Math Rock

REVIEW: Dove Lady - F

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Phillipe Roberts

Tossing out one last release only hours before the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, Dove Lady slide into home plate with three records under their belts for 2017. For most acts, a breakneck pace like that would suggest a “golden year” burst of creativity, a flash-in-the-pan outlier. But with 20 EPs to go in their crusade to drop one for each letter of the alphabet, Dove Lady seem to be revving up, trying to take the rest of their marathon at full steam. Even if they maintain that three-a-year pace and drop any detours like last year’s numerical swerve One, the DC duo are looking at at least 6 more years of charging towards that finish line.

But the thrill of the band’s evolution, the thumping, oxygen-flooded heart of those heady ambitions, comes down to pure mystery: what kind of band will Dove Lady be at the end of all this? Song by song, Andrew Thawley and Jeremy Ray are engaged in a game of musical pointillism, brushing a few new dots onto a canvas that, as of EP F, we’re still seeing up close. Years from now, when we stand back at the close of EP Z, what sort of cohesive image will (or could) emerge from the expanding cacophony of genres spilling out of these two?

And yet, like all of their previous works thus far, F is an album obsessed with moments, cohesion be damned. Dove Lady sinks their teeth into melodies with a uniquely rabid dedication to impulsive leaps in songwriting logic. No idea is safe or sacred. No song too pretty or catchy to escape a little bit of mutilation. At its furthest extreme, this philosophy coughs up a real head-turner on “Education Soul Connection.” Chopped up, spidery funk-rock riffing rides down the scales into a blend of gooey, yearning psych-rock reminiscent of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, before growing a pair of legs and hoofing it off into oblivion with a passage that pairs a Cash-style western drum shuffle with an explosively jagged math-rock lead guitar line. By the time the dust settles in your ears, you’re halfway through noise anthem “Volleyball, Volleyball Star Captain,” shaking it to a sweaty, palm-muted riff and the titular chant for the cartoon superhero you never knew you needed.

For all the muscular shredding and complex time signature noodling to be had on F, the EP is not without its quieter, more meditative moments. Opener “You Are All My People” is their most convincing attempt at lo-fi ambience so far. Looped piano, field recordings, and scrapped, Gamelan-style guitars squash, bend, and reverse into an immersive digitized swamp, saturated with humid texture à la Deerhunter. And the back half of “Let It Shine,” where the band quickly trades in the more anthemic opening for a slinky doo-wop waltz, soothes even as it theorizes that “acceptance is a sore thing.”

But on that slippery final track, “Occupation,” Dove Lady gel into their finest moment, peppering spoken-word monologuing about the wave of nationalist fear-mongering spreading across the country over synth chops and a diseased-sounding, moaning chorus, mocking the new-wave schmaltz of U2’s “With Or Without You” with both a wry grin and a heavy heart. It’s pop gone awry for a country lost at sea. Dove Lady are leading us somewhere, the map held tightly to their chests. Breadcrumb by breadcrumb, dot by dot, they challenge us to enjoy the pit stops, to see one color at a time. And so far, it’s working.

REVIEW: Dove Lady - One

Laura Kerry

I remember the surprise I felt when I first learned that Washington, DC has a history of fostering an influential punk and hardcore scene. To me, the nation’s capital meant pristine monuments and the respectable act of governance (ha). It was thrilling to learn that under all that marble, people had been airing their feelings and making noise.

Andrew Thawley and Jeremy Ray live in DC, and their band, Dove Lady, shows signs of the post-hardcore scene from which it sprung. Their latest album, One—the first full-length after a series of alphabetized EPs, A, B, C, and D—begins with an explosive oscillation of fuzzy guitar. Drums come in, crashing wildly, and the vocals emerge as a monotone yelp. The start of the opener, “7777,” promises to deliver on the DC legacy. Soon, though, Dove Lady pulls back. “7777” morphs several times, changing from the harsh pulse of punk guitar to smoother, quieter modes and back again.

