REVIEW: Common Holly - Playing House

Laura Kerry

One of the hardest things to do in the face of heartache or grief is to act generously. Though Common Holly’s debut LP, Playing House, came together after the end of a long relationship—according to Brigitte Naggar, the Montreal songwriter behind the band—the album is filled with indie-folk tunes that show as much sweetness as they do sadness and reflection. Somewhat surprisingly, its dominant themes are warmth and generosity.

Instead of relying on the inward-facing meditation that dominates many breakup albums, Common Holly often reaches out beyond the herself, offering support for another. In “Nothing,” over soft electric guitar, light keys, and pretty harmonies, Naggar sings, “I'd say I hope that for your sake / The world is done punishing you.” The next song, “Devil’s Doubt,” shares a similar sentiment, urging amid a wash of cello, “Stop all that sitting by the window / Don't you forget about the daylight.” In the baroque melody in “Lullaby,” she again coaxes the person she addresses out, singing, “Come out, come out wherever you are / My friend it’s safe.” Rock and folk have produced a lot of breakup albums, but not many exhibit such empathy for the person left behind (if we can presume that’s who she addresses).

Not all of Playing House is sweet, though. Throughout the album, Common Holly includes a fair share of harder-edged and offbeat moments for balance. Violins screech quietly in “The Desert” behind a satisfying dream-pop build; “In My Heart” has accents of grinding, soaring electric guitar; “If After All” features a big, aggressive swell of rock instruments with vocals to match; and the rhythm in “Lullaby” is at times delightfully elusive. Mostly gentle and pretty, Naggar’s vocals also transform to reflect some of the edge that occasionally emerges in the lyrics. When the artist does turn her reflections on herself, they are metaphors of dangerous things: “I’m the wild coyote,” she sings in “The Desert,” and “I know I was the rose / But now I feel like I’m the thorn” in “The Rose.”

For the most part, though, the vocals are soft and dreamy, more mournful and tender than biting. And in an album with surprising touches of pop, the vocals are also at times invitingly bright. In the final song, “New Bed,” for example, over light acoustic guitar and rain sound effects, Naggar sings breathily but cheerfully, “There it is still raining / Here it’s dry”—a line that suggests despite everything, it will be okay. “A steady beating in my heart, it keeps me ready,” she sings; she can face the dark on her own, with the strength of self-assurance. Perhaps more than a breakup album, Playing House is a coming-of-age album. While the title and children pictured on the cover suggest that tough times can make you feel like a kid pretending to be an adult, Common Holly’s music is graceful, subtle, and fully grown up.

REVIEW: Lily and Horn Horse - Next to Me

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Phillipe Roberts

Lily on Horn Horse, the first record from Lily Konigsberg and Matt Norman, was the work of separate entities hitchhiking across distorted alien worlds. While the collaboration showcased a unique harmonic empathy between the two, it felt indeed like a series of features—sonic graffiti splashed across sturdy architecture. Lily and Matt were like two interdimensional weirdos making first contact and crafting a rough pidgin language that, as it turns out, only hinted at the sophistication lurking beneath the surface.

Now, arriving only a few months later, Next To Me skips several evolutionary stages, fusing the duo so perfectly that they speak with one tongue and one mind. That pesky “and” between their names feels superfluous; when they sing in unison over butterfly synthesizers and warm brass on “I’m 25,” you can hardly tell where one artist ends and the other begins. Over a blisteringly paced 24 minutes, Lily and Horn Horse conjure up a funhouse of endlessly shifting perspectives.

With 19 tracks to get through in such a short span of time (and only two that crack the two-minute barrier), it’s remarkable that none of them feel lacking in development. Rather than a sequence of vague sketches suggesting something greater, Next To Me is a gallery of impeccably painted miniature landscapes. Every detail—from the sweltering blips of tropical, steel-drum electronics in “Useless Room 1,” to the way the synth arpeggiations and shuffling drums interlock to create what can be best described as musical vertigo on “Staring at the Plants”—becomes a landmark, an anchor point from which you can step even further into their glitched-out minefield of a world.

