Album Premiere

PREMIERE

Sun Kin // Miserable chillers - Adoration Room

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Will Shenton

When Kabir Kumar (Sun Kin) and Miguel Gallego (Miserable chillers) first met, they found that they had a lot in common: both were pop musicians, both were first-generation children of immigrants, and both had "fears about making art in a time where a tidal wave of history seems poised to crash down on us." But perhaps the most striking similarity between the artists is the playful sincerity they bring to their songwriting, allowing them to paint optimistic counterpoints to those anxieties. It wasn't long before they became long-distance collaborators, and Adoration Room is a sprawling, occasionally tongue-in-cheek debut for the pair.

Awash in everything from danceable synths to psychedelic guitars, Kumar and Gallego's voices and lyrical styles are naturally complementary. "I keep inviting you to things by accident / I swear this app was made to make me feel bad," Kumar sings on the wonderfully theatrical "Ringing," not long after Gallego gives us the vignette of "I thought of you at the bitcoin exchange / When we split a cab across town to the AMNH" on "Natural History." These little parodies of modern, digital life walk a tragicomic line, simultaneously seeming to mock their ridiculousness and empathize with the narrator. Maybe social media is a dumb thing to stress about, but it doesn't make the anxiety any less real.

Part of the appeal of Adoration Room is its tendency towards nostalgic reference, anchoring its contemporary woes in the comforting styles of the past. Miserable chillers' "Jamie" drips with Bowie-esque melodrama, while Sun Kin channels countless sultry, soulful crooners on opener "Veena." The list of homages and influences is too long to count, and the result is a sort of semi-satirical collage—some of the delivery is definitely goofy, but it's executed with the loving care of musicians who grew up steeped in the sounds they're channeling.

Replete with sometimes subtle, sometimes explicit nods to revolutionary politics ("Adoration, if all the work goes away and we're still / Paying for the leisure of the vain / Be patient, hope the guillotines have not been rent / Help me sharpen blades," Kumar sings on "Teri Ankhen"), the album regularly hints at a more hopeful vision of the future. But no matter how the tension between the socialist clarion call of "Teri Ankhen" and the dystopian, techno-libertarian tableau of "UBI" shakes out, Sun Kin and Miserable chillers are dedicated to at least one immediate material gain: irresistible pop.

Pre-order Adoration Room on Bandcamp, out 7/27

VIDEO ALBUM PREMIERE + INTERVIEW: Miles Francis - Swimmers

Phillipe Roberts

To hear them tell it, there’s a star-crossed quality to the collaboration between Miles Francis and Charles Billot, a meeting of complementary dreamers that quickly became apparent when the three of us met at Greenpoint’s BÚÐIN cafe. They had been introduced a year earlier after admiring each others’ work from afar, and a chance message from Charles happened to slide Miles’ way just as the musician was sitting down to mix Swimmers, his solo debut.

“All I said was, 'Hey... what’s up?'” Charles told me, laughing at the words that launched the six months of planning that brought the EP to life as a visual album.

“'What have you been up to?'” Miles corrected. “As soon as he reached out to me, I knew: he’s the guy. I made Swimmers totally alone, played all the instruments, but when he reached out, I knew that this was what needed to happen to it. I needed to interface with him to take it to where it needed to go.”

On its own, Swimmers is a gripping work of psychological storytelling, an unveiling of Miles Francis’ vast talent for arrangement and songcraft beyond the confines of his longstanding band, EMEFE. It’s fitting that the record’s conception truly began at its final song, “Overthink,” an encapsulation of Swimmers’ themes of self-doubt and the desire to escape from its constricting paralysis. “I’d been writing songs for a potential solo album, but that was the 'level up.' I realized that there was potential there,” Miles explained. “I found my voice through that song, and the rest of it just flowed.” From there, he worked improvisationally, setting up a studio environment conducive to the freeform experimentation that birthed “Overthink” and ended up with eight completed tracks. Done and done.

photo: Charles Billot

photo: Charles Billot

Or so he believed until Charles returned to the picture. “I think the two of us work together well because we can dream together,” Miles said, eliciting a knowing chuckle from his creative partner. “We initially wanted to do three videos, but as we started working on the video proposals, the thought of it being one interconnected experience took over.” That meant making a few cuts, narrowing down the vision to five tracks to match their growing list of visual ideas, which in turn influenced the final version of the EP itself. “As we were making the videos, we decided the order of the songs as well. I had a different idea, but it shifted because I realized that the end video and the end song, 'Overthink,' was really the realization at the end.”

Swimmers is a surrealist adventure, stuffed with visuals that externalize those emotional conflicts, but it dives in with candy at the forefront. “The first thing that came through was the Starburst,” Charles explained. “He was playing 'You’re A Star' and threw them into the audience as a gimmick. I thought it was a cool idea, and that’s where we started. They eat the Starburst and things start to change.” In the video for the same song, Miles slips downstairs and into a dreamworld. Dancers in colored jumpsuits swarm him in rapid cuts to the ocean. Miles enters the water and the sea sweeps over him.

