If you spend more than a few minutes with either member of Uniform—Ben Greenberg or Michael Berdan—you’ll realize you’re talking to someone deeply empathetic and kind, willing to discuss either personal topics or consider which pie shop in Williamsburg is the best. But under their openness is a lashing restlessness, a quiet discomfort with being human and being slave to biological routines that becomes very loud when the two take a stage.
Perfect World, their band’s debut LP, saw Berdan’s scathing, analytical lyrics dwell on the significance of identity loss, being done wrong, consumption, and the fight against your own chemistry. Ghosthouse, the band’s upcoming 12” on Sacred Bones condenses all the viscera of Perfect World and kicks up both the throb-o-meter and the personal darkness. The title track, easily one of the band’s best songs, sees Berdan considering his lifelong battles with insomnia and depression, detailing dark hours as “the ghosts come out at night.” But there’s a big difference between giving into the ghosts, though, and shining a light on them—Berdan’s lyrics being clearly an instance of the latter, exposing his personalized dread, and moving past it.
When he’s not submerging himself in his own anxiety, Berdan’s watching someone else’s, kicking back with a horror movie. I’ve gotten some amazing recommendations from him—mind-melting shit likeThe Visitor, Bone Tomahawk, Wake in Fright, andFound. But what would you expect? Pairing Berdan’s knowledge and love of horror movies with his output in Uniform makes sense—after all, in a lot of ways, Uniform is a meditation on fear. We talked to Berdan about horror movies, and you can read his thoughts after the jump.
The video for “The Flower Tree” opens in what I assume is Daniel Bachman’s house. A camera pans across a lightly-decorated mantel, scanning across art, photographs, burnt sage, and a crab handling a cigarette, before fading into a mesmerizing live rendering of the piece, a cut from his upcoming self-titled album. As anyone familiar with Bachman knows, his performances are profoundly moving, rooted in the hypnotic finger-picking patterns of the American primitive tradition. A life-long student of older American music and history, Bachman could not have had a more perfect genesis for the Appalachia-influenced style of guitar playing. Born near Fredericksburg, Virginia, he has since become more or less a fixture of North Carolina’s triangle area. At its most basic, "The Flower Tree" is a country-blues song, but characterizing the piece as such does a disservice to its intricacy. Drone elements become more central, as do violent and varied strums, all of which points to Bachman's ever-developing compositional prowess.
“He died at New York Presbyterian—no one came to visit him,” ends “N.Y. Presbyterian,” the second song on Mommy’s debut LP Songs About Children (for the inimitable Toxic State Records). Mommy draws from many traditions, most notably Japanese hardcore and noisecore. Mike Caiazzo’s scathing, relentless words sound like they’re being delivered through a cheese grater; this guttural voice foregrounds Tye Miller’s noise-crusted bass and Ian Graye’s pummeling drums. While the band’s stage antics sometimes border on the cartoonish, lyrically things couldn’t be more serious. Documenting slices of life from Caiazzo’s time in and out of hospitals and other insidious institutions devoted to helping “at-risk individuals,” Songs of Children is a heavy listen, grounded in the very real failings of mental health establishments at large. Though Mommy has shared bills with Burning Spirits pioneers Death Side, the group's sounds are less anthemic and definitely less positive, coming more from the school of Gai, The Swankys, or Ghoul. Still, few bands have sounded exactly like Mommy, and even fewer have addressed these themes with such an unflinching eye.
Explaining her newest music video for Weyes Blood, for the song "Do You Need My Love?" Natalie Mering states “this video is about accessing the inner beast, tapping into Dionysian impulses in a safe guided way with some time traveling entities.” Across the video’s seven-minute narrative, the nameless protagonist, played by a mustachioed Mering, checks into a hotel, bringing new ideas, desires, and chemicals into the surrounding community, including a sickass bear.Though humorous, the video is rich in cultural signifiers, nodding to both old world ritual and new world psychedelia. The video ends in a comedic twist, one that both proves endearing to the viewer and - perhaps more importantly - begs the question why doesn’t M. Night Shyamalan use baroque pop for his soundtracks? Frankly, it shouldn’t have taken us this long to ask.
In a farewell poem to Jack Rose, Byron Coley wrote “jack was just one of those people you knew you were gonna know for a long time/ there was an agelessness about him that gave you the sense/ he was built to last, like a bull/ or a china shop/ although what i guess he resembled most/ was a bull becoming a china shop,” nodding to Rose’s crystallization from drone maestro in Pelt to finger-picking demigod as a solo musician. Rose died in 2009 to the dismay of many friends from a surprise heart attack at the age of 38, leaving the world with a rich, robust catalog of originals, appearances, and musings that begged the austere question: what couldn’t this guy do?
Jack Rose was often up front about the role of a record. On one hand, a release signaled a channeling from the intangibly personal to the tangibly available, but on another, it was a commodity on which to subsist while rolling through the United States on tour for the thirtieth time. Regardless of whether Rose were peddling an LP, an EP, or a single, the release eventually disappeared into the undocumented and often untold corners in the world dedicated to record collections. Needless to say, once Rose passed on, and his legacy stretched out to those who had yet to hear his catalog, many of the records were out of print, available, but for a hefty price.
Thanks to Cory Rayborn of Three Lobed Recordings and Bill Kellum of VHF Records, many of Jack’s back catalogue will be available to purchase once again at reasonable prices, with extensive liner notes and all the profound sounds and ideas that made the records so special in the first place. We spoke to the two label head's about how they view Rose's music and his legacy.
