04.26.2015 — “The Way Down Leering” by Slows Down

Alexander Hawthorne (Slows Down)

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “The Way Down Leering” by Slows Down (2015, from the Slows Down).

Slows Down is a one-man sadcore/chamber pop recording project of London-based Alexander Hawthorne. He’s a self-taught multi-instrumentalist who cites Swans, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Spiritualized among his main influences. His brother William wrote and directed a 2013 short film called Embers for which he did the score/soundtrack. Last Christmas, he released a version of “Silent Night”, and in February of this year, he released his debut EP called Slows Down.

I got something in the mail bag about this a few months ago, and while I meant to write about it sooner, I just saw the email again today and gave another listen.

Today’s song has a bit of a Spaghetti Western soundtrack sound. If Ennio Morricone’s scores were re-imagined by Portishead. Epic, sweeping soundscapes with minimal vocals buried way low in the mix. Hawthorne played all of the instruments except for the drums, which his brother played. He recorded it all himself in a monaural home studio. However, the quality is much better than what you might expect from a home-recorded DIY project. Frankly, when I hear “self-recorded at home”, I think of hundreds of examples of great albums that suffer because of the low sound quality usually characterized by lots of tape hiss and really dull or really tinny sound. This is none of that. This sounds quite good, and it’s hard to believe that this is just one man doing nearly all of it.

This is that song

“The Way Down Leering” by Slows Down

I love the eerie synthesizer. Sounds a bit like a saw or even a theremin a tannerin or some such electronic instrument. I’m always a sucker for that kind of thing, and that’s pretty much the star of the show here.

I’m also a sucker for tuned percussion, and while I can’t be sure, I’m assuming that the particular instrument here is a glockenspiel.

From 5:55 to the end of the song, it gets kind of big and loud and post-rock. I really like how that kind of snuck up on me, and it’s a brilliant way to end a great song.

In short, there’s a lot for me to like about this, and it’s an easy pick.

Incidentally, the EP also features a cover of The Walker Brothers’ “In My Room”. It’s not much like the original, and I like his version much better. As much as I want to like Scott Walker and The Walker Brothers, I just don’t. Their cover of the Frankie Valli song “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” is absolutely mind-blowing, but apart from that, I just can’t get into them or Scott Walker solo. And I’ve really tried. I’ve really really tried.

You can download the Slows Down EP by naming your own price from bandcamp here. You can also buy the four song EP in 12″ vinyl format.

04.24.2015 — “The Sun Roars Into View” by Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld

Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld

If you only listen to one song today, make it “The Sun Roars Into View” by Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld (2015, from the forthcoming album Never Were The Way She Was).

Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld are an instrumental experimental post-rock/contemporary classical duo from Montréal. You probably already know both of them, and they’ve worked together before, but their forthcoming album is the first on which they’re the primary musicians.

Neufeld is a violinist who has been a semi-permanent member of The Arcade Fire. She’s also worked with The Bell Orchestre and The Luyas. Her solo debut Hero Brother was released in August of 2013. She definitely has a punk rock approach to playing the violin. Of course there’s a lot of grace and technical proficiency, but she’s very creative in her strokes and her style, and there’s a lot of personality in what she does.

Stetson is a masterful saxophonist who has also worked with Arcade Fire. He’s also appeared on albums by Tom Waits, Bon Iver, Feist, TV on The Radio, and Jolie Holland. You probably recall his trilogy of solo records New History Warfare. Volume 2 of those albums, which was subtitled Judges, was my tenth favorite Canadian album of 2011. That was back when I used to make a “Canadian” and a “non-Canadian” list, which started off as a play on the joke that people think I’m Canadian.

Anyway, Stetson is a phenomenal saxophonist. Not the tenor sax that most people are used to seeing in marching bands or the baritone that most people are used to seeing in symphony orchestras. The bass sax. Much bigger and pitched much lower than those more common ones. He’s perfected the art of circular breathing, which means that he breathes in through his nose while simultaneously breathing out through his mouth. This means he can play a continuous note for a crazily long amount of time. He also does really creative things with the keys and the valves to create percussion-like sounds on his albums. But really, it’s just him.

I had no idea that this Stetson/Neufeld collaboration was happening until I read something about it a while back on the Constellation Records website and then found a promo copy of the album in my mailbag the other day.

The album is much more approachable than Stetson’s solo records. I like those records a lot, but sometimes it just gets to be saxophone overload for me. The violin definitely softens the corners a little bit, and somehow, they mesh together really nicely. There are a few times where it’s hard to tell where the sax ends and the violin begins.

