mas ysa seraph album cover

mas ysa seraph album coverMas Ysa

Downtown Records
Street: 07.24
Mas Ysa = (Xiu Xiu x Perfume Genius) + M83

Mas Ysa’s debut LP is Thomas Arsenault’s impressive follow-up to his Worth EP, and it comprises the same electronic musicality—which traverses frenzy and gravitas—and his voice, which fervently warbles and bellows through the romantic and the near-histrionic. The album begins with the urgent, taut power of Arsenault’s titanic soundscape, which entwines blaring techno with bright synthpop. The most memorable moments of Seraph, though, come when Arsenault tones down the electropop for the cinematic. In “Sick,” Arsenault’s quavering timbre becomes whispery gossamer as glistening, swirling, high-pitched synths pulsate and chorus over beating drum machines. It’s a reminder of how Mas Ysa has surprised us from the start—he imbues the sturdiness of his sound, a mastery that is both precise and massive, with exhausting, all-consuming emotion. –Kathy Zhou

The Funs – My Survival

The Funs – My Survival

The Funs
My Survival

Manic Static
Street Date: 09.15
The Funs = Savages x Pega Monstro

Duo Jessee Rose Crane and Philip Jerome Lesicko switch off on guitar, drums and vocals as The Funs, and their recently released, fuzzed-out, thrashing double-LP is unabashed and relentless. The pair hits loud and hard in My Survival, packing an unstoppable and whirling sense of movement into each track. The Funs build heavily off of a noisy post-punk foundation, weaving dream-punk soundscapes from Lesicko’s blistering vocals set over trudging guitar, and the tinny cymbal underneath Crane’s surprisingly honeyed, echoing voice. Tension builds and layers steadily as Crane and Lesicko swerve from gentle, fading harmonies (“Out of Nothing”) to brash howls and riffing guitar (“Europa”) to massive distortion and pummeling drums (“Not of You of Me”). Throughout My Survival, Crane and Lesicko course with an immensely gratifying, irresistible force. –Kathy Zhou

Pega Monstro – Alfarroba

Pega Monstro – Alfarroba
Pega Monstro

Upset the Rhythm
Street: 07.06
Pega Monstro = Moonhearts x Slowdive

Pega Monstro—Portuguese for “catch the monster”—are sisters Júlia and Maria Reis, who take the strive n’ drive of punk and weave it into a subtly dreamy texture. The duo’s latest release, Alfarroba, kicks off raucously with “Braço de Ferro” (“Arm Wrestling”), a wildfire track. Both of the sisters sing, and throughout, the album carries a push-and-pull, an ascent and downpour. It never sits still, but it never  exhausts, either: Amid the snare rolls, ringing cymbals and carousing guitar, the duo choruses steadily and earnestly with surprising, below-the-surface lightness. Each track is grounded and propelled by solid and relentless instrumentals, which, when combined with the vocals, carry Alfarroba into that mesmerizing and rapturous genre of dream punk—rapturous because, while there’s an infectious—almost dizzying—restlessness throughout, the vocals float, somehow, with shimmering ease. –Kathy Zhou

Joanna Newsom – Divers

Joanna Newsom

Drag City
Street Date: 10.23
Joanna Newsom = Dirty Projectors + Björk + Kate Bush

In Divers, folk songstress-poetess-harpist Joanna Newsom shifts from dense to spartan architectures founded on an overarching, harmonics-based musical concept. Divers‘ scope is no less comprehensive, though, with trajectories stretching from the old-timey “Same Old Man” to the Nico Muhly-arranged “Anecdotes.” There’s a sense of place—more than one song is about New York City, and the album carries a musical topography in its own right—but even more, there’s a melancholy sense of Time: “Time is Taller than Space is wide,” Newsom sings, Newsom spins allusive sagas around soldiers in battle, a diver on the pier, an ear of corn, all forced to face things lost with Time: awareness, meaning, connection—yet Newsom is defiant. The masterpiece finale, “Time, as a Symptom,” intertwines mourning dove calls, string arrangements, and Newsom’s voice, transcending as she reminds of the staggering forces—love, joy—that keep us grounded in the face of passing Time: “Stand brave: Time moves both ways,” she sings, “In the nullifying, defeating, negating, repeating / Joy of life.” –Kathy Zhou