Carlos Gonzales is prolific. Like, really prolific. Over more than a decade, Carlos has channeled images and storylines devoted to the the uncanny, the monstrous, and the humorous, both as his solo project Russian Tsarlag and as a comic artist. Sprinkled through the unwritten laws of his multi-faceted oeuvre is a sort of dream logic—puns and loose associations become the axes of surreal narrative. On Unexplained American Goat, his newest full-length as Russian Tsarlag, Gonzales nods to his world-building prowess, showcasing an original soundtrack to a gray planet spinning almost entirely in the wake of one-note basslines and earnest, melancholy rumination. Unexplained American Goat boasts minimal orchestration and adornment, but Gonzales’s music has never sounded more somnambulant, as he drifts in and out of reality, the divine, and the deeply subconscious.
On Itasca's upcoming LP Open To Chance , Kayla Cohen synthesizes her love of acid folk with her love of country—the slide guitar quotient on the record is the highest it’s ever been. On “Buddy,” the record’s first single, and one of the most immediately country-sounding tunes in the collection, Cohen’s whispered delivery is still at the forefront, though on this pass it’s backed by a contingent of friends and Los Angeles musicians. It shows. Itasca has always been an arresting project, but it’s never sounded more full or more clear than on Open to Chance.
As to be expected from the Itasca songstress, Kayla is well-versed in psych, country, and folk, but, like most notable musicians, she’s much too inquisitive and open-minded to stick to any limited handful of genres or styles. I’ve hung out with her at Total Control shows and conversed with her Hawkwind, but she also recommended I listen Bob Brown’s private press nugget, praising Tompkins Square and its deep, focused discography. Kayla’s musical knowledge is robust and expansive, never complacent to stay rooted in one place. Knowing that, I had to ask what she had been jamming during the writing and recording of Open to Chance and she was kind enough to respond with some words and a mixcloud link to this grab-bag of songs. Read what she had to say about the songs after the jump.
Sapphogeist welds a love of pop music with a love for the electronic, the futuristic, and the weird. Zoe Burke, the project’s songstress, made arresting power electronics in the noise group Reverse Baptism, but on her self-titled cassette, she trades abrasion for something more radio-friendly. In the closing of “A Lie,” we are treated to a sample of Frank Ocean’s “Bad Religion,” a song grappling with sex and God. How can we fulfill our most primal needs without overstepping divine law? “A Lie” is a synth pop banger that, while not explicitly dealing with sex, also draws inspiration from self-reflection—“I’m a liar,” Zoe incants in seductive confession, laying her cards out before the listener. In most other scenarios, this phrase would be self-flagellating or disparaging, but on “A Lie,” there seems to be a measure of pride in that mantra, or is it simply that self-loathing is rarely so catchy?
On their debut Kranky outing, the upcoming 2xLP Physicalist (with breathtaking Robert Beatty art), Forma have carved out a new niche for themselves, forgoing their full-frontal synthesis attack to make way for acoustic sounds. For those familiar with the project, there are still plenty of pristine synth sounds, albeit one with a more kosmische bent than the band’s earlier techno-leaning outing on The Bunker New York. Physicalist is also notable for being the group’s first go-round with John Also Bennett, new member and multi-instrumentalist. For sufficient background, the album name comes from the idea of physicalism or “the philosophical belief that all phenomena in the universe are created entirely from physical interactions,” which, to make the appropriate jump, implies a structure in which Forma improvises—like variations on a theme, permutations, and fractals. The impossibly small is just as infinite as the sublimely huge. Physicalist is out September 23 on Kranky.
AdHoc: What prompted the inclusion of acoustic instruments on the new Forma 2xLP?
George Bennett: The instrumentation change I made on Physicalist was less about moving from electronic to acoustic and more about a distinction between automation and hand-playing. In our earliest days, FORMA did lots of manual work. Mark was hand-playing arpeggiated sequences and I was playing a drum kit, so in a sense we’re coming full circle. If there was any conscious shift for me on Physicalist, it was a return to hand-playing, where I have more opportunities for spontaneity and can get off the grid with my rhythms. Some of that was done on acoustic cymbals, and some of it on electronic sample pads.
John Also Bennett: We’d been tossing around the idea of including some acoustic instrumentation, or even just more hand-played instruments for a while, though we hadn’t much tried it out until we got to the studio. I was trained classically on flute and piano (and saxophone!), before trading in my flute for a guitar as a teenager, and then later trading my guitars and amps for synthesizers. So this is really just coming back to my roots after a long journey. I brought my flute to the studio, where there was also a great Steinway grand piano, and George brought a cymbal and some percussion instruments. After almost two days of tracking synthesizers, we took some time to work out on the piano, Mark and I trading off, and me on flute. It’s a way for us to free ourselves from the sometimes musically constraining idea that electronic music needs to be danceable.
New York City electronic four-piece Macula Dog are, frankly, pretty absurd. On their debut LP, the amazingly titled Why Do You Look Like Your Dog?, Macula Dog ask the age old questions do we begin to look like our dog or do we select a dog that looks like us? I know what you’re wondering: will WDYLLYD reveal the answers? Stay tuned, sportsfans, but the prognosis is… well… pretty good.
On “Lawnmower,” the first single from the record, Macula Dog offers some freaky lyrics detailing life as a cow being led to and through slaughter: “Starting from the back of the book/The anonymous donor/Ran me over with the mower/And now I’m hung with no hook/Rest your head on the pillow/Glass roof above you/No floor below/Grass fed & drive-thru window/Choked by invisible hands.” The quartet’s zany electronic backdrop provides a whimsical canvas, but upon lyrical inspection, it only provides a more accurate, terrifying rendering of the American eating experience. Look at how fun this is—you can fingerpaint with the blood on your hands!