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Tag: electrogaze

Show Review: TOBACCO + The Stargazer Lilies + Oscillator Bug [Lincoln Hall; Chicago; 9/17/14]

There are some things that, no matter how hard you try, you simply can’t un-see. Images are burned into your brain for all of eternity, in many cases haunting you and giving you nightmares. It’s the sort of stuff where you want to look away, but for whatever reason are unable to do so. I had one of these such experiences at Lincoln Hall this past Wednesday night with a triple bill show of Oscillator Bug, The Stargazer Lilies and TOBACCO. Let me tell you the story of how it destroyed me mentally.


Opening the night were Chicago’s own Oscillator Bug, who have been on this tour for a little over a week but are just now getting around to playing a hometown show in celebration of their debut album Bursts of the Million. While they’re technically a quartet when performing live, pretty much all of their fractured songs and compositions are built by frontman Zaid Maxwell, who started the project because he had these sounds and melodies in his head that wouldn’t go away and wouldn’t fit with any other band or project he was working on. The results are something truly unique, though most people describe Oscillator Bug’s sound as synth psych-pop. You’ve got to find some way to sum it up concisely. To my ears though, it’s more like a sonic assault. Songs overflow with more noise than often feels sensible, yet there’s still a clear melody and strong beats propelling everything forward. While there’s a central groove to most of their songs, sound effects and synths buzz around your head at all angles to the point where sometimes it can feel like there’s a little ADHD going on with too much to try and pay attention to. Of course it’s things like that which make the record worth repeat listens, mostly so you can pick up on everything that’s going on. Meanwhile in a live setting the assault extends beyond the mere auditory and into the visual, as lights surround the band on all sides and are consistently changing in time with the music. They’re not tremendously bright though, as ample attention is also given to the projection screen behind them, which shows a variety of psychedelic imagery. The band is a highly functioning machine while performing, and Maxwell plays ringleader throughout. I’d best describe his demeanor on stage as “staccato,” which is really to say he’s moving at a mile a minute, whether that’s in his halting vocal delivery or switching back and forth between a guitars, synths, pedals and other sound manipulators. He’s a one-man wrecking ball, and his three bandmates are right there at the core because there’s so much to do. Overall, Oscillator Bug’s 25 minute set was extremely high energy, fun and just a bit nuts to experience. More than a few people standing near me commented about how impressed they were after the band wrapped up, and in no way do I disagree with that sentiment.

Buy Bursts of the Million from Dymaxion Groove


Things got a little different with The Stargazer Lilies’ performance, but not in a weird or uncomfortable way. It was simply a sonic shift from the technicolor psych of Oscillator Bug into a world shrouded in muted tones and drones. The New York-based trio powered through a 40 minute set that was heavy on ambient and shoegaze melodies. It was glorious and beautiful and loud, which is really just as it should be. One of the main things I came to realize over the course of their set was that they have the word “stargazer” in their name partly because their music intends to be more uplifting than downtrodden (naturally, it’s also a type of flower). You may be inclined to gaze at the ground out of pure genre habit, but pay close enough attention to the way their songs are structured and do what you can to discern some lyrics, and suddenly there’s this positive harmony that shines through the cacophony. That’s a somewhat rare quality for a band like this to have, which is probably why they’ve been steadily on the rise over the course of the last year or so. There are two small areas in which their live show could use some improvement, and those are with the presentation and vocals. I understand that with most ambient drone-style performances the crowd is supposed to let their minds drift and internalize just about everything, but those not fully entranced may find the band’s deep lighting and projected images to be a bit boring. They’re not hyperactive like Oscillator Bug, nor are they danceable and showing crazy videos like TOBACCO (more on that in a minute). Then again, if you’re the filling in that band sandwich, there’s very little you could do that wouldn’t be perceived as boring. Aside from that, Kim Field does great work on the bass, and is equally talented behind the microphone – when you can hear her, of course. Guitars overpower everything in this style of music, but the vocals are there to function as their own gorgeous instrument and if they’re not properly mixed they’ll be completely drowned out. Field’s voice was barely audible during the songs, and the couple of times she attempted to engage in stage banter it was nearly impossible to hear and make out what she was saying. Outside of those couple of things, it was a highly enchanting set.

