Snail Mail | Lush | Matador Records

Snail Mail
Lush

Matador Records
Street: 6.08
Snail Mail = Frankie Cosmos + The Raincoats + Flying Nun Records

In the summer of 2016, singer/songwriter Lindsey Jordan, then aged just 17, released the EP Habit, a handful of sparse, sometimes jangly, ofttimes forlorn tracks under the moniker Snail Mail. Between 2016 and 2017, Habit was in constant rotation in my tape player, its six tracks growing on me with each listen. I kept praying, please, don’t break up, please let there be a follow-up. The space between 2016 and 2017 was dreary and awful for a lot of us, and Habit quickly became one of the only things I could turn to when I needed to draw my mind away from everything. At the time it just felt so perfect. Fast-forward one calendar year and my feelings are the same, but I’ve been left wanting more.

This month, Snail Mail return with their first full-length album, Lush, having signed with the legendary Matador Records. Jordan is joined by bassist Alex Bass and drummer Ray Brown. From what we heard on Habit, Jordan’s songwriting showed a natural propensity for both blissful, poppy tunes and scant, introspective numbers, and just as Habit lent favor toward the latter, Lush does the same in Jordan’s now-familiar pragmatic, casual and languid manner.

After a brief, ingénue intro track, the album’s first single, “Pristine,” comes into focus, Jordan’s steady voice accompanying the rhythm section as she moves deftly between chords, tranquil as she laments, “And if you do find someone better / I’ll still see you in everything tomorrow / and all the time.” This mood and subject matter is one comforting certainty that Snail Mail offers us. “Don’t you like me for me? Is there any better feeling than coming clean?” she continues, the album’s lyrical content staying humble and vulnerable, never waxing poetic or overwrought.

“Heat Wave,” Lush’s fourth track, begins in somber fashion with Jordan sorrowfully singing, “Woke up in my clothes / Having dreamt of you,” before an almost Nels Cline–sounding fuzzy lead breaks through the fog and the track finds its tempo. “And I hope that the love that you find / Swallows you wholly / Like you said it might,” she sings defiantly, but with an air of acceptance, before ending with the words “I’m feeling low / I’m not into sometimes.” Such sparse and real lyrics checker the album, making Lush instantly relatable and accessible, with Jordan seemingly keeping no cards hidden, but delivering experiences in a subtle and spare manner.

Lush’s fifth track, “Stick,” is the only song carried over from the album’s two preceding EPs, and is revisioned simply and beautifully. Lush treads the same ground as Snail Mail’s Habit and Sticki EPs, but was produced and recorded perfectly. Where most artists would naively opt for overproduction and enhanced theatrics after signing with such a large and prolific label, Snail Mail instead retain their unique voice and character. Jordan’s voice is brought foremost into the mix while her guitar, sometimes swirling and other times pensive, sits just below with the rhythm section, tastefully threaded as the backdrop for the album’s 10 tracks.

“Golden Dream,” the seventh track, begins with the promise of another bedroom pop masterpiece much akin to “Pristine,” but is broken up sporadically with a whirling chorus before ending abruptly at the track’s climax. The following tracks follow familiar patterns: A mix of upbeat pop numbers delicately mixed with slower, cathartic songs.

Juxtaposing the halcyon of summer and easier times against uncertainty, resignation and the ennui of a lackluster life in the doldrums of an American expanse, Lush is a striking overture and a completely honest collection of songs, the sort of songs that continue to grow over time, like the leaves on trees that eventually offer shade from the overhead sun, a welcome repose to the glaringly bright episodes we have in life. –Ryan Sanford

King Woman | Created in the Image of Suffering | Relapse Records

King Woman
Created in the Image of Suffering

Relapse Records
Street: 02.24
King Woman = Whirr + SubRosa + Royal Thunder

Sometimes, it’s quite clear that music is a chemistry. Just as with screenwriting, you have your tropes. You take a few clichés and throw them into a screenplay and it works. Sometimes.

Take a group of people who all contribute something that, should work on paper: deep female vocals, Orange amps, gated fuzz; and heavy drumming. In this case, take the Bay Area’s King Woman. They make this formula work, and to their credit, it comes across as honest and true.

Kristina Esfandiari fronts King Woman, is formerly of the shoegaze outfit Whirr and who also releases albums under the moniker Miserable. Created in the Image of Suffering is the band’s full-length debut since they signed to Relapse Records earlier this year. Originally formed in 2009 as a solo project of Esfandiari, she eventually added three other members, rounding out the group. To follow up on their previous EP, Doubt, they entered the studio with sound engineer Jack Shirley (who famously recorded Deafheaven‘s iconic Sunbather album), after a much-maligned tour with Virginia’s seminal doom outfit Pentagram and Wax Idols.

In the past, King Woman has been likened to Mazzy Star and shoegaze, but you don’t hear much of that on Created in — especially the former reference. Instead, you get wave after wave of crushing riffs, endless gloom, moping and a very dark offering to a style of music that all too often drapes itself in the shadows.

At times, the album feels a bit tedious, grudgingly dragging itself along with drop-tuned, fuzz-heavy riff after riff, and with Esfandiari’s breathy vocals never letting up, the instrumentation never properly bleeds through. The monotony lets up in the middle of the album with the oppressively solemn track “Hierophant,” which, in turn, gives way to a brief moment of repose in the track “Worn.”

