Strobe Talbot are a happy anomaly, a longstanding trio that consists of Jad Fair and Mick Hobbs of Half Japanese and percussionist Benb Gallaher, all based in different countries. The release of their most recent record Funland comes a decade and a half after the last Strobe full-length, with a playfulness that belies their age as a band—it’s an album full of wide-eyed love songs like “Superstar,” a blissed-out two minutes traversing the feeling of being “in the arms of happiness, in the arms of yes it’s true, in the arms of me and you, in the arms of love.” With Fair’s declarations, sitars roll alongside a choir of spectral voices in a giddy, transcendent rush. Fair made a video with his signature paper cutting animations to complement the song’s staggering sweetness, with cats, birds, flowers, and one-eyed monsters looking on as human couples gaze into each other’s eyes. Set to the headlong drumbeat and dreamy animations, Fair’s wordplay sounds perfectly natural—“The best thing that ever done did / it is here and it will not hid / it will not slip and it will not slid / yeah, solid! Superstar!”
Stream the video below. Funland is out now on Moone Records, and the limited-edition vinyl has a morphing hologram effect featuring some of Jad Fair's artwork (you can see a demonstration here).
Transcontinental outfit Strobe Talbot released a few records in the early oughts, glitteringly honest stream-of-consciousness pop records with Half Japanese’s Jad Fair in the front. Straddling the globe, with Mick Hobbs (also of Half Japanese, as well as Officer!) based in London and percussionist Benb Gallaher in Portugal, the group has convened sporadically since their formation in 1999, drawn together by friendship and a pure love of creation and release. In their early records the trio cultivated a loose sound, with Fair’s optimistic ramblings gliding over sometimes straightforward, often surreal jams. Fifteen years after the release of their third full-length Let’s Born To Rock!, Strobe Talbot are offering Funland, aptly named: its 18 songs are transportive and enthusiastic, charting the sweetness and surreality of living in this world and being in love. Mixed by John Dieterich of Deerhoof, Funland marries the band’s familiar jangly post-punk instrumentation with stranger outpourings of sound—like human howling in the opening track to accompany the earnest declaration, “Good fine love is my intention!” Fair has a way of taking cliches and intoning them with sincerity, and here he stretches each to its limit convincingly.
In addition to being an instruction manual of sorts for anyone looking to relearn the feeling of being in love, Funland lets this strange and exciting feeling rub up against the equally strange and exciting feeling of being surrounded by monsters. Mid-record, the ominous untethered clang of bells and machinery underlies Strobe Talbot's introduction of "the evil of the monster" ("what it does is bad"), but the songs that follow are woozy love anthems and a manic free jazz ode to the heart. When Fair shouts, "This is ours, and our hearts are strong! A new day today and always," over rolling drums and the sweet twang of guitars, it's life-affirming, and the album ends in hoots and hollers and genuine laughter. Through the sprawl and blare of all these songs oozes a feeling of true belief in the supernatural power of love, a belief that seems only to have strengthened for Strobe Talbot after decades of collaboration.
Funland is out October 20 on Moone Records, featuring a hologram of Jad Fair's paper cut artwork etched into the vinyl itself. You can stream the album in full below.
“Raise the white flag, give in, and let your heart reset,” frontman Dylan McCartney booms in the opening track of Mardou’s debut LP, “Flash,” setting the tone for a record that’s shocking and open in its turns. Post-punk is a term so ubiquitous that it risks backfiring, but Cincinnati’s Mardou are a post-punk band who manage to circumvent any possibility of becoming static. The group, which shares members with loud and hooky punk outfit Vacation, takes this first album as an opportunity to work from many palettes. A good portion of the record sees McCartney’s voice working as a steady, dark force over a whirling scape of basslines that hearken to Christian Death and glistening, coldwave-inspired synth interludes—but there are moments where the mold is cracked open entirely. “Earth” is one of several tracks that spins into darkly existentialist territory, with McCartney reiterating the same lines urgently and earnestly to the point of trance, but the songs that immediately follow are refreshingly sunny. The band mentions having taken some cues from Guided By Voices, and that influence shines through in the grungy, blown-out guitar riffs on “It Happened To Me” and the doubled tenor vocals in glowing album closer “June”. Given Mardou tout the theme of renewal explicitly in so many of their songs—"I died, came back in June"—it's only appropriate they'd undertake to mirror it in this constant turnover of sound. You can hear the LP in full below.