Buy We Are the Dreamers from Graveface/Bandcamp


The evening’s headliner was TOBACCO, but it might make more sense to call the guy “wacky tobacky” based on how much strange and offbeat humor played into his live set. Thoroughly aware that having a crowd watching a guy behind a table of buttons, knobs and laptops while lights flash can be pretty boring, one of the main elements in TOBACCO’s live show are videos projected on a screen behind him. He started his set by showing a clip of “The Jerry Springer Show,” which included a hilarious story that a guest told about finding his fiancee cheating with his best friend. From there, it was all about the weird, wild, perverse and strange, set to pounding beats and highly manipulated vocals. If you’ve heard of TOBACCO and maybe even heard his music, then that only tells one small part of this guy’s aesthetic. Music videos for songs like “Streaker” and “Super Gum” (both very NSFW) give you a much better idea of the visual and auditory madness that’s rules his set. I mean, that second video features re-edited video from an actual porno from the 80s wherein people have sex with a strange, female version of E.T.! Any newer videos that were shown during the performance, including “Streaker,” may have been shot within the last few years but had just the right tint and grain to make it look like a product of the 70s or 80s to keep with a running aesthetic and motif in the world of TOBACCO. So what you do during the set is watch the (mostly) psychologically damaging videos while dancing your ass off. Part of me wants to detail all of the figurative war crimes that my eyes bore witness to, but it’s probably better if you don’t know, just in case you want to discover and explore this box of horrors yourself. So is the TOBACCO live show worth your while? I’d liken the experience to a car crash – it may look nasty, and there’s certainly the possibility that people were hurt, but through whatever morbid Curiosity you can’t help but want to look. The man reaches into the dark recesses of your human inclination and plays around in the blood and pus. You’ll walk away feeling violated and maybe even a little offended, but some part of you also loved it and craves more. It’s incredible how close our sensations of pain and pleasure are to one another.

Buy Ultima II Massage from the Rad Cult Store

EP Review: How to destroy angels_ – An omen_ [Columbia]



It seems like a much longer period of time, but it’s only been about 2.5 years since we last heard from How to destroy angels_. What has the band been doing in that gap? Well, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have been creating the soundtracks to The Social Network and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo for starters. Progress with Htda has been slow to say the least, but at least there’s a good excuse as to why. Their 2010 self-titled debut EP wasn’t exactly a bold statement of originality, but there were some solid starting points that they could have worked from to build something fantastic and wholly worthwhile. What’s surprising about the new An omen_ EP is that they seem to have forgotten about that earlier material completely. You’re not going to turn this on and confuse it for another band, but subtle changes have been made to their approach that change your expectations for the project. Most specifically, they seem to be moving away from energetic songs with danceable rhythms that are ripe for remixing, and instead working with calm but very dark atmospherics that feel much more emotionally draining. For better comparison, the first EP was like Nine Inch Nails hit singles “The Hand That Feeds” or “Only,” while this new EP more crosses NIN’s Ghosts record and Reznor’s work with fellow Htda bandmate Atticus Ross on the soundtrack for The Social Network. So you’ll not get anything as fun as “Fur Lined” or The Knife-like as “BBB” appeared to be. The closest thing to a single An omen_ has is opening track “Keep it together,” which rolls past on a minimalist arrangement that’s one part skittering beat and another part bass vibration. The song title is the chorus hook, which gets chanted over and over by Mariqueen Maandig and Reznor until it sticks with you. Just because it’s the most memorable song on the EP doesn’t mean it’s the best though, because that honor goes to what immediately follows it – the seven minute “Ice Age.” The song takes this band to an entirely new place, but filters it so well most people won’t even notice. Peel the track down to solely the banjo and Maandig’s vocal, and you’ve got a very slight country song. With percussion, loops, static and electric guitar it becomes an ambient and precariously balanced musical thinkpiece that subtly challenges our preconceptions about this band and our expectations from Reznor.

