REVIEW: New Pope - Love

Laura Kerry

The earnest love song, once the bedrock of pop, is hard to come by these days. People tend to beat around the bush or couch their sentiments in devices such as irony or allusion. Not so in New Pope’s aptly titled new album, Love.

The work of Galway, Ireland–based David Boland, the sophomore album lays the heart of its artist bare. Out of the seven songs that range from pure folk to the hazier realm of dream pop, all but two contain the word "love" at least once, and even the others, "In Between" and "The Claddagh," tell stories of love and love lost. All of that sentimentality might get syrupy or heavy-handed if Boland didn’t possess such a strong sense for songwriting.

Though the feelings in Love are grand, the artist communicates them in straightforward lyrics and graceful melodies and phrasings. On "In Between," the densely fuzzy second track, the words, "I got drunk on the fumes off your breath as you slept" begin a track-long metaphor that successfully conveys the madness of the narrator’s love for his subject. On "The Claddagh," "I wrote your number on the back of my hand / But it was raining, I couldn't read it," shows a small but cinematic moment of regret in a song that has a sad, dreamy feel.

In "Boys Can Be So Cruel," Boland tells a clear story through a reveal in the third verse: "But this love right here, this love is pure / And I know this for sure / You're further from a heartbreaker / Than the sun from the shore." Keeping his lyrics grounded concrete narratives and imagery, New Pope writes love songs that are more gritty than saccharine.

The artist emphasizes this raw emotion with smart production choices. Most of Love is lo-fi, but Boland finds a large range within that spectrum. "Love," the most earnest thesis on his subject, is folky and unadorned; "In Between," with its drunk love, overwhelms the vocals with dizzying instrumentals; "Old Love Song," which compares a relationship to the object of its title, mirrors that comparison with a "Crocodile Rock" synth and old-timey bass line; and "Lost Love," warm and murky, marches slowly and dirge-like.

Occasionally, though, the lo-fi production overwhelms an otherwise clear album. The percussion throughout Love is bleary and indistinct, an effect that functions well in most places but sometimes leads the music off track—in "In Between" and "Lost Love," for example. Despite its muddy moments, though, the album gets its point across. Overall, New Pope has created a clean and deliberate collection of love songs that is as striking as it is sincere.

REVIEW: Yabadum - Yabaum

Kelly Kirwan

The word "wunderkind" always dredges up images of a rosy-cheeked prodigy, a person whose youthful success required the kind of time and effort that shielded them from the teenage pitfalls of dicking around. It’s a view I’ve come to realize is skewed, particularly when delving into the swirling synth-rock that is Yabadum’s latest semi-eponymous album.

This isn’t to say that Yabadum is a band of notorious bad boys. They’re just born-and-bred New Yorkers that have, by virtue of osmosis, taken in the hustle of the five boroughs—or in their words, the “aggressiveness and ambition.” There’s a reason that New York City has become the Mount Everest for struggling artists everywhere. Once it’s conquered, everything else seems like rolling plains and foothills. And while Yabadum may not be bad boys in the sense of tearing hotel rooms to smithereens, they’re certainly badasses. The high points of their adolescence go beyond prom or making varsity and include booking coveted venues like Brooklyn’s Baby’s All Right and Manhattan’s Webster Hall—all when they were still too young to buy booze or cigarettes.

Making up the quartet is Lazlo Horvath on vocals and bass, Robby Jenkins spearheading percussion, Chris Rivers on guitar and Charlie Schine holding down the keyboard. They’ve described their genre as “straight out of the dungeons of circus jazz,” and as far as intrigue and hints of oddity go, I would say the foursome have nailed it. Their music has the frenetic feel of spontaneity and syncopated rhythms that stand as pillars in jazz, paired with occasional jangling, ambient sounds that fit with said carnivalesque landscape. The four have affectionately described the streams of synth within their melodies as “corny,” and as I listened, I pictured those streams as red and yellow ribbons forming the circus tent under which they play. 