Today’s song is the first song from the album, which comes out this coming Tuesday, April 28.

“The Sun Roars Into View” by Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld

This is undoubtedly very dark, but the violin bits help lift it up out of the swamp and almost touch the sky. Let’s not kid ourselves, though. It’s not one of those cloudless skies. No. It’s cloudy as all get-out, and threatening rain. Any bursts of sunlight are the ones that just momentarily creep through the clouds.

Stetson and Neufeld are currently touring Europe and the UK. In June, they’ll play a very compact “North American tour” of seven dates with nothing further west than Toronto and nothing further south than New York City.

The album comes out on Tuesday, and you can order it from Constellation now in your choice of format here.

02.22.2015 — “The Graduates” by Speedy Ortiz

Speedy Ortiz

If you only listen to one song today, make it “The Graduates” by Speedy Ortiz (2015, from the album Foil Deer)

Speedy Ortiz is an indie rock/power pop/grunge revival quartet from Northampton, Massachusetts. Frontwoman Sadie Dupuis is one of the smartest people in all of indie rock, and by all accounts very much down-to-earth. She studied maths at MIT before going on to pursue a masters in poetry at UMass. It’s educational. It’s educational. It’s educational.

Because of her credentials, she’s often hailed as one of the best lyricists in the business. But it’s not just about flexing literary muscle. Anyone can write a book of poetry. She’s also a very qualified singer, and someone who realizes that being in a rock band is a lot of fun. People (myself included) have compared Speedy Ortiz’ previous work to some blend of Pavement and PJ Harvey. As a way to sort of poke fun at herself and that comparison, (or maybe just by coincidence), Dupuis was once the front of a Pavement cover band called “Babement”. More recently, while Speedy Ortiz was at SXSW, she took comedian Hannibal Burress up on his open offer to “play drums for any band”. He promised that he didn’t know how to play drums and that it would be awful, but Dupuis invited him to play with her, and apparently he came through on his threat to be awful. But it was all in fun.

Anyway, the band has a brand new record called Foil Deer, which just came out yesterday via Carpark Records. I’ve only had time to listen to it a couple of times, but I really like it. At times, especially on today’s song, I’m reminded of one of my all time favorites Bettie Serveert.

“The Graduates” by Speedy Ortiz

Here, Dupuis sounds a lot like Carol van Dijk. I’m thinking specifically of Dust Bunnies-era Betties. That happens to be my second favorite Betties record, so I’m all good with that.

Two years ago, Speedy Ortiz played at the 2013 Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh. I was really hoping to make it to their set on the middle night of the festival, but my schedule was jam-packed with other stuff and I wasn’t able to take in their set. They’re playing at the Cat’s Cradle near here in a couple of weeks, and I have high hopes that I can make it to that.

You can purchase Foil Deer from the Carpark website here. Catch them on tour when they come to your town. Tour dates here.

04.20.2015 — new song by Fleeting Joys

Fleeting Joys

If you only listen to one song preview tonight, make it the 65 seconds of shoegaze glory that is the teaser for a new song by Fleeting Joys (from a forthcoming album title and date TK).

Last night, a massive announcement came out of Sacramento. The shoegaze band Fleeting Joys unleashed something new for the first time since December of 2012. Not a complete song, but a tease of one, and the promise that they’re working hard. They also finally mentioned a “new album”. No title or date yet, but we will certainly hope that there’s a late 2015/early 2016 release on the horizon.

The Sacramento band is centered around the husband-and-wife pair of John Loring (guitars, vocals) and Rorika Loring (bass, guitar, electronics, vocals). Their 2006 debut record Despondent Transponder set the shoegaze loving world on fire, and everybody was calling it Loveless part II and calling them “the next MBV”. The album went out of print within a month of its release, and a few more runs have been pressed since then. In 2009, they followed that magnificent album with their sophomore effort Occult Radiance. That second album was my introduction to the band, and while I certainly love that album, I got the privilege of finding the earth-shaking Despondent Transponder later.

Since 2009, there hasn’t been much news coming out of their camp. Sure, they’ve been playing live shows, but they’ve been tight-lipped about new stuff. Around Christmas of 2012, they stunned everyone with the video for their blistering new single “Kiss a Girl in Black” (listen here), and everyone started holding their collective breath about a new album. A few days later, they released the single as a digital standalone. At that point, they never promised or even suggested a new album, but it didn’t stop people (myself included) from predicting that Fleeting Joys would actually beat MBV to the punch on releasing a new record. We were all growing tired of the promises that Kevin Shields had been making about the Valentines’ third album m b v which was 22 years in the making. That album finally came out on February 2, 2013, but we were still hoping that a new Fleeting Joys record was coming soon. Since then, they’ve been dead silent. Occasional references to “working on new stuff” on the Fleeting Joys Facebook page, but never anything tangible.

