REVIEW: Cities Aviv - Raised For A Better View


Phillipe Roberts

The universe that Gavin Mays has created as Cities Aviv is blurry by design. Between the rhythmically frayed beats and unevenly chopped samples, the cryptic bars and the persistent, often deafening crackle of vinyl, the “songs” lurking underneath it all can feel illusory; concentrate on a single element for too long and the rest of it will sneak around you, unnoticed. Raised For A Better View is no different. Its tracks are short but dense, exploiting their musical instability for maximum gain before he rips you away into another immaculately designed dimension. And yet, by keeping us always slightly out of focus, by requiring and rewarding a persistent ear, Mays extends the shelf-life on the enigmatic persona of Cities Aviv even as he peels back the curtain for a tantalizing hint at the man behind the boards.

Much has been made of the production on Cities Aviv albums, and for good reason: the dark, metallic textures that grate over one another, glued together somehow by the ghostly reverberation of his voice create the uniquely spacious claustrophobia that one would expect to find on a post-punk record. Joy Divison and Psychic TV are references he’s openly name-checked on previous albums, and although they aren’t deployed literally here, the sinister punk vibes that drew so many cross-genre accolades are still felt strongly. Standout track “Marionette” even brings in a bit of a gritty yet slightly whining delivery, reminiscent of a groggy Iceage, to complete the picture. And the drum samples on “For Now & Ltd.,” salvos of snare cracking against the glassy, distant synths, sound like a breakdown heard through a broken radio. The way Gavin Mays plays with space, creating rooms within rooms and threading them together to construct these impossible sonic architectures, only adds to the mystery at his core.

For all of the instrumental riddles, Raised For A Better View also features some incisive lyrical insight, mostly presenting Mays as elevated above the chaotic forces swarming around him. “White people try to hit me with some baggage / Trendy niggas try to check me for the image,” he taunts on “For Now & Ltd.” Emotional stragglers try to sap at him on “Don’t Feed Off The Energy,” but he wards them away with the title chant and a crooked guitar sample. He quite literally phones in help at several points on the album, throwing in encouraging voicemails on “Weight” (“Fuck the dumb shit, nigga / It’s all about striving”) and the gorgeous jazzy closer “*Series of Exits” (“Give me a call send me a text / Let me know if you’re okay”). Despite the isolated, confusing soundworld that he’s able to create, Mays is well aware that he’s besieged by energies that are keen to throw him off the grind, and these moments of confident vulnerability paint a spare, but intriguing narrative.

This constant back and forth between the concrete objects of Gavin Mays’ life and the fleeting, fantastic instrumentation that he strings them together with is the tension that keeps Raised For A Better View afloat. At times, the rush of nimble beats can overwhelm your ability to keep track of the clues, but contrary to what he might have you believe, feeding off his energy is the only way to keep this story straight.

REVIEW: altopalo - Blur // Frozen Away


Phillipe Roberts

Off the radar for over two years since their last release, altopalo return to the fold with a double single that shows off just how far the heady pop quartet has gone in reinventing themselves. Before their hibernation, the band seemed animated by a different energy. The songs seemed to be in a constant state of eruption, tossing and turning with frantic eagerness to charge into the next stunning passage; theatrically bold, with a futuristic edge, their concoctions played like a youthful attempt to satisfy every sonic urge all at once. As thrilling as the productions were, consistency in mood was never a strong suit.

If their earlier songs cruised on a caffeinated rush, these new singles are the long-anticipated crash into calmer waters. “Blur” beeps to life, gliding in on soft synths and cocooning vocalist Rahm Silverglade in a soundscape awash in aquatic glitches—it’s as if the band is quite literally coming back online. Silverglade’s lyrics paint a grim, post-apocalyptic picture of a relationship gone awry, begging to be taken back while admitting that “it takes a little more than time” and selling it with his strongest pop delivery to date. The band uses complete silences to tremendous effect, receding completely before each emotional revelation and surging back in with a slinky R&B groove to take it into a despairing, finger-picked coda.

“Frozen Away” is cut from the same cloth, but probes deeper into the darkness. “Blur” dealt with the immediate aftermath, the bargaining and frustration of being cut loose from love. “Frozen Away” comes through like a fast-forward, lurching into the full-fledged despair of realizing that “we fucked it all up, and sold it away,” that things are too far gone to be repaired. Chiming electric piano smears with reverb against his voice, building to an anti-climax where the bumping beat slowly dissolves into the distance as the fade out chokes Silverglade’s voice. The resolution and, unfortunately, the full release of altopalo’s comeback record are far from here, but these slices of solitude will tide you over until the snow melts.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Zenizen - Nicer There

Raquel Dalarossa

Zenizen is the soul and groove brainchild of Opal Hoyt. The artist-from-all-over was raised everywhere from Alaska to Jamaica and DC to Brooklyn, and her band’s debut EP was cut in and subsequently named Australia. A video accompanies each of the EP’s three tracks, and the collection is finally made complete with the release of the third and final video for “Nicer There.”

