Smerz – Have Fun EP

Hoh Rainforest ferns

Smerz opened for Mount Kimbie on a recent U.S. tour, and I saw them in Seattle. I didn’t know what to expect, but they were incredible. Heavy beats and crazy soundcraft paired with Catherina Stoltenberg’s and Henriette Motzfeldt’s vocals, which range from a sort of dead-eyed monotone to tender singing to sharp-edged taunting. Their songs were so unpredictable and lively, morphing every couple seconds into a new phase, a different vibe. Their EP, “Have Fun,” is a great representation of their skills: the songs float and change directions in such interesting ways, and it feels like, within each song, any kind of music could emerge—long drones, early Junior Boys-style beat programming, ambient chanting, etc. It’s thrilling.

(Mount Kimbie were also fantastic—I’d never seen them before and they played a lot of stuff from “Love What Survives,” one of the best albums from last year, along with deep cuts (and shallow cuts?) from their whole discography. They have much more of a ‘band’ setup than I would’ve expected, which drove home again how “Love What Survives” reminded me obliquely of UK post-punk albums like The Sound’s “Jeopardy”)

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Melody’s Echo Chamber – Bon Voyage


"Bon Voyage" sounds like the kind of album you make when you want to make something risky and wild and brave. An aesthetic declaration. Melody's Echo Chamber is not chasing trends--Melody Prochet is making the kind of music she wants to hear. This is all to say that "Bon Voyage" feels deeply personal and weird in the best way, an expression of a person, or group of people, pursuing their musical ideas faithfully and intensely, no matter how bonkers they might be (or sound) on the surface. Thinking back on my own listening experience with this album, I can recall, without giving my impressions a forensic examination, sounds of sighs and heavy breathing, a man screaming in what sounds like Japanese, helium-high vocals, beat-boxing, flute solos, French and English mingling, blazing bright guitars, amazing percussion.

Prochet worked on the album with Reine Fiske from Dungen (in addition to Gustav Esjtes and Johan Holmegaard, also from Dungen, and you can hear that sound coming through), the Amazing's Fredrik Swahn, and Nicholas Allbrook from Pond. I would love to know what music served as touchstones for Prochet and the rest while they were recording this album--it sounds to me like there are little allusions here and there to records by Stereolab and Broadcast, among many others (like a snippet from the beginning of "Shirim," the last song on the album, reminded me of a Steven R. Smith tune that in turn was reminiscent of the music in "Pather Panchali").

"Bon Voyage" is a beautiful, exuberant album, seven vivid and high-energy songs that are bigger on the inside than they are on the outside.

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Glass Famine

Ice cream sundae washington glass famine

Craig and Vincent, who released a handful of great tunes as Casimer and Casimir (Craig was also in the wonderful and long-gone Pas/Cal), are now Glass Famine, and they just put out their debut single, "Grumbling Bellies," which is a pretty, tumbling song. I think one of the aspects of Pas/Cal's music (and the stuff from Casimer and Casimir too) that I always found impressive was the number of ideas packed into each song: there are almost always three or four little sections to each song, and they're all compelling in their own right (reminiscent in some ways of the Unicorns and how their songs often took very unpredictable trajectories). Besides its wonderful restlessness, this song has great details too—to wit, there's some especially fantastic guitar business in the margins of the last minute of this song, while Craig repeats "It's the lie that makes them pretty." Looking forward to hearing more.

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CHVRCHES – Love Is Dead

Photo of ferns in Quinault Rain Forest

In "Graffiti," from CHVRCHES' new album "Love Is Dead," is Lauren Mayberry writing about the loss of romantic love, putting a what-if counterfactual to music, or is she writing about the imminent death of the world? She sings, "I've been waiting for my whole life to grow old/and now we never will/never will." There's a lot of talk about writing names on bathroom stalls and standing in streetlights and making a mess, about "being kids then," so there's a sense of looking back on an intense love that dissipated somewhere along the line (for undisclosed reasons), and there also seems to be a powerful regret about the loss of this love, which possibly represents an irremediable wrong that will affect Mayberry forever and preclude her enjoyment of her old age (because she'll always be thinking about what might have been with this former love). This is nostalgia turned into poisonous rumination, set to CHVRCHES usual array of erupting, overflowing synths. But there's also that "we" in "and now we never will," which suggests that this is a collective fate: none of us will grow old; our mistakes will come back to haunt us and there will be no relief. "Graffiti" is at once very pretty and very grim, and most of "Love Is Dead" has that same beautiful and punishing vibe.

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Forth Wanderers

Fredericksburg Baptist Church

Remember chaotic shows, in small theaters, in basements, in a hot attic in Virginia? Early morning Wawa donuts, coffee, and cigarettes. Sitting on brick walls. Someone always brought back handfuls of candy from work. Food, we were always searching for free food. Racing against the clock to get beer before midnight. Our friends snuck into the pool at the Holiday Inn, but we stuck with the one in our apartment complex, full of leaves and dead spiders. We went to see bands in Richmond and Newport News, bands that then dissipated like they’d never existed. You went to Fredericksburg and never came back.

