REVIEW: Colleen - A flame my love, a frequency

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Laura Kerry

A flame my love, a frequency, the new full-length by Colleen (AKA Cécile Schott), is an album of transformations. A composer who has favored the viola de gamba (and other baroque instruments) with touches of electronic processing in her previous six albums, she makes the leap in her new work to fully electronic instrumentation.

Her seventh album emerged out of another shift that occurred over the course of a single day in Paris. Now based in Spain, Schott had returned to her former home in France for a visit in November 2015, where she saw a lovely scene of people enjoying the afternoon. Later that night, the same scene transformed into a scene of terror with the coordinated attacks that took place at cafes, bars, and a stadium and concert venue.

Though a heavy, despairing sound might seem a natural response to such an event, Colleen’s A flame my love, a frequency is remarkably light. Delicate and based on suggestion rather than profusion, the album seems to capture the ominous glow of the afternoon before the terror more than its mournful aftermath. It opens with “November,” the briefest and sparsest track, built on a single, twinkling synth voice that flutters forward for a phrase, then pauses. With that, the album promises a space for reflection.

It delivers throughout the seven spacious and beautiful songs that follow. “Separating” smolders with an eery intensity as Schott’s quiet, patient vocals echo over dainty synth lines that form a full orchestra in the gaps between them. “Another world” subtly radiates sadness and surprise as a low, resonant synth pulses and brighter voices dance in the foreground. In “The stars vs creatures,” a warm synth waltzes in pretty arpeggios, haunting with simplicity and a touch of otherworldly delay, before making way for a muted drone later on. Though the artist has replaced classical instruments with Critter and Guitari synthesizers and a Moog filter, she hasn’t completely abandoned them; from the piano sounds on “November” to the mallet-like voices on “The stars vs creatures” and string tones on “Winter dawn,” Schott draws so much warmth and depth out of her electronic palette that it’s easy to forget it comes from a series of circuits. For an album voiced by machines, A flame my love, a frequency maintains an abundance of human feeling.

And for an album influenced by loss, that human feeling maintains an impressive degree of levity. Instead of focusing on the shock of terror itself, Schott seems more concerned with the dissonance between beauty and horror. As she sings in “Winter dawn,” while a low synth pulses in an almost cheery rhythm, “The world had nearly ended yet the sky was blue.” Even after the worst event, beauty can persist. Anyone who listens to Colleen’s new album can attest to that.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Goose Pimple - Gamers

Laura Kerry

For a band with so many releases, LA-based Goose Pimple is surprisingly mysterious. There's not much out there that would help you get acquainted with the band; only the many rows of bright album cover squares on their Bandcamp page, and the music itself. Their experimental pop, at its sunniest, sounds like the Beach Boys might after eating too many weed gummies, falling asleep under a seedy bridge, and dreaming of getting trapped in a video game. 

Goose Pimple’s new music video for “Gamers,” off of Goose Groove!: Whiz Kid Jams To The Dirt (released in June), is one more piece of the puzzle that confounds more than it informs. More than that, though—it delights.

Created by Ellie Tremayne and Paolo Yumol, the video starts with a simple animated face with green skin, blue hair, and freckles, wailing, “Jonesing for a cigarette,” as abstracted images flash in the background every few frames. In the next five minutes of the mellow, jangly tune, the video takes us to strange places—bright, rainbow-colored landscapes filled with bodies that glow as they float in space, headless men with flowers that grow out of bald scalps. It’s an intriguing (and at times, intriguingly disconcerting) mashup that celebrates spontaneity, weirdness, and a successful marriage between the band’s sound and the artists’ aesthetic.

REVIEW: El Ayacha - Unseen

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Raquel Dalarossa

Pierre Dennebouy is a musician from a small town in France. His project El Ayacha is named after a small town in Tunisia. His music seems to live in neither place—El Ayacha’s debut EP, Unseen (sung entirely in English), provokes a subtle sense of longing and displacement through four evocative tracks.

The group has been touring since this past spring and have already nailed down a signature sound. Mixing cold guitars and booming drums, courtesy of band members Gildas Lemardelé and Adrien Leprêtre, El Ayacha incorporate both a lot of noise and a lot of space. Dennebouy’s vocals are a low and steady anchor, and he sings in an unaffected tone through lines like “I live in a city / Made of fiction” (“Bored”).

