Don’t Panic Records – May 5, 2017
Few better Kentucky releases have come out than Mirror, Mirror since its release in 2012 – Louisville’s Wax Fang followed that up in 2014 with their remarkable space-rock-opera, The Astronaut, and now with Victory Laps. The music here is, in many cases, denser and more concise than songs on either of those releases, fleshed out with a big group of additional personnel and collaborators. As always, though, Wax Fang maintains a massive, in-your-face, unapologetic feeling to their music, thanks in large part to Scott Carney’s recognizable voice and confident delivery.
Opener “Pusher” gets right to it: a quick, shuffling synth-and-drum-driven intro, and we’re into the verse – Carney slurs long strings of lyrics together before crashing into a chorus, where he asks “if it’s the end of everything, then what am I a fighting for?” Next is “The Things I Do For Fun,” an outrageously fun track with a hook sure to get stuck in your head. Carney’s voice is distorted, his delivery is fast and punchy as he assaults you with “come on everybody let’s get ready to go because we’re going downtown to a rock and roll show” – the setup to the third chorus is huge, and the wildest moment of the entire album. “Decathect” provides some aural relief from the intensity of the prior song – a simple piano-driven introduction provides foundation for sweet, falsetto vocals throughout the song.
The second half of the album opens with “…” – a very nice, acoustic guitar lead-in for the next track. “Serenity Now” begins with plodding bass and synth, positioning itself as an anxiety-ridden anthem highlighted by the line “have I lost my mind, or is this just a sign of the times?” that caps off the end of each chorus. The verses on “Mystery Girl” – with their low synth pulses and dance music samples – could nearly pass for a Jamaican Queens track. The chorus here is filled out with shuffling drums, warped guitar, and Carney’s sweet admiration of the song’s subject, “she’s got a stigma, she’s an enigma, she’s a mystery even to her.” The brief “Lonely Nights” is another highlight of the album – it’s a well-produced track where Carney feels most intimate as he stutters through the third verse, “d-d-d-do you, do you still think about me … did you delete me from your m-memory?” and with beautiful harmonies on each repetition of “lonely nights.” “Exit Strategy” provides a dark, spaced-out finale to the album, replete with lengthy wordless sections and a dense orchestration.
Victory Laps is a step in a busier direction for Wax Fang, but this thicker texture is carried out well, providing opportunities for the band to increase the range of their live shows, given their full catalogue. Though not described as a concept album, themes of anxiety – both internal and external – are explored frequently; there’s often also the presence of a certain someone in the subject of many of the songs. No matter your experience with Wax Fang, it’s great to have some new music from them – Victory Laps is a well-crafted, wild ride of an album.
Tracks I Liked: Pusher!, The Things I Do For Fun!!!, Decathect!, Serenity Now!, Mystery Girl!, Lonely Nights!!
Ben Southworth – May 7, 2017 – Kenwick Place
Karate Body Records – July 22, 2016
They say trends are cyclical. Nowadays, bits of the 80s aesthetic have returned in music and other pop culture, and Billy Nelson is channeling that mood in a way that could only be done by someone who experienced the decade firsthand. Water Sports is a cool, cohesive collection of six songs painted with buzzing synthesizers, laid-back drum machines, distantly roaring guitars, and Billy’s echoey vocals falling just behind the beat. The first two tracks on the album were released over the last year as singles – you can find more extensive write-ups on “We Could Be Friends” and “Lord, You’ve Got the Nerve” in older posts. “Feels Like an Arab Spring” is filled with shuffling drums, shimmering synths and arpeggiating piano that consume the song before giving way to a quiet ending. For me, the standout track on Water Sports is “Still Life with Cormorant,” a dark, densely layered song which finds Billy’s voice imitated by rattling guitars as he describes an encounter between a bottom dweller and a bird circling overhead like an apparition. Things get even hazier on “Let’s Live Through This Feeling,” which is arguably the catchiest song of the bunch. The line “because it was too dark, was too dark to see, I couldn’t make out objects standing in front of me” is almost self-descriptive of this song and much of this album – the music is strange, moody, impressionistic, with lyrics that leave a lot of interpretation up to the listener. The final track, “A Hidden Beach,” sheds the synthesizers in favor of layers of shimmering guitars, closing the album with a beautiful chorus of “I’m still in love with you.” As a whole, Water Sports listens like an abstract, introspective series of snapshots as Billy Nelson finds his way through the emotions and experiences of adult life.
Tracks I Liked: We Could Be Friends, Lord You’ve Got the Nerve!, Feels Like an Arab Spring, Still Life with Cormorant!!!, Let’s Live Through this Feeling!!, A Hidden Beach
Ben Southworth – September 5, 2016 – Kenwick Place
Karate Body Records – August 18th, 2015
Billy Nelson is the solo project of Whistle Peak’s frontman, Billy Petot, and as someone who has enjoyed that band’s music in the past, this track has a pretty familiar sound. Much like the music from their album, Put to Flight, the stuff here sounds strange at first listen, but it doesn’t feel quite as lighthearted as the stuff I’ve heard before. Instead, this track has a little more melancholic tinge to it, almost like Billy is singing to someone and trying to get them to stay, or win them back. The second half of the song has a line to it that caught my ear at first listen, one that struck me as humorous at first – “It’s fine if Megan wants to be a lesbian, … I wish I was one as well,” but there’s something almost sad about it when you’re listening to the song on repeat. I don’t know, I’ve been watching relationships fall apart on Mad Men quite a bit lately, so maybe I’m just letting my perception of the song be colored by the show’s constant depiction of lost love. But then again, there’s a lot of minor tonality to the chords in this track and the rest of the song goes on repeating the lines, “I can see us as friends,” and then “we don’t have to make a child” – there’s just something pretty emotional about this song, even if it feels lighthearted on the surface. Anyway, Billy Nelson is supposed to be putting out his full length debut in 2016, so maybe a little context will help to decipher the song.
Ben Southworth – October 3rd, 2015 – Mount Horeb