REVIEW

REVIEW: Thanya Iyer - Do You Dream? Mixtape

Raquel Dalarossa

Montreal's Thanya Iyer calls her music "future folk." It's an apt categorization, not least because the future is, by definition, full of endless possibilities. Iyer—a vocalist, composer, producer, and bandleader—crafts music that is fanciful and roaming, incorporating bits of soul, jazz, electronica, and pop to build her own version of the future.

Formally, her band includes friends Daniel Gélinas and Alex Kasirer-Smibert, but the trio recruit plenty of contributors to complete their ambitiously lush sound. The experimental group will put anything at their disposal in an effort to enhance the textures in their music; on Iyer's debut album, Do You Dream?, released two years ago, Gélinas is credited for playing "dried clementine peels," but the percussionist can also be seen in a live video using two bowls of water for instruments.

Now, in a cassette mixtape put together for Topshelf Records, the band has revisited their album with fresh minds and fresh appetites for ever more exploration. The result includes three thoughtfully reimagined tracks and two new ones that dial back Iyer's orchestral tendencies in favor of something more intimate in character. Aided by the "Mawmz" choir (Brigitte Naggar, Shelby Cohen, Sarah Rossy), the tracks here have an especially dreamlike, ethereal quality when compared to their original album versions, but Iyer’s vocals remain the anchor to the constantly expanding and evolving landscape of sounds. 

"Daydreaming" gains a full minute of gauzy, sleepy rumination, while "Bridges" becomes an after-hours jam, the hushed vocals, atmospheric hums, and heartbeat-like drumming blending together like muted, watercolor tones on a creamy canvas. “Not Warm / Not Cold” jumps between choral a cappella sections and noisy maximalist ones before nestling into a warm nook, where Iyer’s honeyed, soulful vocals sit atop a bed of gently played keys and hi-hats. Finally, the two new tracks, "Water" and "Solace," round out the collection, the former full of inviting intrigue and mystery, and the latter a space-age lullaby.

With the tracks all bleeding into one another, they feel more like vignettes than fully formed songs per se, which means the mixtape is best enjoyed uninterrupted. But who would want to interrupt this all too short and tender ride through Thanya Iyer's imagination anyway?

REVIEW: Prism Tats - Mamba

mamba.jpg

Phillipe Roberts

A little advice when trying out Mamba: check your DIY at the door. Garrett Van Der Spek makes garage rock that’s a bit too plush for the basement. Cushioned with clean vocal harmonies, embellished with soft synthesizers, and sandwiched between a pair of spacious, downbeat crooning numbers, Prism TatsMamba tackles the genre with a smirking poise. The tempos don’t rush ahead nervously and the instruments knit together seamlessly, entirely devoid of rough edges. There’s a calculated energy to the affair that can’t be ignored. For devotees of the genre, crate digging for the latest blown out gem, its pristine presentation leaves a certain “rawness” to be desired. But even still, Van Der Spek’s clear ambition in flexing his songwriting chops and the unflinching swagger he carries into each song makes for a brisk rush of energy from top to bottom.

To call the production on Mamba “clean” is a raving understatement—this album is Department of Health Grade A spotless. Even its loudest, most chaotic moments, like the feedback eruption that closes out the title track, don’t come close to putting the meter into the red or producing the slightest unwanted artifact. On tracks with a serious amount of tonal variety, like “Vamps,” which thunders ahead with plenty of vocal effects swimming around two guitars, one bright and palm-muted and the other ringing like church bells in the pre-chorus, this streamlined sound works well. It brings out a tremendous amount of flavor that would otherwise get muddled. But on “Live Like Dogs,” whose glam rock design struggles to pull ahead of the typical guitar-drums-bass instrumentation, it saps some much needed unpredictability from a tightly written tune.

However, when Garrett Van Der Spek has a mind to twist a song with some newfound instrumentation, his instincts are spot on. “Daggers” hangs heavy on its festival-ready chorus, and rightfully so, but it's the woozy, flute-like organ swooping into the verses that turns it into something more than a straightforward anthem. And when he branches out into more exotic textures, the rewards grow exponentially richer. In "Ocean Floor," it’s refreshing to hear a drum machine bumping out a metronomic pattern on an album of explosive live drumming, especially when paired with a Robert Fripp-indebted guitar lead soaring in the background, sounding like “Somber Reptiles” from Another Green World with vocals. Indeed, the tracks that burn more slowly, taking on an almost ambient pace, feel like the next step in Van Der Spek’s evolution away from garage relics of the past.

Where his last record closed with the fuzzy, burnt-out strums of “Know It All,” this time Van Der Spek brings the lights all the way down for “Doomed,” an acoustic track that drifts away steadily like the end credits to a space western. Liberated from the burden of injecting that typical venomous swagger over bombastic riffs, a more introspective Van Der Spek mulls over his fate, turning into a more relatable and approachable character in the process. And as much as the polished punk pouting still remains compelling enough to keep you listening, it’s this side of Prism Tats that will keep you waiting for more.

