Sludge

REVIEW: mayako xo - mayako xo

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Phillipe Roberts

mayako xo makes a terrifying first impression. Visit the Bandcamp page for her self-titled record and the “single” you’re treated to, “Ma Says,” is less a warm introduction than an attempt to drag you into a personal vision of hell. Its grueling eight-minute length and monotonous, looped central riff forces your ear to lean in to the subtle inflections: a delightfully soured vocal note, alternating dissonant scrapes up and down the fretboard. And all of this strung together by the subtle horror of a Shel Silverstein poem.

“And I ain’t too smart,” she intones in a dark, ritualistic voice, “But there’s one thing for certain.” Your whole body stands at attention. A lone bass note wobbles and dissipates, carrying all the air in the room out with it. “Either Ma is wrong / Or else God is.” The original work contains none of this horror, but it’s mayako xo’s ability to read between the lines, to seize those empty spaces and twist them into something deadly, that makes the album such an enchanting listen.

For a record composed mostly of droning passages and spoken-word self-dialogue, the hypnotic nature of the music allows mayako xo to slip right past you with unexpected briskness. Rather than build up to ear-splitting crescendos or massive beat drops, the artist siphons off the energy; these songs collapse rather than explode, shriveling up in a heat-death coma of eerie silence. Opening track “The Ship” seems to take particular pleasure in catharsis denial. The instrumental is the busiest on the album, a romp through clattering tom-toms and tambourines and a menacing, see-sawing flute sample. Her voice rattles off pitch-shifted entreaties to be made whole: “I hear you want me / Can’t you call me / Deliver me to me?” And then the bottom end falls out, leaving her voice twisting and distorted, curling off like smoke trails into the darkness.

mayako xo likes her darknesses vast, with plenty of space and reverb to the backing tracks. They sound distant in contrast to her voice, giving the sense that she’s singing along to music playing through the walls of a vast hall or church. Her breathy melodies are gritty and drawn out, wavering in and out and frequently complemented by a harmonizer that adds a second voice in a different pitch. On “Mud,” this secondary presence mocks her, chanting “I’m not anyone / I’m not anyone,” like a grotesque, nagging inner voice amplifying her most self-defeating impulses. On “The Truth,” the effect is angelic, soaring weightlessly over a heavy, doom-inspired guitar drearily headbanging in tow. But throughout the record, she keeps this juxtaposition of space constant; her voice drives the music entirely, never enveloped completely by the encroaching horror breathing down her neck.

mayako xo is a brisk journey through warped mental states, an excavation of personal truth through hypnotic ritual. Sparse yet alluring in its seductive simplicity, it’s a labyrinth of emotion whose details have to be searched with bare hands, hugging the walls to keep track of where you’ve been. There may not be any climactic hallelujah moment on the other side, but mayako xo captures the beauty of wandering the internal maze.

REVIEW: Haybaby - Blood Harvest

Kelly Kirwan

Haybaby is a band made for basement grunge bars—dim, purplish lighting overhead, layers of graffiti peeling off of the bathroom wall, old PBR sticking your shoe to the floorboards. The Brooklyn-based trio has turned it up for their follow-up to Sleepy Kids, weaving tension and full-fledged head-banging between the five tracks on their most recent EP, Blood Harvest. In the band's own words, their second coming is much more focused on "sludge pop," or the kinds of rock that teeter on the precipice of grunge and flirt with emo in its various resurgences. Their chords either slink along with a sultry, up-to-no-good demeanor, or are lost in a frenzy of heavy thrashing and strained, screeching vocals.

The track "What It Is" is the apex of the album's energy. It's quick and abrasive—a riot that stretches just over a minute. Heavy riffs pummel alongside furious vocals, like a blip of punk in its prime, where a good set left a guitar in splinters on the stage. It's the album's sharpest edge, for sure, reaching those biting levels the other tracks only sampled or teased. Lead singer Leslie Hong takes a backseat here, giving the track a predominantly male shriek that will make you flinch before flying into your own personal fury.

"Stupid," on the other hand, moves at a relatively slower, more controlled pace. Its tone is vaguely seductive, with Leslie Hong's breathy vocals wafting over a steady drum and bass line—a combination that feels both ominous and unavoidably infectious. The song circles back to Haybaby's favorite pastime on Blood Harvest, building that edgy anticipation and then giving us just a taste of release. Their music plays like a game of cat and mouse, always leaving just enough to the imagination to keep you coming back.

A similar track to “Stupid,” at least in tone and mood, is “Kramer/Dreams.” It drifts along with Hong’s nearly apathetic voice repeating, “You can only dream a dream / You can make your dreams come true / Do what you want to do.” The lyrics have such a dry delivery, that this push—to do what you want, deep down—certainly avoids any sappy pitfalls. And, at this point, we wouldn’t expect sunny cliches from these three. 

Released on Tiny Engines, Blood Harvest is an intoxicating banger. It’ll lull you into a brooding, dark calm and then send you flailing into a mosh pit. This trio has been on the watch lists for over a year now, and their latest work shows us they’ve cemented their spot. We see you, Haybaby.