Grunge

VIDEO PREMIERE: Wsabi Fox - Yes Ma'am

Will Shenton

Deep in the sludgy, kaleidoscopic hallucination that is Wsabi Fox's newest video, "Yes Ma'am," we see and hear flashes of somewhat unexpected instruments: a violin, a cello, a saxophone. Though they're mainly used as accents, this eclectic ensemble hints at the wildly creative energy of the artist. Not content to make a straightforward tune, "Yes Ma'am" boils over with ideas through a haze of controlled mania.

The video is composed of a series of half-remembered vignettes—Wsabi Fox dancing or clawing at her painted face, musicians plugging away dutifully at the off-kilter time signature—all layered with colored lights and an ephemeral filter that give them dreamlike qualities. But more than a dream, "Yes Ma'am" feels like hypnosis. Its nearly seven-minute runtime and relentlessly propulsive guitars draw you in, bombarding your senses and drowning out anything beyond the borders of the screen.

"Yes Ma'am" is simultaneously a delightful nightmare and a headbanging assertion of power ("I'm the motherfucking boss," Wsabi Fox declares). It'll worm its way into your head and refuse to let go.

Catch Wsabi Fox's GUSHING EP release show July 18 at C'mon Everybody (Brooklyn) with Charmaine Lee, Mary Knapp, & CP Unit

REVIEW: Dream Wife - Dream Wife

a0125290022_10.jpg

Phillipe Roberts

Cursed with admiration for the well-written hook and burdened by a crippling obsession with separating themselves from the pack (via varying degrees of over-intellectualized "experimentation"), indie rock bands have always found themselves performing a high-wire act. This writer included, the critical establishment often pushes a canon of bands that, to their ears, have managed to strike some idyllic balance between opposing forces, some burying that undeniable knack for pop beneath clouds of noise, and others slicing catchy riffs into irregular time signatures. Ironically, the fear of appearing to seek popularity through instantly recognizable songcraft has squeezed the life out of many a blossoming performer.

But Dream Wife don’t have time for pop pessimism, yours or mine. They’ve been too busy cramming wave after wave of stadium-sized, fist-pumping melodic goodness into every square inch of their long-awaited debut. In a sense, the London-based trio evolved in reverse. Starting as an art school project to create a fake girl band, the three women discovered an unexpected chemistry and ditched highbrow artifice in favor of near-religious dedication to hook-fueled rock and roll. Their first proper LP is 35 minutes of mania, a commanding collection of pop-punk tracks bristling with riotous energy. Dream Wife don’t waste time hiding their melodic gifts, and why should they when the results are so damn fun?

From beginning to end, the band operates within a well-defined universe, rallying around linear, palm-muted riffs, strutting basslines, and yelping choruses determined to pull wallflowers like you onto the dance floor. Dream Wife know their lane and stick to it, but they find enough wiggle room within that paradigm to keep you thoroughly entertained. Opener “Let’s Make Out” leaps right into the fray with rabid abandon—a few reverb-drenched “oohs” and you’re slammed into a throat-shredding chorus, with all credit to vocalist Rakel Mjöll for bringing the bravado in spades. Under her thumb, potential slow-burners like “Love Without Reason” turn into theatrical blowouts that call to mind The Killers at their arena-conquering best, and scuzzy dirtbombs like “Hey Heartbreaker” take on a winking mischief courtesy of her bratty, hiccuping delivery.

The raw power behind Mjöll’s vocals finds a worthy foil in guitarist Alice Go, who howls alongside her partner in crime with a roaring tone that fills in the spaces with a satisfying squeal. Center stage on the album’s best track, “Fire,” is hers entirely. Alternating between seasick bends that ramp up the distortion and metronomic pulsations, the riff explodes off the drums in a flash of garage-rock brilliance.

For every minor moment on the album that seems to skew towards the formulaic (the penultimate track, “Spend the Night,” doesn’t quite break free of its clichés), Dream Wife turn in five massive hooks that muscle their way into the back of your mind with ease. Most of these hew close to the classic rock antics that make up the majority of the record, making final track “F.U.U.” all the more mysterious. A completely blasted, fuzz-fried banger featuring the chant “I’m gonna fuck you up / I’m gonna cut you up / I’m gonna fuck you up,” the track skips along with a hip-hop groove, an update of “Kool Thing” with a modern swing. It’s like nothing else on the record, but there’s a real joy to how Dream Wife turns the tables on you one last time. A sugar-coated fist to the brain, this album hurts too good to ignore.

PREMIERE: Backwards Dancer - October

BackwardsDancer_Cover-hires.jpg

Will Shenton

On their latest single, "October," Backwards Dancer channel a sound I haven't had the pleasure of indulging in for years. Combining elements of noise rock, post-hardcore, and grunge, the resulting track is a wall of distortion and punchy vocals that hover around the boiling point throughout.

"October" comes alongside Backwards Dancer's announcement of vinyl pre-orders for 2017's self-titled LP. It's an explosively raw addition to the record, introducing a somewhat more off-kilter sound that feels wild and unrestrained but also mature in its songwriting. We're looking forward to hearing more from these Worcester, Massachusetts-based rockers as they experiment.

