28 03 2012

President 0f Mozambique
JJ Brine 

9 out of 10


ESM for the uninitiated


by Jericho Cerrona
March 28, 2012

It’s rare for an album to become so all encompassing that even after repeat listens it still manages to offer new and enthralling surprises. Icelandic singer/actor JJ Brine’s latest LP is just one of these rare listening experiences. Dazzling, immersive, disorienting, and evoking a sensation of auditory rapture that’s nearly impossible to describe, President of Mozambique is the first truly great record of 2012.

In all honesty, Brine might be utterly bonkers (his press photos reveal a black-hooded figure obscured by a menacing chrome mask), but either way, there seems to be a deranged kind of brilliance at work here. Though reclusive, he’s nevertheless described his work as “electronic spirit music” (ESM) and claimed to have been possessed by a demon entity during the recording process. Whether or not he actually believes any of this, or is simply acting out some kind of meta-conceptual stunt is unclear, but none of this really matters because the artistic trappings never outweigh the actual music. President of Mozambique has come out of nowhere as a major statement from an artist operating along the fringes, and NY-based indie label Drug Lord Records aren’t exactly smearing the internet with shameless promotional gimmicks, either. This makes Brine’s follow up to 2011’s Code Cracker all the more extraordinary; it has the feeling of a rumbling storm slowly making its way toward the landscape of unsuspecting music listeners. Before long, Brine seems to be implying, the end of all things will be brought on by the sound of churning synthesizers and vocoder-transmitted prophesies.

Though all 11-tracks are structured around the template of gothically moody synthpop, Brine tweaks familiar sounds until they eventually turn into sonic mutations from alien life forms. There are hooks and melodies aplenty, but the music never achieves overt accessibility because everything is so warped and fractured. Take the child molestation lullaby “Candy and Love”, for example. It features a mid-tempo backbeat, swirling keyboards, xylophone, and lush production that might appeal to fans of M83, but it also contains what will probably be the litmus test for most listeners; weirdly androgynous vocals. Brine swathes his voice in all manner of vocoder effects and then layers them to create a neo-futuristic vibe that’s consistently fascinating, but the choice will possibly turn off those that desire something more easily accessible. Make no mistake; this is not auto-tune bullshit. Brine uses digitally manipulated vocals in order to create a darkly brooding atmosphere rather than as a gimmick, or to hide poor vocal abilities. Truthfully, there’s no way to really tell if Brine can sing in the traditional sense, but that doesn’t seem to matter since this isn’t the type of music that would even require such a thing. Though the production is impressively hi-fi and expansive, there’s a DIY aesthetic that means nothing is curtailed for mass consumption or to appease oblivious label execs. Therefore, the album largely follows in line with the auteur theory; namely, it sounds like something only JJ Brine could have made, though there are obvious nods and influences gleaned from other artists such as Joy Division, Depeche Mode, and especially German musician/artist/actress Nico (of whom Brine is a self-professed fan). Yes, the vocal style may alienate and the eccentricity of the songwriting is an acquired taste, but it’s hard to deny the ominous industrial stomp of “Dispossession”, the gorgeously interweaving synths and mantra-like vocals on “We Get Along”, and the epic Joy Division-esque “Innovation”.

President Of Mozambique could very well be a game changer, or it might just pass by completely unnoticed. It’s difficult to predict what kind of immediate impact the album will have and whether a work this decidedly avant-garde can reach a mainstream audience. But perhaps that’s a compliment to JJ Brine’s inventive take on portentous electronic music. Maybe something this good really can’t be fully embraced by everyone. In any case, the end is nigh, and Brine will there ushering in the apocalypse with the ultimate soundtrack.

“Innovation” by JJ Brine

Download a free copy of JJ Brine’s President of Mozambique here!

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12 12 2011

Space Saviors
Guitar Wizards of the Future 

8 out of 10


Oakland duo trip out, make sample-heavy pop

by Jericho Cerrona
December 14, 2011

If the music throughout Space Saviors is any indication, Oakland, Ca duo Coty McClung and Ryan Kauffman are two seriously wacky dudes. Indeed, Guitar Wizards of the Future is a wacky name for a band, even if the moniker does inevitably kick ass. The album’s 12 tracks involve erratic samples, abstract beats, lo-fi production, cheesy synthesizers, and droopy gang vocals. It’s intensely listenable, occasionally fascinating, often self-indulgent, but never boring. The fact that they recorded to 8-track on top of a converted water tower while chomping on steak and bacon around a fire pit should clue the listener into what exactly they’re going for here. This is deranged stuff; at times coming off like a meeting between Thurston Moore, The Velvet Underground, and J. Mascis lounging inside a giant tub of ganja.

