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<Jeff Klingman>

10/20/14 1:50pm

                                                                                  Photos by Devon Banks 

This past Saturday Bushwick’s big, handsome, recently revamped venue The Wick held the first show in the ongoing series, “Tinnitus.” Presented by Pitchfork’s recurring metal column, Show No Mercy, and the long-running producer of heavy events, Blackened Music, its programming focuses on “composers of extreme sound” as a loose organizing principe. (A second installment, featuring Tim Hecker, has already been announced for November 12th.) 

The inaugural performance saw Brooklyn’s Julianna Barwick and Iceland’s Ben Frost operating from vastly different ends of the sound spectrum. Thoughts, photos, and maybe a stray Vine or something follow here…

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Julianna Barwick is at a point in her career where playing grand, odd spaces should be her default option. Her experimental devotional music, big and full yet ghostly and unknowable, makes zero sense in some divey rock club. As an ideal setting, a 19th century church is probably unbeatable. The vaulted ceilings and cavernous, unfinished expanse of The Wick suit her as well.                      

As always, the intensely beautiful, deeply physical way Barwick loops her voice to fill space makes still music weirdly compelling. You can see her leaning into notes, coaxing them into the air to join the triggered loops she’s already left floating. Her transparent process of construction is a striking way to make what is essentially sedate ambient music work in a live performance. You could close your eyes, as she usually does, and just appreciate the mass of sound. But watching an inexplicably gorgeous melody accumulate, sculpted brick by brick, holds an unexpected drama. 

A difference in Barwick’s current sets versus those of a few years ago is an increased confidence to utilize instrumental passages with no vocals at all. On Saturday, she let a beautiful piano refrain echo alone for a few minutes before giving it any sort of further embellishment. Towards the end of the set she even triggered some heavy low-end from a drum machine, creating a contrast I can’t recall her trying before. She’s developed her style so deliberately that many possible directions to take her songs remain unattempted, years after achieving a viable signature sound. 


For a man who lives in Iceland but was born in Australia, Ben Frost looks absurdly Nordic. He looks like the sort of brawny but secretly sensitive Viking time-travel-themed romance novels are written about. With immaculate beard and cascading locks, draped all in black down to his bare feet, he had the air of a sexually magnetic cult leader. It was silly, almost. His band consisted of drummer Greg Fox—a prototypically excitable metal dude in reflective pink Bret Hart shades—and lithe, multi-instrumentalist Shazad Ismaily, who looked in strobe-lit silhouette like the kind of generic gray space alien that seemed to abduct a lot more people in the 1980s. Together, they made a hell of a fucking noise. 


Where Barwick was serene and angelic, Frost’s set was epileptic and evil. His band performed selections from this year’s acclaimed A U R O R A album. They delivered tones at ruinous volume, to the point that internal organs not often distinctly noticed within one’s trunk could be identified by the distinct frequency at which they were vibrating. Fox’s only job was to beat his kit like a jazz-schooled gorilla. Ismaily alternated, occasionally wringing synth sustains out of his Moog, more often providing fluid secondary rhythms, from drum pads real and synthetic. Frost’s minute-to-minute purpose was a little more opaque, spanning a sturdy table of assorted electronics in order to trigger loops, or approximate the sound of air burning in the midst of a nuclear detonation. Sometimes he’d step back with an axe to conduct his own guitar feedback. 

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Though pure, body-jellying volume was the set’s primary special effect, it was easy to appreciate the structured movement of the music. It wasn’t just a thrill-seeking ride on the roller coaster. The presence of two live drummers in addition to fast paced synthetic beats gave the show the hedonistic push of late-night dance music just as often as it held the claustrophobic weight of sheer drone.

The crowd, plentiful for an overtly experimental bill in so large a room, was zoned-in throughout, blissed-out faces moving a tad unnaturally in the flashing strobes. The group returned after a rousing ovation for what Frost described as his first ever encore. He bowed with the genuine graciousness of a guy who’d never before been asked. 

