Sunday, May 27, 2012

Field Mouse - Heartbreaking yet Uplifting Dreampop

Emotionally engaging, carefully crafted dreampop songs are the appealing sonic domain of Brooklyn’s Field Mouse. The formidable songwriting and recording team of Andrew Futral and Rachel Browne create aural landscapes that can melt the hardest of hearts. Having expanded to a four piece with bassist Danielle DePalma and drummer Geoff Lewit, the group has been playing numerous live shows around the city, as it prepares to release its next record. 


 Your band strategy at present appears to be the measured release of one song at a time (rather than a full album up front) - and playing lots of live shows. Is this an accurate portrayal of what you are doing? Could you further expand on why you are going about this approach?

Rachel: It's pretty accurate. We have a lot of songs but didn't think releasing them all at once would be wise. At some point in the fall we met the guys from Small Plates, who were into the idea of putting out a 7". We thought this was a good way to start. We put out another song (Glass) on our own as well.

Andrew: It feels like there are a lot of bands doing this now. Releasing a song at a time just made sense. There are only two songs on our 7" so it made sense to stagger the release of the songs so that people were interested in it longer. As for playing live often it's a combination of us not getting to see each other that often so usually we have to play shows to hang out and also we are lucky enough to get offered cool shows that are hard to turn down.

The song and video for "You Guys Are Gonna Wake Up My Mom" is lush and gorgeous. How did this song come about? Who started it? Rachel just strumming on guitar and singing? A simple song? How then did it develop in this larger than life sound we now presently hear? How does one build a sound like that?

Rachel: I wrote the verses first and Andrew and I arranged the chorus melodies together. We built it up to sound the way it does in practice sessions.

Andrew: The song definitely started as chords as Rachel strumming and singing but she was playing the lead part with the rhythm part at the same time by changing the voicings of the chords. The main sense of longing that the song has comes from the song being in the key of E major but us never getting around to playing an E chord. So the whole song feels like it's trying to resolve itself and it never does. The main balance of the song on the production side is trying to keep the energy levels and intensity changing and never feeling too aggressive.

The video for that song is really cool too. Lots of overlying images - the point of view you'd have rushing down a highway with lights on the side. Who conceptualized this and put it together? Is there anything interesting you can tell us about the making of this video?

Rachel: Andrew had very specific ideas for this video and he did everything for it. We filmed some of it in our practice space and a lot of it up in Connecticut on a nice autumn day.

Andrew: We shot that ourselves in our practice space and then I went out and shot some time lapse stuff and kind of created a collage of images. It was my first time directing anything so I tried to keep it pretty simple I just wanted it to be a pretty simple visual representation of the dreamy spacey thing that was sonically happening in the song. A lot of the video is me discovering that "Luma Key" exists in Final Cut. Chroma key is when you record stuff infront of a green screen and then you "key out" the green and put in your own background but luma key is when you key out specific amounts of darkness or brightness so that is how everything got over layed. There are lots of layers and they all have a luma key filter on them with separate thresholds. 

Tell me about the song and video for the equally dreamy heart-tugging song "Glass." The big hook in the song is the lyric "When you're out of love" - yet the vocals are so stylized to the point it take many listens (and a look up) to get that meaning. How important is the mood being set with sound - and vocalizing - than actual literal interpretation of words? What does "it would never be us" refer to? Is just another reference to heartbreak?

Rachel: Thank you. Lyrics are very important to me and sometimes I do think it's nice to hear what you want to hear - literally - before you actually know what the person is singing. I wanted the mood of the melody to fit the words, for sure. This song was hard to write because its lyrics are actually pretty upfront about a real situation. To me, anyway.

Andrew: Mood being set with sound is important for every band I think. It might take a few listens to get the correct lyrics of the song but you won’t be surprised when you read them because they are working in tandem with the music and both part of establishing the same mood.

The video that goes with it is this super slowed down image of Rachel. What is involved in putting something like that together? Does it take the latest in super sophisticated film equipment and a tech person who knows the intricacies of using it? Something simpler than that?

Rachel: That video was directed by our friend Shervin Lainez and Andrew. It's actually about 15 seconds slowed way, way down. Nothing too sophisticated. It was fun to make, I had to keep a straight face through a bombardment of confetti, wind and bubbles.

Andrew: It's actually pretty simple. It's 15 seconds of Rachel slowed down to the 3:40 of the song. Twixtor is a relatively cheap and nice plug in for creating slow motion that looks cool at speeds as slow as 8% of the original speed (which is close to what the video was). It was shot on a Canon 7d at 60fps at 720p and really it was just our photographer friend Shervin Laniez and I shooting Rachel with bubble guns, confetti, turning lights on and off and high powered fans and manically as we could and when that gets stretched to 8% speed it just becomes super dreamy and it feels like you are watching this intimate thing but really it's just slowed down chaos.

