Song Review

TRACK REVIEW: Swoon Lake - Bloom

Laura Kerry

A couple measures into the crisp guitar arpeggios and a warm sweep of mellotron, Melodie Stancato’s voice emerges in “Bloom,” carrying strange images with it. “When the earth forgets how to decay / And when the ghosts can't remember what to say,” she sings reflectively, unfurling a poetic landscape in a sometimes-fluid, sometimes-sharp melody whose lines bleed into the next. This is the world of Swoon Lake, the Brooklyn-based trio—Stancato, Paul Weintrob, and Lucinda Hearn—who aptly describe their music as “ghost folk.”

“Bloom,” more than any song on their last EP, Like Being In A Mouth, is ethereal and abstract, guided more by mood and tone than structure. The guitar arpeggio continues through the song, guiding it with a steady rhythm, but the synth underneath lends a dreamy echo as other instrumental voices dip in and out. A guitar woozily wahs, keys step back and forth, and for a short while, quiet percussion lends a faint heartbeat to the otherwise disembodied song. Though hazy, the melody remains clear enough to maintain momentum and coherence. The track muddies a bit when an organ enters in the middle, but it is brief and the song soon darts forward.

Preserving clarity throughout “Bloom” are Stancato’s lush vocals. Just as the instruments drift into ghostly echoes, her voice shifts and slides unexpectedly. Sometimes it's deep and sturdy, soulfully sliding into words; other times, it's as ethereal as the song, wandering up into higher registers where it meets beautiful harmonies. Though the vocals provide no clear path through "Bloom"'s imaginative setting, they serve as welcome companionship for meandering. Swoon Lake has given us a welcome place to get lost in.

TRACK REVIEW: Eda Wolf - Rough Terrain

Kelly Kirwan

Dea Juris has a voice like satin with a vintage sheen. As the crooner behind Brooklyn two-piece Eda Wolf, her dreamy pitch pulls us into a haze of softly-rolling R&B with a groovy electronic undercurrent (courtesy of Emiliano Flowerman, the other half of this dynamic duo). Their latest track, “Rough Terrain,” has a nostalgic glint, a familiar melody that pours from the speakers like a long-forgotten memory.

"Rough Terrain" is easy listening at it’s finest, which isn’t to say it’s a simple track. Far from it. Shimmering percussion forms its foundation, as Juris’ voice teeters between a reflective, velvet tone and soaring, full-bodied notes. “I’ve done it all again,” she sings, one of the song’s repeated phrases, “Found myself in rough terrain again.” She takes her time over these words, punctuating each syllable so it hovers for a moment, emboldened.

And still, despite its tone of resignation, the track features a surprisingly sunny disposition. “Fill it up fully / Fill it up closely / Why don’t you ever pour it over? / Spill it like flowers / Spill it on concrete,” Juris sings, and it’s as if were wading through an afternoon reverie in which everything works out swimmingly. There’s a nonchalance and warmth to "Rough Terrain" that’s absolutely addictive.

TRACK REVIEW: Smalltalker - Cassius

Laura Kerry

When one thinks of the sounds of Burlington, Vermont, it’s likely that twangy banjos, earthy acoustic guitars, and the occasional artisanally hand-carved shaker come to mind. Perhaps one envisions these instruments all gathered around a fire pit.

For Burlington-based Smalltalker, though, the fire comes from their music. The band, comprised of an expanding and collapsing crew of musicians, plays soul music. They describe themselves as a group of “friends, and those friends’ friends,” and that kind of congeniality shows in lively tracks with a rotating cast of bass, guitar, drums, keys, and a horn section.

