REVIEW: Hooded Fang - Dynasty House

Kelly Kirwan

Dynasty House is a title you might expect to find on a thick, leather-bound book of epic poetry, its pages filled with far-off adventures and intertwined lineages. Instead, it’s stamped across the new EP from Toronto-based outfit Hooded Fang, a pairing of six tracks that feature ever-expanding melodies, jangly guitars, and vivid lyrics that return to a theme of exploration time and again.

Take the opener, "Queen of Agusan," with its murmuring vocals and bouquet of sharp, tangy notes that spiral in tandem, evoking a somewhat uneasy feeling—a countdown of dark inclinations. “She was nursed by spellbound waves / A seaside gem / She was raised by a monsoon matron / Becoming a stone’s stone,” we hear in a deep croon, as this mythic imagery sinks its hooks into us, leaving us enraptured by a story with a legendary strut.

"Nene Of The Light" has more of a bop to its step, a whistle-like note wafting its way across the melody. It’s a song that has an air of shrugged shoulders, with repeated lines like “I ain’t that holy” and “I like to pretend,” interspersed in a mood that’s somewhere between nonchalance and pessimism (“Drown in an hourglass / Build a castle instead”). It’s laid-back grunge with rolling percussion, lulling us into an almost meditative state even with its grit. It seems Hooded Fang don’t need thousands of words or pages to create an opus that conveys a world without limits. They’ve crafted a far-reaching canvas in under 30 minutes.

REVIEW: (Sandy) Alex G - Rocket

Laura Kerry

Some albums elicit strong feelings of place—the album that evokes the beach, the one that recalls a dingy basement or a grassy field. (Sandy) Alex G’s new LP, Rocket, perfectly suits a drive down a New England highway at the end of May, the environment in which I first heard it.

(Sandy) Alex G, the 24-year-old Philadelphia-dweller whose real name is Alex Giannoscoli, has made eight albums that span a wide territory of sounds, but have one place in common: the artist’s bedroom, where he records and produces his music. Over the years, his lo-fi indie sound has earned a cult following that led first to deals with Orchid Tapes and Domino, and then spots on Frank Ocean’s albums Endless and Blonde.

In Rocket, Alex G returns with that signature lo-fi style, but this time it's more direct and accessible, less shrouded in effects and esoteric touches. The often-cited Elliott Smith influence remains in sparse, downtempo songs such as “Poison Root” and “Big Fish,” but overall, the artist’s addition of banjo and violin on many tracks makes it a brighter work. Relying on those two country-associated instruments, “Bobby,” “Rocket,” and “Powerful Man” all reveal a different side of Alex G that feels more open, less internal. They're the kind of songs that invite you to roll down the windows and let in the early summer air.

Not all of Rocket is so breezy, though. The album is Alex G’s most accessible, but it is also one of the most varied. Next to the sentimental folksong “Bobby” is the shimmering electronic jam
"Witch," with echoing, affected vocals, followed soon by “Brick,” a fiery noise-rock song with the taunting refrain, “I know that you’re lying” (good for rage-inducing traffic jams on the aforementioned New England highways). Elsewhere, there are inflections of jazz in the mellow percussion, guitar solo, and walking bass-line in “County” and sax accents in “Guilty.” The flow of Rocket is confounding, but it manages to maintain a solid grip on the listener nonetheless.

As varied as the sounds and genres throughout the album are the stories that Alex G conveys. In speaking about his music, the artist makes a point of obscuring the origins and “real” meanings of his songs, which makes for a fun journey of the imagination and a limited set of Genius annotations. In Rocket, the lyrics seem both specific and universal, introspective and observational, personal and narrative.

In one of the album’s standouts, “Bobby,” the perspectives seem to shift around as Alex G and a female voice sing in harmony, moving between sides in a love triangle. In “Powerful Man,” conversational rhyming couplets move from a story about a baby biting a woman’s cheek to musings about fatherhood (“Guess it started with the baby / She went in for a hug then it bit her on the cheek / That was pretty funny to me / But I guess I should have more sympathy / I ain’t never raised a kid / But I bet I’d do a good job if I did”). Other songs include details (“Look how he tucks his shirt in” in “Big Fish”; the days of the week on “Alina”) that evoke vivid images but don’t amount to any cohesive picture.

