June 15, 2018 — “Twenty First Road Trip” by The Spirit of the Beehive

The Spirit of the Beehive

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Twenty First Road Trip” by The Spirit of the Beehive (2017, from the album Pleasure Suck).
The Spirit of the Beehive is an experimental indie rock/noise rock band from Philadelphia.
There’s not exactly a bounty of available information about this band, and I only learned about them when I started to do a bit of research for the 2018 Hopscotch Music Festival, which will take place this autumn in downtown Raleigh. What I’ve heard reminds me a bit of the chaotic blissed-out lo-fi shoegaze-y noise of Swirlies and the slightly discordant jams of Pavement. There’s also something that reminds me of Mary Timony’s guitar. I don’t necessarily hear all of those things at once, and I don’t necessarily hear all of those things in today’s song.

It seems like The Spirit of the Beehive is among the many bands who like to keep their bio private. I’ve only found scant details about them, and I couldn’t find anything other than their stage names of “The Hex”, “Buzz”, “Rat”, “Ricky”, and “Pail”. They released their self-titled debut album in 2014, an EP called You Are Arrived (But You’ve Been Cheated) in 2015, and the sophomore album Pleasure Suck last year. While I can’t be certain, I’m guessing that they named themselves after the Spanish film El Espíritu de la Colemna, which translates to “The Spirit of the Beehive”. I’ve never seen the movie, but from what I’ve read, it’s generally regarded as an excellent movie. It’s from the 1970s, and it’s about a little girl in late 1930s just after the Spanish Civil War. The girl becomes obsessed with the film Frankenstein, and she has some Frankenstein-like connection with a “monster” in the form of a wounded Spanish Republican soldier. This isn’t really about that, though.

One of the things that I love about this song is the multiple tempo changes. I love that kind of thing, and to have it happen several times in the course of one song is a lot of fun for me. There’s heavy, buzzy guitar. There’s feedback. There’s some pounding drums. There’s some frequency modulation. There’s chaos. Then it breaks down and there’s some jangly acoustic guitar. And a really abrupt shift into something that sounds like Insecticide-era Nirvana.

This is that song:

“Twenty First Road Trip” by The Spirit of the Beehive

There’s a lot to unpack there. Everything I’ve already mentioned, plus a 60-to-zero full stop. That’s another thing that almost always floats my boat. There are so many strange things going on with this song that it would drive a lot of people crazy. I’m not most people, and I love this.

I had never heard this band until I saw the Hopscotch initial lineup. They announced the headliners and many of the large print bands a month ago, and there are still a few dozen more bands to name. The festival will take place in downtown Raleigh the weekend after Labor Day. Last year, for the first time, they included a slew of shows in Red Hat Amphitheater on Sunday. It looks like they’re going to revert back to the Thursday night through Saturday night format that they used in every year prior. I loved the shows on Sunday afternoon/evening last year, but it was almost too much.

The schedule will be announced much later, and for now, all I can do is a bunch of research on all of the other bands that I’ve never heard of. It’s always a load of fun to “find” new bands during my research. This has certainly been one of those instances.

You can buy Pleasure Suck in physical or digital format via Bandcamp here. Those vinyl pressings look awesome!

After you check out the initial Hopscotch lineup, check out the ticket options here.

Also, you should check out the video for the song:


June 11, 2018 — “125 bpm” by LANZ

Benjamin Lanz

If you only listen to one song today, make it “125 bpm” by LANZ (2018, from the album Hoferlanz II).
LANZ is the Brooklyn-based experimental indie rock project of Benjamin Lanz. He grew up in Hartford, Connecticut, and spent his formative years being influenced by the likes of Sonic Youth, Pixies, Sebadoh, Polvo. He went to college at SUNY-Purchase, where he studied trombone, drums, and something that sounds like sound engineering. While his is not a household name, even in indie rock circles, Ben Lanz has worked with a bunch of people who are indie rock royalty.
In the mid-aughts, Lanz was asked to be an extra horn in a Sufjan Stevens performance. Later, when Stevens was touring in support of an album of outtakes from Illinois, Lanz joined an all-star team of touring musicians. Among the touring band were Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) and Bryce Dessner out of The National. Through this connection, Lanz became a touring member of The National. Through that connection, he formed a band called LNZNDRF with Scott and Bryan Devendorf out of The National. Lanz also joined the band Beirut right around that time.
Last year, Lanz put out his first album —Hofferlanz I— under the LANZ moniker, and he just released the follow-up via Brassland Records.
I haven’t written anything in a long time, and I’ve been “sort of” keeping up with the mail bag. This is something “new to me” that arrived in the mailbag recently. I was initially directed towards a different song from the new album, and I liked it a lot, but I might like this one better. It’s angular, weird, and multi-tiered. It’s got lots of different textures and flavors.