More than anything though, McClung and Kauffman take a page from hip-hop artists like Madlib and GZA/Genius in structuring the majority of their tunes around samples. Many of these audio clips are chopped, edited, and added at random intervals, accompanied by piano, analog synths, pulsing bass lines, and low-end vocals. The songs never take themselves too seriously, and are often pitched as nothing more than winking in-jokes. “Waste/Yeah” is a propulsive jam that sounds like Beck with an electro beat, and “Stuck” adds hilariously offbeat vocals to acoustic strumming and archaic keyboards.  There’s a brief instrumental featuring idiotic dialogue from religious nut Jack Van Impe and his wife called “Jungle Simba” and an uptempo tape hiss jam named “Brothers” which is like Ariel Pink hurtling through the world of 80’s cult classic Tron. Meanwhile, “San Andreas” is a fucked up drug trip of warbly voices and swirling electronic noises, while closer “Kickin’ it Wiff Nic” lays down a kitschy lounge groove over audio snippets of some guy laughing and yelling “dude!” over and over. This last song is perhaps the litmus test for the entire album; if one doesn’t burst out into a big goofy grin during this one minute of pure ridiculousness, then the rest of the music probably won’t do much to sway opinion.

Guitar Wizards of the Future aren’t trying to make provocative social or political statements, and why should they? This is bizarro pop with a dash of avant-garde, just the kind of thing that should be admired simply for existing in the first place. There’s definitely a certain concentrated sensibility here, but it’s so brazenly weird that many just won’t get it at all. This is intentional. McClung and Kauffman don’t seem to care about pleasing the masses all that much, and yet their harebrained musical diversions are surprisingly catchy and at times, even charming. Frankly, there really isn’t anything quite like Space Saviors out there at the moment.

“Tom Jones II” by Guitar Wizards of the Future

Check out the Guitar Wizards of the Future Bandcamp here!

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12 10 2011

Hippie Speed Ball
High Pop

8 out of 10


An energetic onslaught of basement summer jams

by Jericho Cerrona
October 12, 2011

Connecticut natives Sean Posila and Jordan Caulfield play a recognizable brand of lo-fi fuzz on their latest EP Hippie Speed Ball (think jangly guitars, loads of reverb, sing along vocals, tape hiss), but what sets them apart from many of their contemporaries is their playful brevity. This is a 13-minute discharge of skuzzy fun-time pop that features zero wasted moments. Certainly, there are a lot of crafty bands churning out basement recordings these days, but most have a tendency to lay on the effects to the extent where things get dangerously close to jam band territory, (see Thee Oh Sees’ sprawling 2010 album Warm Slime). Thankfully, High Pop keep things short, sweet, and dirty.

The above reference to Thee Oh Sees is apt, considering songs like the raucous opener “The Shakes” have that blown out speaker fuzz and dissonant drumming so prevalent in John Dwyer’s garage psych outfit. But Posila and Caulfield have a way of combining a variety of musical styles that never comes off contrived and keeps them from simply becoming asterisks in another band’s liner notes. Note, for example, the way “Drip from the Sea” starts out as dreamy surf, erupts into distorted psychedelia, and then crescendos into Posila’s wailing “You were all that I had!” over walls of guitar squall. Likewise, “Seaweed” might initially sound like The Beach Boys blasted through an old cassette player, but the way a chugging guitar riff breaks through dreamy vocals gives the song a slightly disorienting vibe. There’s cacophonous punk (“The charm”), Syd Barrett-sounding folk (“Acid Tooth”) and echo-chambered shoegaze (“Crafts”), but what sticks out most is the duo’s wonderful knack for a hook.