On Big French's debut Downtown Runnin, songwriter Quentin Moore’s voice rarely dips from a falsetto and every available space is spackled with manic electric guitar work. After four years, the group's forthcoming LP sees them paring back a bit, but they're nevertheless managing the strangest diversions and insights while keeping tightly tethered to pop. Recorded on reel-to-reel with help from keyboardist Zach Phillips (of OSR Tapes and many affiliated projects), Big French’s Stone Fish is intimate, still manic but more quietly so, with Phillips’ contribution beaming through the mix and the instrumentation. On the warm two-minute “Apartments For The West,” Moore and Phillips fall into a steady, mostly soft groove. This time, Moore’s voice is proximal to the song, the thing around which all the little computer blips and horn intrusions clamber. His language is sing-songy but dense, mutating line by line like a Stein poem: “They’re planning an apartment for the west / they’re sealing new apartments for the west / they’re shielding new apartments for the west / crawling through the window drawing breath.” As the voice seesaws, the thought wanders beyond gentrification, hitting even closer to home—"Thy will be done," Moore had sung in the first minute, and subtle intimations of death and afterlife continue to creep in. "Your sill is an apartment for the west," and you've become the target of a larger plan.
Banny Grove waltzed onto the scene last year with the debut Who Is She?, a pop album that blends moving balladry with positivity and well-placed schmaltz. She’s the glam, cartoonish alterego of Rabbit Rabbit’s Louise Chicoine, accompanied by Peter Nichols of Grape Room, and together they put on an act with big dramatic energy. For Banny Grove, no subject matter is too small for fascination, and even the cheese dream gets its deserved airtime. In the video for “Cheese Dream,” directed by Philip Steiger of Nancy Shirley, a petticoated Banny Grove engulfed in strings of cheese grapples with the “spongey mess” of a nightmare that’s left her tossing and turning. Over punchy entwined guitar and synth lines, her refrain of “Don’t tell me, don’t tell me everything will be OK!” is almost real and desperate enough to wake us. The dreamy visuals reel us back in, though—fields of trees and flowers and the spinning sight of the duo in a sunlit river. This is a good primer for their imaginative live set, and Banny Grove will be touring the US celebrating “Life’s Wonders” throughout April and May. See their dates below.
While New York’s Lily Konigsberg (of Palberta) and Matt Norman, a.k.a. Horn Horse, have often operated in different respective sonic modes, Lily’s synth tracks and streamlined vocals and Horn Horse's more fragmented jazz in conjunction generate a shared language. Their new duo Lily and Horn Horse presents a pop-oriented, danceable mesh of synths and vocals from both parties, with rousing baritone horn outbursts. For their tour together last August, they compiled a 28-track album of solo and collaborative tracks which comprise the forthcoming tape release Lily On Horn Horse. In the songs shared below, they showcase their range: Horn Horse opens "Year Book" with a minute-long improvisation filled with pounding drums and horns and keys, then glides into “PVC Pipes,” which features sparse waves of horns and frenetic pipe sounds under haunting vocals from both Lily and Horn Horse. Both parties' words contain a strain of dissociative longing—for a life outside whatever’s inscribed, for a dream world. The closing song "I Only Lose Because I'm Lame" is Lily's long sigh for that world, a stark contrast to the held breath of the previous tracks, just the piano and her voice in the high register calling out, “I can be there, in a dream / I can see it, but it’s nothing / I can see it.” It's an ode to pathetic feeling—and even when she puts on the almost tongue-in-cheek "Oh ... so sad..." there's something deeply resonant in the surrender.
A Cameroon native with a past working as a full-time software engineer, singer-songer Lætitia Tamko, aka Vagabon, has spent the past few years developing her songs through live performance, experimenting with solo and full-band versions of her sets, which are invariably intense. February 24 marks the release of the Brooklyn-based artist’s first full-length, Infinite Worlds, on Father/ Daughter Records, and Vagabon is set to tour in March alongside Allison Crutchfield. On Infinite Worlds, Tamko blends the frank lyrical stylings and swelling guitar rock that marked her 2014 debut EP, Persian Garden, with lush electronic flourishes. In late January, she spoke to us over the phone about her music’s evolution, and offered some thoughts on how DIY and the “real world” aren’t always so different after all—at least when it comes to questions of inclusivity.
AdHoc: The title of your record comes from a book of poems by Dana Ward called The Crisis of Infinite Worlds. What did you like about that collection?
Lætitia Tamko: It was a really challenging read for me. His writing style is so particular. There are a lot of run-on sentences; I had to really comb over his poems to grasp even an idea of what he meant.
I detect a similar affinity for strange repetitions and movements in your lyrics.
It’s funny—these songs were written before I read the book, but I was reading it as I was recording. It’s one of those things that sticks with you, though.
