New Minor Victories record on the way

Minor Victories

Minor Victories

Yesterday, Pitchfork reported that Minor Victories has announced a “new” album called Orchestral Variations. The band has also released a video in support of it.

Minor Victories is the supergroup formed by Rachel Goswell (vocals) out of Slowdive and Mojave 3, Stuart Braithwaite (guitar) out of Mogwai, Justin Lockey (bass, electronics) out of Editors, and filmmaker James Lockey. As you probably already know, the massively influential shoegaze/dream pop band Slowdive released one of my top five albums of all time in Souvlaki (1993), and the massively influential post-rock band Mogwai have consistently released albums that have landed in my year-end top 10. Their most recent proper album Rave Tapes was #3 on my list in 2014. Mogwai released a soundtrack album called Atomic this year, and it should end up very high on my year-end list. I don’t know any of the music by Editors.

In June of this year, Minor Victories released their eponymous debut album to much fanfare, and I locked it into a top five position on this year’s list. Even back in February, long before the album came out, and before I had heard anything other than a teaser, I already had it locked into a top spot.

The Pitchfork article tells us that the “new” album consists of orchestral “interpretations” of the songs from Minor Victories. “Interpretations”. Not “strings versions”. In other words, this isn’t one of those things where the songs are played just like they are on the album, but with a string section. The songs, as I understand the project, have been totally re-imagined and then played with orchestral instruments.

Justin Lockey said that the original songs were created based on strings-based melodies. They were then developed into post-rock songs, complete with vocals, drums, and lots of guitar stuff. This new project is sort of like deconstructing the songs to their roots, then re-building them exclusively with strings. They’ve also, as a bit of fun, rearranged the track listing.

Anyway, I’m really looking forward to the release of the album, which is slated for physical release on November 25 in North America. It’ll be released to the rest of the world and also on digital format on January 27, 2017.

They also, quite awesomely released a video for the first song from Orchestral Variations. This is that video:
“Cogs” (Orchestral Variation) by Minor Victories

This is quite different to the Minor Victories version of the same song. The original version is an eardrum crusher with some heavy drums, lots of guitar effects, lots of fuzz, and of course Rachel’s angelic vocals. Here, with the piano and the lush strings arrangement, the melody is almost unrecognizable as the same. I absolutely love this. It’s stunningly gorgeous, and it’s in stark contrast with the heavy nature and dark tone of the video. It’s also two and a half minutes longer than the original album version. I reckon every song will have the same “extended” treatment because it’s going to be a double LP.

I can’t wait to hear the rest of it.

The 180 gram double LP version of Orchestral Variations will be released in North America via Fat Possum on Black Friday. You’ll have to wait until January of 2017 to get it elsewhere or in different format. Surprisingly, they don’t have a pre-order going just yet. I imagine that’s coming very soon.

For now, enjoy the video.

October 15, 2016 — “Protection” by Emma Ruth Rundle

Emma Ruth Rundle

Emma Ruth Rundle

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Protection” by Emma Ruth Rundle (2016, from the album Marked for Death).

Emma Ruth Rundle is a doom-folk/ambient folk singer/songwriter and visual artist from Los Angeles. You may know her from her work with the post-punk bands Marriages and Red Sparrowes. She’s also released a few solo recordings. First was the Electric Guitar One EP in 2011. That record is thirty minutes of continuous instrumental ambient electric guitar in six chapters. It was written and recorded during the Red Sparrowes tour of Europe in 2010. In 2014, she released her first proper solo record called Some Heavy Ocean. That one is still plenty ambient, but leaning towards folk. In some ways, it’s reminiscent of the first two Mazzy Star records.

On September 30 of this year, she released her sophomore album Marked for Death. As the album title suggests, there’s a lot of death imagery and other explorations on the issue of mortality. It’s dark and a bit heavy, but it’s a lovely record that demands a thorough listen. A lot of the songs are about a relationship gone wrong. The word on the street is that all of the songs are connected by that thread, and that it’s actually a narrative about the same failing (or failed) relationship. Frequent readers of the blog know that I’m a real sucker for that kind of sad gal stuff. I’m reminded a little bit of Cat Power, and also of the great Torres.

