Minimalism

REVIEW

Tony Kill - Love High Speed

By Phillipe Roberts

A genre-less expanse of frayed ideas, Love High Speed is a series of sonic detours taken with giddy abandon. Conducted by Washington D.C.-based artist Tony Kill, the EP presents seven smeared tracks that play right into the enigmatic presentation of their creator, offering little to no clues as to who, or what, we’re listening to beyond fragmented voicemails, clipped field recordings, and twisted singing that phases in and out of audibility. Let the constant distortion wash over you for the first listen, however, and you find yourself in a rich sonic world that makes a virtue out of misdirection. It keeps ambitions high even as the fidelity crawls deeper and deeper underground.

In contrast to the rest of Love High Speed, opener “Dolin Blanc” whistles its way in and keeps things smooth, much like the sweet vermouth that serves as its namesake. A sensuous bassline rumbles under gently splashing drums before dislocating from the groove entirely, playing against ambient swirls of guitar as the scene dissolves away from the pleasant morning reverie. Suddenly, a pen scratches out a signature, and a desk attendant asks if you need help with your bags. You’re fully checked-in to his surreal hotel now, and Tony Kill is free to really let loose for some twisted fun. Because for all of the sweetness and order of “Dolin Blanc,” it’s the rough-hewn weirdness of the rest of the EP that allows Tony Kill to really shine, unhinged from the expectation of providing anything for you to comfortably grip onto.

With the bouncing bass from “Dolin Blanc” still present as a holdover, Tony Kill begins his descent on “Heaven Sent,” charging through church organ swells with a chorus of Tonys proclaiming “You’re Heaven Sent” ad nauseum. Other indistinguishable vocals pour in, crying out with a kind of impassioned religious ecstasy that crashes over the main vocal in waves–a brilliant effect that sounds like watching someone have a mental breakdown in the middle of Sunday service.

Crafting these sharp moments of emotional tension is something that Tony Kill does remarkably well across the EP. Particularly so on “Drive,” where distorted shouts pile on top of a screeching guitar solo, which mellows out into a light, bluesy twang, before erupting again in chaos in a perfect mirror of the lyrics–“Intruder alert / Intruder alert.” But with all of this dissonance, Tony Kill isn’t afraid of a satisfying groove. Like the aforementioned “Dolin Blanc,” much of the EP ruminates on stretching simple ideas out into flavorful instrumentals. From the undeniably catchy krautrock pulse of “Gotta Turbo (Truck Stanley),” which almost sounds piped in from a Stereolab or Broken Social Scene rehearsal, to the industrial throb and burbling vocals of “I Am This Close,” it’s clear that Tony Kill knows exactly where to turn on the head-nodding charm.

Love High Speed ends with the instrumentally slight and vocally dissociative “Anyone.” Tony unspools a yawning manifesto, “I don’t fear anyone,” just twice over a creeping groove that hardly shuffles past the one minute mark. Thought it follows the disorienting, dubbed-out odyssey that is “Suddenly Unknow Everything,” “Anyone” feels like the perfect place to conclude his latest adventure–fearless and unphased, laughing in the face of any potential detractors before they even get a chance to respond. Love High Speed keeps you on your toes–and is well worth the disorientation–but don’t expect any congratulations from Tony for making it through to the other side. He’s above it all, distinctly unimpressed that you’re finally on his level.

REVIEW: Gorgeous Bully - Great Blue

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Kelly Kirwan

Gorgeous Bully have carved out a place for themselves in the realm of minimalist bedroom pop by giving their sound a razor-sharp edge. The Manchester four-piece have returned with a new LP, great blue, full of bustling melodies and a pinch of grit on each of its twelve tracks. They tend to keep their songs brief—the longest clock in at just over three minutes—making for an album that never drags despite its generally laid-back aesthetic.

great blue's title track is one of its slower, more meditative songs. True to its name, it conjures a calming, expansive ambiance reminiscent of the sea. The vocals are soft, delivered in a gentle cadence that weaves between a chorus of oohs, which add to its tranquil aura. Plucked guitar strings and tangy reverb billow out like soft ripples on the water’s surface.