Their song “tuesday night” begins with a crinkling tick, reminiscent of a match trying to strike a flame or a motor sputtering. A faded melody comes into play far off in the background, serving as a somewhat ominous countdown. Then, the song bursts into a rich, sonically-packed arrangement. The singing is intermittently warped, wafting across the track in a head-high pitch. Funky synth snakes it’s way across the resonating drum-guitar interplay, before morphing into a piquant, static pitch. It’s a bopping, sunny melody that has shades of MGMT.

Then there’s “all of,” which opens with a faintly off-key piano sequence that serves as the song’s backbone throughout. The lyrics are a murmur lost in the piano’s swerves into out-of-tune atrophy. “all of” is a cloud of music, everything thrown into the airwaves at once, that is still (curiously) subdued and even a bit sadly-sweet. Its end is abrupt, immediately diving into the subsequent song, “plunk,” and its electronically warbled vocals, which is fitting since “all of” is a bit of a cliffhanger in title alone.

It’s ironic that the name “Yabadum” came from the awkward pauses that so often litter teenage conversation, “Yeah…but…um…” smushed together as their own (not so private anymore) joke. These four use every inch of the space they’ve been given, their songs pulsating to the brim and spilling over. They’ve carved out a space for themselves, capitalizing on the New York bustle and all its eclectic inspirations. And they show no signs of stopping.

REVIEW: Lean Ghost - BOO!

Kelly Kirwan

Who is Lean Ghost? It’s a type of question that, too often, I approach like a census, filling in the various boxes of name, date of birth, first foray into music, and filling in whatever connective tissue I can. I look at the design as if it were a collection of lines splintering across a person’s palm, hoping to divine the deeper meaning. And, don’t get me wrong, these quick hits on a person’s biography can sketch an outline of the subject in question—it’s just that, with Lean Ghost, it wasn't so simple.

The artist is shrouded in an enigma, his tweets a mix of pensive, flyby thoughts and quirkier, more tongue-in-cheek snips. Digging for his music, I found the five-track EP BOO! streaming on various platforms (Soundcloud, Spotify, Tidal) without the accompaniment of sweeping manifestos or blurbs from the press. Lean Ghost seems to an artist that values a direct exchange, letting the music make its own first impression.

Produced by LIGHT, Lean Ghost’s latest release revolves around a sort of faded love—reaching out for it’s first inkling, trying to sustain it, then rattling around in the void that’s left in its absence. The eponymous opening track is riddled with delicate piano arrangements, a so-quick-you-might-miss-it string accompaniment, across a crinkling, persistent, 808-inspired beat. Lean Ghost’s low-key delivery will become a trademark of his EP; he leans into the lyrics seamlessly, propelling songs that feel nuanced and intimate, no glossy label finish that could come across as inauthentic.

It’s not that Lean Ghost is unrefined, he’s just fresh—it’s effortless to breathe him in. "BOO!" is a portrait of first interest—seeing a girl at a party, a friend-of-a-friend with whom you’d like to be more, rolling out the words "Think I found a love, tryin’ to get involved." And as the song nears its conclusion, Lean Ghost let’s the word "Boo!" morph into its various meanings—looking at a girl he wants to be with, telling other guys to back off. It’s a deft trick and it works well. 

"Sick" is a stack of quick, simmering percussion that stands as one of the EP's more up-tempo dips. It’s essentially a list of all the bullshit he's fed up with, and he paints a scene of shallow party hook-ups before revealing he has the antidote: "You’re the only one that I want / You’re my vaccine / I’ve been gettin' sick from the other stuff." The bridge takes on a spoken-word tone, a diatribe against "Twitter bitches" and "ego-tripping hypocrites," and in Lean Ghost’s even delivery you sense the catharsis in bluntly spilling his guts. It’s a release that’s contagious to his listeners.

