Friday, November 29, 2013

Live: Destruction Unit, Glue, SSLEEPERHOLD @ The North Door 11/22/13

24 hours. That’s how far in advance this Destruction Unit show was announced. $3 dollars, all ages, at a venue on the east side I’ve only been to once before that usually didn’t accommodate this sort of ruckus. Pop-up shows like this rarely ever happen in Austin, and they couldn’t have picked a worse night to call people out; it had dropped to 34 F from the high of 77 from the day before, and it had been raining all day, making the roads damp and dangerous. Despite all this though, the show was sold out when I got there, the usual gang hurdled in triple layers of thick wool coats and scarves, more than ready for the inevitable chaos that was to come this night.


I was worried about seeing SSLEEPERHOLD live. Not in the sense of whether I would enjoy it; I had listened to him a few hours before and thought his murky, dark synth work was excellent. But that sort of thing live usually only works in certain contexts, and is even harder to make engaging for people who’ve never heard it before. So SSLEEPERHOLD didn’t go for atmosphere; he went for straight for absorption. His amp was cracked so high that each beat punctured the body, rattled the skull, and he built & layered effects and cold, piercing synths in a way that only a true master could. Everyone was too scared to dance, even in the venue’s near pitch black lighting, though you could see as more and more people bobbled their heads and swayed their bodies as his set progressed. Rapturous applause erupted after he pulled the plug, and with his set had solidified the tension that would erupt further into the night.


The last time I had seen Glue was when they were opening for Hoax, playing a short but sweet set of some pretty cool, weirdo hardcore. Here, though, they really got to shine in all their demented glory. The seemed a little tighter, and played even more intensely than they had at the Mohawk. Frontman Harris was truly something, a coil that sprung and writhed across the stage; never pausing for a moment during their fifteen minutes. The crowd responded equally, a pit forming almost instantly, though with only about fifteen of the 120 people there going nuts, moshing in too wide a pit and jumping off the stage into people who instantly threw them onto the ground. My only guess is that people were reserving their energy for what was to come next.

Destruction Unit

This was the last stop on Destruction Unit’s tour, after being on the road for six months, having started with their Choas in Tejas performances back in June. The contrast between seeming them then and seeing them at the North Door was immeasurable. This was as close to the first time I saw them opening for the Men a year and a half ago, where a smoke machine covered the stage and firecrackers went off midway through the show, adding to the chaos of a band thrashing and going insane onstage. There was no smoke machine or fireworks tonight, but the strobe-like lights from the venue served as a good substitution, as the band launched into screeching and noisy songs that could only come into existence from the most demented and vile acid jams imaginable. The crowd wasn’t as violent as during Glue, but there were more people crashing together, and in the dim lighting it felt more dangerous. The band intensified through the night, the dementia leaking out of their songs, which got louder throughout their set, but never lost form or quality (the secret trick of Destruction Unit is the fact that as sprawling and twisted as their songs can get, they’re actually great, damaged psych punk). Two different guitarists fell into the crowd, and by the end of the set, the band was literally banging their instruments against their amps. Under normal circumstances it would have been a band falling apart onstage, but for them it was just another set. Not even the eight minutes one of the guitarist spent rewiring his pedals by the glow of cellphone light could detour their set. The road had broken them, and reshaped them into the psychotic band they once were, and it was a glorious & frightening thing to behold.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Xiu Xiu-Stupid in the Dark

There is something almost absurd with the fact that Xiu Xiu are describing their upcoming (and amazingly titled) album Angel Guts: Red Classroom as "a decent into the deepest blackness endurable". This has been a band exploring the vileness, ugliness, depravity, and bleakness of human life for more than ten years. This is a band that released an album called Dear God, I Hate Myself only three years ago. How much deeper can they possibly go; what aspect of the damaged human condition has been left unexamined?

I don't know if Jamie Stewart and co. will hit the emotional low point they describe, but their new song "Stupid in the Dark" definitely does set the stage for a heavy level of darkness. It opens with throbbing, pulsing synths as Stewart leaks out a dry, quiet rasp no doubt picked up from covering Nina Simone songs. The song bursts open during the chorus, unleashing a dark, neon and Cold Cave coated swirl and buzz as Stewart's voice becomes full bodied and mocks the very atmosphere songs similar to this one would soundtrack. It actually cuts deeper than that, as excerpts emerge of people being mugged and shot, and various other terrible experiences lead to a slow loss of faith in people. All the while the beat never stops, as the synths alternate between tension set and noisy, chaotic bursts depending on the situation. The way Stewart speaks of it people aren't "Stupid in the Dark"; they're monstrous.    