Adore Life

Matador Records
Street: 01.22
Savages = Black Sabbath + Swans + Siouxie and The Banshees

Back in 2013, we saw Silence Yourself, the triumphant debut LP from London-based four-piece Savages. Clad head to toe in black, Savages strove for uncompromising authenticity as they brought the impatient and thunderous heart of post-punk back, topping off their unforgiving album with singer Jehnny Beth’s 36-line manifesto, which sharply decried a world of far too many voices and distractions clamoring for our attention.

Now, a couple of years later, Savages are still looking closely at their audiences—and the world—only this time around, they’re less quick to condemn, more quick to hope. The band’s follow-up album, Adore Life, launches into thick, unadulterated aggression in one of the album’s singles, “The Answer,” with Beth veering from lines like “Love is the answer” to “I’ll go insane.” The song comes with a video of Savages performing in a sunlit room to a small but packed crowd, which writhes, thrashes and loses itself, embodying the song’s part passion, part delirium. It’s an intimate and true portrait of Savages’ fans and live performances, but the band’s accompanying message is what encapsulates Adore Life and sets it apart from Silence Yourself: “We’ve observed our audience all around the world and noticed that something is happening. People want to do good, or to be good, or just to feel good.”

Adore Life is an exhilarating examination of power, change, self-possession and, most of all, love. Savages maintain their confrontational austerity and near-theatrical defiance (Ayse Hassan, Gemma Thompson and Fay Milton go harder than ever on bass, guitar and drums, respectively), but while they aren’t playing love songs, per se—they’re capturing the many complexities of love and desire. Beth wrote each incisive lyric, and she brought a more personal, unguarded dimension to Adore Life: the ascetic “Evil” came in response to massive religious protests against France’s 2013 legalization of same-sex marriage; “Sad Person” likens love to a drug addiction; “Slowing Down The World” is a slow saunter, with Beth crooning that hypersexuality, “Darling, it’s not a crime”; and in “When In Love,” Beth is frantic, unsure of whether love is angel or demon.

Savages set out to craft songs that are mean and heavy, but Adore Life is an unyielding force because it brings an uncanny sense of lightness, too. “Adore” is a processional torch song that starts out bare, with Beth asking, “Is it human to adore life?” It’s a life-loving, seize-the-present track that talks about death so that we can grasp love—and fittingly, it isn’t until the very end that the song builds into its jarring climax, one of the album’s most affecting moments. “T.I.W.Y.G.” is a fiery, brandishing blitz, a reminder that Savages won’t hesitate to spin their songs into assaults: “This is what you get when you mess with love,” shouts the grunting, fast-talking Beth over the relentless and precise instrumentals. Savages are throwing rapid punches, but just as suddenly as they start, they’re swerving into Adore Life’s closing track, “Mechanics.” Here, Beth is operatic and stately as she croons about sex, pain and pleasure. Offhand harmonics and chimes shimmer over the dense layers of guitar and bass, which soon plunge into a monumental-feeling soundscape. As we near the album’s end, it’s impossible not to feel that Adore Life is an expression of the love that Savages explore throughout—the urgent, controlled chaos, the elegant yet formidable, the rapturous—and when Beth gently declares the album’s final line, “My love will stand the test of time,” we don’t doubt her.

Death Index

Street: 02.26
Death Index = The Birthday Party x Iceage + Savages

Frontman Carson Cox of Merchandise and Marco Rapisarda (from labels Hell, Yes! and No Good) have teamed up to deal out their latest noise-soaked, hardcore-meets-art punk side project: Death Index. Their heady, self-titled debut album is punishing yet majestic, with a mission firmly rooted in those “primordial days of art punk”—think another punk duo, Suicide, and their nervy tendencies—that traverses doom, goth and post-punk in its hardcore endeavor.

