Desperate Spirits – November 4, 2017
Italian Beaches’ bio tells you that the group is ‘a future-sent space tribe of musicians and comfort robots’ – a layer of context that helps anchor their music to something. Before I read that, I had used Helado Negro as a reference point to their sound, then (after reading a piece on Treblezine) through a filter of Portishead, and after a surprise late in the album, with Nat King Cole and jazz standards for guideposts. Each listen-through was sublimely fresh, almost like listening to a different album each time – something I’d never experienced before.
The album opens on a note of relative straightforwardness with “Centralist” – a mix of shimmering synth organ and drum machines set a foundation for Reva Russell English to deliver soulful lyrics. “Habit” hints immediately towards something less traditional – glitchy drum loops and affected vocals give the feeling of weightlessness, before escalating through the chorus. The intimacy of the vocals backed up by soft organ tones and sparse, dripping percussion on “Tornado” is where I realized where most of the intensity on Italian Beaches comes from – not from being fast or loud, but being entirely comfortable in doing the opposite. “LAL” gets through its first verse pretty quietly before heavy synth-bass drops in – the transition to the chorus us jarring and disorienting, and the build to the chorus’ end is gorgeous.
I had “Operator” stuck in my head for much of the last week or so – it’s a catchy, subdued track with simple refrain of “operators are standing by to meet your needs” that is all about atmosphere. “Vinyl 9” is a fantastic, strange track about a ten-generation galactic voyage back to Earth – everything on this track does a great job giving you a feeling that you’re there on that ship, floating through space. The final track, “Walker,” sets up a smooth foundation of drums and keyboards, before dropping out for the vocals to come in a capella in perfect time. Somehow, Italian Beaches fit three-fourths of Nat King Cole’s “On the Street Where You Live” into this song – it’s effortless and brilliant, and the music lulled me into such a trance that I don’t even notice it until my third listen.
Italian Beaches does a great job capturing the band’s otherworldly live performances, translating the group’s uncanny musical communication with one another into recorded form. Reva’s vocals sound confident but effortless, Farhad’s electronics are perfectly tasteful in giving the exact right harmonic support, and Dave’s percussion converses with both bandmates in some almost recognizable alien language. Anyone who has been to see Italian Beaches play live has long waited for this album to come out, but the wait has certainly been worth it.
Tracks I Liked: Centralist!, Habit!, Tornado!!, LAL!!!, Operator!, Vinyl 9!!, Walker!!!
Ben Southworth – November 6, 2017 – West Sixth Street
Pop Style Sampler
Desperate Spirits – October 27, 2017
2017 has been a busy year for Trevor Tremaine, musically speaking – February saw the release of the great full-length ATTEMPT album, Personal Fables, he sang the terrifically strange track “Rock ‘N’ Roll Beans on Big Fresh’s Fall Preview EP, and has been busy as a part of Lexington’s Desperate Spirits label. Following all that up is the Against the Light EP, a brief four-song EP to hold us over to whatever he has coming next.
“Cancellations and Delays” is a mostly electronic piece, hinting its vocal melody in an early synth line before arriving at the three-word lyrics found in the song’s title. It’s a fun, fresh track, an ode to snow days(?), and it explores all sorts of texture and feelings over its four and a half minutes. I had heard an earlier version of “Items on a Questionnaire” on a Lexington music sampler while deejaying at WRFL – this iteration of the recording adds drums, strings, and flute to the mix to further flesh out the track. The lyrics ruminate on Trevor’s love for his son, and the vocal melody strikes the ever-shifting harmonic progression at wild, dissonant angles. “Overdraftin'” is an upbeat, catchy, wordless track that builds a platform for a great guitar solo. The title track begins with sparse, dripping percussion and a cappella vocals, building some really complex harmonies and structures with minimal instrumentation. Halfway through, cascading electronic tones bridge into the second half of the song, which plays out with more dense instrumentation and an increasingly accelerating guitar solo.
This EP doesn’t have the cohesive feel that Personal Fables had, but I think that’s part of the point – Against the Light gives you a sampling of several styles, each with a high level of musicality and fidelity. It’s a quick, fun listen, and definitely one that fans of ATTEMPT should enjoy finding something new in.
Tracks I Liked: Cancellations and Delays!, Items on a Questionnaire!!!, Overdraftin’!, Against the Light!!
Ben Southworth – October 29, 2017 – West Sixth Street
Fuzzy, Catchy Rock & Roll
Guestroom Records – August 4, 2017
Cereal Glyphs’ self-titled record was one of my favorite that came out in 2015 – Andy Myers did a great job blending super-catchy riffs and melodies with an energetic, DIY aesthetic. The Second Hand finds Cereal Glyphs fleshed out into a larger band, adding a little more edge to the sound, while maintaining a knack for catchy rock.
