Virginia

REVIEW: Twain - Rare Feeling

Phillipe Roberts

Blessed with a honeyed voice that overpowers even the bitterest sorrows, twain singer Mt. Davidson probably gives one hell of pep talk. Rare Feeling, the latest offering from the alt-country outfit, gets under your skin with an unflinching optimism that, if it didn’t feel so hard-won or well intentioned, might come off as forced. But like a best friend poking at your ribs until you see the brighter side, or an angel on your shoulder pointing you towards the high road, Davidson and co. deliver a rambling, feel-good sermon of a record. As the seasons turn towards introspection, twain make a golden case for turning your heart outwards.

Tucked away in the middle of the record, the central thesis of Rare Feeling rings out like a glass-half-full plea for hope: “Life won’t last long / For those who hate it / For those who love it / It lingers on like a dream.” The song in question is “Freed From Doubt,” a rose-tinted reverie of a solitary smoke break given over to Zen-like brooding. It's the album’s shortest track but nevertheless serves as a kind of mission statement, pulling the overarching lyrical themes of gratitude and acceptance to the fore. Front to back, Davidson sings like a man reborn from the ashes, alternating between yearning for spiritual guidance (“Rare feeling / Visit me and set my mind at ease” on the title track) and celebrating the wondrous now (“Lay down with / The beauties of this earthly world / I think they want to lay down with you” on "Solar Pilgrim"). Combined with a voice that can smoothly shift gears from delicate cooing into commanding operatics on a dime, it's quite a potent formula.

As for arrangements, “Freed From Doubt” provides further illumination. A lovely guitar figure, reminiscent of the work of electronic folk maestro Bibio, plods along, knitting itself around Davidson’s charming melody like warm thread. Sparse but jaunty drums bumble around underneath, buoyed by a bass that snuggles up close to the guitars and doesn’t let go. The majority of the record takes a similar form. On "Black Chair," a piano occasionally creeps in to heighten the tense drama of romantic loss, while on “Good Old Friend (For Charlie)," flutes breeze by to serve the song’s majestic beauty, but overall, the band tends to hang back, happy to let Davidson lead the proceedings. When they leap out to the front on the slow-churning confessional “Rare Feelings v. 2,” the piled-on distortion achieves a stunning effect.  You can practically see the sweat dripping down Davidson’s face as the church walls melt down around him.

Wearing these gospel influences like a badge of honor, Rare Feeling finds its surest footing when submerged in the hymnal qualities that elevate its country blues to the level of soul-breaking catharsis. As the lights dim on the shuffling chant of “I’m never going down / Even if they all pass me by” on closer “Good Old Friend,” it seems like the track could and should go on forever. Davidson's voice dissipates into the ether but the chant snowballs into a defiant, angelic chorus. It's exactly the kind of moment of muted thunder that keeps you coming back for a shoulder to lean on.

REVIEW: Turnover - Good Nature

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Phillipe Roberts

Between each track on Good Nature, the latest LP from pop-punk trio Turnover, gentle drones overtake their chiming melodies and slide from one song’s key into the next in a cinematic dissolve. It’s a trick they’ve used before, albeit more tentatively, on Peripheral Vision, which found the band rounding out those jagged edges and wading into dreamy, rippling sonics. Now, those details are magnified and expanded; with Alex Getz’s world-weary vocals still far out in front, they serve up slice after slice of deliciously lovelorn, twilight pop. Good Nature finds the band diving even deeper into this newfound affinity for soft crooning and sun-kissed hooks, embracing what could have been a pleasant detour to tug at your heartstrings while their heads swim even further into the clouds.

Far from abandoning pop-punk’s heart-on-sleeve urges, Turnover’s increased focus on atmosphere reinforces them. It’s an approach not dissimilar to kings of soundtrack rock Explosions in the Sky: interlocking guitars shimmer, drums splash and thunder in equal measure. When the band dishes out longer instrumental passages—album closer “Bonnie (Rhythm & Melody)” being the best example—it’s not hard to imagine these searching sounds swirling through Friday Night Lights, and harder still not to wish they’d explore that territory even further. At their best, there’s a sweetly autumnal quality to the music, a sense that something—pride, confusion, or even old musical habits—is drifting away.

But habits die hard, and Alex Getz’s vocals are still firmly rooted in the yearning delivery that characterized their earlier records. And while smoother production succeeds in shifting it towards dreamier pastures, listeners with a knee-jerk aversion to that whining sound might find it hard to ignore.

Thankfully, his lyrical themes have kept pace with the band’s rapid stylistic shifts. Abandoning the scarred, angst-ridden bitterness that occasionally crept into their last album, Getz turns in a more measured, focused set of songs this time around. Peripheral Vision's “I Would Hate You If I Could,” with its tirade against a supposedly “meaningless lover” despite a seething song to the contrary, seems miles away in the rear-view mirror from Good Nature's “All That Ever Was,” with its mantra-like exhortations to “Take what you’ve got / Give it away / It never belonged to you in the first place.”

Indeed, across the album, there’s a sense that Getz is making peace with transience and letting go of a youthfully misguided sense of absolute right and wrong. “What Got In The Way” sees him confronting that directly with an admission that “I don’t know what’s good enough / But I know I need to change my mind,” as a gliding guitar riff pushes him through the current. Considering their harder-edged past, it stands to wonder if the breezier soundscapes are driving this lyrical impulse towards introspection, or vice-versa. But wherever that feedback loop begins, it works beautifully.

