July 19, 2016 — “Vital Signs” by Strata Florida

Louise Trehy (Strata Florida)

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Vital Signs” by Strata Florida (2016, from a forthcoming album (title and release date TK)).
Strata Florida is a shoegaze/dream pop duo from Aberystwyth, Wales. Really, though, the project is centered around Louise Trehy. Even if you haven’t read my previous post about Strata Florida, or my Best of 2014 list, in which I named the first Strata Florida record my ninth favourite record of the year, you might still recognize Trehy’s name. She was one half of the marvelous shoegaze/dream pop duo Swallow way, way back in the “golden age of indie rock”. That band’s only record came out in 1992 via 4AD records, and it was probably one of my top ten records of that decade, and remains one of my favourite records ever. It really spoke to me, and I have a lot of fond memories of listening to that record. Unfortunately, things within the band, and things with 4AD both went pear-shaped, and that was the only album we got from them. After that band dissolved, Trehy moved from London to Wales and removed herself from the music industry for two decades.
After the passage of much time, and after spending some time singing in a choir, and with some trepidation, Trehy re-emerged into the dream pop scene with a new project and a new approach. She tried working with loads of people, and it took some doing, but she finally found a good musical partner in Pete Pavli. They quietly started working together in 2012, and in 2014, they released their debut record Made of Stars via Saint Marie Records. Several months ahead of the album, I got some emails about the new developments, and I was really excited. I heard some of the details, including how much the recording of the album was inspired by the Cocteau Twins record Treasure. The finished Strata Florida product exceeded my expectations. And it changed the way I rated my favourite Cocteaus records.

A couple of years have passed, and Trehy has continued to hone and improve her skills with the guitar and in the studio. A few days ago, she shared a three song sampler of her forthcoming album. Unfortunately, the release date, the title, and even the label are all up in the air. So far, we’re just hoping that the album will be out this year. Presumably, it’ll be self-released.

The three new songs are terrific, and you can check out the lot here. Today’s song is my favourite of the group. This is that song:
“Vital Signs” by Strata Florida

She told me that this song is about dealing with the death of her ex-spouse. She said it’s about going through grief and simultaneously experiencing some guilt. That’s a tough road to go down, and while I don’t have experience with it, I have friends who have been down the exact same road.

As is par for the course, her dreamy vocals are treated in such a way that the lyrics are nearly impossible to discern, but I’ll take her word, and you’ll have to take mine. Despite the theme, there’s a certain brightness to this, and you can definitely tell that she’s a huge Cocteaus fan. There’s a lot that reminds me of “Lorelei”, off of the aforementioned Treasure.

Once again, the forthcoming album is sort of up in the air, but you can get the first Strata Florida record here, and you should absolutely get the magnificent record by Swallow here. Blow is seriously one of my favorite records ever.


July 16, 2016 — “Juniper” by Amanda X

Amanda X

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Juniper” by Amanda X (2015, from the Hundreds and Thousands 7″ record).

Amanda X is a cuddlepunk/twee punk/post-grunge trio from Philadelphia. They formed in 2012 on a whim and they released their first EP — Ruin The Moment— later that year. Since then, they released a single in November of 2013, their debut album Amnesia in July of 2014, the Hundreds and Thousands 7″ EP last August, and the “New Year” single last Christmas.

They sound like they would have been perfectly at home on the K Records label back in the mid-late 1990s. They bring to mind many of those wonderful bands on that label and other bands from the Pacific Northwest during that era. For a more contemporary comparison, I might mention them in the same breath with Alvvays. At the end of the day, though, I’m mostly reminded of the short-lived mid 1990s Vancouver cuddlecore band Cub. Years before she became a famous musician, Neko Case was the drummer in Cub for a short while.

I had never heard of Amanda X until Hopscotch announced the lineup for this year’s festival. As always, the festival is in downtown Raleigh on the weekend after Labor Day. This year, it’s Something like 130 bands in 12 venues. The fun starts Thursday night and goes through Saturday night. As always, there are also loads of free “day parties” taking place all weekend long. Sometimes, those day parties are almost as great as the official festival events.

Anyway, after they announced the lineup a couple of months ago, I started doing my Hopscotch homework, and I put Amanda X high on my list of bands to see. They’re playing Saturday night at 10:30 at Lincoln Theatre. There are a couple of other things that I’d like to see at other venues at the same time, but this is my plan A.

