:: Painted Zeros - Polar Night ::

I was lucky enough to catch Painted Zeros play a set as a part of 1.21 Gigawatts Festival just this past weekend. Not even two songs into the set and I knew I was watching what would end up being one of the highlights of the day for me. Regrettably, I didn’t pick up a tape before I left for the night but the following day I grabbed a download of the S V A L B A R D EP and it’s been on heavy rotation since.

Polar Night, S V A L B A R D's second track, hits every sweet spot for me. The song quickly fades in and then kicks off with explosive percussion. Katie's guitar work is engaging, not just loud for loudness' sake. There's an edge and harshness in the guitars that seamlessly shifts into otherworldly picking patterns. All of this really stems from the fact that Katie Lau is just a fantastic songwriter. The melodies and chord progressions in this song, and while we're at it the EP in general, are so intelligently written it's hard to ignore them.

The biggest key to this song, however, is its intensity. Nothing here holds back and it really sells the track. Katie delivers every line with passion and aggression and when she spits lines like, “a will to survive fighting a death drive. it’s okay, it’s alright," life feels worth living again. All of this is raging under a thick layer of fuzz and noise as if every element on this track is fighting for attention. It’s rough around the edges but that’s hardly a complaint. It feels necessary at this point.

Black Bell records released S V A L B A R D on tape and you can grab that right here. You can also download the EP for free through the link below.

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:: Los Angeles Police Department - She Came Through (Again) ::

Los Angeles Police Department, aka Ryan Pollie, released the single from his upcoming debut record just 2 days ago, but in that time it’s managed to become one of the few songs I care about now.

She Came Through (Again) is deceptively simple in its presentation. Strumming patterns are straight forward and the vocal melody immediately feels familiar and welcoming. What this track does pack is a strong feeling of intimacy, both in its instrumentation and vocal delivery. It almost feels like you’ve known Ryan all your life and he’s telling you a story here. The verses on this track are short and sweet but they fit the format of the song fantastically.

While stylistically this song follows a rather simple approach, the texture work here should definitely be noted. Acoustic guitar strums play over more subtle, underlying electric elements and the result is an overall sense of warmth. The same ear for subtlety and warmth is applicable to the moments Ryan layers his vocals. The first verse serves as a perfect example in the way the second set of vocals almost feels like a whisper over the first. There are just so many rewarding little details in this song and as they all add up it makes for an extremely enjoyable listen.

Los Angeles Police Department’s self titled record is set to be released September 5th and can be purchased from a few sites. US Tape preorders can be grabbed via Chill Mega Chill while UK/EU orders can be placed through GoldFlakeTapes. If vinyl is your thing, Forged Artifacts will be putting the record out on a 12 inch and you can preorder that here.

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azul toga - song one

azul toga (Jon Clowdus) put out his EP, #1, earlier this year, a collection of hazy, loop based pop tunes. Since its release I’ve found myself regularly revisiting these tracks and they seem to get better the more I listen.

song one, the EP’s opener, layers synthesizers over drum machine beats to create something that still feels lush despite its simplistic structure, and while a song that’s built on synthetic elements could end up cold and sterile, the production here feels warm and even intimate. With music that’s loop based there’s always a risk of coming off impersonal or lazy but with azul toga neither of those worries feel true. There’s still plenty of detail in these loops and the delivery of these tracks feels genuine. The vocals definitely help here, with Jon delivering catchy melodies under a thick layer of reverb. There’s a warmth in his voice too, which fits right in with the rest of the track and fills in the empty spaces perfectly. The repetitive nature of the songs on this EP just never really feels like a problem, likely because Jon hits a sweet spot in track length and the songs never run for longer than they’re worth. You actually feel inclined to listen again as soon as a song is over.

Track and Field Records gave #1 a cassette release which you can find right here. Digital downloads can be found through the link below. 

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Alex G - Boy

At this point I’d be surprised if anyone who reads this would need an introduction to Alex G. Besides the fact that I’ve covered him before, Alex has been steadily releasing quality albums on his bandcamp page for a while now and has amassed a passionate fanbase along the way. DSU, his latest record, is proving to be his biggest so far.

