Friday, December 2, 2016

Small Feet

(New York) It seems baffling that a songwriter as adept as Stockholm’s Simon Stålhamre, the gentleman behind Small Feet, only released his debut From Far Enough Away Everything Sounds Like The Ocean last year. Things apparently don’t get finished when one’s interest is always sprinting to the next experiment, and Stålhamre’s stumble towards discovery began around the time he was 15 when he decided to quit school. Though he was – and remains – possessed of a natural intelligence and a gift for music, he was also shuffling a pack of demons that provoked an increasingly reclusive lifestyle. So, instead of attending school, he employed TV as his academic mentor – learning English from the American shows that dominated his small country’s schedules – while, all the time, building up a catalog of songs.

After years of writing songs for himself and keeping tapes stored in a closet in his parents’ home, Stålhamre connected with ex-pat American Jacob Snavely and drummer Christopher Cantillo to form Small Feet.  The band recorded their debut From Far Enough Away Everything Sounds Like The Ocean in a home studio located in one of a cluster of historically protected, 18th century cabins on Södermalm, an island in central Stockholm. Owned by the government, the cabins are leased to artists in a typically Swedish gesture of social democracy, and Stålhamre’s uncle passed his contract on to his musical nephew. Just like his predecessor, Stålhamre calls it Kvastis – a contraction of its original name, Kvastmakartrapan, which refers to the broom makers who once occupied the cabins – and converted the humble building into a recording studio.

Released in 2015 on Barsuk Records the album received rave reviews and the band toured both Europe and the United States. While working on their follow-up (to be released in early 2017) the band revisited a few unfinished gems from the From Far Enough Away.. sessions to bring us the Dreaming The Dream EP.

Like Jason Molina, Stålhamre has a voice that can swim out of a sinking heart. His emotional subtlety calls upon the dry humor of Bill Callahan, and there’s a buoyancy to his language that floats his warm tenor, while at the same time allowing him to echo Daniel Johnston’s inspired innocence.  Tracks like the opener “Hymn”, which comes in at barely over a minute, show Stålhamre’s ability to state a simple beautiful truth with stunning minimalism.  While “A Winter Coat On Bare Bones” could have very well been a recently discovered Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere outtake.


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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

SIMS


(New York) All Things Go premiered "Brutal Dance", the third single off of Sims upcoming album 'More Than Ever' which will be out 11/4 via Doomtree Records. When speaking about the song SIMS said, “I love this beat. I think ICETEP captured some amazing feeling in this one, big rises and falls, sweeping synths, I don’t know, there is just something unique and special about that beat to me. This was the first beat I got for this album, and it was the last song I finished; I wound up turning it in the day before we went to mastering. The song is about immediacy and that sense of desperation in immediacy.  I wrote this in memoriam of some lost friends. Something woke in me when they died. Something fierce and urgent. And I wanted to share that sense of urgency on this song, to share that expression of being relentlessly present and driven to do whatever it is that you want to do."


Life and loss and dance parties. Sex and love and fractal math. Sims wrote More Than everlast winter in the wake of some personally trying times: death and sickness in his immediate circle of friends and family. And he decided that the only acceptable answer to big loss is big joy—urgent, defiant, unapologetic joy. The thirteen tracks on More Than Ever capture Sims coming to, and living out, that conclusion.



Sims grew up in Minnesota, an active part of the busy and fiercely independent Minneapolis hip-hop scene. In high school, he made friends with the classmates that would eventually become his cohorts in Doomtree—the seven-member rap collective now responsible for some of this era’s most interesting, genre-defying releases. Over the past decade, Sims has released a host of projects, both as a solo artist (Lights Out Paris, Bad Time Zoo, Wild Life EP, Field Notes) and as a member of Doomtree (No Kings, All Hands, and many others.) He’s toured the world from Pittsburgh to Prague, playing festivals like Glastonbury, Riot Fest, and SXSW. He’s earned and re-earned his reputation as a thoughtful artist with an unstoppable live show. (When he calls "both hands up--now both feet up” rooms around the world have felt their floorboards flex as the entire crowd goes airborne.)

To create More Than Ever, Sims enlisted the unrelenting and adventurous production of Lazerbeak, Paper Tiger, and ICETEP. Sometimes take-no-prisoners, sometimes take-the-slow-road, the drums are crushing and the soundscapes are expansive. After many long days and nights sequestered in his South Minneapolis basement, Sims emerged with the most honest first-person account he's ever recorded--he wrestles with some demons, faces down his doubts, and allows us in on the dirty work of change and growth and revelation. But, true to form, he does it with swagger, wit, and bar-crushing style. Huge ideas concisely delivered over epic bangers without ever feeling overwrought. On songs like “Brutal Dance” and “OneHundred” Sims crafts an earnest mission statement while the razor-sharp wordplay, insight, and quick quips prevent him from ever taking himself too seriously. The result is a 45-minute rollercoaster through the highest highs, the lowest lows, and all of the love and hope between them.



