Boston

VIDEO PREMIERE: Atlas Lab - Brand New Empty House

Raquel Dalarossa

Soulful indie rock and psychedelia meet in the sounds of Atlas Lab. The Bostonian five-piece have been at it for a good three years, but only just released their full-length debut, Glory the Night, in July. The ten-track LP shows off a skilled melding of different textures—buttery vocals, shimmering guitars, an occasional saxophone or organ—that create a palette all their own, vibrating with a warmth that ebbs, flows, and grooves along.

Their new music video for Glory the Night’s fourth track, “Brand New Empty House,” is the ideal visual match for the band’s character. It's smoky and pastel, blending hazy pinks and blues, setting the tone for a sultry and hypnotizing track. We see vocalist Solei from the back or the side, but she’s never framed head-on, further emphasizing a sense of mystery. Close-ups establish the mood, but we never see a full picture, reflecting lyrics that are oddly specific yet scattered, almost like a dream (“I’ve been struck by lightning / I pick up the frames,” and later, “Sleep in late on Friday / I fill up the jar”).

The video ends with much more psychedelic visuals and a sparkling, starry orb that seems to recall Glory the Night’s album art—galactic imagery that hints at the music’s spacey character. They may still be establishing themselves, but Atlas Lab clearly have a keen sense of who they are as a band, making it all the more rewarding to get to know them.

REVIEW: Birthing Hips - Urge to Merge

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Phillipe Roberts

Leave it to Birthing Hips—a band that’s spent its brief but brilliant lifespan aggressively hacking away at their instruments in search of the latest channel for their absurdist wit—to announce their new record and their demise on the same day. Heartbreaking as it is, it’s somehow fitting that their two-year run would end on such a bittersweet juxtaposition. Their songs are thrilling, violent collisions between contradictory forces, the musical equivalent of a crash test (minus the airbags and seatbelts, of course). Even on stage, you could sense the giddiness radiating off of them as they sent the heads of their devoted audiences flying. For those lucky enough to have witnessed Birthing Hips’ rare, comet-like journey through the universe, as well as those who might have missed the memo, their NNA Tapes debut, Urge to Merge, is as close to a perfect parting gift as they come. Theatrical, uncompromising, frighteningly technical, and majestic, it documents the fierce, innovative spirit of the Boston quartet at the very height of their prowess.

By the time their first, self-released tape came into being, Birthing Hips had long-since planted themselves in bold territory. The aptly titled No Sorry was an unapologetic noise-pop rampage, alternating between winking bubblegum hooks and blocky, dissonant breakdowns. But the newer tracks in their live repertoire had a tempered directness, compacting their ferocious capacity for rocking out into tightly coordinated passages while showcasing an expanded theatricality, courtesy of vocalist Carrie Furniss. Urge to Merge features renditions of these tracks that shimmer with a meticulous, well-deserved clarity that highlights both their technical skills and their easy accessibility.

“I Want This Place Impeccable” magnifies the daily drama between a messy roommate (deadpanned to excellent comedic effect by guitarist/vocalist Wendy Eisenberg) and her clean-freak counterpart (played by Furniss with just the right amount of screechy mortification) into a multi-part epic. Funnier and funkier than ever, it’s sure to bust your gut as much from the campy exchanges (“Why don’t I just roll you across the floor and drag your schlubby ass across the dust?”) as from the bone-shattering fills between them from drummer Owen Liza, who strikes a crisp compromise between Brian Chippendale’s frantic sticking and John Bonham’s classic rock stomp.

Make no mistake, the Hips are still firmly locked into noise-rock mode here; these songs tend towards the frayed and frenetic, like on “Shut Up and Leave Me Alone,” where Furniss reclaims her righteous anger “even though I am Midwestern” alongside a jazzy, aquatic groove. “Internet,” meanwhile, features Furniss freaking out in stuttered vocalizations of “You’re ruining, ruining, ruining, ruining, ruining my life!” over titanic riffs that sound like a partially melted Led Zeppelin record. Even when they do drift into calmer waters, the other, heavier shoe is never far from dropping. Closing track “A Wish” is probably the quietest Birthing Hips piece yet, but for all of its '50s pop trappings, they can’t resist a skyward climb into a shrieking post-rock meltdown.

At their very best, Birthing Hips danced with glee on the knife edge between madness and inspired tunefulness, and Urge to Merge delivers both in spades. But even with the coda to their hysterical surrealism in our hands, making peace with and sense of the fractured “defective pop” brilliance that they created is a long time coming.

REVIEW: Mini Dresses - Mini Dresses

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Laura Kerry

Mini Dresses have put out several EPs and tapes of reverb-soaked dream pop since their start in 2012, but now they're releasing their full-length debut. The eponymous album comes after a couple of years of hard work, collaboration, and, apparently, a fair share of struggle. For a collection with so much poured into it, the result is surprisingly restrained. Mini Dresses subscribes to the less-is-more formula, featuring ten clear and spacious songs that subtly shift through different genres and sounds.

Throughout the album, the Boston-based trio create crisp little stories designed to transport and charm the pants off of the listener. In the past, Mini Dresses have built hazy soundscapes that sweep the listener into fuzzy daydreams. In Mini Dresses, the band lose some of the haziness but maintain the fantasy. In fact, fantasy is their frequent subject. It emerges, for example, in the question repeated in “Are You Real," or in the evocative metaphor in “You’re a Statue Standing in the Rain.”

