Experimental

PREMIERE

Sivan Silver-Swartz - Sometimes and Sometimes Not

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By Gerard Marcus

Patience is a virtue. I heard this a lot as a child, and have learned to appreciate it more and more the older I get. There are a lot of things that can be gained from not being too hasty. Clarity, focus, wisdom–pretty much anything that requires more than a minor glance to perceive. Sivan Silver-Swartz’s new release Sometimes and Sometimes Not is an album that rewards patience.

Silver-Swartz's five track debut consists of four highly creative “indie rock” tracks sandwiching a beautifully simple song featuring piano and cello. The intricacy of the compositions, rich layering of sounds, and hard panning of percussion, guitar, and vocal elements is the first thing that captures your attention when diving into this record. But what fascinates me most is how Silver-Swartz utilizes time. Sometimes and Sometimes Not is about 42 minutes long with only five tracks. The shortest song is 7 min and 37 seconds. In case you’re wondering, most songs, especially those that fall into the world of rock, are between 3 - 5 minutes long. So what is Silver-Swartz doing with all that extra time?

Silver-Swartz is a composer. He currently is getting his MFA at Cal Arts and previously studied (along with myself) at the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio. Please take this with a grain of salt since I am not the songwriter, but having studied with him and knowing a bit about process of composition, I will say that one of the things you learn to appreciate in composition is sculpting sonic experience over time. And that’s what Sivan does so well over these 5 tracks. He introduces you to a sonic space and leaves you time to fully soak it in before moving onto the next one. This space not only encourages you pay attention to the details of the compositions, but also enhances other elements of the songs like their lyrics, giving them a weight that can only come from attentive listening. It’s a beautiful study on the usage of time in rock music, and a great example of the power of not doing things in haste. 



VIDEO PREMIERE

JOBS - Pink

Gerard Marcus

Perfection is weird; it's by its very definition never obtainable. According to Merriam-Webster, perfection is “freedom from fault or defect.” But who decides what’s a fault or defect? JOBS' new video for their single “Pink” considers that question at its core, turning what some people might see as faults into a video that is pretty close to that elusive perfection.

“Pink” the track is a wild combination of pulsing rhythms, distorted guitars, and surreal vocals that more directly evoke imagery than meaning. It’s a song of sensation that ask you to listen deep without any expectation of reward. Directed by Britt Ciampa, the video portrays two characters dragging objects through what seems like a parade of ghosts. JOBS' singer-guitarist David Scanlon’s distorted image is overlayed throughout, creating a beautiful collage of hyper-stimulating imagery. Britt Ciampa's work as a visual effects artist really shines in the video. Using visual ideas he discovered through failures at creating photorealistic fixes in his usual work as a vfx artist, he creates a visual language for this video that pairs excellently with the driving pulse and distorted sounds of JOBS track. He created perfection out of imperfection, and what’s more perfect than that?

REVIEW: mayako xo - mayako xo

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Phillipe Roberts

mayako xo makes a terrifying first impression. Visit the Bandcamp page for her self-titled record and the “single” you’re treated to, “Ma Says,” is less a warm introduction than an attempt to drag you into a personal vision of hell. Its grueling eight-minute length and monotonous, looped central riff forces your ear to lean in to the subtle inflections: a delightfully soured vocal note, alternating dissonant scrapes up and down the fretboard. And all of this strung together by the subtle horror of a Shel Silverstein poem.

“And I ain’t too smart,” she intones in a dark, ritualistic voice, “But there’s one thing for certain.” Your whole body stands at attention. A lone bass note wobbles and dissipates, carrying all the air in the room out with it. “Either Ma is wrong / Or else God is.” The original work contains none of this horror, but it’s mayako xo’s ability to read between the lines, to seize those empty spaces and twist them into something deadly, that makes the album such an enchanting listen.

For a record composed mostly of droning passages and spoken-word self-dialogue, the hypnotic nature of the music allows mayako xo to slip right past you with unexpected briskness. Rather than build up to ear-splitting crescendos or massive beat drops, the artist siphons off the energy; these songs collapse rather than explode, shriveling up in a heat-death coma of eerie silence. Opening track “The Ship” seems to take particular pleasure in catharsis denial. The instrumental is the busiest on the album, a romp through clattering tom-toms and tambourines and a menacing, see-sawing flute sample. Her voice rattles off pitch-shifted entreaties to be made whole: “I hear you want me / Can’t you call me / Deliver me to me?” And then the bottom end falls out, leaving her voice twisting and distorted, curling off like smoke trails into the darkness.

mayako xo likes her darknesses vast, with plenty of space and reverb to the backing tracks. They sound distant in contrast to her voice, giving the sense that she’s singing along to music playing through the walls of a vast hall or church. Her breathy melodies are gritty and drawn out, wavering in and out and frequently complemented by a harmonizer that adds a second voice in a different pitch. On “Mud,” this secondary presence mocks her, chanting “I’m not anyone / I’m not anyone,” like a grotesque, nagging inner voice amplifying her most self-defeating impulses. On “The Truth,” the effect is angelic, soaring weightlessly over a heavy, doom-inspired guitar drearily headbanging in tow. But throughout the record, she keeps this juxtaposition of space constant; her voice drives the music entirely, never enveloped completely by the encroaching horror breathing down her neck.

mayako xo is a brisk journey through warped mental states, an excavation of personal truth through hypnotic ritual. Sparse yet alluring in its seductive simplicity, it’s a labyrinth of emotion whose details have to be searched with bare hands, hugging the walls to keep track of where you’ve been. There may not be any climactic hallelujah moment on the other side, but mayako xo captures the beauty of wandering the internal maze.