10/08/14 4:00am

On previous Zola Jesus albums, the pairing of grubby or minimal music with Nika Danilova’s raw vocal power generated a compelling friction. She seemed to soar far above her songs, connected to the ground by only a thin, fraying wire. On new release Taiga, amid producer Dean Hurley’s big clean machine sounds, she seems curiously solemn. Sticky hooks have never been the point. Rather, the best stuff on 2011’s Conatus built drama with carefully utilized negative space and clever slow-burn arrangements. The new stuff surprises in spots. “Dust” plays like a smoky Fiona Apple ballad minus the fierce hyper-articulation, before a late tempo change startles it to life. The stutter beats and wilted strings of “Lawless” put her vocal in a nice frame. Still, it’s mainly inert.

In a pre-album interview with Rolling Stone, Danilova expressed an unsatisfied desire to connect: “I feel like now that you can hear what I’m saying I have the responsibility to say something.” Though she never projects anything less than deep feeling, the intended quantum leap in clarity is absent. The language is a little too stiff to  truly be vivid. Dark mainstream pop has a thriving commercial life with artists like Charli XCX and Tove Lo bringing nihilist kicks to eager kids. Zola Jesus may be thinking too hard to muscle in on their turf.

In the wake of Zola’s departure, Sacred Bones’ new signature solo artist might well be Pharmakon. That Margaret Chardiet could near wide popularity using the assaultive styles of noise and industrial seems unlikely, but her difficult 2013 debut, Abandon, was a solid cult hit anyway. Its follow-up, Bestial Burden, is as loud and brutal but more conceptually tidy, turning the trauma of a recent emergency surgery into a blast of rage in the face of human frailty. Its first seconds subvert the calming repetition of slow, steady breathing into irregular hiccuping layers, broadcasting rising distress. On “Primitive Struggle” she forms icky loops from the sounds of a horrid, phlegmy cough. Vocal extremity obscures a deceptive range. At different points she sounds like a hysterically laughing in-patient, a B-Movie heroine transforming into a werewolf, or Kim Deal’s studio chatter on a Pixies record (if Deal were possessed by Satan).

It’s not all David Cronenberg body horror and shrieking over sheet-metal clangs. Pharmakon songs are well-structured with impactful beats and well-considered builds.  “Intent or Instinct” carries a rising drone that’s almost pretty in a strangled, MBV sorta way. It’s more “musical,” than a noise newbie might assume. But the pop affinity that led Chardiet to ably cover Nancy Sinatra earlier this year is for now quarantined from her more personal work. She remains on an interesting perch just shy of pure abrasion.

Copenhagen punk band Iceage seem ready for bolder moves. As heard on their 2011 debut, New Brigade, they were precocious brats, too concerned with destruction to linger on fleeting, accidental-seeming melodies. Last year’s You’re Nothing diluted their immediacy but added a mournful quality that made the songs sound like growing up in real time (a sort of Oi Boyhood). Having toured for several solid years, the band’s grown the chops needed for more deliberate expansion. Plowing into the Field of Love, their second record for Matador, is their most aspirational.

Frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt hopscotches across the line that separates magnetic from insufferable. He thrashes and gulps through songs like a beautiful fish beached from an ocean of red wine. His ultra-European construction of English lyrics gives hammy garment-rending the allure of alien poetry. Take for example the title track. He’s not plowing a carefully seeded field of love. He’s plowing into it, making a blunt impact. Later, in the midst of a twilit ballad, he laments a tendency to always be “pissing against the moon” without so much as a wink. Like Christian Bale’s growling Batman, he can get so serious that it ends up silly.

While flailed guitars still dominate, added flourishes account for much of the record’s intrigue. The seasick strings and subtle Spanish horns in a song like “Forever” suggest a newfound interest in Morrissey. “Abundant Living” has an almost light touch, despite Rønnenfelt’s bleating. Advance single, “The Lord’s Favorite,” is anachronistic cowpunk. Often, the compositions feel semi-formless, rushing or slowing at irregular whims. But with most every song lurching for that epic feeling of decadent transcendence, a record of visceral moments eventually becomes a slog. The band’s many advances don’t extend to prolonged album-length sequencing.