Today’s song comes from the 7″ record Hundreds and Thousands. There’s just two songs on the record, but they’re calling it an EP rather than a single. It was released via Self Aware Records, which is based in Charlotte. This release was limited to 300 physical copies, and each copy allegedly comes on “random mixed colored vinyl”. It’s my understanding, though, that they’re all on translucent purple. Anyway, this is the song from side B. This is that song:

“Juniper” by Amanda X

I love that it’s got a little bit of fuzz, a little bit of grit, a little bit of noise, but not A LOT of any of those things. As much as I love noise and overwhelming amounts of fuzz, there’s something really great about when there’s just a hint of those things.

I like this song a lot, and I like everything I’ve heard from them. I’m really looking forward to seeing them at Hopscotch.

Tickets for Hopscotch are still available. Three-day passes and single day passes can be bought here. Later this month, they’ll release tickets for the City Plaza shows.


July 15, 2016 — “Drive” by Magic Mountain

Magic Mountain

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Drive” by Magic Mountain (2015, from the Innocence EP).

Magic Mountain is a coldwave/synth pop/shoegaze trio from Nottingham, England. I really don’t know anything about them. They started following me on Twitter, I checked them out, and I like what I hear.

Magic Mountain have been around since something like 2009. Founding members Ash Smart (guitars) and James Percy (vocals/bass) used to be in a band called This Dumb Desire. That band split, and this band rose from its ashes. Later, they added Sarah Smart (keys/flute/vocals). They say that they sound like a mixture of pre-Loveless My Bloody Valentine, Joy Division, and David Bowie. Frankly, I don’t hear any of that in this EP. What I hear is something that reminds me of Violator-era Depeche Mode. And there’s nothing wrong with that, because that’s an amazing record. It might simply be that Percy’s voice is a bit like that of Dave Gahan out of Depeche Mode, but that’s the comparison that I’m making.

Either way, this is that song:

“Drive” by Magic Mountain

The EP came out digitally in December of last year, and it’s my understanding that it just recently became available in physical format. You can buy it in digital or compact disc format for the same price via Bandcamp here.


July 11, 2016 — “Kismet Kill” by Haley Bonar

Haley Bonar

If you only watch one music video tonight, make it “Kismet Kill” by Haley Bonar (2016, from the forthcoming album Impossible Dream).

Haley Bonar is an indie rock/indie folk singer/songwriter from St. Paul, Minnesota. She’s been active since 2001, and is about to release a new album. The 33-year old Bonar (whose surname rhymes with “honor”) was born in Brandon, Manitoba and raised in Rapid City, South Dakota. At some point, she fell in love with punk rock, and she says that music in general and punk rock specifically allowed her to get out of her own head. She got out of the Black Hills and headed to Minnesota. The South Dakota prairie is an absolutely amazing place to visit. Breathtaking scenery and gorgeous National Parks, but I can imagine that it’s a dreadful place to live. She says she doesn’t even know why she did this, but she enrolled at the University of Minnesota-Duluth (Go Bulldogs!) where she became involved in the local music scene and played open mic nights as often as she could.

I don’t know the whole story, but on some fortunate night, Alan Sparhawk out of Low was in the audience at open mic. He was impressed by her so much that he invited her out on tour with Low. He also signed her to his Chairkickers Union label, and released her 2003 album …The Size of Planets. She stayed in Duluth for a while, and eventually moved to St. Paul. She put out a couple more records, then moved to Portland for a year, moved back to St. Paul, and made a couple more records. Her 2014 album The Last War (via Graveface Records) caught my attention, and I remember that for a couple of weeks, I was obsessed with the mesmerizing and dizzying video for the title track. I never actually got the album, though, and I also never wrote about her.

Today, I got a promo copy of the forthcoming album in my mailbag, and I really like it. There’s a bit of country flavour, which harkens back to her early days, but it’s fundamentally an indie rock record that reminds me of some stuff from college radio in the mid 1990s and also of some stuff that came out of that Toronto/BSS scene in the mid aughts. I guess, more than anything, it reminds me of In Our Bedroom After The War-era Stars. Tonight’s song reminds me of that record anyway.

“Kismet Kill” by Haley Bonar

Like most of her videos, this is pretty strange. Like at least one other of her videos, it’s about a woman thinking back on her own life while carrying a baby around. The woman in the video may have grown old, and “the party of the century” may have turned out to be different to what she expected, and but she’s still the prom queen.