In describing this album, Lily and Horn Horse challenged us to imagine what would happen if “'Baby One More Time…’-era Britney Spears and Bill Callahan made a record.” “Next To Me 1” hits that nail right on the head and drives it clean through the wall. Its sparkling vocal melody is pure saccharine overload, and the lyrics are golden-age bubblegum: “Listen to me beforehand, baby / If you want to get next to me,” enticingly repeated in between wonky smears of bass. “Next to Me 2” is the other side of the coin. Now, frenzied jazz keyboards chase Lily’s voice across the frame, stepping on her toes as she concludes the lyric from part one: “I know how it is now” rings out as the song crashes to a halt.

Contrasted with Lily’s viciously nimble delivery, Matt Norman’s turns on the mic have a gloomy quality that keeps the record from floating away. It nicely balances her sugar-high flights of fancy with sobering visions of discomfort. On “Scumbag’s Apprentice,” for example, his voice offers a grim self-psychoanalysis, wondering “I used to be the lucky one when I was young / Is that why I’m so dumb?” While this kind of darker detour comes on quickly, it departs before long, like a brief eclipse with just the right amount of shade.

As the final horn blasts on the closing track fade into the distance, those seconds of silence before the album officially ends feel like a gentle sigh of relief. It’s similar to the sweet exhaustion that sweeps through you after wearing yourself out at the gym. Finding your way out of the surrealist maze that Lily and Horn Horse have perfected on Next To Me is a full-body workout, so be sure to catch your breath along the way.

REVIEW: Kedr Livanskiy - Ariadna

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Kelly Kirwan

On Kedr Livanskiy's debut full-length album, we're offered a tour of another world—one that finds inspiration in Russian landscapes, sweeping mythologies, and analog synthesizers. The title of the endeavor nods to a Greek myth you might be familiar with: Ariadna (or Ariadne), who saved the hero Theseus from the Minotaur’s labyrinth with a spool of thread. It's a fitting tale and a perfect heroine for an album full of featherweight vocals that seem to pull us through a haze of throbbing breakbeats.

Kedr Livanskiy (whose real name is Yana Kedrina) is skilled at creating a certain nostalgic mood. She uses synthesizers like Roland’s Juno-106 and SH-101 to piece together a minimalist '80s tilt for the whole of the nine-track Ariadna. In the mid-album highlight, "ACDC," she even calls upon the voice of English musician and poet Martin Newell—perhaps best known for his '80s-era outfit Cleaners from Venus—to read out William Blake's "The Tyger." Newell’s voice echoes atop a light, skittering synth at first, speaking as though into a serene sort of abyss; it's not long, though, before the beat picks up, bursting into a chugging tempo as Newell deliberately asks, among ripples of reverb, “What immortal hand or eye / Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?”

"Mermaid" similarly relies on poetry but is much softer, with Livanskiy singing in her native Russian (as she does throughout the rest of the album). Synthesizers seem to mimic gentle gusts of wind whistling through the air or the deep bellows of the ocean floor as Livanskiy’s even croon drifts across stanzas written by 19th century Russian poet Mikhail Lermontov. The poem describes a mermaid’s journey with the tides: “On a silver wave of foam … The mermaid sang, and her song / Flew up the steep coasts.”

The instrumental "Sad One" is an artful track that moves slowly and with intention, painting a certain melancholy in broad, stretched strokes across a gray canvas. And on the other end of the spectrum, "Your Name" features a thumping beat that seems to pulse in your chest, with a twitchier percussion intermittently braided in between. The lyrics here tell a story of devastation with a shoegazey cadence, the far-off croon giving the imagery all the more weight: “The city of stone / Burned to the ground / Garages lined / With shattered glass.” It’s a song that feels simultaneously ominous and unaffected, leaning more towards IDM than EDM by far.

