Washington

REVIEW: Lushloss - Asking/Bearing

download.png

Laura Kerry

Music usually tells simple stories through small lenses. At most, it uses two voices to convey its messages. There are hidden meanings and vignettes that bleed out beyond the edges of a song, of course, but for the most part, the listener can discover the main frames of reference and through lines. Music tends to favor emotion over narrative complexity.

Lushloss’ Asking/Bearing, on the other hand, manages to emphasize both complexity and emotion. Her debut LP is technically a double album, but it sometimes doesn’t feel like an album at all. In the first part, Asking, the Seattle-based artist (also known as Olive Jun) weaves together dialogue, keys, glitchy hip-hop beats, and heavily processed vocals to form something that sounds part radio diary, part audio art piece, and in what remains, deft electronic pop.

The album begins in that last mode. Starting with a soft piano ballad and a gentle vocal melody saturated with effects, the opener “St Marco” builds to a sparse but crisp beat. As the music starts to fade, though, two voices come in, sputtering and speaking over each other. The conversation settles, revealing the Skype call between Jun and her mom that is the foundation of the rest of the album's first half. After each song in Asking, the dialogue returns, often where it left off. Throughout, the two speak from a geographic distance—Seattle to Korea—and a generational distance, but also with the closeness of mother and child. There are moments of discomfort, like that first one, in which Jun’s mom says her trans daughter’s name from before she transitioned; moments of trying to bridge the divide, like when Jun asks her mom, “When did your dad die?”; and moments of mundane logistics, as when her mother starts to plan the next trip.

It’s a complicated story—as much as any cross-section of life could be called a story—that brings up family history, cultural divisions, illness, and coming out as trans to older family members. In the end, though, it circles around the two checking in on each other. After Jun spends much of the conversation asking her mother questions and supporting her through her own mother’s illness (“I just hope you’re okay,” she says at one point), the final piece of dialogue ends with the mother saying, “You have to be okay until we get together.” It’s a jarringly touching moment, heartbreaking because it’s so intimate and raw.

Between the dialogue, Jun’s music complicates the narrative. Sometimes songs intersect with conversation—“St Marco” and “Sisters” each deal with family relationships, and in “Gutter,” the singer asks, “Have you called your mother today?” Most of it wanders elsewhere, though, suggesting a life lived in parallel to the one we can glimpse in the phone call. “Clark, WA,” a moody, guitar-driven track, seems to tell the story of an imbalanced past relationship; in “Sheet,” a delicate but hopeful-sounding song, Lushloss sings, “I’m so tired of feeling tired today”; and in “Yana (Interlude),” the bridge between Asking and Bearing, Lushloss plays a slightly sped-up recording of a voicemail for a person far away, this time with seemingly romantic overtones.

None of that distracts from the call, which comes to form the central narrative. And neither does the album’s second part. Much more straightforward electronic pop, the five songs on Bearing provide welcome companionship for the reflection required after Asking (and they probably deserve more critical space than sharing a bill with Asking affords them). Asking/Bearing is rife with voices—not just the mother-daughter duet, but the artist’s voice processed to different pitches and tones, tapes of friends speaking, field recordings, electronic and acoustic instruments—that tell separate and intersecting stories. At the end, though, as the beat and bare vocals on “Gymnasium” glitches and fades, Lushloss leaves you with an intimate sense of her as an artist and the intimacy that seeing someone so closely can create.

VIDEO PREMIERE: The Shows - Limerence

Laura Kerry

No matter how fuzzy and high-energy, three-piece bands often make music whose constituent parts each stand out. In the case of Bellingham, Washington natives The Shows, the trio is comprised of one drummer, one guitarist who sings, and a dedicated vocalist. In their full-length debut from last year, Signifier, each of these parts plays a big role. The small shifts in each can change the whole dynamic.

In the music video for “Limerence,” the second single from that album, the visual details play a similarly weighty role. The video uses only two settings—a stage emerging from a dark room with a colorful geometric backdrop and, at the end, a garage—with the trio playing their song all the way through. Relying only on the performers, camera movements, and cuts, it calls attention to the sound. Everything absorbs the moody, off-kilter tone of the track and takes on added significance as a result. The way the drummer bobs stoically; the movements of the guitarist’s eyes; the accentuated shapes of the singer’s mouth; the close-up shots as the singer belts, “Come close to me / Far from everything”—each element feels important in its own right, awash in a slightly sinister energy. In "Limerence," as is the case for the band itself, a little goes a long way.

REVIEW: Dove Lady - One

Laura Kerry

I remember the surprise I felt when I first learned that Washington, DC has a history of fostering an influential punk and hardcore scene. To me, the nation’s capital meant pristine monuments and the respectable act of governance (ha). It was thrilling to learn that under all that marble, people had been airing their feelings and making noise.

Andrew Thawley and Jeremy Ray live in DC, and their band, Dove Lady, shows signs of the post-hardcore scene from which it sprung. Their latest album, One—the first full-length after a series of alphabetized EPs, A, B, C, and D—begins with an explosive oscillation of fuzzy guitar. Drums come in, crashing wildly, and the vocals emerge as a monotone yelp. The start of the opener, “7777,” promises to deliver on the DC legacy. Soon, though, Dove Lady pulls back. “7777” morphs several times, changing from the harsh pulse of punk guitar to smoother, quieter modes and back again.

Punk is only one edge of Dove Lady’s experimental territory on One. Throughout the album, they transition from post-hardcore to jazz, and even to a moment of R&B smoothness on “Carl Salesman.” And when they do get loud, the duo never fully loses control. Rhythmic and tight all the way through, they only skirt the edges of chaos before dissolving into calm—a move that's as exciting as total mayhem. Dove Lady are masters of tension and release.