Iceage are trying to move past their brash embryonic phase, but Couch Slut are soaking in theirs. The Brooklyn band’s debut record, My Life as a Woman, renders its title’s potentially mundane day-to-day with all the bad taste of a bloody exploitation flick. With song titles like “Split Urethra Castle” and a pornographic illustrated cover, they go out of their way to be tawdry and unpleasant. But there’s something lurking behind singer Megan Osztrosits’ legitimately threatening yells. (“I know what you’re doing in there! I’ll break your legs if you try that again, fucker!”) After a few tracks of heavy dirge guitar, the suddenly nimble spazzing on “Replacement Addiction” suggests Yvette’s brainy brutalism. Osztrosits’ screams on “Lust Chamber” are layered towards perverse harmony. There are hidden triangle strikes, rando sax outros. Amid screams and muffled sobs panned uncomfortably deep into your earbuds, the upsetting song “Rape Kit” gives you brief melodic snippets, sweetly sung. Their nasty thrashing already contains surprising grace notes.

Attempting to portray these moments of buried elegance as wholly new, distinctly “post-Deafheaven” is reductive and dumb, but the thinness of the walls between hardcore, metal, and noise sub-genres in this particular moment is relevant. There’s less gang loyalty in music fandom now and despite a raised profile for these aggressive styles, making music this combative carries low stakes commercially. There’s no good reason to be anything less than everything they want to be.

09/26/14 2:30pm


The apocalypse feeling that comes with each fresh closing of a previously thriving Brooklyn DIY spot is tough to deny. While mourning 285 Kent, or wincing at the impending departure of Death by Audio, it can feel like the sad end of something right and just and true. But it should be clear by now that, while the desire to frequent these spaces is too small to thwart the wider economic forces that continually reshape Brooklyn, it’s impossible to fully extinguish. If it’s dark, unseasonably warm, and running 40 minutes late, it’s DIY. So it goes that Bushwick’s Palisades now nudges into contention for the current heart of Brooklyn music’s unruly fringe. Last night the frills-less black box was shoulder to metal-studded shoulder for an AdHoc presented four-band bill lacking any overexposed music media stars. The sets varied in impact and emphasis but, as a whole, the night suggested continuing life to be found in places the L train won’t take you. 

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L.O.T.I.O.N. (or Legacy of Terror in Occupied Nations, if you’re nasty) is something of a industrial supergroup sewed up from the Frankenstein limbs of the city’s grubbiest bands. Recorded, the project scans as machine music—thudding, broken, slick with surface oil. Live, they’re a roaring quartet, improbably groovy within their barking mania. Repetitive sequenced beats were doubled on drum in real time by the oft-naked frontman of local maniacs, Dawn of Humans, creating an in-pocket, low-end boom. Lead shouter Alexander Heir (also of punk band Survival) writhed and frothed through military mesh tucked into a red Guardian Angel beret. He glowed in the light of disgusting projections depicting wounds, corpses, and unspecified flesh distress that took a real effort not to fully recognize. It was all unpleasant but, weirdly, not unappealing. Their songs lacked structural comfort, avoided earworms aside from a a sticky mantra of two (“goodbye humans…goodbye friends…”). But there was something churning, a cyborg pairing of stomach nausea and electrical fritz, that was pretty intriguing. 

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Following them were Anasazi, a veteran New York band who were much less effective. Hardcore is a resurgent influence in danger of once again growing very stale. Unless cut with some surprising element, an off-tempo or weird invading strain, the style tends to sacrifice nuance at the alter of pure physicality and tossed beer baths. The band were at their best in the moments when they slowed down and spaced out, allowing the rusty edges of their guitars to more deliberately shiv you in the ear. Those bits were far too fleeting. You wished they were much stranger, had heard a few more records by The Fall, or something? Anger is not interesting inherently.

For those still unaware of the brief musical genre blip “sea-punk,” it once referred to new age-y almost-R & B music written under the influence of Robitussin and Windows ’95 screen savers. But just from the name, you’d assume it was loud rock music about fish and stuff, right? Here, we find headliner Hank Wood and the Hammerheads. While their music is certainly aggressive, and overtly masculine, the set never descended into off-putting machismo. It was sorta sensitive in a weird way—just shirtless bros communing with one another in blue, nautical light. They zoned into rhythms with multiple drummers and built them into a thick froth, as the crowd climbed to the room’s highest points to recklessly dive off. There was a natural sway to it that played further than the radius of the pit.

After, and between sets, there was a weirdly respectful exodus to the sidewalk, in improbable group-adherence to the flimsy, photocopied “No Smoking” sign inside. People lingered there in clumps for a while, discussing subsequent moves, just glad for a meeting place that’s not under active threat of soon becoming a J Crew with its own signature cocktail. 