Xiu Xiu's Website
Pre-order Angel Guts: Red Classroom here, from Polyvinyl Records

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Majical Cloudz-Savage

Majical Cloudz's Impersonator was one of the most emotionally draining and powerful albums of this year. 10 tracks of minimalist electronica that conveyed near heartbreaking reflections on life, relationships, and the inevitability of death as it swarms around your world. It felt like an album that was built on a life time of inevitable catharsis finally being let go. However, their newest song "Savage" shows just how much deeper the band can go, diving further into their life and extracting a story of true devastation.

"Savage" is incredible because of how it expresses its pain and sorrow. It paints a more vivid picture than their previous songs, forgoing stark and curt lyrics for something slightly more vivid, a portrait of how drugs brought singer Devon Welsh and a friend together, and then eventually destroyed their relationship. There's tangible pain in "Savage", right from its opening declare of "Listen to this song/I want you to know it’s how I feel". The song rises as the emotions within it become more tumultuous, cracking clear in the song's center when Welsh calls his friend a "clown" and the anger in his voice is palatable. But the true emotional core of the song is the ever present sadness, the heartbreak with Welsh at the song's end when he can not save either his friend or their friendship. "Savage" hurts to listen to; it's a band tearing open a barely healed scar, and letting the world see what has been festering underneath.


Majical Cloudz's Tumblr
If you haven't yet, pick up Impersonator immediately

Friday, November 15, 2013

Angel Olsen-Forgiven/Forgotten

Until now, Angel Olsen had been crafting some of the most intimate folk music around, just her acoustic guitar and hypnotizing, siren-like vocals that sent straight into the soul and locked its claws into it. So to discard that intimacy, pulling a Bob Dylan and going electric on "Forgiven/Forgotten", seems downright absurd. Yet, both surprisingly and unsurprisingly, Olsen makes "Forgiven/Forgotten" feel like its been her style for years. It has tints and the same drive of St. Vincent's "Actor Out of Work" as filtered through Eleanor Friedberger's loopy solo work. The song feels both steady as hell with its constant drum beat and guitar riff, but somehow has room for off-kilter elements to seep in; a crunchy guitar riff, or Olsen's constantly fluctuating vocals, which get more desperate as the song zips along its brisk two minutes. "Forgiven/Forgotten" is a illogical plea for someone, something Olsen has tackled before, but never with the emotions this forward, with every characteristic now literally amplified  and enhanced.


Angel Olsen's Website
Pre-order Burn Your Fire For No Witness here, from Jagjaguwar

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Joanna Gruesome-Tugboat (Galaxie 500 cover)

"Tugboat" is a perfect song. Probably the first thing anyone ever hears when they first look into Glaxie 500, it's a heavenly piece of guitar pop in every possible sense. It has a magical and utterly romantic tinge to it that hasn't dissipated in the least in the 25 years it's been around. So approaching it or trying to cover it at any possible angle is flat out near impossible because the same magic contained within the song is nearly impossible to recreate. Yet, Joanna Guresome have managed to do just that. They to not only capture the dreaminess of the original (note Alanna McArdle's and Owen Williams' seamless melody during the chorus), but layer over blistering, noisy guitar that breath the song to life. The two sounds interweave until the song's final moment, before McArdle's heaves a perfect scream and the band just bathes the song in distortion. Joanna Gruesome's cover works because it feel like hearing "Tugboat" again for the first time. They did it so well, it feels like hearing a brand new Joanna Gruesome song; they truly made it their own.    


Joanna Gruesome's Facebook
Get the "Sugarcrush" 7" here, from Slumberland Records

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Album: The Slasher Film Festival Strategy-Crimson Throne

I don't like horror movies. In fact, I hate horror movies. I am possibly one of the biggest scardy cats in the world, so horror movies, and the horror genre as a whole are the antithesis to me in every way. However, as I've discovered over the past few months, I think I rather enjoy horror movie soundtracks, or at least music inspired by them. There was that creepy Espectrostatic song that cracked my interest in murky electronics. But what really clenched it was the Slasher Film Festival Strategy tape Wet Leather that my friend Tom gave me that I just feel in love with; all dark, throbbing, and tense as hell synth lines and never let you escape. And now, to truly cement my love, The Slasher Film Festival Strategy has released the album Crimson Throne as well.

