Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Feature Reviews For April 2020

In these times of heightened awareness on dealing with isolation and how to cope with it, no one is better prepared for this solitary pursuit than the writer. Already familiar with spending long hours by themselves, researching a chosen topic and then putting it to words, the current worldwide suggestion (requirement?) to “self-quarantine” seems almost redundant. With that in mind, the haven of newly released music from emerging artists takes on greater importance – now more than ever – in these times of careful distancing from casual human contact. Four new bands make their way into the April 2020 DaveCromwellWrites analytical universe, safely arriving through a digital shield.

The golden age of hazey gazey dreampop continues to inspire new generations of musicians looking to make their mark. An evolving interactive relationship with niche label Shoredive Records now provides a steady pipeline of current releases from the best of these artists. The latest from them catching this sites attention (their 42nd release) is London, England's Velveteen.

With the release of their latest EP “Bluest Sunshine,” the band shows a clear affinity for the early 90's developmental years that brought us all those incredible albums from My Bloody Valentine, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Cocteau Twins, Boo Radleys and Swervedriver.

Opening track “Get Real” jumps right to it with a swirling wash of dissonance, before bass-note guitar strums, bright synth-bursts (with dramatic cymbal crash accompaniment) is met with explosive pitch-bended guitar melodies over syncopated percussion. Belinda Butcher-like vocals commence and the already converted (me) are instantly swept away into that blissful romantic confusion this sound never fails to provide. There's a dragging sensation to this track, doubling-down on a time-space-continuum feeling. It's gorgeously lush, with all spaces filled in nearly all the time. Multi-layered male and female voices float in, out and over each other as an alternate universe melody drives a dagger into your heart.

Follow-up track”You Got It Down” comes on a bit heavier with thicker drum underpinings and male vocal emphasis. The guitars saw harder here as well, with punchy root-note bass guitar holding the explosive chord progression together. Vocal lines get delivered in a rising style where the last word in each line is held longer. A mere :40 seconds in and the first change is hit with gorgeous blending of spiraling downward voices and subsequent words “lift my feet off the ground.” The 2 minute mark (of a relatively short 2:42 length song) drops in a growling, wah-wah pedal solo, leading out to the final :22 second ambient coda.

First single “Fall Under” takes it's cue from the classic MBVLoveless” tracks “When You Sleep” and “I Only Said” for spiritual inspiration, rather than any direct copying. While that signature sound of high-pitched guitar melody ushers in this new track with inverted familiarity, enough care is taken to ensure a legitimate stab at originality is undertaken. It's a beautiful hook that's presented, showing a clear affinity for the masterwork that continues to inspire on a daily basis, without ever devolving into simple copycat structures.  Low key blended vocals make you wonder if elements of Kevin Shields' revealing admission that certain vocal tracks sounding like boy-girl were simply one voice slowed down paired with the same one speeded up to create that dreamy effect, might also have been employed here as well. This cut makes impressive use of minor key changes that create a melancholy feel in places. At 4:35 in length, there is ample room for soothing “oooooh's” underneath that dominant composition hook. Another level of sonic washes enters the mix at 2:45, complete with descending chord progression. A final minute and a half of “mini holocaust” ensues, wrapping up quite nicely this homage to greatness.

EP title track “Bluest Sunshine” falls closest to the “dreampop” genre, with it's shapeless shimmering guitars and rat-a-tat snare drum intro. Floating changes fold and meld into segments that alternate between romantic sensations and slightly off-kilter moments. It's overall slow-motion feel is enhanced by angelic chorus vocals that repeatedly emphasize lines with a rising tonal note. While the guitars double-down on formless ambiance, steady marching percussion provides a grounding point for it's forward motion. The final minute has the percussion dropping out entirely, with the guitar and bass now playing more clearly defined structures.

To acquire this EP, go here:

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With the release of their full-length album “Agitprop Alterna,” Peel Dream Magazine - the collective fronted by NYC musician Joe Stevens shares it's latest single “Is It My Body” as an additional reference point to a sound that is both unique and appealingly familiar.

While previous singles “Pill” and “Emotional Devotion Creator” paid homage to a sound most associated with genre creator My Bloody Valentine, third single “Is It My Body” leans into that period's softer side, which featured bands like Stereolab, Broacast and Lilys. With a percussion track sounding as if borrowed from an early 1970's living room organ, clean unaffected guitar chords strum out a sentimental melody. As a single male voice delivers the title line, female vocals enter the mix adding airy countermelody. A descending keyboard line follows, with further movement provided by twinkling synth textures around the edges. Those alternating (yet layered) vocal lines play off each other in a manner suggesting the timeless appeal of legends The Swingle Singers. The tracks mid-point introduces one more vocal segment where quicker-paced voices in a third melodic variation layer progressively, reinforcing that “swingle singer” effect.

As for the song's subject matter, the author describes it as an “anthem against people who want to exert power over you and make you feel small… a reminder that you don’t owe anyone anything.” The whole album speaks to a broader theme of personal freedom and the need for constant vigilance against manipulation and misinformation. The album cover references critical theorists Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, who examined "The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception."

Acquire this album on all the streaming platforms here:

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A recent discovery to this site is the Toronto based Canadian acid-punk / post-hardcore / progressive-screamo band Pilcrow.  Their most recent recording to date, 2018's “Fever Dreams” serves up five tracks of hyper-charged aggression that is equal parts meticulous and chaotic.

Opening track “Doves” is an aggressive full-on assault with sharp, angular precision guitar work playing essentially non-stop while a rhythm section of bass and drums batter away with ferocity. Vocals are delivered with the type of screamo intensity suitable for smashing whatever it is bothering you to pieces. With lyrics depicting a potential post-apocalyptic scenario - “time's swollen gluttony eats you alive - trade your blood for fuel,” it appears this “dove” has been cornered and is fighting back with intensity.