By contrast, the rest of An omen_ falls into very familiar territory. “The sleep of reason produces monsters” and “The loop closes” are both primarily instrumental tracks, though Reznor does chant, “The beginning is the end and it keeps coming around again,” a bunch of times in the final 90 seconds of the latter song. Those words may remind NIN fans of the song “The Beginning of the End” from the Year Zero record. There is no direct correlation to it, but it serves as a good reminder of Reznor’s fixation on endings and beginnings. As he pushes his old band and previous work into the background and tries to start fresh, it’s nearly impossible to avoid looking back and making comparisons. This unending loop is both a help and a hindrance to How to destroy angels_, because unless they try something completely wild and unexpected, there’s a built in fan base both latching on and harshly judging at the same time. If you’ve been having trouble liking Reznor’s post-NIN work, this new EP isn’t going to win you over. Though they don’t sound too similar to one another, the two EPs Htda have put out so far share one common flaw: Maandig’s vocals. She doesn’t have a bad voice and can certainly hit all the notes as needed, but she falls short when it comes to injecting emotion into the songs. Most often she comes off like an actor that gets cast in the wrong role. These are dark, grimy and brooding arrangements, and her lilting voice has an innocence that doesn’t quite get to that same level. Reznor’s already proven himself in that regard, which is why his less frequent vocal work more often than not shows how great this band could be when firing on all cylinders. Since Reznor is married to her, Maandig isn’t likely to leave or get kicked out of the band, so it’s best just to accept her shortcomings and hope that with time she improves. The band’s debut full length set for 2013 would be a great place to start.

How to destroy angels – Keep it together

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Album Review: Crystal Castles – (III) [Fiction/Casablanca/Universal Republic]



Crystal Castles make songs that are so beat and synth intensive, it’s tempting to think that the duo just sits in front of a computer and pastes a bunch of samples together underneath Alice Glass’ vocals. That dark wave sound has served them well through two full lengths, as they’ve also gone from a small and obscure act to powerful stars of the electronica world in a very short time period. Their success has been a bit perplexing too, because of how experimental and weird their music can get. If you listen to a lot of what’s popular in EDM these days, whether you include or exclude dubstep, most everything is built on similar principles and structures that keep ears pleased and bodies moving. Crystal Castles defy that logic by embracing the abrasive and muddled. They turn left when expectation tells them to go right. The critical acclaim that’s been heaped on their last two efforts Crystal Castles and (II) is understandable because they stand out in innovative and exciting ways. When Glass breaks out her high pitched scream and is subsequently drowned in a digital bath, it’s noticeably uncomfortable but great once you get used to it. In today’s hyperactive music scene, most don’t invest the time to adapt their tastes, so that so many have done so for this group is in part a testament to their excellence. Now we’re blessed with their third full length, appropriately titled (III), and it continues to try and take this odd musical conversation to a new level.

First of all, Glass and her counterpart Ethan Kath claim to have traded in their computers and gear while in the studio so as to step out of their comfort zones and into fresh concepts. Such a gamble winds up doing very little for them, because from note one of opening track and first single “Plague” you can’t confuse these songs for anything but Crystal Castles. Part of it is Glass’ distinct vocal approach, her yelps so covered in distortion that you can rarely understand a word. The other part is Kath’s staccato synth work, which is equally distinctive. So with or without their old gear and computer assistance they still find those same sonic paths, though there’s a certain focus that comes into play on this new record that we’ve never experienced with them before. Like a live band that’s just starting out, the more times they do something, the better they get at it. Three albums in, they know the drill and are now efforting to perfect it. The problem with that is their innovative tricks are no longer so innovative, and popular music has caught up with those sensibilities. In other words, Crystal Castles run the risk of becoming irrelevant if they don’t continue to adapt. For now, (III) streamlines what they’ve already got going, and it makes for their most easily digestible record to date.

Of course just because the album goes down smooth doesn’t mean it’s some cheery dance record you can get euphoric with in a club somewhere. On the contrary, beneath the glossy exterior of these songs are deeply troubled and disturbing lyrics about genocide, disease, corruption and oppression. It’s near impossible to understand most of what’s being said thanks to filters and distortion, but technically speaking it’s there. It begs the question – if Alice Glass makes some important statements about our world but nobody can make out what she’s saying, do we really care? From a different perspective, if we could make out every word, would it change how we listen to this record? Well, when the words can’t convey a clear message, the music itself does. “Wrath of God” comes across as the title suggests, as does “Violent Youth” and “Child I Will Hurt You.” Songs like “Pale Flesh” and “Mercenary” are witchy and wrought with a feeling of dread. Even the songs that are easiest on the ears like “Kerosene” and “Affection” carry with them a sense of despondency that’s not exactly charming. So though (III) isn’t as instrumentally experimental and challenging as the band’s previous two efforts, their approach and subject matter gets darker and more alien to offset it. The trade-off turns out to be not worth as much as you might expect, suggesting that maybe now is the time Crystal Castles need to really sit down and figure out how they’re going to proceed from here. The money is reasonably good and their popularity continues to rise, so maybe that will blind them from the truth that their novelty is starting to wear thin. The quality of what they’re offering can’t be considered poor by any stretch of the imagination, but you can see the sword of Damocles hanging above their heads and the winds shifting to some crazier and more fun EDM acts. Perhaps that’s the real reason why this record is so foreboding.