Indeed, even when certain tracks become almost unbearably smothered in reverb (the last 30-seconds of “The Charm”, the tail end of “Drip from the Sea”), High Pop remains consistent in laying down a slew of jaunty melodies. The songs are memorable without ever becoming annoyingly catchy, and there is a real sense of youthful enthusiasm (even in the mid-tempo tracks) that cannot be faked or denied. This is honest to god DIY rock’n roll from two musicians young enough to still be enthralled with the creative joy of making music, but wise enough not to overplay their hand.

“The Shakes” by High Pop

Check out the High Pop Bandcamp here!

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3 08 2011

Beverly Fre$h

8 out of 10


Detroit-based rapper embraces 90’s cool, spouts irreverent rhymes on vinyl-only release

by Jericho Cerrona
August 3, 2011

Not very much is really known about underground rapper Beverly Fre$h other than he’s a member of art collective/recording label Superiorbelly and is known for wearing elaborately constructed costumes while performing bizarre onstage antics. Based solely on the deliriously entertaining vinyl-only release BED, however, the Detroit-based performer proves that he’s more than just a novelty with an album chock full of stellar rhymes, retro beats, and off-kilter arrangements.

BED recalls everything from the subversive playfulness of Del Tha Funky Homo Sapien to the underground production of Jedi Mind Tricks, but Beverly Fre$h isn’t really interested in paying homage to his influences. While it’s true that both his lyrical style and the production choices call to mind 1990’s-era hip-hop, this isn’t some winking pastiche. Instead, Fre$h’s sense of humor, peculiar turns of phrase, inclusion of well-placed samples, as well as a few exceptional guest rappers raises the album a cut above much of what currently passes for fashionable hip-hop these days. Sure, many will be thrown off by Fre$h’s look, (think a nerdy white guy with over-sized hipster glasses sporting various frayed vests littered with kitschy buttons), but this is not an instance of style over substance.

The best thing about BED is that its simply infectious fun. Songs like the bouncy “Animal Skin”(complete with a snapping snare and scattered background synthesizers) and the swirling dual rapping on  “You Don’t Know” showcase an artist fully in command of his sonic universe. Meanwhile, “Tapedeck” adds layers of menace with deranged laughter and spacey digital noises floating round in the mix behind Fre$h’s head-bopping flow, while the sped-up rhyming and spastic cowbells on “What The Fuck” (featuring NatureBoy Jim Kelly, formally of New Kingdom) is simply thrilling.

The LP was produced and recorded by fellow Detroit artist Dial81 in Fre$h’s grandparent’s basement, but there is a professional sheen throughout that goes against the idea that homemade basement tapes have to sound like lo-fi affairs. Beverly Fre$h never pushes for overly produced beats or glossy flourishes, and yet the record is nonetheless quite accessible. In this way, he is able to straddle the line between the underground and mainstream quite well, with plenty of catchy hooks and vulgar rhymes for the mainstream kids, as well as a slew of unusual production choices to endear him to the art crowd.

Though the majority of the album works brilliantly, there are a few scattered instances—such as the irrelevant a cappella rap on the brief “My Baby Likes The Gas” and the goofy closer “O When The Dogs Bark,” that feel a bit too inconsequential for their own good. Still, this is all part of Fre$h’s offbeat charm, and while such moments aren’t entirely successful, they don’t feel out of place given the overall tone of the recording.

BED is one of the better hip-hop releases to come along in quite some time, combining the aggressive swagger of retro-sounding rap with more experimental and modern touches that give the entire record a thoroughly unique sound. One can almost envision it being played both inside a crowded house party as wells as at a Banksy art exhibit; it just has that kind of range and broadness of appeal. Hopefully, this lively and entertaining LP will lift Beverly Fre$h out of the musical basement, and give his music more widespread exposure.

“Half A Haircut” by Beverly Fre$h

Click this link to view Beverly Fre$h’s Kickstarter page

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24 06 2011

Spaced Out Again
Armando Rivera

9 out of 10


Self-made bedroom tapes finally see the light of day

by Jericho Cerrona
June 24, 2011

There’s a tendency to judge the merit of an artist through the prism of output, popularity, and commercial success. This is inevitable and perhaps even necessary in a culture where much of what passes for art these days is pre-packaged, branded, and tossed out into the viral machine. When it comes to blogosphere hype and promotion, its become much easier for bands to record and release material quickly and without the help of record labels, which is both a blessing and a curse. It’s novel in that really great music is readily accessible to listeners, but it also entails that artists may run the risk of overexposing themselves.