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Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel

Courtney Barnett’s new album, “Tell Me How You Really Feel,” feels like it’s about relationships—understanding them, maintaining them. Talking and listening (or, on “Nameless, Faceless,” learning how to ignore that which is unimportant). Telling stories, hearing stories. Trying to place oneself in relation to others in a way that’s sustainable, that works. Like with “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit,” Barnett’s songwriting creates a sense of one-on-one intimacy, like she’s relating these worries and preoccupations to you over a couple beers at the bar, though she doesn’t really indulge in the kind of plainspoken, super-quotidian reporting that, say, Kozalek has done with recent Sun Kil Moon records—the lyrics on “Tell Me How You Really Feel” are universal enough that there’s still room for the listener. She’s got such a range, too, as a songwriter—she’s got songs like “Hopefulessness” and “Nameless, Faceless” and “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch” that exude a degree of menace and aggression, songs like “Need a Little Time” and “Sunday Roast” that are tender, solicitous, forgiving, supportive, and kind of stretched-out country jams like “Walkin on Eggshells.” She pulls it all off in such an effortless way, it’s astounding. "Tell Me How You Really Feel" is an easy album to listen to and love.

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FAN – Barton’s Den

Poets write novels. Painters often sculpt. Actors direct. Engineers get into crafting. Sidestepping, moving from one world into an adjacent world, can spark something new. Meric Long, guitarist and vocalist of the (awesome) band the Dodos, took a break from his main project after the death of his father and the birth of his first kid. He inherited two synthesizers from his father, instruments that he had no experience with, and found himself playing around on those, writing songs and fragments here and there, which later coalesced into this project, FAN’s debut album, “Barton’s Den.”

Reviewing the first FAN singles, “Fire” and “Disappear,” last year, I mentioned that those songs displayed the same rough characteristics and shape of some Dodos songs, and that’s true for a lot of “Barton’s Den.” If you dig the Dodos, you will love this record—Meric Long has a great voice, and he’s a really good songwriter (good melodies, awesome sense of dynamics in his songs—they’re almost never boring, they’re always shifting and moving). Even if you’ve never heard the Dodos, this record is worth your time: it’s like Long’s sensibilities transposed into the sounds you’d expect to hear on a Handsome Furs or Of Montreal album.

“Barton’s Den” has hopeful and elegiac songs, and songs like “Velour,” more combative, kinetic, questioning (also features some neon-bright, arcing guitar lines from Long). The album feels a lot like a snapshot from a time in someone’s life: full of different moods and impulses, rendered in vivid music.

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Black Moth Super Rainbow – Panic Blooms

The heat wave came and never abated. The streets became sludge; you could drive your car maybe two or three feet, but that was it, the tires melted, then it was the bare bones of the rims, exposed. Trees wilted or burst into flame. A flock of odd crows dove straight into a river—you could hear the noise as they entered, witnesses said—and did not come up again. There was no more grass to speak of. Broods of insects never before seen by humans emerged and thrived, everywhere, walking leeches, the mega mosquito, many other types that bore no resemblance to known species. Everything was waiting for cessation, but it all just kept going.

(Black Moth Super Rainbow’s new album, Panic Blooms, is beautiful and bizarre, a mutation and adaptation of soft-focus electronic psychedelia, so warped and altered that it’s a new thing, a voice coming from every direction, couched in alien waves of sound).

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Vexxed – Thank You Sooo Much

Looking at Shibe Park from the rooftops

Not all music comes from feelings of desire, happiness, anger, jealousy, fear, or sadness: some of it emerges from the sweet hazy sweetness of torpor. Vexxed specialize in that vibe. The songs on their EP, Thank You Sooo Much, all sit in that sweet spot of up-all-night punchiness, where exhaustion still feels pleasant and your perception and attention is stretched in unexpected ways. “Mood Ring,” the lead track, is so, so good, a languorous little jam that ends with a sparkling guitar riff. “Heavens Away Team” is likewise catchy and fun, a pretty slow-motion tune that references the (terrifyingly creepy and sad) Heaven’s Gate cult deaths. “Gimme the Money,” the last track on the album, is part Junior Boys, part Low, and part late-night karaoke dare, a weirdly lurching and beautiful track, a good example of the band’s aesthetic. The whole EP is immediately catchy and impressive, and it’ll be interesting to see what Vexxed do next.

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Chris Reimer – Hello People

Chris Reimer played guitar in Women, one of the best bands of the last fifteen years, and was a touring guitarist for the Dodos. His guitar playing in Women was remarkable and he helped make that band's sound what it was: sharp, imperious, and weird. Reimer passed away in his sleep in February 2012.

Besides his work in Women and the Dodos, Reimer had also worked on his own compositions, instrumental jams, drone pieces, and soft, hazy loops. "Hello People" is a collection of his solo work and it's a wonderful listen. You can hear the creativity and imagination he brought to Women in these songs, and his customarily expressive playing. "Waving Goodbye From a Tree" is a fantastic example--it starts with a blizzard of notes on the guitar (very much in the tone of what he used to play in Women) that dissolves into calmer acoustic plucking and the kind of prickly strumming that you hear on early Microphones songs. Drums enter. It all builds to a culmination about two minutes in, a plaintive and searching song. The album has a handful of songs, like "Waving Goodbye.." and "About," "Hongdi" and "Mustard Gas" that have more traditional song structures (even some gentle singing on "About"), and others that are more free-form or experimental, like "Malchhovish" or "Arpeg" (which sounds like a kind of pastoral Aphex Twin), along with some intensely pretty drones (like "Beneluxx"). It's clear from the album that Reimer was an endlessly curious artist and he had the talent to pursue all of these different modes. "Hello People" is a beautiful collection of his work. You can find out more about Reimer and his work at the Chris Reimer Legacy Fund.

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