Bonar has said that she doesn’t mind when people have their own interpretations of what the songs are about. She certainly writes them to be about something in particular, but she’s fine with people building a song meaning around their own interpretations. Here’s what she says in the press release:

Some of the songs are about loss of youth, teenage parenthood, the lines of social disorder for women, or the terror of jealousy and suspicion. But what I write is borne of my own set of memories and ideas, and once they are released into the world, they do not belong to me anymore. The interpretation is all yours, therefore these stories are yours

Impossible Dream comes out on August 5 via a tiny Minneapolis-based label called GNDWIRE. As far as I can tell, there’s only one other artist on that label. You can pre-order the album via the Haley Bonar website here.


July 10, 2016 — “Baby Blue” by Soft Wounds

Soft Wounds

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Baby Blue” by Soft Wounds (2016, from the album Soft Wounds).

Soft Wounds is a dream pop/shoegaze/alt-rock quartet from Toronto. They got started in about 2014 when the four shoegaze lovers got together and started recording stuff in a Toronto basement. They recorded some demos in November 2014, and in January of this year, they released their self-titled debut album. The five songs from the demo sessions are also on the album, sandwiched between five new songs.

I had never heard the band until I got something in the mailbag the other day concerning my recent post about Slowly. As it turns out, Slowly is a side project for Charlie Berger (vocals/guitar) out of Soft Wounds. He pointed me to this album, and I like it a lot for all the same reasons. Lots of fuzz, lots of delay. It’s bright and it’s noisy. This and the Slowly project are both reminiscent of early 90s English shoegaze. Not the heavy, dark, beautifully noisy wall-of-sound stuff, but the more melodically noisy stuff like Catherine Wheel and the first two Ride records.

Before I listened to any of the Soft Wounds record, I noticed “Baby Blue” in the track listing, and I sort of hoped that today’s song was a blissfully noisy cover of the magnificent song of the same name by Badfinger. It isn’t, but it’s a terrific song nonetheless. This is that song:
“Baby Blue” by Soft Wounds

In addition to the aforementioned early 90s English shoegazers, I’m also sort of reminded of the gloriousness that was Rocketship. Minus, of course, the buzz of the organs and the outstanding coed vocal harmonies in Rocketship.

You can and should purchase a digital download of the Soft Wounds record via Bandcamp by naming your price here.


July 7, 2016 — “Melt” by Slowly

Slowly — Unfold

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Melt” by Slowly (2016, from the forthcoming album Unfold).

Slowly is a shoegaze/noise rock band from Toronto. I don’t know anything about them, but this song showed up in my Bandcamp feed, and I like it a lot. They’re saying that there’s a forthcoming album, and they’re saying that the album will be released one song at a time. The rest is up in the air. They don’t say how often new songs will be released. They don’t say how many songs will be on the finished album. They say that they don’t even know any of these things.

There’s a ton of reverb and delay, including on the vocals. It’s all washed in some metallic blue hue. Alternating darkness and bright light. We like this a lot, and if the other songs are like this, we’re going to love the album.

For now, this is all we have. “Melt” was just released via Bandcamp. This is that song:
“Melt” by Slowly

You can download the song via Bandcamp by paying what you want here.


July 3, 2016 — “Million Dreams” by Annie Hall

“Million Dreams” by Annie Hall

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Million Dreams” by Annie Hall (2015, from the “Million Dreams” single).

Annie Hall is a shoegaze band from Yogyakarta, Indonesia. I know absolutely nothing about this band, and as you might guess, internet searches don’t return anything about this band. No Facebook profile that I could find. No Bandcamp. No lastfm. Only this one song on SoundCloud. But oh my goodness, is this terrific.

Partly because of the very quiet/very loud juxtaposition, I’m reminded a bit of the wonderful but short-lived DC dream pop/shoegaze band Ultracherry Violet. There’s loads of fuzz and distortion. It slowly builds a massive wall, then there’s an absolute tsunami of sound at 2:16. For the next five minutes, we’re riding that dangerous wave, except for a little break from 4:55 to 5:21.

This is that song. Hold on tight.

“Million Dreams” by Annie Hall

I know literally nothing about this band. I just heard this song in my SoundCloud feed and knew that I had to post it. Hopefully there’s more stuff already out there or more to come from this band.


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