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
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
Underground Lexington Sounds
Desperate Spirits – June 23, 2017
Desperate Spirits follows up their first Lexington-based compilation with another – this time one of all female-identifying artists, with label co-founder, Kim Smith, at the curating helm. Spanning eighteen tracks, the compilation collects many of Lexington’s finest, as well as artists with ties to Lexington now living elsewhere.
Like the music on White Power is for Dummies, the sounds on Lady Parts! span a wide range of musical sounds. The compilation opens with “Hold On,” contributed by Reva Dawn Salon – it mostly features an uptempo string band, save for a colorfully contrasting bridge. Coralee’s “Kick My Heart” is a beautiful, low-key track with lots of atmosphere; soon after, For the Crown mixes their clear voices over a funk-tinged industrial-synth track on “Hands Where I Can See Them.” Jeanne Vomit-Terror’s “The Author and His Egg” is a quick, dizzyingly heavy electronic punk track; the rich string arrangements of “Moon Song” by Kate Wakefield provide an aural contrast a couple songs later. Powder Room’s “I Watch You Sleep” is an infectious listen, toeing the line between calm and unsettling; following that, “Resolve” by Italian Beaches features Reva Williams’ voice on top of an always great mix of dense synthesizers and behind-the-beat drums.
Compilations are a great way of finding new music you might not have heard otherwise – I’d never heard of several artists on this compilation, and I’d been meaning to hear many others. Lexington is fortunate to have an abundance of talented female artists, and Lady Parts! gives you only taste of many musicians who have much more to listen to. Purchase a copy on Desperate Spirits’ Bandcamp, and 100% of proceeds go to the Kentucky Health Justice Network, whose mission includes supporting direct services to healthcare access, education and advocacy for reproductive health in the Commonwealth.
Tracks I Liked: (All of them, but especially) Reva Dawn Salon (“Hold On”)!!, Coralee (“Kick My Heart”)!, For the Crown (“Hands Where I Can See Them”)!!, Jeanne Vomit-Terror (“The Author and His Egg”)!, Kate Wakefield (“Moon Song”)!!, Oh My Me (“Where the Red One Goes”)!, Powder Room (“I Watch You Sleep”)!!, Italian Beaches (“Resolve”)!!!
Ben Southworth – July 2, 2017 – Post Road
Soul Pop Fusion
Desperate Spirits // Hop Hop Records – February 14, 2017
As an album, Personal Fables is one of the richest collection of eight songs to come out of Lexington in several years. This meticulous orchestration and arranging is made that much more impressive after realizing it was written and performed almost singularly by Trevor Tremaine – minus trumpet and saxophone, everything you hear here is his doing. The songs here are so densely-packed that they become fresher on each repeated listen, propelling them forward with constant momentum as they roll into the next of a seemingly endless supply of ideas.
The album opens with the manic “Personal Best,” which rolls the bassline, drums, guitar, and vocal riffs into one smooth hook – the track yields toward the final third of the song, setting up a great guitar solo through its end. “Life and a Day” has maybe the catchiest and most accessible chorus of the album, yet the song still manages to break the mold with its contrasting bridge (plus, I love the line “I am an idling time machine, and I’m going nowhere slow” that sets it up). On the first few listens, “The One and Only,” didn’t stick out to me a lot, but the tight rhythm and arrangement in the chorus eventually reveals itself as delightfully smooth and well-done. “Incompetence” is perhaps the track the benefitted the most from multiple listens. The lyrics carry the story from start to finish, and the lush instrumentation throughout the track make it one of the most immaculate, enjoyable listens of the album.
“Getting It” is punchy, clever, and self-referential – it pushes and pulls throughout the track, forcing you to listen closely (in which case you’ll hear little treats like “smoking squares outside the Speedway,” a quick line which has rolled around my head all week). The album reaches its most experimental point on “Beyond Cliche'” which walks the harmony all over the map, stretches an angular melody over top of it (while managing to make it fit naturally on top of the unusual progression), and packs in another quick, sharp spoken-word bridge. “You Have Lived” may be the album’s peak – as the penultimate track, it is arranged as a ballad, with only vocals and a shimmering organ. The lyrics here are just as sharp as on the rest of Personal Fables (and, at times, they even lean into the same tongue-in-cheek territory that many of the other songs inhabit), ruminating on the line “a life of no regrets is the only kind worth living.” Tremaine sings through a lifetime of missed opportunities, and by the time the song nears its finish, it swells into a gorgeously multi-tracked chorus of “you have lived” that carries through to the end. Closing the album is the quick “The Worst Thing that Could Happen,” which brings things full-circle into the same exciting territory of the album’s opener.
This album is thoroughly enjoyable – it manages to be smart, inventive, and wordy, while remaining catchy and fun. Its singular point of creative origin becomes more apparent upon each repeated listen, and Trevor never favors density of ideas over the ability of these ideas to work in harmony with one another – they’re simply arranged in a way that works. Personal Fables is a must-hear album, and is unlike anything else I’ve heard from Lexington.
Tracks I Liked: Personal Best!, Life and a Day!, Incompetence!!, Beyond Cliche’!, You Have Lived!!!
Ben Southworth – February 5, 2017 – Kenwick Place