Punk is only one edge of Dove Lady’s experimental territory on One. Throughout the album, they transition from post-hardcore to jazz, and even to a moment of R&B smoothness on “Carl Salesman.” And when they do get loud, the duo never fully loses control. Rhythmic and tight all the way through, they only skirt the edges of chaos before dissolving into calm—a move that's as exciting as total mayhem. Dove Lady are masters of tension and release.

Such mood swings happen not only in the sound, but also in the lyrics. “In essence,” Dove Lady said in an interview with GoldFlakePaint, “One is about accepting and forgiving one’s self for all of life’s mistakes; it is a sonic representation of moving on from the past and into the present.” Naturally, that is a fraught process. The album reflects that in moments of anxiety: “I'm scared of the way that you might look at me If you hear what I’m thinking / I’m tired of uncertainty,” they sing on “What’s Wrong Roberta,” and “Sometimes I get so lonely and I don’t know” on “Carl Salesman.” For all of its musical trickery, One’s sentiments are delightfully earnest.

And Dove Lady is never more delightful and earnest than in the moments of catharsis that lend the album a feeling of simultaneous gravity and lightness. “It’s time / Won’t be long / ‘Til I’m comfortable,” they sing over a catchy guitar melody in the appropriately named “Uplifting Song.” At the end, the track reaches a satisfying release with the line, “It’ll all be ok.” And just as One begins with the roar of guitar, it ends with another loud statement. “Anything that I want / I can get if I try,” they sing on the closing track, “Boar Switch,” before the instruments and vocals swell, coming closer to spilling over into chaos than anywhere else on the album.

A product of their city but with a strong sense of their own sound, Dove Lady makes music how they want to.

PREMIERE: Sheen Marina - Travel Lightly

Laura Kerry

With the name Sheen Marina, this Brooklyn-based four-piece seems to like all things sunny and nautical. Chuck Thomas, Justin Mayfield, Michael Karsh, and Steven Bartashev identify their music most often as “surf-rock,” and they followed up their debut EP Coda Arms last year with a cover of the Beach Boys’ song “Gettin’ Hungry.”

As the line drawing of a web-footed monster on the art for that single suggests, though, they also have a tendency to turn a radiant day at the beach into a twisted, savage rampage. Sand, bright towels, and plastic toys remain in the picture, but they are scattered and partially buried under a thick layer of sludge and debris.

In their full-length debut, Travel Lightly, Sheen Marina jumbles their surf-rock with an eclectic mix of sounds, creating music that is challenging and off-kilter, but always tight and intriguing. Songs tend to morph as they unfold, propelled by the play of tension and release, accessibility and dissonance. Opening on “WYSC,” the album gets through about 11 seconds of rattling percussion and pretty synth before the vocal melody hits its first unexpected note and guitars burst in playing an ominous chord progression. Switching several more times, the song also hits moments of noise rock, art rock, and even a hint of pop punk, all guided by the calculated complexity of math rock. And that’s just the first song.

Throughout Travel Lightly, the band journeys to surreal sunsets (“Chasing the orange cream sunset dreams / She's a firecracker,” they sing in “Nose Ring Boring”); tales of California that are equally head-bobbing and hair-raising (“Fever Dreams”); tunes with jangly verses, shrieking choruses, and a hint of Radiohead in the vocals (“Wax Lens”); and glitchy, jittery guitar-driven collages (“Ugly Viper” and others). Sometimes Sheen Marina paints abstract images, as in “Nose Ring Boring,” while at other times, they tackle the modern world and the psyche with poignancy and directness (“I've got to go to the edge of a digital world where I can find my soul,” they sing in “Swipe”).

One thing remains in all those travels: There's always a weird, ominous creature lurking under the surface. Take “Summer Sunshine People,” the track whose title indicates that it might deliver on the promise in Sheen Marina’s name and genre. Sometimes it does—its vocal and guitar melodies offer enough bounce to grasp onto. But at the end of each catchy line waits a different discordant surprise, and the refrain repeats, “Empty, my life is empty.” The summer sunshine people are surprisingly dark and gloomy, but the song still emits a radiant, magnetic energy. Travel Lightly is a trip to a strange seashore, but we suggest you start packing your beach bag now.