Boy is the closing track on DSU and after repeated listens it proves to be my favorite for a lot of reasons. The lyrics here are a perfect example of how Alex’s seemingly simple lyricism cuts deeper than you’d expect. I’ve mentioned to friends that when Alex sings “Two babies, dangerous and free,” it hits me harder than almost any other point in this song. I’m still not entirely sure why this is the case but the more I return to that lyric the more I’m convinced it’s in the way Alex delivers that line. There’s almost a sense of longing in his voice, a desire to be free. Considering the themes Alex has covered in previous songs, this doesn’t seem too far off. This isn’t to say the rest of this song isn’t powerful. Alex later delivers lines about people you know growing into “static company” and of course the chorus to this track packs a punch too, but Boy definitely shows you that even the storytelling in Alex’s songs can be as powerful as the more clearly stated messages.

All of this ignores the fact that this song features fantastic melodies and some beautiful composition. The piano that plays off of the chord progression is executed perfectly, though beautiful piano work from Alex isn’t anything new. Subtlety is Alex’s biggest strength and it’s really highlighted at moments on Boy when guitars start to layer over each other adding complexity to the seemingly simple instrumental. He’s always had that ear for detail and it’s helped him craft songs that are easy to listen to but are still extremely rewarding under close inspection.

The ending of Boy definitely needs to be acknowledged too. The brief piano outro is cut off suddenly, in a sort of it’s over before you know it way. It actually feels like one of the most important parts of this song, and of DSU as a whole, a call back to some of the statements Alex makes throughout the record. It only makes sense that the album that kicks off asking about what’ll happen “after ur gone” would end before you’d expect.

DSU is available to download now through the link below and if you want a physical copy, Orchid Tapes has done a third (and maybe final) vinyl pressing as well as a cassette. Grab one before it’s too late.

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Bellows - For Rock Dove

Bellows, the songwriting project of Oliver Kalb, dropped Blue Breath earlier this month and since its release I’ve had trouble finding time for other music.

Blue Breath's opening track, For Rock Dove, kicks things off with a sort of highlight reel of what’s to love about this record. Engaging guitars with these small flourishes fueled by hammer ons and pull offs, a strong sense of ambience that lurks behind the instrumentation, tight harmonies (Provided by Gabriell Smith aka Eskimeaux). They’re all present on this song. More importantly, the songs on this record have range and emotional depth. They have high reaching peaks and utilize dynamics in a way that really push their messages. Every song feels like a trip, making the album feel like a journey. The songwriting is consistently strong and at times irresistibly quotable. The catchy chorus in For Rock Dove still packs an emotional punch because of its lyricism and Blue Breath as a whole finds Oliver’s songwriting constantly striking that balance between charming, catchy melodies and hard hitting lyrics. I’d keep writing but I don’t want my words to distract anyone from how beautiful this record is.

Dead Labour is set to release Blue Breath on wax in August but you can preorder it right now through this link. Mutt Tapes did a small cassette run for the record too and you can buy one of those right here. If you want digital, just grab it through Bellows’ bandcamp at the link below.

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TV Girl - Birds Don’t Sing

After a handful of EPs and a mixtape, TV Girl dropped their debut record, French Exit, last week and it’s honestly everything I could have hoped for. They’ve presented us with a collection of breezy, summer tunes with some of the best hooks I’ve heard in a while. Birds Don’t Sing, probably my favorite track off of the new album, serves as a perfect example.

The guitar use here is minimal as TV Girl fills up the space on this track with driving beats, string loops, and subtle synth touches. The result is a beautiful, summery pop tune. The vocal melody is simple but effective, one that’ll likely get stuck in your head after a few listens though you won’t really mind. Seeing as the instrumental for this track is pretty busy, it makes sense that the vocals are more laid back. Along the way odd samples are thrown in and repeated but they never feel out of place. TV Girl has always been good at making really catchy songs with loads of character and this is just a continuation of that.

Birds Don’t Sing is just one of those tracks where everything seems to click perfectly, and thankfully French Exit is filled with those sorts of tracks. Grab an LP or a free download through the link below. They’ve also got some merch to accompany the new record which looks great too.

