Seattle

REVIEW: Lushloss - Asking/Bearing

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Laura Kerry

Music usually tells simple stories through small lenses. At most, it uses two voices to convey its messages. There are hidden meanings and vignettes that bleed out beyond the edges of a song, of course, but for the most part, the listener can discover the main frames of reference and through lines. Music tends to favor emotion over narrative complexity.

Lushloss’ Asking/Bearing, on the other hand, manages to emphasize both complexity and emotion. Her debut LP is technically a double album, but it sometimes doesn’t feel like an album at all. In the first part, Asking, the Seattle-based artist (also known as Olive Jun) weaves together dialogue, keys, glitchy hip-hop beats, and heavily processed vocals to form something that sounds part radio diary, part audio art piece, and in what remains, deft electronic pop.

The album begins in that last mode. Starting with a soft piano ballad and a gentle vocal melody saturated with effects, the opener “St Marco” builds to a sparse but crisp beat. As the music starts to fade, though, two voices come in, sputtering and speaking over each other. The conversation settles, revealing the Skype call between Jun and her mom that is the foundation of the rest of the album's first half. After each song in Asking, the dialogue returns, often where it left off. Throughout, the two speak from a geographic distance—Seattle to Korea—and a generational distance, but also with the closeness of mother and child. There are moments of discomfort, like that first one, in which Jun’s mom says her trans daughter’s name from before she transitioned; moments of trying to bridge the divide, like when Jun asks her mom, “When did your dad die?”; and moments of mundane logistics, as when her mother starts to plan the next trip.

It’s a complicated story—as much as any cross-section of life could be called a story—that brings up family history, cultural divisions, illness, and coming out as trans to older family members. In the end, though, it circles around the two checking in on each other. After Jun spends much of the conversation asking her mother questions and supporting her through her own mother’s illness (“I just hope you’re okay,” she says at one point), the final piece of dialogue ends with the mother saying, “You have to be okay until we get together.” It’s a jarringly touching moment, heartbreaking because it’s so intimate and raw.

Between the dialogue, Jun’s music complicates the narrative. Sometimes songs intersect with conversation—“St Marco” and “Sisters” each deal with family relationships, and in “Gutter,” the singer asks, “Have you called your mother today?” Most of it wanders elsewhere, though, suggesting a life lived in parallel to the one we can glimpse in the phone call. “Clark, WA,” a moody, guitar-driven track, seems to tell the story of an imbalanced past relationship; in “Sheet,” a delicate but hopeful-sounding song, Lushloss sings, “I’m so tired of feeling tired today”; and in “Yana (Interlude),” the bridge between Asking and Bearing, Lushloss plays a slightly sped-up recording of a voicemail for a person far away, this time with seemingly romantic overtones.

None of that distracts from the call, which comes to form the central narrative. And neither does the album’s second part. Much more straightforward electronic pop, the five songs on Bearing provide welcome companionship for the reflection required after Asking (and they probably deserve more critical space than sharing a bill with Asking affords them). Asking/Bearing is rife with voices—not just the mother-daughter duet, but the artist’s voice processed to different pitches and tones, tapes of friends speaking, field recordings, electronic and acoustic instruments—that tell separate and intersecting stories. At the end, though, as the beat and bare vocals on “Gymnasium” glitches and fades, Lushloss leaves you with an intimate sense of her as an artist and the intimacy that seeing someone so closely can create.

REVIEW: Hoop - Super Genuine

Laura Kerry

“When you push, I draw back / Then you hide and I want more.”

In the new Hoop album Super Genuine, this line from “Folded Impulse,” featuring Allyson Foster, describes the inverse relationship between two people. When one person does something, it provokes the opposite reaction in the other. To illustrate the point, Foster and Caitlin Roberts, the band’s frontwoman, sing a soft call-and-response, both their voices quiet and delicate.

