REVIEW: Clebs - I'm Here

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Phillipe Roberts

At core of Clebs’ debut EP is the question looping through every recording since the first wax cylinder: what here is human? Recording is an exercise in artifice, a selection and compression of real-time events into an endlessly repeatable fantasy. With their first foray into the art of sonic distillation, vocalist Emilie Weibel and drummer/producer Jason Nazary go for the jugular with a particularly violent approach; I’m Here quite literally feels like a mutilation of their personalities into a unitary, Frankensteined sound-beast, flexing its reconstructed muscle in an exploration of these newfound capabilities. Though some moments gesture towards sunnier pastures, the most surprising element of I’m Here is how firm its footing feels in the long stretches of abstracted body horror, slicing apart familiar rhythms, melodies, and sampled sound into something that feels truly alive, twitching with a dangerous curiosity.

From start to finish, the organic, pulsating fusion that is I’m Here manages to sound painstakingly labored over without overworking the ear. Every second is brimming with immaculately designed easter eggs and microscopic detail. Pitched-down voices buried under fuzz on closer “Light Spectrum” combine with bubbling, randomized arpeggiations to eerie effect; as a whole—and this is meant as the sincerest of compliments—it comes off as the soundtrack to a late-night infomercial from another dimension, a peek behind the static curtain into a mundane glimpse of the beyond.

Truly, Clebs’ finest gift may well be in creating trancelike environments that feel as if you’re observing them from a distance, or from a bubble of relative safety. “Bass Chrysalis” (WHAT A TITLE) is a shining example. The glitched-out voice breakdown in its latter half, where thumps of bass pound against the sharply pitched gliding melody, doesn’t so much consume you as linger, tantalizingly, just out of reach. Clebs are masters of the experimental tease.

When the duo branch into immersive, pop-like territory, they never quite let themselves run wild or become too consumed by rampant emotionality, preferring instead to constantly tweak and tune their creations like a pair of obsessive technicians. Though it emerges chopped and crushed, leaking a trail of vocal teardrops from Weibel, opener “Homemade Bread” is the record's most out-and-out danceable excerpt. Its central beat flails and flops with a drunken urgency. Nazary weaves a staggering polyrhythmic collage, populating it with buzzing snippets of Weibel’s voice placed deep into the mix. The track leers with a frightening intensity, threatening to break out into some form of “drop,” some kind of sustainable, emotive four-on-the-floor chug, but never does.

Even the title track, whose looped, bumping beat comes the closest to providing the sturdy bedrock necessary for a pop song, can’t help but inject blasts of howling noise, roaring in at jarring volume to keep you awake and aware through the haunted nursery rhyme chanting of “If the bomb explodes, then you come back home.” I’m Here is not for the faint of heart, nor for the faint of head. But if you’re looking for a brief detour into stranger waters or a peek into the grizzly unknown, look no further.

REVIEW: Good Morning - Prize // Reward

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Raquel Dalarossa

Australian duo Good Morning, made up of Stefan Blair and Liam Parsons, have been releasing DIY tapes together since 2014, even getting so far as to re-issue their earlier releases, Glory and long-held fan favorite Shawcross. But even so, with just two EPs and a few other singles out, it may be surprising to learn that they’ve amounted over 11 million Spotify plays for their most popular song, “Warned You.” That is, of course, if you haven’t actually heard them yet.

Good Morning’s music exudes a cozy and charming warmth through every ridiculously catchy guitar riff. Known for experimenting with their recording equipment, techniques, and locations, the band seem to approach their work as true craftsmen, with perhaps a touch of perfectionism. That might explain the slow build up to their overdue debut full-length release, the ten track-long Prize // Rewardthe album’s Bandcamp page reads, “We recorded it for a while (maybe longer than we should have).” But taking one’s time and laying low all the while is a luxury that may well be on its way out for this group; Good Morning seem bound for the same hype that, for example, propelled the band Whitney to indie stardom.

And that’s for good reason. On Prize // Reward, the twosome’s talent for well-written guitar hooks, paired with a certain insouciant flair, is on full display. With songs like “Mirror Freak” and “$10,” their hypnotic guitar lines and vocals tinged with an ever-so-slight twang are endlessly enjoyable. Such an approach places them smack in the lineage of “slacker” rock a la Parquet Courts and Pavement before them, but Good Morning flex these elements in all sorts of ways.

Languid, reverb-y vocals sometimes recall Mac Demarco, especially in a track like “Who’s to Blame,” while a lower-fi framing can bring to mind the songwriting of Robert Pollard, as in “After You.” In the latter, they create a cozy and soft aural texture that sounds like wrapping yourself in a warm blanket, but a horn-assisted outro keeps it from getting at all somnolent.

Those kinds of unexpected details allow their music to stretch far beyond the slacker rock label (or any label for that matter). See “For a Little While,” which indulges in a long instrumental interlude that feels like a sort of rumination, with an inquisitive, unresolving bassline, anxious saxophone solos (courtesy of Glenn Blair), and a repetitious piano motif that keeps you in place for perhaps longer than you’d like. It feels both idle and restless.

When a band manages so deftly to meld the original with the familiar, it strikes the magical balance of feeling soul-grabbing at first listen, and rewarding with every return. There’s no doubt good things are in store for Good Morning.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Isaac Vallentin (and Trails) - Loudest in the Universe

Will Shenton

At first glance, the understated folk of Canadian art-pop musician Isaac Vallentin's "Loudest in the Universe" might seem better-trod territory than his usual brand of inventive, experimental synths. But with the interplay of Trails' wistful croon and Vallentin's own resonant baritone, the restrained bandstand setup, and the short but captivating songwriting itself, it's clear that this track is rife with his creative touches.

