Track Review

REVIEW: altopalo - Blur // Frozen Away

artworks-000311555364-9smr6v-t500x500.jpg

Phillipe Roberts

Off the radar for over two years since their last release, altopalo return to the fold with a double single that shows off just how far the heady pop quartet has gone in reinventing themselves. Before their hibernation, the band seemed animated by a different energy. The songs seemed to be in a constant state of eruption, tossing and turning with frantic eagerness to charge into the next stunning passage; theatrically bold, with a futuristic edge, their concoctions played like a youthful attempt to satisfy every sonic urge all at once. As thrilling as the productions were, consistency in mood was never a strong suit.

If their earlier songs cruised on a caffeinated rush, these new singles are the long-anticipated crash into calmer waters. “Blur” beeps to life, gliding in on soft synths and cocooning vocalist Rahm Silverglade in a soundscape awash in aquatic glitches—it’s as if the band is quite literally coming back online. Silverglade’s lyrics paint a grim, post-apocalyptic picture of a relationship gone awry, begging to be taken back while admitting that “it takes a little more than time” and selling it with his strongest pop delivery to date. The band uses complete silences to tremendous effect, receding completely before each emotional revelation and surging back in with a slinky R&B groove to take it into a despairing, finger-picked coda.

“Frozen Away” is cut from the same cloth, but probes deeper into the darkness. “Blur” dealt with the immediate aftermath, the bargaining and frustration of being cut loose from love. “Frozen Away” comes through like a fast-forward, lurching into the full-fledged despair of realizing that “we fucked it all up, and sold it away,” that things are too far gone to be repaired. Chiming electric piano smears with reverb against his voice, building to an anti-climax where the bumping beat slowly dissolves into the distance as the fade out chokes Silverglade’s voice. The resolution and, unfortunately, the full release of altopalo’s comeback record are far from here, but these slices of solitude will tide you over until the snow melts.

TRACK REVIEW: Relatives - The Ambiguities

relative.jpg

Phillipe Roberts

Cozying up to an ambling beat that drags its feet like it just got out of bed, Brooklyn duo Relatives spin a drowsy tale of wayward souls on new track “The Ambiguities.” The first taste of their tenth-anniversary record, Weighed Down Fortune, its weary shuffle and sleepwalking harmonies make good on all the promises of the title—good-natured folk anchored to the floor with a heavy heart.

Dual vocalists Ian McClellan Davis and Katie Vogel trade verses on the track, each occupying their own intensely pensive sphere. “Dark sister, she came to me in a dream / Shadows hung from her brow,” he sings, and she follows, “She came to me / Promised her whole self to these city streets / Lack of heat." Davis sings as if he’s just emerged from a dream, focused on scattered, fuzzy recollections, while Vogel takes a more direct tack. Combined, the two unspool the narrative from both ends, pulling apart an all-too-familiar story of desperation and blind faith.

They have their individual strengths, but the melody truly flourishes when their voices blend together on the chorus. The beginnings of a silver lining peak out from behind the clouds: “Swift and sure the carpet was pulled out from under our toes / But all will be made whole,” they sing, sounding less like they’re singing to reassure the “dark sister” or “sweet Lucy” than to keep each other warm.

With a sparse but soothing rhythm propelling them along, Relatives keep the pacing tight, delivering a bleak yet charming piece in less than three minutes. "The Ambiguities" packs a compact, heart-thumping wallop, making it an easy winner for a rapidly approaching winter.

TRACK REVIEW: Sun Kin - Under Standing Waves

Laura Kerry

At its start, Oakland-based band Sun Kin’s “Under Standing Waves” is all new-age reflection. Beginning softly, the song emerges with ethereal synths reverberating quietly as echoing vocals sing with restraint, “She has gone to bed just in case you come to mind / Her will to fight’s at rest until she wakes up after the night.” As new instrumental voices join in the first 30 seconds, the song becomes increasingly spacey and abstract.

The pure abstraction doesn’t last long; soon, earthy bass and drums enter, grounding the track in a funkier, psych-rock feeling. As new sounds emerge, they progress further in this direction until singer Kabir Kumar—now sounding clearer than he did in his opening croon—escalates into a poppy yowl that asks, “Can you FaceTime?” Set against strange, otherworldly synths, even this intrusion of a contemporary and concrete image doesn’t fully escape the reflective haze. The line comes across as a play on words, as likely to be interpreted as “can you face time?” Even when talking about an app, it remains in the realm of abstraction.

The song’s sounds also remain, for the most part, mystical. Despite the grounding elements and the clear vocals, the overall effect in “Under Standing Waves” is a floating, unearthly feeling; its momentum comes from alternating buildups and releases, and not pop structures. In the span of five minutes, Sun Kin takes you on an intriguing and transcendental journey.

TRACK REVIEW: TV Heads - Devotional

Kelly Kirwan

TV Heads have laid down their own credo, and to listen is a baptism in breathy, stacked vocals and the occasional jittery guitar line. It's punk rock diffused across a dark, dreamy landscape. The Los Angeles-based four-piece have said they live off a a steady diet of “post-punk riffs, raw vocals and electro textures,” and by adopting these elements they’ve created a new strain of sound—one that drudges up a certain deja vu of gritty rock n’ roll and surreal dips into neo-psychedelia. Their latest single, "Devotional," seems to splice together, or perhaps teeter between, those two styles. Stretching just over five minutes, the song feels like an odyssey, as spiraling guitar riffs build into static-trimmed crescendos with throbbing percussion. Rich notes splash across the melody like a vibrant hue of paint spattered across a gray canvas.

A feature of "Devotional" is repeated lyrics, which feel like a sly (and ever-so-slightly evolving) mantra. “Not gonna leave / You’re not gonna leave / You’re not gonna,” takes over the chorus as the song passes it’s halfway point, the words taking on a certain defiance. Angelica Tavella’s cadence adopts a slight warble as the guitars create a quick-footed and rippled line across the track. There’s a mounting tension, one that settles in your muscles and leaves you rigid until the frenzied release.

The curious allure of "Devotional" is how it can so swiftly offset the sandpaper touch of post-punk with a softer dream pop. It’s a song that swivels around these polar opposites, and never once loses its grip on our attention.

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.