School Of Seven Bells – SVIIB
Released February 26th, 2016 on Vagrant Records
School Of Seven Bells were never one of the bands pushed by indie radio that really ever appealed to me. They came off as the nadir of the cross-pollination of shoegaze and dream pop, an amalgamation of the worst parts of both that hung around like the miasma of a bad dream for just long enough to get obnoxious. I didn’t expect much when I sat down with SVIIB, their fourth (and now final) album.
As it turns out, it’s leaps and bounds beyond their earlier material, a record that takes in the best moments of Eighties alt-pop while still remaining aloof and individual. It’s slick, but dreamy; the drums hit hard but the melodies remain slippery. It seems like a celebration and in a way it is. During the process of recording (in 2013), one half of the duo, Benjamin Curtis, passed away from lymphoma. Alejandra Dehaza took what they had, polished it up with some help, and released this one last School Of Seven Bells album. I wouldn’t have blamed her if she had just walked away from the project after her creative partner died, but the fact that she stuck to it and released such a stellar final album is a bit inspiring in its own way. It’s a hell of a way to go out, and at the very least it leaves me with fond memories of a group that I previously had no such memories of.
And the rest…
Cavern of Anti-Matter
Void Beats/Invocation Trex
02/19/2016 on Duophonic Records
Electronic music may be a big festival draw now but it’s origins lie in open synth work layered over Krautrock-inspired motorik beats. Cavern of Anti-Matter take their chosen genre back to its retro moment, conjuring up images of later Kraftwerk or E2-E4.
Life Of Pause
02/19/2016 on Bella Union Records
As usual, Wild Nothing’s latest record conjures up a daydream of the Eighties, a snatch of John Hughes remembered at the moment of death. Like most Wild Nothings records, the single is the best part, but there are some real moments of strength and revelation found throughout.
02/19/2016 on Golf Channel Records
A seamless blend of West African heart, German efficiency, and the classic thump of the Roland TR-808 drum machine. Harder to pin down than your average hip hop record, and a good sight more freeing.
Meet The Humans
02/26/2016 on Domino Records
Overly sensitive without being eye-rollingly weepy, Meet The Humans dances all over the pop-rock map in search of Mason’s heart, and hits far more often than it misses.
In Search Of Harperfield
02/26/2016 on Chemikal Underground Records
Country-folkie with a nice enough turn of phrase and a decent sense of navigation around a plaintive melody, still not much to really write home about. A record you can take home to mama, but not a record you can really take out and party with.
#100: Sunn O))) – Kannon
The drone-doom-noise band finally follows up 2009’s transcendental Monoliths and Dimensions with a more immediate and visceral trio of noise-soaked dread.
#99: Rose McDowall – Cut With The Cake Knife
If you ever missed spiky, snotty Eighties pop, look no further.
#98: BC Camplight – How To Die In The North
Velvety and yet dangerous, like the upholstery on a late-70s vintage Buick.
#97: Lupe Fiasco – Tetsuo & Youth
He’ll spend the rest of his career living down his ill-fated sophomore album (he recently grudgingly encouraged the destruction of physical copies of it) but Tetsuo & Youth shows where his career should have gone.
#96: Thee Oh Sees – Mutilator Defeated At Last
Six albums, five years, and a couple of big lineup changes finds John Dwyer’s day job band rocking out bigger and harder than ever before.
#95: Destruction Unit – Negative Feedback Resistor
Blown-out industrial noise-punk, like Big Black with a better appreciation for depth.
#94: No Joy – More Faithful
The alternagaze duo returns for a murkier, more complex record that plays directly to their strengths.
#93: Hot Chip – Why Make Sense?
A strong mid-career album for the veteran indie-dance group, with solid grooves and a touch of early 90s UK rave.
#92: Carly Rae Jepsen – E-MO-TION
An 80s banger of a pop record, once you get over the essential Robin Sparkles nature of E-MO-TION it becomes a great soundtrack to an energetic night.
#91: Prurient – Frozen Niagara Falls
A double album of shapeable, moldable pure sound from longtime noise artist Dominick Fernow.
#90: Echo Lake – Era
This record is liquid, in that the sound expands to fill whatever room you play it in. Expansive dream-prog with an ambient touch that is deft and subtle.
#89: Alabama Shakes – Sound And Color
Brittany Howard looks a third grade teacher and sings like the Goddess of Soul. The band is okay too.
#88: Ghostpoet – Shedding Skin
Mercury Prize nominated UK hip hop artist goes full out in an amalgamation of grime, U.S. hip hop, and electronic influences.
#87: Mount Eerie – Sauna
The calmest, quietest sense of dread you may ever experience, and something of a comeback for the former Microphones frontman.
