On “Thinning,” Snail Mail’s singer-songwriter Lindsey Jordan, reckons with a gale-force low with a disarming directness. Her vocals, delivered carefully and veiled by reverb, hesitate between a desire to surrender to or push herself out of the haze of feeling unlike herself. The track, a highlight from last summer’s Habit, has received a video, directed and shot by the band’s drummer Shawn Durham. The video features Jordan performing the song in different locations around her native Baltimore and Maryland. The shots fixate on inbetweenness. You can watch dawn and dusk unfold into day and night throughout the video. It feels like a psychogeography—with the video’s cemeteries, parking lots, ponds and fields serveing as a map and index for the song’s sense of stuckness. In one striking moment, Jordan stands silent in a dark field while behind her people play frisbee—a burst of life proceeding indifferently to the struggle Jordan has documented in song.
Post-punk outfit YOU. recently left the busier confines of New York City and moved to frontman Trever Millay’s hometown of Detroit to record their latest LP, Bouquet. They seem to have benefitted from the change in urban scenery, with a bigger studio space and fewer stresses to compete with writing and recording. Still, the ominous video for “Hagion” trudges through dreary soundscapes suggestive of urban decay. The track begins by layering synths and guitar strumming on top of a churning bassline; bursts of drum beats punctuate the drum machine percussion. A bleak kaleidoscope lights up the screen as a toy doll floats in and out of the frame, and Millay broods, “We slave and we fight / For you, now.” Then the bassline rises, the strumming stops, and YOU. suggest light at the end of this tunnel. Whirring walls of sound sweep in and out, and more complex guitar layers on. But the original bassline returns, guitars strum monotone once again, and YOU. fall back into the murky depths from which the track began: “Without you, again / Without you, my friend."
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."
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.
For The Courtneys, getting signed to the lofi guitar pop mecca, Flying Nun Records, as the label’s first ever non-New Zealand act must have been like a dream come true. “Tour,” the latest track from their forthcoming record, The Courtneys II, is a perfect road trip anthem turned askew; an effortlessly sing-alongable melody belying a sense of unease, embedded in the anxious drum pattern and a bassline which vacillates between dissonance and power pop perfection. The Courtneys will be touring with Jay Som throughout the Spring, working their way to New York for a show at Baby’s All Right on March 29.
Listen to “Tour” below. The Courtneys II is out February 27 via Flying Nun.
Minus The Bear have returned from a near-five year absence with a new record, Voids. The record finds the Seattle-based band revisiting their early sound, filtered through the personnel and personal changes of their 15 years of music making. “Invisible” the first single, leads with a tense, finger-tapped verse that erupts into an arena-rock ready chorus. Minus the Bear are on tour this spring, dropping by Webster Hall on March 29 to perform with Beach Slang.
Twang may not necessarily be in vogue these days, but lilting songs about growing old and broken hearted always seem to strike a universal nerve no matter the genre or locale from which they hail. Dougie Poole came from Providence to New York, originally crafting dissonant tunes that took cues from R. Stevie Moore and Arthur Russell, and took them into his own melancholy direction. But noise and anonymity eventually had a ceiling for Poole, and more earnest songwriting began to take shape, and that's how we arrive at something beautiful like "Less Young but as Dumb." The lyrical content of the song is right there in the title, casting a disintegrated Roy Orbison pallette in the modern age, tossing traditional country tropes aside in favor of modern delusion, coping, and loss. It starts like a lament playing in a broken jukebox, before the weirdness and vulnerability of it all places it firmly in today's world.
"Less Young but as Dumb" is taken from Poole's forthcoming LP Wideass Highway, out February 17 on JMC Aggregate. Poole is playing a record release show that day at Shea Stadium, Brooklyn, with Wolvves; tickets are here.
Philly post-hardcore vets Pissed Jeans have been at it for a decade and change, but they insist on speaking to the now—even when the “now” falls outside of the antiquated romantic vocabulary of rock n roll. “Ignorecam,” is the newest single from their forthcoming record, Why Love Now. Where their previous single, “The Bar Is Low” spoke to the ubiquity of abuse among famous and powerful men, “Ignorecam” hones in on the proliferation of fetish cam shows where men pay women “to be ignored.” The track pummels the listener with a seemingly endless procession riff, sounding something like a boulder tumbling down a mountain side. The band will be touring in support of Why Love Now starting next month, stopping at Brooklyn Bazaar on February 24.
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.
Last year, harpist Mary Lattimore took a spill and broke her jaw. That might not have halted her progress as a musician, but she did have to have her jaw wired shut for it to heal properly, rendering her effectively mute for a few months. It's an isolating experience, not being able to communicate like you normally would. Lattimore found some solace in the guise of Scott Kelly, the American astronaut who spent a full year aboard the International Space Station. While Kelly wasn't alone and was able to send messages and tweets from outer space—including tracking the progress of his orange zinnia, the first plant ever grown not on Earth—he was still cut off from a lot of necessary personal interactions and communication. Relating to and being inspired by Kelly's experiences, Lattimore composed this emotional tribute to the man as he returned back to our planet this past spring. True to the spirit of her muse, on "For Scott Kelly, Returned to Earth," the harpist evokes this feeling of being free of gravity, awestruck at the beautiful blue planet floating outside the window, and cut through with that haunted sensation of wanting to be among your fellow humans. Listen to the song below, and also watch a short animated clip for it by John Andrews.
The track features on Returned to Earth, a cassette out January 1 on Soap Library (it comes with an envelope of heirloom orange zinnia seeds). Pre-order it now.