Kelly Kirwan

REVIEW: Kedr Livanskiy - Ariadna

kedr.jpg

Kelly Kirwan

On Kedr Livanskiy's debut full-length album, we're offered a tour of another world—one that finds inspiration in Russian landscapes, sweeping mythologies, and analog synthesizers. The title of the endeavor nods to a Greek myth you might be familiar with: Ariadna (or Ariadne), who saved the hero Theseus from the Minotaur’s labyrinth with a spool of thread. It's a fitting tale and a perfect heroine for an album full of featherweight vocals that seem to pull us through a haze of throbbing breakbeats.

Kedr Livanskiy (whose real name is Yana Kedrina) is skilled at creating a certain nostalgic mood. She uses synthesizers like Roland’s Juno-106 and SH-101 to piece together a minimalist '80s tilt for the whole of the nine-track Ariadna. In the mid-album highlight, "ACDC," she even calls upon the voice of English musician and poet Martin Newell—perhaps best known for his '80s-era outfit Cleaners from Venus—to read out William Blake's "The Tyger." Newell’s voice echoes atop a light, skittering synth at first, speaking as though into a serene sort of abyss; it's not long, though, before the beat picks up, bursting into a chugging tempo as Newell deliberately asks, among ripples of reverb, “What immortal hand or eye / Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?”

"Mermaid" similarly relies on poetry but is much softer, with Livanskiy singing in her native Russian (as she does throughout the rest of the album). Synthesizers seem to mimic gentle gusts of wind whistling through the air or the deep bellows of the ocean floor as Livanskiy’s even croon drifts across stanzas written by 19th century Russian poet Mikhail Lermontov. The poem describes a mermaid’s journey with the tides: “On a silver wave of foam … The mermaid sang, and her song / Flew up the steep coasts.”

The instrumental "Sad One" is an artful track that moves slowly and with intention, painting a certain melancholy in broad, stretched strokes across a gray canvas. And on the other end of the spectrum, "Your Name" features a thumping beat that seems to pulse in your chest, with a twitchier percussion intermittently braided in between. The lyrics here tell a story of devastation with a shoegazey cadence, the far-off croon giving the imagery all the more weight: “The city of stone / Burned to the ground / Garages lined / With shattered glass.” It’s a song that feels simultaneously ominous and unaffected, leaning more towards IDM than EDM by far.

Overall, Ariadna is a varied palette of electronic subgenres, incorporated so well that they all seem to take on the same hues (the desaturated album art feels perfect for the monochromatic feel of the music). Kedr Livanskiy cherry-picks elements of techno, dub, and experimental electronica, among other styles, to build an otherworldly landscape. Fitting age-old folk tales and legendary Romanticism over well-curated, sparse beats, it's at once modern and timeless—not to mention a great listen.

REVIEW: Beliefs - Habitat

Beliefs.jpg

Kelly Kirwan

Jesse Crowe and Josh Korody have created a parallel dimension—one that resurrects the heyday of '90s rock bands that fell under the post-punk umbrella. It’s a world that isn’t starkly different from the one we live in, but has a flair from two decades past, as if they had bottled it up and set it free to float around in the present. The Toronto-based duo, known by their musical moniker Beliefs, certainly have their own style, but it—and the coming together of the two in the first place—was certainly sparked by an appreciation for acts like The Jesus and Mary Chain and Slowdive. Now, on their freshly-minted album Habitat, a nod to that era stands with their single, "1994," and its accompanying video.

The song features Jesse Crowe’s steadfast, even-toned vocals, lulling you into a somewhat eerie trance. It’s by no means a flimsy voice, but it has a certain ethereal nature to it, like a sort of preternatural croon. Crowe is featured in the foreground throughout the song's music video, as Korody plays guitar a few feet farther away from the camera, a dark blue screen as their backdrop. The film flickers and cuts into tiny, pixelated streaks of distortion, reminiscent of a VHS tape getting its reels caught in the gears of the VCR. "1994" is a groovy, moody wash of melody cascading over surreal undertones, and the two of them bop to the beat as Crowe offers tiny dance movements with gloved hands. Even in these seemingly innocuous movements, they imbue it with an uncanny feeling of the in-between space they inhabit.

Later in the album, "Half Empty" opens with a strong, percussive pattering of drums and a clash of cymbals, reminiscent of jazz openings or a trip-hop beat. “Don’t know how to tell you / But I just can’t keep my mouth shut,” Crowe sings, her voice twisting into higher octaves, once again commanding the room with her every utterance. Guitar lines are warped as they unfold across the melody, intermingling with the darker palette of electronica with which Beliefs seem to enjoy experimenting. In fact, throughout Habitat's 11 tracks, there's a noticeable trend of pared down guitars making room for a new electronic leaning, possibly nodding to Korody’s other musical pursuits where modular synths increasingly abound.