BOO! is a blend of hip-hop, R&B, and trap that has a slow, mesmerizing burn. Lean Ghost takes in the world with an observant eye, and lays out his thoughts with a touch of grit and effortless wave. It’s easy to get hooked.

REVIEW: Birthing Hips - No Sorry

Laura Kerry

It always comes as a surprise when, after the food-coma-inducing meals, the hangover-inducing drinks, and the hardcore vegging, the holidays end and a new year begins. There’s not much time to adjust to the transition before we jump back in, full swing.

A band for the start of the year, Birthing Hips takes the difficulty of transitions into account. On their full-length debut, No Sorry, the band takes time to introduce itself with an aptly-titled opener called “Hello Hello.” Over jittery guitar noises, the Boston-based quartet issues several warnings, beginning with “Sorry if I’m crazy.” Despite this and the (relatively) quiet start, the rest of the album follows the doctrine of its title. When the frantic sounds of “Hello Hello” crystallize into a coherent chorus, they are accompanied by the words, “I’m ready for this confrontation.” No Sorry is appropriately unapologetic.

For the rest of the album, Birthing Hips abandons transitions altogether and winds its way through songs that are playful but defiant, personal but political. In “Up Ramp,” the band begins quietly with warm guitar arpeggios and a sweet melody. Suddenly, the voice rises on the line, “It’s never a problem until you want to fuck,” repeating the final word over and over again in shrill, quick succession before returning to the initial sweetness. An abrupt change, the effect cuts straight through jarring and lands in the territory of the absurdly delightful.

Throughout No Sorry, the band makes similarly bold moves that lead to similarly successful payoffs. Vocalist Carrie Furniss leads the charge of unpredictability by shrieking, humming, and chanting her way through different tones. In “Audrey,” she resembles Guerilla Toss’s Kassie Carlson with the yelps of a sadistic cartoon; in “Dog,” she sounds like the screeching guitar that she dances with; and in the beginning of “Count on Me,” she evokes the dreamy hush of Maureen Tucker on the Velvet Underground’s “After Hours.”

Despite the band’s inclinations towards a freak-punk sound and sentiment, No Sorry is rooted in pop. This foundation emerges in the clearer structure on “What Am I Today?” (at least before it derails after the chorus), the peppy beat on “Sex Bias,” and the catchy melody that surfaces between wandering instrumental phrases on “Dog.” Even when the songs meander into glitchy cacophonies of shrieks, dissonance, and jitteriness, you can usually count on them to revisit a bit of recognizable thread. The resulting music offers just enough to hold onto through a weird and captivating ride.

Be sure to catch Birthing Hips, Ryan Power, Matt Mitchell, and Spite House at Silent Barn in Brooklyn this Sunday, January 15th.

PREMIERE: Art Pop - Hey Hey!!

Kelly Kirwan

“Hey and don’t you know who I am? / They say I’m up-and-coming / Maybe one day I’ll be famous / Or something.” 

It’s a wry line, delivered as if Austin-based Art Pop pressed a megaphone to their lips and started chanting, a little static intertwined with a sly smile and shrug of the shoulders. Their latest single, “Hey Hey!!,” is rife with lines of space-age synth, which become warped and warbled as they stream across the persistent, garage-rock chug of guitars and drums.

“Hey Hey!!” takes the pulsating energy of retro rock and garnishes it with elements of grunge, and even some hints of '80s sci-fi (if only for the song’s introduction). They call to us intermittently over the melody with the eponymous line “Hey! Hey!” as if it were a rebel yell. Their vibe is reminiscent of a street performance, set up on the sidewalk without any frills (or any interest in obtaining them). These are down-to-earth folks with a melody that may just get your heart going, and because they don’t try too hard to get our attention, we hand it over without a second thought. 

“Hey I’m teenage scum / They say I won’t find no one to love / But I found you,” we hear, with an ironic chuckle laced somewhere between the lyrics. It's hard not to fall in love with Art Pop’s comfort in the realm of outsiders—because they make sure we’re right there with them.