REVIEW: Zula - Grasshopper

Will Shenton

Zula's latest LP, Grasshopper, is a triumph of genre-blending pop. Latin beats are drenched in reverb-soaked psychedelia, math-rock intricacies meet soulful grooves, and all of it is wrapped in the playful weirdness of contemporary indie experimentation. It's one of those albums you can't help but obsess over, because every listen reveals new layers of detail.

Take the appropriately blunt "Fuck This," for example. The track opens with a slightly off-kilter beat in 5 (I think? I'm no music theorist), reminiscent of Battles and their experimental ilk, before transitioning seamlessly into a dreamy, almost celestial verse. It's a song that, much like Grasshopper as a whole, grows and evolves rather than cyclically repeating. It eschews predictability without ever being hard to follow, and by the end we're given another glimpse of that opening beat to bookend the digression—as if to reassure the listener that, yes, every move here is carefully considered.

I'm reminded of Superhuman Happiness, the ensemble group whose 2015 album Escape Velocity was similarly robust and capricious. Zula is clearly a band that isn't satisfied with the status quo, yet one that also knows how to craft genuinely listenable tunes. It's rare to call anything this experimental an earworm, but Grasshopper is a surprisingly catchy record. It has something for everyone, from the risk-averse pop-head to the eccentric audiophile, and it feels like neither facet is sacrificed for its counterpart. Sometimes, great songwriting can bridge the gaps between even the most unlikely audiences.

REVIEW: Dories - Outside Observer

Kelly Kirwan

Dories have taken '60s-inspired pop melodies and given them an atypical, post-punk edge. The Montreal-based four piece have found their niche in discordant melodies and low-key, if not indifferent, vocals—a sub-genre they've personalized and honed on their latest full-length album, Outside Observer. It's an apt title for a band that teeters between being pondering and blasé—kindred spirits to another prefix-dependent movement, post-modernism, in the way they shrug off convention for a more subversive, experimental bent.

Throughout the eleven tracks on Outside Observer, Dories emit a certain degree of intimacy. It's a plucky, do-it-yourself aesthetic, which makes it seem as if they’re a few feet in front of us in some quirkily-furnished basement, grandparental tchotchkes all around. It's not an amateurish vibe, just a spinoff of punk's underground, unfiltered persona. The vocals are often secondary to the bait-and-switch chord progressions, a hollow drawl rolling listlessly off the tongue, and on certain songs singing is absent entirely. Take the album's opener, "Pitt Hill Mine," which gently unfolds over the course of (roughly) one minute. It's a surprisingly subdued and minimalist track, drawn out in a low timbre. It's evocative of a muted, deep-sea sonar, a 77-second plunge into a vast expanse that feels both desolate and peaceful. It's a soothing springboard for us to begin with, before diving in to the more hurried pinwheel of tempos ahead.

Later on, we encounter "Arms & Legs," which even band member Josef McGuin admitted was difficult to perform at first. It’s a track that hits the ground running, with a repeated guitar twang keeping pace over a buoying drum set. For a song that clocks in at just under three minutes, the melody gives an impression of metamorphosis—it’ll rev up the percussion and then cut it out entirely, giving us a (comparatively) leisurely interlude based around twirling guitar notes. Then the drums come barreling in again, and once more we're propelled forward into a landscape that switches with the ease of a dreamscape. Woven somewhere among the beat, we hear Dories' signature monotone, "You’re talking less about where we are and your parents thoughts," with the later assurance, "You’re OK". These lyrics flutter lightly against the instrumental frenzy, and so they feel somehow subconscious. But they certainly linger.

For all the various genres and barely-subdued cacophony I’ve just described, Dories' songs are impressively succinct (the longest one lasts just over four minutes). They’ve managed to pick apart and repurpose elements of jangle pop, punk, and math rock into their own unique sound, and in the midst of all these references have carved out an identity that leaves a hell of an impression.