Overall, Ariadna is a varied palette of electronic subgenres, incorporated so well that they all seem to take on the same hues (the desaturated album art feels perfect for the monochromatic feel of the music). Kedr Livanskiy cherry-picks elements of techno, dub, and experimental electronica, among other styles, to build an otherworldly landscape. Fitting age-old folk tales and legendary Romanticism over well-curated, sparse beats, it's at once modern and timeless—not to mention a great listen.

PREMIERE: Anamon - Stubborn Comfort

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Laura Kerry

The name Anamon comes from Ana Emily Monaco, a musician and singer-songwriter who has played in several bands in the Rochester, New York area. Anamon began as a solo project, but Monaco recruited Aaron Mika and Benton Sillick last year to fill in the sound.

In “Stubborn Comfort,” the title track off of their debut album, Anamon exhibit the intimacy leftover from Monaco’s solo act days, as well as the uninhibited energy that emerges from a band jibing so well together. It opens with lo-fi guitar and distant but strong vocals. When the drums and bass enter, Monaco goes on the defensive: “Can I talk to you for a second, maybe a minute / Without you charging at me with your big horns?” Later, she revisits the theme of confrontation, singing, “Maybe that's my problem all along / I’m too passive and I want to be aggressive” as her voice trails off in a low register. One could imagine these lyrics showing up in a heated conversation or a passed note; her words are direct and potent, cutting through the grind of distorted guitar and loose drums. Simple but full and emotionally raw, “Stubborn Comfort” is an enticing look at what’s to come on Anamon’s new album.

REVIEW: Beliefs - Habitat

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Kelly Kirwan

Jesse Crowe and Josh Korody have created a parallel dimension—one that resurrects the heyday of '90s rock bands that fell under the post-punk umbrella. It’s a world that isn’t starkly different from the one we live in, but has a flair from two decades past, as if they had bottled it up and set it free to float around in the present. The Toronto-based duo, known by their musical moniker Beliefs, certainly have their own style, but it—and the coming together of the two in the first place—was certainly sparked by an appreciation for acts like The Jesus and Mary Chain and Slowdive. Now, on their freshly-minted album Habitat, a nod to that era stands with their single, "1994," and its accompanying video.

The song features Jesse Crowe’s steadfast, even-toned vocals, lulling you into a somewhat eerie trance. It’s by no means a flimsy voice, but it has a certain ethereal nature to it, like a sort of preternatural croon. Crowe is featured in the foreground throughout the song's music video, as Korody plays guitar a few feet farther away from the camera, a dark blue screen as their backdrop. The film flickers and cuts into tiny, pixelated streaks of distortion, reminiscent of a VHS tape getting its reels caught in the gears of the VCR. "1994" is a groovy, moody wash of melody cascading over surreal undertones, and the two of them bop to the beat as Crowe offers tiny dance movements with gloved hands. Even in these seemingly innocuous movements, they imbue it with an uncanny feeling of the in-between space they inhabit.

Later in the album, "Half Empty" opens with a strong, percussive pattering of drums and a clash of cymbals, reminiscent of jazz openings or a trip-hop beat. “Don’t know how to tell you / But I just can’t keep my mouth shut,” Crowe sings, her voice twisting into higher octaves, once again commanding the room with her every utterance. Guitar lines are warped as they unfold across the melody, intermingling with the darker palette of electronica with which Beliefs seem to enjoy experimenting. In fact, throughout Habitat's 11 tracks, there's a noticeable trend of pared down guitars making room for a new electronic leaning, possibly nodding to Korody’s other musical pursuits where modular synths increasingly abound.

On "All Things Considered," the duo make good use of contrast. Fuzz and feedback open up the track, paired with vocals that are slower, more languid, and backed by a foreboding setting. But then it picks up the pace in the chorus as the beat becomes danceable and light on its feet. Moving back into the verse feels like switching the TV channel to a snowy wall of white noise.

With moves like these, Habitat is an album that’s hard to ignore. It's a compilation that leaves the world a little tilted—and for that, it’s an addicting terrain to explore.