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Gracie - Spilt Milk

Andrew Theodore (Gracie) hit me up with this track a little less than two weeks ago, mentioning that it was his first with a full band. The result of this change is almost immediate and this track has been on heavy rotation since.

Spilt Milk is beautifully layered and textured. Bright synths kick things off while more hushed percussion buzzes below. Andrew’s vocals are soulful and so incredibly infectious that it’s hard not to get entranced by this song. It only makes sense that with the full band comes what feels like Gracie’s biggest track. The instrumentation here feels expansive and wide. It’s a far reaching song that feels more dynamic than Andrew’s previous work, though that’s not to say his previous releases weren’t great.

I’m really excited to see where Gracie goes with this lineup. Grab a download of Spilt Milk through the link below and if you haven’t yet, listen through the older stuff on Gracie’s bandcamp

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Mitski - First Love / Late Spring

Earlier this month New York based Mitski dropped the first single from her full length record coming this fall on Double Double Whammy. First Love / Late Spring is nothing short of a trip with its shifts in mood and energy.

What begins as a stripped back, minimal piece of music suddenly fleshes itself out into a spiraling and colorful song that never loses focus. Instrumentation is expanded, keyboards arpeggiated, and vocals layered until the song reaches this massive sound. Of course, the vocal performance is one of the strongest components of this track. Mitski’s voice has a certain charm and strength to it, not to mention how smooth it is. Her vocals glide over the keyboards and, as the song progresses, start to layer to create some gorgeous harmonies. There’s so much to love here that you’re going to have to give it a few listens before you can fully appreciate what’s going on.

There’s no word on a preorder for the record yet but it’d be wise to keep your eyes on the DDW site for updates. I’m expecting great things.

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Spelling Bee - Cat Or Wall

Spelling Bee’s Caterwaul was released toward the end of 2012, well over a year ago. I didn’t discover the record until some time in 2013 but felt the time had passed to write about it, so I just enthusiastically shared it with friends. Come 2014 and the record is still on heavy rotation and it’s simply become too important to me to not write about.

Caterwaul's opening track, and sorta title track, serves as the best introduction to this band seeing as it highlights everything I love about them. Nearly everything about this record is oddball. Mabel Suen’s guitar work shifts between peculiar leads and heavily distorted chords in an almost erratic way. What makes all of this even more rewarding is how Joseph Hess’s drumming matches every subtle quirk in the guitar playing. What might come off as sloppy on an initial listen reveals itself to be planned and tight after a few plays.

Mabel’s vocals seem to be at odds with her own guitar, though I don’t mean this as an insult. Both sounds are fighting to overcome each other and the result is an extremely fierce vocal presence, much more fierce than what was found on Spelling Bee’s (still great) previous record. There’s strength and energy and a delightful sense of weirdness all over Caterwaul. Just listen to that saxophone break that serves as a transition half way through Cat Or Wall.

The vinyl pressing of Caterwaul (on Already Dead Tapes) already sold out but you can grab a CD copy through Pancake Productions right here. Alternatively, grab a download through the link below.

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Steve Sobs - heavy heart (feat. nadia)

Eric Littmann, who’s also released music under the name Phantom Power, just dropped his debut full length under the Steve Sobs moniker. From start to finish it’s a wonderful record but its title track, heavy heart, stands out seeing as it’s equal parts dreamy and infectious.

Guitar loops slowly fade over field recordings as we’re presented with this pretty and colorful groove. Eric’s vocals float over the soft, almost pillowy track he’s created as he offers his lyrics with a sort of hazy delivery. It’s a delivery that plays off of the instrumentation perfectly, really making things click. When the track opens up after the first verse, things just keep getting brighter.

Nadia’s vocals come in on the hook and intertwine with Eric’s backing vocals flawlessly and everything just feels right with the world. It’s such a catchy chorus but it also feels really sincere and sweet. There’s honestly nothing else I could ask for from this song. It seems to nail everything on the head.

Heavy Heart was released just this Tuesday on Waaga Records. Grab a digital or cassette copy through the link below. It’ll be worth every penny.

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