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Gramps The Vamp


(Chicago) Arising from a sweat-drenched Halloween house party debut in 2011, the Chicago 7 (sometimes 8 or 9) piece has become equally known for it’s “tight-as-a-rope funk” [My Spilt Milk] as for its dedication to break the funk mold and carve out its own genre. In 2014, a year after being named Best New Band by Chicago Reader, Gramps The Vamp released its first official album produced by Sergio Rios of Orgone. The self-titled album’s vintage-noir style, which the band half-jokingly calls “Doom Funk,” drew the interest of filmmaker Alaric Rocha, who used over half of the songs as the soundtrack for his 70s inspired horror film “Demonoid (1971)”. In October 2016 the band released its sophomore effort, The Cave of 10,000 Eyes, which brings together Afrobeat, deep funk, soul, ethnic-jazz, and exotica for a further exploration into the dark, wild, and strange side of the funk.


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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Crocodiles


(New York) Comprised of best friends Brandon Welchez and Charles Rowell, Crocodiles have earned their place as one of the United States’ most engaging, hardworking and consistent rock and roll bands of the past few years. Dreamless is the pair’s sixth LP, and is, at once, their most exploratory and focused release.

Whereas Crocodiles’ first two albums made their home amongst a stew of fuzzed-out psychedelia, and the following three albums explored Welchez and Rowell’s penchant for placing pop sensibilities against whirring guitars and barbed production, Dreamless sees the duo endeavoring on an artistic departure that positions their guitars in the backseat in favor of a more spacious, synthesizer and piano-driven sound.

“We’ve always been a guitar band and I think we just wanted to challenge ourselves and our aesthetic,” says Welchez. “It didn’t start as a conscious decision but within the first week Charlie’s mantra became ‘fuck guitars’. Only one song has zero guitars but in, general we tried to find alternatives to fill that space.”

The title of the album works on both a literal and metaphorical level: “I suffered insomnia throughout the whole session. I was literally dreamless,” explains Welchez. “The past two years had been fraught with difficulty for us - relationship troubles, career woes, financial catastrophe, health issues,” he continues. “In that pessimistic mindset, it was easy to feel as if the dream was over.”


The pair recorded the 10-track Dreamless in Mexico City over the course of 6 weeks. Having become something of a spiritual (and in the case of Welchez, literal) home to the duo, choosing D.F. as the location for recording allowed them to again hook-up with friend and occasional bandmate Martin Thulin (also a member of post-punks Exploded View). Between them, the trio shared instrument duties, with Welchez and Rowell handling the lion’s share of guitar and bass, Thulin and Welchez the live drum work, and Thulin focusing largely on keys.

“Our relationship with Martin will serve as a pivotal point in our band’s history,” comments Rowell. “On this album, Martin continued his efforts to help us take our songwriting and aesthetics to further reaches.”

Thulin’s work on Dreamless is in keeping with the exemplary production found on Crocodiles previous releases and reconciles the band’s realigned focus on keys with their experiments of often pairing down the instrumentation to allow lyrical sentiments and themes to cut through to the fore. It’s an approach that has paid off, enabling the band to take more risks, both artistically and emotionally.

And you’ll burn and weep and suffer,” says the chilling spoken-word sample that opens Dreamless. “The sample is from a Christian preacher that we found over 15 years ago and used on the first 7” we ever did together when we were still teenagers” explains Brandon Welchez.  “Back then we used it with a sense of humor, laughing at the whole ridiculous guilt trip vibe. But hearing it again in our apartment in Mexico City, within the context of the words we were singing, it took on a different air. It lost the humorous aspect and just seemed like a commentary on life.”

An unsettling insight certainly, but if Crocodiles did indeed have to burn, weep and suffer in order to write and record Dreamless, then it was damn well worth it.



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Gabriel Wolfchild & The Northern Light


(Seattle) Singer-songwriter Gabriel Wolfchild beautifully fuses a range of raw acoustic sounds with the electricity of cinematic alternative rock in his debut EP, Mornings Like These. Intertwining his natural ability for poetic storytelling with intricate guitar, Wolfchild successfully demonstrates the true meaning of Indie artistry. After finding success as a solo artist in his hometown of Seattle, Wolfchild sought the help of supporting musicians who would later become his band, creating Gabriel Wolfchild and The Northern Light.