It’s a musical aesthetic that takes after post-punk, but often the effortless catchiness of the melodies here—whether they’re presented upfront or buried among some more abstract instrumental explorations—recall the kind of feel-good poignance of ‘90s pop-rock. There’s something familiar about these chord progressions which makes the music immediately appealing and easy to return to again and again. “Maria” is the most obvious example of this; it’s an instrumental track with an upbeat guitar riff that resonates without trying. It seems to pass by quickly, ending before you’re ready to let it go.

And such is the way of the entire EP. Unseen is a thoroughly enjoyable listen that leaves you hoping a full length will soon be on its way.

REVIEW: Chiquita Magic - Aventuras

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Phillipe Roberts

Pitched as a lo-fi solo project, Aventuras instead finds singer-songwriter Isis Giraldo roping in a new cast of collaborators for a voyage beyond the constraints of Chiquita Magic’s original choral pop premise. With the Chiquita Magic band, Giraldo composed with as little backing instrumentation as possible; occasionally a sparse, futuristic rhythm would come clunking in to add bounce or a synthesizer for texture, but the spirit of the songs was captured in the meticulously arranged vocals. This latest effort, bristling with tonal color, zooms out and away to give Giraldo's vision a larger canvas. The ideas here feel looser, designed less to bombard you with dense harmonic content than to evoke moods and put your body to work. Isis Giraldo unearths new territory to feed her expanding appetite for atmosphere and rhythm.

Right off the bat, Aventuras plays like a blueprint for what could be the future of Chiquita Magic. The title track is a summation of the album’s experimental nature. Burbling synthesizers roll with the same fluorescent funk energy of Post-era Björk, tamed by the icy stutter of hip hop-inflected drums and cartoonish flutes that recall classic video game soundtracks. Indeed, although the album traverses a range of atmospheres, there’s a lighthearted whimsical energy feeding the whole process. This results in some inclusions that, like the G-Funk throwback synthesizer line in “Primer Mundo,” can feel piped in or jarring. Others, like the cinematic motif at the beginning of “Juego,” elevate a skeletal number to something greater, flagrantly juxtaposing '80s retro horror sounds with the '90s R&B vocal harmonies that have been Giraldo's staple for some time.

These collages might not always be seamless, but Giraldo’s hypnotic harmonies fuse them together in such a way that the intent and emotion behind them is never lost. “Dale,” a personal standout, finds her vibing out in a fog of samples nabbed from the Boards of Canada playbook, and would make a marvelous instrumental on its own; “Echoes,” where she does allow for an instrumental, is a serious flexing of her beat-making ability. With all of the additions Giraldo makes in terms of equipment, it’s a welcome relief when her vocals remain the star of the show. On “Amistad,” a brilliant piece of skittering electronic funk, her earworm sensibilities grip your attention with an iron fist. Her freewheeling melody flies ahead of the beat, threatening to take off at any moment—it’s the album’s most satisfying pop moment.

Without a doubt, part of the appeal of Aventuras is the way it feels incomplete; less a finished structure than a series of experimentations. But the enthusiasm with which Giraldo leaps into their construction is infectious to the point where even the near-misses sound like hits in the making. When the glacial echoes of “No Esperes Mas” coast to a touchdown, this proof of concept sounds a few tweaks away from completion.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Dove Lady - Ferbalicious

Phillipe Roberts

Jeremy Ray and Andrew Thawley, the duo at the helm of D.C. sensation Dove Lady, cruise through their twisted prog pop tunes with a miraculous ease for such a limitless, genre-snapping hysteria. Just flip through One, their latest release and the first to break away from their 26 EP game plan (one for each letter of the alphabet), and you’ll find screeching math rock riffery, beachy anthems, and charming instrumentals, all impeccably timed and compacted into one seriously heady trip of an EP.

And yet, gliding in at the tail end of the record, the free and fierce grooves of “Ferbalicious” still manage to take a running jump at you. With soothing waves of ambience crashing around a muscular, tightly wound breakbeat, the duo rockets into a krautrock dance number with a satisfying crunch that echoes vintage indie radicals Stereolab.

In the accompanying video, their left-field style is given quite a literal visual treatment from the get-go as Ray’s face swims superimposed in front of Thawley. We see Ray slumbering upstairs, his head wrapped in a crown of pulsating Christmas lights, until Thawley joins him, coiling himself in the wires and falling into a Matrix-like dream state where the two meditate in a field. Cut back-to-back with footage of the two, glittering with silver face paint and pounding out the grooves in a small room, it’s an appropriately mind boggling but lovely metaphor for the symbiotic relationship at the soul of their music.