When it comes to Sacramento, California singer/songwriter Armando Rivera, the complete opposite of the overexposure pendulum holds true. As a member of the largely unknown Noise Geniuses (which disbanded in the mid 2000’s), and shortly lived Boyfriendz, Rivera has been recording music for years in relative obscurity. Spaced Out Again, a homemade LP that was written and recorded in 2007, is an album that for some reason has been sitting on the shelf largely unheard until recently. The idea of reclusive musicians crafting DIY basement tapes is at this point fairly typical–from early Ariel Pink to Bill Callahan–but Rivera’s aesthetic differs slightly in that many of the tracks involve other musicians playing alongside him, including former Noise Geniuses drummer Alec Roberts, bassist Peter Harris, and multi-instrumentalist Brad McAmis. That’s not to say that there aren’t solo experimental diversions here. Indeed, a good amount of the songs lend themselves well to the fractured bedroom pop school of someone like R. Stevie Moore, for instance, it’s just that Rivera seamlessly blends them with the more uptempo rock-oriented tracks.

If one were hard pressed to describe the sound of Spaced Out Again, inevitably bands like Wire, Guided By Voices, Yo La Tengo, and Pavement would surely be brought up. While Rivera is indebted to many of these 80’s/90’s loi-fi art-rock pioneers, thats ultimately only a superficial reading of the music on display. The album succeeds in taking shoddy 4-track recording production and tethering it to exceptional pop hooks and melody. Highlights include the angular title-track opener, which starts things off with a shot of pure adrenaline and “Two Dimensional Boy”, a song bristling with Casio keyboard solos and an inspired section where Rivera’s nonsensical ramblings are buried deep within the mix. Perhaps the album’s best song, though, is the gorgeous Beatles-esque ballad “Bring Us Back To Life”, which uses melancholy lyrics, dreamy acoustic strumming, and scattered xylophone to stunning effect. Additionally, “Household Name” comes off like a meeting between Wire and The Strokes, with frenzied vocals vying for attention amidst interweaving tremolo guitar lines. It’s the closest the album ever comes to being aggressive, and yet the song is infectiously rhythmic and catchy.

Another refreshing thing about Spaced Out Again is the way in which Rivera resists the easy temptation to drench his voice in effects. It seems like so much of what passes for fashionable lo-fi these days is ratcheting up reverb on the vocals and purposefully layering instrumentation so that everything becomes a muddy stew of noise. In contrast, though the production quality here is both an intentional artistic choice as well as the result of means, Rivera separates his voice from the instruments in a way that makes the album sound more accessible than one might expect. There are instances where the production feels a bit miscalculated, though, like during “Hiding Out”, where guitar, piano, drums and vocals are equed lower in the mix than a clanging tambourine. The song has a punchy upbeat vibe, but the sequencing of the instruments is distracting. There’s also a few songs that fail to make much of an impact, such as the slightly repetitive “When We Were Young” and the brief filler “I’ve Always Been This Way”, but this is still an album that’s never boring and occasionally reaches greatness. The ambitious closer “Space and Time”, for instance, shows Rivera going in an experimental pysch/surf direction, complete with cascading waves, distorted electric guitar, multi-tracked vocals and a gloriously anthemic final stretch. It’s an indication of where his songwriting could go if he continued to pursue a more unorthodox (though still decidedly melodic), direction.

Listening to Spaced Out Again feels like discovering something exceptional that no one else knows about, a special and rare sensation in this age of self-promoting overkill. Armando Rivera is an artist in the truest sense, humbly creating music that doesn’t need to be packaged or sold to the masses. The album is just now seeing the light of day in terms of availability, and will hopefully encourage him to unearth more musical nuggets in the near future.

“Spaced Out Again” by Armando Rivera

Click this link to view Armando Rivera’s Bandcamp page

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4 04 2011

Heinali and Matt Finney

9 out of 10


Duo concoct spoken-word, doomgaze grandeur on stunning EP

by Jericho Cerrona
April 4, 2011

In this age of the blogosphere hype-machine, where bands are often branded “the next big thing” before any actual music is even heard, its refreshing to come upon musicians creating a musical language that somehow exists outside the realm of expectations. Such is the case with the latest collaboration from spoken-word artist Matt Finney and Ukrainian composer Heinali. Conjoined is a staggeringly ambitious and jaw-dropping EP that washes over the listener like a bliss-out, surreal nightmare. It is by turns ominous, hypnotic, and strangely beautiful, making it a record that demands the listener’s complete and absolute surrender.