On Rocket, Alex G shows his range and depth as a songwriter and apartment producer. With a song for every mood and a story for every situation, it’s an album to spend time with wherever you are this summer.

REVIEW: Hoop - Super Genuine

Laura Kerry

“When you push, I draw back / Then you hide and I want more.”

In the new Hoop album Super Genuine, this line from “Folded Impulse,” featuring Allyson Foster, describes the inverse relationship between two people. When one person does something, it provokes the opposite reaction in the other. To illustrate the point, Foster and Caitlin Roberts, the band’s frontwoman, sing a soft call-and-response, both their voices quiet and delicate.

While many of the most emotionally vulnerable albums mine the artist’s inner thoughts and feelings, Super Genuine remains mostly outward-facing. Like in “Folded Impulse,” it examines the relationships between various points—friends, lovers, family. Hoop, which began as a duo in a small town in Washington, has slowly transformed into a quartet that grew out of Roberts’ new home in Seattle—called the “Womb Room”—with housemates-turned-bandmates Leena Joshi and Pamela Santiago (Inge Chiles joined later). The first album they've made together reflects the closeness that comes from sharing a space and, as the name of that space hints at, feminist sensibilities.

Throughout Super Genuine, Hoop explores vulnerability through connections with others. In the opener, “Marlin Spike,” Roberts sings, “You hate to tell me you’re scared to lose me / You hate to tell me you really need me” in a quiet song about falling for one who won’t open up. In “Skiptracer,” Hoop offers support and counsel to an addressee named Michael, who is similarly inhibited. “Surrender yourself,” she sings, “And at the same time explore yourself.” At other times, Hoop is happy in the face of love. In “Good Dregs,” she sings, “It's the right time to learn something new / To learn new ways to love you.” In “Baseboard” (featuring Briana Marela), Hoop is defiant, proclaiming that there are limits to what she can give without return. “I’m not here to please you,” she sings. “Nothing can make me stay.”

Even when strong and defiant, though, Hoop sings in an ethereal, childlike voice. Most of the time, this emphasizes the emotional potency of the music. In combination with simple guitar patterns, it occasionally sounds thin—lacking the grounding that Hoop has in their lyrics. True to the legacy of their location, the band also plays with a heavier, grungier sound at times. “To Know Your Tone” (featuring Allyson Foster), “Drawn To You,” and “Send Purpose Down” all feature fuzzier guitars that comprise a full, shoegazey style. Elsewhere, Hoop fills in their sound with layers of harmony, beat loops, and shimmery synths.

Among more common contemporary genre markers on their Bandcamp page, such as “pop” and “alternative,” Hoop lists “feelings.” Though the songs are light and melodic, that dimension of Super Genuine does require some effort on the part of the listener. Hoop doesn’t just confront the subjects of their songs, they also address the audience. Ultimately, though, the album is cathartic. It is, as they say in the optimistic glow of the final song, “Bask In Easy Tone,” “water to wash [our] hands.”

PREMIERE: Sheen Marina - Travel Lightly

Laura Kerry

With the name Sheen Marina, this Brooklyn-based four-piece seems to like all things sunny and nautical. Chuck Thomas, Justin Mayfield, Michael Karsh, and Steven Bartashev identify their music most often as “surf-rock,” and they followed up their debut EP Coda Arms last year with a cover of the Beach Boys’ song “Gettin’ Hungry.”

As the line drawing of a web-footed monster on the art for that single suggests, though, they also have a tendency to turn a radiant day at the beach into a twisted, savage rampage. Sand, bright towels, and plastic toys remain in the picture, but they are scattered and partially buried under a thick layer of sludge and debris.