Crystal Castles – Plague
Crystal Castles – Wrath of God

Crystal Castles – Affection

Buy (III) from Amazon

Album Review: School of Seven Bells – Ghostory [Vagrant/Ghostly]



One of the first things you’ll hear mentioned in any press about School of Seven Bells surrounding their new album Ghostory is that they’re down a member. After two albums as a trio of Benjamin Curtis (ex-Secret Machines), Alejandra Deheza and Claudia Deheza (ex-On!Air!Library!), Claudia abruptly left the band in the middle of a 2010 tour suporting their last full length Disconnect From Desire. There was no official explanation given for her exit, but it’s very possible that the romantic relationship between Benjamin and Alejandra left Claudia feeling like a third wheel both personally and professionally. Soldiering on without her certainly leaves a twin-sized hole in the band’s sound, as the intertwining vocal harmonies of the two sisters were one of SVIIB’s defining characteristics. As a means of offsetting such changes, the duo uses vocal overdubs and multitracking to keep things stable, even as the overall style of their music continues to evolve as well.

Ghostory is at its core a concept album, though you might be wise to simply take it at face value rather than closely analyze plot and characters. As the album’s title suggests, there are plenty of ghosts floating around in these songs, and they haunt the main character of Lafaye in both a positive and negative way. They aren’t literal ghosts but figurative ones, as our memories of people and places and strong emotional events can stay with us and haunt us for much of our lives. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that many of the songs are thematically dark, about predators and toxic people that we’ve all mistakenly become friends or lovers with at times. Our judgments are not always perfect. “Low Times” feels fitting as the album’s 6.5 minute centerpiece, an insistent and rather bitter track that pushes back against a particularly bad break-up. Similar themes permeate much of the record, though none perhaps moreso than “Scavenger”, where Deheza angrily criticizes her ex with lines like, “I made you feel something because you could feel nothing.” And though it is never officially spelled out for you, a couple tracks are informed or at least partly influenced by Claudia’s departure from the band. Listening to opening track and first single “The Night”, lyrics such as “The light of day gives me no relief/because I see you in everything” and “You have my arms, you have my legs” seem to reference the physical and mental connections that twins share. Press materials for the album mention that Ghostory is as much about Lafaye’s journey as it is the band’s, so of course making such connections are about as obvious as they can get without somebody spelling it out for you.

As much as SVIIB’s journey the last couple years has been about loss, listening to Ghostory you understand it has also been about growth and strengthening perceived weaknesses. Somehow they seem to have gotten better in spite of everything, as the new album is their most cohesive and exploratory to date. Their first two records Alpinisms and Disconnect From Desire took on gothic synth-pop with the sort of vigor reserved for a band like Depeche Mode in their heyday while also drawing accurate references to shoegaze and My Bloody Valentine. There’s still a lot of that on the new album, but they’re also bringing in a heavier electronica influence to make their songs more beat-heavy and dancefloor ready. The choruses and hooks are better than ever too. If you thought SVIIB’s music was ripe for clubs before, don’t be surprised if they recruit some friends and unleash a remix record several months or a year down the road. Tracks like “White Wind” and “Lafaye” are just two standout moments of a handful best experienced in a dark room with a pulsating light show and bodies writhing up against one another. But in case all of that wasn’t enough, Ghostory wraps up with “When You Sing”, an 8.5 minute thrill ride that stands right next to the even longer “Sempiternal-Amaranth” from Alpinisms as a band-defining moment. Whether their songs are 3 minutes or 10, School of Seven Bells are always careful to not let a melody go beyond its expiration date.

