Category Archives: mailbag

September 21, 2017 — “That’s Not All” by Pia Fraus

Pia Fraus

If you only listen to one song today, make it “That’s Not All” by Pia Fraus (2017, from the forthcoming album Field Ceremony).
Pia Fraus is a shoegaze/dream-pop/indie pop quintet from Tallinn, Estonia. Between 2001 and 2008, they released four proper albums. In a previous feature back in 2012, I wrote

I guess you could say that they’re three parts The Swirlies, one part Yo La Tengo, but with the volume low, the windows open, and the light shining in.

I stand by that assessment.

The band took a long hiatus and shuffled the deck just a little bit. After nine years, they’re ready to release their fifth album —Field Ceremony— on October 16. Actually, it’ll be out on October 13 via Shelflife Records in the United States and October 16 in Europe (SekSound Records) and in Japan (Vinyl-Junkie Recordings). They’ve been releasing singles ahead of the album, but those somehow slipped between the cracks until I got something in the mail bag a couple of weeks ago. I was, of course, pleasantly surprised and excited to read about the new album, and I was totally satisfied when I listened to the promo copy.

The melty, gooey guitar with the tons of effects, their magnificent pop sensibilities and the glorious coed vocals reminded us of why we fell in love with Pia Fraus in the first place: they remind us of a lot of familiar and comfortable things while bringing a lot of their own things to the table.

It’s fair to mention that I was also unaware of this development, but Pia Fraus recently recorded a split 7″ single with Rocketship. Check that out here. Rocketship, incidentally, has new record coming out after an 11-year hiatus. You should check out the new song here.

Back on topic, though, the new tune from Pia Fraus is great, and this is that song:
“That’s Not All” by Pia Fraus

I love that they waste no time getting to the melty, gooey guitar awesomeness. No stick clicks or snare hits to count them in, no jangly acoustic intro. Just the warm, gooey stuff right from the drop. My only complaint (and this is a very minor one) is that I wish they were much louder. The noise that they do bring is glorious, but I wish they would turn their amps to elevens.

There’s also a video, which was directed by the band’s former drummer Joosep Volk:


July 24, 2017 — “Forgot Myself” by Jen Cloher

Jen Cloher

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Forgot Myself” by Jen Cloher (2017, from the forthcoming album Jen Cloher).

Jen Cloher is an indie-folk/rock singer/songwriter from Melbourne. She has released three albums and a couple of EPs and singles, but I didn’t know much about her until recently. Actually, I did, but I didn’t. She has been dating indie darling/rising superstar Courtney Barnett for several years, and they’ve collaborated on each other’s records before. On August 11, she’ll release her fourth album —Jen Cloher— via Milk Records, which is the label that Cloher and Barnett run.

I got something in the mailbag about a different song from the new record, and I knew right away that I like this record. Tonight’s song is about “the sacrifices and difficulties of maintaining a long-distance relationship with a high-profile partner”. They live together, but Barnett spent a long time touring with her brilliant debut Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, so I guess they’ve spent a lot of time apart from each other. We’ll get to that later.

The album was recorded in a one-room studio in a rural Australian town, then mixed in Jeff Tweedy’s studio in Chicago. Barnett contributed guitar and vocals to the entire album. Their friend Kurt Vile also played guitar on one track, and Andrew “Bones” Sloane (bass) is a full-time member of the band. Both are also frequent collaborators with Barnett.

Anyway, here’s tonight’s song:
“Forgot Myself” by Jen Cloher

It’s a great song that reminds me of a lot of things. There are bits that remind me of The Breeders and bits that remind me of Bettie Serveert. In a weird way, the bass and drums remind me of Butterglory. There are obviously bits that remind me of Courtney Barnett. Despite how catchy and toe-tap inducing it might be, it’s kind of a downer. The words to the last verse tell the whole story of dealing with being apart from her love:

You’re riding round the world
You’re doing this and you’re signing that
The facts are that you’re there and I’m here
When you’re gone too long I become an idea
I’m driving in my car
Your song comes on the radio
And I remember what I always forget
Loneliness.

That’s kind of intense. But it’s about to get better. Jen Cloher will be touring with this record. Courtney Barnett will be on tour with the album she made with Kurt Vile. For a few weeks in the United States this autumn, they’ll all be touring together. I don’t know who headlines those shows, but it sounds like a badass show. If I’m honest, I’m not wild about Kurt Vile, but that would be an amazing show.

