Shoegaze

PREMIERE: The Channels - See No Reason

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Phillipe Roberts

Deeply apocalyptic and hauntingly personal, the no-wave clatter of The Channels will give you the creeps for days on end in the best of ways. Led by guitarist-vocalist Wes Kaplan—whose solo project, The Craters, also released a phenomenal record last year—the band creates roaring rhythmic conversations, locking into hellish, nerve-wracking grooves that call to mind noise pioneers Arab on Radar and DNA and grinding them to pieces with caustic precision. The sounds are metallic and abrasive, courtesy of prepared guitar techniques paired with a minimal use of effects that envelop them in a sleek alien sheen. Even for the initiated, alien is probably the best description of The Channels. On their upcoming album through Drop Medium, Double Negative, an extraterrestrial heart attack with eerie hooks in all the wrong places, their formidable howling is magnified to hypnotic new heights.

Our first taste of Double Negative comes wrapped up in the controlled chaos of “See No Reason,” one of the more straightforward numbers that can’t help but come off as lightly anthemic despite The Channels’ fascination with the grotesque. Kaplan’s distorted guitar sirens square off against the powerful rhythm section of drummer Nick Baker and bassist Ian Kovaks (formerly of Guerilla Toss), weaving a flurry of delayed notes in between their unexpectedly funky backbeat. “Everyone knows it’s a fucked up town,” he chants in the breakdown, yawning with detached slacker coolness, perking up into echoes of “I see no reason / To stick around,” as the track tears off into oblivion. Like sleepwalking through a nightmare, Double Negative dances on the edge of fear with supernatural grace.

Pre-order Double Negative here, out April 13.

REVIEW: Somber - Night Divorce

Kelly Kirwan

Somber are a Portland-based four-piece who have drawn their soundscape in charcoal strokes—a sketch filled with black and gray hues, shadows and silhouettes outlined by crinkled edges. Pulling languid vocals from shoegaze and gloomy introspection from goth rock, they have cultivated a sound swirling with off-kilter synths and an uneasy daze. On their debut album, Night Divorce, these elements call you in over the course of seven tracks, beckoning you towards a darkness from a parallel dimension. The magnetic pulse of their melodies lures us into a surreal place, both unnerving and vaguely familiar, like a dream that left you caked with sweat and a spiked heart rate.

The feeling turns out to be intentional. Night Divorce uses lead vocalist and keyboardist Myrrh Crow's bouts with night terrors and sleep paralysis as a jumping off point, searching for resolve and relief. Speaking to The Portland Mercury, Crow recalled an inability to discern these dreams from reality, resulting in a haze that soon turned to torment. It’s a feeling that's emphasized on a track like “Soft/Stale,” where forceful patterings from the drums and thrashes of the guitar seem to swell inside a wide, rolling expanse marked by cloudy skies, with only glimmers of hope peering through occasionally. Crow’s voice gradually pierces the surface of the melody, moving up a notch in urgency from its more subdued, lethargic setting. “I’m a waking nightmare,” she sings, taking her time to enunciate and stretch the syllables in those last two words. 

The album inhabits a world somewhere between the one we live in and the one we dream in. It’s evident even in the naming of their tracks, which alternate between Roman numerals and more “conventional” names—a weaving of the rational and mathematical with the emotive and abstract. The numbered tracks all rest somewhere between one and two minutes; interludes between dreams that come apart and then reassemble. In one—the final track "IV"—a delicate piano forms the song’s base, giving us a rare moment of softness that displays Somber's ability to add a little gleam to their brooding. Of course, “IV” still incorporates a touch of dissonance but it’s much more subdued, and it leads us out of the dream and into waking life with subtle skill.

Closing Night Divorce on this more fragile note offers a sense of renewal, a certain peace after an all-encompassing, gripping and nuanced tumult. It tops off an overall strong yet thoughtful statement (especially for a debut release) that showcases Somber’s affinity for finding tension and contradiction, and using it to their advantage.

