Bedroom Folk


Phillipe Roberts

“Did I have a face or an empty smile?”

On “Realize,” nylon-string crooner Luke Kuplowsky, aka LUKA, doesn’t so much decode the cryptic language of dreams as marvel at them. With a bleary-eyed whisper of a voice, so hushed you might feel a phantom breath drifting across your neck, his serene meditations on dreams and push-pull intimacy recall Yo La Tengo at their coziest. The microphone picks up every creak in his inflections, and smoke-filled lines like “For everything I say and do / Gets turned backwards / And everything I feel about you / Turns inwards” pour into the cascading guitar lines with the careful restraint of words left unsaid for far too long. Brushed drums skip along behind, swaying in the aquatic shimmer of pitch-shifted electric guitar to accentuate the sinister undertones of realizing the personal cost, in empathy and compassion, of sustaining love.

The accompanying video, directed by Pierce Desrochers O'Sullivan, plays up the gentle isolation of the song, casting a black-clad LUKA against sparse oceanic backgrounds. Aiming for a kind of DIY surrealism, the VHS-style video shows his form, often reduced to a distant outline, fixed and frozen while gusts, grainy seagulls, and sloshing waves clash around him. Escape in the form of jump-cut vanishings and a mysterious levitation comes slowly, before a soft fade lifts him from a partially submerged jetty, softly erasing him just as the trance-like tune comes to a close. There’s an unobtrusive but quietly psychedelic quality to entire affair; an additional layer of fantasy that complements the original’s haunting closeness.

REVIEW: Ian Wayne - At Home

Laura Kerry

The description of Ian Wayne’s EP At Home is brief and to the point. Besides listing his four collaborators and a small thank you, it says only, “All songs written and performed live by Ian Wayne in Park Slope, Brooklyn.” That one sentence seemingly provides little information about the album, but its brevity gives the work all the context it needs.

The first and second facts point to the same result: The album was recorded live by a single artist, and as a result, it is an intimate experience. From the beginning of At Home, when Wayne speaks gently into the microphone, “When I Clean Out The Sink, take one” (very impressive, if true), he invites us into the space he inhabits with only his guitar and his beautifully bare voice to keep him company. The EP is quiet and pared down but in a close and full way, giving the feeling that the listener sits beside Wayne in a small, dimly lit room.

Throughout At Home, starting both from the EP’s title and the nod to Park Slope in the intro, Wayne continues to situate his music in a sense of place. In the opener, “When I Clean Out The Sink,” he thinks about someone far away, but repeatedly returns to his own kitchen. Wayne sings, “When I clean out the sink / It is done thoughtfully / With my hands on the cup,” drawing out a small and domestic image. Tangible, specific references to settings like these emerge repeatedly—a Polish grocery in “People Walking By,” “public lawns and shopping marts” in “Perfect Strangers.” Wayne is a skilled world-builder, but his world never gets bigger than a room in an apartment or a few blocks of a Brooklyn neighborhood.

While his lyrics carve out this intimate setting, the guitar also establishes a grounded feeling of space. In the opener, his gentle but lush acoustic guitar marches slowly, circling around a few chords in the same quarter-note strumming pattern. The vocal melody occupies the first half of each measure, but the second half always returns to two beats on the lowest note in whatever chord he’s playing, producing the feeling that the song has a sturdy and palpable foundation. The same tightly repetitive structures in “People Walking By” and the beginning of “Perfect Strangers” lend the music solidity despite its sparseness.

Not all of At Home is so grounded, though. In “Curious Thing (Looking For Love),” a song slightly reminiscent of The Shins, Wayne gets into surreal territory. He sings, “Standing my pocket in my hand” and “We think we'll love the men that we become in old age when we all are young,” flipping his imagery. The music is also dreamy at times. In the final song, “Perfect Strangers,” Wayne fantasizes about strangers he sees. Less rigidly structured, the track floats and meanders like the thoughts it chronicles. When it escalates at the chorus, though, the song loses some of the intimacy that works so well elsewhere on the album. Instead of sounding quiet and close, it sounds a little thin.