Lungs” continues with the above formula, adding more angularity to feverish guitarwork intertwined with busy, note-heavy bass guitar and mad-scramble drumming.  A particularly angular buzz-note figure slices through the rhythms as melody-free vocal screams add the necessary level of existential angst. Alternating lines between two vocalists suggests possible inspiration from fellow genre operatives Blood Brothers.

Intricate guitar figures usher in the third (and longest) track “Shapeshifter,” juxtaposed against poly-rhythmic bass guitar and percussion. While the band frequently uses the word “punk” in their self-descriptive tags, the composition and playing here is far too sophisticated for that simpler three-chord genre. This leans closer to prog-metal, or one of their other more accurate self-descriptive tags: post-hardcore. A tempo change occurs midway through, speeding everything up – while underscoring the authenticity of three advanced rock musicians playing together in a studio with minimal (if any) overdubs.

Crash The Bus” builds off of a vibrating bass guitar pulse before the drums and guitars jump quickly into the fray with feverishly jagged figures. With vocals more shouted (rather than screamed) this time, a dominant bass guitar powers everything forward. A surprising (and amusing) pause under a minute in bubbles like a ray-gun blast before the band and vocals lurch in once more. Sophisticated rhythmic changes emerge underneath at the minute and half mark, with well-defined guitar licks interspersed between the chord progression.

Final cut “Hackfraud” serves up another three and a half minutes of combative rhythms, guttural vocals and speed-note guitars. Oftentimes lead riff guitar and bass are locked in tandem with cymbal-heavy percussion throttling away underneath. Sharp-cornered tempo-changes emerge for 10 seconds or so, before dropping out to a solo bass guitar moment. That leads into one more level of rigorous and oblique guitar and bass riffage.

This is not pretty music and certainly not for the meek. It is, however, presented with a high-level of musicianship.

Listen to and acquire this music here:

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It had been a little over four years since Austin, Texas rockers Ringo Deathstarr put out a new full-length album, however the recent release of their latest self-titled effort now offers up 13 new songs. Having featured the band 10 times here on this site dating back to 2011 (with live shows attended as early as 2009, and most recently this past November) the opportunity to dig into these current tracks provides it's own unique adventure.

The under two minute opening track “Nagoya” is a beatless exercise in ambiance and twilight (or early a.m.) mindset, surely inspired by the bands numerous Japanese tours (being the largest city in the Chubu region). “God Help the One's You Love”- the first to receive a video release – emerges out of Alex Gehring's bass progression and Daniel Coborn's muffled-toms drum pattern – before centering around multiple layers of Alex's voice, pitched into an angelic chorus. A classic two-chord back-and-forth rhythm and Alex's busy bass line drives along the humorously ironic titled “Gazin.” The second song (so far) to be paired with accompanying video, the 'might-as-well-go-with-it' attitude here has not gone unnoticed. “Once Upon a Freak” taps into the artificial world of studio recording with it's backward tracking intro. A bright snare-drum shot adds balance to the pitch-bended guitars and alternately smooth and then oddball vocals. Momentary stop-start breaks and rising motion segments further contribute to the tracks nearly 4 minute length.

Unfortunately now a song for our times, the gentle Alex solo-sung “Disease” takes on a more universal meaning along with the artists initial sentiment. “Just Like You” returns to the style more associated with their recent trash-can sound and alternating boy-girl vocals. The tandem-sung rising chorus has “classic RD” stamped all over it. “In Your Arms” delves into odd textures of fuzz, hybrid-percussion and more sweet rising Alex vocals. If we could get this track to Eno, he might call it “the NEW vaguest pop song” he ever heard. “Heaven Obscured” picks up the pace somewhat, while dipping the bucket back into the (apparently bottomless) well of dreamy, angelic Alex vocals. A more structured vocal melody in the back half present clearer lyrical predilection. “Lazy Lane” pairs solid deep-tom drumming with warped-vinyl guitar textures, clutter-bombs of vocals and nursery-rhyme lyrics about takin' it easy, y'all.  “The Same Again” (another ironic title?) doubles-down on the warped-for-no-good-reason sonics, while master sticksman Daniel Colborn does his best jazz-combo tribute underneath.
Be Love” dips back into that mechanical percussion period of “madchester loop drumming” while sugary Alex'n'Elliot's harmonize with “makin' sweet love down by the fire” vocals. Props must be given to Elliot for a particularly gritty, callous and all together much-too-rude guitar solo. Apparently the table-saw next door was malfunctioning and the lower frequencies from that mishap leaked onto this track. “I Don't Want to Lose This” employ those reverse-loop-violin-sounding guitars that Mr. Shields made a name for himself with, lo these many years ago. Alternating vocals morph from breathy-to-sung-out-fully with angel Alex floated down from the cloud (everything's stored on “the cloud” now, right? Wherever the hell that is) from time to time. Some low-pitched spoken word narration adds one final level of weird. Early commentary fan-favorite “Cotton Candy Clouds” opens with Alex singing in 1-2-3 waltz cadence, before the full dinosaur stomp of the band crashes in. At over five minutes (the longest track on the record) there is ample room for FX-enhanced guitar heroics, making mirror-posed air-guitar participation almost a requirement. Momentary gentle passages provide breathing-room relief from the lumbering sludge preceding it. Not too worry as piercingly precise guitar riffage returns to the fray, leading into another round of thunderous muck (and mire). It's all capped off with a final coda of “angel Alex (TM)” chorused like Shelley Fabares on “Johnny Angel.”

Overall Fave Track:  "Be Love"

This album is out now and streaming worldwide.   Consume it here:

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