Crimson Throne doesn't have the same methodical tension that Wet Leather had. Don't get me wrong, Crimson Throne has the same sense of dread, maybe more so, that was on Wet Leather. However, that kind of tension can't hold steady over 40 minutes, nor is that something Slasher Film Festival Strategy wants to do over this album. Instead, he creates something that ebbs and flows, an album that draws you in with the the eerie, but almost lovely lull of "Weightless" or "Frozen Alter", before dropping into the fast moving, throbbing, and ever approaching lurking of "Terraformer" and "Cosmic Burial". It's all in the albums center, the initially lovely done horrifying "Thermal Event" as it shifts from airy and floating melodies, before the industrial drum machine clicks on and the synths suddenly develop a darker quality to them. The just sad and ghost-like digital message that plays over the string like synths of closer "Day 18" end the album on just the right note. Crimson Throne is a dark and murky album, the monsters conjured by its synths and drumbeats waiting to escape and crawl into your nightmares.


The Slasher Film Festival Strategy's Tumblr
Buy Crimson Throne here, from Foreign Sound

Friday, November 8, 2013

Psychic Blood-Nightmare Beaches EP

Psychic Blood make noisy, lo-fi punk rock, and this is one of the few times all those genre tags hold completely true in describing a band's sound. Their newest EP, Nightmare Beaches, feels like a compression of all the chaotic guitar noise made in the past colliding with the ruckus being made by the kids now. "Jagged Brain" feel like a METZ song if the band was more interested in playing up their hooks than bashing you over the head with intensity. "Art Skool" is a demented, twisted piece of almost spoken word darkness that quickly deforms into frantic noise freak outs. Then there is the likes of "Won't", which sounds like a demo recording of Goo era Sonic Youth, right down to the Thurston Moore-esque delivery. The catchiest moment is in the middle with "Omens", the closest the band comes to modern indie rock, but even that track is built around screeching intros and long, crashing fills. Nightmare Beaches is a restless collection of songs, jumping from one influence to another, but managing to channel that chaotic nature into a proper extension of their wonderfully old school sound.


Psychic Blood's Tumblr
Get the Nightmare Beaches EP on cassette from Ascetic House

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Hospitality-I Miss Your Bones

  Hospitality's will have been making music for seven years by the time their second album Trouble comes out in 2014. While they a small discography for such a long existance, I like to think it has to do with the amount of effort and the quality that goes into the ageless indie-pop they craft. Case in point with new song "I Miss Your Bones". It spends its first half as a fury of indie-pop riffs that contain an angular quality jet still somehow maintain their hooky charm. Something akin to a New Pornographers song if it was lagging out of your speakers in a start and stop rhythm. While the second half is dedicated to an extended jam/instrumental punctured only by frontwoman Amber Papini's ever constant repetition of its title, which starts of a quirky term of endearment before the increased emphasis of the words gives way to the tinges of insanity underneath. The song ends not with a bang but a whimper, as the noisy ending that starts to build just ends, but in-between then Hospitality craft a perfectly lovely slice of indie-pop that they've gotten just right over the years.  


Hospitality's Website
Pre-order Trouble here, from Merge Records

Monday, November 4, 2013

Cassette: 面多 (Multi-surface)-晩秋 (Late Autumn)

Ambient music is still something that takes me the longest time to wrap my head around; to submerge myself and get lost in. It seems like it comes so naturally to people, especially with the massive amounts of the genre that seem to be constantly created on a daily basis. So it was wonderful to listen to 面多 and have his music instantly envelope my brain. 面多 (or Multi-surface, in my Latin-root based language), is Tomokazu Fujimoto of Japan. This is his very first musical offering, the perfectly titled 晩秋 (Late Autumn). A singular piece of music that unfolds over 32 minutes, it has a very pensive air to it, every moment of feeling thought out, yet its slow unfolding feeling very human and natural. In that time, Multi-surface captures the shift in time, the gentle decay of the surrounding world as as the brightness of autumn fades into the inevitable cold of winter. The slowly cascading & humming guitars that start out Late Autumn become cold, amorphous electronic clicks and bumps, before the two meld together in the end to become a blanket of cold, forbidding wind. Fujimoto's main profession is that of a gardener, and that makes sense while listening to Late Autumn; it's audio crafted to soundtrack a world you helped to cultivate become undone and slowly dissolve before your eyes.


