Posts tagged ‘Shoegaze’

GREAT EXPECTATIONS | The Radio Dept.

Artwork & Words by David D. Robbins Jr.
Upcoming Album: Clinging to a Scheme •  Release Date: April 21, 2010

The Radio Dept. has been around for almost two decades. The music on their breakthrough album, 2006’s “Pet Grief”, was a euphoric night on barbiturates — sounds filling the cloudy ether with piano and synth vibrating out to infinity with tings and pings like sonar pulses. It was composer Erik Satie gone indie. Paradoxically, their sound was like some sunnier version of the shoegaze that was to follow. A precursor to Her Space Holiday. Gliding over the top of the band’s instrumentation was lead singer Johan Duncanson, crooning brilliantly or naively with a beautiful and stylish nonchalance. His lyrics are barely distinguishable over the music at times, his phrases falling so easily into the music like a sleepy head into a fat down pillow. The Radio Dept. use soft drum machine beats, whispered vocals, and dreamy sythn-strings to color their electronic music in the warm atmospherics of 80s-sounding pop — like some combination of New Order, Sea and the Cake, and the lo-fi fuzz of My Bloody Valentine.

Most of the reviews of “Pet Grief” were glowing, and needless to say, placed a great weight of expectation on the band’s next album. So what did this Swedish band do? Rush out a half-baked, mediocre effort? They waited and created for four years, before  announcing the release of a 10-song LP entitled, “Clinging to a Scheme”, set for an April 21, 2010 debut.

Like their previous efforts, the tracks on this newest record are built on layering and atmospheric electronica. The music is still clean and harmonious. But The Radio Dept. have added a few more layers: The grooves are more hypnotic, the textures prettier, the sounds more dense. “Clinging to a Scheme” finds the band breaking away from the more conventional song progressions. The Radio Dept.  created tracks that grow organically — taking listeners into unexpectedly beautiful arias of ambiance and height, like you’d find with Joy Division, TheThe or The Smiths.

The second track on the album, “Heaven’s On Fire”, begins with an old recording of Sonic Youth lead singer Thurston Moore talking to a group of kids about corporations overtaking the music industry. He asks a question, and then answers it himself: “When youth culture becomes monopolized by big business, what are the youth to do? I think we should destroy the bogus capitalist process that is destroying youth culture.” The song transitions into jangly pop guitar and piano, while Duncanson croons away. The song “Never Follow Suit” rolls gorgeously with a rhythm that sounds like Saint Etienne’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”. Check out the track “David” below to get a taste of just how infectious this band can be:

“Asleep for twenty years with this feeling, / but I was on your side. / And he’s spent some 20 years with this feeling, / of being lost inside. / He was lost inside, of his mind. / Just like I’ve been holding on for all our lives. / All our lives.”

“Clinging to a Scheme” is the band’s third full length album and will be released through Labrador Records. Check out the proposed album cover when you get the chance. It appears to be a video still shot from Vietnam, where American soldiers are “shotgunning” marijuana hits out of their guns barrels. The band consists of Duncanson, Martin Carlberg on guitar and Daniel Tjäder on keyboards.

The Radio Dept. “David”

VIDEO BELOW: The Radio Dept. “Heaven’s On Fire”

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March 8, 2010 at 6:03 am Leave a comment

BOY WITH THE YELLOW BALLOON | Twin Shadow

IT’S BROOKLYN, BABY: There are a number of trends going on here. First, the Brooklyn music bonanza is in full effect. (Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear, Yeasayer, Battles, School of Seven Bells, Dead Leaf Echo, TV on the Radio, Glass Ghost, The Antlers and now Twin Shadow). Second, the moniker is officially back. Third, a number of one-man bands are making waves.

Twin Shadow is yet another good reason to love this trend of apartment-dwelling melody makers. It seems like anybody with a mic, and a recorder or Fruity Loops and a computer can now home-cook a lo-fi stew. No need for accompaniment. No need for advertising. Just light the match and watch the music of these bedroom bards spread like wildfire across the digital landscape. Singers like Cody ChesnuTT made it happen — recording slick soulful tracks like “Serve This Royalty” at his home on a four-track tape recorder for the gorgeous self-released “The Headphone Masterpiece”. Then there are the one-man bands like Washed Out or Toro y Moi — winning over fans with their own brand of chill grooves and pop-based electronica — mostly hyped by music bloggers and well-timed single leaks.

If you like shoe-gazey soft melodies, oft-whispered or high falsetto vocals, then Twin Shadow (aka George Lewis Jr.) is for you. Or if you like The Postal Service or Letting Up Despite Great Faults, then keep Lewis on your radar. There’s also something very TV on the Radio about Twin Shadow. Hints of David Bowie. Maybe it’s the doubled-up harmonic vocal tracks. Or maybe it’s the strange lyrical sense of a phrase like, “Follow the boy with the yellow balloon” in the song “Yellow Balloon” (right click, open link in new tab).

“Castles in the Snow” is awash in nostalgia — with high falsetto vocals, a bouncy guitar riff, synth, hand claps and drum loop. Lewis uses basic building blocks to great effect. Twin Shadow will be coming out with a LP soon via Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor’s Terrible Records. Until then, listen to the track below or go to Lewis’ MySpace Page to hear his demos “Forget” and “When We’re Dancing”.

