Okay, so perhaps I’ve been going a little post crazy this week, but there’s just been so much great pop music that I can’t turn my head away; I can’t stop posting it! My latest joy has been this great Jay Arner tune, off his forthcoming album, Jay II. Interestingly, some of it sounds like the dark synths of Blank Dogs, but other times, there’s just this simple infectious hook that plays through your mind over and over again. This new record will hit just in time for your summer pool parties on June 17th via Mint Records.
I’ve been thinking about what happened to Mike Sniper and Blank Dogs; it’s left a big void in my life of dark electronic influenced tunes…until this Hooded Fang came across. This seems like the natural progression of that style, although there’s definitely a more spastic element that recalls some early art-rock moments. Another benefit, is the work comes from a full band, and you can tell in the song’s structure that it’s more than just a sum of working parts, or pre-recorded parts. The band will release Venus on Edge on May 13 via Daps Records.
As we’ve lamented lately (including this week) the hiatus of Thee Oh Sees, it looks like John Dwyer isn’t even stopping to think about it. That should completely be expected, considering the fact that his old band worked at a seemingly break-neck speed. But, what I didn’t entirely expect from Dwyer was this new synth-laden track under his new moniker, Damaged Bug. It’s similar to the work of Mike Sniper of Blank Dogs (where has he gone) in so far as it’s a largely electronic sound wrapped around a rock n’ roll attitude. Dwyer’s got a synth project and a label? He’s definitely the new Sniper. John’s record will be titled Hubba Bubba, and it will be released on February 25th via his label, Castleface.
It seems like Grave Babies have been fighting back against the various all-inclusive genre tags that have been thrown their way, though you might not be able to tell that by listening to their latest effort, Crusher. So before you venture into their world, put all your preconceived notions aside and just listen carefully.
Crusher‘s intent is apparent upon the first instrumental track, “I,” that begins your listening experience. It’s a wall of feedback and noise, looping in your ears with a distorted vocal creating an odd sense of calm before the band breaks into “Over and Under Ground.” It’s a thunderous track, with pounding drums and anthemic vocals, though you’ll have to listen through the haze to realize this is a pretty simplistic pop song. You speed it up, clean it up a tad, and you’ve got a nice little power-pop track hanging in there. Such tendencies are the specialty of Grave Babies throughout their album, creatively blurring the lines between traditional pop and modern noise. This is much the same approach they use a few songs later on “Skulls,” which has some sonic similarities to what Mike Sniper has been doing with Blank Dogs. But, the difference here is in the pronounced crispness of the drums, which breaks through the onslaught of guitar noise coming through your speakers.
Personally, I’ll admit to the affecting moments when the band takes a softer approach. However, the group doesn’t ever go near being too soft; I’m referring to their ability to pull back on the audial barrage of noise. “Slaughter” trudges along beautifully, fueled by a darkly dancing guitar line. While the vocals might seem a bit distant in the mix, it’s inevitable that you’ll see the pure harmony in their tone–this isn’t just a noisy record; it’s brimming with an inner beauty. It’s similar to “Death March,” which appears further on down Crusher’s track-list. Everything moves at a slower pace on this tune, though you can clearly see how the band could go either way…they could speed it up and make it clean, or they could mess with you and just draw the song out slower. This is part of the enchanting part of Grave Babies; they have this unique ability to toy with every preconceived notion you’ve got in your head. I love the way “Death March” unnoticeably moves into “Haunted, with both songs seeming to come from some kindred spirit.
Listening through the entire album might be grating on your ears, but this is the only way you can guarantee safe passage through the blurred lines that Grave Babies have presented you with on this release. Is a song like “Hate Repeats” just a ballad disguised as some ghoulish piece of artistic noise rock? Well, you’ll have to make that out for yourselves…that’s the mystique and intrigue that you’ll get to live with as soon as you press play on Crusher.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/GraveBabies_OverAndUnderGround.mp3]
Download: Grave Babies – Over And Under Ground [MP3]
Crusher is available now from Hardly Art.
If the first few singles are any indication of what Black Marble have up their sleeve, then their new release, A Different Arrangement. For me, this newest single, “Static,” has the feeling of a more approachable Blank Dogs track. It’s got this underlying darkness being portrayed by the electronic element, but the overall feeling is definitely one that leans more towards pop. You’re going to need to pick this record up the day it comes out, just to show your friends how good your tastes really are. You can pick the album up on October 6th from our dear friends over at Hardly Art Records.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/BlackMarble_Static.mp3]
Download:Black Marble – Static [MP3]
Ever since I first caught wind of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti it always seemed like (it actually was) one man’s recording project. It was steeped in lo-fi recordings, occasionally allowing for the pop elements to leak out into the listener’s ear. On Mature Themes, throw all your preconceived notions out the window and get ready for Ariel Pink’s pop extravaganza.
I swear that the first time I heard album opener “Kinski Assassin” I thought I had stumbled upon some rare Magnetic Fields track. Deep vocal tones backed by keyboard backbones are most prevalent, fueled by witty bits of lyrics that might only connect with the songwriter. It’s actually a solid tune, just not what I expected here. From here it blasts off with “Is This the Best Spot,” which definitely sounds more like Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti have opted to make a video game piece…it’s like the oddball version of Blank Dogs–not necessarily a bad thing.
While the group’s received a lot of praise for their work in the past, I feel as if the accessibility of Mature Themes alone warrants more fans and listeners, though that might steer away the hipster cognoscenti. “Only In My Dreams” approximates the group’s quirky psych hits, but the production has made way for clarity that makes the record leaps and bounds better than its predecessor. There’s warm tones from the guitar, relaxed backing vocals and a central pop element…yet it’s definitely still as playful as ever. “Farewell American Primitive” is another track where the clarity of the pop element provides listeners with a chance to really sink themselves into the song. You can just take one listen to the vocals and you’ll see that this track is moving the band in a more direct approach to songwriting, and that will vastly benefit anyone who picks this up.