“125 bpm” by LANZ

I like that the guitar is sort of noodle-y in the beginning. Like some prog rock that one of my college roommates was into.
I like that it builds slowly to a satisfying, slightly kraut-y buzz by the end of the song. At the end, we have the buzzy guitars, the synths, the driving drum pattern, the repeated chorus “This is all I’ll ask for”. It’s all really glorious. There’s something about the whole package that reminds me much less of any of the aforementioned bands and much more of The Beta Band.

You can buy Hoferlanz II via Bandcamp here.


April 15, 2018 — “Blood Brother” by Rich Girls

Rich Girls

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Blood Brother” by Rich Girls (2018, from the album Black City).

Rich Girls is an NYC art rock/indie rock/post-punk trio who say they’re influenced by Iggy Pop, The Beach Boys, and The Motels. While I can hear some of what makes people call them post-punk, they’re a little brighter and shinier than that. This sounds more to me like the Toronto indie rock scene of the mid-Aughts. This reminds me of what might happen if you mashed up the brilliance of In Our Bedroom After the War-era Stars and the magnificent Knives Don’t Have Your Back (2006) by Emily Haines. It’s dark and dingy but it’s simultaneously bright and beautiful. It’s blood, sweat, and beer under blindingly bright lights. And speaking of Toronto, there are times that this band reminds me of the shoegaze revival darlings Alvvays.

Although the band has been around since 2013, they have just put out their debut album Black City last week via the Bay-area label Tricycle Records. After frontwoman Louisa Black’s previous band The Blacks split up, she moved from San Francisco to London and wrote a bunch of “dark pop” songs that eventually became Black City). She wrote and recorded everything herself on a laptop with minimal gear and the Garageband platform. As the story goes, she recorded and released some demos, then moved back to California where she recruited a full band overnight. The release of Black City has been a long time coming, but it’s a beautiful record. I had never heard of the band until I got something in the mail bag recently, and I was knocked out right from the drop.

While I really like the whole album, today’s song is certainly one of my favourites.

“Blood Brother” by Rich Girls

Right away, the guitars are affected with tons of reverb, the drums are big and crisp, and the vocals have just the right amount of delay. Black’s voice oscillates between airy in the verses and heavy in the bridges. There’s a lot that I like about this song and the entire album, but I think my favourite thing is right there at the end. All of the music comes to a full stop while the last strains of Black’s vocals are soaked in reverb/delay. It’s sort of a trick out of the mid-90s indie rock producer’s playbook. As everybody knows, I can’t get enough of that.

You can buy Black City in digital format via Bandcamp here.


March 18, 2017 — “Distortion” by Mount Eerie

Phil Elverum (Mount Eerie)

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Distortion” by Mount Eerie (2018, from the album Now Only).

Mount Eerie is the Anacortes, Washington ambient indie-folk/slowcore brainchild of Phil Elverum. He used to front a band called The Microphones, who formed in 1996 and released four albums on legendary punk label K Records between 1999 and 2003. The last of those albums was Mount Eerie, and after its release, Elverum announced that he’d no longer use the Microphones name. Since then, he’s done a bunch of visual art things and he’s recorded under the Mount Eerie name.

His 2015 album Sauna was my #17 record of that year, and it really should have been placed closer to the top ten of my year-end countdown. Last year’s A Crow Looked at Me was certainly among my very favourite albums of the year, but because of its weight, one can really only listen to it a few times without becoming engulfed in sadness. That heartbreaking work of staggering genius (you should read Dave Eggers’ book A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) was about the death of his wife Genviève Castrée. Every song is about her. Every song is about death. Every song is heartbreakingly beautiful. It’s a really difficult album do listen to, but it was met with universally rave reviews.

I was very excited when I saw Mount Eerie on the Hopscotch lineup last autumn, and I was completely blown away by his performance. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. You can read about that here. During that stunning set, he played a couple of works in progress, which eventually became the songs on Now Only.

