Psychedelic

PREMIERE

Sun Kin // Miserable chillers - Adoration Room

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Will Shenton

When Kabir Kumar (Sun Kin) and Miguel Gallego (Miserable chillers) first met, they found that they had a lot in common: both were pop musicians, both were first-generation children of immigrants, and both had "fears about making art in a time where a tidal wave of history seems poised to crash down on us." But perhaps the most striking similarity between the artists is the playful sincerity they bring to their songwriting, allowing them to paint optimistic counterpoints to those anxieties. It wasn't long before they became long-distance collaborators, and Adoration Room is a sprawling, occasionally tongue-in-cheek debut for the pair.

Awash in everything from danceable synths to psychedelic guitars, Kumar and Gallego's voices and lyrical styles are naturally complementary. "I keep inviting you to things by accident / I swear this app was made to make me feel bad," Kumar sings on the wonderfully theatrical "Ringing," not long after Gallego gives us the vignette of "I thought of you at the bitcoin exchange / When we split a cab across town to the AMNH" on "Natural History." These little parodies of modern, digital life walk a tragicomic line, simultaneously seeming to mock their ridiculousness and empathize with the narrator. Maybe social media is a dumb thing to stress about, but it doesn't make the anxiety any less real.

Part of the appeal of Adoration Room is its tendency towards nostalgic reference, anchoring its contemporary woes in the comforting styles of the past. Miserable chillers' "Jamie" drips with Bowie-esque melodrama, while Sun Kin channels countless sultry, soulful crooners on opener "Veena." The list of homages and influences is too long to count, and the result is a sort of semi-satirical collage—some of the delivery is definitely goofy, but it's executed with the loving care of musicians who grew up steeped in the sounds they're channeling.

Replete with sometimes subtle, sometimes explicit nods to revolutionary politics ("Adoration, if all the work goes away and we're still / Paying for the leisure of the vain / Be patient, hope the guillotines have not been rent / Help me sharpen blades," Kumar sings on "Teri Ankhen"), the album regularly hints at a more hopeful vision of the future. But no matter how the tension between the socialist clarion call of "Teri Ankhen" and the dystopian, techno-libertarian tableau of "UBI" shakes out, Sun Kin and Miserable chillers are dedicated to at least one immediate material gain: irresistible pop.

Pre-order Adoration Room on Bandcamp, out 7/27

PREMIERE: Roman Jinn - Russian River

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Will Shenton

I often find myself using the word "transportive" to describe music—that which is evocative of a time or place beyond our own, whether in the past, future, or some other dimensional direction. But in listening to Roman Jinn's debut single, "Russian River," I'm inclined to use it in a different context. Like its namesake, this is a song that whisks the listener along from one movement to the next, never lingering too long on any sound but never losing its cohesion.

The track opens with wistful vocals over piano before exploding into what feels like a climactic, cloud-parting chorus, complete with high-pitched accents from an electric guitar. But then, just as soon as things start to feel familiar, we dive back beneath the surface into a meandering collection of free-jazz horns and ride-cymbal nonchalance, all before the first minute has elapsed. We return to the putative chorus once more before abruptly hitting the brakes, and the song melts into a sunny wash of throwback psychedelia to round things out.

There's structure to "Russian River," yes, but just enough to hold its wildly disparate elements together. If anything, it feels like artists Sahil Ansari and Eli Aleinikoff are showing off their control not just of instrumentation but of emotion—they're willing to dabble in longing and catharsis, but they refuse to be swept away by it. There's a stoic quality to the piece, which is a strange thing to say about a song that makes so much use of improvisation. I'm excited to see what other contradictions Roman Jinn manage to synthesize when their debut album, MNO, drops this spring on Massif Records.

REVIEW: Olden Yolk - Olden Yolk

Phillipe Roberts

Generously spacious but entirely unhurried, Olden Yolk’s self-titled debut swoops in with the right kind of confidence. Swaggering over with a combination of city slicker conversational chops and backwoods innocence, the four-piece turns on the understated charm in a big way to sell the heady concepts at work in their first collection of songs. One of the latest releases by do-no-wrong Chicago label Trouble in Mind, the album sets folk tunes written by the songwriting duo of Shane Butler and Caity Shaffer loose in a wilderness of experimentation, patiently allowing the krautrock impulses of drummer Dan Drohan and immersive ambience of guitarist Jesse DeFrancesco to re-write their DNA. The cross-bred end result is a fantastic hybrid that breaks down ideas in a quietly ambitious coup on the boundaries of folk.