While many of the most emotionally vulnerable albums mine the artist’s inner thoughts and feelings, Super Genuine remains mostly outward-facing. Like in “Folded Impulse,” it examines the relationships between various points—friends, lovers, family. Hoop, which began as a duo in a small town in Washington, has slowly transformed into a quartet that grew out of Roberts’ new home in Seattle—called the “Womb Room”—with housemates-turned-bandmates Leena Joshi and Pamela Santiago (Inge Chiles joined later). The first album they've made together reflects the closeness that comes from sharing a space and, as the name of that space hints at, feminist sensibilities.

Throughout Super Genuine, Hoop explores vulnerability through connections with others. In the opener, “Marlin Spike,” Roberts sings, “You hate to tell me you’re scared to lose me / You hate to tell me you really need me” in a quiet song about falling for one who won’t open up. In “Skiptracer,” Hoop offers support and counsel to an addressee named Michael, who is similarly inhibited. “Surrender yourself,” she sings, “And at the same time explore yourself.” At other times, Hoop is happy in the face of love. In “Good Dregs,” she sings, “It's the right time to learn something new / To learn new ways to love you.” In “Baseboard” (featuring Briana Marela), Hoop is defiant, proclaiming that there are limits to what she can give without return. “I’m not here to please you,” she sings. “Nothing can make me stay.”

Even when strong and defiant, though, Hoop sings in an ethereal, childlike voice. Most of the time, this emphasizes the emotional potency of the music. In combination with simple guitar patterns, it occasionally sounds thin—lacking the grounding that Hoop has in their lyrics. True to the legacy of their location, the band also plays with a heavier, grungier sound at times. “To Know Your Tone” (featuring Allyson Foster), “Drawn To You,” and “Send Purpose Down” all feature fuzzier guitars that comprise a full, shoegazey style. Elsewhere, Hoop fills in their sound with layers of harmony, beat loops, and shimmery synths.

Among more common contemporary genre markers on their Bandcamp page, such as “pop” and “alternative,” Hoop lists “feelings.” Though the songs are light and melodic, that dimension of Super Genuine does require some effort on the part of the listener. Hoop doesn’t just confront the subjects of their songs, they also address the audience. Ultimately, though, the album is cathartic. It is, as they say in the optimistic glow of the final song, “Bask In Easy Tone,” “water to wash [our] hands.”

PREMIERE: Goodbye Heart - Prospect

Seattle's Goodbye Heart has been one of our favorite surprises to come out of the Pacific Northwest in the last two years. Nila K. Leigh and Sam Ford are a relatable duo, but one that's embraced an ethereal aesthetic without hesitation. Their debut EP, Restless Nights, conjured up images of mid-'80s melancholy, and their latest single, "Prospect," continues that trend while building upon it with more mature production and songwriting.

It's a complex track that doesn't flaunt its intricacies, choosing instead to blend them into a wash of subtly insistent synths and samples. The opening lyrics, "Old heads / They're calling / Want something / Like they know me," imply a sense of coercion, as if the singer is set upon by voices insisting he act against his own interests. But Ford's vocals are defiant, asserting that he has "a new best friend"—the closest any of us can come to a savior.

Along with Leigh's accents and harmonies, "Prospect" becomes a hopeful track, overwhelming its negative forces through sheer force of will. Though we're disinclined to presume any literal narratives without the artists' say so, to us, this is a song of self-affirmation and solidarity. Among the other three tracks of Keep Me Close, it's one of the more pensive, foregoing pop catchiness in favor of emotional impact. And given the range we've seen from Goodbye Heart over the years, this is going to be a hell of an impactful record once we hear it in full.

Goodbye Heart are premiering a new track from Keep Me Close every other Friday, so keep an eye out for the rest this summer.

REVIEW: Pillar Point - Marble Mouth

Laura Kerry

From the hokey-pokey to hanging in da club, dancing has a longstanding reputation as a joyful activity. But as moshers and The Eagles know, there are many other reasons to dance: some dance to remember, and others dance to forget.