Though less hazy, Mini Dresses still manage to convey that whimsy through their sound, too. At different moments, they borrow from various time periods and resemble different artists who excel at some form of escapism or reverie. The opener, “Emily,” with its tale of a woman who moves from her “parents’ home in Connecticut,” contains shades of Belle & Sebastian. “Fantasy Nails," meanwhile, with its bright guitar and lilting voice, forms a heartwarming and catchy melody that recalls the early, seafaring days of Tennis. The uptempo “Everywhere I Go” journeys back to the ‘80s in a contemporary time machine. Other songs, such as “Hands Down” and “Hired Gun,” pulse with their own breed of fantasy.

Despite its dreaminess, though, the most prominent forces on Mini Dresses are the very real instrumental and vocal talents. Propelling the album are its meticulous sounds, primarily the guitar and voice. Though each track uses mostly the same combination of drums, bass, guitar, light synth, and vocals, Mini Dresses find incredible shades within their palette. Singer Lira Mondal’s voice is more dulcet than powerful, but she finds a wide emotional range from song to song. It is strong and clear in the leaping melody on “Are You Real,” gentle, loose, and a touch twee on “Post Office Girl,” and soulful and close on “Hired Gun” and “Division.” Equally expressive is the guitar, which dances around the vocal melodies throughout the album in hooky riffs played in varying warm tones.

Opting for these understated but deliberate variations, Mini Dresses’ first full length is a testament to the fact that it takes more work to pare down than it does to expand. The pleasure in the album—besides the hooks and the fantasies and the sheer charm of it—comes from recognizing the intricacies hiding in all that space.

VIDEO REVIEW: Squirrel Flower - Daylight Savings

Kelly Kirwan

An empty yellow chair sits in a field of neatly pressed and plowed hay, the introductory focal point of Ella Williams' latest video, "Daylight Savings." Slipping into her musical persona, Squirrel Flower, Williams lures us into landscapes that should be overwhelmingly mundane—dreary, even, with a hint of ennui. But there’s something subtly unusual that has our eyes transfixed, a dream that bears too much resemblance to our everyday, leaving a hangover of the surreal.

“I know it’s daylight savings, dear / But I can’t sleep,” Williams sings, her voice both delicate and resonantly powerful, making her lyrics elegant and enrapturing. Intermittently we see Williams draped across the yellow chair, staring into the lens of the camera, a bouquet of white flowers in her hands. Predominantly though, we see two women, alternately standing side by side in the field and the purple lighting of a nondescript room. They move in tandem, their languid choreography evocative of modern dance. In the intertwining shots that feature Williams, she's standing on a bed, strumming her guitar, or her silhouette is outlined dimly on a wall, a loose arrangement of flowers part of her shadowy profile.

Williams is a bit of an enigma in this video, her face either looking off-camera or set in a contemplative expression that's difficult to read. She’s a mystery you find yourself leaning in to understand, trying to get a grasp on her crystalline voice as she sings, “I know we’ve gained an hour / But it feels like I’ve lost two.” "Daylight Savings" is a song of slight disorientation, the bending of time, that we simply assign to the natural change of seasons. An unsteadiness that we welcome, and hell, by the end of the song, crave.

REVIEW: Pile - A Hairshirt of Purpose

Kelly Kirwan

The latest album from Boston’s purveyors of post-punk, Pile, stays true to their boisterous aesthetic. It’s bustling, as if it were recorded in an air compressor tank, the hint of implosion smirking at us throughout its nine tracks. A Hairshirt of Purpose is the band’s fifth LP in a ten-year span, and it’s speckled with elements of other unsuspecting genres.

While Pile has a tendency to gravitate towards a jarring, cut-and-paste style, there’s a certain fluidity to their latest work, a mingling of reflective grunge and full-fledged, noisy hysteria that has more than once been described as “cathartic” across the indie music boards. Frontman Rick Maguire (who handles vocals and supplements the guitars) had noted that A Hairshirt of Purpose grapples with the bliss of solitude, and rumor has it that the blueprint of this album came from his own independent excursion along the Appalachian Trail. The result is a kind of Walden-inspired enlightenment funneled through gritty instrumentals, zig-zagging chords, and fleeting, ruminative respites.

To begin, let’s take a cue from Pile and start with the unexpected: one of their slower songs. "No Bone" is a quick jaunt, with ever-so-slight elements of folk lurking in the twang of a guitar, and Maguire’s croon that lingers and curves at the end of each phrase. It’s an introspective song, unhurried and socially observant, “We can all pick fights and stay indoors / So there must be nothing here to tend to … But I’ll try to be kind,” he sings, as the track wraps at just under two minutes.

At the other end of the spectrum is “Texas,” where that aforementioned catharsis takes hold after reaching its boiling point. It begins with a boom, the slam of a drum as the guitars come reeling in, serpentine in their delivery. It’s full-bodied, and you feel as if you're shoulder-to-shoulder in a dimly-lit venue, knocking into your neighbors with sweat-caked skin and a feeling that any moment you may just break into a headbanging frenzy. “Texas” has no blank spaces, not a single crevice of quiet.

But even in Pile’s more subdued songs, they’re still filled to the brim. The album opener, "Worms," kicks off with a frenetic drumroll that then shifts into a contemplative song, with Maguire’s earnest voice at the forefront, “I would never dream of blaming it on you / So please don’t ask me to stay any longer,” his pitch spiking and falling over every word. That quick, stacked percussion of "Worms" is mirrored in the following song’s first seconds ("Hissing For Peace"), which maintains a heightened, reverb-laden cacophony throughout.

A Hairshirt of Purpose is a mosaic with sharp edges. Pieces of the album are reflective, even soft, and others have a taste for wildness that leads easily to a static-drenched revelry. It’s an all-encompassing trip for us to take, diving in to the album's ups and downs (decibel-wise, that is) for a feeling of sweet release.