“On the last weekend before the fall…” is where we begin Good Nature, and in many ways, that’s where we stay for the entire record. With its crystalline production never showing the slightest cracks—an encore performance for Peripheral Vision producer Will Yip—Turnover preserves those fading summer rays in amber, bundling up in nostalgia while simultaneously leaping forward.

REVIEW: Camp Howard - Juice EP

Laura Kerry

Richmond, Virginia-based Camp Howard take their name from a place that holds special significance for much of the group. Three out of four members of the band—Nic Perea, Wes Parker, and Brian Larson—have known each other since they were 14 (Matt Benson joined the band later), and their music reflects the chemistry that comes from playing and drinking beers by a Virginia river together for a long time.

In their new EP, Juice, released on Egghunt Records, Camp Howard lives up to the summery vibe implied by their name. And anytime the image of beers on a river and a group of college-aged dudes arises, the term “slacker” is sure to follow close behind. With their sometimes-jangly, sometimes-fuzzy guitars leading their indie rock and post-punk sound, Camp Howard does brush up against slackerdom, but their precision and smoothness stop them from going beyond its edges. There's no attempt to disguise the fact that Juice is a thoughtful and polished effort.

One of the most polished elements of the EP is the vocals. Even in the most punk-heavy tracks, like “Fucked Up,” “Country,” and “I Will,” the singer’s voice is smooth and dulcet. Camp Howard has a knack for using harmonies in a number of different contexts to wildly different effects. In “Haircut,” the opener with a jangly guitar and magnetic beat, the sunny harmonies recall The Beach Boys. On “Juice,” a song adapted from an electronic version, the touches of male-female duet sound both sweet and unconventional as they sing, “I will always be yours.” In “Fucked Up,” they add drama to a driving, post-punk chorus, and in on the bridge in “Country,” they lend a pretty respite that resembles Grizzly Bear amid an otherwise intense, fast-paced song.

While the vocals remain consistently pretty and refined, the sounds shift around them. Though they employ the same instruments throughout, the percussion ranges from groovy and sharp in “Haircut” to explosive and propulsive in “Fucked Up”; guitars span from bright and open on “Mismo” to grinding and aggressive on “Country”; and other voices emerge surprisingly—a spacey synth in “Country,” a tambourine on “Juice.” Themes switch from being too drunk to have sex (“Fucked Up”) to political action (“Country”) to wanting someone who has left (“I Will”). Even languages vary, changing from English to Spanish in “Mismo.” Each of these variations resembles a familiar sound—beach-pop, post-punk, pop-punk, to name a few—with a bit of added experimentation. They do each of those styles well, though, making them their own.

In Juice, Camp Howard shows their range as musicians, songwriters, and performers of breezy rock. The only thing left to do is grab a beer, relax, and enjoy the EP.

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.

REVIEW: Spartan Jet-Plex - Get Some

Kelly Kirwan

This isn’t my first brush with Spartan Jet-Plex. A few months back, her album Touch Tone drifted my way, and I was swept up in a wash of experimental folk, filled with haunting, ethereal vocals braided into bedroom pop. So, for her latest release, Get Some, all the research was done and dusted—or so I thought. The face behind the music? Nancy Kells. Her background? A sculpture degree followed by a profession in special education. Work ethic? Unparalleled. For Kells, it would seem that writing and recording music is done with the ease of an exhalation, as her albums are consistently released in quick (I’m talking a few months or so) succession.

And still, her latest oeuvre was riddled with surprises and innovative leaps in style. Get Some is an eclectic experiment, a curveball that we’ve been lucky enough to catch. The versatility among its tracks is likely due, in part, to its method of assembly. Certain songs Kells has had for years, never finding a place for them on previous EPs, only to excavate them from the abyss of a hard drive for this new home. The nine-track compilation is brimming with this sense of rediscovery and pleasantly thwarted expectations. It’s the sort of work that tugs on the question: how well do you really know someone? 

Well, when it comes to Kells, there’s still much to learn. 

"Emptiness" begins on a gentle, if not slightly unnerving note. Kells’ vocals are lightly layered over one another, an echoing call-and-response which fits with the track’s theme, as the lyrics repeat, “I am nothing, just emptiness.” A metallic percussion rolls both subtly and steadily beside a spattering of outer-space synth, as Kells’ apathetic tone creates a one-woman choir. The effect is one of a completely mirrored funhouse, our reflections extended for what seems like infinity, and yet we are alone. After all, it’s just an illusion—or to borrow Kells’ description, emptiness. 

Then there’s "Life is Mine," which also opens with a cold, satellite-signal synth vaguely, similar to the aforementioned track. Only this one boasts a fuller backdrop. Where "Emptiness" felt lonely, "Life is Mine" unravels with a fragile intimacy. Kells once again stacks her tender vocals, a motif which appears often throughout the new album.

In a change of pace, the penultimate track, "Implode," grumbles with a low pitch and hollow, intermittently-placed drumming. It’s a foreboding tone, paired with a rustling ambiance that slinks itself into the beat, leaving us on the cusp of chills throughout.

Overall, Get Some is no stranger to darker shades, haunting with its hypnotic yet eerie melodies, Kells’ stratified voice, and a penchant for electronic details. This latest release flutters with the delicacy of a moth; it feels nocturnal, with its spooky and otherworldly dips in style that have a spectral beauty. It’s an alluring pastiche that proves preconceptions have no place in Spartan Jet-Plex’s discography.