The EP, produced by Eric Lilavois (Saint Motel, Atlas Genius) and recorded at the famed London Bridge Studios, is inspired by both the beauty and the darker side of human existence, as well as the connections we make along the way. Wolfchild confides: "I think I can speak for most artists and say that the best ideas bubble up when you least expect it. Ultimately I believe inspiration comes when we are living a full life; the music that arises is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Many tracks on Mornings Like These were written as an expression of a very deep love with a past partner, “a relationship that encompassed every season of change, a beautiful storm, with these songs being the dove in the darkness".  


Gabriel Wolfchild gained national media attention following a successful blind audition on NBC’s The Voice in 2015.  After a quick taste of the limelight on The Voice, Wolfchild discovered that he is most nourished by sharing creative ideas with other musicians, stating: "I see music as a living, breathing entity that is forever evolving and finding itself deep in the hearts of millions of hardworking artists out there. That moment when one person's idea inspires another is nothing but magic! Ultimately that's what it all boils down to, being inspired and being an inspiration, that's what being a successful artist is all about.”

Wolfchild’s ethic of using music to bring people together is charmingly reflected throughout the EP, with soaring soundscapes painting diverse sonic textures that enable all audiences to become immersed in the sound. The encompassing multi-instrumental music supporting Wolfchild’s soothing vocals gives listeners the opportunity to reflect upon their own experiences and ‘’connect with the deepest parts of themselves”.

Leading single "Shipwrecks" is a folk anthem of hope with beautifully layered melodies reminiscent of early Fleet Foxes.  The heart-warming new music video for "Runaways" reveals a love song in it’s purest yet most powerful sense. Wolfchild sings “You are beautiful. It’s not just you in those shoes. It's everyone you know, everyone you love, everyone who has broken your heart. Soulmates from the start, soulmates even after we depart.”  

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Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Molochs


(New York) First, let’s meet Moloch. You remember him, right? The ancient god, the child later, the demander of sacrifice, the villain in Ginsberg’s Howl(and also real life) and now the personal antagonist of singer and songwriter Lucas Fitzsimons, who named his band the Molochs because he knew he’d have to make sacrifices to get what he needed, and because he always wanted a reminder of the Ginsbergian monster he’d be fighting against. And so this is how you make a record right now: you fight for every piece, and when Moloch takes apart your relationships and career potential and leaves you sleeping on couches or living in terrifying apartments and just about depleted from awful people involving you in their awful decisions, you grab a bottle of wine (and laugh at the cliché) and put together another song. And once you do that eleven hard-won times in total, you get a record like America’s Velvet Glory: honest, urgent, desperate and fearless because of it.

Fitzsimons came to his calling in an appropriately mythic way, born in a historic city not far from Buenos Aires and raised in L.A.’s South Bay—just outside of Inglewood—where he was immersed in the hip-hop hits on the local radio. (Westside Connection!) The summer d before he started middle school, a close friend got an electric guitar, and Fitzsimons felt an irresistible inexplicable power: “I'd go back home and I’d look up guitar chords on the internet—even though I had no guitar—and just imagine how I WOULD play them. I was slowly getting obsessed.” When he was 12, his parents took him back to Argentina, and on the first night, he discovered a long-forgotten almost-broken classical guitar in the basement of his ancestral home: “It sounds made-up, but it’s true,” he says. “I didn't put the guitar down once that whole trip—took it with me everywhere and played and played. When I got back to L.A., I bought my first guitar practically as the plane was landing.”


This started a long line of bands and a long experience of learning to perform in public, as Fitzsimons honed intentions and ideas and tried to figure out why that guitar seemed so important. After a trip to India in 2012, he returned renewed and ready to start again, scraping his band to lead something new and uncompromising. This was the true start of the Molochs: “It didn't make any sense to not do everything exactly the way I wanted to do it,” he says. “I was so shy and introverted that singing publicly sounded like a nightmare come true. But I didn't have a choice—I heard something inside of me and I needed to be the one to express it.”

The first album Forgetter Blues was released with Fitzsimons’ guitarist/organist and longtime bandmate Ryan Foster in early 2013 on his own label—named after a slightly infamous intersection in their then-home of Long Beach—and was twelve songs of anxious garagey, proto-punk, folky rock, Modern Lovers demos and Velvet Underground arcana as fuel and foundation both. It deserved to go farther than it did, which sadly wasn’t very far. But it sharpened Fitzsimons and his songwriting, and after three pent-up years of creativity, he was ready to burst. So he decided to record a new album in the spirit of the first, and in the spirit of everything that the Molochs made so far: “I wanted to spend less time figuring out HOW we were gonna do something and just actually do it.”