Then there’s "can’t explain," which comes in just shy of the two-minute mark. It's a quick hit of nigh-monotone, chant-like vocals, like a little dose of reluctance to unpack more complicated emotions. Between punctuated percussion we hear the exasperated lyrics, “I was feeling strange that evening / Think it’s something I can’t explain … You didn’t get it / I said forget it / It’s just something I can’t explain.”

On "health," the drums are prominently featured, and rich guitars play a driving riff in the background. The lyrics “You take it out on yourself … It’s no good for your health” are a mainstay of the track, a mantra to avoid becoming your own worst enemy. It’s a loose, sunny melody offset by even-keeled vocals, exemplifying the balancing act that is Gorgeous Bully's style. great blue is expansive, with a certain fluidity between their tracks that makes each snippet meld into a seamless whole. It’s music that goes down smooth but still has a spark, and it’s worth diving into.

REVIEW: .michael. - Blustery Dreams Of Me Rendered Smiley Seeing You, Always

Laura Kerry

Our minds are good at filling in and creating meaning from what’s around us. Animation, for example, uses distinct frames with changing images that form fluid movements when we view them fast enough. Similarly, humans see animals in clouds and faces in food. Given the right stimuli, we make complete, vibrant pictures and stories.

In Blustery Dreams Of Me Rendered Smiley Seeing You, Always, .michael. makes a whole world from a clarinet and a guitar. A collaboration of Brooklyn musicians Winter Sorbeck and Michael Sachs—who on their Bandcamp page refer to themselves cryptically as Michael and Michael—the duo expands themes that they introduced in their 2015 debut, Home Is Where You Hang Your Heart Is. Perhaps it’s these kinds of evocative titles, or the handmade puppets on the cover of the new LP that recall Where the Wild Things Are, but .michael. begins to establish the dreamy, childlike magic of their music before the first notes play.

When they do play, those notes don’t disappoint. Blustery Dreams opens on “Never Come Back,” one of about half the songs on the album that include singing. In it, the vocals are delicate and unaffected, resembling the tender innocence of Sufjan Stevens as acoustic guitar and clarinet trade between melody and rhythm behind them. “I want to have a breezy outlook, drink lemonade / Climb that foggy mountain, plow right through those branches / Hold your hand,” they sing, ending the song on a sweet note after introducing an earlier lost love.

When .michael. includes vocals, the lyrics are often heavier than their sound suggests. “I’m really sorry that I made you fearful to the point of almost ruining my life,” they sing on “Tall in a Straight Line,” and “I’ve had a heartbreak for a while and I won’t be coming back for a while to this town,” in “Heartbreak.” From quiet combinations of voice and two instruments, .michael. weaves intricate folk and baroque-infused tales of sadness and glimmers of hope.

Even when they have no voices to carry the stories, .michael. paints vivid pictures. In songs such as “Tumbleweed of the Soul” and “Put Put,” the guitar and clarinet replace vocals, flitting around conversationally. With only two tools at their disposal, Sacks and Sorbeck cover a large swath of dynamic territory, sometimes squawking in anguish, flitting around nervously, or flowing romantically. In these moments, the listener hears an entire classical symphony in the spaces between the two instruments. The artists emphasize that leap with the only cover on the album, “One of Five,” which reimagines the first of Stravinsky’s series of piano duets, “Five Easy Pieces.”

Between folk songs and neoclassic covers, .michael. creates something that’s entirely their own. And throughout Blustery Dreams, they remind us of that with songs that are addressed to themselves—“Sorry Michael,” “Michael Doesn’t Remember,” and “Namaste, Mike.” Sometimes, the album feels like stepping into someone else’s dream, an intimate and disorienting exercise that leaves us with only hints and fragments of the whole. As is the natural progression of disparate parts, though, the dream eventually takes beautiful and cohesive shape.