Without giving away too much, Olden Yolk functions more like a laboratory for the varied tastes and influences of its collaborators than a firm statement of purpose. It’s a series of experiments in varying mixtures of hip-hop, psychedelic rock, and chiming folk. From the cinematic waltz of opener “Verdant” to the dusty, droning raga rock of “Takes One to Know One”, the band take a subtle touch in integrating those flavors into a worthy cocktail that can still leave you guessing. The sighing “Verdant”, for example, rides a beautiful descending melody into its sludgy “Happiness is a Warm Gun”-style conclusion, with a careful precision that negates any jarring uneasiness. What’s more, the ease with which they shift gears so early sets a precedent that makes future switch-ups fall more softly on the ear. Even in stretches that feel undercooked, like the intro to “Vital Signs,” which meanders a bit too long, you learn to keep a bit of faith that another titanic earworm is right around the corner. Give it time to spread out and even “Vital Signs” finds ways to surprise you, morphing into Stereolab-esque sunshine pop and taking a detour into dark, violin-screeching soundscapes on its way to becoming the most accessible song on the record.

“Vital Signs” is one of two songs helmed vocally by Caity Shaffer, and her songs further break the mold in contrast to Shane Butler’s more committed folk stylings. Mixed in with oceanic field recordings, her other track, “After Us,” is an elegant yet desolate ballad that forgoes any percussive chatter to float in its own gorgeous misery instead.

While Shaffer develops the more convincing atmospheres, Butler’s talent for brisk character portraits keeps the pace and mood generally elevated. He tends to wax philosophical, but from a place of friendly ribbing rather than high-horse mocking. “Cut to the Quick” finds its feet quickly, tearing off at a sprightly jog as strings weave in and out, but it’s the probing lyrics (“Did you find your way out / After rolling with the clique / Did you start to feel scared / Did you start to feel sick?”) that bring it home to roost, whether you’re the clique escapee or not. He yearns for more out of gray-brick city living, and wants to help you get there too: “If you come I’ll watch you talk / If you walk, I’ll walk along with you,” he coos on the rambling “Gamblers on a Dime.” Olden Yolk are far more interested in probing and encouraging your thoughts than imposing their own.

For all of these selective moments of individual excellence, it’s the all-hands-on-deck closer “Takes One to Know One” that works best as a statement of Olden Yolk’s driving purpose. Drohan lays down a note-perfect CAN beat straight out of Ege Bamyasi, DeFrancesco squeals out distorted out-of-phase responses, and the circular, acoustic guitar picking makes it feel like it could glide on forever, frozen in a strange dystopian ecstasy. “Have faith in dark days / They will turn around,” goes a group chant that functions as a chorus. For a project taking such playful leaps of faith and sticking the landing track to track, the cheesy platitude is dead-on as a mission statement.

REVIEW: Renata Zeiguer - Old Ghost

Raquel Dalarossa

You may have already heard Renata Zeiguer even if you haven’t heard of her just yet. The Brooklyn-based multi-intrumentalist and singer has, in the past, lent herself to bands like Mr. Twin Sister, Quilt, and Ava Luna. She grew up playing violin and piano, composing music from an early age. But despite releasing an EP in 2013 and one or two standalone singles since, Zeiguer has largely stayed out of the spotlight, choosing instead to debut some of her original songs through an outfit called Cantina. Now, at last, a full-length, solo album has arrived, and it feels like an instant classic.

Old Ghost tracks Zeiguer’s musical past, forming a sonic introduction to the artist that feels both whole and wholly compelling, as though listening to it is, indeed, knowing her. There’s a mischievousness that runs through the album, a product partly of the natural guile of her singing voice, and partly of the spunk she creates through very danceable rhythms combined with gritty and fuzzy instrumentals. There’s a raw quality to the recordings, though her vocals always sound close to the ear, like she could whisper without ever being drowned out by the music. She is part Rita Lee and part Kim Deal.

“After All” is a highlight on the album and a wonderful example of all these qualities coming perfectly into play. Here, a Habanera rhythm is paired with a playful, psychedelic discord as Zeiguer tangos with her own paranoia, while offering a nod to her Argentinian background. The lyrics seem to obliquely address the routine and ritual of social media (“Picture that and tag me in, I want them all to know…Counting all the affirmations helps to make it grow”), eventually untangling the mental consequences of it all (“Part of me is disappearing”). The dramatic, musical back and forth serves the lyrics deliciously well, as she sings “It’s all in my head, after all,” but as her voice fades to an echo and the noise melts away, we’re left only with a sadly sweet guitar riff that imparts the loneliness of being stuck in one’s own anxieties.

