REVIEW: Tiny Hazard - Greyland

Kelly Kirwan

Tiny Hazard have a reputation. Sifting through the buzz of indie blogs and word of mouth throughout Manhattan’s boroughs, the general consensus has been set: When it comes to live performances, this Brooklyn-based band could lap anyone with their dizzying, adrenaline-spiked spirals. They’ve pulled off the feat of bottling chaos, letting it loose on their tracks to fuel moments of fervor, and then deftly reigning in the cacophony. They’re the mad ones that burn in the night, and we’re enraptured by the glow.

Their first full-length album, Greyland, follows a long period of careful, creative curation. Having met while in college at the New School, Tiny Hazard first forged a name for themselves in neighboring venues before setting their sights on this latest ten-track LP. Hours were split between the studio and the familiar, insular world of their bedrooms, which is somewhat unexpected considering the uproar that so often characterizes their music. There’s an element of theater to their sound, a trait that’s most obvious in the style of their lead, opera-trained vocalist, Alena Spanger. Her voice has been described as “acrobatic” and “unhinged at will,” as it soars into high octaves with a nightingale trill. There's a certain waver to her timbre that fits with the band's delightfully volatile aesthetic.

Introducing their album is the single “Sesame,” with a melody that at first blush feels delicate, glistening with childlike naivety. Spanger's voice has a whispery, doe-eyed innocence in its soprano stretches. The lyrics are evocative of a fable, opening with imagery of a high castle and a bounty of berries, as Spanger sings, “You were a bobcat / Proud and fine / A sleek animal,” her voice quivering over each consonant. As the song progresses, cracks in its glimmering veneer break through. Spanger’s voice becomes more maniacal as she sings, “Down, down / Endlessly in the waves,” the words contorting under their gravelly delivery.

“Sharkwhirl” also feeds off this feeling of things unraveling, as if we’re on the brink of a free-falling delirium. Spanner’s voice swirls in a laughter that borders on lunacy as pools of distortion surround her. It’s experimental, percussion-heavy, limbs-failing rock like you’ve never heard before, a window of opportunity to go absolutely berserk that lasts just a little over a minute. But like I said, Tiny Hazard know how to steady themselves so they don’t crash and burn. 

“Ink” is a slower, more meandering track. Spanger’s voice still ricochets to impressive heights, but in a more muted manner. It’s peppered with ambient noises, a stream of synth that feels like a UFO hovering before landing, and a steady, subdued guitar line whose notes feel like a pulse across the melody. There are subtly layered vocals as well, a light echo in the airwaves that doesn’t unnerve or befuddle—it simply adds to this slightly melancholic, pensive respite, which proves Tiny Hazard’s range. They’re not just here for the brouhaha.

Greyland is absolutely unique. It’s wild, and yet carefully laid out—a listen that'll have you dipping your toes into a delightful madness.

PREMIERE: Perhapsy - Heavy Water (I'd Rather Be Sleeping)

Laura Kerry

Odds are that even if you don’t know who Derek Barber is, you’ve probably heard him before. A fixture in the Bay Area music scene, he plays guitar for Bells Atlas, Astronauts, etc., and Madeline Kenney’s live shows. As long as he has been playing in bands and supporting other artists, though, Barber has also maintained his own side project, Perhapsy, as an outlet for the experimental impulses that he cultivated in college days studying jazz at the University of Michigan. Starting as an all-instrumental rock artist, Perhapsy has shifted over the course of two albums into a moody, guitar-driven singer-songwriter.

In his new single, “Heavy Water (I'd Rather Be Sleeping),” Perhapsy continues that personal streak with a heartbreaking cover of a song by Grouper. With a backbone of a quick, steady acoustic picking pattern, the song foregrounds Barber’s gentle, vulnerable vocals. Doubled and sometimes lagging behind the steady instrumentals, the voice is raw and seems, as the lyrics say, as if it moves through water. You can sense the emotional weight dragging the singer.

Halfway through the quiet track, though, Perhapsy introduces a heavily distorted, grinding guitar, creating a build that ultimately feels more cathartic than it does weighty. The female vocals that sing the melody an octave up affirm this feeling, rising delicately above the fray. “Heavy Water,” off of Perhapsy’s forthcoming EP, THE, is good for Grouper fans, followers of the Bay Area music scene, or anyone in need of good winter listening.

PREMIERE: Holy Sheboygan! - Four

Kelly Kirwan

Holy Sheboygan! heard the call of the wild, a whisper from the woods beckoning them forward, and they followed. They’ve describe their beginnings as emerging from the forest, mud caked to their skin and tangles of leaves and twigs in their hair. Or, to quote them directly, “Holy Sheboygan! were founded at the beginning of time. They will be playing along to the thunderclap at the end of existence.”

This tight-knit collective—“band” doesn’t quite cut it with them—lived on the land while crafting their latest LP, Four, which is a bustling array of rust-lined folk. Percussion runs rife throughout the album, with the interchange of claps and acoustic drumming further fostering this sense that we’re on the cusp of a spiritual awakening.