At the end of “Perfect Strangers,” though, the song quiets down again. “I don’t know,” Wayne repeats more softly each time as he plucks his guitar gently. After we’ve lingered in the songwriter’s imagination, his sad, subdued doubt brings us back to earth where he exists without the love of the strangers he sees. Listening to all of At Home creates the same effect; after four songs that bring you into Wayne’s space, you might be surprised to find yourself back in your own apartment.

REVIEW: Trees Take Ease - Something Waffle This Way Yums...

Laura Kerry

Stephen Becker calls the songs on Something Waffle This Way Yum... “miniatures.” As Trees Take Ease, Becker has put out a few EPs of experimental bedroom music in recent years that range from strange, dreamy abstraction to strange, dreamy stories. Something Waffle falls on the narrative end of the spectrum, painting little portraits of the artist’s life as intimate as the designation “miniature” suggests.

As a paintbrush for these miniatures, the one-man band mostly uses tools with which he can be precise: his voice and an acoustic guitar. Throughout the album, Becker covers a wide swath of musical territory with them. Sometimes, his guitar sounds classical, moving dexterously through trills and arpeggios until the baroque melodies collapse into off-kilter, dissonant moments of experimentation (“Water Flower,” “Ninety in the Shade”). At other times, the guitar sounds plainly folky, as in the pretty and warm picking pattern on “Daytime Blues.” Though Something Waffle is, for the most part, a duet between a voice and a guitar, it occasionally sounds like something much fuller. Song such as “Beanie Baby,” “Quietude,” and “Inside Joke” resemble other genres—art rock, post-punk—that have been stripped down to their skeletons. You can imagine what would fill in the generous spaces in the music.

While the compositions shift, Becker’s voice remains fairly consistent throughout the 12 tracks on the album. In addition to “miniatures,” the artist has found other apt words to describe his art—“shyguy,” “naptime,” and “heartsong”—all of which reflect in his singing. His voice is delicate and subdued, but not without expression. With the right mix of guitar supporting him (in “Open Arms” and “Daytime Blues,” for example), Becker’s muted and somber voice sounds like Elliott Smith’s.

That comparison functions beyond Trees Take Ease’s vocals. Self-deprecating and raw, the overarching sentiment on Something Waffle is a sad one. He sings: “Truth be told you probably would avoid me” (“Daytime Blues”); “Cool how the thing you love must turn around to haunt you” (“Blue”); and “Save me from pulling out my hair” (“Open Arms”). Much of the album has this confessional feel, as if capturing scrawled thoughts on paper in a letter or diary.

But as the album title establishes, Something Waffle This Way Yums… has a sense of humor, too. Some of the most delightful moments on the album come in the form of small stories that are funny for their ordinariness. “Beanie Baby,” for example, is an ode to a hat (“My same old crap is easier to bear when I’m underneath my off-grey beanie”). “Favorite Song,” we learn at the end, portrays the mundane dialogue of an okay first date (“What’s your favorite song? / Hopefully I like it / Also your last name? / It’s getting kinda warm /But not enough to bike out / To my Planet Fitness). It’s the miniature portraits like these that make Trees Take Ease’s work equal measures strange and charming. Something Waffle is a particular album that won’t suit every moment, but will be magical in the times that it does.

REVIEW: Wendy Eisenberg - Time Machine

Kelly Kirwan

“Wendy has smelted these fine alloys for you; to build a skyscraper with a new kind of scaffold.”

The last line of Wendy Esienberg’s short bio is both a description and a riddle. She seems to balance on a polarity between the abstract and the pragmatic, referencing geometric lines, the neat collision of mathematics, and coyly teasing out an equation that we’ve yet to see (or understand) in full. And with that air of mystery, there’s intrigue. Enter Time Machine.

The cover of her ten-track, limited-edition cassette features a blueprint-style diagram of the so-captioned “Amazing and Beautiful Space Cube.” It’s a spot-on representation of her style and ambiance, a near-incomprehensible roadmap to bending space and time, laid out with a tidy arrangement of lines and vectors. Wendy Eisenberg layers experiments on top of experiments, and the result is mind-bending.