Buy the 晩秋 (Late Autumn) cassette here, from Patient Sounds intl.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Debauchees-Rancid Dancin'

The members of the recently formed Debauchees apparently didn't have the slightly idea how to play their instruments when they decided to form. And you can really hear it in their new song "Rancid Dancin'". After the start and stop energy of "I've Got Energy", "Rancid Dancin'" feels practically jazzy.  The bass line wobbles everywhere in the song, and the guitar riffs are a staccato frenzy of disjointed notes. The song zigzags through its sections, feeling scrambled and nonlinear, yet strangely calm at the same time in it's proto-post punkness. It has the same scrappy energy that the likes of Chalk Circle or the Neo Boys before them had, the need to make music over coming any sort of lacking in technical ability. In another time and area, The Debauchees would have recorded a self-released 7" or two before being lost to the winds of time. Instead, they're going releasing their debut album and won't be disappearing anytime soon.


The Debauchees' Facebook
Pre-order their s/t album here, from sonaBLAST! Records

Cassette Review: Cousins-Bathhouse

Cousins’ begin their debut album with their version of the “sprawl song”. The “sprawl song” as I’ve dubbed it, is one of the best tricks in indie rock, where a band will form a whole song around a repeated 10 second loop of noisy yet steady music and have the vocals mixed just right so that they rise over everything else but right at the cusp. At key moments there will be a burst of energy, usually in the form of a distortion pedal being turned on, but the song should hold steady for its entire length. Pulled off just right (see Stereolab’s “French Disko” or Weekend’s more recent “Sirens”), it allows for chaotic energy and tension to coexist within the same song seamlessly, and feels like it go on forever even though it always knows the right point to stop at. That’s how Cousins open up Bathhouse, with the knotty and oh so excellent “Abdicator”, six and half minutes of angular post-punk catharsis buried under layers and layers of shoegaze distortion and baritone vocals that borderline at drone. And while by all means these subgenres should cancel each other out, “Abdicator” never halts for a moment, always using the other genre’s energy to lift up the others. It is an incredibly impressive feat for an opening track.

It also serves to set the stage completely for everything else in Bathhouse. Cousins craft this dark and longing filled version of indie rock, pumped filled with creative distortion, topped with post-punk frosting and ‘90s emo flakes. The formula is never stable; with the band forever adding and subtracting these subgrenes for their songs for variation. “Brother’s Books (To My Beloved Little Sister)” cranks up the disjointed post-punk riffs and bursts of noise so that it feels like a bit like a burry version of Sonic Youth’s “Candle”. “Drone” on the other hand lives up to its name, descending deeper and deeper into a bottomless well of dreary, cascading instruments that would make Whirr proud.

In fact what Whirr did on Pipe Dreams, when they were a shoegaze band trying tooth and nail to be Dinosaur Jr., is a great reference point for what Cousins are doing here, though the reverse. The results are clearest in the likes of “Xuxa”, one of Bathhouse’s best tracks, where the band couldn’t decide on either concentrating on the shoegaze or post-punk guitars and did both at once, the results being frantic upon frantic bursts of gooey guitar riffs that chime and sludge at the same time. At this point, J. Wyatt’s vocals need to be talked about as they are the connective tissue of all these tracks; his longing, monotonic, baritone forever hanging over all these tracks, not matter how unhinged or engulfed the songs get. It’s a little bit of a shame that his vocals are buried so deep in the songs. They wouldn’t work any other way, but it doesn’t allow the lyrics to shine like they should; bleak and sad prose that usually call out for an end or just giving up, and repeated more than once over the course of a song. The cynicism that runs through the songs is as heavy the cold and snowy landscape that probably informed them.

It all comes to a head on Bathhouse’s last track “Maustrap/Mono No Aware”, a 15+ minute monster that serves as the albums most lush track, its purest take on shoegaze, and yet under cuts it all by the noisy, clattering coda lashed onto the end that compresses the rest of the album’s sounds into a three minute space. But to a certain degree that makes sense because there is nothing on Bathhouse that is completely straightforward or even remotely cool. Cousins could end Bathhouse on that coda because they could and they did. Bathhouse is uncompromising, sprawling, everywhere, sad, angry, brittle, cold, and lonely. It is some of the best indie rock I’ve heard all year.


Cousins' Tumblr
Buy Bathhouse here, from Bridgetown Records