PREMIERE: Fir Cone Children - We Will Never Die (feat. Krissy Vanderwoude)

Kelly Kirwan

Fir Cone Children knows how to lay down a groove. Berlin-based artist Alexander Donat opens his latest single with a simmering guitar line, one that wriggles it's way between your shoulder blades and alleviates any trace of tension. You're left loose-limbed and ready for a sultry sway, nearly expecting the thermostat to rise from the warmth of the melody. "We Will Never Die" rolls on for just over two minutes, it's funk-laden introduction gradually giving way to mild doses of distortion, a few fuzzy garnishes for added texture.

Krissy Wanderwoude acts as the vocal complement to Donat, their airy pitches intermingling across the sound waves with a dreamy effect. Together, they create a relaxed haze that you would link to the happy lethargy of summer nights. Which makes sense, considering the lyrics, “It’s summer / Isn’t it / I know / 'Cause it’s so warm.” On occasion, the song swerves into what feel like small whirlwinds, interludes filled with slow-moving echoes, as if we were listening to them under water.

Fir Cone Children has crafted a song that captures the fleeting feeling of infinity. It brushes off fears of mortality and instead raises its hands to a beat that repeats, “We will never die.” And it’ll leave you feeling the same way.

REVIEW: Hooded Fang - Dynasty House

Kelly Kirwan

Dynasty House is a title you might expect to find on a thick, leather-bound book of epic poetry, its pages filled with far-off adventures and intertwined lineages. Instead, it’s stamped across the new EP from Toronto-based outfit Hooded Fang, a pairing of six tracks that feature ever-expanding melodies, jangly guitars, and vivid lyrics that return to a theme of exploration time and again.

Take the opener, "Queen of Agusan," with its murmuring vocals and bouquet of sharp, tangy notes that spiral in tandem, evoking a somewhat uneasy feeling—a countdown of dark inclinations. “She was nursed by spellbound waves / A seaside gem / She was raised by a monsoon matron / Becoming a stone’s stone,” we hear in a deep croon, as this mythic imagery sinks its hooks into us, leaving us enraptured by a story with a legendary strut.

"Nene Of The Light" has more of a bop to its step, a whistle-like note wafting its way across the melody. It’s a song that has an air of shrugged shoulders, with repeated lines like “I ain’t that holy” and “I like to pretend,” interspersed in a mood that’s somewhere between nonchalance and pessimism (“Drown in an hourglass / Build a castle instead”). It’s laid-back grunge with rolling percussion, lulling us into an almost meditative state even with its grit. It seems Hooded Fang don’t need thousands of words or pages to create an opus that conveys a world without limits. They’ve crafted a far-reaching canvas in under 30 minutes.

PREMIERE: Horse Culture - Texaco

Kelly Kirwan

Witchy. Ritual. Proto-minimal. These are just a few of the tags that Horse Culture have bestowed upon their sound, and even more specifically, their latest single, "Texaco." The Blacksburg, VA-based trio (comprised of Nika Karen McKagen, Timothy Jacob Hawks and Walter Melon Porter) have delivered a song that evolves from a subtle, easily-absorbed (if not foreboding) melody to a steady, metallic clash that still never seems to slip into complete cacophony. It’s a velvety style of goth that’s as deceptively mesmerizing and ominous as watching a candle flicker—suddenly you’re unsure of how much time has passed, or the exact moment you slipped into rapture.

In the band's own words, “Horse Culture strives for an emotional resonance in this slow trudge towards death.” Call it fatalistic or existential, but it captures the mood that is "Texaco." It's an uneasy feeling that first drifts casually into the mind and then takes over, raising the hairs on the nape of your neck and building to a climax of guitar-shredding, cymbal-slamming proportions. The vocals come forth, at times, in the monotone style of an incantation, as an eerie chorus of oohs drifts through the background, like a whistle in the wind. The lyrics are nearly lost in the array of looping chords and thumping percussion that gradually intensifies, but we latch onto them, like a guiding light in a storm. "Texaco" is curious track, evoking a sly sort of hypnotism that has us hooked long before we come to realize it.