The second single from his forthcoming LP, Amateur, "Loudest in the Universe" is an achingly beautiful entreaty—seemingly to humanity itself—to calm our innermost fears and conflicts. Avoiding the saccharine pitfalls common to that sort of theme, Vallentin couches the lyrics in the intimate language of love songs: Trails' voice soars into the first cloud-parting chorus, "I love you / Stop crying / There's nothing to fear about dying / Everything is all that you are and ever will be."

The latter half of the song takes on a bleaker tone, and the second chorus seems to reprimand the listener ("Good riddance / Be silent / There's nothing inside you but violence"), but concludes with an offer of forgiveness ("Everything that you're fighting is a part of you and a part of me / But I love you babe / So stop crying for a second"). Coupled with the neutral expressions of Vallentin, Trails, and drummer Pascal Delaquis throughout, the resulting tone is thoroughly unique. At once eminently familiar and just a touch alien in its delivery, "Loudest in the Universe" is a song that will haunt you long after its two-minute runtime.

REVIEW: Jaunt - Cue

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Phillipe Roberts

With Cue, Jaunt exploits the EP format to its fullest, sampling caught-from-the-air melodies liberally while exercising tasteful restraint, knowing when each elegant idea has run its course. Tirelessly catchy with an expert ear for the seemingly nonsensical oddball songwriting twist, the band leaves you hanging on every note, riding a constant wave of discovery as each song refuses to wear out its welcome. From top to bottom, ambient outro included, Cue unfolds like a singles collection; a Now That’s What I Call Experimental Pop hit parade with replay value galore.

No matter how you slice it, the dominant mode of Cue, the roots and rhythm of the project, is R&B. Whether it’s the depth of the pocket on “Best Case” or the sultry choral vocals on “Faster Interactions," the Isley Brothers-style shuffle of “Machined” or the detailed backing harmonies of “Intimate Sunset,” Jaunt keep it grounded in the groove, even as they push it into left field. Fans of Hundred Waters or Dirty Projectors will feel right at home here, though the beats on Cue are funkier than anything Longstreth and Co. have put out in more than a few years.

Jaunt’s take on the genre chases melodies into a corner and lets them fight their way out. Ideas rarely loop more than once before mutating into inviting new forms. The penultimate track, “Faster Interactions,” bends its riffs to the breaking point, sometimes abandoning them altogether for stranger pastures. Group vocals jarringly glide down into a lower register before landing on a cushion of electric organ. Video game sounds double up the drum hits in a segue towards a rumbling bass synth outro, a kaleidoscopic whirlwind of rhythm reminiscent of the best of Stereolab on Dots and Loops. It’s truly boggling how many transformations occur, but even more stunning given the track’s three-minute runtime.

These slight runtimes—“Faster Interactions” is the only track to even crack the three-minute ceiling—will have you dragging the dial back again and again. And although none of the songs feel “incomplete” per se, Jaunt’s tendency to French exit just as your mind latches onto the hook will absolutely leave you wanting more, launching you into a bit of an addictive cycle. The almost-title track “Cued” is the record’s main offender, a gorgeous bit of digital vocal riffing dancing atop a hauntingly beautiful layer of swooning cinematic synthesizers. As it floats to a one-minute finish, you can’t help but feel a sense of helplessness at having been teased so perfectly. Putting a picture-perfect slow jam banger intro at the end of a record is malicious, cruel, and utterly brilliant—the kind of move that will have you scrambling to pre-order the next episode.

In the midst of this double-edged generosity, there’s “Intimate Sunset,” perhaps the one track on Cue where Jaunt’s contemporary sensibilities take a back seat to cozy nostalgia. A gentle, '60s-inspired folk tune, the track gives up the misdirection and sticks to wringing every drop of romance out of those chords. It’s a patch of firm ground, tucked between the shifting fault lines and earth-quaking juxtapositions before and after, but it really shows off just how flexible Jaunt are becoming in their stylistic evolution, exposing that their quirky turns aren’t simple ignorance, but calculated leaps away from the intuitive “right” way. Cue is a real treat of a record, a delightful adventure in opening up the senses. Comfort food spiced to perfection.

PREMIERE: Norty - Alien Eyes

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Phillipe Roberts

“Alien Eyes,” the lead single from Norty’s full-length debut The Years Are Fleeting, begins as a distant echo, a stuttering shimmer of a guitar figure piling on the distorted reverb as it crawls down a long hallway. Listen with your eyes closed and you’d expect to get a face full of indie rock. Instead the Young Heavy Souls producer slams you straight into a glitch-pop drop of sliced-up horns and thick bass. From there, it’s round after round of tasty fusions and juxtapositions on an incisive track masquerading as big-tent dance pop.

Though the message creeps out over the course of multiple listens, “Alien Eyes” is Norty’s attempt to spell out a flavorful missive on the snake-like hypocrisy of mankind’s fixation on profit over people; in his words, calling out the fact that “some humans are just bad at being human.” At its core, however, the track can’t escape the upbeat flair of Norty’s production. Rather than break it down over spare, moody instrumentation, he packs in crunchy bumps to bop those blues away, making it less a call to arms than a nagging voice of political consciousness under the strobing concert lights on the dancefloor.

Still, no matter how high Norty turns up the bass or how hard he drops the beat (and he truly does), the message isn’t far behind. “Alien Eyes” keeps it human by moving your body with playful energy, something worth keeping around as the heat, and the lizard-person madness, ratchets up this summer.