Laura Kerry

REVIEW: Helena Deland - From the Series of Songs "Altogether Unaccompanied" Vol. I & II

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Laura Kerry

The title of Helena Deland’s new EP, From the Series of Songs “Altogether Unaccompanied” Vol. I & II, sounds like something stumbled upon in medias res. What is “Altogether Unaccompanied?” Why the distinct volumes? Deland has started her story, and we have to rush to catch up.

The music starts in the same way. Without preamble or pause, Deland launches into the vocals on “There Are A Thousand,” joined a half second later by a warm, full blend of resonant bass, bright guitars, and light percussion. It immediately seizes you and pulls you into its glittering, dreamy sound.

The story, of course, does start before From the Series of Songs “Altogether Unaccompanied” Vol. I & II. Deland released her debut EP, Drawing Room, last August, and with just four concise and beautiful songs, attracted an excited fanbase. One of those fans was Gorilla vs Bear’s Chris Cantalini, who signed her on as the first artist on his new label Luminelle Recordings, in collaboration with Fat Possum and House Arrest.

Adding only four songs to her repertoire, the artist is poised to accomplish even more. From the Series is a fully realized work, exhibiting Deland and her three collaborators’ skills at putting together beautiful, lilting melodies, intricate and balanced rock and electronic instrumentation, and pop satisfaction. Each of the tracks adds new elements to the mix. “There Are A Thousand” introduces hazy dream pop with a slight psychedelic bent; “Perfect Weather For A Crime” builds higher energy guitar pop over a bouncing bass; “Take It All” takes a darker turn, slinking along in quiet synth and a deep, electronic drum pulse; and “Body Language” showcases the artist’s expressive vocal range over sparse guitar- and bass-led instrumentals and a sticky chorus.

Complete and compact, Helena Deland’s new album both satisfies and leaves us eager for more. As with a story you're dropped in the middle of, the only thing to do is relish what’s in front of you and wonder what’s ahead.

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: Porches - The House

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Laura Kerry

“Think I'll go somewhere else / Where I can see into myself / Just watch me go.”

Aaron Maine of Porches sings these lines in a desperate tone that peaks in a vulnerable falsetto as synths swirl and a dance beat pumps beneath him. From the second song, “Find Me,” off of his new work, The House, this moment perfectly encapsulates the album and—if the songs are any indication—the space (both physical and mental) in which Maine wrote it.

Maine’s third full-length as Porches, The House picks up where his last album, Pool, leaves off, continuing to draw from a palette of danceable synths and beats to create surprisingly reflective and dreamy tunes—a departure from his more straightforwardly rock roots. Perhaps a result of newly living alone and mostly recording alone, though, the new album feels quieter and, as the lines from “Find Me” suggest, more introspective.

Beginning with Maine’s bare falsetto singing the surrender “Let it have me,” The House is an intimate experience. In lyrics such as “It's my fault / This I know / It's just hard to swallow” (“By My Side”), “I wonder if you think about me / Not anymore” (“Anymore”), and “I like the thought you think of me” (“Goodbye”), it reads as a breakup album (a reasonable read, considering that Maine wrote it in the aftermath of a breakup). This sentiment reflects in the expressive sadness of Maine’s voice, which is beautiful when allowed to shine.

Elsewhere, though, The House reads as more hopeful. These moments emerge in his odes to love, albeit filled with a dejected kind of longing (“Anything you want / Anything you need / Anything at all / I love you,” he sings in the final song, “Anything U Want”), and in the bright, warm combinations of electronic instruments that demand movement in response.

Sometimes, these two opposing strains feel at odds with one another. In the muddiness on “Swimmer,” the stab of deep bass that feels wedged in on “By My Side,” and a few unnecessary uses of auto-tune (those in which he fails to use it in intriguing contrast to the rawness of the other elements in his songs), Porches’ introspection can occasionally fail to mesh with the sounds that surround it.

When it works, though, it does so to an incredibly satisfying degree. On “Goodbye,” for example, Porches alternates between a bouncy synth melody and a somber piano ballad. As his voice rises, the two parts join, welcoming a gentle but crisp beat and a light touch of guitar, and later, a disco riff and house beat. Here and in many other moments on The House, Maine simultaneously manages to deliver a dose of emotional strife and its antidote, catharsis.

