Pennsylvania

VIDEO PREMIERE: André Costello and the Cool Minors - Kinda (Makes You Feel Good)

Will Shenton

Almost imperceptibly, an otherworldly shimmer hangs over the inviting roads and sprawling fields of André Costello and the Cool Minors' latest video, "Kinda (Makes You Feel Good)." Awash in Americana, from the classic car (with plenty of closeup shots of its well-loved gear stick and vintage rims) to the verdant, rural setting itself, it's an indulgently nostalgic road trip. But hovering at the margins are hints of psychedelia, promising that at any moment the scene might burst into kaleidoscopic hues and break free of the confines of memory.

Costello's songwriting on "Kinda" is characteristically smooth, channeling classic-rock grooves as his irresistible falsetto dances atop the instruments. The car meanders through the countryside, guitar solo tearing along, while the lyrics revel in the simple joys of escape and companionship. It's a relatively uncomplicated track, but a thoroughly enjoyable one that merges the comforts of the past with the promise of an unknown future.

Catch "Kinda (Makes You Feel Good)" on Costello's new LP, Resident Frequencies, out May 11 on Misra Records.

REVIEW: Palm - Rock Island

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Phillipe Roberts

In the race to classify the formidable sounds devised by Philadelphia-via-Hudson quartet Palm, genres are constantly tossed in and out of the running. Owing to their use of odd-metered melodies, math rock is most common, but universally rejected by the band themselves. Art rock comes in close second, a solid attempt at capturing the constant friction between the barbed abstractions etching their way across the songs. On past releases like last year’s Shadow Expert EP, where those jagged edges were a little more pronounced, that might’ve done the trick.

Less than a year later, sitting atop the treasure trove of marvelous tunes that is Rock Island, the problem presents itself again. Allow me to suggest a solution: Rock Island is Palm’s dream pop record. But beyond the typical sense of reverb-soaked vocals and extensive reliance on atmosphere, Palm returns with songs that speak the erratic language of dreams. Far from the disorienting structures that dominated their earlier work, the world of Rock Island is almost instantly familiar. Give your ears a few bars to adjust to the surroundings and each track begins to operate on an inviting and singular internal logic that only peels apart as its component parts fade into memory.

Question how those guitars are dancing impossible steps around the drums, how the dimensions of the songs shrink and expand so freely, or why steel drums of all things are just about everywhere, and you’ll scratch your head all day long. Sink into it, let it sweep you away, take in the hazy tropical scenery. The more you surrender, the more vibrant and addicting it becomes. Spend a day on Rock Island and you might end up pleasantly marooned.

In contrast to previous efforts, there’s an invigorating sense of conceptual wholeness to the proceedings this time around. Even as dual vocalist/guitarists Eve Alpert and Kasra Kurt develop further into their own unique styles, the grab-bag approach of yesteryear falls by the wayside. It’s almost a shame that Palm have moved in the direction of prominent vocals; the twin instrumental tracks “Theme From Rock Island,” a sprightly bossa nova jam, and “20664,” a taste of subterranean footwork, would make phenomenal soundtrack pieces if they weren’t busy populating Rock Island with strange flora and fauna.

But it's not much of a shame, as the vocal work on this record is razor sharp, with clearer presentation and direction than ever. “Dog Milk” is far and away the poppiest cut Palm has produced, with Kasra taking point on a rollercoaster of sunny Beach Boys harmonies surrounded by a glittering panorama of MIDI steel drums that’ll have you grinning ear to ear, and his turn on the lumbering 8-bit sunbather “Swimmer” adds a dreary touch to the Cluster-attempts-reggae backing. Eve Alpert is no slouch, outdoing her beautiful work on Shadow Expert’s title track with a few R&B vocal slides on prog-pop opener “Pearly” and taking lead on shoegaze fantasy closer “Didn’t What You Want Happen,” bookending the record with two takes on surrealist crooning. Drummer Hugo Stanley and bassist Gerasimos Livitsanos round out the band with locked-in, yet highly embellished grooves that propel a constantly undulating wall of sound through arrangements that, despite massive sonic shifts, never feel too busy or haphazard.

Rock Island is the first record where Palm truly settles into a consensus of sound, owning their position at the vanguard of a psychedelic renaissance, tapping into the subconscious for a futuristic vision that dwells on the boundary between inner and outer space. Catch a glimpse before they dissolve it entirely.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Grubby Little Hands - No Such Thing

Laura Kerry

Grubby Little Hands’ music video for “No Such Thing” is many things at different times. In the quiet build-up marked by the fade-in of voices and a slide guitar, the camera creeps up on a large stone house, looking ominous in a blue-tinted filter. Then, as the door to the house opens, both the song and shot brighten. A dancing woman sporting shorts and sunglasses, appropriate for the jangly tune that has emerged, leads the camera as she dances away, suggesting a lighthearted, party-themed video. From there, though, “No Such Thing” takes several delightfully strange turns, introducing an unexpected cast of characters, passing off a lip-sync among several idiosyncratic scenes, and dissolving into psychedelic effects.