“Get Up” opens the album with lots of energy as Myers sings “I’m never hurried, I’m never worried – I’ve found another way” – warped guitars plunge behind things during each chorus. My favorite of the album is the ultra-intense “I Wanna Be Your Hand,” which finds the band unified in rhythm and force during each chorus, and is all but guaranteed to get stuck in your head. “Passion’s Not Enough” was released early from the album – it’s driven by a heavily overblown bass, and carries with it a great amount of momentum throughout the song.
Many of the songs on the second half of the album are taken from Cereal Glyphs, and when you listen to the original right next to its remake, you get a real sense of the extra edge and heft on The Second Hand. “The Well” is one of the more mellow tracks on the album, but still feels a lot fuller and weightier than its original recording. “Count the Night” was my favorite on Cereal Glyphs, and it’s one of my favorites here, too – it opens with a dramatic pairing of low, whirring synths and guitar before it takes off a full speed. “Dead Beat” is even faster, and benefits quite a bit from the noisy fullness of a larger band. Closing the album is “Belly of the Snake,” a track that starts off as the most mellow and psychedelic of the album before it takes off for a high-speed outro towards the album’s end.
Those that heard and enjoyed Cereal Glyphs should really like this – it’s every bit as clever and tough to get out of your head, but a noisier band adds some intensity that makes this album even more fun than the last. The Second Hand has a huge amount of energy and momentum – each song moves seamlessly from section to section, and it doesn’t waste a single moment.
Tracks I Liked: Get Up!, I Wanna Be Your Hand!!!, Passion’s Not Enough!, Count the Night!!, Dead Beat!!, Belly of the Snake!
Ben Southworth – August 13, 2017 – Post Road
Hushed Contemporary Lullabies
Sofaburn Records – July 7, 2017
Daniel Martin Moore has been making music in Kentucky for a number of years – as a solo musician, and in collaborations with such well-known Kentuckians as Ben Sollee, Joan Shelley, and Jim James. I first heard him on the 2010 album, Dear Companion with Ben Sollee, which remains one of my favorite albums. Turned Over to Dreams finds Daniel on his own, where he has crafted a beautiful, soothing album of lullabies.
The title track quietly twinkles into focus before Daniel’s gentle voice joins – the remainder of the song is boosted by warm, quiet strings. “Consider the Worlds” is more simply orchestrated, finding Daniel’s voice the focus of the song. A brief, three-song set of instrumental lullabies is next – set with organ, shimmery electric guitar, and piano, respectively. “You Are Home” stands out to me the as my favorite of the album – the very first lyrics, “you are so much more to me than just a bright light, you’re home’ are gently boosted a low, droning organ as Daniel wonders how to best find the way to say ‘I love you.’
Those who know Daniel’s music and voice should find this album familiar and comforting – new listeners may find it a good way to discover his remaining, earlier work. From song to song, and as complete work, Turned Over to Dreams is a richly colored, serene, intimate lullaby.
Tracks I Liked: Turned Over to Dreams!!, Consider the Worlds!, Amid the Stars!, You Are Home!!!, Stay Awake!
Ben Southworth – August 6, 2017 – Post Road
Industrial Electronic Noise
Desperate Spirits – August 1, 2017
Jeanne Vomit-Terror is the cofounder of Lexington’s Resonant Hole collective and has been making and releasing music for the last six or seven years. Among other things, she released a pair of singles in 2010, put out the very catchy “The Seat of Same” with Ed Sunspot in 2013, and has had a track on each of the two Desperate Spirits Compilations – Lady Parts! and White Power is for Dummies. This release, The Quixotrix Tapes, Vol. 1, listens much like a continuous live set of improvisatory industrial electronic music, straying in atmosphere from Jeanne’s previous releases.
The album opens with “Intestinal Waltz,” albeit a thick, dissonant waltz at the pace of a dirge – for much of the track you feel the time in the overblown first and third beat of each measure. The time in “Brank’d” is held steady by a rumblingly low synthesizer, but the distorted percussion falls right around it, disorienting the listener as Jeanne places a repeated six-note motif throughout the mix at random. The track elides into “Silken Scourge,” where a keyboard plays a shrill ascending scale atop a mix of electronics that shimmer and thud simultaneously. The darkly catchy “At the Mirror School” grooves with a quick intensity, and features the album’s only lyrics, making reference to a previous JVT track. “The Interior Eye” closes the album – it’s among the lengthiest tracks of this release, and is arguably the harshest and least anchored to a tempo among them.
This is not the nearly-danceable electronic pop you may have heard previously from Jeanne Vomit-Terror – if anything, it most resembles the recently released “Youth Infection.” That said, this isn’t random noise, either – Jeanne is thoughtful in the way she picks the melodic, rhythmic, and textural motifs, incorporating them into each track with intention. Combined with the distortion, dissonance, and heft of industrial electronic percussion and synthesizers, The Quixotrix Tapes, Vol. 1 is a disorienting album whose atmosphere engulfs and transports the listener out of reality.
Tracks I Liked: Intestinal Waltz!, Brank’d!!, Silken Scourge!!, At the Mirror School!!!, The Interior Eye!
Ben Southworth – July 30, 2017 – Post Road