Described as an “homage to a perpetual dream state” and clocking in at just over six minutes, the video offers us a chance to truly escape, for a few moments, into a world of flower fields, fruit markets, and seaside. With glitter on her face and a pastel tulle train floating in the wind, Hoyt resembles a siren come ashore. Directed, shot, and edited by Vrinda Jagota and Zolzaya Brown, the film combines a lush Kodachrome palette, split-screen visuals, and a changing aspect ratio that together feel like something out of the French New Wave. The few desaturated sequences in the first half of the film offer a contrast that makes the brighter hues come to life. Not to mention the grainy texture paired with light leaks galore that give the whole thing a sheen of vintage nostalgia, as though it were a fading memory.

Over a mellow beat and soulful electric guitar, Hoyt croons “It’s nicer there,” and the video artfully takes us right to that place.

PREMIERE: Twig Twig - It's Late

Raquel Dalarossa

After two EPs, both released back in 2016, it's about time for a full-length debut from twig twig. Dropping on May 4th via OTHERFEELS records, Darkworld Gleaming will feature eight new tracks from the Brooklyn artist, but until then, we have the album's first single to tide us over.

"It's Late" is an experimental electro-pop earworm with a rough-around-the-edges sound that makes twig twig's music feel instantly intimate and warm. The expert songwriting and mixing should be no surprise to those who know the man behind the solo outfit, Zubin Hensler, given his past life on the stage and in the studio with acts like Sylvan Esso, Son Lux, and Fleet Foxes. Hensler crafts the song's beat using the sound of ticking gears that occasionally skip, as though they're playing from a broken music box. Paired with his soft falsetto, it lends an almost child-like innocence that has become something of his signature sound. But it's contrasted against lyrics like "Try although I try / There's no way to look away," hinting at a quiet chaos around the song.

Of the track, Hensler notes:

"I began working on 'It's Late' in the summer of 2016, it was the first thing I wrote for this new album. I hesitate to say it's a political song, but I think everything was political that summer...I was definitely feeling a big sense of impending doom and searching for a way to process that."

We're looking to hearing what else he has in store with Darkworld Gleaming. Until then, watch our Blue Room video with the artist and pre-order the album here.

REVIEW: Prism Tats - Mamba


Phillipe Roberts

A little advice when trying out Mamba: check your DIY at the door. Garrett Van Der Spek makes garage rock that’s a bit too plush for the basement. Cushioned with clean vocal harmonies, embellished with soft synthesizers, and sandwiched between a pair of spacious, downbeat crooning numbers, Prism TatsMamba tackles the genre with a smirking poise. The tempos don’t rush ahead nervously and the instruments knit together seamlessly, entirely devoid of rough edges. There’s a calculated energy to the affair that can’t be ignored. For devotees of the genre, crate digging for the latest blown out gem, its pristine presentation leaves a certain “rawness” to be desired. But even still, Van Der Spek’s clear ambition in flexing his songwriting chops and the unflinching swagger he carries into each song makes for a brisk rush of energy from top to bottom.

To call the production on Mamba “clean” is a raving understatement—this album is Department of Health Grade A spotless. Even its loudest, most chaotic moments, like the feedback eruption that closes out the title track, don’t come close to putting the meter into the red or producing the slightest unwanted artifact. On tracks with a serious amount of tonal variety, like “Vamps,” which thunders ahead with plenty of vocal effects swimming around two guitars, one bright and palm-muted and the other ringing like church bells in the pre-chorus, this streamlined sound works well. It brings out a tremendous amount of flavor that would otherwise get muddled. But on “Live Like Dogs,” whose glam rock design struggles to pull ahead of the typical guitar-drums-bass instrumentation, it saps some much needed unpredictability from a tightly written tune.

However, when Garrett Van Der Spek has a mind to twist a song with some newfound instrumentation, his instincts are spot on. “Daggers” hangs heavy on its festival-ready chorus, and rightfully so, but it's the woozy, flute-like organ swooping into the verses that turns it into something more than a straightforward anthem. And when he branches out into more exotic textures, the rewards grow exponentially richer. In "Ocean Floor," it’s refreshing to hear a drum machine bumping out a metronomic pattern on an album of explosive live drumming, especially when paired with a Robert Fripp-indebted guitar lead soaring in the background, sounding like “Somber Reptiles” from Another Green World with vocals. Indeed, the tracks that burn more slowly, taking on an almost ambient pace, feel like the next step in Van Der Spek’s evolution away from garage relics of the past.

Where his last record closed with the fuzzy, burnt-out strums of “Know It All,” this time Van Der Spek brings the lights all the way down for “Doomed,” an acoustic track that drifts away steadily like the end credits to a space western. Liberated from the burden of injecting that typical venomous swagger over bombastic riffs, a more introspective Van Der Spek mulls over his fate, turning into a more relatable and approachable character in the process. And as much as the polished punk pouting still remains compelling enough to keep you listening, it’s this side of Prism Tats that will keep you waiting for more.