Brooklyn power-poppers Fits have been tearing up the scene for a couple years now, and for good reason–their loud, playful, DIY aesthetic is shaped as much by bandleader Nicholas Cummins' smart and pointed songwriting as it is the band's growing up around and playing in DIY spaces such as Shea Stadium and Silent Barn. The band–Cummins, Brian Orante, Emma Witmer (of gobbinjr), and Joe Galarraga (of Big Ups)–play to these songwriting chops, crafting each minute-long burst of Cummins' songs into something anthemic and cathartic. Their new song "Hot Topic," off their upcoming debut album All Belief is Paradise, starts off with a lazy guitar and languid vocals, a sound that betrays Cummins' lyrical barbs: "You would have not been pissed off if I stood behaved, but I frayed when I did 'cause I can't." The song grows louder as Cummins' voice grows more urgent, but then, after a pause, the song settles into a swooning instrumental groove through its end. It's the sort of song that, after its minute and a half is over, you'll probably repeat and repeat.
"This song is about losing your voice, getting caught in the throat, and missing an opportunity to stand up for yourself and who you are," said Cummins. "In that way it's about a failure, but it's also not an apology. National coming out day was last week and it reminded me of this ever-present pressure to describe, defend and explain your identity in really personal ways to complete strangers all the time. The personal is definitely political and all of us are intertwined but sometimes you don't want to be a narrative, you just want to be a person who's like, eating a bagel or playing Starcraft of going to the beach and stuff. Society can be exhausting and it can be really easy to forget that we're all individuals, with 8 billion gender presentations and 8 billion selves. You don't owe everyone all of your courage all of the time."
Atlanta’s floral print make guitar pop full of hazy, woozy melodies and textures, but strained through razors: their songs are full of sputtering stops, false starts, and sudden detours. Take, for instance, the opening track of their new album mirror stages, called “sweepstakes life": the song begins with an bouncy guitar line and playful melody, but soon devolves into a squall of noise that leads into a mumbling piano ballad. The band–made up of singer/guitarist Nathan Springer, drummer Paul DeMerritt, and bassist Joshua Pittman–rotates through genres and styles almost naturally, a gift that belies their origins of meeting by chance through Facebook. “egg rites” alternates between an American Football-esque post-rock and overwhelming distortion. The title track, one of my favorites, is perhaps one of the most discordant ambient songs I’ve ever heard.
"mirror stages was recorded between March 2015 and October 2016,” said Nathan Springer. “The bulk of the album was recorded in two separate two day sessions at Broad Street Visitor's Center in Atlanta in the late summer of 2016. Graham Tavel recorded, produced, and mixed the album. These songs gestated much longer than the songs on our EP 'woo' and are a lot more varied in style. We were going through some weird stuff at the time, and consequently the tone of the album is a little darker than our previous recordings.”
mirror stages is out October 20 via Tiny Engines. Listen to the album below.
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.
Nashville’s Sun Seeker make languid, woozy psychedelia with a country bent: ideal for a carefree, sun-soaked day. Their sound is heavily indebted to the city they call home, but ahead of their October 11 show at Union Pool, the group–Alex Benick, Asher Horton, Ben Parks, and Rodrigo Avendano–shared a few of their favorite songs from New York.
I listen to this song everyday when I lay out poolside, thinking back on homecoming dances and smoking weed for the first time. I don't think that's what this song is about but it makes me feel good.
Television - "Days"
Sun Seeker has covered this song a bunch of times. Television was probably one of the first rock bands I got into in middle school. Television and Lil Wayne.
Crumb - "Vinta"
I just got into Crumb in the last few months and you definitely should too. That's all that needs to be said.
Asher Horton (bass):
Lou Reed - "Dirty Blvd"
Quintessential New Yawkness! He had a pretty wild solo career but throughout each of his phases remained very "Lou". New York and The Bells are probably the two records I come back to the most.
Arthur Russell - "Love Is Overtaking Me"
A truly individual and inspired artist. He’s one of the rare musicians who managed to jump between most conceivable styles of music and do each one just as great as the last. His documentary “Wild Combination” is definitely worth searching out.
The 6ths - "Falling Out of Love (With You)"
I first heard this song in The Adventures of Pete and Pete! That show turned me on to so much great music. The 6ths were a side project of the Magnetic Fields’ Stephen Merritt where he made the music and then got different singers for every song, which turned out to be a successful experiment in my book. This particular song features Dean Wareham of Galaxie 500 and Luna as well as some memorable lyrics about dwindling love and building synthesizers or something?
