Alternative Rock


Illiterate Light - Two Cats

Gerard Marcus

Richmond, Virginia duo Illiterate Light use their driving rock music to peer inwards, searching down into the hidden, uncontrollable emotions within. Their video for their new single “Two Cats” is a quirky study of one of these emotions: obsession. Shot for a film festival over a single day on Super 8 film, they restricted themselves to only in-camera editing, embracing the limitations of this technique to power their creativity.

The song “Two Cats” is about someone furious that their partner is moving away, who has gone ahead with the purchase of their two cats anyway in the hope that it will make them stay. In the video, we follow two characters, “cats,” who become unrelentingly fixated on a tight-fitted floral crop top. What ensues is a quirky story that starts as a more of a Sunday morning comic strip, but with no resolution in sight, escalates to an epic backyard brawl. It’s telling how Illiterate Light handle their emotions that they’ve created such a light-hearted story to explore the desperate obsession and anger of the song. The video is a unique and creative depiction of their inner turmoil, shining a satirical light on obsession to help us all see that, sometimes, it might be better to just let it go and not take everything too seriously.

Illiterate Light are playing Brooklyn Steel this Friday, January 11th!

And the rest of their tour:

01/12 – Washington DC @ The Hamilton ^
01/15 – Ft. Wayne, IN @ The Brass Rail ^
01/16 – Bloomington, IL @ Castle Theater ^
01/17 – Milwaukee, WI @ Colectivo ^
01/19 – Chicago, IL @ Park West ^
01/22 – Indianapolis, IN @ HiFi ^
01/23 – Columbus, OH @ Basement ^
01/24 – Lexington, KY @ The Burl ^
01/25 – St. Louis, MO @ Delmar Hall ^
01/26 – Nashville, TN @ Marathon Music Works ^
01/27 – Richmond, VA @ Broadberry %
01/29 – Ithaca, NY @ Haunt ^
01/30 – Holyoke, MA @ Gateway City Arts ^
01/31 – Portland, ME @ Port City Music Hall ^
02/01 – Burlington, VT @ Higher Ground ^
02/02 – Boston, MA @ The Sinclair ^
02/05 – Newport News, VA @ Boathouse Live ^
02/06 – Charlottesville, VA @ The Southern ^
02/07 – Charlotte, NC @ Visulite ^
02/08 – Asheville, NC @ Grey Eagle ^
02/09 – Charleston, SC @ Pour House
02/10 – Jacksonville, FL @ Theater Benefit ^
03/12-17 – Austin, TX @ SXSW
05/03-05 – Atlanta, GA @ Shaky Knees Festival

^ w/ Rayland Baxter

% w/ Mt. Joy

PREMIERE: Curling - Radio King


Phillipe Roberts

Coming off of their 2016 self-titled release, which featured frantic drums in constant combat with noisily nimble guitar (leaning towards YES on the math-rock spectrum), Curling strike a surprisingly measured posture on their latest single. Glued to a propulsive beat and pressing its way through a hail of glittering arpeggios, “Radio King” doesn’t let up until the last note splashes off into the sunset, leaving a memory trail of sparkling, no-nonsense melodies in its wake.

There’s a curious purity to Curling’s approach this time around. For a band used to off-time turnaround riffs and intricately stitched together fills, hearing them jam out and ride the beat so consistently is a breath of fresh air. Given time and space to get comfortable in the mix, that virtuosic intensity brings out a sweetly nostalgic side to the band. It pairs especially well with singer Bernie Gelman’s knack for aching wistfulness, affecting a tone that’s somewhere between Duster and vintage Built to Spill.

In a better world, the stadium-sized falsetto choruses of “Radio King” would be a swift ticket into the ranks of FM royalty. As a single, it’s a phenomenal entry point into the limited but rapidly expanding universe that Curling is building around them.

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.