The whole record is really good, and I think it should be listened to as a whole, in one sitting, with no distractions. That said, I really like this song:
“Protection” by Emma Ruth Rundle

I like the fact that it’s low-end heavy. I love the chorus or delay or whatever on the vocals. I adore the fact that it’s relatively quiet for each of the verses, but louder in the chorus, and at the end of the chorus, it’s thunderously loud and fuzzy. I love that loud and fuzzy bit, but what I love even more is when it comes to a rapid halt and is juxtaposed right up against the quiet verse. Rundle’s voice is beautiful, soft and sweet, but also very strong. We shouldn’t lose sight of that even with all the talk of the glory of the noise and the fury brought on by the effects pedals.

Speaking of the chorus, it pretty much sums up the song, and maybe the album:

I am small but in your arms
You are colder in your heart
I am worthless in your arms
But you offer this protection no one else has given me

The heroine of the story is in what is undeniably a bad relationship, but it seems like she’s saying “I’ve been treated worse” and “being alone is worse than this crap”. There’s also two separate references to giving the guy 16 days, and separate references to letting him “choke out” and “tie down the frailest part of (her) body”. Presumably as part of a sexual fetish that she may or may not be into, but plays along anyway. Again, it’s a bit weird that the heroine doesn’t like the situation very much, but willingly goes along. For a period of exactly 16 days.

Marked for Death was released on September 30 via Sargent House Records. You can buy physical copies via Hello Merch here. It’s also available for download from Bandcamp here.

October 10, 2016 — “I Don’t Mind” by Twerps



If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “I Don’t Mind” by Twerps (2015, from the album Range Anxiety).

Twerps is an indie-pop/jangle-pop quartet from Melbourne. They formed in 2008 and have released two albums. Their latest album Range Anxiety was released via Merge Records last January, and it ended up making some year-end lists. I didn’t hear about the album until just a few days ago, and it didn’t take long for it to muscle its way into my listening space. I haven’t listened to the whole album yet, but I’ve listened to this song and a couple of others a bunch of times. And I like it very much.

Like just about every Australian indie band, they claim The Go-Betweens as a big influence. Like just about every Australian indie band, lots of people say that they are reminiscent of The Go-Betweens. Maybe “The Go-Betweens” is an easily recognizable signpost, but I’ve always thought it to be a lazy and clichéd reference when writing about Australian bands. If writers insist upon comparing them to another Australian band, I just wish they would say that Twerps sound a bit like what might happen if you took The Lucksmiths and removed all of the puns and clever wordplay from their lyrics. That’s kind of what I hear. That said, I have to reveal an embarrassing truth: I’m not very familiar with The Go-Betweens.

I like that while they all contribute vocals, the band has two lead vocalists. I like that they use a lot of coed vocal harmonies. I like that they often use call-and-response vocals. I like that the harmonies are often imperfect. I really like that there’s something unmistakably Australian about the mathematics of their songs. Something that I can’t explain, but I know it when I hear it.

“I Don’t Mind” by Twerps

That Je ne sais quoi quality that I was talking about makes me a little giddy. And that’s great.

You can purchase Range Anxiety via Merge Records here.

October 4, 2016 — “Beyond the Moon for Someone in Reverse” by Eluvium



If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Beyond the Moon for Someone in Reverse” by Eluvium (2016, from the album False Readings On).

Eluvium is the Portland, Oregon-based ambient electronic/”modern classical”/dreamgaze recording project of Matthew Cooper. He’s released eight albums as Eluvium, some solo albums, and two albums as Inventions with Mark T. Smith out of Explosions in The Sky. I’ve really liked everything that I’ve heard from him, but this new one is far and away my favourite.

Like most of his stuff, the new record is full of super-dreamy sounds and soft textures. There’s lots of very soft pink noise, lots of tape loops, lots of tape hiss, lots of vocal loops. Threre’s also a lot of piano and other classical stuff. Like the splendid Ruins by Grouper, this album also has a lot of incidental and field recordings. Rain. Wind. It sounds and feels like spending a night far away from the lights and sounds of the city. This is a record that should remind people of Grouper, lovesliescrushing, and some of Brian Eno’s ambient stuff.

I’ve been listening to this album a lot over the last couple of weeks, and it always puts me in a very relaxed, comfortable mood. I really think this album should be listened to front to back without pause. And then again. Tonight, though, we’ll just focus on one song. This is that song:

“Beyond the Moon for Someone in Reverse” by Eluvium

Don’t expect anything “big” to happen. It’s not going to. This is just a slow, peaceful voyage to a dream-like place. Imagine drifting to sleep in the most comfortable bed you’ve ever lain in.