REVIEW: Melkbelly - Nothing Valley

a2099428440_10.jpg

Phillipe Roberts

For artists percolating in global DIY, “debut album” is often a misnomer. Regardless of our fixation on the LP format as the defining unit of measurement for musical expression, these bands have usually been kicking around the scene for years, nervously fine-tuning their sound in bars and basements; chances are, they’ve “debuted” dozens if not hundreds of times before your needle hits the wax.

Melkbelly, who've just released their first long player after three years as some of Chicago’s leading noise-rock luminaries, are living that storyline right now: “emerging” from relative obscurity (having opened for such famous nobodies as Speedy Ortiz and Built to Spill) with a world-conquering debut of their own. Unapologetically refusing to pare down their wide-ranging sludge voyages in favor of pop appeal (they already have it in spades, thank you very much), Melkbelly turns up both the gain and the hooks for a more-is-more approach. Nothing Valley wisely takes the money and runs for the hills.

Previous releases by Melkbelly, even last year’s Mount Kool Kid/Elk Mountain split, failed to capture the frighteningly raw power that the four-piece brings to the stage, often sounding like you were hearing them from behind bulletproof glass. Their Breeders-by-way-of-Lightning Bolt ferocity means that Miranda Winters’ sing-song melodies are prone to spectacular and spontaneous combustion at any given moment. Seeing them can feel a bit like watching Godzilla stomping through downtown Tokyo—rapturous awe at the size of their sound, and sheer terror at the knowledge that they could bring it all toppling down with a flick of the tail.

Nothing Valley captures this unpredictability like never before. “R.O.R.OB” revels in one of Winters’ most earwormy melodies and the album’s most straightforward groove, before a round-the-kit thwack from drummer James Wetzel sets off a quarter-time dirt bomb of dissonance for the last two minutes. When Melkbelly collectively stomps on their fuzz boxes, they make sure it hits. Even confined to headphones, the hard-charging final two minutes of “Middle Of” leave craters in your eardrums, with Wetzel going off on the snare against an ascendant, sinister riff that feels like it’s running away from you.

Wetzel puts in his finest performances yet, keeping the reins tight on freakout jams and eagerly leading the band up and over difficult transitions through his assertive rhythmic fervor, but the core of Melkbelly’s staying power is the ever-evolving songwriting genius of their frontwoman. Sounding like a post-apocalyptic Kim Deal still dripping with radioactivity, Winters' melodic wit has never been sharper than it is on the one-two punch of singles “Off the Lot” and “Kid Kreative.” Her voice twists and turns like a knife, commanding and unfuckwithable on their catchiest songs to date.

The Melkbelly of Nothing Valley is devious and daring, their enthusiasm for huge riffs and shapeshifting song forms absolutely unquenchable. Coming into the haunting season, it’s fitting that the affair ends with “Helloween,” a cackling inferno of a victory lap, closing out the album with its most satisfying fuzzed out solo. Playing in the mud like carefree kids, Melkbelly uncover gem after gem of urgent, unsanitized rock. Here’s hoping they never give up the dirt.

REVIEW: Arrows of Love - PRODUCT

Will Shenton

It's probably an understatement to say that London five-piece Arrows of Love's latest record, PRODUCT, opens on an ominous note. Embracing its unvarnished title, "Theme Tune To A Japanese B-Movie Horror" features a single, heavily distorted guitar that winds its way through unresolved dissonance before fading slowly into a screeching echo. It's a simple but effective way to set the tone of the album, serving as a sort of airlock between our world and the cacophonous, anarchic one we're about to enter.

Like all great post-punk, grunge, and metal (the three genres from which Arrows of Love most heavily draw), PRODUCT is loud. With the exception of a few tracks that quiet things down for the sake of pacing or building atmosphere, shrieking distortion and propulsive drums comprise the album's backbone. The result is an aesthetic that casts our world in a foreboding pallor, as if malicious forces conspire and lurk around every corner—perhaps most literally on "Signal," as the lyrics describe fighting off a monster with a dwindling supply of bullets.

At times dark and sludgy ("Beast," "Come With Me"), and at others melancholy and introspective ("Desire," "Parts That Make the (W)hole"), PRODUCT maintains an unrepentant catharsis throughout. Even the most downtempo tracks (a decidedly relative classification) build to explosive climaxes, seemingly framing the album's subtitle, Your Soundtrack To The Impending Societal Collapse, as something to be resisted with indignant rage.

It's that refusal to sit back and accept the hand you're dealt that really defines Arrows of Love's attitude. Their blunt, often spoken-word lyrical delivery is approachable and candid, eschewing frills and melodies in favor of visceral urgency. It's easy to imagine the band standing on their table in a pub, delivering half-shouted polemics against the status quo to a room full of fed-up regulars.

One of the standout tracks on PRODUCT, "Beast," embodies this more directly than the rest of the album. Something of a thesis in its own right, the breakdown before the final, frenzied chorus indicts us for our passivity in the face of injustice:

"We've seen the shit that's going on out there / It's fucked! / So be depressed, you've every right to be / It would not be normal if you weren't / But the question is / If it's gonna knock you down / Are you just gonna lie there / Or are you gonna get up and throw some stones?"

After spending the better part of an hour with Arrows of Love, that should be an easy one.