Last night, I was ecstatic when I got the email from soundcloud that Fleeting Joys had posted a new song. As excited as I was, I was also preoccupied with the Habs/Sens playoff game, and didn’t get a chance to listen until just a couple of hours ago. And since then, I’ve listened to the 65 second snippet about a billion times.

Anyway, here’s 65 seconds of that song which we don’t even know the name of yet.

New Fleeting Joys song preview

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Everything about this. Yes.

Of course there’s the obvious “they sound like MBV” and their fellow Golden State shoegazers Medicine, but the members of Fleeting Joys also want you to know that they’re huge fans of the very early Cocteaus stuff. I read an interview from a few years back where they specifically mentioned the Cocteaus compilation album The Pink Opaque, which is essentially the best of the non-album stuff from 1982 to 1985. The Cocteaus put out a bunch of EPs back then with multiple alternate (and often superior) versions of songs which had been on their albums. Like the members of Fleeting Joys, my favorite Cocteaus era is 1982-85. Of course I have everything from their catalog, but for me, there’s a ranking that goes something like:

1a. Treasure
1b. The Spangle Maker EP
2. The rest of the EPs from the 1982-85 era
3. Heaven or Las Vegas
4. “Carolyn’s Fingers”
5. huge gap here
6. Everything else

I’ve never been able to hear any Cocteaus influence in their songs, but Fleeting Joys swears that the influence is there. There’s nothing at all wrong with being influenced heavily by and sounding a lot like MBV and Medicine. Back in the day, Medicine used to hate it when people compared them, and Shot Fort Self Living to MBV, but there’s no denying the similarities. Fleeting Joys doesn’t hide from or shy away from the comparisons. Instead, they embrace them.

There’s no word on when the “new album” will come out. No word on the name of the album. There’s not even any word on the name of tonight’s song. All of that is forthcoming. And I’ll be waiting with bated breath.

04.18.2015 — “Exploding Heart” by Hamsas XIII

Hamsas XIII

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Exploding Heart” by Hamsas XIII (2015, from the forthcoming album Encompass).

Hamsas XIII is a gothic/darkwave/dream pop duo from Columbus, Ohio. Rich Witherspoon (bass, drums, guitar) was in a Columbus band called The Wake while Robyn Bright (vocals, bass, drums, guitar) was in an Edmonton post-shoegaze band called Cockatoo. The two started working together about two years ago, and they’re set to release their debut album Encompass on April 22 via Blaylox Records.

I had never heard of the band or the label until I got something in the mailbag yesterday. There’s usually a very large pile of email on Fridays, and yesterday was no different. If I’m totally honest about this, certain tag words or phrases cause a lot of emails to lose my interest before I even get a chance to listen to their song or watch their video. Yesterday was the first time in three years that a submission actually made me angry. That’s another story, though. This obviously wasn’t that. This email had lots of tag words that pique my interest very much. With very high hopes, I was pointed to a video that I only needed to watch about three seconds of. I was not disappointed.

There’s a ton of early 1980s goth/new wave/dark wave feel to the album and especially the song. Other reviewers have thrown around reference points like Siouxie and the Banshees, early Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil, and early Modern English. When I watched the first few seconds of the video and listened to a tiny bit of tonight’s song, I instantly thought of the first side of the Cocteaus’ 1982 album Garlands. It’s a little “Blood Bitch”, and a lot “Wax and Wane”.

Anyway, here’s the video for that song:
“Exploding Heart” by Hamsas XIII

It’s that über-gothy bass line that makes me think so much of Garlands. It’s sexy and dark and a little warm. The drum machine, Bright’s vocals, and the delay/reverb/doubling on them all combine to make this sound exactly like something that would have been released on 4AD in 1983, and would have had Vaughan Oliver’s magnificent artwork on the cover.

I’ve listened to most of the album, and I really love it. I know it’s still very early in the year, but I might be able to pencil this into the top 10 of my year-end list. I realize that this sounds like a bunch of crazy talk, but this song is really magnificent and so is the rest of the album. Very much up my alley.