False Readings on was released on September 2 via Temporary Residence, Ltd. You can buy it from the label in your choice of physical formats here, and you can buy it digitally via Bandcamp here.

September 28, 2016 — “Requiem for Hell” by Mono

Mono of Japan

Mono of Japan

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it the truncated version of “Requiem for Hell” by Mono (2016, from the forthcoming album Requiem for Hell).
Mono is a post-rock quartet from Tokyo. To avoid confusion with other bands with the same name, they are sometimes referred to as Mono of Japan or as Mono (Japan). However, the other bands named Mono are either inactive or irrelevant.
Mono formed in 1999 and they’ve released eight proper albums including two “twin” albums in 2014. They’ve had the same lineup the entire time and have been one of the most revered bands of the genre. Like a lot of bands in the post-rock genre, they don’t like that classification, and they prefer to be called something like “modern classical”. Call it what you will. They use traditional rock instruments in a non-traditional way, and they use non-traditional rock instruments to enhance their sound. They’re big, they’re loud, they’re heavy, they’re dark. They’re also bright and gentle. They’re very good at the heavy/light/heavy stuff. And they’re very nonchalant about it. They often seem like otherworldly spirits, both in their sound and in their presentation.

Their 2012 album For My Parents was my #1 album of the year (full countdown here), and when I saw them play in October of that year, I was absolutely floored. I hold that show in the same extraordinarily high regard as the time that I saw Stereolab play a 20 minute version of “Jenny Ondioline”. Utterly gobsmacked.

In 2014, their Rays of Darkness album was my #33 album of the year, and The Last Dawn was my #8 album of the year. You can see the full list here.

A couple of months ago, the band announced that their ninth album Requiem for Hell would be out this year, and as I always do with Mono records, I pre-ordered a physical copy. The album hits the street on October 14, and they’ve already shared a couple of sneak peeks at it. Three weeks ago, they released a slightly truncated version of “Ely’s Heartbeat”, and two weeks ago they released an abbreviated version of the album’s title track. Yesterday, they released a video for the title track via Decibel Magazine.

All of the press on this says that this is Mono’s darkest, heaviest work yet. This is on the heels of everyone referring to Rays of Darkness as “their blackest album ever”.

I don’t know about the rest of the album, but “Ely’s Dream” is the cinematic, arcing stuff that we know and love from Mono. This song, though… This song (or at least the abridged version we’ve heard) is indeed quite heavy and quite dark.

The video, in all its black-and-white glory, is even more sinister, more macabre than the music itself. Of course the music in the video is different to that in the 7:45 Soundcloud snippet. These are different sections of the same song. I haven’t heard the album version of the song in its entirety, but I really like both of these snippets. For different reasons.

First, the Soundcloud bit:
“Requiem for Hell”(edit version) by Mono

This bit is the beginning bit of the song. It starts low and quiet and gradually builds to something bigger, louder, darker, heavier, and meaner. The bit that’s used in the video picks up somewhere close to where the above edit ends. There’s a quiet bit at the start before it goes to a much more sinister place than we went with the audio edit. It’s heavier, more low-end-focused, and just flat dark. Hex value #000000. Pantone doesn’t even have a number for how black this is. This must be glorious to see played live.

The video, which premiered yesterday, plays like a really weird art house horror film. Mysterious and creepier than hell. More psychological terror than blood and gore. And we never even really know just what’s going on. We’re not even sure who the villain of the piece is. But it’s beautiful and it fits.

Here it is:

The video was directed by a Finnish fellow called Harri Haataja, who turned a lot of heads last year with a gorgeous, lush video that he made for an Icelandic metal band called Sólstafir.

Overall, this is a very dark and very heavy song. It seems aptly titled. While there isn’t yet an audio file anywhere of the 18-minute opus in its entirety, you can see a video of the song performed live in its entirety at a Halloween night show in France last year. See it here.

The new album comes out on October 14, and you can pre-order it via Temporary Residence in your choice of formats here.

September 21, 2016 — “Red Shift” by The Emerald Down

The Emerald Down

The Emerald Down

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Red Shift” by The Emerald Down (2001, from the album Scream the Sound).