09/24/14 4:00am

It’s easy to assume you know everything about Christopher Owens. In the few years he spent as leader of the popular indie-rock band Girls, Owens seemed unusually transparent, whether singing open-heartedly about heartbreak or giving interviews about growing up in the Children of God cult and an adolescence spent responding to that by dabbling in drugs. With his backstory well known, Owens now digs even deeper. His life, his loves and losses, remain the fuel for prolific pop-music reconstructions. 

His first solo album, Lysandre, retold the story of Girls’ success with the light touch of a soft-rock flute. His latest, A New Testament, looks for new AM radio frequencies. On “Stephen” he uses a grand gospel swell to memorialize his baby brother. More often it’s a self-conscious country record, explicitly acknowledging the genre’s influence on his songwriting. Ahead of the record’s September 30 release, we talked to Owens about making country music, getting sober to do it, and the rest of his life.


09/10/14 4:00am

It seems unlikely that a punk transplant from Oregon should become a definitive singer for New York City dance music, but that’s the story of Nancy Whang. Her always cool, never cold vocals have been sneaking up on you for over a decade, primarily as the second voice behind James Murphy in LCD Soundsystem, but also as the vital human element on kick-ass singles from bands like Shit Robot, Classixx, and her main project, the long-underrated DFA Records house music duo The Juan Maclean (with namesake producer, Juan MacLean). Taken as a whole, her body of work as a singer and composer rivals the heights of NYC’s downtown disco renaissance of the early 80s.

The Juan Maclean’s third full-length record, In A Dream, is out September 16. It’s their most collaborative effort and another confirmation of Whang’s status as a super distinctive, always welcome voice in independent music. We caught up with Nancy to talk about it all.

09/08/14 2:56pm



This past Saturday posed a deep quandary for parties interested in electronic music’s past and future shape.

In the blue-corner, the last MoMaPS1 party of the season had a stacked, intriguing lineup. It boasted the toast of the UK’s demented pop scene, Sophie, in a rare, fully lit live performance. It had the dark and sickly sounds of Yeezus collaborator, Evian Christ. And in a late-announced mic drop, it also had international superstar DJ and weird-haired lord of EDM, Skrillex. 

But then, in the red corner, was the chance to get an advance listen to Syro, the first Aphex Twin album in 13 years. 

So…a mission to take in as much of this as humanly possible in one day was embarked. The notes of a semi-coherent man are as follows. 

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– It turns out Sophie—He who is not to be photographed by publicist decree—is neither an anime teenager nor a sentient cloud of hamburger emoji. He, instead, is a sort of handsome, pale ginger, with a cascading emo mane. He wore a black coat on top of a black turtleneck, and it was way too humid for that to be even a little bit comfy. Hot pink headphones were his most on-brand accessory.

– His set at this point is mainly teasing the handful of not-yet-actual hits he’s made, teased with extended drones of their noiser components, before actually dropping the song in full. I’m not sure what else he could do. He’s made like 8 songs or something.

– When the singles did finally drop, they were very well received. “Hey QT”, in particular, was greeted with mild chaos among the early-day arrivers. Of those filling the courtyard, the self-selected group fiercely Vogueing on the museum’s top steps were especially emphatic. With a young, Internet-fluent audience, dude’s a big deal already.

– That’s all I got for Sophie!

– Warp Records scheduled a series of listening parties at Williamsburg dance club Verboten so there was a decent lineup time where guest-listed writers, road-tripping die hard fans, and various unsavory others stood outside, so the room could be cleared out from an earlier session. This process weirdly felt like a mid-afternoon IMAX showing, where guys already wearing Avengers t-shirts came fist-pumping out of the 10AM show, promising that Iron Man would be, again, rad. Some gals in Aphex tees were there too, it should be noted. But the ratio was pretty guy-heavy.

– Like with Sophie, there was a proclaimed no-phones policy in effect. Unlike Sophie, there was total darkness, with a couple minimal light graphics.

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– The most dominant impression I had was that Syro sounds blissfully unaffected by the whims of current electronic music. All James’ “greatest hits” were present, aka, insane BPMs, squiggling acid house noises, and even a beautiful and ghostly piano outro. There are no big bass drops or anything that might cause you to think Richard D. James might suddenly following trends rather than leading them. Leading them back to 1997, perhaps, but leading.