The eponymous Jen Cloher album comes out on August 11, and you can pre-order it via Bandcamp here, or via the label here.

Also, there’s a great video for the song. And it’s packed full of people who have something to do with Milk Records or the Melbourne music scene. You’ll easily recognize Courtney Barnett. “Bones” Sloane plays the guy making art with his food. Jen Sholakis, who plays drums in the band (and a couple of other Melbourne bands), is drinking coffee. Tain Stangret, who sings on a couple of songs, is the waitress. You may recognize her from Courtney Barnett’s incredible video for “Elevator Operator”. The dishwasher is played by Anika Ostendorf, who makes dream-pop under the name Hachiku. The cook is played by a guy called Tejo D’Cruz. It took a bit of internet research, but I figured out that he used to be in a Singapore pop-punk band called Aspectrum. Now he lives in Melbourne, and does a decent Elliot Smith cover.

Anyway, now that you’ve got the cast and all their bios, here’s the video:

The video is worth watching multiple times because there are lots of really subtle and cool things going on. It’s weird, but it’s fun.


April 11, 2017 — “Blurred” by Voices from Deep Below

Voices from Deep Below

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Blurred” by Voices from Deep Below (2017, from the album I Want to Stand Where the Sun Himself Shakes with Fear).

Voices From Deep below is a shoegaze/dreampop/post-rock recording project of Dale Humphries. He’s a Londoner who relocated to NYC several years ago and has been recording as Voices from Deep Below since. I wrote about this project once before a couple of years ago here, and since He’s just released the fifth album, here we are again.

On the other records, Humphries did most, if not all, of the work. On this one, there’s a full band credited, but I think we still talk about Humphries and the band interchangeably.

Although I haven’t been writing much lately, I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth and I am trying to pay attention to the mailbag. This one came from the mailbag, which is bulging with unread messages and audio files. I’ll get to that some day.

From what I’ve heard, the previous stuff has some ambient edges and I was reminded just a bit of lovesliescrushing and things of that ilk. On this new one, there’s much more noise. Less pillows. More bricks. Also, the other records have songs of “standard” running times. Most are in the five-minute neighbourhood. The new record has just five songs, and they’re all “long”. Today’s song clocks in at 8:48, and it’s the shortest of the lot.

There’s plenty of the aforementioned “noise” and “bricks”, but there’s also some intermittent softness and serenity. It’s not completely devoid of pillows. Although I’m listening on headphones, I’m sure this is fantastic when played loudly through real speakers.

“Blurred” by Voices from Deep Below

I like the vocals, which are provided by Gioia Lea Gerber, and I like some of the Slowdive-esque guitar bits, but I really like the bits that get really loud. All the different layers upon layers of fuzz and heavily affected guitars at 7:01. That’s my favourite part.

As is the case with the other Voices from Deep Below releases, you can download I Want to Stand Where the Sun Himself Shakes with Fear completely free of charge via Bandcamp here.


March 6, 2017 — “Colour/Blind” by Chain of Flowers

Chain of Flowers

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Colour/Blind” by Chain of Flowers (2015, from the album Chain of Flowers).

Chain of Flowers is a post-punk/shoegaze five-piece from Cardiff. They formed in 2012 and have released a handful of singles and EPs, and they also put out an eponymous album in 2015. They spent three years working on the record, then they spent 96 hours in the studio recording it. They had already made huge waves throughout Wales, so that album was highly anticipated. It was received well with glowing comparisons to the likes of Joy Division, Eagulls, Ceremony, The Cure, and even The Smiths. While I can’t be completely sure of this, my guess is that the band got its name from The Cure’s song “A Chain of Flowers”, which was a b-side on the 12″ UK pressing of “Catch” (1987).

It’s a loud and intense record. It’s very dense and it’s one of those records that imposes itself in your personal space. You don’t float around with it; it occupies you.

In 2016, the album was repressed and the band went on a massive headlining tour of the UK. Right now, they’re touring the USA, with upcoming stops at the Savannah Stopover Festival and SXSW.