The eponymous track on her album doubles as its introduction, finishing just a second shy of a minute. Her voice is paper-thin, a wavering trill that seems on the cusp of cracking as she skims high octaves. "Time Machine" begins with a soft, sighing pitch, her lyrics delivered in misleading sentences. She tacks suffixes onto her words after pausing, changing the direction we were so sure she was headed. But Eisenberg sets us down a swerving path, always staying just ahead of the curve. “Even though the thoughtfulness has ended / I still pretend the years will stretch out long-er” she sings, her voice a nearly weightless murmur.

"Forty Words" opens with a sweet strumming, which feels like the lovechild of a folk song and a childhood lullaby. It’s as if Eisenberg is speaking her passing thoughts, and there's a certain intimacy to how she delivers each line. “Take a friend / Reinvent and resent / Resent who they come to be / You’ll walk when you try to run,” we hear in Eisenberg’s unique and delicate pitch, and as her words suggest, there’s something sadly reflective embedded in this song’s infrastructure.

Nest is "Oval," whose fuzzy synth has straight-up '80s pop vibes. Deft string work weaves in and out of these influences that feel, at times, like a nod to retro sci-fi or the neon-tinged ballads of three decades past. It’s a delightfully unexpected patchwork that shows Eisenberg’s willingness to turn the mismatched into something that makes sense.

Eisenberg may have a lo-fi aesthetic, but her music doesn't fade into the background. Her visions soar into the avant-garde within a bold, angular architecture. And we're enjoying the view.

REVIEW: Soccer Mommy - For Young Hearts

Kelly Kirwan

Sophie Allison has dusted off a trope from childhood and brought it back into the fold, performing a bit of pop-culture alchemy to turn the conventionally corny into something trendy. You hear Sunny D, high-waisted denim, minivans, and orange slices, and you answer, What is a soccer mom? And then you hear some of Sophie Allison's addictively laid-back, DIY indie pop and you think, Soccer Mommy. It's the moniker Allison has adopted to craft songs that often grapple with those final pangs of outgrowing adolescence.

It's a retro-cool front Allison has adopted, but it actually isn't much of a front at all. Her signature accessory is a "NYU Mom" baseball cap she sports around campus (which, for NYU, is essentially the streets of Noho). It's a fashion piece that can double as a nod to her alma matter, music, and personality (because if Allison were actually a mom, she'd be a cool mom. Not a regular mom). A Tennessee native turned Manhattan transplant, Allison's music is composed not only of drum machines and a dexterous guitar work, but the theme of straddling two worlds. It's a tale of two cities (Nashville and New York) and two stages of life: childhood and adulthood.

Allison approaches this coming-of-age sentiment with a touch of wisdom, reflecting on the whole process of growing up rather than wallowing in its uncertainty. While she still has that spunky feel of making music beside a desk light in her dorm room, Allison's latest release, For Young Hearts, was picked up by Queens-based Orchid Tapes, whose ears are well-attuned to what's worth a listen. For instance, "3 AM At A Party," which features an acoustic guitar and Allison's vocals which float across her arrangements like a murmur—simultaneously steely, hushed and slightly fuzzy, as if they were layered.

They feel like a soft-spoken stream of consciousness, delivered late at night, when exhaustion makes us honest and perhaps a bit harsher on our past. In this case, it's young love—or rather, a young heart that's grown jaded. "I wish we had chances to talk like this / A little more often ... But you were always dealing with your girlfriend's shit / I was always feeling broken over it." It's a lyric that hits hard and is accentuated by Allison's blunt tone, which displays a blend of strength and vulnerability. "You deserve better than the ones you want," she notes ruefully, touching on those old heartaches we thought we buried.

Then there's "Skinned Knees," which hums along as a wistful, sweetly sad tune. Allison's voice shifts between a high, airy timbre and a deep, heartfelt croon. It's plays like a film reel of home movies, ruminating on the promise of not letting go, even if it's just a memory. "Old flames grow and die with every year / But you stay hot," she sings, as a whistle weaves in and out of the melody, but, "Summer always hurts / Think of your first / And your skin peel." It's a poignant piece of work—both "Skinned Knees" and the other seven tracks that comprise her album. Allison has that artistic eye that can imbue childhood scrapes with a deeper form of longing, and as you listen, you can't help but reminisce.