, fading in and out of earshot like competing radio signals on the road. Later on, when I began seeking out my first cassette tapes, I learned to pick out a few tunes that had climbed their way onto this endless soundtrack, which seemed to linger under my breath at all times: Mariah Carey’s “Dream Lover” (1993), Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” (1992), Boys II Men’s “River Runs Dry” (1994). For the most part, however, “Ginger Ale” music was a product of my own imagination — a collage of refrains and melodramatic flourishes that had once originated in something outside of me, but that I had digested into something entirely my own.

Horizons: How do New York’s DIY venues stay open?

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

The Market Hotel. Photo by Annie Escobar

Ask any 20-something indie rock lover in New York what they’re doing this weekend, and they’re bound to rattle off names of North Brooklyn concert venues that aren’t technically supposed to exist: Monster Island Basement, Secret Project Robot, Death by Audio, Silent Barn, Shea Stadium, Party Expo. Check the show recommendations in The Village Voice, The Times, and even The New Yorker, and you will discover these cartoonish monikers sprinkled alongside trusty Manhattan standbys like Bowery Ballroom and Webster Hall.

Semi-legal concert spaces in Williamsburg and Bushwick are evolving from niche attractions to popular above-ground destinations. And yet they seem to have everything working against them, aside from their underground cachét: no budget, no liquor licenses, NOISE, far-flung geographical locations, and the passionate belief that quality live music should be accessible to everyone — even those too young to drink. So how are New York’s DIY venues staying open, despite all the economic and legal obstacles?

Truth be told, not all of these venues do stay open. Market Hotel, a dilapidated old bank building in Bushwick that once attracted up to 600 concert-goers at a time, closed its doors to the public last April after being raided by cops two nights in a row. Over on the Williamsburg waterfront, Paris London West Nile shut down this summer when its landlords increased the rent; neighboring venue Glasslands, meanwhile, became so popular that its owners decided to purchase a liquor license, weed out minors at the door, and go legit.

Sightings: New Yoga, “Lizard Vision”

Monday, January 11th, 2010

[CoverAh, the New Age internet mysteries just keep on multiplying… About four different people in the last week have pointed my attention to this screwball fan video for Paul McCartney’s “Temporary Secretary,” even though I have no reason to believe they have been in contact. Weirder still, a leisurely late-afternoon link-clicking spree led to me to SKYMALL today, a portal of bizarro pop cultural pastiche that Rosequartz describes as an “imaginary free record label,” and that seems to be in some way related to PEACE AGE, an equally cryptic e-destination for cassette releases and animated collage. The sites do not link back to each other, but both list “CH-ROM” and “Luke Perry” under authors, and I am inclined to believe the latter is none other than the very Luke Perry captured in this Vimeo by Pixel Horse. Outside the site’s retro-futurist wall paper, which pictures a verdant tomorrowland fashioned entirely in hexagonal shapes, I was struck by its utopian vision of an “online store” in which everything is free. And I was also struck by this dewey-eyed pentatonic guitar revery by New Yoga (off of the band’s “Lizard Vision” e-release), which feels like it would make the perfect exit music for a bromance about reuniting with lost college buddies…back in the future.

Remembering When Times Were Drastic: Rhys Chatham on the early ’80s

Friday, August 7th, 2009

guitar_trio_with_longo_lWalk into any spot in New York City where guitar nerds tend to linger and you’re bound to hear someone talking about it: minimalist composer (and Visitation Rites astrologist) Rhys Chatham is back in New York for round two of last year’s rained-out performance of A Crimson Grail, and somebody you know–or somebody who knows someone you know–is probably rehearsing for it. Boasting the combined decibel power of 200 electric guitars, 15 basses, and a high hat player, Crimson‘s North American premiere presents a monumental orchestral slant on Chatham’s signature cross-fertilization of rock and experimental minimalism–dating back to an ear-opening encounter with the visceral punch of NYC punk in the late 1970s, and culminating in what many now identify as the world’s first incarnation of “noise music.”