REVIEW: Renata Zeiguer - Old Ghost

Raquel Dalarossa

You may have already heard Renata Zeiguer even if you haven’t heard of her just yet. The Brooklyn-based multi-intrumentalist and singer has, in the past, lent herself to bands like Mr. Twin Sister, Quilt, and Ava Luna. She grew up playing violin and piano, composing music from an early age. But despite releasing an EP in 2013 and one or two standalone singles since, Zeiguer has largely stayed out of the spotlight, choosing instead to debut some of her original songs through an outfit called Cantina. Now, at last, a full-length, solo album has arrived, and it feels like an instant classic.

Old Ghost tracks Zeiguer’s musical past, forming a sonic introduction to the artist that feels both whole and wholly compelling, as though listening to it is, indeed, knowing her. There’s a mischievousness that runs through the album, a product partly of the natural guile of her singing voice, and partly of the spunk she creates through very danceable rhythms combined with gritty and fuzzy instrumentals. There’s a raw quality to the recordings, though her vocals always sound close to the ear, like she could whisper without ever being drowned out by the music. She is part Rita Lee and part Kim Deal.

“After All” is a highlight on the album and a wonderful example of all these qualities coming perfectly into play. Here, a Habanera rhythm is paired with a playful, psychedelic discord as Zeiguer tangos with her own paranoia, while offering a nod to her Argentinian background. The lyrics seem to obliquely address the routine and ritual of social media (“Picture that and tag me in, I want them all to know…Counting all the affirmations helps to make it grow”), eventually untangling the mental consequences of it all (“Part of me is disappearing”). The dramatic, musical back and forth serves the lyrics deliciously well, as she sings “It’s all in my head, after all,” but as her voice fades to an echo and the noise melts away, we’re left only with a sadly sweet guitar riff that imparts the loneliness of being stuck in one’s own anxieties.

Zeiguer’s brand of pop is often both comforting and challenging at the same time, taking unpredictable melodic turns before giving your brain what it wants. “Bug,” for example, is immediately catchy but pulls back in the refrain, building up to a chorus of “aah”s that releases all the tension. The frenetic percussion in this song and throughout the album keeps things light even as the lyrics explore themes of aloneness, powerlessness, and regret. The title and final track reveals the “old ghost” that haunts Zeiguer to be a “voice repeating all the things I can’t undo.” Over rueful strings and an ambling bassline, she quietly confesses to feeling that she’ll never be able to shake this specter. But through repetition, the line “I’m never going to lose” evolves to take on a new meaning: that perhaps, she can resolve to overcome that feeling.

Over the course of just nine songs, Old Ghost sees an artist struggling to, but ultimately succeeding in finding her voice. One hopes releasing the album was an act, too, of releasing the shadow at her back, but the music itself won't fade from memory any time soon. 

REVIEW: El Ayacha - Unseen


Raquel Dalarossa

Pierre Dennebouy is a musician from a small town in France. His project El Ayacha is named after a small town in Tunisia. His music seems to live in neither place—El Ayacha’s debut EP, Unseen (sung entirely in English), provokes a subtle sense of longing and displacement through four evocative tracks.

The group has been touring since this past spring and have already nailed down a signature sound. Mixing cold guitars and booming drums, courtesy of band members Gildas Lemardelé and Adrien Leprêtre, El Ayacha incorporate both a lot of noise and a lot of space. Dennebouy’s vocals are a low and steady anchor, and he sings in an unaffected tone through lines like “I live in a city / Made of fiction” (“Bored”).

It’s a musical aesthetic that takes after post-punk, but often the effortless catchiness of the melodies here—whether they’re presented upfront or buried among some more abstract instrumental explorations—recall the kind of feel-good poignance of ‘90s pop-rock. There’s something familiar about these chord progressions which makes the music immediately appealing and easy to return to again and again. “Maria” is the most obvious example of this; it’s an instrumental track with an upbeat guitar riff that resonates without trying. It seems to pass by quickly, ending before you’re ready to let it go.

And such is the way of the entire EP. Unseen is a thoroughly enjoyable listen that leaves you hoping a full length will soon be on its way.