EP

REVIEW: Kai Basanta - earth

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Will Shenton

As we noted in his recent video premiere, Kai Basanta has a penchant for blurring the line between digital and organic. Every facet of his new EP, earth, seems determined to draw both elements into the liminal space that divides them, blending jazz instrumentals with synths, samples, and drum-machine beats. The result is an artful take on jazz-hop that feels more intentional and dynamic than the bounds of the genre usually dictate.

From the summery grooves of "sunlight" to the off-kilter mashup of a Kendrick Lamar interview and an Olivier Messiaen quartet that is "love," earth isn't afraid to show off Basanta's impressive range. The album feels like an ascent into unrestrained creativity, as we move from more recognizable tropes into the simmering soundscape of "shadows," its beats resolving slowly out of an ominous ether before closing the EP.

At first glance, earth feels familiar, and perhaps that's the point. It's only by delving deeper into its textures and homages that we can see Basanta's sound evolve right before our eyes.

REVIEW: Twin Oaks - Living Rooms

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Laura Kerry

Sometimes, doing less is harder than doing more. In quiet acts with one or two people, no one can hide; every sound, every word, every breath is exposed.

Twin Oaks thrives in this kind of exposure. A Los Angeles duo comprised of Aaron Domingo and Lauren Brown, they've released several albums worth of atmospheric folk and rock tinged with dream pop and shoegaze. On their latest EP, Living Rooms, the band adds another layer to their raw formula: they recorded the album live “in various open spaces using minimal equipment,” and the result is surprisingly precise and unsurprisingly beautiful.

Returning to their origins as a bedroom pop group, Twin Oaks has pared down. The songs primarily revolve around the dynamic between Domingo’s guitar—sometimes in tightly picked folk melodies and other times in a slow march of strummed chords—and Brown’s singing. With the exception of the eerie final song “Felt Like Dying,” Living Rooms leaves the singer vulnerable, full of reverb but without much instrumental cover. Armed with an evocative voice that sometimes resembles The xx’s Romy Madley Croft or Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval, Brown is up to the task. She sings patiently and deliberately, milking each sparse syllable for all of its emotional worth.

Considering the words they form, those syllables are worth a lot. The lyrics on Living Rooms are intimate, pretty, and, for the most part, sad. In some songs, Twin Oaks conjure small but vivid fragments of imagery, creating a mood more than a story. “I'll watch them walk away / Light the flame and throw it down / Watch a kingdom burn,” Brown sings on “Collapse,” suggesting the outline of ruin without filling in the details.

In other songs, Twin Oaks writes in a more confessional and prosaic mode. In both “Rumors” and “Felt Like Dying,” they present their lyrics in paragraph form, each comprised of short, full sentences. In the former, Brown sings as if reading out of a journal: “I'll make sure to map out the ways from this old fucking town and I can't recognize myself. I don't see myself in any of the things I have,” she croons. Later, she adds, “Maybe I'm lying. ... Okay, I'm lying.” Evoking the feeling that she has reached this realization in the act of performing the song, the admission emphasizes the album’s sense of immediacy and vulnerability, already heightened by its live recording. With moments like these, Twin Oaks brings their listeners in close, inviting us into the room where they—and in turn, we—are exposed.

REVIEW: Dove Lady - F

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Phillipe Roberts

Tossing out one last release only hours before the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, Dove Lady slide into home plate with three records under their belts for 2017. For most acts, a breakneck pace like that would suggest a “golden year” burst of creativity, a flash-in-the-pan outlier. But with 20 EPs to go in their crusade to drop one for each letter of the alphabet, Dove Lady seem to be revving up, trying to take the rest of their marathon at full steam. Even if they maintain that three-a-year pace and drop any detours like last year’s numerical swerve One, the DC duo are looking at at least 6 more years of charging towards that finish line.

But the thrill of the band’s evolution, the thumping, oxygen-flooded heart of those heady ambitions, comes down to pure mystery: what kind of band will Dove Lady be at the end of all this? Song by song, Andrew Thawley and Jeremy Ray are engaged in a game of musical pointillism, brushing a few new dots onto a canvas that, as of EP F, we’re still seeing up close. Years from now, when we stand back at the close of EP Z, what sort of cohesive image will (or could) emerge from the expanding cacophony of genres spilling out of these two?

And yet, like all of their previous works thus far, F is an album obsessed with moments, cohesion be damned. Dove Lady sinks their teeth into melodies with a uniquely rabid dedication to impulsive leaps in songwriting logic. No idea is safe or sacred. No song too pretty or catchy to escape a little bit of mutilation. At its furthest extreme, this philosophy coughs up a real head-turner on “Education Soul Connection.” Chopped up, spidery funk-rock riffing rides down the scales into a blend of gooey, yearning psych-rock reminiscent of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, before growing a pair of legs and hoofing it off into oblivion with a passage that pairs a Cash-style western drum shuffle with an explosively jagged math-rock lead guitar line. By the time the dust settles in your ears, you’re halfway through noise anthem “Volleyball, Volleyball Star Captain,” shaking it to a sweaty, palm-muted riff and the titular chant for the cartoon superhero you never knew you needed.

For all the muscular shredding and complex time signature noodling to be had on F, the EP is not without its quieter, more meditative moments. Opener “You Are All My People” is their most convincing attempt at lo-fi ambience so far. Looped piano, field recordings, and scrapped, Gamelan-style guitars squash, bend, and reverse into an immersive digitized swamp, saturated with humid texture à la Deerhunter. And the back half of “Let It Shine,” where the band quickly trades in the more anthemic opening for a slinky doo-wop waltz, soothes even as it theorizes that “acceptance is a sore thing.”