2008 was the year School of Seven Bells toured with M83. The two bands shared something of a sonic bond then, and now a few years later they have even more in common. There are moments on Ghostory that would be right at home on M83’s highly acclaimed 2011 double album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, and vice versa. That says something about the evolution of both bands. Heavy reliance on shoegaze textures and hazy vocal performances/lyrics have given way to extremely clean production, up-front and clear vocals, along with a greater openness and warmth to the lyrics than ever before. The fog is gone and we’re now left with the realization there was an even greater band being obscured by it. In spite of all they’ve been through the last couple years, SVIIB are blossoming rather than retreating. They’ve always been meticulous in crafting their songs, but Ghostory is the first time that Benjamin and Alejandra have truly collaborated in the writing and composition of a record – something they used to do separately. The results are right there across 9 beautiful and darkly fun tracks that function best as a defining statement of what this band is all about. Hopefully working their magic and putting out this excellent third record won’t come back to haunt them when they try to settle in and make a fourth.

School of Seven Bells – The Night
School of Seven Bells – Lafaye

Buy Ghostory from Amazon

Album Review: Twin Sister – In Heaven [Domino]


Most bands arrive at our doorsteps fully formed. That is to say, lead-in single or not, the first major release from a majority of bands is their debut full length. The material on it is often culled from years worth of early demos, the tracks that got the band noticed in the first place. Most artists live or die based upon how that first record is received. Yet there are a select few that choose to forego releasing a full length right off the bat, instead dipping their toes in the proverbial musical waters by unleashing a smaller EP first. If you’re a band like Voxtrot, you put out two EPs before getting around to a whole album. There was a lesson to be learned from Voxtrot’s example, where they earned loads of hype via by releasing small sets of songs at once, but then fell flat on their faces when it came time to extend that out to something bigger and more traditional (even if the album is a “dying format”). The EP just works much better for some bands. Enter Twin Sister, one of those bands solely defined by the EPs to their name. The first was “Vampires With Dreaming Kids”, unleashed in 2008 right on the verge of the “Twilight” craze. It did earn the band some healthy buzz, but last year’s “Color Your Life” EP served them even better, boosted by the band’s best track to date “All Around and Away We Go”. That last EP also brought them interest from some larger indie labels, and they struck a deal with Domino to release their debut full length “In Heaven”. So does the band come away clean in their transition from EPs to albums? To start, they’re certainly faring better than Voxtrot did.

Technically speaking, Twin Sister were never a lo-fi band, but the audio quality of their EPs was far from perfect. They were most likely working on a shoestring budget both times. With decent financing for “In Heaven”, there’s a notable difference in quality that reflects positively on the band. Such crispness brings out qualities in the music you wouldn’t have caught before, and that’s particularly true when synths are one of your main instruments. Singer Andrea Estella’s vocals get the biggest boost out of it, her high-pitched and lush songbird pipes get pushed to the forefront and take the reins, keeping you invested in every song even when it might not be prudent to do so. The band also learned a thing or two about economy, stepping away from any of the longer 6 and 7 minute space out sessions on the “Color Your Life” EP and instead averaging out around 3-3.5 minutes across the entire album, never making it to the 5 minute mark once. That’s perfectly fine, actually – they use most of the tracks to experiment just a touch while the more manageable track lengths give them greater commercial viability. That they’re able to add a few more quirks to their more traditional bedroom pop sound helps them to stand out just a bit more from their peers, even if not everything they try works. Still, you can hear the influence of a band like Broadcast in the bombastic “Spain”, while “Bad Street” goes almost straight for the 80s electro stylings of Blondie. Sprinkle a little 80s R&B in with the duet “Stop”, a little alternatve universe shoegaze via “Kimmi in a Rice Field” and a touch of Sterolab-ish odd pop courtesy of “Gene Ciampi” and you’ve got a record filled with fascinating curios.