Their latest song, “Cassius,” off of the recently released Walk Tall, showcases the best of their shifting configurations. On the funky, R&B side of soul, the track begins with with a danceable beat and groovy bass line before languid horns enter to push against them. Borrowing its title from the birthname of Mohammed Ali, the song carries a fight metaphor through both in its lyrics and musical composition. Vocal lines swap punches; instruments bounce in place before going in for a jab; and in a slow-jazz interlude towards the end, the song takes a breather before heading in for the last round. Also like a good boxer, it seems measured in its approach, acting deliberately at each turn of the song. What it lacks from its sporting metaphor, though, is a sense of out-of-control feistiness that you can easily imagine Smalltalker achieves in a live show. If anything, “Cassius” feels a little too controlled, too consistently coy.

The most exciting moments in the song occur when the different parts, particularly the vocals, break their usual mold. In the bridge, for example, the bass changes from its usual rhythm to a double thump, like a heartbeat, underscoring the mounting suspense as the music pushes towards the end. In the second chorus, the singer falls out of the melody to speak the words “shuffle” and “trouble,” emphasizing these breathless moves. Finally, at the end, after a song dominated by its instrumental parts and scrappy lyrics (“you won’t ever hear me apologize”), the band drops out and leaves the vocals alone in delicate harmony to sing one last “float like a butterfly,” without the stinging second half of Ali's famous phrase. After a full and vibrant fight song, Smalltalker leaves us on a pretty and satisfying note.

PREMIERE: The World All Around - Gone Be For Lovers

Will Shenton

It bums me out that we don't get a lot of vast, dramatic ballads these days. Maybe it's just the fault of my own little myopic bubble (every time I lament the loss of some genre, I get badgered with a dozen counterexamples until I concede on grounds of attrition), but it seems like the border between cerebral experimentation and guitar-solo catharsis is often a little too stark. That's why The World All Around's debut single, "Gone Be For Lovers," is so damn refreshing.

It opens on a quiet, crescendoing orchestral progression, overlaid with the shimmering sounds of hammered-on guitar strings, before abruptly resolving itself into a wash of synths and Arp's understated vocals. The first instrumental chorus introduces a soaring guitar arpeggio, which subsides back into the verse before it can completely resolve. But then, after another moment of relative stillness, "Gone Be For Lovers" explodes into one of the more brilliantly cathartic lead guitar licks I've heard in a long time.

The song is fairly short, coming in just under three minutes, but it doesn't feel like it needs to be any longer. It manages to distill the energy of more meandering tracks into a concentrate, using the well-trod structure so artfully that its resolution is absolutely satisfying. The group itself is a duo consisting of Hayden Arp (whose solo work we've written about before) and Griffin Jennings, both students at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. The World All Around is a new project of theirs, and with a debut this strong, we hope "Gone Be For Lovers" is the first of many things we'll hear from them.

TRACK REVIEW: Fond Han - New Alright

Kelly Kirwan

New Jersey-based group Fond Han is awash in crinkling, blue-feeling indie rock. A certain static coats their guitar riffs as world-weary vocals waft through, and facets of punk and prog deliver a rough touch that doesn't aggravate. Fond Han has a taste for the mismatched rhythms so often associated with math rock, and their songs have no idle space; they're filled to the brim and overflowing with fuzzy edges. Their latest single, "New Alright," naturally follows suit.

The track opens with tangy guitar strums and a nasally pitch that twists and bends towards the end of its note, with just a small dose of distortion, as is Fond Han's style. The tension builds over its three-minute span, the vocals morphing into an angst-riddled, airy shout as the instruments swell and then topple over one another. There's a guitar skittering out, a quick pattering of drums, and a moment of sonic anarchy that grips us, and our emotions spike with feelings of earnest desperation, a kind of riot against everyday ennui. The lyrics are often shrouded by the melody, which crackles with the white-noise intensity of a shoddy phone line—an element which very much jives with their haywire style.

"New Alright" offers a sullen sort of catharsis, a rallying cry for nonconformity that manages to bypass the pitfall of feeling contrived. But then again, this is a band that's taken up the genre labels of "rink donk" and "shark doom," so convention has never been their benchmark. That's a good thing for anyone who gets the chance to listen.