REVIEW: all boy/all girl - Slagroom

Laura Kerry

In some ways, all boy/all girl is a typical New York rock band. Their new LP, Slagroom, borrows its title from the Dutch word for whipped cream, but it also conjures an image of a dingy, run-down space not unlike the East Village pawn shop basement where they recorded the album. Much of the narrative surrounding the seven-piece band shares a similar ethos of struggling for art in NYC, as you can see in the interview with founding member and bass player Nicholas Rahn in Line of Best Fit about the best cheap food in the city. That subject comes up again in the final song on Slagroom, which repeats the single line, “I’m at the mall food court by the Arby’s.”

In many other ways, though, all boy/all girl are atypical. “New York rock band” implies a kind of grit and hardness, two poses that the band avoid, except in a few deliberate moments (“Pigeon” and “Voyeur,” to name a couple). The group—which includes a ukulele, a viola, and a cello, on top of the usual rock instruments—creates a breed of pop music not often found in the pop milieu. It is earnest, concrete, and most surprising of all, borrows heavily from the world of musical theater.

Orchestra-pop influenced by Broadway isn’t going to suit everyone’s tastes, yet Slagroom has something for everyone. In the opener, “Living Room,” for example, all boy/all girl introduces a song that mixes theater with a frenetic melody reminiscent of '90s riot grrrl. You can easily imagine a different song if the screeching viola was a screeching electric guitar. Every song brings a similarly unexpected combination of sounds. On “Housewarming,” singers Danielle Lovier and Jessie Rogowski sing soulful soprano harmonies over a groovy bass line; on “Development,” looser vocals deliver a jumpy melody; “Rapture” begins with '50s doo-wop and ends with accents of dissonant guitar and striking lyrics, such as “I feel like I’m being cuckolded,” and “Hide all your money in a church / Where it’s safe and sound”; and “Civic Mind,” which begins softly and prettily and steadily builds towards an echoing, trippy space.

One advantage that musical theater has is that even away from the stage, its stories are meant to come alive. By investing their indie pop with the same devices, all boy/all girl creates vibrant music with rich narratives. It may not have the grit of its neighboring bands, but anyone who makes a wistful dirge out of a mall food court next to an Arby’s has enough of something else to go around.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Hales Corner - Garden View

Will Shenton

It's easy to get desensitized to nostalgic media, be it music or film or even visual art. There's often a sense of tedium that arises after any one decade has been fashionable for too long ("Really? Another video compiled from old home movies?"), which is the whole reason these things have cycles at all. But every once in a while, a piece comes along that reminds us why we fell in love with the style in the first place.

Hales Corner's gorgeous new video for their album's title track, "Garden View," is just such a piece. The band's mellow, soporific tune drifts along over a series of time-worn (and apparently unrelated) scenes, all unified by their warm haziness. It's a gorgeous, if sadly brief song, and it matches the aesthetic of the visuals so well that it's hard to imagine it accompanied by any style other than nostalgic collage. Like Andy Shauf's phenomenal video for "I'm Not Falling Asleep," "Garden View" embraces the simplicity of its concept, and makes for a truly enjoyable reverie.

REVIEW: MoRuf - Loosies

Laura Kerry

Those who know MoRuf tend to love him. The following that he has earned since his debut in 2011 is fiercely loyal, lighting up the internet with calls for more attention paid to his 2013 album, the underrated Shades.Of.Moo. It's a fact that the artist—New Jersey native Moruf Adewunmi—seems aware of on his expansive new EP, Loosies. At the beginning of the second song, "Viewtiful Fish," a woman, presumably a radio DJ, compliments an artist, presumably MoRuf, saying that she has seen people stop in their tracks when his music comes on, that he "has an ability to captivate a listener who's not really even listening to the music." It's a subtle and humble exhibition of swagger, a self-endorsement that says, trust me, you'll want to listen to this.

And it's accurate. The version of Loosies that I listened to plays all eight tracks as a continuous stream, refusing to let you emerge for air until the last notes fade out. But the EP contains plenty of breathing room in itself. With a different producer for each song producing varied shades of MoRuf's self-proclaimed "Soulhop," the album ebbs and flows through different sounds and themes, unified by an underlying warmth, accessibility, and jazz-influenced '90s hip-hop vibe.

A few of the many highlights include "GOLDEN LAKES," a song that combines an introspective gaze with a full, intricate sound focused around smooth keys; the gentle song "Huxtable," about love, poetry, and the Cosby Show; and the epic track at the end, "I WANT YOU," which catapults off of a single encounter in the street, using heart beats, breath, and MoRuf's rhythmic flow as percussive elements in a ten-minute, anxious, longing-filled journey that travels to childhood and back—and is worthy of the Erykah Badu song that it reimagines. Diverse and inviting, Loosies is another strong case for MoRuf that deserves your attention.