The new album, which just came out on March 16, has also been met with rave reviews. It’s more or less a companion piece to A Crow Looked at Me. These are also songs about Genviève. These are also beautiful and painful songs about death. They’re written and sung by a man who has very fresh wounds, and he makes his audience understand his pain. Today’s song is the one that made me lose my mind at Hopscotch.

Right off the bat, there’s the heavily distorted electric guitar, which is something that there isn’t much of on this album and even less of on A Crow Looked at Me. That chunky, fuzzy bit sounds a little like the opening to an alternate version of Pavement’s “Here”, or maybe any number of Sonic Youth songs. But this isn’t the high-intensity of those bands; far from it. This is somber and unbearably heavy, but he somehow makes it easy for his audience to relate. This is, as I’ve said before, the kind of song about love and loss that Mark Kozelek wishes he could write. Kozelek can write the hell out of a song about being dumped (see: “Katy Song”), but I’ve hated his stuff about death and mortality (see: Benji) because I found it over-the-top and hard to relate to.

Today’s song is thematically heavy and on the long side. It takes a great deal of effort to listen to this, and it takes some time to decompress after listening. Give it your undivided attention. Listen to this alone in a quiet room. Don’t listen while you’re doing dishes or working out or something like that. Buy this record. Listen to it with your full attention. Admire the artwork. Then leave it alone for a while. You can’t return to it very often. If you get a chance, you need to see Phil play these songs live. It’s an emotionally and even physically exhausting experience, but it’s worth it.

The thing that makes this so powerful is the very candid account of seeing first his great grandfather’s dead body many years ago, then his wife’s dead body in their bedroom. It’s about getting another glimpse into his own mortality and a feeling about the fingerprints that we all leave behind:

The second dead body I ever saw was you, Geneviève,
when I watched you turn from alive to dead right here in our house.
I looked around the room and asked “Are you here?”
and you weren’t, and you are not here. I sing to you though.
I keep you breathing through my lungs
in a constant uncomfortable stream of memories trailing out
until I am dead too
and then eventually all the people who remember me will also die
containing what it was like to stand in the same air with me
and breathe and wonder why

There are also some other personal things woven into the song, and most of it is sort of hard to take. Neither this song, nor the album as a whole, is a walk in the park.

You can buy the new album via the Mount Eerie site here. You should also buy a box of tissues.


February 25, 2018 — “Klonopin” by Drowse

Drowse

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Klonopin” by Drowse (2018, from the forthcoming album Cold Air

Drowse is an ambient shoegaze/experimental recording project fronted by Portland, Oregon’s Kyle Bates. He has frequently collaborated with the Oakland doomgaze band Miserable, but his own music is more akin to stuff like Grouper and Mount Eerie. He’s been making music under the Drowse moniker since 2013, and has released one album and a few EPs. He has a new album Cold Air coming out in two weeks, and there’s a dark backstory to it. Bates suffered a mental breakdown many years ago and needed some antipsychotic medications to ease his pain. He went several years without any problems, but his problems resurfaced, and he drank a lot and took a lot of Klonopin to deal with it. During this time of heavy medication, he also experienced the death of a close friend, some family health problems, and some other unpleasant stuff. He channeled this dark stuff to write the songs that would become the Cold Air album. It’s an album about being filled with emotional pain, and being filled with drugs to kill the pain. And yes, it’s an album with some death imagery. Today’s song is obviously a reference to his medication.

Bates recently talked very candidly about it in an NPR interview

In the song I wake up from drug-induced sleep and imagine myself as the empty part of a shape imprinted in mud: a strange vision of shame. With this image in mind, I ruminate on how I’m ashamed of the way I force a wall between myself and others — on the inside I’m passionate, but I keep a cold, calculated distance from those I love. This fixation makes me anxiously waste my day, stumbling wistfully through my waking life until night comes and I can take Klonopin to forget myself again

Like the newest Mount Eerie record, this album is full of some dark and heavy imagery. It’s counterbalanced by the beautiful music and Bates’ honey-throated vocals. Bates is the only official member of the band, but his creative partner Maya Stoner provides backing vocals on a bunch of the songs, including today’s song. This is that song:

“Klonopin” by Drowse

I am reminded a bit of Mount Eerie, but more than that, I’m reminded of what Damon and Naomi might sound like if Krukowski and Yang were better singers.

I like this song a lot, and I like the other song from the album that I’ve heard. I think the entire album should do well at my house.

The video for the song is also definitely worth watching. Check it out here:

Cold Air will be out on March 9 via The Flenser. You can pre-order it via Bandcamp here.