#86: Zun Zun Egui – Shackle’s Gift
A truly world-reaching experience, the Bristol band draws on a number of diverse influences to create hard-hitting, crunchy songs that are close in approximating rock n roll.
#85: Belle & Sebastian – Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance
The band takes a hard skew towards dance pop on their umpteenth album, bringing some much-needed fresh air into their act.
#84: EL VY – Return To The Moon
A meeting of the minds between indie stalwarts The National and Menomena, EL VY is one of the rare side projects that hits all the same pleasure buttons as their respective member’s day jobs.
#83: The Roadside Graves – Acne/Ears
This is a rustic country album, if it were made by a less-crappy Gaslight Anthem, or if The Men took the folk-country side of New Moon and ran with it. Which is to say, it’s as Jersey as anything else you can name.
#82: Wilco – Star Wars
The veteran alt-country band keeps that train a-rollin’, not letting age or maturity get in the way of a good rock n roll hook. It may be “music for dads with receding hairlines” as Shameless put it, but it rocks all the same.
#81: Insect Ark – Portal/Well
Dana Schechter creates a bedroom electronic record that shifts and transforms as much as it makes a serious attempt to claw up your face and wriggle into your ear.
Helen – The Original Faces
Another autumn arrives (almost) and so comes another album from Liz Harris. Instead of another Grouper album, however, Ms. Harris has put together a dream-pop outfit called Helen that approximates the sounds of the early Nineties, when wobbly tape noises, ultra-lo-fi recording, and thick fogs of reverb were par for the course. A lot of that is, of course, stuff that Liz Harris uses seemingly every day, but the difference here is obvious. Grouper is a project that approximates folk, except drowned in dread and isolated tape artifacts. Helen is a pop group at its core, albeit one that sounds as though it was recorded live in an intimate club in the late 1980s and then left out in the rain for the past 25 years. A track like “Felt This Way” sounds like what would happen if your house caught fire and your copies of Darklands and Heaven Or Las Vegas melted into each other but were still listenable. These are, despite all of their accouterments, skeletal songs; the bass pokes through the holes in the sonics in a way that will make any aficionado of raw garage-recorded rock ‘n’ roll sit up and clap. The gain used on the guitar amps is something rather unusual for Harris, but the way that the distortion is scattered to the winds and made to suffuse the whole song – as on “Pass Me By” – is quite warm and familiar. Where the album really comes together is on “Dying All The Time”, where Harris and Co. up the racket to a near-punk fury by way of a drum line that carries all of the diffused distortion and thumping bass to an entirely different world.
If you miss noisy dream pop from the days when you were still buying it on cassette, do yourself a favour and track down a cassette copy of The Original Faces.
Beach House – Depression Cherry
I did not like Beach House prior to Bloom, their critically acclaimed 2012 album. Many people did, but I did not count myself among them. In an era where chillwave was becoming an actual thing, Beach House circa Devotion or Teen Dream seemed too chill for me, a chillness that threatened to lapse into coma at any point. It was dream pop deep into the dream, and at the time I was looking for something more visceral, more raw, and more alive. Bloom, however, caught my ear instantly. Maybe it was being in a state of constant exhaustion by 2012, or maybe it was the fact that the duo sharpened their hooks so that they were too brilliant to be ignored. Either way, it was my gateway into the world of the Baltimore band, and each previous album revealed it’s slow-burn charms to me afterwards.
Depression Cherry does not have the way with hooks that Bloom did. That is not to say that it is not possessed of it’s own way with catching the listener’s ear, at all. “Sparks”, “Space Song”, and “PPP” all have backbones that will linger in your consciousness long after you’ve given up on sleep for the night. “Wildflower” has the gentle field of relaxation at it’s heart that characterized the best parts of Teen Dream. It’s just that, when it comes down to the final reckoning, if Bloom had not existed and the band had gone from Teen Dream to Depression Cherry I would still likely not be a fan of the band. It has much more in common with their previous efforts than with the radio-ready work of “Myth” or “Other People”. Now, post-Bloom, I can appreciate the subtle textures they weave into the songs: the insistent woodpecker-like percussion on “Bluebird”; the oddly distorted guitar hook on “Sparks”; the pulsing synth punctuation that carries out the album on “Days Of Candy”; the chord progression that characterizes “Levitation”, where it sounds at first like they’ve struck a “wrong” chord and then you realize that it’s actually the only chord that makes sense. Bloom was all about shoving these aspects in your face; Depression Cherry brings them back into the fold, where you can discover them, or not, at your leisure.
Depression Cherry is a solidly Beach House album, and it makes for a perfect demarcation of where Beach House stands: not experimental enough to be Broadcast, too upbeat to be Low, occupying a middle ground that is squarely their own.