The past three years have seen a prolific and uncannily conscious pop output from Zach Phillips and Christina Schneider—longtime overseers of beloved and recently-shuttered OSR Tapes—as CE Schneider Topical. Recently, they've brought in Derek Baron of Causings and Mega Bog on drums and Quentin Moore of Big French on guitar for a new fuller-band incarnation, Jepeto Solutions. While the arrangements on Jepeto’s self-titled “semi-debut” 7" are as supple and the lyrics as alarmingly clever as in the duo’s last full-length, Antifree, these new songs push an even bigger, clearer sound (with some help from Tom Csatari's slide, wah, and whammy). After Schneider’s opening call to action for women—“You can write the books!”—Jepeto shuttles us into a wobbling, wah-infused side-eye at the “anti-truth exercise” being imposed on us all. Then it’s into the manic pound of “Buzzard On The Cover,” where lunatic voices weave between the squeal and crush of guitars and electronics to deliver reminders like, “You wouldn’t tell your mother how to eat flesh." Even with the tempo wound down for a sweetly sung "Silver Bells" (which first appeared on Schneider’s solo debut), we're gifted all too real and sobering intimations of a Christmas hellscape. This record in particular seems to be a response to the storm of bad news we’ve seen in the past few months, and it's fighting fire with fire effectively.
You can stream Jepeto Solutions in full below. The 7" is out today on Nicey Music, a new LA-based not-for-profit label "believing in the power of music to create actual joy and positive change."
Upstate NY resident Cal Fish has done a good deal of traveling—both literal and sonic—over the past few years, as a member of the dreamy psych-pop act Turnip King and in live sessions with Jerry Paper's jazz band. Now the guitar and flute ace is preparing to release a debut record that's just as melodically oriented as his collaborative projects but which foregrounds his knack for intricate, woozy sonic layering. The video for "Autobiography #4," the second single from Cassette Traveler, is an amalgam of home videos, found footage, and clips from American politics that maps Fish's emotionally charged lyrics onto a broad and dark landscape. This is his fourth version of the same piece, made alongside video installations and two-channel video performances, and it's apparent that the music and visuals were conceptualized in a process of mutual feedback. Broken guitar riffs and pitch-shifting synths osmose into the VHS static, bestowing a sense of unrest, of helplessness against a shifting climate. Still, the whole piece retains the familiarity of a home movie, and there's comfort in "a belief in return."
This article appears in AdHoc Issue 14. You can pick up a copy at AdHoc shows around NYC. If you'd like to order a copy, you can do so here for a physical edition; you can download the PDF here. You can also find physical copies at the following locations in New York City:
Academy Records, Greenpoint
Artbook @ MoMA PS1, Long Island City
Cafe Grumpy, Greenpoint
Commend, Lower East Side
Coop 87, Greenpoint
LIC Corner Cafe, Long Island City
Little Skips, Bushwick
Printed Matter, Chelsea
Spoonbill & Sugartown, Williamsburg
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Long before they broke out with their own projects, back in their Alabama hometown, Philadelphia-based twins Allison and Katie Crutchfield played in a fourpiece band called P.S. Eliot. The sisters—now known for their work with Swearin’ and Waxahatchee, respectively—had been making music together since middle school. In early 2008, just before P.S. Eliot went on tour to support their self-released debut EP, Katie wrote a blog post that seemed to sum up the band’s ethos: “We have the time and we have this sort of super-zealous, enthusiastic outlook on doing a lot with what we have right now, so why not?”
That excitement extended to the music they were making, which was raw, emotionally charged, and recorded in intense spurts. Newly formed and fresh on their instruments, the 19-year-old siblings embedded a message of strength and resistance in their music—one that would later expand to encompass their efforts for inclusion in, and reform of, spaces dominated by men. Conceived at a time when bands of their size rarely benefitted from the help of publicists, P.S. Eliot prioritized connecting with listeners through their shows and writing smart, aggressive lyrics that would resonate with audiences who valued respect and openness just as much as they did.
In the group’s four-year run from 2007 to 2011, they released two EPs, a powerful, wide-open pop album called Introverted Romance in Our Troubled Minds (2009), and an equally revered full-length called Sadie (2011). Today, those records show the seeds of the mature yet equally adventurous output the twins would go on to produce in their solo careers. Speaking on the phone in advance of P.S. Eliot’s reunion tour this fall—their first shows together in five years, with former guitarist Will Granger and bassist Katherine Simonetti—Allison and Katie couldn’t help pointing out how much the landscape of DIY has changed in the nine years since the band’s formation. In the following history of the group, they talk about the Birmingham, Alabama DIY scene where they got their start, building a grassroots following, and how P.S. Eliot was a feminist band at its core, even before they knew how urgently their efforts were needed.