Bedroom Pop

REVIEW: Trees Take Ease - Stevia

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Will Shenton

With Stevia, Trees Take Ease (AKA Brooklyn artist Stephen Becker) has created a world of his own, replete with philosophical musings and surreal diversions. Describing the EP as "a land of mushy songs and rumpled dreams, frozen vegetables and slippery posters, vitamin d and gnarled yarn," Becker defines the impressionistic framework—or lack thereof—that gives his sound such a beguiling character.

Nostalgic and contemplative, each song on Stevia feels equal parts familiar and alien, mirroring an introspective dive into one's own psyche. The lyrics are delivered in sensory fragments, often giving abstract ideas very tactile characteristics. "Love is a concept fading and tough / Like a moon in waning," Becker sings over an upbeat drum kit on "Whole In One," continuing, "Ready or not / I'm a cookie crumbling / Soft / Like a mattress fumbling." It's beautifully vivid nonsense, reveling in absurdity while nonetheless seeming to get at some truth that defies categorization.

The songwriting itself is largely energetic and poppy, but Becker takes countless surprising detours. The hypnotic beat of "See Saw" devolves into an extended off-kilter guitar solo; "Every Inch" blends squeaky-clean synths with lackadaisical, lo-fi vocals; "Same Old" is a propulsive, hazy pop-rocker steeped in sunshine; and closer "Stephen" mirrors the opener in runtime and its dissolution into washed-out atmospherics. There's a throughline, to be sure, but these subtle changes in direction make for a riveting listen.

Never content to take things at face value, Trees Take Ease resists easy definitions. "Less is not more," Becker chants on "See Saw," pushing back against the platitude and carving a space for his work outside the mundane. While Stevia is relatively short, it's certainly not minimalist. Dense with both sounds and ideas, it declares an uncharacteristically straightforward thesis: maybe more is more.

VIDEO PREMIERE: V.V. Lightbody - Fish In Fives

Will Shenton

V.V. Lightbody's self-described "nap-rock" earns its title on her dreamy new video, "Fish In Fives." Taken from her forthcoming solo LP, Bathing Peach, the soporific tune seems to take its bedroom-pop moniker literally, meandering among shots of the Chicago-based artist abortively trying to wake up and face the day. Awash in sleepy haze and Lightbody's soothing vocals, it's a deeply introspective song that steps back from a relationship in favor of self-discovery.

We see that self-discovery somewhat literally in the form of Lightbody's attendants, who seem to represent her own multifaceted indecision. As they lounge around her on the bed, help her get dressed in the bathroom, and watch her chop flowers in the kitchen, we're invited to see them as aspects of her own personality. It's as if she's yet to choose her own identity, but as soon as she leaves the house to lazily rollerblade around town, she's an individual once again. Her bedroom is where she retreats to grow, and the world outside is where she tries on her new self.

This is all to say nothing of the song itself, which is gorgeously groovy. Lightbody's voice, whether solo or harmonized, is the perfect vehicle for its naturalistic vignettes ("You know I'm just a little fox, babe / In its neighboring den / Sitting hens in a box"), and the understated jazz-pop instrumentals are irresistible. Warm and approachable, "Fish In Fives" is nonetheless cerebral, and the blend of concepts and styles it contains are truly impressive.

Bathing Peach is out June 15, 2018. Be sure to catch V.V. Lightbody's album release show TONIGHT (June 8) in Chicago!

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. 

REVIEW: Tram Cops - Even In My Dreams

Raquel Dalarossa

When we think of bedroom pop, we often think of music that feels isolated—from collaborators, from resources, from external influence. It’s bare bones from being homemade, and it’s intimate from being so inward-looking. But for Tram Cops, bedroom pop doesn’t have to be confined to one’s own four walls in order to feel cozy, vulnerable, and genuine.

Tram Cops is firmly a personal project, led by Melbourne-based musician Michael Vince Moin, but for his first full-length release under the moniker, Moin called on a whole slew of friends to contribute. Released earlier this year, Even In My Dreams is bedroom pop with world-traveling ambitions, a dusty, lo-fi affair that plays like a breath of fresh air. Where many bedroom pop records might sound lonely, this one sounds restless and playful, exuding a curiosity that takes it down a lot of different roads without losing its identity.

The opening track, heavily bossa nova influenced, sets the tone for the gentle and gently danceable record. “Why’d She Have to Leave So Soon,” with its rhythmic guitar, faraway piano, saxophone solo, and lyrics full of saudade to top it all off, is a bona fide homage to the Brazilian export. The “world music” bent becomes a central touchpoint in the album; “stolen land,” for example, subtly juxtaposes Eastern elements like a sitar and hand drumming with space-age electronic effects for something that feels, simply put, fun.

The approach calls to mind an act like Beirut, especially in the title track, with its aching trumpet and retro drum-machine beat. And although the musical pastiche can get kitschy, there’s also an honesty and a heart that emanates from the willingness to abide by any and all flairs of inspiration. “thought about suicide” is a great example of how Moin can bring a lot of elements together with thoughtful intent. At first, the song feels like a sort of emotionally removed daze, but it veers for a moment into a juxtaposition of screechy, raw feedback with smooth tenor sax, amplifying acutely conflicted feelings.

The album’s closing track, “believe,” gives us a classic bit of lo-fi pop, almost as though we’ve landed squarely, but softly, in Moin’s actual bedroom, after spending the afternoon flipping through postcards from his mind. Even In My Dreams is an interesting adventure, both thrilling and vaguely comforting at the same time, calling us back for another ride as soon as it’s done.

TRACK REVIEW: Pastel - close

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Raquel Dalarossa

Valentine’s Day isn’t a particularly exciting holiday for most people, but it is usually, at the very least, a great day for music lovers. Today, we’re gifted a sensual and intimate one-off single, appropriately titled "close," from Pastel.

Pastel is the musical moniker for the Los Angeles-based artist Gabriel Brenner, who last year released the crushing conceptual EP absent, just dust. Now, Brenner is resurrecting the sound that we found on his earlier work—including 2016’s Bone-Weary and 2014’s It Will Be Missed—delicately blending R&B with a bit of bedroom electronic pop.

“close” feels like a painter back at his easel, employing some of his favorite techniques in better-than-ever fashion. It’s a minimalistic track with a steady pulse like a heartbeat, anchoring Brenner’s voice. Sparse instrumentation—plinking piano keys and a scintillating guitar—adorns the space around his hushed, honeyed vocals, and he layers each sound with a care and consideration that's almost audible itself. Many of the lyrics are sung under his breath—a perfect fit for the quiet thoughts and internal observations that he’s giving voice to. But he gains volume and confidence when, in the chorus, he strips away all the sonic ornaments to ask: “Do you think about my body? Do you think about my skin?” And a wave of sound and emotion breaks through the cool exterior as the questions leave his lips.

The song portrays the exquisite feeling of infatuation so tenderly that you can’t help falling in love with it. Catch Pastel at this year’s SXSW Festival in March.