Georgia

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.

REVIEW: Omni - Multi-task

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Phillipe Roberts

Multi-task is an odd title for this sophomore release from Omni. Rather than attempting to juggle any new sonic weight, the Atlanta trio trim down their already lean and lively sound into something more streamlined and economical. Only a year out from Deluxe, their debut, Omni move up a weight class, taking their scrappy yet explosive production to a bigger soundstage. With more room to breathe, and the band churning out frighteningly efficient melodies with clockwork ease, the blows hit noticeably harder but don’t quite land the knockout.

Despite a recent lineup switch that brought Warehouse’s Doug Bleichner on board to translate their sophisticated post-punk swing to a live environment, core duo Philip Frobos and Frankie Broyles play every instrument on Multi-task. Since the days of Deluxe, their sixth-sense connection has only sharpened, and it shows on the enhanced clarity in the trademark siamese riffing that left us spellbound last time around. These songs are tightly wound, nimbly darting between pitch-perfect nuggets of nervous fretwork with tremendous focus. The interplay between drums, bass, and guitar feels conversational, a series of chemical reactions where every stab of rhythm from one sets off unexpected, exciting, and tastefully dissonant transformations in the others. Cymbals splash into fluorescent needles of guitar and back again on “Southbound Station,” cool ripples of bass evaporate into steamy staccato funk chording as “Calling Direct” builds to a strutting climax. This is calculated chaos, and Omni do their homework.

Guitarist Frankie Broyles remains Omni’s immovable axis, guiding and providing structure to the dense tangle of their post-punk attack. And while he still turns in plenty of Television-inspired noodling and pays welcome homage to Pylon and the B52s’ tick-tock catchiness, he picks up a few new tricks to round out the bunch. “After Dinner” finds him indulging in a bit of Velvet Underground blues sputtering, slashing white hot chords into the finale with abandon. When the dust starts to settle on “Tuxedo Blues,” it’s his slick, Strokes-esque call-and-response that brings the curtain down. His contributions ride high in the mix, as they should: there’s a clear leader to the pack and his skills are flexed more than ever here.

Those who were dazzled by their retro-rock antics from Deluxe will feel vindicated in every second of Multi-task. The ferocious touring behind that album has done little to blunt Frobos and Broyles’ enthusiasm for their particular kind of eighth-note gymnastics; the focus here is on mastering and refining it into purer product. On this count they succeed in spades. “Choke” spreads the versatility of Deluxe tracks like “Wire” even further, marrying a tense, stop-start groove in the chorus to a verse that crackles with tight, punchy snare rolls and crashes it all into a soft cushion of gentle piano for the climax. And paired with the DEVO style herky-jerk yelp of “You can’t afford it / You know you’re worth it,” the four-note synth melody in the final chorus of “Equestrian” feels pinched from some mythical unreleased New Order tape. But ultimately, Multi-task is a record for the crate-digging faithful. Omni takes a red pen to their established sound, crafting a more scenic route from A to B without redrawing the map.

REVIEW: Frankie Broyles - Slow Return EP

Kelly Kirwan

A crinkled line weaves itself throughout one of Frankie Broyles’ most recent melodies, as if the bellows of an accordion had taken on a bit of rust, producing a pitch that's somehow both nasally and digital. It snakes between a steady percussion and his docile croon, which has the slightest touch of haze in its far-off delivery. The song in question is "Shoulder Blade," a three-minute dip into a genre that’s hard to pin down, a unique flavor of indie pop with garage-rock influences and even a touch of psychedelia. It creates an interesting tension between the uncanny and nonchalant—one that persists throughout his latest EP, Slow Return.

The seven-song undertaking shows once again how Broyles thrives as an independent artist. You may have encountered his work in the past, though his stints with Balkans, Omni, or, of course, Deerhunter. But in his return to flying solo he’s shown (not that there had been much doubt) that he’s more than just a kick-ass guitarist. He’s an auteur of expansive harmonies that glimmer with a pop-sensible polish, whirring and wobbling like a brightly painted spinning top. The Atlanta-based musician has spoken in the past of finding inspiration for his solo material, and the bottom line seemed to be that he wasn’t afraid to let go. He has certain visions for his work, but in an interview with Seventh Hex he noted he “wasn’t afraid to miss the mark.” Luckily, these creative free falls never do.

The accompanying video for his track "Seward Park" is a reel of grainy footage, like a home movie from decades long past. As twangy guitars gleam across the melody, the footage switches between landscape shots, zooming into an array of bare, wintery tree branches, and then focusing on a green feline eye. Broyles’ voice is deep, but feels porous compared to the rich tones of the melody, as he sings, “I’ll say what is on your mind / Not right now” before the screen fades to pink. It’s a melody that bops along quickly, a mix of contemplative and upbeat moods. Which is unsurprising, as throughout the EP, Broyles never seems to limit himself to a single energy level. He meshes and blends, creating a multi-faceted piece of work that's wonderfully original and a joy to listen to.