On "All Things Considered," the duo make good use of contrast. Fuzz and feedback open up the track, paired with vocals that are slower, more languid, and backed by a foreboding setting. But then it picks up the pace in the chorus as the beat becomes danceable and light on its feet. Moving back into the verse feels like switching the TV channel to a snowy wall of white noise.

With moves like these, Habitat is an album that’s hard to ignore. It's a compilation that leaves the world a little tilted—and for that, it’s an addicting terrain to explore.

VIDEO PREMIERE: The GTs - Bad Boy

Kelly Kirwan

Certain phrases have a way of catching your attention, like a distant reflection among otherwise unremarkable scenery. The GTs have one of those lines, which serves as a poetic summary of their sound: it will “break your heart perfectly.” In particular, those four words capture the essence of their latest single, "Bad Boy," a song that revels in the punchy, bluesy rock n’ roll the Montreal-based act call their own.

We all know the trope of the "bad boy" in pop culture: there’s bound to be chaos and heartbreak, but their allure is irresistible nonetheless. The GTs' track pivots around that character, as guitars blaze across the melody with such cacophonous intensity you nearly expect an electric shock in its wake. We hear the croon, “To each his own, I get all fucked up / You bitch and moan, you’re a stick in the mud,” a defiant statement of going against the grain, and relishing every moment of doing so. 

The video that accompanies "Bad Boy" is a montage of vintage images, consisting of clips from television shows and cartoons that often border on the surreal. A biplane flies upside down, cigarettes dance across a table, an animated silhouette of man is injected with a giant needle, a young man with a '50s rebel vibe tries (unsuccessfully) to outrun a police officer. These shots are mostly innocuous, but taken together, they feel like a subliminal rallying call. "Bad Boy" is a less-than-subtle push to let loose, to indulge in riotous stupor by marring the pristine with the nonsensical. We're left with the impression that, even if The GTs break your heart, you won’t regret it.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Konsequence - Feels Pt. I (ft. Rory Fresco)

Kelly Kirwan

"Feels" is a word that's spent the last couple of years redefining itself in the pop culture lexicon. It’s a vibe, an aura that follows you like a halo—in short, it’s mood. And as the title of Konsequence’s latest single, "Feels Pt. I"—the first from their forthcoming EP, Studio City—it captures the song's simmering, defiant atmosphere.

Konsequence is a duo of brothers from Munich, Germany who now reside in Los Angeles. On "Feels Pt. I" they were joined by Rory Fresco, a Kansas City native whose career took a serendipitous turn when his single "Lowkey" auto-played after Kanye’s upload of "Real Friends" on SoundCloud. Together, Konsequence and Fresco have created a track that’s overflowing with nonchalance. It’s a song that’s aggressively unruffled, pressing forward in a confident stride without losing its level head. Fresco’s voice takes on an automated warble as he stresses certain notes, letting us know that there won’t be any distractions en route to his end game—everything trying to stand in his way is background noise.

The accompanying video follows three women (Tegest Worku, Samira Prudentos, and Aissa Niang) as they navigate the streets and hidden nooks of LA. Interspersed are shots of them staring at the camera, holding a sign that says "Feels," and walking lackadaisically through parking lots or lounging around at parties. The trio is a unit, their bond often emphasized by arms draped over each other's shoulders, and they embody the confidence of Fresco's lyrics with body language alone. "Feels Pt. I," both song and video, are filled to the brim with a charisma you wish you could bottle. Studio City promises to do just that.

REVIEW: Datboi Nature - Accepting Happiness

Screen+Shot+2017-08-28+at+12.52.04+PM.png

Kelly Kirwan

Rich piano notes form a sweeping melody, followed by clean percussion reminiscent of a rotary phone’s mechanical rewinding. A voice enters, clipped and muffled as if it were filtered through a megaphone. As we lean in close, we hear the words, “It’s time for a change,” and are plunged into Datboi Nature's latest EP, Accepting Happiness. Accompanied by the rich instrumentals of producer Fla.mingo, it's a collection of soft-swaying, soulful hip-hop that glimmers like light spilling through the blinds.

The second track, "Opiates Are Bad, Ask My Mom," features a faster percussion and a layered, slightly lisping male tenor that could be the child of Macy Gray. They act like the Greek chorus of the song, guiding our emotions as an answering machine picks up and we hear, “Hi sweetie, it’s Mom,” in the background. Her message plays against the delicate arrangement, her words nearly lost in the notes that wash over us.

On the final, eponymous track, Fla.mingo samples Radiohead’s mournful anthem "Videotape," and creates a robust synthesis of the sounds and styles of the first two songs: a soft cadence that meshes all its consonants into one, and the vibrant chords of a somber piano. As a whole, Accepting Happiness is a much needed reprieve, and a welcome beam of light on our airwaves.