February 12, 2018 — “Old Town” by Say Sue Me

Say Sue Me

If you only listen to one song tonight. make it “Old Town” by Say Sue Me (2018, from the forthcoming album Where We Were Together)

Say Sue Me is an indie pop/twee/cuddlepunk/surfgaze quartet from Busan, South Korea. I don’t know anything about them other than that they formed in 2012, released an album called We’ve Sobered Up, and they released a Record Store Day EP called Semin last year. It’s my understanding that the EP was named as a tribute to the band’s drummer Kang Semin, who is in a coma. It is not, thankfully, a tribute to former NHLer Alexander Semin, whose career trajectory went very rapidly from “elite player” to “bum” almost overnight during his tenure in Carolina.

I had never heard of the band until I was doing some research today. I sort of randomly ended up on this song, and I really love it. It reminds me of the gloriously gloomy but bouncy twee-pop of Camera Obscura and The Concretes mixed with something like Veronica Falls. I love it.

“Old Town” by Say Sue Me

It’s a song about growing tired and growing old in a town where everyone else is leaving. The hero of the story wants to leave and also wants to stay. There’s not much to the lyrics, which are in perfect English, but there’s a lot to the melody and the big hook. There’s a bit after the second chorus with some hand claps and vocalizing. It’s magnificent, and there’s no way you can have a frown on your face while listening.

I’ve just listened a bunch of times in a row, and it keeps getting better.

Where We Were Together will be released on April 13. You can pre-order it via Bandcamp here, and enjoy an immediate download of “Old Town”.


February 1, 2018 — “Never Coming Back” by A Place to Bury Strangers

A Place to Bury Strangers

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Never Coming Back” by A Place to Bury Strangers (2018, from the forthcoming album Pinned)
A Place to Bury Strangers is a noise-rock trio from Brooklyn. Often hailed as “the loudest band in New York”, the band has been exhilarating and deafening audiences since 2003. They’ve only released four albums(with another on the way) but they’ve toured extensively and taken their time with each album. When they tour, by the way, they bring way more gear than other bands who play in clubs. The only time I’ve seen them, they brought their own PA and light rigs. And it was amazing.

I called Worship my #12 album of 2012 and Transfixiation my #10 album of 2015. Every time that I’ve been given a chance, I’ve mentioned to anyone who will listen that the one time I saw them live was sort of a mind-blowing experience. Even with some high-quality ear plugs, it was a little bit painful. In a good way. They don’t play loudly for the sake of playing loudly. It’s like the simultaneous chaos and control of Psychocandy. The noise is carefully constructed and manipulated, and at extraordinarily high volume, the sound gets better. Every bit of fuzz and feedback is painstakingly engineered in the same way that Donald Fagen and Walter Becker annoyingly strove for perfection in the Steely Dan recording studios.

Since Transfixiation, the band has gotten a new drummer in Lia Simone Braswell. She’s been around for a while playing in bands in Los Angeles, and filling in for touring bands. She moved to New York a few years ago and was spotted by APTBS bassist Dion Lunadon. He asked her to join the band, and that’s where they stand now. She brings more than drumming to the mix, though; she sings on a couple of the songs including tonight’s song. This band has always been about blunt force, and her voice adds a little bit of softness to the equation. Make no mistake, though; this is noisy as hell, especially in the second half of the song. I love it.

“Never Coming Back” by A Place to Bury Strangers

It starts off just like any APTBS song. The signature bass leads the way until about 0:50, when the guitars slowly build to a roar. Every time you think it’s reached a boiling point, it hasn’t. There’s a bit at about 2:53, with the rapid-fire pummeling of the drums, the squalling guitar and the mountains of feedback. You think that has to be it. But it’s not. Then there’s a signature APTBS break, and then hell really breaks loose. At 3:33, there’s another big burst of controlled chaotic activity that doesn’t let up until the end.

It’s noisy as hell. You either love APTBS for their noise or you absolutely hate them for it. There is no middle ground. You already know where I stand.

The new album will be out on April 13 via Dead Oceans. You can pre-order here. You can also catch APTBS on tour. They’re playing a show in Montréal tomorrow night, then they’ll play a bunch of shows at SXSW, then an album release party in Brooklyn, then a big tour starting in April that takes them through Europe. They’ll have a few days off before the North American tour which ends in June.

There’s a very strange video for the song that was just released yesterday. Make what you will of it.


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