The Emerald Down is a shoegaze band from the Seattle area. They formed in 1995 in Olympia, Washington. Founding frontwoman Rebecca Basye (vocals/guitar) was playing as The Emerald Down with two other band members. At a show one night, some guys from the audience asked her to join their band, but she doubled their request by telling them that they should join her band. Jason Markin (drums) took her up on that offer, and they have been the core of The Emerald Down ever since. They put out one album — Scream the Sound — in 2001 and a couple of EPs. At some point, they moved to Columbus, Ohio and changed the lineup a bit with Basye and Markin as the mainstays.

Although that debut album was well-received, they were on the wrong side of the Atlantic as far as shoegaze was concerned. They were also a few years too late as far as shoegaze was concerned. The album was, unfortunately, quickly forgotten. I had actually never heard of the band or the album until very recently.

The band decided to take an extended hiatus in 1993. At some point during this hiatus, Basye was diagnosed with breast cancer. Understandably, she shifted her focus from making music to staying alive. She’s now living in Germany and has gotten back into the fray.

It was announced earlier this year that Saint Marie Records was going to reissue Scream the Sound on CD and that they would also release it on vinyl for the first time. Check out those details here.

It was also recently announced that Basye and Markin have ended the hiatus and have got two new band members. They’ve signed with Wrong Way Records and are scheduled to release a new album called Songs from Saturn next year. You can read a bit about that here. As of now, details are sketchy at best, but they say they’ll release a single called “Lucas” very soon. This isn’t about that.

As I said, I didn’t even know about The Emerald Down until very recently when I stumbled upon them by way of a conversation in the comments of a friend’s Facebook post about how it’s easier for people in their 20s to discover new music than it is for people in their 30s and 40s. A click here and a click there, and I ended up on the Soundcloud page for The Emerald Down. This song, which I mistook for a “new” song, by a “new” band got me very excited.

“Red Shift” by The Emerald Down

There’s something about the chiming guitars and all the effects that simultaneously reminds me of Blue Bell Knoll-era Cocteaus and Smile-era Ride. Those two reference points don’t really resemble each other, but this song tastes like both of those things. And it’s just the guitars I’m talking about anyway. There’s something in the vocal harmonies that makes me think of some lost Slowdive b-side. In other words, this is ticking a bunch of boxes for me.

The re-relase date of Scream the Sound got delayed a bit, but it should be happening in the extremely near future. For now, you can pre-order here.

September 16, 2016 — “Degraded” by Preoccupations



If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Degraded” by Preoccupations (2016, from the album Preoccupations).

Preoccupations is a post-punk quartet from Calgary. They were formerly known as Viet Cong, and they released a stunning eponymous record under that name in January 2015. The album was met with very favourable reviews across the board, and even the impossible to please Ian Cohen over at Pitchfork loved it. It was so well-liked that it ended up making the shortlist for the 2015 Polaris Music Prize. I wrote about the band in advance of the release of that album here and correctly predicted that it would be one of my favourite albums of 2015.

Viet Cong was receiving a lot of high praise, and the band were playing a lot of shows, but they were also getting a ton of negative feedback about their name. Amid cries of racism and just plain tackiness, and after some venues cancelled shows because of their name, they announced last September that they would be rebranding themselves. It took months, though, and finally in April of this year, they announced that they had officially changed their name to Preoccupations.

Although there were some tough times in the band, they kept plugging away, and they worked hard on the new record. Some of the new songs are about the unintended consequences of their former name. One of the songs is actually about the transitional phase. The band had enjoyed a great deal of praise before their 2015 album, and they lived up to the advance hype. For myriad reasons, there was just as much, if not more anticipation about this new album.

I had access to advance copies of the new album, but for whatever reason, I never got around to giving it a spin. Until today, which happens to be the release day. To be completely honest, I haven’t yet given it a thorough listen, but I’ve really liked it based on one spin. It’s still dark and icy like Viet Cong, but there’s just a slightly different feel to it.

After just one spin, there were a few tracks that really stood out. This is one of them:

“Degraded” by Preoccupations

There’s that wonderful bass that brings Peter Hook’s bass to mind. There are bits of terrific feedback squall and fuzz that remind me a bit of A Place to Bury Strangers. And there’s still something that very oddly reminds me of Arcade Fire. There’s a lot going on here, and it’s ticking a lot of boxes for me.

The band is about to embark on the second leg of their 2016 world tour, which puts them on the road until the end of November. Unfortunately, they won’t be playing close enough for me to drive to a show.

The album came out today via Jagjaguwar, and you can buy it in your choice of physical formats here. You can also buy a download via Bandcamp here.

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