Though she relocated to Austin, TX, a few years ago, Lou Rebecca’s hometown of Paris—not the one of Wim Wenders’ notoriety—is never too far away. Rebecca sings in both English and her native tongue, and in the self-directed video for “Fantôme,” first single from her upcoming debut EP, she pirouettes, sings, and broods through several archetypal environments: austere living quarters, a hard wood floor adorned with golden flowers, a dim red performance space. Each shot, each location, every action is striking, and finely-orchestrated to boot. As in her songwriting, Rebecca's directorial style and visual cues build from a foundation of poise and grace. The entire program feels like a dance routine, and I don’t just mean the parts where there’s, you know, actual dancing—the wavering space between physical bodies and the places they inhabit provides weight. It’s largely responsible for the video’s emotional tension and suspense, and makes “Fantôme” a joy to watch time and again.
Zoe Burke’s first release as Sapphogeist, a self-titled affair on the inimitable No Rent Records, was a sea change. After a tenure shrieking in power electronics provocateurs Reverse Baptism, the transition was profound, but well done and oh-so-satisfying. Songs like “Ultramortal” and “A Lie” boasted finely-barbed, sharp, unmissable hooks, transfiguring the listener into something like Frank at the end of Hellraiser. Though bookended by pop bangers, Sapphogeist still had extended passages of avant-garde, noisy instrumentation. On her Bank Records follow up, Mar A Lago, Zoe maintains an ethos of experimentation, but plunges fully into the realm of industrial-soaked R&B. “Holding On,” track two of Mar A Lago, originally a Bernard Herman composition, moves through evolving electronic textures. Beginning with an austere vocal pattern and simple synth section, the track warps into utter revelation as it crescendos and breaks about two-thirds in. The tracks on Mar A Lago show maturation and elegance, making for another essential grab.
In their new video for “Make A Promise,” the opening track on last year’s War & War cassette, Outside World take a voyeuristic, but totally legal, plunge into the strange world of luxury apartment rentals. Guided by an impersonal cursor, the video’s visuals swings around and through various static 360 degree renderings—so-called virtual tours—the video is a musing on abstract ideas of wealth, crystalized by New York high rises. “I felt literally nauseous after playing with them for a while,” the band's Ben Scott admits, alluding to feelings of disorientation while darting through digitized living spaces. Actually, on second thought, perhaps this sensation has as much to do with those “abstract ideas of wealth” as it does the visual accompaniment. Either way, vomit is vomit, I suppose.
Dead Horses, a three-piece experimental cowpunk band from the Ferrara province in Italy, have nailed deconstructed blues. Their new track “No Wahala” from Ballad For Loser is like Keiji Haino’s Black Blues gone country. The group's three players—Agnese, Zufux, and Mauro—employ a minimal drum kit, an acoustic guitar, and an electric guitar—that’s it—but simple instrumentation in no way indicates simple composition. In the song, a plodding rhythm propels spindly, precise guitar work as incanted vocals float atop the track’s aggressive swagger. Dead Horses have been called the Italian Butthole Surfers more than a few times, though it's less about their exact sound than, as they say, their "mix of influences and live show." Which is to say, if you like the Butthole Surfers, you will probably like this. (As for "influences," no, I would not rule out the influence of drugs.)
On their art-damaged cassette War & War, Outside World mix a love of the deep groove with an experimental outlook. While there are certainly moments of classic pop songwriting (i.e., a penchant for summoning the catchy), a lot of War & War’s power comes from riding the tight line between atmosphere and tight, hypnotic cacophony. It would be a far cry to call Outside World noise, but there is certainly an influence from that realm, as well as jazz. On “Nothing Is Selected,” something close to a scarred pop banger, the group utilizes recurring motifs and sounds to establish a whirlwind effect, an effect made all the more apparent in their video, in which the commonplace and the repetitive metamorphosize into something uncanny and disorienting.
War & War is out now via Outside World's Bandcamp.