Such mood swings happen not only in the sound, but also in the lyrics. “In essence,” Dove Lady said in an interview with GoldFlakePaint, “One is about accepting and forgiving one’s self for all of life’s mistakes; it is a sonic representation of moving on from the past and into the present.” Naturally, that is a fraught process. The album reflects that in moments of anxiety: “I'm scared of the way that you might look at me If you hear what I’m thinking / I’m tired of uncertainty,” they sing on “What’s Wrong Roberta,” and “Sometimes I get so lonely and I don’t know” on “Carl Salesman.” For all of its musical trickery, One’s sentiments are delightfully earnest.

And Dove Lady is never more delightful and earnest than in the moments of catharsis that lend the album a feeling of simultaneous gravity and lightness. “It’s time / Won’t be long / ‘Til I’m comfortable,” they sing over a catchy guitar melody in the appropriately named “Uplifting Song.” At the end, the track reaches a satisfying release with the line, “It’ll all be ok.” And just as One begins with the roar of guitar, it ends with another loud statement. “Anything that I want / I can get if I try,” they sing on the closing track, “Boar Switch,” before the instruments and vocals swell, coming closer to spilling over into chaos than anywhere else on the album.

A product of their city but with a strong sense of their own sound, Dove Lady makes music how they want to.

REVIEW: Hoop - Super Genuine

Laura Kerry

“When you push, I draw back / Then you hide and I want more.”

In the new Hoop album Super Genuine, this line from “Folded Impulse,” featuring Allyson Foster, describes the inverse relationship between two people. When one person does something, it provokes the opposite reaction in the other. To illustrate the point, Foster and Caitlin Roberts, the band’s frontwoman, sing a soft call-and-response, both their voices quiet and delicate.

While many of the most emotionally vulnerable albums mine the artist’s inner thoughts and feelings, Super Genuine remains mostly outward-facing. Like in “Folded Impulse,” it examines the relationships between various points—friends, lovers, family. Hoop, which began as a duo in a small town in Washington, has slowly transformed into a quartet that grew out of Roberts’ new home in Seattle—called the “Womb Room”—with housemates-turned-bandmates Leena Joshi and Pamela Santiago (Inge Chiles joined later). The first album they've made together reflects the closeness that comes from sharing a space and, as the name of that space hints at, feminist sensibilities.

Throughout Super Genuine, Hoop explores vulnerability through connections with others. In the opener, “Marlin Spike,” Roberts sings, “You hate to tell me you’re scared to lose me / You hate to tell me you really need me” in a quiet song about falling for one who won’t open up. In “Skiptracer,” Hoop offers support and counsel to an addressee named Michael, who is similarly inhibited. “Surrender yourself,” she sings, “And at the same time explore yourself.” At other times, Hoop is happy in the face of love. In “Good Dregs,” she sings, “It's the right time to learn something new / To learn new ways to love you.” In “Baseboard” (featuring Briana Marela), Hoop is defiant, proclaiming that there are limits to what she can give without return. “I’m not here to please you,” she sings. “Nothing can make me stay.”

Even when strong and defiant, though, Hoop sings in an ethereal, childlike voice. Most of the time, this emphasizes the emotional potency of the music. In combination with simple guitar patterns, it occasionally sounds thin—lacking the grounding that Hoop has in their lyrics. True to the legacy of their location, the band also plays with a heavier, grungier sound at times. “To Know Your Tone” (featuring Allyson Foster), “Drawn To You,” and “Send Purpose Down” all feature fuzzier guitars that comprise a full, shoegazey style. Elsewhere, Hoop fills in their sound with layers of harmony, beat loops, and shimmery synths.

Among more common contemporary genre markers on their Bandcamp page, such as “pop” and “alternative,” Hoop lists “feelings.” Though the songs are light and melodic, that dimension of Super Genuine does require some effort on the part of the listener. Hoop doesn’t just confront the subjects of their songs, they also address the audience. Ultimately, though, the album is cathartic. It is, as they say in the optimistic glow of the final song, “Bask In Easy Tone,” “water to wash [our] hands.”

PREMIERE: The Washboard Abs - Recurring Chasms

Laura Kerry

The Washboard Abs are much softer than their name suggests. The songwriting project of Clarke Sondermann beginning in 2014, they have moved three cities (from Anchorage to Denver to Olympia, Washington); picked up three members (Angelo Vitello on guitars, Brendan Burton on bass, and Grant Chapman on drums); and perfected their breed of gentle indie folk-rock. After a few releases over the years, including 2015’s Whateverland on Slovakian cassette label Z Tapes, The Washboard Abs are back with Recurring Chasms, their fullest and most beautiful work yet.

Pared-down but meticulous, Recurring Chasms is an intimate album. The Washboard Abs resemble Kings of Convenience with clear, delicate vocals above rhythmic folk guitar-led compositions, but they are more off-kilter; underneath the dulcet melodies sung close to the mic are subtle punctuations of surprise and dissonance. “Erosion” sparkles with warmth as the bass and guitar slide over incongruous notes, “Icy Moon” threatens loss of control with moments of expansive jazz chords, and in “One,” bare lyrics hover over dense, unrestrained fuzz. While wildness threatens at the edges, though, Recurring Chasms remains intimate and largely muted. “I control the narrative,” Sondermann sings in the final song, “Veil,” between instrumental reveries, “I’m bleeding through this song.” Through detailed and sometimes unexpected tracks, the inner workings of the songwriter prevail.