Zeiguer’s brand of pop is often both comforting and challenging at the same time, taking unpredictable melodic turns before giving your brain what it wants. “Bug,” for example, is immediately catchy but pulls back in the refrain, building up to a chorus of “aah”s that releases all the tension. The frenetic percussion in this song and throughout the album keeps things light even as the lyrics explore themes of aloneness, powerlessness, and regret. The title and final track reveals the “old ghost” that haunts Zeiguer to be a “voice repeating all the things I can’t undo.” Over rueful strings and an ambling bassline, she quietly confesses to feeling that she’ll never be able to shake this specter. But through repetition, the line “I’m never going to lose” evolves to take on a new meaning: that perhaps, she can resolve to overcome that feeling.

Over the course of just nine songs, Old Ghost sees an artist struggling to, but ultimately succeeding in finding her voice. One hopes releasing the album was an act, too, of releasing the shadow at her back, but the music itself won't fade from memory any time soon. 

REVIEW: Elan Noon - Have a Spirit Filled

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Phillipe Roberts

Like many in the current crop of jazz-aware crooners pulling away from the kitchen-sink psychedelia of recent forebears Deerhunter, Animal Collective, or Tame Impala, you’ll find Elan Noon’s mind sandwiched between Revolver and Rubber Soul. Spinning wry, observational tales of alienation saturated in tape echo, the Canadian multi-instrumentalist dabbles in the kind of mild-mannered psych that doesn’t lose its cool aiming to blow your mind. It’s worn-in and cozy like your favorite sweater. It goes down easy like a mug of hot cocoa. Warm, hazy, but with its wits still about it, Have a Spirit Filled, his debut, is stuffed with sleepy melodies that feel wise beyond their years. Though it conjures up a goofball inventiveness similar to semi-famous lo-fi loafers Mac Demarco and Mild High Club, Elan Noon cuts a divergent path through the familiar 8-track hiss.

Noon isn’t much for sarcasm; the most you’ll get from him on Have a Spirit Filled is a melancholy wink on closer “Feel No Dread.” No, his game is full-force sincerity and sweetness, a brotherly arm over your shoulder and gentle, whispered conversation through the bad-trip nightmare of life. Opener “Blue” lays it out quite nicely, welcoming you into the embrace of his world with a tumbling, fingerpicked motif that you’ll swear up and down you’ve heard somewhere else. “Don't you know that I pity you,” he sings, placidly staring through you with double-tracked vocals, “with all your little bells and whistles singing two different tunes.” His ability to create secondhand nostalgia, drawing you to a perfect summer afternoon for two with little more than airy slide guitar and his voice, is truly remarkable. “Blue” is more than vague familiarity. It’s the sound of Elan Noon picking the locks on a long-buried trove of recollection.

The acoustic tracks follow a similar thread, ambling down memory lane with a disaffected smile plastered on to hide the anxious sentiment bubbling underneath. “Vexed” is particularly affecting, with the pillow-soft hum of melodica as background to lyrics about simultaneously escaping and drowning in insincerity to the point of questioning your own experience, and “Unwise” brings in some Fleetwoods-style group harmonies for a heavenly interlude. These and “Grim Reaper” don’t quite reach the lofty heights of “Blue,” but they’re a fascinating exhibition for Elan Noon’s pensive melodic craftsmanship.

Of the two tracks that flex a rhythm section, collaboration piece “False Idols” is the clear winner. Its meandering electric piano melody flies all over the map, mirroring vocalist Suz’s incisive bourgeoisie mockery. “It's about / To be a bright shiny day / In the palm of your hand / Lest your data plan be withheld,” hits too close to home, but that kind of cutting sincerity, played out over a neck-snapping beat, is essential to Have a Spirit Filled’s surprising replay value. “Could It Be?,” while a convincing piece of kaleidoscopic '60s pop songwriting, doesn’t quite separate itself in the same way, coming off as too flimsy. Pleasant, but lacking the honest weight necessary to keep Noon’s buoyant visions grounded.

As a snapshot of a songwriter, Have a Spirit Filled doesn’t quite suggest a breakthrough into unknown territory. But it’s absurdly fun listening to Elan Noon poring over well-worn trails, investigating his own experience through a foggy pair of rose-tinted glasses, and well worth a spin or five.