REVIEW: Tune-Yards - I can feel you creep into my private life

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Laura Kerry

When facing a challenging political climate, music often falls into two different camps: escapism or head-on confrontation. Tune-Yards’ new album does both.

The group’s first album in three years, I can feel you creep into my private life responds to the current moment. More specifically, it is a response to two very of-the-moment—to an almost comical degree—experiences that Merrill Garbus, the duo’s frontwoman, had in the past year: a DJ residency that catapulted her into the world of dance music, and a six-month workshop on what it means to be white in America at the East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland that fostered a better understanding of her “participation in racism and white supremacy.” The result is an exuberant album that is equal parts danceable and politically engaged.

The first of those two sensations to come across is the former. Starting with the opener, “Heart Attack,” Garbus and her collaborator Nate Brenner build a track that with its clapping percussion, sputtering melody, funky bass, and variations of the four-on-the-floor rhythm, impels the listener to move. Here, Garbus poses her message in fragments of more abstract and personal imagery (“Let me speak / Let me breathe / Oh, let me be”). Here, as in many other places on the album, the sound and feel of the music—a more focused and beat-driven version of Tune-Yards’ signature energetic freneticism—outweighs the content of the lyrics. While this has the effect of slightly muting the message, it also means that the listener is hooked by the time they start to consider meaning. There’s also something sneakily transgressive about propelling an audience to dance unsuspectingly to music with political motivations.

While Garbus couches much of her social justice bent in glittering pop and an introspective gaze, it occasionally pierces through the surface of I can feel you creep with clear—and sometimes clunky—force. On “ABC 123,” a song whose simple balance of bouncy bass, buoyant percussion, and catchy melody make it one of the clearest and most fun on the album, the artist swings between loftiness (“Sitting in the middle of the sixth extinction”) and intimacy (“I want so badly to be liked”), ultimately addressing the audience directly with the cheer, “No abstentions! VOTE.”

Like the call-to-action on “ABC 123,” the  most straightforward of the political lyrics on the album can feel jarring, like a blunt wack across the head in contrast to the rest of Garbus’ deft deliveries. On “Colonizer,” for example, when she sings over a deep bass in a voice scratchy with effects, “I use my white woman voice to tell stories of travels with African men… / I cry my white woman tears carving grooves in my cheeks to display what I meant,” it feels downright uncomfortable. It’s hard to tell whether that discomfort comes from confronting my own complicity in the privilege that Garbus sings about, or if it stems from the feeling that a white woman acknowledging “white woman tears” in song still calls attention to herself in the problematic way that crying—and subsequently broadcasting—white woman tears does in the first place.

According to Tune-Yards' new album, though, beginning to disentangle that kind of discomfort is a necessary effort. It’s important to recognize and talk about it. And, in the midst of that effort, Garbus offers, you can always dance.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Jake Klar - Over & Over

Laura Kerry

After you listen to his song “Over & Over,” it should come as no surprise that Jake Klar’s Until The Wild Fire Becomes Paradise is the product of wandering. The October album emerged out of the artist’s journals that he kept over a two-year expedition throughout the US and beyond, borrowing from his impressions from the road that he captured in poetry, stories, and images.

In Klar’s new video for “Over & Over,” he—with the help of cinematographer Jackson Glasgow and editor Aaron Brummer—reflects this itinerant spirit. With the warm-hued, scratch-filled, and teetering look of old tape shot on a handheld camera, the video follows an amble through a nondescript place. As Klar sings in his low and expressive voice, he wanders sidewalks, jumps a fence (gracefully), hangs on an old bridge with two friends, throws rocks, dances, and jumps into a dumpster (also gracefully).

Nothing particularly remarkable happens, but as the rumbling Americana guitar, folky melody, and jaunty piano rise, the music invests the scene with a sense of poignancy. Like the view of a highway out of a Greyhound bus window, it is made beautiful by the right music. Between this and the film effects and aimlessness of the action, the video feels intimate, as if it’s found footage from a home video collection or a projection streaming directly from a someone’s memory. Or, perhaps, it’s the journals coming through. Either way, it’s worth a visit.