– James has referred to this as his “most accessible album ever” and that may well be accurate. But we’re talking about a pretty weird discography. There are mangled snippets of vocals here and there, but nothing you’d call a hook, exactly. It does make Disclosure sound like a couple of teenagers in shorts.

– People loosened up over an hour sitting in the dark, or shuffling on the floor. Deep head nodding was the preferred mode as opposed to crazed dancing. One old bald guy was pulling late 90s rave moves consistently throughout, and I was more or less terrified that when the lights went on he would have a “Come to Daddy” video monster face on his head.   

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(The fact that MTV showed that video usually around 2AM, and you could not just watch it online the next day to confirm what you’d seen, certainly helped the burn into a lot of impressionable young brains.)

– Though it’s difficult to say for sure after one listen several days ago, sans phone-assisted notes, it sounded more or less great. Intense, pretty, and odd in spots, it consistently provides unpredictable changes in structures or tempo, beats shuddering with life, and songs that cut out in unexpected moments of stillness. Very much in the ballpark of My Bloody Valentine’s mbv in terms of a satisfying, if not exactly life-altering, return from a long hiatus. 

* But as a side note, can can we in good conscience endorse anything that led Thom Yorke down the rabbit hole to this???

[embed-5]I just don’t know. 

– But OK, jazzed up now, leaving Verboten to catch some of Skrillex’s surprise set at MoMa PS1! Let the electronica continuum flow straight through me  and into the cosmos!


– Greeted immediately upon re-entry to PS1 by large muscleheads on each others’ shoulders, waving a comically large flag demanding “More Bass” immediately let me know that my open-minded swagger had betrayed me.

– I am not against Skrillex in theory, you guys. I’m really not. I think culturally, that huge-drop, gnawed-wires sound of his will be seen as era-defining in a certain, not-entirely correct way that will nonetheless seem totally correct to future generations who stumble across Spring Breakers on their vidscreens. His best songs, even when they seem gauche or dumb, are vibrant and full of weird ideas. He makes music that has undeniable physical effect.

– That said, the vibe at his live show (or at least this one) was so…Vegas chintzy? The constant pump-you-up ID breaks, where he sounded just like a fairground booth hawker, assuring passers-by that “2 for $1! 3 for $5” is a sweet deal for shooting water in a gross clown’s mouth. Working in memes like “Peanut Butter Jelly Time”, or pap like Toto’s song “Africa” didn’t really strike me like fun, inclusive moments of populist genius so much as irrefutable lapses of good taste.

– Still, people went bananas. Even if I found it tacky, Skrillex’s carnival shtick really did pop the crowd. And maybe, as the obvious fun-havers, they might have been the correct ones. Coming from Aphex Twin, I tried to comfort myself with idea of enjoying something that’s not so eager to please. Except, wasn’t Syro eager to please me, and those from my demographic, specifically? Sometimes a generation gap really slaps you in the face.

– Even in quiet moments of doubt, my mind’s eye is haunted by arms, man, like a sea of so many arms that you could climb to the front of the stage on them, if they didn’t first pull you down to whatever horrible maw it was that lay beneath. 

– Maybe those flag dudes were right. Maybe we could have used some more bass. 

08/29/14 1:24pm



There’s been a distinct disappointment in 2014’s crop of would-be-BBQ jams. Folks have been tying themselves into knots for weeks attempting to refuse the inevitability of Iggy Azaelea, not to mention that odious Canadian reggae guy. This, of course, is super silly. It’s not like the failure to appoint a consensus song of the summer is a slight on par with the Nobel dudes issuing a press release that just said “Nah, bro” before fucking off some fjord for the year. But, to be super serious for a second, this whole indecisive muddle is ignoring the degree to which Sophie has been remorselessly killing it. Were the summer song landscape a game of Grand Theft Auto, he would be swarmed with little pixel cops by now. Going into this, the last weekend of summer ’14, it’s time to acknowledge that Sophie won it. 

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To be considered official, a “Song of the Summer” sadly requires a level of pop radio ubiquity that Sophie is too weird, too new, too anonymous to obtain. The most that’s really known about the UK producer is that he’s a dude, and not some lady named Sophie. He performs in near darkness and goes with press photos of candy colored plastics or fun-loving, slightly deranged femmes. While forced mystery among electronic producers has become sort of an expected affectation, the cloak of secrecy is sort of thematically appropriate here. Who wants to see the possibly old-ish British dude responsible for all this aggressive youthful, sweetly feminine music?