REVIEW: Mood Tattooed - Hush Tarantula

Kelly Kirwan

Hagan Knauth's latest album is an ode to nature's grand design. A tapestry of acoustic-sounding guitar plucks, soft background coos, instrumental layering, and equal measures of psychedelia and woodsy, folk-inspired melodies. His songs have the feel of wide open spaces; there's an echoing quality that unassumingly slinks its way into so many of his tracks, a sense of resonance that fuels this notion of freedom in vast expanses. The lush acres of upstate New York that served as Knauth's childhood playground clearly left a strong imprint, a one-with-nature stance that's trickled into both his music and current lifestyle in Brooklyn.

Under the artistic pseudonym Mood Tattooed, Knauth's latest piece of work, Hush Tarantula, comes across as a freestyle Bildungsroman—a journey of growth, exploration, and self-discovery that comes with the peaceful introspection of basking in the near-perfect symmetry of the wild. Each track bustles with unconventional garnishes and sonic accents that have often been filtered through a synthesizer for a strikingly offbeat effect. It's a balance of intimacy and buzz that feels like a forest chorus feeding off an amiable chaos. And even in this free-for-all setting, there's still a sense that every detail is in its rightful place.

So often, psychedelia is tied to the decade of its burgeoning heyday. The 1960s were a politically-charged time, riddled with social strife and halting strides towards justice. Yet still, when we think of psych-rock and it's modern variations, there's that quick flit to Woodstock and it's mud-splattered acid trip. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, it just doesn't seem to be the path that Knauth has taken with the genre. The out-of-body, higher-plane experience that he alludes to is much more rooted in the spiritual than a synthetic tablet. His opening track, "Lamplight," is a quick (roughly one minute) taste of what lies ahead. In lieu of audible lyrics there are staccato breaths, with the reverberating ting of a metal guitar string acting as the prominent instrumental accompaniment. It's a song that gives an inkling of something new, somewhere between the tinkering chords and introductory gasps of life.

Then there's "Shelly Ripple," which is rich with sonic versatility. It's folk meets eclectic synth, opening with Knauth's layered vocals, "I'm warming up to you," before plunging into a smorgasbord of sound. There are cameos of fluttering falsettos and an electronically-manipulated baritone, which appears beside hollow hand percussion and a rattlesnake kind of shimmy. It’s a multifaceted track that envelops, a ritual that thrives off unexpected textures. It alternates between lyrics and a stuttering sort of language that we wouldn't immediately recognize. And yet, it still has the air of a welcome invitation.  

Knauth’s album is a force to be reckoned with. It pulses with unpredictability and a sense of wonder, and it'll leave you itching for a taste of life outside the city.

REVIEW: Uni Ika Ai - Keeping a Golden Bullseye in the Corner of My Mind

Kelly Kirwan

Keeping a Golden Bullseye in the Corner of my Mind.

It’s a line that feels lifted from a sonnet, rife with meaning, like a riddle whose answer was written on a piece of origami. We lift the flaps and run our fingers along the creases, because for Uni Ika Ai, sonic textures are as important as the melody—if not more so. The Brooklyn-based outfit have honed a unique brand of dream pop that bustles in off-kilter settings. Perhaps that’s why the aforementioned title to their latest album focuses on the sparks of creativity that so often catch fire on the periphery of our consciousness.

Uni Ika Ai is more concerned with the spaces that exist between the beats of classic rock structures, their rhythms thriving on missteps and electronic twitches to create an effervescent alternate reality. Just like dreams, their songs pulse on airwaves that are both viscerally familiar and also slightly out of touch with the world we’ve come to live in. Maia Friedman knows how to manipulate her voice between sweeping, airy, stretches and deeper, more earnest tones. Her vocals are the equivalent of the black-and-white spiral that’s become the icon of hypnotism, with Uni Ika Ai’s songs acting as the asymmetrical space which welcomes our indulgent trance.

Unsurprisingly, the band was first born from slivers of experimentation. Friedman and her now-bandmate Peter Lalish began writing together in 2014, and gradually teased out their snippets into songs (and their duo into a quartet). For their latest album, D. James Goodwin acted as both the producer and occasional saxophone accent for a quick slip of jazz-inspired improvisation. The giddy, dizzying high of art without calculated structure is Uni Ika Ai’s bread and butter, and our new frontier to explore. 

For instance, there’s the synth-heavy introduction to "Mexico," which is reminiscent of a pipe organ filtered through a satellite orbiting overhead. It’s a futuristic blip that then fades into a more leisurely, forlorn song with sweetly swaying percussion and guitar accompaniments. Friedman sings in glistening strokes, “Where you go I’ll follow … Down to Mexico,” her voice wavering over the final vowels to extend the note. It’s an undulating and melancholy streak which we easily float alongside.

Then there’s "Make You Better," which opens with heavy, folk-inspired strumming. “If I could I’d have my way,” Friedman sings, her voice managing to be gentle without feeling flimsy, as the line, “I would make you better” flies off into a lofty spiral of a note, like a paper plane twirling in a gust of wind. It’s a song that's hard to classify, as each term seems to just miss the mark. The lyrics hover somewhere between a statement of fact and a promise, such as “I don’t ever want to miss you,” delivered in a softened tremble. Uni Ika Ai are, first and foremost, eclectically unique. On "Make You Better," Friedman muses, “I’ll make you stay…” And, honestly, it doesn't take much to convince us to stick around this album.