REVIEW: Casket Girls - The Night Machines

Kelly Kirwan

The Greene sisters have cultivated their own brand of Southern Gothic. Living in Savannah as self-styled "recluses," the two have drawn a following with their soft, even vocals which always serve to temper their dissonant, organ-synth melodies. Their selective ventures into the public eye are to perform as Casket Girls, a term that’s carried the question mark of a ghost story in its own right.

As the legend goes, casket girls were groups of women brought over from Europe, mostly to Louisiana. They were meant to be brides, but whispers and side-eyes grew, and soon the matrimonial exchange evolved into the idea that casket girls were, in fact, otherworldly. It’s no wonder that Phaedra and Elsa Greene felt akin to these waifs and their ghostly reputation. Their promotional posters always incorporate a motif of blindness, a palm or cloth covering the eye, conjuring up references to the wool-spinning Moirai, sisters of fate that could see the future in the thread they spun. 

It’s a theme that carries over into their latest album, The Night Machines, which dives into supernatural subjects like clairvoyance and our delicate mortality. The deep, unwavering percussion comes into play, courtesy of TW Walsh (of Pedro the Lion), along with Ryan Graveface (of Black Moth, and of course the band's label Graveface Records) rounding out their shades of shoegaze goth. It’s a sort of airy punk-mysticism that Casket Girls have developed over the past few years with steady success.

Their track "Walk the Water" begins with an eerie sort of exhale—a phantom’s cry, or a gust of wind? It then breaks into a tangy synth evocative of a pipe organ, whose keys are being pressed with fervent abandon. “We live in this unusual world / Isn’t it delusional?” they pose, their voices veering into a higher pitch, before adding, “Walk the water / Seek the past,” alluding, it seems, to our flawed sense of the real. Casket Girls give us the pin to poke holes in those presumptions, coming to us as songbird sages or fortune tellers, backed by a catchy hook. 

"Mermaid Cottage" unfolds with a crinkling beat and, again, that organ pitch against a gentle trill, "I dream of sin / That glitters in the sun / Where you and I will rest my darling one ... We’ll shed our skin and finally get free." It’s a softer song, an air of indie pop that feels at peace, without those darker inklings we’ve come to know previously.

The thing with truth, the Greene sisters warn, is that "it always shatters." On The Night Machines, we see how their dreams and their affinity for the magical is more than just an escape. It’s a respite, an acceptance, and a sense of freedom in the tides that will "wash away our skin" and leave behind a specter that knows no earthly tethers. Casket Girls' aesthetic is more than mere affectation, and it begs to be embraced.

REVIEW: Mothers - When You Walk a Long Distance You Are Tired

Kelly Kirwan

Mothers has the air of a tortured artist. Their sound is both haunting and nuanced, a spectrum of simple strumming and abrasion. It's music that flirts with wallowing, fueled by that underlying ache which was practically trademarked by the country-bluegrass genre (the band is based in Athens, Georgia after all).

But, in this instance, I'd go against your own mother's advice to not dwell on darker thoughts—because Mothers is spinning a unique brand of catharsis. Their debut album, When You Walk a Long Distance You Are Tired, isn't the kind of music that you cue up when you feel like a heavy sigh and some morose stares out the window. Mothers is poetic—literally. The EP's title was ripped from the pages of a relatively unknown French book Kristine Leschper (the band's founder) came across during an apprenticeship with a painter abroad. It's a name that's simple and subtly layered, which suits Mothers and their creative process.

Initially, Mothers was a one-woman show. Navigating the Athens music scene, Leschper met and then collaborated with the band's current drummer, Matthew Anderegg, and eventually the two added Drew Kirby and Patrick Morales on guitar and bass. There's always vulnerability involved when you funnel something intimate into art, and even more so when that personal inspiration is then reflected through the prism of three other bandmates. It's brings forth a certain tension and hesitancy as delicate as Leschper's folk-inspired vocals, which stretch to high, trembling pitches as an intersection of rawness and fragility.

So, while many of Mothers' tracks began as Leschper's brainchild, among the four of them these songs have evolved into something fully grown—like “It Hurts Until It Doesn’t,” which stays true to Mothers' signature style of straightforward instrumentals, often guided rhythmically by Anderegg’s steady drumming. The opening lines should by all means be crushing: “I felt alive for a little while / But when I died I had the time to notice / I was crushed by the weight of my own ego.” But instead, the effect is more introspective. There’s a degree of despair in Leschper’s voice that pulls you in, because she’s putting it all on the table. “I felt your love for a little while / But never had the guts to give myself up,” Leschper continues, and you’re hooked on the story she’s coming to understand in hindsight. 

Then there are songs like “Too Small For Eyes,” which relies on guitar plucking and a string arrangement building beautifully in the background. The melody is relatively simple, but not sparse. Mothers knows which strings to play and which buttons to press, to leave you in a bittersweet rapture.

When You Walk a Long Distance You Are Tired is a highlight in the indie-folk-rock landscape for being understated and experimental, an album that plays like the lost diary pages from someone’s blue period. But Mothers takes all that angst and leaves us with tracks that have an aftertaste of relief. Like I said—catharsis.