Sophie’s first single, released in early 2o12, tempered its standard house thump with touches just a little more kinetic and amusing than expected. His second single, “Bipp”, the on-the-sly song of last summer was the first to display the pitched-up vocals and irrepressible energy that’s becoming his signature. His third 12”, released in late July, is further proof that ridiculous pop has a new master.

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The A-side, “Lemonade”, sounds like a tough gang of B-Girls practicing in a still active soda carbonation factory. It is hot, squealing nonsense. The B-side, “Hard,” while still using weirdly giddy 8-bit Children of the Damned voices, relies on clanging, whooshing metallic sounds for beats. They make it his harshest song yet, while somehow remaining cheerful bordering on derangement. It sounds like the aforementioned soda factory shut down for safety reasons and turned into an illegal club space that is actively falling apart. The dancers keep dancing, too wasted to be alarmed. (There is precedent for this scenario. As imaginary teens have long been aware, screws fall out all the time, the world is an imperfect place.) 

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This week he somehow topped both with “Hey QT”, a track produced in tandem with PC Music label head A.G. Cook for a new female pop-star ingenue, who may or may not actually exist. Cook’s been on an extended roll for a while too, though his work seems heavily weighted towards R&B radio jam in the same way Sophie uses house music as a starting point. (If you absolutely need more of this stuff, try his track “Keri Baby”.)

Anyway, “Hey QT” rules pretty hard. 

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Like Sophie’s other summer singles, the song seems to palpably speed up at key moments, too excited to adhere to normal laws of physics. But the trickiest trick “Hey QT” pulls off is flying so close to the uncanny valley without going full creep-out. Sped up to sound impossibly young rather than just annoyingly young, “QT” repeats her mantra, “Hey QT, even though you’re so far away, I feel your hands on my body every time you think of me.” There a tension here between the cartoon quality of the vocals, and the flush-faced sexiness of the sentiment. As anyone who’s ever accidentally stumbled across a DeviantArt image knows, the collision of kids’ cartoon and adult browser search term can get uncomfortable real fast. Crucially, the song’s in-head rather than in-bed. The fantasy element of the song keeps it chaste enough to remain relatively wholesome. It’s teenage longing rendered as a State Fair caricature of teenage longing.

“And what’s something you like that I can draw you doing? Attending a unicorn rave? Sure, sure.”  

So, unicorn rave enthusiasts take note, Sophie has two New York shows coming in a week. One next Saturday afternoon at the last PS1 Warm Up show of the year, and one that same night at 88 Palace in Manhattan

08/27/14 4:00am

The music industry’s annual spree of autumn releases to coincide with the back-to-school crowd needing to impress one another with their musical tastes is almost upon us. Here are the albums we’re most excited about.

Karen O – Crush Songs
(September 9 via Cult)
To announce the first solo record of her career, Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer Karen O posted this interest-piquing explanation: “When I was 27, I crushed a lot. I wasn’t sure I’d ever fall in love again. These songs were written in private around that time.” The secret recordings will be released through Cult, a label started by her Early 00s NYC Cool Squad buddy, Julian Casablancas. The softer, folkier side of Karen’s songwriting—the one earning her award nominations for soundtracking Spike Jonze movies—will be
in focus.

Broncho – Just Enough
Hip to Be Woman
(September 16 via Dine Alone)
You might not know it yet, but a trio from Tulsa has written the catchiest song of 2014. On album single “Class Historian,” a staccato chorus of “do do do” chips away at Broncho frontman Ryan Lindsey’s so-over-it delivery; it will do the same to your brain. The song is indicative of the band’s updated sound – a merge of skuzzy new wave and skuzzier garage rock—with Lindsey falling somewhere between a poor man’s Julian Casablancas and Ric Ocasek’s alter ego too lazy to find his sunglasses. There’s also this gem buried in the album’s 30-some minutes: “If you try to bum me out, it’s on.” The record is begging for you to try.