You can pre-order the album on iTunes now and get an instant download of tonight’s song. You won’t regret it. Also, check out the

04.16.2015 — “Future Song” by Distortion Girls

Distortion Girls

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Future Song” by Distortion Girls (2015, from the forthcoming album Party).

Distortion Girls is a drone/psychedelic/noise trio from Copenhagen. They’ve been around since 2011 or so, and they’re about to release their debut album —Party— via the Danish indie label Cat Box Corp. Cat Box Corp is a tiny label in Copenhagen who releases most of their albums exclusively on CDR with hand-made packaging. Until recently, they didn’t think much of digital releases. While we appreciate the “physical format only” ethos, the reality of the market is that digital has to be an option. They’ve grudgingly come to accept that.

The forthcoming debut album by Distortion Girls will be a double vinyl, and that’s a massive undertaking for a label with a very limited budget. We admire that dedication to the project and the faith that they have in the band.

I know absolutely nothing about this band. They have a very small digital footprint, and their own website doesn’t give any biographical information at all. They describe themselves this way:

Neverending psychedelic slow-motion noise disco for heavy beats, noisy guitars, massive organ and dead-end vocals.

Earlier today, I happened upon today’s song in my soundcloud feed and I liked it right away.

This is that song
“Future Song” by Distortion Girls

“Psychedelic slow motion noise” is a really good way to describe that. It’s got a very deep groove that it rides in and it’s a little spooky and a lot soothing at the same time. It’s sort of like if Mazzy Star and Stereolab collaborated to do a cover of The Doors’ “Riders On The Storm”.

I don’t do any drugs other than my fair share of alcohol, but I imagine that the recreational use of some hallucinatory narcotic substance might make this song a really wild ride. It’s a fun ride for me without any of that.

The album will be out sometime this spring on double vinyl. It’ll also be made available for digital download purchase via Bandcamp.

04.15.2015 — “Black” by The Soft Moon

Luis Vasquez (The Soft Moon)

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Black” by The Soft Moon (2015, from the album Deeper).

The Soft Moon is a post-punk band who now calls Venice, Italy home. Multi-instrumentalist Luis Vasquez started The Soft Moon as a solo recording project in Oakland a few years ago, and never really meant for it to be a thing. After recording a bunch of songs, he got together with some guys and in 2010, they released a self-titled debut record that turned lots of heads. Then an EP, and a second LP in 2012. With that album — Zeros— Vasquez said that he’d be done with The Soft Moon. Since then, he moved from the Bay Area to Italy, and spent a lot of time traveling to Berlin. Thankfully, he’s come out with a magnificent third album this year. Deeper, which was released by Captured Tracks on March 31, has been called the “most ambitious”. It’s certainly the darkest and doomiest.

In the early days of this blog, a reader tipped me off about the debut album, which I fell in love with immediately. I wrote a feature about the fantastic song “When It’s Over”, which you can revisit here. I liked the second album, but not as much as The Soft Moon. When the new album came out, I didn’t really know what to expect. I’ve been listening to A LOT of new and unfamiliar things lately, so it took me a little while to finally get around to the new record. I was completely blown away by it the first time I listened to it through my new in-ear monitors.

In the album opening song “Inward”, there’s this really weird melty synthesizer buzz that travels back and forth across the stereo field. It’s really disorienting and a little scary, actually. It’s only 40 seconds long, and it really serves as an intro to today’s song, but it’s magnificent. Disorienting and creepy, but magnificent. That same melty buzz shows up a couple of times in today’s song, which is appropriately titled “Black”. This is that song:

“Black” by The Soft Moon

Indeed. This is dark. Very dark. And cold.

Vasquez gets straight to the point with the lyrics, too.

I don’t care what you say, you say
Living life my own way, own way

It’s right around the 2:12 mark where that low, melty buzz creeps into this song. Because of the other sounds, it’s not quite as disorienting as it is in that other song, but it’s the exact same thing.

I imagine this song being performed live with absolutely no stage lighting. Pitch black. And louder than loud. I said virtually the same thing in my previous write-up about The Soft Moon. This is even darker than that. You should play this loud over speakers, but you should also take the time to listen to this song through a good set of headphones or a good set of in-ear monitors. It’s a weird head space to be in.

I listened to the album three times in a row this morning and twice again this afternoon. It’s a lot of darkness. Probably more darkness than I need, but I kind of love it.

You can buy Deeper in your choice of cassette/CD/LP from Captured Tracks here, or digitally from your favorite legal downloading place. Just buy this record. You won’t be sorry.


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