“Sleep” braids an even-keeled feminine vocal line repeating abruptly, “Sleep, sleep, sleep / Creep, creep, creep,” as guttural growls permeate throughout. Slinky guitar plucks make a cameo, before the song takes on an airier, slightly eerie tone while singing, “Kiss my lips with every fingertip,” as the melody seems to build upward into a delicate spiral.

“Born of Man” is a much softer song (relatively speaking). The beginning is filled with lightly intertwining vocals, each member carrying a wordless note. As the song progresses it bustles. A subdued cacophony of trills and a funky guitar riff are punctuated every so often by a vaguely metallic clash, and a feeling swells in us listeners that everything will be all right. It's a calming condolence delivered without a snappy lyric, and it's enough to have you following in Holy Sheboygan!'s footsteps without a second thought. We too hear the call.

Pre-order Holy Sheboygan! - Four on Bandcamp, out March 3rd.

REVIEW: Cousin Moon - Cousin Moon

Laura Kerry

Cousin Moon, a band known around the Northampton, Massachusetts area for several years and under a few different names, disappeared into the studio about three years ago and emerged with the 17 polished songs that comprise their self-titled LP.

The first feature that strikes a listener upon arriving at the band’s Bandcamp page, besides the length of the album, is the volume of album credits. A dense block of text that requires a couple scrolls, the notes list every song and painstakingly attribute each sound—from the oscillating drum machine in opening track “Thursdays” to the soundscape and Akai in the closer, “Lorna.”

Some of the care of crediting speaks to the fact that Cousin Moon, a five-piece group, functions more like a tight-knit collective than a uniform band. Aaron Moon, Karl Helander, Phoebe Helander, Max Wareham, and Andy Cass all play different roles throughout the album, and the result is a collection of songs that, while all related, possess slight variations in tone and feel. Karl Helander’s vocals sound distinct from Moon’s, which sound completely different than Phoebe Helander’s. Karl Helander, Wareham, and Moon all play different versions of guitar (Spanish guitar, National lap steel, “guitarmonies”), and no two synths are the same.

More than the shifting arrangements of multitalented musicians, though, the dense credits reflect the meticulousness with which the band approaches its sound. In Cousin Moon, each instrument and voice deserves every bit of acknowledgment that it receives. At first glance, it’s easy to revel in the immediate satisfaction of Beach Boys harmonies, Beatles (or Tame Impala’s version of the Beatles) pop-psychedelia, and other perfectly crafted displays of pop, folk, and indie rock. But delve more deeply into the dense compositions, and you begin to pull out a surprising number of voices.

Even quieter-seeming tracks such as the jazz-inflected “Dreamers” reveal themselves to be complicated and impressively detailed; the credits list Gibson finger picking, counter melodies and background vocals, and a double bass, among other more usual suspects. “Rainy Season,” too, the sparsest and most delicate on the album, boasts light synth, two different kinds of guitar, and multi-part harmonies. Only the all-instrumental interlude, “Stan,” is truly simple, containing a straightforward build and release of synth voices.

The credits become a sort of game of cross-referencing. As the listener moves through the kaleidoscopic texture of Cousin Moon, the impulse arises to pick it apart and understand it. Is that a sitar creating the retro-feeling psychedelic dizziness in “Senior”? (Yes.) What creates that Bowie-like drama on “Entropy”? (Karl Helander’s vocals; “Mellotron-esque strings”; double bass.) How did “Florentine” get so darn warm? (Implied Beach Boys influence; flute; lap steel.)

Of course, the album does fine on its own without the literature, too, leaping through love longs, surreal narratives, and songs about art with a gracefulness impressive for something so ambitious. Cousin Moon gave a substantial amount of time, thought, and care into music that ultimately serves the listener best when she gives the same back.

PREMIERE: Layperson - All Of Us

Kelly Kirwan

It opens with a soft, staccato strumming, an unraveling of richly resonating guitar notes. They linger in the air, painting the melody in broad, slowly-dissipating strokes. It's a tune that consoles while simultaneously eliciting pangs of a nostalgia you can’t quite place. “All of Us” is Layperson’s latest, one of the five tracks that comprise the Portland-based musician’s freshly minted EP, Tidings.

As the title suggests, Layperson’s new music explores “overlapping cycles.” Depending on the tide, we’re either neck-deep in rising water or have our feet firmly planted on solid ground. And while this pendulum can sound daunting, Layperson (otherwise known has Julian Morris) navigates these currents with a soft touch. His melodies are made with smooth lines, a buoyancy in the interplay between the strings and subtle glint off the piano riffs (whether it be organ or Wurlitzer).

“The colors are running off / No saint for the cause / I savor the last of my drops,” Morris sings, and his voice has an old-soul quality, like a more polished Jackson Browne. It's particularly apparent in the way his pitch rises and dips over the lines, “We came for love / But it’s not the only thing that we want.” Layperson’s lyrics are imbued with the effortless understanding that so often comes with hindsight. “All of Us,” in the best possible way, feels like it should cue a film’s credits—a film where the hero sets forth on the open road, letting one story fade into the next. We just hope Layperson will be playing wherever “next” may be.