Aphex Twin – Syro (September 23 via Warp)
As portended by sidewalk stencil, deep web press release, and actual goddamn blimps, Richard D. James will soon release the first Aphex Twin album in 11 years. As bat-shit song titler, demon-faced video ghoul, and composer of some of the most beautiful electronic music ever made, James was among the most renowned musicians making left-field music in the 90s. When a rock band like Radiohead “went electronic,” it was his tail they were chasing. So it’ll be extremely interesting to note which, if any, contemporary influences James has taken on over a decade plus.

Perfume Genius – Too Bright (September 23 via Matador)
As Perfume Genius, Seattle’s Mike Hadreas has made two acclaimed records of stark, intimate piano ballads. His latest, Too Bright, paints with a fuller palette: more guitar, some tribal beats, and a ton of heavy electronics. It’s supposedly inspired by the raw power of peak PJ Harvey records and is definitely co-produced by Portishead’s Adrian Utley and engineer Ali Chant (who actually worked on Harvey’s White Chalk). The first single, “Queen,” angrily details the anachronistic linger of gay panic in 2014. It suggests that Hadreas’ emotionally open disclosures have taken on the lush air of glam-pop.

Allo Darlin’ – We Come From the Same Place (October 7 via Slumberland)
Within the first seconds of Allo Darlin’s third release, singer Elizabeth Morris notes what kind of food a particular pair of lips tastes like when kissing them (“juicy food,” in this case), which isn’t the first time the metaphor has popped up in one of their albums. The band may not share the same recognition as their peers – the Belle & Sebastians, the She & Hims, the Camera Obscuras of the world – despite Morris possessing the most heartbreaking voice of them all, while never sounding like she’s giving up or in. A few measures later she sings, “Nothing feels the way it did before, and I’m grateful for that.” This is the album that should put them in the spotlight.

Pharmakon – Bestial Burden (October 14 via Sacred Bones)
Twenty-three-year-old Brooklynite Margaret Chardiet is a budding star in the sometimes faceless world of extreme noise music. To put a fine point on her appeal, she shrieks like she means it. Last year’s Abandon was a brutal, clanging, cathartic album. Its successor seems to be even more personal, inspired in part by a sudden emergency surgery required to relieve partial organ collapse late last year. So, harsher then, with even more blood and guts.

Taylor Swift – 1989 (October 27 via Big Machine)
This is the album that might cause us to actually buy a pair of Keds. We accept your judgment.

Kanye West
Of course all of these records will be completely eclipsed the second Kanye reveals whatever it is that comes after Yeezus. Who knows when this will happen. Sometime in September or October, he’s said, but post-Beyoncé, advance notice seems sort of old-fashioned. Paul McCartney may or may not be involved. It’s going to be a whole big thing.

08/21/14 1:17pm


While the prolonged zombie state of some bands’ reunions can start to bum a guy out, no one with a heart and two ears could be unhappy to see The Clean again. This week, the legendary band, instigators of Dunedin, New Zealand’s wildly influential DIY rock scene of the 1980s, play two Brooklyn shows; one tonight at Rough Trade, one at Glasslands tomorrow. The key to The Clean’s lasting appeal is the low-key nature of the endeavor. Their music is shaggy, tuneful, and endlessly charming. It lacks any delusions of grandeur that might broadcast it as Important, with a capital I. They seem to make an album when they feel the need, and tour occasionally to smaller room crowds made up of those just discovering their records, or old fans continually rediscovering just how solid their songs are. “It’s kind of a funny gradual process,” said longtime bassist Robert Scott. “We’ve been doing this stuff for ages, and you have to remember some people are actually very new. It’s a weird concept when you’ve been doing it for over half your life.”

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Scott joined brothers Hamish and David Kilgour in time to make the Clean’s first recording in 1981, and led his own fab rock band The Bats in between. They’re currently on the road to honor Merge Records’ lavish vinyl reissue of the compilation, Anthology, a desert island-grade collection of early singles, EPs, and LPs originally released on CD in 2003 and now draped across four separate records. He’s always been a physical media guy at heart. “It’s mainly because that’s what we grew up with and I love the idea of it and the physicality of it. I do listen to CDs a lot in my car, while I drive around. I don’t really like downloads and stuff. I don’t have a fancy phone that I listen to my music on,” said Scott. “I still find CDs good!”