Delightful as it may be to listen to, the one thing that “In Heaven” truly lacks is any sense of consistency. They happily journey from a more spacey dark wave number like opener “Daniel” into the sensuous R&B of “Stop” without blinking an eye or caring how well the two blend together. Truth is, that doesn’t make for a bad combination, nor does much on this record feel markedly out of place, but that’s probably due to the effortless but key vocals from Estella and bandmate Eric Cardona. Also the instruments stay largely the same, often some form of synth-guitar combination with beats that tend to be more programmed than performed. Think of Twin Sister as if they were this really great cover band, running the gamut with a mixture of popular favorites across four decades, every attempt accomplished with the same set of tools. Not everything works out to perfection, but 8 or 9 times out of ten they birth something far more impressive than it has any right to be. What is Twin Sister’s sound then? If you consulted their first two EPs, they were relatively well-defined and cohesive statements pushing a spacey, retro electro-pop aesthetic. “In Heaven” breaks away from that mold save for “Luna’s Theme” and presents a whole lot of other avenues the band might take. Given how well they tackle that spread of ideas, the band is now faced with the challenge of regaining focus on their next effort. Any number of stylistic doors have been opened for them as a result of this record, and which one they’ll choose to step through is anybody’s guess.

Twin Sister – Bad Street

Twin Sister – Gene Ciampi

Buy “In Heaven” from Amazon

Album Review: Pictureplane – Thee Physical [Lovepump United]


Did you listen to electronica back in the early 90s? This was the time when artists like Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers were making big waves around the world both for their beats as well as their unique music videos. What made these artists so popular was their ability to not simply rely on synths and other typical electronic textures, but to innovate and incorporate more elements of rock music into the mix. It’s a big reason why you heard “Smack My Bitch Up” or “Busy Child” on alternative rock radio. Unfortunately like so many trends, that sound eventually died out, and that’s part of the reason why Prodigy haven’t put out much worth mentioning in the last several years and why The Chemical Brothers are at the point where the soundtrack to a movie seems like a good idea (to be fair, they did a nice job with the “Hanna” soundtrack). There are still plenty of people nostalgic for that “90s electronica” sound, even whilst chillwave or glo-fi tries to adjust to survive. Considering that 90s garage rock has been having its own resurgence in the last couple years via bands like Yuck and Japandroids, electronica might as well have its turn. Thanks to Pictureplane, that’s more of a reality than ever. The project of Travis Egedy, Pictureplane burst onto the music scene in 2009 via the album “Dark Rift”. Songs like “Goth Star” provided some darker, more interesting twists and turns to the traditional mode of electronic music and pretty much signalled the creation of the subgenre of music known as “witch house”. The new Pictureplane record “Thee Physical” is cut from a similar but by no means the same cloth – commercial accessibility and smarter song structures take precedence, helping to make this one of the more fascinating electro albums so far this year.

The relationship between Pictureplane and the band HEALTH has been one of mutual admiration and friendship it seems, and the result of that has ultimately bettered both acts. For HEALTH’s sake, Pictureplane has served as helper and remixer on their last “DISCO” album, work that actually went a long way towards making the band’s somewhat difficult record a bit easier on the ears. In turn, HEALTH’s Jupiter Keyes played a large role by co-producing to help shape “Thee Physical”‘s sound into something more pop-friendly compared to the last album. There are far more active hooks, melodies that generally flow and loop better, and a stronger balance between the use of samples and live vocals. Egedy handles the vocals on close to every track, though often he’s not alone thanks to a number of quick one-word samples peppered in amongst the beats. With the melodies and beats carefully concocted, Egedy makes better and smarter use of his energetic but ultimately shaky vocals by placing them a touch farther into the background compared to his last album. They’re still remarkably functional and discernible, but without the potential hazard of having them appear weak or generally lacking. Yet in some cases the vocals are essential to make the track work. Opening cut “Body Mod” nearly stalls out until Egedy’s voice kicks in and propels the song in a very forward direction. Elsewhere the samples take free reign while Egedy’s singing plays second fiddle on a track like “Post Physical”, yet it does nothing to harm the song’s commercial appeal.