REVIEW: Railings - ) (

Kelly Kirwan

Your first impression of Railings could be fleeting. Rich, jazzy notes will roll languidly from the speakers, and you’ll think you have them pegged; they’re a throwback genre, a bit of brass and a dash of rock n’ roll equals a group of hipsters guided by the mantra, what’s old is new again. But you would be wrong. For a band that’s named themselves Railings they’re not much interested in the guiding lines of genre, and because of this they’ve sidestepped the pitfalls of consistency (feeling contrived, and ipso facto boring). They’ve taken older influences and funneled them through a medium that’s perhaps best described as avant-garde. It’s as if Railings held up mirrors to idiosyncratic moments in music history and then beamed a composite of those reflections lightyears into the future as a base for the new human-robot race to play with. But luckily, for all their experimental sway, this Queens-based band actually exists in the here-and-now, with the recently released album for us to dive into: ) (. 

Alex Ian Smith tackles bass and guitar while also lending his vocals to the album’s ten tracks. In his softer moments, his pitch ever-so-slightly resembles the nasally intonations of Mick Jagger (think his reflective whispers in Angie). But Smith is his own man, and quickly takes this pitch and brings it to a punk-inspired precipice. His notes take on a serrated edge with his far-flung stretches, particularly in the song, Hell is Real, which is garnished with a spacey synth that feels inspired by a misty sci-fi film scene (courtesy of Ari Zeiguer) “Because when you feel it/You know you need it” Smith sings, emphasizing his words with a ragged earnestness, that just as quickly boomerangs back into a delicate croon. 

Then there’s the slyly titled, Blinded by the Blight, which opens with a skittering lower layer; like the garble of a radio wave gone haywire, or the near loom of a helicopter. The song shows off the prowess of drummer Julian Fader (of Ava Luna), in what feels like an uninhibited percussive streak. He takes the song–if only in spurts–into sweaty, closing in on mosh-pit territory.  Other highlights include, Raeliens, which absolutely drips with 80s synth. A touch of grit is of course served by Smith’s sandpaper shriek, but still, this song has the kind of bop that will spontaneously curl your hair into a flock of seagulls’ style by the end of it’s (roughly) three-minute span. And these three songs are just a slice of what ) ( has in store. 

But, if there is a single message that can be taken from this review, it’s this: Railings are unique. Genre-shredding, inverted parenthesis unique. They’re the sonic equivalent to Being John Malkovich, starkly different personalities letting loose in a single vessel. And hat’s off to them for that. 

REVIEW: Benjamin Muñoz - Dear Ennui

a0312815208_10.jpg

Kelly Kirwan

Benjamin Muñoz’s latest EP has an echoing quality; a tableau of tinkering sounds, soft metallic clanging, and delicate piano accents reverberating in what we sense is an otherwise sparse and open backdrop. These are beats that meet misshapenly; flooding the medium they’ve been given in each and every direction. We’re so used to following a logical path and development when it comes to chord progressions, hooks and their subsequent bridges, that Muñoz’s music jolts us with its side-step of a more popular structure. It’s a controlled chaos that he’s bottled, as if each track were a slight opening of Pandora’s Box, letting a little pandemonium slip through and interact with our gentler surroundings—in a 2 step inspired format. It’s a marriage of light and dark, disorder with an ivory-key rudder, and of course our versions of masculine and feminine. 

Take the cover for Dear Ennui, an anime spin-off whose portrait is in fact our highlighted artist, reimagined as a feminine version of himself in this signature Japanese style. It’s a parallel that not only represents a facet of Muñoz, but the ethos which drove his latest project and its titular track. Dear Ennui was largely inspired from the anime series Cowboy Bepob, which made Muñoz’s mind light up with twitchy disjointed beats that come across as a kind of pleasing morse code from the future—that have perhaps gone slightly haywire in the process of transmission. 

Dear Ennui begins with a kind of middle-ground cacophony, which drudges up vague resemblances to Nearly Oratorio’s track Occlude—as if it were a cousin whose lineage split into the UK garage, warehouse electronic campground. We hear snippets of vocals both from Muñoz and a feminine counterpart as the piano sets in, and it feels both rooted in the past and like a series of crossed signals in the present. Muñoz revealed that the feminine vocals are meant to be the personification of Ennui itself, and so the song plays a conversation in Muñoz’s mind—the tumult that comes with that creeping sense of listlessness, or to paraphrase his words, a kind of “spiritual boredom.” 

Then there’s Anchors, which intermingles a low brassy horn with its percussion and vague background notes of high squeaks—as if a record was quickly cut off before it could skip. Again, we have the male-female vocals in conversation with each other in the background, rising and falling gently against Muñoz’s hodgepodge melody. The trombone-esque detailing gives Anchors a rich weight—it fills the negative space that otherwise plays a part in Muñoz’s other tracks. Trying to catch the lyrics in Muñoz’s tracks is slightly difficult, as they're as effervescent as water slipping through cupped fingers. They’re like scattered thoughts, scampering through the synapses of Muñoz’s mind, come and gone in a moment. Because, at its core, Dear Ennui is a mix of the visceral and the conceptual—venues that rely on feeling and the abstract. They thrive on the experience, not the constraints of rational explanation.