The third song you've relased now - in this, your modern era - is "Happy." To my ears another perfect piece of sugar coated dreampop that still exhibits a sonic urgency. The emphasis once again is centrally focused on Rachel's voice. Your credits indicate the songs are produced by Andrew - and that the vocals are engineered by your band member Danielle. Does she have a particular skill or expertise in bringing out this amazing vocal quality? The guitars, on the other hand (and possibly synths) create a musical base, making it all sound like an orchestra. While the drums build and create tension. You all play so well together. Is the lyric "that's what you get for loving your regret?" It's good if so. I really like it (and of course can relate to all this kind of wallow) - but - what's that got to do with being "Happy?"

Rachel: We work with Danielle at a studio she works at called Seaside Lounge. She and I have been working together since college in various studios and she does know how to get a solid vocal sound. Seaside Lounge also has some amazing gear, including a real plate reverb. Yes, that is the lyric. "Happy" comes from the sarcastic, or maybe not, part of the chorus: "You give me nothing/I'm happy." I think at the time I meant it.

Andrew: Title is 100% sarcastic. Danielle is great at what she does! She decides the general chain of what preamp and how much reverb is used. We all went to the college together at the music conservatory at Purchase College so we all kind of know our way around the gear. I think the secret behind the vocal quality is 90% Rachel's natural voice and 10% the Plate reverb used at Seaside Lounge where the vocals are recorded. Usually Danielle will set up the mics and everything and then we leave the room and Rachel runs protools until she likes the takes she has done. As for the guitars, I don't think there is a single note being played on guitar that isn't being played by a synth too. I just wanted the chordal instruments of the song to have a kind of anonymous texture. The goal with that is to have a sound that the listener doesn't 100% understand but because it's so reverby and anonymous sounding. I wanted it to be intense but ignorable so that Rachel's vocals were definitely the focus. 

1. Band address:
2. Origins: Brooklyn, New York
3. What it is: Alternately uplifting and/or heartbreaking dreampop
4. For those who like: Lush, My Bloody Valentine, Asobi Seksu, Cocteau Twins 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Recent Deli Mag Features: Sophisticated DreamPop

Midway through the month of May, and time again to recap and review recent Deli Magazine features written by yours truly.  An interview and some features - all focusing on the music these bands create.

Night Manager
a sophisticated dream
by: Dave Cromwell - April 11, 2012

Combining powerful dreamy female vocals with a band of dudes chunking out chimey guitar chords and distinctive rhythmic bass/drum patterns, Brooklyn’s Night Manager is a rising new force on the local indie music scene. The fact of the matter is, their presence has already gone national. To the extent that their "Ghost" 7" EP caught the attention of labels Rough Trade in the UK and Big Love in Japan, and have since released it in those countries. With lead vocalist Caitlin Seager providing soaring melodies that come off relaxed but defined at the same time, the boys in the band provide a solid rock backdrop. There is more going on within the songs here, than what one has come to expect within this genre of music. Even if you can’t exactly put your finger on it, you can tell there are more than the all too common three basic chords being played, and the overall melodies are far more sophisticated. Night Manager comes along as a breath of fresh air in a scene that has simply duplicated itself one too many times.
The sound of your band has been described as a melodic, catchy pop, though somewhat shadowy. What have been your primary motivations or inspirations to make this kind of music?
Primary motivations have been just about everything that's happened in our lives up until now: what we ate for breakfast...relationships and other incidents long forgotten perhaps.
How did your distribution relationship with Rough Trade come about? Who contacted whom? Did someone there hear your Japanese label Big Love release, inspiring them to get in touch?
I have no idea actually, we never talked to them, we found out about that at the same time everyone else did. I assume it was Haruka at Big Love who took care of that, cheers to her.
Your sound at times presents a softer, day-dreamier side especially vocally. Yet paired with that comes densely layered guitars, bathed in reverb, with melodies that show more depth than the current collective wave/gaze deciples. Is one of your goals to push this genre in new and more interesting directions?
We don't have any musical goals except to make songs we like to play and listen to. There're a lot of great, creative minds in Brooklyn. Every artist brings something unique to the table and hopefully we're no exception to that. We're not concerned with setting an example for other musicians or the recording industry we just do whatever we feel like doing.
Currently there is a popular genre of all female or female fronted bands like Best Coast, The Dum Dum Girls, Frankie Rose, Cults and The Vivian Girls. While they all have their own positive qualities - to varying degrees - their songs tend to cater to a "teen angst" and more "pop" oriented audience. Do you see Night Manager, at the very least brushing up against this type of sound, but then taking it into more complex waters? Or do you see yourself having more in common with pop-deconstructionists like, say A Place To Bury Strangers?
We have more in common with the first bands mentioned, but we're not trying to write for a specific audience. "Ghost," for a grunge tune, is relatively complicated--the first time we played it live was a disaster--there are a lot of chords in there and the melody goes to some unusual places. But I don’t think that necessarily makes at a better tune than "platonic lovers" which has a fraction of the chord movement and a vocal melody which sticks around the same place. Simplicity doesn't make writing a good tune any easier.
How is the songwriting developed? Is it the predominant work of one member? Or is there a collaborative process between multiple members of the band?
Typically it's not collaborative. But, we now have two guitars which means Tassy can write guitar lines over chords he or I write. I think it’s gonna be more of a group effort in the future.
Could you (or any band member) recommend something interesting they've read. Be it book or magazine article?
I was reading the back of a Honey Smacks box the other night but I was wasted and i can't remember what it said. Something about nutrition, maybe.