From last year’s Garden Party—also an unexpected ride through bright pop, grungy psych, silliness, and seriousness—the video is the event that the album’s title suggests. In “No Such Thing,” Grubby Little Hands invites you to mingle among ‘60s-style go-go dancers, a cheerleader and a jock, a skateboarder, a painter on a pool table, and a baby wearing a shawl in a summery party that you won’t want to leave.

PREMIERE: QQQ - The Pharmacy

Kelly Kirwan

QQQ is an artist of few words. Or, at least, the “about” sections of his profiles stick to the essentials, simply labeling his music as electronic and dance. His sounds are densely packed, and as such, don't require a lengthy introduction. True to form, his latest track, "The Pharmacy," is an array of skittering synths that fall together in odd shapes and varied textures, backlit by a vintage computer screen. It’s a sputtering, digitized pattern that has few lyrics, all delivered in a warped voice.

QQQ has created a landscape with a foundation of ricocheting beats and hints of nostalgia—"The Pharmacy" is reminiscent of a switchboard overloading, full of wires short-circuiting as electricity courses through every socket. At one point the song takes on a crinkling, static trajectory that sounds like a distant cousin of a dial-up login. Towards the end, there’s an almost sci-fi turn, with a spooky, electronic flourish that might score a Hollywood UFO sighting.

With its revved-up synths, roiling beats, and retro sheen, "The Pharmacy" is a track that'll certainly give you your fix.

REVIEW: (Sandy) Alex G - Rocket

Laura Kerry

Some albums elicit strong feelings of place—the album that evokes the beach, the one that recalls a dingy basement or a grassy field. (Sandy) Alex G’s new LP, Rocket, perfectly suits a drive down a New England highway at the end of May, the environment in which I first heard it.

(Sandy) Alex G, the 24-year-old Philadelphia-dweller whose real name is Alex Giannoscoli, has made eight albums that span a wide territory of sounds, but have one place in common: the artist’s bedroom, where he records and produces his music. Over the years, his lo-fi indie sound has earned a cult following that led first to deals with Orchid Tapes and Domino, and then spots on Frank Ocean’s albums Endless and Blonde.

In Rocket, Alex G returns with that signature lo-fi style, but this time it's more direct and accessible, less shrouded in effects and esoteric touches. The often-cited Elliott Smith influence remains in sparse, downtempo songs such as “Poison Root” and “Big Fish,” but overall, the artist’s addition of banjo and violin on many tracks makes it a brighter work. Relying on those two country-associated instruments, “Bobby,” “Rocket,” and “Powerful Man” all reveal a different side of Alex G that feels more open, less internal. They're the kind of songs that invite you to roll down the windows and let in the early summer air.

Not all of Rocket is so breezy, though. The album is Alex G’s most accessible, but it is also one of the most varied. Next to the sentimental folksong “Bobby” is the shimmering electronic jam
"Witch," with echoing, affected vocals, followed soon by “Brick,” a fiery noise-rock song with the taunting refrain, “I know that you’re lying” (good for rage-inducing traffic jams on the aforementioned New England highways). Elsewhere, there are inflections of jazz in the mellow percussion, guitar solo, and walking bass-line in “County” and sax accents in “Guilty.” The flow of Rocket is confounding, but it manages to maintain a solid grip on the listener nonetheless.

As varied as the sounds and genres throughout the album are the stories that Alex G conveys. In speaking about his music, the artist makes a point of obscuring the origins and “real” meanings of his songs, which makes for a fun journey of the imagination and a limited set of Genius annotations. In Rocket, the lyrics seem both specific and universal, introspective and observational, personal and narrative.

In one of the album’s standouts, “Bobby,” the perspectives seem to shift around as Alex G and a female voice sing in harmony, moving between sides in a love triangle. In “Powerful Man,” conversational rhyming couplets move from a story about a baby biting a woman’s cheek to musings about fatherhood (“Guess it started with the baby / She went in for a hug then it bit her on the cheek / That was pretty funny to me / But I guess I should have more sympathy / I ain’t never raised a kid / But I bet I’d do a good job if I did”). Other songs include details (“Look how he tucks his shirt in” in “Big Fish”; the days of the week on “Alina”) that evoke vivid images but don’t amount to any cohesive picture.

On Rocket, Alex G shows his range and depth as a songwriter and apartment producer. With a song for every mood and a story for every situation, it’s an album to spend time with wherever you are this summer.