Recently signed to Paradigms Recordings after the release of critically acclaimed Town Line EP and Lemonade EP (both in 2010), the duo’s mixture of spoken-word poetry with droney post-rock and doom-inspired atmospherics will likely appeal to fans of Mono and God Speed You! Black Emperor, but drone/doom metal followers of bands like Jarboe, Sunn O))), and Boris will also find much to admire here. Additionally, Heinali’s compositions are so boldly cinematic in scope that this EP may also interest admirers of frequent David Lynch composer Angelo Badalamenti, or even to a lesser degree, ambient whizz composer/producer Brian Eno.

Conjoined is chock full of Heinali’s thundering, sweeping arrangements interspersed with Alabama native Finney’s mournful, world-weary lyrics. Even if one is not necessarily a fan of this type of thing, its hard to deny the power and majesty of the music on display. Opener “A Chant” begins with loads of feedback and distorted guitar, sounding quite similar to the shoegaze/metal of Jesu, with Finney’s sinister line readings merging inside walls of ambient keyboard and heavy drone. The title track has booming drums, crashing cymbals, and some truly transcendent guitar work, coming off like nothing less than the end of the world, and even though Finney’s voice is warbled and distorted by effects, lines such as “We’re like prisoners stumbling through condemned buildings/we’re like traitors to some defeated cause” are able to break through the swirling gloom and create a lingering impact. A tune such as “Postcard”, meanwhile, is like one long funeral dirge; a sprawling yet intimate canopy of psychedelic ambience, while the eight-minute closer “The Sun Will Rise Yet We Won’t Be Here” is perhaps the most subtle and awe-inspiring track on the entire album. It rumbles and stretches along atop a wave of evocative synths and cascading guitars as if approaching some kind of nirvana-like state of transcendence, and is the perfect summation of a record that truly take the listener on a sonic journey.

Best appreciated through headphones and with minimal interruptions, Conjoined is a breathtaking and moody six-track release that should create quite a stir among intelligent music lovers. The one minor quibble is that without linear notes, its often difficult to hear Finney’s wordplay. This is of course an intentional production choice, and certainly makes the tracks that feature more clean vocals, such as the unnerving “Lifetime” more palpable, but it would have been nice to be able to make out the lyrics more often. But that is such a small complaint in light of what Finney and Heinali have accomplished here. Stunning, emotional, and forcefully portentous, Conjoined is simply one of the best releases of 2011 so far.

“Conjoined” by Heinali and Matt Finney

Click this link to view Heinali and Matt Finney’s Bandcamp page

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10 03 2011

Present No Fiction, Fear No Tense
Early & Often

8 out of 10

Sacramento four-piece resist easy classification, conjure epic noise

by Jericho Cerrona
March 10, 2011

Sacramento, California four-piece Early & Often are a tough band to effectively categorize. Genre labels are only helpful insofar as they aid listeners in finding music similar to their own preferences. But when a band seems to blend musical styles and does so on their own terms, then critique based on genre-labeling becomes increasingly tricky.

Early & Often’s latest LP Present No Fiction, Fear No Tense is fascinating in that it takes its influences and then fuses them together in a way that makes such categorization even more difficult. Vocalist Jeffrey Wright, guitarist Joe Axtell, bassist Mylan Myers, and drummer/programmer Cliff Mattis create an auditory experience that envelops the listener gradually until it becomes nearly claustrophobic. If one is inclined to tag their sound, then surely there are hints of everything from Mono, Red Sparrows, to Circa Survive here, but what sets the band apart from simply being a pastiche is the way such influences have been incorporated into a sound that is dominated by an uncompromising aesthetic. This includes no concessions towards radio-friendly singles or songs that break right out of the gate with catchy hooks. Instead, this is a brooding, slow-burning crawl of a record that requires an attentive and patient ear. Gone, for instance, is the frantically up-tempo angst of 2009 debut Golden Arms in favor of denser soundscapes that began to surface with 2010’s 3-song EP Phenomenally Yours.