But on that slippery final track, “Occupation,” Dove Lady gel into their finest moment, peppering spoken-word monologuing about the wave of nationalist fear-mongering spreading across the country over synth chops and a diseased-sounding, moaning chorus, mocking the new-wave schmaltz of U2’s “With Or Without You” with both a wry grin and a heavy heart. It’s pop gone awry for a country lost at sea. Dove Lady are leading us somewhere, the map held tightly to their chests. Breadcrumb by breadcrumb, dot by dot, they challenge us to enjoy the pit stops, to see one color at a time. And so far, it’s working.

REVIEW: Julie Cool - Demo

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Laura Kerry

Our experience of music owes much to the environment in which we hear it. Sometimes, that environment is internal, such as the post-breakup void that makes a song sound raw or the new love that renders it airy and upbeat. Often, it’s external, arising from the landscape outside of a car window or the rain hitting your bedroom windows.

Julie Cool’s debut EP exhibits the opposite effect: the music transforms the landscape around it. In the dead of winter, Demo infuses its surroundings with a shimmery warmth. Just four songs long, it’s a pop of summer in January—a sunny contrast to the cold that had settled in Baltimore, where the band (Elliott Dean, Chris Arreza, Ben Bjork, and Matt Morin) lives, when they released the album on one of the last days of 2017.

The main sources of the Demo’s warmth are lo-fi production, bright guitar, and relaxed vocals. Combined, they form easygoing psych-pop tunes whose jangliness and nonchalance resembles—uncannily in the case of “Triceratops”—that of Mac DeMarco. For the most part, though, Julie Cool is dreamier than DeMarco. In the opener, “Heaven Knows (feat. ruru),” the pretty male and female harmonies sit further back in the mix than the instrumental voices, resulting in haziness. Though the spacious and clear guitar parts offer a bright foundation, the vocals inject undertones of wistfulness, emphasized by lyrics such as, “When you leave me all alone / All the thoughts collide in my head.” As the song increasingly builds to a dreamy cacophony, the listener can imagine those thoughts colliding.

Julie Cool’s dreaminess emerges in different forms elsewhere in the album. In “Sheila,” a drum loop fit for Michael Jackson sets the stage for a woozy song whose lyrics project a John Hughes film in the movie screen of the mind (“Do you see her / Moving down the hall / She won’t see you / She don’t care at all”). The track sounds like a warped ‘80s pop song steeped in jangly guitars.

Good old-fashioned pop also dwells at the core of “Triceratops” and “I Don’t Mind,” both of which use foot-tapping melodies, time-tested chord progressions, and head-bobbing rhythms, even as they—and you along with them—wobble and float through hazy and sometimes surreal compositions. While winter is stark and severe, Julie Cool’s debut is lush, loose, and vibrant, full of the kind of music that not only immerses the listener, but everything around her, too.

REVIEW: Exploded View - Summer Came Early

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Phillipe Roberts

“And then the rain came, and then the birds fell, and then the deserts dried…”

With the icy resolve of an oracle, British/German chanteuse Anika Henderson doesn’t so much sing as prophesize. Her voice, an alluring grayscale mystery, tunnels into the present from a distant past, a blend of Nico’s calculated grit and the trance-speak wisdom of Broadcast’s Trish Keenan—a perfect companion to the ambitious art-rock noir backing provided by her bandmates in Exploded View.

Their first record, a compilation of direct-to-tape jams, was pure flashbulb memory. Intended to capture the lightning-in-a-bottle chemistry of those early encounters with her San Rafael, Mexico collaborators, the naked electricity present in those sessions captivated on its own terms, but traded an overarching narrative thrust for eye-of-the-storm ferocity. Now, on their second offering, Summer Came Early, Exploded View sharpen that jagged formula to a fine point, making the leap from imitative gestures to something fresh and tantalizingly futuristic.

Save for the glittering grooves of single “Orlando,” Exploded View’s strength lies in its apocalyptic charm; slathered in a healthy dose of atmospheric noise, the specter of death, decay, and devolution seemed to lurk at every turn, giving the impression that these sounds, this world, might come to an end at any moment—a nod to the off-the-cuff, improvisational nature of the sessions that produced the record. With the lineup now solidified into a cohesive working unit, Exploded View sounds entrenched, dug-in for the long haul. If their self-titled LP was a mad rush towards doomsday, Summer Came Early is a post-apocalyptic communiqué from the other side of the mushroom cloud.

Lyrically, Anika obsesses over a half-remembered past, painting a vision of a naive society on the brink of destruction on the standout title track. “We watched the trees blossom / We didn’t question a thing,” she sings, her parched voice choking on the dusty rattle of a tambourine, nodding towards a world ravaged by climate change with the repetition of the lines “The summer came early that year / But we sat on our porches and didn’t question anything.” It’s not quite protest rock, but the scorching emptiness conjured up by the band, embodying humanity’s rattle with lumbering bass and dry drums, drives the point home with stark efficiency.

From here, Exploded View slides into “Forever Free,” a graceful cinematic interlude that wraps sputtering percussive samples in a cocoon of heavenly synthesizers. It’s a blissful dream that’s cut short by the nightmarish fever stomp of “Mirror of the Madman,” the closest living relative to their first record. The dub echoes on Anika’s voice stack over broken tom-tom fills; she’s dissolving faster than she can speak, chasing after a ghostly presence that slips through her fingers: “I saw the exit door / And there she was.” The band rises and falls with her frustrations, building to a crashing high tide before powering down like a broken machine at the close.

The raga-rock Velvetisms of “You Got a Problem Son” close out the record, warping a fuzzy squawk of a guitar solo to its limits as Anika slips into the distance for a final time, locked in a hypnotic, chanting fugue state, reveling in retrograde sonics while stretching towards a decaying future. Prophets of a dying world, Exploded View prove they aren’t content with being a space-age oddity.