REVIEW: Palberta - Roach Goin' Down

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Phillipe Roberts

Palberta announce their presence with a screeching “We’re Palbertaaaaa!” in the closing third of Roach Goin’ Down, delivering a clunky, bass-heavy hip-hop beat sprinkled with blips of detuned guitar. Like a professional wrestler playing their entrance song just before delivering that perfectly choreographed pile-driving finisher, the move would feel anti-climatic and awkward if it wasn’t so characteristically them to ignore any conventional order of operations while spitting on your expectations. Live, the trio switch instruments almost as fast as they leap between ideas, a would-be performance gimmick that illuminates just how damn singular their approaches are behind the kit and in front of an amp. On the strength of showmanship and increasingly bizarre songcraft, Palberta has become a bit of an open-secret sensation, but Roach Goin’ Down is their strongest argument yet for blowing the doors wide open.

For all of those individual qualities and instrumental quirks, what makes Roach Goin’ Down such a big leap over its predecessors is how accomplished they’ve become at fusing them into a seamless—albeit slightly prickly—whole. Highlight track “In My Fame - Jug!” is ruthlessly efficient with melodies. Its first section is a pile-on of scraggly guitar, bass chords, and splashing percussion, ricocheting off each other in a thrilling chain-reaction explosion. As it glides to earth to start part two, soft guitar strums carve a path onwards—not towards a conclusion, but a circular conversation that fades gradually into the distance, a sound they explore again on “Jumping From Lamp to Lamp,” with an added dose of sprightly loneliness.

Indeed, despite the textural and tonal grit that Palberta are fond of, the outright poppiness of punk tracks like “Big Time” sound almost too smooth to be the work of a noise (or noise-inclined, if you will) band—until they tear it off like a BandAid in the last few seconds with a howling sax solo. The titular chanting in “Cherry Baby” cleaves through the wonky pulsing of horns and bass around it, detuned to its surroundings but perfectly preserved in an airtight bubble that’ll keep you humming it for days. Palberta have always performed this delicate balancing act, but these snippets of hypnotic warmth have never sounded so deliberate, even if they come packaged with an equally fierce punchline.

Roach Goin’ Down’s cover art features the visages Ani Ivry-Block, Lily Konigsberg, and Nina Ryser whipped into a single slimy heap, differentiated only by glasses, teeth, and hair, in a real case of blended identity that mirrors the album. Unless you see them perform the songs live, it’s nearly impossible to tell who wrote or played what part. And somehow, the longer you listen to Roach Goin’ Down, or allow yourself to be taken in by the wacky, impulsive construct that is Palberta, the less you feel the violent urge to deconstruct and divide that gooey whole into something piecemeal. If you need things to make microscopic sense, don’t listen to this album. If you want to hear Hall and Oates’ “Rich Girl” transfigured into a Rage Against the Machine-style basher, exposed for the bloated corpse of a track it was by way of annihilation, you may have found your record of the year.

REVIEW: Clebs - I'm Here

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Phillipe Roberts

At core of Clebs’ debut EP is the question looping through every recording since the first wax cylinder: what here is human? Recording is an exercise in artifice, a selection and compression of real-time events into an endlessly repeatable fantasy. With their first foray into the art of sonic distillation, vocalist Emilie Weibel and drummer/producer Jason Nazary go for the jugular with a particularly violent approach; I’m Here quite literally feels like a mutilation of their personalities into a unitary, Frankensteined sound-beast, flexing its reconstructed muscle in an exploration of these newfound capabilities. Though some moments gesture towards sunnier pastures, the most surprising element of I’m Here is how firm its footing feels in the long stretches of abstracted body horror, slicing apart familiar rhythms, melodies, and sampled sound into something that feels truly alive, twitching with a dangerous curiosity.

From start to finish, the organic, pulsating fusion that is I’m Here manages to sound painstakingly labored over without overworking the ear. Every second is brimming with immaculately designed easter eggs and microscopic detail. Pitched-down voices buried under fuzz on closer “Light Spectrum” combine with bubbling, randomized arpeggiations to eerie effect; as a whole—and this is meant as the sincerest of compliments—it comes off as the soundtrack to a late-night infomercial from another dimension, a peek behind the static curtain into a mundane glimpse of the beyond.

Truly, Clebs’ finest gift may well be in creating trancelike environments that feel as if you’re observing them from a distance, or from a bubble of relative safety. “Bass Chrysalis” (WHAT A TITLE) is a shining example. The glitched-out voice breakdown in its latter half, where thumps of bass pound against the sharply pitched gliding melody, doesn’t so much consume you as linger, tantalizingly, just out of reach. Clebs are masters of the experimental tease.

When the duo branch into immersive, pop-like territory, they never quite let themselves run wild or become too consumed by rampant emotionality, preferring instead to constantly tweak and tune their creations like a pair of obsessive technicians. Though it emerges chopped and crushed, leaking a trail of vocal teardrops from Weibel, opener “Homemade Bread” is the record's most out-and-out danceable excerpt. Its central beat flails and flops with a drunken urgency. Nazary weaves a staggering polyrhythmic collage, populating it with buzzing snippets of Weibel’s voice placed deep into the mix. The track leers with a frightening intensity, threatening to break out into some form of “drop,” some kind of sustainable, emotive four-on-the-floor chug, but never does.

Even the title track, whose looped, bumping beat comes the closest to providing the sturdy bedrock necessary for a pop song, can’t help but inject blasts of howling noise, roaring in at jarring volume to keep you awake and aware through the haunted nursery rhyme chanting of “If the bomb explodes, then you come back home.” I’m Here is not for the faint of heart, nor for the faint of head. But if you’re looking for a brief detour into stranger waters or a peek into the grizzly unknown, look no further.