Ben Parks (drums):
Steely Dan - "Any Major Dude"
A true banger. RIP Walter Becker.
Margaret Glaspy - "No Matter Who"
I love the way this whole record sounds. Everything is super punchy but blends so well together, especially on this track. Great musicianship all around.
Paul Simon - "Run That Body Down"
This is a track off Paul Simon's first solo effort which is a favorite of mine. Featuring the great Hal Blaine on drums. Super breezy.
Rodrigo Avendano (keyboards):
Since I was young I've always had a distant fascination with life in New York City. One that largely lived in my imagination since what I knew about it was largely informed by television, magazines and history books. I now get to visit the city a few times a year, mostly on music related pursuits, so my experience with NYC is still a fairly supercifial one.
Madonna - "Vogue"
East coast version of Chicago house by the queen of NYC.
The Strokes - "Hard to Explain"
My first teenage wonderment of melancholy in the bib city.
ESG - "UFO"
Music from the Bronx that won't stop giving inspiration everywhere. One of the most sampled songs in history.
The video for “Enter Shimmer” begins in silence. Snow covers the ground of a nondescript sidewalk. It covers the cars; it piles up on the curb and the foot of the building. Light snow falls across the screen, but otherwise the scene might as well be a still frame. Soon, though, you start to notice that a figure has been walking, slowly, from the edge of the horizon toward you, wearing an oversized white hat and a dress. Forty seconds in, a loud, dissonant guitar riff begins to play. The white snow is still falling, but the mood has changed into something far more agitated. The camera pans around the white-hatted figure and we follow them around the corner, into a side door, and up a dark staircase. The music becomes even more urgent, and erupts into a pinched scream. For a moment, it's uncertain where the figure is heading. Then, red curtains appear, and a microphone, and the figure takes the stage, screaming and stomping before an invisible audience.
Ani Ivry-Block, Shimmer’s leader and singer, has crafted ten such videos, each singularly esoteric, one for every song on her band’s album. They are, by turns, unsettling, strange, exhilarating, arousing, funny, and terrifying. “Crystal Listerine” stumbles around in fits and starts of jagged guitar and hushed singing, but the video–which features a brightly-lit figure silhouetted behind a white sheet–provides a ghostly juxtaposition. The clip for “Let Em Know” showcases a homemade-looking, rotating wooden stage set up in someone’s backyard, one that Ivry-Block jumps around on while wearing a sleep mask and space blanket. You can almost imagine someone driving past, wondering what the hell is going on.
“These videos were made over the course of ten months from October 2017 to July 2017,” says Ivry-Block. “The videos couldn't have been made possible without the help from my friend Jonah Peterschild, the man behind the camera for the majority of the shots. Get ready for visual album number two, coming out mid 2018!"
Politics will forever be tied to the musical landscape, but the age of Trump has especially provoked artists to respond in kind and in force. The author Dave Eggers, for example, launched his “30 Songs, 30 Days” playlist, featuring original work from the likes of Patti Smith, U2, and Tracy Chapman, in order to “combat apathy, entertain the citizenry, and provide a soundtrack to resistance.” Other artists have framed their music specifically within this politically charged year: “FDT”, Fiona Apple’s “Tiny Hands”. The urge for musicians to frame this moment and provide its theme song is strong, and there is no shortage of material for artists to use to write these songs.
However, Alex Tebeleff, the songwriter of Paperhaus, drew his initial inspiration for the band’s new song, “Told You What To Say,” not from 2016, but from the 1980s. “[The lyrics] were inspired by a trip to Colombia and learning about the history of the war there,” says Tebeleff. “It’s also a reflection on my Jewish background and my life-long interest in the history of European fascism and its legacy in the world today, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Musically, the song rides a wavering synth line and an insistent snare—as the track goes on, it becomes louder, more urgent; the instrumentation explodes at the end, not content to let the song’s message of antifascism and its difficulties play out as a whisper. “The second verse,” Tebeleff admits, “does describe a scene similar to and partially inspired by the emotionally toxic rallies during the presidential campaign." The song’s tracing a line through different eras of fascism and conflict is its strength: events transpiring now have their origins and parallels in the past, and to connect them is to begin to understand how and why they hold such a grip on the human zeitgeist today. As Mark Twain more succinctly put it: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.”