A sponge of information and art, Angel Marcloid, the inimitable human behind Fire-Toolz and just about a hundred other creative endeavors, sets out to prove that genre restrictions are a farce. Her latest, a forty-eight-minute opus entitled Drip Mental, churns through ideas and sounds like a sonic meatgrinder while staying true to a unified vision. But behind Angel's malestrom is a malleable internal logic, and furthermore a pop sensibility. On "At The Pig Well Pt. 2 [CODENAME_TOUCH ID]," one of the heavier moments on the album, Angel wields an intense stream-of-conscious word miasma to discuss introversion, romance, toxicity, and bodily interaction. The song is a touching exploration on relationships—while the narrator begins with a titillated hesitancy, by the end, smiles are exchanged, tongues lie on faces, and characters swim in each others' palms. It's a lot, and rightfully so—navigating relationships is probably the most complex thing we do as human beings, learning to read someone else, while spending our entire lives trying to understand ourselves, chasing down the undiscovered dark corners with our inner light.
Drip Mental is out digitally February 3 and physically February 24 on Hausu Mountain.
There’s a heaving lurch in “Sick,” a symptom of Palberta’s tight austerity, and deconstruction of pop songwriting. Rather than rely on any sort of hook, by most standards, at least, the band utilizes a mantra, repeating a word, phrase, or even inflection, until a few things happen:
1. The mantra is manifested as a sonic force
2. The mantra has lost its semantic quality
3. The mantra’s repetition becomes comfortable, familiar, and reassuring
It may seem strange that a composition as quick and hyper-composed as “Sick”—it boasts a runtime of less than a minute and a half—can prove emblematic of the power of incantation, and yet, that uneasy, hypnotic repetition is the well from which the song draws power. I can almost hear myself joining in the chant, before the vocals break off, and I'm left nodding off to a spindly groove, and a final lithely-picked guitar lick.
Lee Ranaldo was seven or eight years old when he got his first guitar—“That is, one that wasn’t a tennis racket,” he says. It was a pink plastic ukulele silk-screened with pictures of the Beatles, acquired after Ranaldo saw them play on Ed Sullivan in 1964. Later, during his high school years, he graduated to a larger-body, Japanese Martin D-18 copy, on which he would learn Beatles covers and folk songs. And although he would eventually come to be known for his work with Fender Jazzmasters and Gibson Les Pauls, Ranaldo has been collecting acoustic guitars ever since.
In recent years, the Sonic Youth guitarist has been revisiting his beginnings, eschewing the noise- riddled sounds of that band and early solo efforts like 1987’s From Here To Infinity in favor of acoustic-driven, Americana-inspired songwriting. Calling from his Manhattan home, he says he’s especially interested in the stories of the people who make them. Here’s one he told us about legendary luthier Michael Gurian.
Lee Ranaldo: A friend of mine recently started bugging me about this early ’70s guitar-maker named Michael Gurian. As it turns out, some of the best guitar-makers trained in Gurian’s shop. The shop was on Carmine Street in the West Village, and as far as I know, he began building guitars there. When he started to get a little more serious, he had a shop on Bedford Street, also in the West Village, and built guitars there for a while. He later moved to New Hampshire and built guitars there. But all in all, he built guitars for about 10 years, and then quit.
Furniture, Zina’s debut EP, sees both the best in pop songwriting and a gut-wrenching longing. According to Night People’s website, the EP’s six songs were written from the perspective of “a divorced housewife [who] still had it.” On Furniture’s first single “Vacation,” Zina portrays the soon-to-be-divorcee attempting to draw her lover into an escape plan. “We’ll leave our troubles behind, and those papers on the table you did not sign,” she implores, before suggesting an alternative—“Let’s take a vacation. Where you go, I’ll go.” It’s idyllic and memorable, but proves unrealistic for the narrator, even buttressed by all the major key soundscapes and hooks housed in Zina’s impressive arsenal. It’s unfortunate for the character, but the rest of us have these pop bangers, so... it’s pretty sick.
Wake In Frightis one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. Aside from its grotesque, controversial footage of hunted kangaroos, the film’s ever-present sense of dread and absurdity, a sense that permeates every fiber of Bundanyabba, the small mining town in Australia’s outback that becomes the film setting, is unlike any other. The “Yabba,” as it is endearingly referred to in the movie, mixes the futility of a movie like The Exterminating Angel with the brutality of something like Deliverance. As such, it’s the perfect title for Uniform’s upcoming LP. It’s no secret that vocalist Michael Berdan likes his movies dark, and his lyrics reflect that, as does Ben Greenberg’s seething guitar work and pummeling drum machine. “Tabloid,” the first single from Wake In Fright is the meanest thing the duo’s released, and also the most concise. It would be misleading to say the song is poppy, but it is more digestible—that is if you don’t mind digesting a death adder. Then again, if Top 40 dripped venom rather than dollar bills, this could hit the top of the pops.