I had never heard of the band until I got something in the mailbag today promoting a bunch of Welsh bands who will be at SXSW. Even before reading the description of Chain of Flowers, I saw a photo of the band and immediately thought that the dude in the shades looks an awful lot like Ian Curtis. Of course the description mentioned Joy Division, so I was already sold before I listened to a note.

I’ve listened to most of the album, and I like everything I’ve heard, but this one struck me more than the others.

“Colour/Blind” by Chain of Flowers

I’m certainly reminded of Ceremony and to a lesser extent The Cure. I’m also reminded a bit of A Place To Bury Strangers. And in a very strange way, the singer’s voice reminds me of Steve Kilbey out of The Church.

The band has announced that they’ll be releasing a new 7″ record later this month, and with all this touring, we might guess that there’s a new album on the way, but we don’t really know.

You can order the Chain of Flowers album on clear vinyl or as a digital download via Bandcamp here.


February 28, 2017 — “Teasin'” by Hiccup

Hiccup

Hiccup

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Teasin'” by Hiccup (2017, from the forthcoming album Imaginary Enemies).
Hiccup is a pop-punk/indie rock/garage rock trio from Brooklyn. They released a self-titled EP in 2015, and they’re set to release their debut album via Father/Daughter Records on March 24.

Hallie Bulleit (bass/vocals) and Alex Clute (guitar/vocals) met when they were hired as the house band on The Chris Gethard show, which started out on late night public access TV in NYC, then made it to cable, and is now part of the Funny or Die family. For that show, they wrote silly, poppy, punky 30-seconds songs that never saw the light of day. They decided that they wanted to record some real songs, and they recruited Piyal Basu (drums) to round out the band. The three are huge fans of The Ramones, and claim to be influenced by the likes of The Smoking Popes, Superchunk, and Jawbreaker.

It’s worth mentioning that Bulleit has been in a couple of other bands, but she’s also an actress, percussionist and aerialist with some real chops. On Broadway, she’s been in Stomp, Fuerza Bruta, and Rent. She also was in a Los Angeles production of Rent alongside Neil Patrick Harris.

I got something in the mailbag a couple of weeks ago that was specifically about a different Hiccup song, but I starred the email and put a sticky note on my laptop to write about them “soon”. I liked the video for that song (“Lady Macbeth & Miss Havisham”), and I’ve really been loving the output from Father/Daughter Records lately, so I knew it was a winner. Last night, when I was looking for other stuff, I happened upon the video for tonight’s song, and I liked it and the song so much that I felt some more urgency to write about them.

I haven’t heard the whole album yet, but I love the two songs that I have heard, and I’m looking forward to the March 24 release of their debut album.

Tonight’s song brings to my mind what might happen if Superchunk did a raucous set of Neutral Milk Hotel covers.

This is that song:
“Teasin'” by Hiccup

It’s just a fast and gritty power pop song. It’s all blood, sweat and beer. It’s got great hooks, and really love that middle eight section from 1:26 to 1:36 where it’s just the guitar, and it’s a bit calmer and all muffled. The chorus kicks back in and hell breaks loose again. At least for one more minute.

The video is a bit of fun. A little bit “performance”, but mainly it seems to be about the drudgery of office jobs. Here’s that video:

The album will be out on March 24. You can pre-order physical copies here. There are two different pressings of vinyl. One on “mustard yellow/aqua blue”, and one on translucent “piss yellow”. There’s also a CD version and a digital download version.


February 17, 2017 — “The Embers” by Vagabon

Lætitia Tamko of Vagabon

Lætitia Tamko of Vagabon

If you only listen to one song today, make it “The Embers” by Vagabon (2017, from the forthcoming album Infinite Worlds).

Vagabon is a lo-fi indie rock/punk/folk recording project for the NYC-based singer/multi-instrumentalist Lætitia Tamko. She was born in Cameroon, and her family moved to New York when she was thirteen. At age 17, she taught herself to play on a guitar that her parents bought at Costco. Years later, when she was off at college, she would tell her parents that she spent every weekend holed up in the library, when in reality, she was out every weekend night playing shows in small clubs. Eventually, at one of those shows, she was approached by the founder of Miscreant Records, who wanted to release a record for her.
That record was the Persian Garden EP, which was released in November of 2014 and has been out of print for a long time. Some of the songs from that release, including today’s song, have been reworked and renamed for the forthcoming debut long player Infinite Worlds. That record will be released next Friday, February 24 by Father/Daughter Records.