Not everything on “Thee Physical” works though, and those couple small issues do some remarkable damage to an otherwise solid effort. “Trancegender” contains what’s one of the strongest and most engaging hooks on the entire album, but gets bogged down in an excess of synths and beats all pushing for darkness and atmosphere. A similar darkness prevails on “Black Nails”, but while the track’s mixture of Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode-esque styles is compelling, the multiple layers of beats throw the main melody just a slight bit off-kilter to the point where you feel like it could have been so much more. At least the album is thematically sound, even if the subject matter tends towards the highly sexualized. One glance at the album cover’s leather-clad hand, along with song titles like “Sex Mechanism” and “Techno Fetish” should provide you with all the information you need as to what the overarching theme of the album is. Such subjects undoubtedly work well with the bump and grind of the dance floor, but not every track is built with that in mind. A couple of the songs featuring guitars, in particular a track like “Thee Power Hand” which closes the record, play closer to the rock and roll side of things, again with the 90s electronica references in place. Those minor detours create friction in the overall flow, thereby decreasing the impact an album like this could have. Taken individual track by track, there’s rarely an issue, but as a full piece there are noticeable missteps. Still, that doesn’t prevent “Thee Physical” from being a stronger and more exciting effort than Pictureplane’s debut, and the more commercially accessible pop-friendly melodies should bring a lot of new fans on board. Without a doubt, the next Pictureplane record could be the one that takes Egedy to the front doorstep of electronica’s greats.

Pictureplane – Post Physical
Pictureplane – Real Is A Feeling

Buy “Thee Physical” from Amazon

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Album Review: Viernes – Sinister Devices [Kanine]

The band Viernes is the Florida-based duo of Sean Moore and Alberto Hernandez. They’re two friends with musical inclinations who decided to get together every Friday and mess around with various sounds and sonic textures to see what they could create. Those weekly sessions, combined with a knowledge of rudimentary Spanish, should tell you exactly how they chose the name Viernes. As for the sound that emerged from those experiments, well, they make up the tracks you’ll find on their debut album “Sinister Devices”, which came out last week. Also a case of what’s-in-a-name, the album title, along with its white smoke with undertones of red cover should give you a relatively accurate idea of what mood you’ll come out of these recordings with.

As the glo-fi subgenre continues to make waves among hype peddlers most everywhere, the consistent movement towards electronica has inspired plenty of other types of music to incorporate computer-generated beats and sounds into their repertoire. One of the newer and fresher products to emerge from this of late is a movement being called electrogaze, or dreamhop. The basic idea is to use the dark, washed out guitars of shoegaze and combine them with dreamy electronic landscapes. As a natural cousin to all this, psychedelia also plays an important role in the sound, and if you like to listen to music while on “enhanced substances”, you might find electrogaze very much to your liking. But that most basically defines what Viernes is all about on “Sinister Devices”, crafting shimmering and ethereal melodies often mixed with vocal harmonies that have earned them comparisons to bands like Liars, The Radio Dept., Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective. The wealth of instruments they use across the album is impressive as well, because for all the odd electronic squelches and heavy My Bloody Valentine-esque guitars, the splashes of piano, xylophones, horns and a host of other musical devices are what turn these very good melodies into amazing ones. That, along with the way each track unfurls in an entirely unpredictable and challenging way is further testament to just how smart these guys really are as musicians. There may not be any hooks to officially speak of, given the album’s complete shunning of the traditional verse-chorus-verse structure, but a song like “Sinister Love”, where the same phrase gets repeated over and over again can be equally as compelling and memorable. You also get a couple flat-out instrumental tracks on the record, which serve less as stopgaps between singing and more as continuations of the hazy beauty established by those glorious harmonies. Put together in its entirety, “Sinister Devices” provides one album-length journey into lands of darkness and dreams. Wonderful only begins to describe it.

Some might see “Sinister Devices” as an unfocused and formless piece of wallpaper. The complaint is understandable, but those who argue it are either missing the point or tend to have a tough time with songs that lack obvious choruses. Each song works as a solid piece of music unto itself, but the real experience here is listening to the album front to back in one sitting. There are layers and hidden pieces that reveal themselves through time and patience, which is largely why the repeat value on this record is so high. From a purely lyrical perspective, most of the songs will feature a few words or phrases repeated throughout, so in some respects that lacks depth, but like Sleigh Bells does, the words don’t matter so much as the way they’re presented. Viernes says that their songs are about many things such as fear and tragedy or love and money. The lyrics don’t so much drive that point home, but the dreamy soundscapes do. And that’s the point – to let the instruments do the talking for you. It may not be the brightest and most upbeat album in the world, and it can certainly be challenging at times, but “Sinister Devices” more than earns its keep through dynamic and darkly beautiful compositions. Given the lack of press surrounding this album so far, it may be destined to become one of this year’s hidden gems. Don’t let it pass you by without at least stopping for a taste.

Viernes – Entire Empire
Viernes – Honest Parade

Buy “Sinister Devices” from Amazon

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