Brooklyn's Ex Cops (#90 in The Deli's best emerging NYC bands of 2011 Poll), will be releasing their debut single "You Are a Lion, I Am a Lamb" on 04.21 under Other Music's label. The duo plays music that some have thought to categorize as devotional tropical goth. That three word description might be unique enough, however a thorough listen to their material reveals a more complex sound. Older songs like “Broken Chinese Chairz” point towards the minimalistic new wave stylings of the early 80’s new wave: carefully layered chunky guitar chords, brass and flutey synths all support the female vocalist's sweet single note melody lines. The mysteriously titled “S&HSXX” clacks with a percussive force reminiscent of Brian Eno ’s “In Dark Trees”. The tracks from the upcoming single (streaming below) also differ greatly from one another, but definitely showcase a more mature and uniform sound. "You Are a Lion, I Am a Lamb" revisits the dreamy, uptempo melodies of the bands from the Madchester era and dips them in a mid-fi sonic context, while the second track "The Millionaire" (in the video) is an arresting dream pop gem which halves the bpm and doubles up in reverb. - Dave Cromwell

  • Throwing their hat into the ever-growing ring of drone-fi, psychedelic, garage groove bands are Brooklyn’s Dull Edges. The two tracks available for free download at their bandcamp profile showcase a band not afraid to flirt with atmospheres which would perfectly fit a scary pagan ritual. “Sonned” slithers along deep bass and snare drum rumble as guitars snake their way around the forward marching progression. Murky, reverberated vocals appear to be delivering a cautionary tale of paranoid delusions. “Polarity” chimes like tubular bells from hell, with even more ghostly distant vocals. Big psych rock chords emerge from the depths like bubbling volcanic lava bursts. See them play at The Delancey on Tuesday, April 24th. - Dave Cromwell

    Having already established themselves as heavyweight psych-rock contenders, Brooklyn's Naam are about to release their new EP "The Ballad of the Starchild" with an ambitious scope that further enhances their claim to the "Psych-est Band in NYC" title. "Sentry of Skies" blends unadorned acoustic and mournfully bended electric guitars with a folky tale of being lost in space. The full band emerges halfway through, propelling the track to its psyched-out conclusion. "Lands Unknown" pulses along on rubbery guitar figures and keyboard chords as bass and drums keep a steady pace for the sonic fireworks soon to explode over top, while "History's Son" introduces mystical percussive elements to an acid-trance groove, serving as a shamanistic bridge to the EP's thematic centerpiece "The Starchild." At nearly 11 minutes in length, this ambitous tour-de-force rides on a sinuey bassline, allowing crunching guitar chords and thunder-crack drums to throttle the center of your mind. Organ textures fill in open spaces when needed, creating a sonic hybrid that melds elements of bands like The Doors and Pink Floyd with the bombast of Black Sabbath. - Dave Cromwell

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Recent Deli Mag Features: Dark Rock Rising

The first week of May provides an opportunity here to feature three bands I've recently profiled in The Deli Magazine.

Brooklyn's dark rock band Tyburn Saints released their new EP "You and I in Heaven" on March 27. Containing four original tracks, songs like "Broken Bottles" alternates bright guitar figures against synth lines evoking peak 80's era U2 and The Cure. The lyrical tone and subject matter lean more towards the later, however. "Last Time I Sing For You" positions a solid drum beat central in the mix, allowing shards of strummed guitar bursts to dance left and right through the stereo field. While title track "You And I in Heaven" reference a similar 80's pop-goth vibe, it's overall spirit leans more towards Bowie/Psychedelic Furs elements.


New York City quartet Vaura have just released their debut album "Selenelion" via the Wierd record label. Lead track "Vanth" combines a number of elements, demonstrating a higher than average level of songwriting and musicianship. Dark, echoed vocals over a medieval plundering beat gives way to near prog-rock interludes. "Obsidian Damascene Sun" (offered as a free download at their bandcamp) takes the propulsive drumming and hyper guitar strumming of black metal and pairs it with slower, more melodic, lyrically intelligible vocals. This is a formula that could create crossover appeal to those who find certain aspects of pure black metal a bit too harsh.


Stepping out of their roles as supporting musicians, drummer Sam Levin (Sea Sick, R Stevie Moore) and guitarist/vocalist Indigo Street (Jolie Holland, Gregory Sauner of Deer Hoof) have a new project called Shy Hunters. Tracks which can be found streaming on their bandcamp demonstrate a keen sense of songwriting at work. "Time Bomb" emphasizes tomahawk drum stomps as rhythmic base, while alternating spoken word and sung vocals are further enhanced via multiple guitar textures. "Stained Glass House" sticks with this musical formula of a structured drum pattern providing sole rhythmic foundation, while vocal melodies soar along complimentary guitarlines, creating a lovely romantic atmosphere.