Visually, Charles initially described the videos as conveying a kind of psychedelic drug trip, but Miles pushed back on that explanation, tying the word “tripping” back to the feeling of being emotionally bent out of shape. Charles pounced to tie the conceptual knot: “You make shit up when you’re in love. Your brain goes crazy.”

“Complex,” the following song, is a slice of electronic pop cruising somewhere between R&B and funk. Miles cited D’Angelo’s Voodoo as one of his favorite albums, an influence that definitely shows in the intimate, homespun grooves of the track, and the gentle posturing infused into the lyrics. “What would you do if I left you down?” he asks, taunting, “I’m busy and I’m strong / And nothing’s going to stop me now” in the face of a disappointed lover.

The corresponding video was actually the least intentional of the bunch. “It came out of having shot things that didn’t necessarily fit with what we intended them for," Miles said. "Charles experimented with them in other songs, but when we played around with stringing them together it worked perfectly.” The seeming simplicity of the shots, featuring Miles swimming just beneath the surface in colorful fabrics as smoke piles up above him, works well with the tossed-off, soft flexing of the track. This is Miles in a moment of power and control. Emerging from the pool with the fabric barely clinging to him, that confidence is established just before it all starts to tear away.

photo: Charles Billot

photo: Charles Billot

And tear away it does on “Deserve Your Love,” the emotional centerpiece of the record. Though it starts with hushed strums, it grows into a soaring chorus, followed by a free-falling psychedelic descent of pounding drums and distorted strings that's explosively cathartic. The video is a favorite of both Miles and Charles, particularly a scene in which dancers pummel him as they circle menacingly.

“Choreographing a fight but also making it dancey was really inspiring,” Miles said. “It was great because it hurt a little bit, so I was feeling that energy. Just getting beat up over and over but getting to be part of the dancers, even though I’m not exactly popping and locking, was fun.” Charles put him through his paces though, apparently going a little bit overboard in the excitement of getting such great footage. “I think I made you run after that car for an hour and a half, and honestly it probably could’ve been done in twenty minutes,” he admitted to Miles with a laugh. “But you looked so good and I couldn’t stop.”

After a brief segue of Miles brushing seaweed out of his teeth, it's on to “Take It,” a high-energy dance track with a buzzing synth lead reminiscent of house maestros Justice. In a black box theater, Miles confronts a dancer, Lukasz Zieba, who contorts and twists in a powerful routine. Watching Lukasz express himself so freely had a tremendous effect on Miles, and helped him unravel some of the inner conflicts that had subliminally played into the album’s creation—particularly a deeper understanding of and reckoning with his own masculinity.

“The short really brought out something in the music that I hadn’t considered while writing the songs, and it was showing the decomposition and faults of a man. What it is to be a man, and how that role can become a default, going through relationships,” he explained. “When I reflect on my own experiences with love and relationships, there’s definitely something personal to it, but so much of it is dealing with the social programming of that experience.” It’s a theme that Miles wants to explore more deeply in other subject matter, but the film, and particularly “Take It,” is a clear stepping stone in contextualizing those thoughts.

The crowning visual of Swimmers, the climactic moment that seems to quite literally crash back into reality, is a shot of Miles in a white suit plummeting into the water. The cover art shares the same image, also shot by Charles, but it took hours of practice to perfect the jump. “I practiced that with a wetsuit on, just to get comfortable so that I wouldn’t flinch at the impact,” Miles said, with a hint of exhaustion in his voice. “It was hard,” Charles explained, “because I didn’t want you to bend. And every take, hearing you hit the water straight with that slapping sound, I was like, 'Sorry, Miles, but we need it again.'” The end result is stunning, this perfect sigh of relief at the end of a long road.

Clichéd as it may seem, Swimmers concludes with Miles walking off into the sunset, barefoot and drenched, somewhat directionless but clearly changed. And that’s much how Charles and Miles left the project, with ideas still overflowing. One of Charles’ dreams is to do a musical, in the vein of West Side Story. “They take you somewhere that’s surreal,” he said. “It’s supposed to relate to reality, but someone snaps their fingers and they just disappear. We don't have West Side Story in Europe.” Miles has some different ideas: “I don’t want to do a musical, but I do want to do a show where I’m singing the songs, there’s a set, there’s dancers... and it tells a story,” he managed before erupting in laughter.

“So maybe I need to rethink my definitions.”

 

Catch Miles Francis on tour:

5/31 - Brooklyn NY - C'mon Everybody (with Spirit Twin, Ora Cogan)

6/19 - Winooski VT - The Monkey House **

6/20 - Montreal, QC - Brasserie Beaubien **

6/21 - Toronto, ON - The Garrison **

6/22 - Hudson NY - Half Moon **

6/28 - Brooklyn NY - Elsewhere Rooftop **

**supporting TEEN

PREMIERE: Indira Valey - No Me Tengas Miedo

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Will Shenton

No Me Tengas Miedo. Do not fear me. The title of Portland artist Indira Valey's new EP is an admonition that might seem unnecessary given its quiet, mesmerizing character. Yet, in progressing like a dream, it exposes the listener to the subtle anxieties of introspection, inviting us to see ourselves reflected in its fluid soundscapes—and in the end, imploring us not to shy away from what we discover.