In stark departure from the languishing (yet nevertheless pleasant) atmosphere-building of Merchandise’s most recent release, After the End, Cox returns to Merchandise’s so-called scrappier beginnings and the feedback-laden, noisy, lo-fi flourishes that underpinned the 2012 Children of Desire. Here, there are zero frills: Death Index is fast and abrupt, driving from the get-go with an almost murderous air. The opening track, “Fast Money Kill,” clocks in at under a minute and immediately sets the furious tone of the album, with Cox’s slur-snarls interposed between the incensed drumming and compressed guitar, turning snarky by the end as he repeats, “Take away the pain.”

Despite being just a two-person band, Death Index bring a powerful and whole sound. Multi-instrumentalist Rapisarda (known for churning out similar veins of this dark-punk/hardcore brand with groups La Piovra, Sgurd and Archaic) leads the way in affecting a dread-heavy energy—without losing out on melody. The album’s second track, the whirling single, “Dream Machine,” pulses with the same rapid-fire precision and turbulence as does any Savages song: Deluging fills frenetically fill the space of an otherwise un-hasty main tempo, serving as a backdrop for surprisingly new wave–sounding guitar interludes. “The Meal” is a stormy and steely advance that eventually devolves into austere, processional guitar, while “Fuori Controllo” is not quite as out of control as its title might suggest, and ends its assault as quickly as it starts.

Throughout, Death Index concoct abrasive punk, recalling Killing Joke in passion-fueled effect; The Birthday Party in blustering violence and influence; and Suicide in the spirit of experimentation. Cox’s vocalizations stay back from the manic foreground but retain the same canorous, anchoring timbre and infectious melody lines that continually derive frequent comparisons to Morrissey. Album highlights “FUP” and “Little N Pretty” bleed into each other with frenetic, punchy rhythms that excite the senses before slowing into the eerie and creeping “Lost Bodies” and the grating, feedback-driven “JFK,” two industrial- and goth-influenced numbers. The final track, “Patto Con Dio,” effectively takes up a third of the album with swirling, unhurried post punk before taking a slow dive into calm and airy feedback loops.

Death Index is multitudinous and unpredictable, yet impressively balanced and controlled. As their band name and song titles suggest, Death Index have eschewed out all filler to craft an aggressive survey of death and dying, dominance and violence, insatiable desire. Armed and assembled with bracing guitar, sinister synth lines and rampaging drums, Cox and Rapisarda are uncompromising, equipped with a shared, unabashed stylistic outlook: art and punk (and maybe madness), tantamount. –Kathy Zhou

Bambara – Swarm


Street: 03.04
Bambara = Iceage + Swans + The Birthday Party

Brooklyn-based trio Bambara’s second full-length, Swarm, pulses with the same harrowing noise punk and raucous discontentment that typified their 2010 release, Dog Ear Days, and 2013’s Dreamviolence, an at-times hellish LP that took its inspiration from the desperation and grime of New York City. In Swarm, Bambara similarly fixate on crafting a haunting and beautiful nightmare, maintaining their standing as purveyors of dark and tangled noise while successfully concocting a cohesive and satisfying whole.

Recorded in a studio by Ben Greenberg (Uniform, The Men), Swarm isn’t so much a point of departure for Bambara—instead, Swarm represents more of a sharp advancement from the three-piece’s previous work, leading the way into a well-manufactured and compelling nightmare. Throughout, Bambara remind of Iceage as they meld traditional noise with blues-esque cowpunk. Immediately in the first track, “Clearing Out The Weeds,” singer/guitarist Reid Bateh’s stratified spits and snarls, laid over Blaze Bateh’s drums and William Brookshire’s bass, draw quick comparisons to Elias Bender Rønnenfelt. The second track, “Her Sister, Touya,” trades out the gritty guitar and dissonant melodies for crashing cymbals, a furrowing bass line and Reid’s blustering vocals, which simultaneously accent the instrumentals while being washed over by them.

