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.

REVIEW: Pompey - More is Less

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Raquel Dalarossa

Pompey is a singer-songwriter, otherwise known only as "Alex KS," who has been releasing music under the moniker since early 2016. With six EPs under his belt, one would think he might be overdue to release a full-length by now, but, as the title of his latest release appropriately indicates, sometimes it's best to keep things simple.

More is Less is a new five-track collection that adds to a growing catalog of thoughtful and thoughtfully crafted bedroom pop. Recorded with the help of Thanya Iyer and Daniel Gelinas, at the latter's own studio, it's a far cry from Pompey's first release (which was recorded on an iPhone), but feels just as intimate. The vocals sound, consistently, very close to the ear, and the instrumentation is minimal—a grungy electric guitar is paired with playful synths and supporting percussion.

The approach results in a faithful emphasis on the singer's softly spoken, vulnerable vocals and unassuming lyrics. Opening song "Fractions" is, as we said in our premiere a few months back, "refreshingly straightforward and relatable." As it turns out, much of the EP hews to that description. In "Cincihappy," we get a glimpse into one of those rare moments where faith in one’s self and faith in the universe collide, as he sings "I'm pretty happy / Everything seems fine / I'm not in a rush / To figure it out." Right after that, though, we hear a much more reticent and run-down version of the singer as he confides, "Sometimes all I want to do is lay in bed and watch Friends on Netflix."

The centerpiece, though, is the nearly seven minute-long "Give In." Showcasing how mindsets and moods can turn in a moment, the song starts out with an anxious, droning intro that feels a bit like being stuck in a loop of self-conscious thoughts; then, it slows down dramatically, like a self-imposed intervention in which we take a deep breath and "take it one step at a time." Finally, the track picks up some confidence and pace midway through, but Pompey struggles to commit to that confidence, wavering between the mantras “I’m not giving up” and “I’m not good enough.”

Pompey's greatest talent is turning the prosaic into poetry. The simplicity of his writing is precisely what allows it to feel so recognizable and stirring. When all is said and done, he's right—more really would be less.