The first three tracks on the EP are primarily impressionistic, each taking its time to build layered textures that undulate and sprawl. Indira Valey's voice phases in and out of earshot throughout, at times melding with the instrumentals entirely as the mantra-like lyrics unfold. The sparse percussion and washed-out guitars give the sound an organic warmth, especially on "Wideopen," which evokes images of sunset plains and endless skies.

On the fourth and final track, "No Me Tengas Miedo No Me," the vocals come to the forefront, slightly modulated, speaking from a place of seemingly mystical power. "Watch as the islands of my eyes ride waves / Of hiding the whole body," the artist chants, further erasing the lines between nature and self that have been blurred by the preceding songs. We are beseeched yet again, in Spanish and English: "No me tengas miedo / No me ... Do not fear me / Do not / I come from higher places."

No Me Tengas Miedo feels in many ways like an exercise in surrender. It lulls us into an uncertain serenity, not tranquilized but clear-headed, before pulling us into a strange world with unfamiliar boundaries. It's a transportive work, and one that you'll find calling you back when you least expect it.

Pre-order No Me Tengas Miedo, out tomorrow (3/28) on Antiquated Future and Spirit House.

PREMIERE: Secret Sibling - Live Like Before

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Phillipe Roberts

With more and more albums these days being stuffed to the gills with uninspired filler to inflate those streaming numbers, there’s never been a better time to come out in praise of the shorter formats: mini-LPs, EPs, double-sided singles. While they’re often ignored in conversations about an artist’s accomplishments, there’s a particular kind of virtue in being able to create depth, purpose, and cohesion all in the span of your average TV episode. If you’re looking for that kind of quick pick-me-up, a project that builds and disassembles that immersion without consuming your entire afternoon (looking at you, Culture II), Secret Sibling might be just what you’re looking for.

Live Like Before flies in right under 25 minutes, and Michael Sachs’ experimental pop project doesn’t exactly bury it’s darkness—the second lyric is "What if I told you a secret? / Life isn’t going how I’d like"—but its sonic misdirections sound right on cue for the warming of the seasons and the yearly realization that, while winter goes away, your howling existential dread doesn’t. Rather than wear it on his sleeve, Sachs crafts sunny instrumentals, mostly using warm synthesizers that sound piped in from delirious Animal Crossing daydreams, and infuses them with stark portraits of anxiety. “I don’t want to be abandoned in the peak of New York summer,” he sings over a lumbering bump of electronic drums on “Missing Out On,” and on the title track he nails the problem right on the head: “Friends, they try to reach out / I get tired of trying to smile / And I think a lot about how to be good.”

Live Like Before may be brief, but lyrically and instrumentally, particularly in his use of horns and field recordings to put you right in the middle of that fearful New York summer, Secret Sibling brings his confessional intensity to you with the kind, self-aware attitude of a lifelong best friend.

PREMIERE: Slow Dakota - Rumspringa EP

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Will Shenton

Slow Dakota's sophomore release, Rumspringa, begins on a characteristically aspirational note: "When I'm free / When I leave the city / When I'm free / Then I'll wake up early / I'll tend the rocky fields on the hill / I'll serve the basil in my windowsill." The lyrics are familiar to anyone who's ever dreamt of escape to a more idyllic life, and the way we tend to insist upon plans when we're least certain that we'll actually follow through.

It's a sentiment that fits with the EP's title—a reference to the Amish rite of passage in which adolescents are allowed to explore the outside world—as well as its sound. Mastered by the legendary Greg Calbi (known for his work on countless classic records, from Lennon to Bowie to Talking Heads), Rumspringa is a decidedly more polished album than last year's The Ascension of Slow Dakota. The songwriting is approachable, pop-sensible, and thoroughly fun to listen to, but thankfully manages this evolution without losing any of artist P.J. Sauerteig's distinctively raw delivery, nor the sense of humanizing self-doubt that permeates his work.

Each track on the EP is named for a different whimsical character, with most (if not all—I'm no master of Midwestern geography) referencing a city or state. Titles like "Abram Indiana," "Elijah Yoder," "Cherry Mary Michigan," and "Jebediah Iowa" all drive home that this work is as much about place as it is about personal experience. The names are hybrids of biblical Americana, seemingly entwining Sauerteig's own explorations of religious faith with broader questions of identity and the ever-changing definition of "home" (he even split the recording between his home state of Indiana and his adoptive New York). If we leave and decide to return, what are we coming back to?

Rumspringa is a fitting title for Slow Dakota's relatively short diversion into explicitly pop songwriting; like its namesake, it seems to represent both indulgence and experimentation, but also a subtle, almost reflexive quality of clinging to the familiar. Whether Sauerteig will return to his more avant-garde roots or continue down this infectious rabbit hole remains to be seen. Either way, it's bound to be compelling.