Scott credits the intensely hip record culture of 70s Dunedin with the strange touches that bled into The Clean’s sound. A driving motorik beat became a very familiar element of indie rock of the 00s, but the Neu! worship of a song like 1981’s “Point That Thing Somewhere Else” was fairly radical for the time. (It invented Yo La Tengo, more or less.) “There was a lot of importing going on. The record shop owners in New Zealand were very clued up and very prescient about music. Bands would do a lot of record swapping,” said Scott, crediting his country for its exquisite taste. “Joy Division was top 5 here!”

The band’s last record was 2009’s solid, typically underrated, Mister Pop. They’ve toyed with the idea of a follow-up, but Hamish Kilgour’s status as an adopted New Yorker has kept things on hold. (Lucky for us, though, Hamish plays in Brooklyn-based garage rock project, Roya, with Rahil Jamlifard, also of Habibi.) “We are very much about the chemistry of the three of us being in the same room,” said Scott. “That needs to physically happen.”

With his perspective as a 4-track DIY recording saint, I asked Scott if he envied the ease and low-cost, unlimited possibility of modern laptop recorders. He wasn’t so sure. “I think it’s good to have more concrete limits, actually,” said Scott. “What it’s doing is making you judge. You’ve got four tracks, so everything you put down has got to be good. Whereas now, I think people can just throw things on a computer and say, “Ooh, that might turn into a song.” They could have any very average bit of guitar and then hope something magical is going to happen when they start overdubbing.”

Well, you know what they say…

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08/13/14 4:00am

On August 20th, Swedish singer Robyn and her Norwegian chums Röyksopp will pack the newly minted Pier 97 space in Manhattan for maybe the biggest outdoor show left in 2014’s waning summer. On her own (often dancing), Robyn is the biggest modern star from a Scandinavian pop scene that slowly bubbled up into the American mainstream. Suddenly freed from record store import bins by the Internet in the mid-00s, music from the region appeared in multiple shades, from Annie’s bubblegum pink to The Knife’s ghastly neon black. Robyn’s bright and booming synth-pop—recounting romantic difficulty, trumpeting independence; multicolored in its own right—is the sort of thing that usually appeals to a broad audience. It’s surprising that it took her so long to become a star in the U.S., really. (In her wake, the Icona Pops of the world now hit here much quicker.) But fjord-adjacent lands all possess thriving independent scenes of some breadth, full of oddities that’ll never fill a New York City pier. Stranger stuff from Scandinavia marks this slice of late summer.

Finland-based, Ethiopia-born Mirel Wagner makes folk music that’s so dark and intimate that listening in feels almost wrong. Her self-titled 2012 debut drew enough acclaim that big indie label Sub Pop is releasing its follow-up, When the Cellar Children See the Light of Day. Because it’s so naked, this record’s minor evolutions carry unusual weight. She still builds songs from a few spare elements, usually just light guitar strumming and the rich hush of her voice. But spectral backing vocals, a subtle string hum, gentle piano notes, or a bluesy electric guitar riff might appear then recede, never to be repeated on a subsequent track, breaking the potential monotony of its minimalism.

Her subject matter is bleak, her language plain but never cliched. The opening “1 2 3 4” is far more ominous than the sunny Feist hit of the same name. Wagner’s sings, “One…two…three…four…what’s underneath the floor?” in a haunted quaver that suggests the answer can’t be anything good. But the record’s consistent gloom isn’t goth in the cultural sense; its grim tone is never a fashionista put-on, rather the byproduct of bleakly honest humanity saturating every song.

Odder still is Meshes of Voice, a collaboration from Norwegian singers Susanna and Jenny Hval, recorded in 2009 and only just released. Hval’s excellent avant-pop LP Innocence Is Kinky made an exhumation seem necessary, and it is. This album is floral and precious until it turns drone-drenched and mildly terrifying. In whole, it resembles an experimental theater piece perpetually on the verge of complete overrun by locusts. The Susanna in question appears without her mid-00s crew, The Magical Orchestra. Her low, growling melodies shadow the high, cold alarm of Hval’s voice. The lyrics are oblique but poetic. Otherworldly standout track “I Have Walked This Body” sounds a little like low-key opera, a lot like a Viking processional.

Neither album features a song that’ll be fully absorbed in snippets delivered by car stereo or beer blast speaker. But who was the tyrant who decided the summer needs to be dominated by relentlessly upbeat music that can only increase sweat output? A prolonged ponder in the shade sounds awfully nice, doesn’t it?