While Tamko does a lot of the heavy lifting on the album, she has a full backing band and there are a few guest vocalists on the album including Greta Kline, who is also known as Frankie Cosmos.

“Cold Apartment”, from the forthcoming album reminds me a lot of Torres. It’s just a reworked version of a song called “Cold Apartment Floors” from Persian Garden. Similarly, today’s song is a reworked version of a song called “Sharks” from Persian Garden.

“The Embers” by Vagabon

I love the rawness of it. Although it wasn’t recorded in a bedroom, it has that feel to it. It starts with just her voice and a muted guitar, but by the end of the big chorus, it’s a cacophonous lo-fi buzz.

It’s impossible to write about Vagabon without mentioning two things. One is the opening lyric in today’s song:

I feel so small
My feet can barely touch the floor
On the bus where everybody is tall

The whole theme of the song is feeling small. Not just in stature but “small” in the grand scheme. Insignificant. I think it’s a running theme throughout many of the songs.

Run and tell everybody Lætitia is a small fish
I’m just a small fish
You’re a shark that hates everything
You’re a shark that eats every fish

The other thing that’s impossible not to write about is that she’s not just a black woman, but an African black woman in the world of indie rock and freak-folk, which is a world inhabited almost exclusively by white people. Although being a Cameroonian partially defines who she is as a person, she doesn’t necessarily want her skin colour or the continent where she was born to be part of how she’s described as a musician. She told the Village Voice about this:

I struggle with wanting to just make music and do my thing and not have a face, but I also want to be visible

.

That EP back in 2014 got lots of good reviews and the forthcoming full length record has been eagerly anticipated. If I’m honest, though, I didn’t know about Vagabon until I got something in the mailbag early this morning. You can stream the whole album via NPR First Listen here. I’ve listened to most of it, and I really like it. I’ve listened to today’s song a bunch of times already, and I can’t get enough.

The album comes out next Friday, and you can pre-order it via Father/Daughter in your choice of formats here.

Also, for extra credit, here’s a video for the song:


February 13, 2017 — “Listerine” by Luxury Death

Luxury Death

Luxury Death

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Listerine” by Luxury Death (2017, from the forthcoming EP Glue).

Luxury Death is a lo-fi indie pop band from Manchester. At the center of the band is Meg Williams (vocals/keys) and Ben Thompson (vocals/guitars). They date each other, play in this band together, and produce an art magazine which is also called Luxury Death. Thompson used to be in a slacker punk band called Nai Harvest, and the dissolution of that band gave rise to this one. They’ll be releasing their debut EP Glue via Punk Slime Recordings on February 24.

They definitely have some influences from the mid-late 90s. To me it sounds like there might be a lot of Merge Records influence. I hear part Butterglory, part Portastatic.

I got something in the mailbag today about the forthcoming EP and specifically about tonight’s song. The release listed plenty of links to high praise from the indie music press. Many of the clips said things like “nihilistic” and “recalls the era when post-punk was just starting to morph into new wave”. Those kinds of quotes pique my interest, but really it was the quote from Noisey when they reviewed a song six months ago that got me:

Radiator Face” is the sound of waking up with a crushing hangover and a comedown, but lying sweatily next to the one you snog

It’s a really colorful, but appropriate way to describe that song, but this isn’t about that song. This is about “Listerine” This is that song:

“Listerine” by Luxury Death

I love the lo-fi punk-pop sound, and I love the coed vocals. There’s something about the way the lyrics are treated that makes them nearly impossible to understand. From what I’ve read, though, the lyrics have some pretty clever wordplay. I’m always a fan of clever wordplay.

One of my favourite bits in the song is at the 2:27 mark when it goes from being a little buzzy but mostly quiet to being pretty loud and much busier. Just before that, there’s a tiny little hiccup where it goes dead quiet for just a fraction of a second. Normally, I really like that kind of thing. I’m not sure that I love it here, but I like the rest of the song so much that I’ll let it slide.

After I got the email about this song, I listened to all of the other songs, and I really like this EP. I can’t wait to see what else this band has in store.

You can pre-order the EP on pink vinyl via Punk Slime here, or you can pre-order a digital download via Bandcamp here.


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