Present No Fiction, Fear No Tense is the type of thing best appreciated through headphones sitting alone in an empty room. The album skillfully incorporates eruptions of shimmering guitar, cinematic keyboard flourishes, audio samples, and digitally manipulated sound effects throughout its six tracks. Frontman Jeffery Wright’s vocal style is certainly an acquired taste and may produce comparisons to Circa Survive’s Anthony Green or even to Spencer Gill from the lesser known Tides of Man, (think high-pitched and earnest). But the difference here lies in how Wright uses his voice to accompany the layered instrumentation. While both Green and Gill apply their vocal abilities in service of more melodic pop/prog oriented songs, Wright goes in a far more interesting and mature direction. By the time one hits the eight-minute mark of opener “Under The Phase”, for example, his fervent wail is nearly swallowed by Axtell’s churning wall of guitar. It’s a neat trick, as the song develops almost like something from Godspeed You! Black Emperor, beginning with a scratchy audio clip of a Christian Evangelical revival and then eventually fading into Wright’s androgynous voice. “The Feast” has a nearly three-minute recurring xylophone intro before exploding into a post-rock freak-out, complete with marching drums and reverb-heavy guitar. When Wright finally does start singing he sounds hauntingly world-weary, with lines like “Feast on your sense of urgency/ use the pen to write all your transgressions” coming across especially eerie. “False Victories” utilizes an elegant piano melody and electronic backbeat with sudden blasts of honking brass and cinematic keyboard. Cliff Mattis’ production is especially notable here; dense and full without ever sounding cluttered. There is an epic, soundtrack-style scope to the song that builds majestically, flowing nicely into what is essentially a sonic continuation in closer “No Fiction.”

While Present No Fiction, Fear No Tense is certainly a leap forward for the band, it is by no means perfect. Though the ominous and meditative tone that runs throughout the album is well handled, there is a sense of musical sameness that runs the risk of becoming repetitive. For instance, it would have been nice to hear a few more variations on the loud/soft dynamic (slow, mostly instrumental intros, languid middle section, explosive finish), but as it stands Early & Often do this kind of thing extremely well. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if they adopted a completely new sound on upcoming recordings, such is their seeming willingness to experiment. Here’s hoping that Present No Fiction, Fear No Tense becomes a release that helps the band reach an audience as broad and open-minded as the music itself.

“No Fiction” by Early & Often

To listen to Present No Fiction, Fear No Tense, click on this link and stream the full album!


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31 01 2011

One Day, Earth Time
Stray Kites

7 out of 10

Lo-fi folk duo buck convention with a wink and a smile

by Jericho Cerrona
January 31, 2011

Ashburn, Virginia’s Stray Kites craft a playfully minimalistic brand of folk on their debut One Day, Earth Time, an album that at times sounds both inconsequential and inviting. The fact that the duo (made up of vocalist/guitarist Junior Roseboro and percussionist Max Detrich) tag their sound “post-pretentious” should key the listener in right away to the level of loopy freedom and musical joy on display here. The lo-fi recording techniques and free-wheeling atmosphere gives much of One Day, Earth Time a sense of unpredictability as songs reveal shards of melody buried within the clang of bongos, handclaps and twitchy acoustic guitar strumming. A laid-back sense of irony and wit is also evident, as Roseboro’s ability to spout out laconic metaphors in an almost spoken-word fashion is quite welcoming.

Throughout the album’s ten tracks one gets the feeling that these are two musicians making music simply for the love of the process. They almost dare the listener to dismiss them and most likely wouldn’t mind either way. Surely one of the best things that can be said about Stray Kites is their apparent unwillingness to view their work as a platform for financial gain or popularity (the entire album is available for free download on their site), and this kind of aesthetic seeps through into much of the actual songwriting.

The album’s best songs, such as the rollicking ditty “The Inkblot” the minimalist acoustic “Tiles/Moccasins/Jetpacks” and the Destroyer-esque rocker “After I Say Sunshine” perfectly combine charming melodies with a sense of fractured quirkiness. There is also two interesting interludes, the thirty-two second “Grimace” and the fifty-one second “She knows…” The former showcases an experimental boldness only hinted at on the album as a whole with what sounds like off-kilter xylophone and accordion with Roseboro repeating the lines “I’m on my own again” and the latter is actually one of the most lyrically memorable tracks despite its short length.