“Anything For You,” the new track from Brooklyn mainstays Zula, is a swirling collage of chiming guitars, atmospheric violin, twinkling piano, and an airy, circuitous vocal melody, glued together with a driving backbeat. The band, led by cousins Nate and Henry Terepka, have always excelled at the sort of grooves that get you out of your seat and on your feet, but this track sees the group tightening their sound into a mesmerizing and hook-laden four minutes. Lyrically, the song feels like an omen, a warning about the dangers of leaving privilege and power unchecked: “Could it happen to you if you police the ones that you love?”
"'Anything For You' combines a bunch of elements that we really love as a band: a breakbeat shuffle, a reflective headspace, and an intensified feeling of desperation or running in place,” says Henry Terepka. “The song’s syncopated rhythm developed out of a jam with bassist Noga Shefi in Fall 2014. The lyrics were inspired by white-male domination as embodied, experienced, and witnessed in private homes, on college campuses, and in seats of power.”
“Hannah Epperson's violin playing,” he continues, “brought the end of the track to life with an improvised atmospheric performance, extending the yearning sentiment of the song to panoramic dimensions. For us, 'Anything For You' is one of the more melancholy, intimate, earthy songs on the EP.”
First impressions are often simple ones: how can a passing glance reveal one's full complexity? Honey Harper’s debut, “Pharaoh”–his very first release–is an exception to the rule. The loping country tune shimmers and shines as it leads the listener through a nostalgic, reverb-soaked vocal melody and a beautiful pedal steel riff. It feels carefully constructed, with each detail adding to its slow beauty. “The song kept re-appearing in different forms at different times,” says Honey Harper. “The lyrics were written in 2008, the melody was written in 2014, [and] it was completed in 2017.” Kudos to Honey Harper–perhaps the best things are nearly a decade in the making.
Seattle band Versing makes woozy and crackling power pop, ever so slightly askew. The group's members—Daniel Salas, Graham Baker, Kirby Lochner, and Max Keyes—met and collaborated at the University of Puget Sound’s KUPS radio station, and you can hear the world of college radio in Versing’s sundry songs. Together, the band synthesizes the breadth of their musical influences—a sprinkle of Pavement here, a pinch of Sonic Youth there—into something fresh and exciting.Their new single, “Call Me Out,” off the upcoming album Nirvana, exemplifies the band’s laid-back playfulness, along with the thoughtfulness and complexity of Salas’s songwriting. The track starts off with a rush of guitars and rolling drums, before settling into an octave-bouncing riff. It distorts as it hurtles toward its end, like a Weezer (or, more aptly Nirvana) song that, instead of trading off between soft and loud, just keeps getting louder. Lyrically, the song is a stitched-together patchwork of philosophical musings, with Salas singing, “Distal thoughts at last awoken," like the too-cool guy at the back of the night-time college class, holding a guitar.
The accompanying video is an off-kilter, frame-within-a-frame-within-a-frame shot of the band, made possible through the use of four iPhones and a DSLR jury-rigged onto a cardboard contraption. “I was inspired by David Hockney's The Jugglers, where he filmed the subjects from multiple cameras at the same time, then stitched them into one fragmented but still somehow cohesive shot," says Salas. "It seems to give the scene a heightened sense of depth and realness, and I liked the idea that more eyes could make a more complete picture—that having more people watching over your actions and calling you out when you screw up isn't necessarily bad, but actually useful."
“UFO,” the new song from Upper Wilds—a.k.a. Dan Friel, formerly of Parts & Labor—wastes no times with long-winded introductions. After a brief, and relatively calm, moment of static, the listener is hit with a wall of noise and a monumental riff. Anchoring the heavy, almost overwhelming backbeat are Friel’s melodic vocals—a lone voice bellowing out through the sea of sound.
Friel has this to say about the track: “'UFO has a big riff and is about space junk, which pretty much sums up the new album. It's built around a riff I've had kicking around since the Parts & Labor days, but really required a whole new context to properly stomp. Lyrically it's about the international Spacecraft Cemetery, and the love of solitude. The Spacecraft Cemetery is deep in the Pacific Ocean, at the farthest place from land on Earth, and it's got a fascinating history, both literal and literary."
Upper Wilds’ first album, Guitar Module 2017, comes out on September 22 via Thrill Jockey. Catch their record release show on Saturday, October 7 at Alphaville with E, Gold Dime, and Video Daughters.