In their full-length debut, Travel Lightly, Sheen Marina jumbles their surf-rock with an eclectic mix of sounds, creating music that is challenging and off-kilter, but always tight and intriguing. Songs tend to morph as they unfold, propelled by the play of tension and release, accessibility and dissonance. Opening on “WYSC,” the album gets through about 11 seconds of rattling percussion and pretty synth before the vocal melody hits its first unexpected note and guitars burst in playing an ominous chord progression. Switching several more times, the song also hits moments of noise rock, art rock, and even a hint of pop punk, all guided by the calculated complexity of math rock. And that’s just the first song.

Throughout Travel Lightly, the band journeys to surreal sunsets (“Chasing the orange cream sunset dreams / She's a firecracker,” they sing in “Nose Ring Boring”); tales of California that are equally head-bobbing and hair-raising (“Fever Dreams”); tunes with jangly verses, shrieking choruses, and a hint of Radiohead in the vocals (“Wax Lens”); and glitchy, jittery guitar-driven collages (“Ugly Viper” and others). Sometimes Sheen Marina paints abstract images, as in “Nose Ring Boring,” while at other times, they tackle the modern world and the psyche with poignancy and directness (“I've got to go to the edge of a digital world where I can find my soul,” they sing in “Swipe”).

One thing remains in all those travels: There's always a weird, ominous creature lurking under the surface. Take “Summer Sunshine People,” the track whose title indicates that it might deliver on the promise in Sheen Marina’s name and genre. Sometimes it does—its vocal and guitar melodies offer enough bounce to grasp onto. But at the end of each catchy line waits a different discordant surprise, and the refrain repeats, “Empty, my life is empty.” The summer sunshine people are surprisingly dark and gloomy, but the song still emits a radiant, magnetic energy. Travel Lightly is a trip to a strange seashore, but we suggest you start packing your beach bag now.

REVIEW: Elbows - Corduroy EP

Kelly Kirwan

“This is a cassette player with a little cassette in it, so we’ll just have to play it, to see what it is…”

These opening lines are the voice of beloved children's show host Fred Rogers, though without context they're delivered as if cassettes were some alien contraption. His every word is repeated in strange counterpoint, a cartoonish voice like an animated martian on a helium bender. After this echoing line, we hear the telltale click that means the cassette is in place, and the music will begin—and so it does.

This serves as the introduction to a song—and album—that is equal parts odd, intriguing, nostalgic and ironic, and it does its job in setting the stage for the weird wistfulness to come on Elbows’ latest EP, Corduroy. The man behind the music is the Brooklyn-via-Bay Area producer and songwriter Max Schieble, who’s described his latest work as a kind of time travel. Schieble explained to Earmilk that these four tracks are a sampling of sounds that’ve been simmering in his mind since he started making music in the first place. The result feels both expansive and like a retro collage, filled with so many textures that no easy definition applies.

The opening track, "Oatmeal," is marked by the use of quirky sampling. A woman’s voice carries us through a circus-like synth that builds and zig-zags in a sharp pitch. Her voice has the deliberate monotone of a person reading a speech, and as the words come together they become recognizable as bits of Woody Allen’s Manhattan. But soon we depart from that 1979 classic, and move to a wry take on hip-hop’s boom bap, with a different woman’s voice adopting a midwestern twang to mimic the drum style in a stretched-out cadence: “Boom. Bap. Boom. Bap.”

The title track immediately follows, with a slinky R&B beat and Schieble’s slightly nasal, raspy pitch intoning, “Elbows on the table / Spinning fables / From the cradle / Straight to the rocking chair.” Funky synths dominate the first half of the track, before the pace gets a jolt, diving into some jittery electronic footwork that feels like a late-level arcade game. It fits with Elbows' overall aesthetic—a touch of humor woven into tightly-packed beats that incorporate everything from jazz to obscure pop culture references.

Courdory is not your run-of-the-mill EP. It’s a whirlwind that’s both witty and upbeat, and it's only the beginning for Max Schieble. We’ll be waiting to see what’s next, content to have no idea what's up his sleeve.