Swarm marries the grim and grisly with a captivating fervor, resulting in a hailstorm of vivid and brutal vignettes. In the swaggering and fatalistic “An Ill Son,” Bambara channel the darkness and gloom of The Birthday Party along with Western-influenced guitar riffs and a haunting noir backdrop. Bateh’s disjointed and straggling vocals sidestep from distracted rambles to maniacal growls as he theatrically hisses out imagery that fascinates as much as it disturbs: “The night when I first saw you / Your skull made all of the skin on your face shine / Skin pulled so tight.” In “It’s Nothing,” Bambara’s bleak, post-punk atmosphere is capped by griping vocals and rhythmic blasts before swirling into album highlight “All The Ugly Things,” a catchy and stirring—and even anthemic—track. This is Swarm at its most spirited and breathless, and there’s something surprisingly buoyant and hopeful—and especially encapsulating—of the song: “All the ugly things are lit up so pretty,” Bateh sings, breathless.

The album is muddled, smearing and anguished—note the amp-debilitating “I Can’t Recall” or the screeching “Filled Up With Night”—but it’s undeniably tantalizing, too, and never once does Swarm come unhinged. Instead, Bambara punctuate their album’s noise with eerie moments of stillness—“Like Waves” is a stunningly beautiful meditation that slowly and wordlessly amasses washed-out noise, which hangs in suspension over pulsating layers. “In Bars Or Something Moving” takes the same speechless stillness in a more foreboding and dread-filled direction through tense and cinematic sound effects, bleeding into the final track, “Her Dreaming,” which maintains the shrill, creaking soundscape but brings back, in bursts, Bambara’s snarling vocals and aggressive drums. Like Dreamviolence, Swarm pieces together a pulsing and austere soundscape by capturing and collecting the fragmented pieces of a city and the characters—Bambara included—that exist at its margins. Nightmarish yet alluring, Swarm is a chilling and immensely gratifying release that signals Bambara’s leap forward in the realms of noise and post-punk; and fittingly, the album ends abruptly, but not in a violent way—more like the way you might wake up, disoriented, from a nightmare. –Kathy Zhou

Gel Set Human Salad

Gel Set Human Salad


Gel Set
Human Salad

Street: 07.07
Gel Set = Chris & Cosey x Throbbing Gristle + Chromatics

Laura Callier, the beat-making and incanting force behind the Chicago-based synth outfit, Gel Set, has taken her rhythmic mastery to Human Salad, an album that takes the ethereal and isolated and waxes primal and blissed-out. The beat-heavy LP intertwines seductive ephemera, ennui and delay-pedaled vocals into Callier’s chilled brand of minimal and industrial techno. She works in the intersection of lo-fi analog and glossy, post-industrial production, adding grit to her formant noise, which toys with silence before collapsing into dense and robust sessions, filling the spaces with saccharine whispers and sensuous vibes. She skirts mutant funk in “Mi Puta,” spaced-out, janky beats in “Double Vision” and mechanical darkwave in “Ether Or.” What seals the deal, though, is Human Salad’s compelling ability to spin us into a grooving trance and keep us moving. –Kathy Zhou


Mute Records
Street: 04.08
M83 = Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming ^ (Tangerine Dream x George Michael x Mister Rogers) 

Five years since Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming and several movie soundtrack compositions launched M83 triumphantly into the mainstream, M83 auteur Anthony Gonzalez has brought his space-age electronic pop in a new direction, one informed by equal parts nostalgia and genre expansion. Junk, the mostly positive—and not unwelcome—result of Gonzalez’s effort, maintains M83’s signature cinematic sounds but veers away from the grandiose and colossal. A surprising step in M83’s creative evolution, Junk is its own category, apart from Before the Dawn Heals Us’ haunting shoegaze, the urgency of Saturdays = Youth, the experimental noise of You and the Night. Instead, M83’s latest is an eccentric, genre-reinventing medley of vaporwave and bubblegum pop.