Here are some of the lyrics from “Castles in the Snow”: “Here’s all I know, / Your checkered room and your velvet bow. / Your Elvis song in my ears. / That moonlit voice that I hear … / You’re my favorite daydream. / I’m your famous nightmare. / Everything I see looks like gold. / Everything I touch goes cold. / Castles in the snow.” – Words by David D. Robbins Jr.

Twin Shadow “Castles in the Snow”

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February 6, 2010 at 6:03 am Leave a comment

BELOW THE SURFACE | Phantogram

EARFUL OF DIAMONDS: You may not know what they’re called, but you’ve probably seen a phantogram before. A phantogram is an optic distortion that works on how the eyes use perspective to interpret depth-of-field, changing 2-D images into 3-D. I’m guessing Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel, of the band Phantogram, view their music in a similar way.

At first listen, their songs sound sweet, with catchy shoegaze hooks, electronic samples, loops, strong beats, and even pretty female vocals like Brooklyn’s School of Seven Bells. But underneath is a band rougher, darker, mysterious and more textured than their New York counterparts. This Saratoga Springs duo are the things that go bump in the night. Phantogram are one-night stands, dark alleyways, hypodermic needles, the broken-hearted longing for lost loves at 3 a.m., the dying.

But the band isn’t simply sullen. That’s part of the illusion. Phantogram create thick, seductive moods with nuance and subtlety, transitioning beats throughout single tracks that can feel both light as a breeze — and as heavy as the air in your lungs on a snowy midnight in the city. “Mouthful of Diamonds” (MP3 link), the first song off their newest 11-track album, “Eyelid Movies” (perhaps a nod to the movie Un Chien Andalou), is one of my favorite songs of this young year — with a hypnotic beat, computerized-sounding horn bleeps, and serious reverb-synths encircling these lyrics:

“Wake up, you’re getting high on your own supply
Oh baby, you’re still alive, when you could have died.
Woe is not around because of you / You know I’m not around because of you.
You’ve got a mouthful of diamonds / And a pocket full of secrets.”

Carter also does his own vocals, speak-singing with aquatic effect, as he does on the cut “Running from the Cops” (YouTube video). It begins with a hip-hop beat, lingering synths and golden, ghostly choral melodies from Barthel. It’s a sinister sounding European-styled groove track that sounds more like an orchestra than just two musicians tinkering in a barn.

Yes, believe it or not, Phantogram recorded these songs in an upstate New York barn from 2007-’08 , using low-cost equipment — that gave the album its naturally lo-fi sound. The band recently signed with Barsuk Records (the home of David Barzan, Death Cab For Cutie and The Wooden Birds). You can pre-order “Eyelid Movies” (US release date Feb. 9, 2010) at the website.

Note: This is a band for fans of School of Seven Bells, Massive Attack, Portishead, My Bloody Valentine, Goldfrapp, and Metric.

Phantogram “When I’m Small”

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January 17, 2010 at 9:57 pm Leave a comment

ICY GAZE | Snow In Mexico

Snow In Mexico is a band made up of two members, Massimiliano Cruciani  and Andrea Novelli. They make lovely down-tempo shoegaze — and luckily for “their bated breath” readers, you can download their new EP for free at their website.  (Make sure to donate some cash too.) The music caught my ear, and so did the album art. All you American Civil War buffs will immediately recognize the figure on their album cover as none other than Lewis Thornton Powell, one of the men executed for his role in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. (Strangely enough, I have my own copy of the original photo in my computer photo archives. See above.) What that says about the album (or me) is your own guess. There’s something very haunting and modern in the stare of Powell. I saved all the photos on my hard-drive years ago, perhaps for the same reason that this Powell photo appeals to Snow In Mexico: The haunting gaze captured by the photographer is otherworldly. All the photos of the conspiratorial group, taken before hanging, are like that. Snow in Mexico’s music feels  just as chilly as Powell’s stare. They list as influences, on their MySpace page, My Bloody Valentine and Boards of Canada. That is pretty apropos, with the fuzzed out guitar and crackles like white noise. Snow in Mexico have an intricate, nuanced sound for the patient listener. The band’s atmospherics really feel like a cold, snowy day spent indoors staring out the window in contemplation of how beautiful being alone with your thoughts can be. Snow In Mexico have a bright future. Try out these two tracks from their self-titled four-track EP:

Snow In Mexico “You & My Winter”

Snow In Mexico “Velvet”

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November 17, 2009 at 10:12 am Leave a comment

BAND TO WATCH: Letting Up Despite Great Faults

lettingupmain

Odd name, great music: The band’s name is “Letting Up Despite Great Faults.” Think the shoe-gazing  fuzz of Postal Service. Try the song “I Know You’re Drowning, but I’m Tied.” It’s a title Julian Cope would love. This band’s new LP will create a buzz like TheXX has this year. Love the album art. If you want a free, legal download of a song, click here: http://tinyurl.com/yjq8cr7

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November 8, 2009 at 4:22 am Leave a comment


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