The downside here is that since the entire album is largely a ramshackle affair, some of the tracks simply fail to make an impression. “Wake Up” for example features a memorable hook with Roseboro’s eccentric vocal delivery and catchy handclaps but the song ends just at the moment it should really be taking off. “Curse Our Fate” is a somewhat shapeless song with noodling acoustics that takes a good two minutes before the lyrics even kick in and closer “Talking Plaster Walls pt.4” feels directionless just for the sake of weirdness. Surely this kind of thing is intentional, but perhaps some of these songs could have been stronger with a little more focus and discipline.

Overall One Day, Earth Time is a solid jumping off point for a duo still experimenting with their musical template. This is undoubtedly music not to be taken too seriously (in a good way) and Roseboro and Max Detrich’s jaunty, angular arrangements suggest that they are having a lot of fun with genre conventions. With a new album due out later this year titled Mieux and based on the excellent lead single “Misanthrope”, Stray Kites seem to be expanding upon their sound, adding more instruments and layers to the mix. Here’s hoping that they can capitalize on the initial promise of One Day, Earth Time and reach a wider, if idiosyncratic, audience.

“After I Say Sunshine” by Stray Kites

To download a free copy of One Day, Earth Time, click on this link!

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6 12 2010

Ghost Sketch

8 out of 10

Or the story of Ian Bone’s genre-defying basement tapes

by Jericho Cerrona
December 6, 2010

Darlingchemicalia’s EP Ghost Sketch has been gaining a small but rapid group of admirers around the Sacramento music scene for some time now. The brainchild of singer/songwriter/ Ian Bone, this is clearly a personal labor of love and it shows in that every song is crafted with care and unconventional production choices. Unlike a lot of avant-garde music though, Ghost Sketch never comes off like an experimental jam session or some foray into artsy concept-album nonsense. There are legitimate songs here, but they never sound glossy or poppy enough to be completely accessible either. The EP successfully straddles the line between shoe-gaze, electro, art rock, and lo-fi basement pop in a way that seems entirely natural rather than forced.

Opening track “Hospital Song” features off-timed finger plucking mixed with Bone’s haunting reverb-soaked vocals, which is followed by shoe-gaze pop gem “I Check Out Everyone” emphasizing propulsive drums, banjo, xylophone, and barely recognizable lyrics surrounded by walls of sound and wailing guitar solo. “Kingdom Contagion” has a woozily drunken vibe with acoustic guitar, tambourine and keyboard complimented nicely by Bone’s high-pitched tenor. “When You’re Dead” is a demented campfire song complete with handclaps, shouting gang vocals, and warped kazoo, while “Much” joins moody electronic flourishes and twinkling piano with digital blips and spastic Apex Twin-style techno. “Zombie” is a minimalistic acoustic number that features some the album’s most fluid songwriting and is followed by “Ghost 2”, in which Bone quivers the line “the ghost is in our hearts” over a repetitive acoustic riff which eventually erupts into a spaced-out instrumental with synthesized drums and dueling banjos. “Nightmare Song” and “The Devil Will Come” both follow similar musical templates as the previous tracks, mixing drawn out vocals with off-kilter guitars, tambourines, and digitally manipulated snare kicks. The EP closes with “Oxycleon”, where Bone’s vocal delivery is similar to Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox as he croons behind gloomy synths and airy guitar strumming.

What ultimately sets Ghost Sketch apart is the way in which the music refuses to follow trends while also avoiding self-indulgence. The melodic territory is certainly strange and fragmented, but it also avoids some of the sprawling excesses of many other independent artists operating under the mainstream radar. The songs don’t overstay their welcome either, with each track clocking in at under 4 minutes except for “I Check Out Everyone” and “Ghost 2”. With rumors of a new DarlingChemicalia full-length in the works, it will be interesting to see if Bone can expand on many of the ideas laid out in this EP. The only downside here is that some of the songs near the end, particularly “Nightmare Song” and “The Devil Will Come” seem to repeat themselves musically, lacking a singular identity separating them from the rest of Ghost Sketch’s sonic landscape. Still, this is creative and interesting stuff that deserves a much wider, if distinctive, audience.

“I Check Out Everyone” by Darlingchemicalia

To download a free copy of Ghost Sketch, click on this link!

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