Album opener “Do It, Try It” is a fantastically compelling (and catchy) collage: It quickly launches into the frenzied, sweeping synths and lyrical hooks that so typify M83, but it does so while grooving along to a bopping house piano and bass accompaniment—and manages to throw in a quintessential EDM buildup, too. In the upbeat “Go!,” smooth sax and French chanteuse Mai Lan’s upbeat vocals count down to a minute-long, ’80s-style guitar solo performed by none other than Steve Vai. Lan returns with French speak-sing vocals in Junk’s standout dance track, “Bibi the Dog,” which recalls the hypnotic swagger of La Femme, and channels Jane Birkin–esque, lilting croons in a duet with Gonzalez for “Atlantique Sud.”

Junk pays genuine, unpretentious tribute to ’80s pop culture—the smooth jazz, the campy TV jingles, FM radio’s bubblegum choruses and hooks—and does so with a sophisticated polish that only M83 could swing. They’re most successful with tracks that genre-bend: “Road Blaster” cruises along with an easy beat, crystalline synths and a semi call-and-response; instrumental track “The Wizard” is pure, swimming-pool vaporwave with an M83 flair; and the mesmerizing “Tension” is replete with tinny keyboard and old-school video game tendencies. Junk does come with its disappointments, however. “Moon Crystal” is 100-percent the type of smooth jazz piano tune you’d hear in a stuffy mall elevator … and nothing more. The new wave/funk vibes in “Time Wind” feature Beck, who, to his credit, brings a subtle sense of longing and depth to an otherwise unremarkable ’80s number.

Junk is an intriguing shift in M83’s continually evolving oeuvre, and for every saxophone solo or kitschy piano rhythm, there’s still a cachet of M83’s quintessential sonic gems. Gonzalez’s luminous falsetto and string accompaniment on “Solitude” and the slow, haunting synth chords of “Ludivine” are explicit reminders of M83’s previous releases. “For the Kids” builds from Susanne Sundfør’s pleasant but perplexing soft-rock ballad to a child’s voice recounting a poetic fairy tale with implied, lofty truths—just like Hurry Up’s “Raconte-Moi Une Histoire.”

As always, M83 have successfully reinvented themselves. And weirdly, moving away from soaring, stately astral soundscapes and toward ’80s pop—with all of its glossy, plastic, smoothed-over bubblegum tones—has been M83’s most adventurous step yet. “Anything we create today is going to end up being space junk at one point,” says Gonzalez in the album’s press release. “I find it really fascinating and scary at the same time, and beautiful too in a way.” With Junk, M83’s creative freedoms—and hopes—come in the concrete homage, a far cry from the band’s regular tendency toward concept albums. M83 succeeds in their defiant refusal to live in the shadows of their previous successes or the pulls of mainstream pop culture. Most of all, Junk is sincere, capsizing any presumption that fun-’80s-vibes-and-bubblegum-synth-pop is any more “space junk” than whatever else (however grandiose) we create. –Kathy Zhou

Thayer Sarrano Shaky

Thayer Sarrano Shaky

Thayer Sarrano

The Guildwater Group
Street: 08.28
Thayer Sarrano = Des Ark x The Black Ryder + Chelsea Wolfe

Thayer Sarrano’s psych-infused shoegaze is dark and beguiling, steeped in the thick, swampy, feverish nights of the South. The bedimmed soundscape—which is sometimes twanging, sometimes trembling, sometimes rambling—brings to mind moonlit red brick and shadowed magnolia trees. Sarrano’s vocals are spellbinding, too. Her hazy, roving choruses in “Touch My Face” make their way into long, haunting vocalizations in the percussive “Lost Art.” In “Crease,” Sarrano is hell-bent on entrancing listeners, churning her vocals into sprawling layers of guitar and dense atmospherics. Shaky is Southern gothic at its finest and most bewitching, and Sarrano is exquisite as she uncovers and releases, one by one, the ghosts and stories we’ve left handcuffed under floorboards. –Kathy Zhou