Pillar Point, AKA Seattle’s Scott Reitherman, embraces the many causes that encourage a person to move his or her body to music. His sophomore full-length, Marble Mouth, swings between synth pop, indie pop, and a touch of experimental, but pulses the whole way through with movement-provoking beats and synth lines. As an album that includes songs called “Part Time Love,” “Gloomsday,” and “Underground,” though, most of the pulse derives from something other than pleasure. The final song’s title and refrain expresses it best: “Dance Like You Wanna Die.”

I suppose we should expect a hint of gloom from an artist whose is always pictured in black-and-white or warm-colored, faded portraits, looking out into space. If anyone can produce dance music that is also pensive, it’s this fellow, who, in the first song on the LP, declares, “I can’t stay cool / I’ve tried." Self-reflection, generally reserved for quieter milieus than dance, creeps in elsewhere, too. In the chorus of “Strange Brush,” a darker song whose bass line and surreal imagery recalls Of Montreal at points (not the only song that does), Reitherman sings, “Strange brush, paints me in ways that feel strange”—touching on the song’s theme of being cut off from one’s perceptions. “I shake my own dreams in the rhythms / But heaven will never make sounds,” he says in the verse, dancing again for reasons other than happiness.

So what are other reasons to dance? Maybe it's been raining for a while and you're cooped up and restless. In “Gloomsday,” Pillar Point samples Seattle's rain-drenched weather report for the first minute before launching into a droning road-trip tune (“turn up the speakers, forget the rain”) turned party hype song (“I want to take you to the party tonight”). Maybe a relationship is falling apart, as in the soulful “Dove” with its warm synth arpeggios. Maybe you’re just feeling playful (and tripping?), like with the eerie instrumental voices and pounding bass of the twisted, psychedelic funk in “Playtime.”

Throughout Marble Mouth, Pillar Point spins propulsive beats and sometimes twitchy, sometimes echoing synth layers that bring to mind dancing weirdly and wildly in dark rooms. But despite a sound that is at home in a dance venue and a voice that tends to lean towards the robotic, flattening end of effects, the album mostly remains human and warm. “I lost my peace in the crowd noise,” he says in “Strange Brush.” Sometimes, though, it’s noise—and the movement it causes—that allows you to find peace.

REVIEW: Seapony - A Vision

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Will Shenton

There are a few albums out there that feel so natural, almost inevitable, that I end up with very little to say about them after a first listen. The last track fades out and the only thought I'm left with is, "of course that's what it sounded like, how else could it have gone?" It's not an indictment of the songwriting at all—in fact, it might be one of the highest compliments I can give. And it's exactly what I was thinking as the final few notes of Seapony's third LP, A Vision, scampered out of my stereo.

The record opens on a sound that's become pretty familiar these days: the rough, echoing beat of a lonely drum machine. I think it's officially something of a trope now (one that I love deeply), meant to convey a bit of self-deprecation before the band really gets into it. "We're not trying to be virtuosos," it says, "so let's all just kick back and have fun for a bit." After two measures, that's exactly what Seapony does.

"Saw the Light" sets a beachy, lackadaisical tone that sticks around for the rest of the album. Even when the mood varies a bit, the fact that these are all sun-drenched, slightly-melancholy love songs is never far from the listener's mind. It's not repetitive or bland, they simply manage to pick a theme and stick with it.

None of the tracks are particularly long, with "Hollow Moon" taking the lead at a radio-friendly 3:22 (the entirety of A Vision is barely over thirty minutes). Seapony clearly like to keep things moving, which meshes well with their style—no individual track is going to blow your mind, but taken as a whole the album crafts a beautiful tapestry of different sounds. There's everything from Best Coast-esque surf rock ("Let Go") to straight acoustic folk ("Go Nowhere"), all of which complement each other brilliantly.

My only worry was that, being such a short record, A Vision would be as ephemeral as each of its component pieces. Instead, that's turned out to be a strength. Because it isn't an hour-long slog, it never becomes a chore like so many other hazy surf-pop albums can. This is bite-sized in every way, from the songs to the LP as a whole, making it easy to come back and listen to over and over. I guarantee it'll be seeing heavy rotation in your car for the rest of the summer, and probably quite a bit beyond.