The result is America’s Velvet Glory, recorded with engineer Jonny Bell at effortless (says Fitzsimons) sessions at Long Beach’s JazzCats studio. (Also incubator for Molochs’ new labelmates Wall of Death and Hanni El Khatib.) It starts with an anxious electric minor-key melody and ends on a last lonesome unresolved organ riff, and in between comes beauty, doubt, loss, hate and even a moments or two of peace. There are flashes of 60s garage rock—like the Sunset Strip ’66 stormer “No More Cryin’” or the “Little Black Egg”-style heartwarmer-slash-breaker “The One I Love”—but like one of Foster’s and Fitzsimons’ favorites the Jacobites, the Molochs are taking the past apart, not trying to recreate it.

You can hear where songs bend, where voices break, where guitars start to shiver and when strings are about to snap; on “You And Me,” you can almost hear Lou Reed’s ghost call for a solo, and on “I Don’t Love You,” you get that subway-sound guitar and find out what happens when Jonathan Richman’s G-I-R-L-F-R-E-N goes wrong. And of course there’s the charismatic chaos of bootleg basement-tape Dylan—always Dylan, says Fitzsimons—and the locked-room psychedelia of Syd Barrett, especially on “Charlie’s Lips,” Fitzsimons’ ode to—or antidote to—those times when he felt the bleakness completely: “Then a bird lands on a branch nearby, you hear leaves fluttering, you hear a child laughing … all of a sudden things don't seem so bad anymore.”



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FUJIYA & MIYAGI


(New York) For a band acutely aware of our own futile existence and gradual demise on this planet, Fujiya & Miyagi sure know how to take that desolation and dance to it. Their second EP, from a series of three, is littered with thematic ruminations on skepticism, privilege, repetition, getting older, human beings’ place and significance in the world, and even the works of JG Ballard. Despite a mild undercurrent of bleakness and higher questioning, this EP finds the group in a very live band mode and, as ever, traversing the lines between disco and rock over the course of four songs.

This EP is a break in the otherwise optimistic views of the trio of releases singer David Best says, “All the other songs on both of the EPs so far are generally based from a positive viewpoint. However, it's inevitable that some frustrations and resentment will seep out somewhere.”

“We are living in an era where the fragility of life is more apparent than ever,” says Best, in reference to the Magazine-like opening track ‘Outstripping (The Speed of Light)’.The tracks deal with advances in technology making people idle and undeserving, “We waste our time watching cookery programs on telly whilst stuffing our face with confectionary that our generation has convinced itself it deserves by doing the most simple of everyday tasks.  We increasingly behave more and more like a dog giving itself a biscuit for the simple art of shitting.”


The funk strut of ‘R.S.I’ uses the basis of day-to-day repetitions in life as a springboard for a song that whilst locked into a bouncy, disco groove, feels anything but stuck in a rut. Best says of it, “At its core, it is talking about the repetitive nature of existence and suggesting life might be more fruitful if we broke out of these self-imposed restrictions.”

‘Swoon’ is inspired by the short story collection Vermillion Sands by JG Ballard. “Vermilion Sands was a fictitious holiday resort involving, amongst other things, buildings that reflect the inhabitant's moods, singing sculptures, automated poetry machines, and light-sensitive paintings.” The track is a slow, bubbling groove that has an air of New Order floating around its sparse, echo-laden drums, chugging bassline and gently flickering electronics.


The EP’s final track ‘Extended Dance Mix’ is a track that revels in the sort of honesty that can only come with age, with a comfort in being oneself, something based seemingly in equal amounts of contentedness and insecurity. “Lyrically I have tried to say exactly how I feel as I see it with the minimum of camouflage.” Best says, adding, “The song describes acid indigestion, posh indie drivel, the trajectory of the F&M’s existence, weight gain, working from home, Columbo, potential arthritic pain in the lower body, the rise of social media, the deterioration of musical formats and a general contempt for the vacuity of modern life and its self-elected cultural commentators. “ It’s a spoken word narrative atop of a cosmic disco beat that floats into otherworldly sci-fi territory at times before returning to earth with a bang, hitting the dance floor at, full stride.These collected four songs leave the path to EP3 being one that is likely to be as vast as it is unpredictable.



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