Still, I’m not going to get rid of the allusions to Stephin Merritt, though there’s slight differences present. “Symphony of the Nymph” is another example of a track where Ariel Pink are flirting with more sincerity in their songwriting, using simple rhyme with the lyrics to provide a much-needed hook. But, of course, the group’s always been built upon pushing the limits of their craft, and even within this track they do it successfully, happily letting the tune take turns left and right, only to return to the central pop song.
Admittedly, I can see that Mature Themes is not nearly as weird and out there as many listeners thought Before Today was. You’ll find more tunes that allow you to sink your teeth into the lyrics, rather than coat them in meaningless atmospherics and yelps. For some, that’s going to be a detractor, as they want Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti to be their own secret joy, but with some of the best song the band’s constructed to date, that’s not going to be the case this go round. Ignore the recent drama of the group and ignore the ideas you already have about the group. If you do so, you’re going to find yourself pleased with a pop record that’s got far more longevity than anything the group’s put together before.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/04-Only-In-My-Dreams.mp3]
Download:Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Only In My Dreams [MP3]
I’m a label loyalist, so when our friends at Hardly Art send something our way, I’m pretty much guaranteed to like it. Perhaps that leads me to make judgmental errors in regards to what’s good and what’s not, but in the case of Black Marble, I think I’m right on with this one. The vinyl release of their Weight Against the Door EP will be out on Valentine’s Day, and I hope it features just as many darkened tracks as this number. Musically, it’s just a steady, almost simple, electronic production, but the vocal vibe creates that sort of haunting feeling you had as a kid when you first listened to Joy Division…or more recently Blank Dogs. Taste it.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/BlackMarble_Pretender.mp3]
Download:Black Marble – Pretender [MP3]
Last year I raved about the self-titled debut from Mind Spiders, so I was really excited when I found out the band would already be releasing their new album Meltdown almost less than a year later. Said record is set to come out on February 21st via Dirtnap Records, and you’ll definitely find some differences this go around, at least if this first preview is any indicator. Their last effort was pretty straight forward rock n’ roll, but here you’ll hear a little bit of a scuzzier performance from the band, reminiscent of Blank Dogs. It’s coated in some sort of dingy wash, yet that’s not going to take away from the fact that the band still know how to kick out the jams. For me, it’s Jay Reatard meets Mike Sniper, which equals awesomeness to the max![audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Mind_Spiders_-_Wait_For_Us.mp3]
Download: Mind Spiders – Wait For Us [MP3]
I recently got passed this record from Canada’s Under Electric Light, which has recently been playing a lot on my stereo, even though the record is several months old. Upon my first listen, I enjoyed the coldness of the atmospherics that were present, yet the more I listened the more I started to think of this group as a more accessible Blank Dogs, especially when you listen to the track below. It builds with synths and gentle crashes of percussion that seem hidden in the background. If you dig this track, then you need to seek out the band and get a hold of their recent LP, Waiting For the Rain to Fall.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/03-A-Sudden-Move.mp3]
Download: Under Electric Light – A Sudden Move [MP3]
Jen Weidl and her posse in Seapony definitely have something wonderful going on in their debut for Hardly Art, Go With Me. After lots of critical acclaim on the net, it would be easy to throw this band aside as just another band making bedroom pop, which they do for the most part. But, if you can discard similarities to various other bands, you’ll find that lay in wait, waiting to carry you off.
“Dreaming” begins the entire affair with what is probably the most energetic you’ll find the band, and at times, the guitars emulate Mike Sniper and Blank Dogs. Those pounding drums, twanging guitars, well, they’re all nice and clean, but what will really get you is the pop sensation. You can forget about comparisons, as Weidl’s voice definitely gives a new spin on things here.
There are easily a lot of tracks on this record that one might identify as ripping off various other acts, or at least being easily influenced, but a special song is a special song, regardless of whether it was made by Seapony or various other bands out there. “Into the Sea” is one such track, with guitars maneuvering along the sunny coastal region, and the hazy Jen warmly singing atop it all. In all honesty, Weidl is the savior of Go With Me. She does it again on “Go Away,” which sort of sounds like a cross between Best Coast and Girls Names, but her girl-group approach to vocal delivery, not to mention the nod to such things with her lyrics, makes tracks standout beyond the masses.
There’s tons of comparisons that can be made all over the place when listening to Go With Me. You might find a Best Coast reference here, or even a Wild Nothing allusion, but what probably sticks out the most is how similar Seapony comes to sounding like a happier version of Blank Dogs. The recording of the angular guitars in songs like “Always” or “Where We Go” almost plays like a Sniper remix, but perhaps that’s why it’s so easy to dig this record. Everything sounds familiar, and yet it doesn’t sound familiar at all. Lyrics aren’t typically this adorably put together, and girls usually don’t work well, at least not as of yet/late, in this genre.
Even with all these noticeable nods to the indie landscape of today laced across this album, I’ve found myself spinning it again and again. Part of me has a soft spot for any music of the ilk, part of me finds some odd connection between Camera Obscura and bedroom pop of the now. It’s precisely the kind of record you can listen to while swinging your significant other around the living room instead of hitting up the bars. For that alone, Seapony and Go With Me deserve a nice little spot in your collection, not to mention the fact that you can include any number of tracks all across your summer mixes.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/SP_BlueStar.mp3]
Download: Seapony – Blue Star [MP3]