Though albums are ofttimes intended to be listened to front to back, Created ins closing track, “Hem,” perhaps sums up the entire album perfectly and would serve as a perfect introduction to what King Woman are capable of writing. “Hem” gives us the best glimpse of what King Woman have built up to with this album, exploring more sonic landscape than the entirety of the album, offering moments of quietude and repose before burying itself in sludge with Esfandiari’s weighted yet bleak vocals ringing out through the darkness.

Fans of sludge, doom and even shoegaze will like this. Created in offers something different to a vein of music rapidly growing in this day and age as more and more people put away their acoustic guitars and loop pedals and surround themselves with orange amps orange. It’s an album that is almost relentless in its suffering with its production offering a certain varnish that complements Esfandiari’s hopeless crooning and the crushing drums, guitar and bass that endlessly seek to obfuscate. One can’t help but feel that Created in is an album full of wanton suffering. An album that asks questions expecting dreadful answers, an album that defines a period of frustration and exhaustion. Created in is a fine effort by any account, and King Woman can only grow from this in the future. –Ryan Sanford

Cupidcome | Sweet Heart | Self-Released

Cupidcome
Sweet Heart

Self-Released
Street: 01.10
Cupidcome = Skywave + Love Spirals Downwards + Cranes 

Cupidcome’s first EP, Sweet Heart, is a great addition to Salt Lake City’s growing shoegaze and dream-pop family. Showing refinement and growth from their earlier released demos, Sweet Heart’s only real weakness is that it’s a mere three tracks long.

They don’t appear to put too much weight into their namesake, perhaps the most legendary band of the shoegaze genre, My Bloody Valentine. They treat it more as an homage than a roadmap as their sound is very original and not a recreation of the otherworldly riffs Kevin Shields pushed out between the Isn’t Anything and Loveless albums. Instead, their sound comes across as heavily steeped in dream pop and, at times, goth rock—with a good dose of psychedelia. 

Sweet Heart‘s lo-fi recording serves it well, obscuring the fact that Cupidcome are a five-piece band. Subtly shifting between male/female vocals, with driven bass lines, eerie guitars and reverb-laden drums, Sweet Heart at times conjure scenes of The Cure‘s “A Forest” and at other times sounds like the lovechild of Film School and Cranes under the guidance of Oliver Ackermann. There’s not really a band in Salt Lake City doing exactly what Cupidcome are doing, and there’s nothing here that would disenfranchise any fans of this style of music, as broad as it is.

It’s hard to exactly define a band like this. The opening title track shifts rapidly between moments of anguish and declaration. At first, the warped guitar sound gives off the illusion of a psychedelic trip before a Simon Gallup–esque bass line takes charge, broken up briefly by staccato drums accompanied by tambourine crashes, before the bent, driven guitars churn out a steady riff. While this might sound dark and brooding in typical darkwave fashion, the second track, “Electrick,” shows that perhaps it’s more appropriate to label this as an entry into magic realism as opposed to something with intentional gothic leanings.

The highlight of the release, and in my eyes perhaps its most promising, is the third track, “Out Cool,” which is a mixture of yearning, bellowing and perseverance. Toward the end, its lo-fi quality pays the song favors, offering shadowy obscurement to the aching vocals, modulated guitars and steady drums. At nearly seven minutes, it’s a shame “Out Cool” isn’t twice as long, and I’d say the same thing about the release. Sweet Heart is a sign of good things to come. –Ryan Sanford

The National | Sleep Well Beast | 4AD

The National
Sleep Well Beast

4AD
Street: 09.08
The National = The Afghan Whigs + Morphine + Leonard Cohen

Sleep Well Beast, the newest offering from Cincinnati natives The National, sees them return to some of the themes and sounds explored on their last release, Trouble Will Find Me. While still draped in the same demeanor and mood they have established over the past half-decade, they return to some moments that remind us of albums Alligator and Boxer.

Produced by guitar players and brothers Aaron Dessner and Bryce Dessner at Aaron’s studio, Long Pond, in New York, Sleep Well Beast is a bit less granular as a finished product than past albums but still follows suit as an entry into their catalog of rain-soaked ballads. Dealing with topics of yearning, separation and uncertainty, singer Matt Berninger co-wrote this collection of songs with wife Carin Besser.

The album opens as you would expect it to: dark, cryptic and somber without being maudlin. There’s little sunshine here, and it seems that moving to Los Angeles from New York City has changed little of vocalist Berninger’s tune, as he quietly laments, “Can you remind me the building you live in? / I’m on my way / It’s cold again, but New York’s gorgeous / It’s a subway day.” This juxtaposition of cold yet quietly gorgeous is synonymous with the band.

But Berninger’s move hasn’t changed much for the still-Brooklyn-based band, even as The National’s rhythm section (brothers Bryan Devendorf and Scott Devendorf) have been playing in the band LNZNDRF. We hear the brothers providing a steady yet winding rhythm in the opening moments of the album’s second track, “Day I Die,” with Aaron’s (dare I say) The Edge–esque, delay-tinged and overdriven guitar tone laying a stormy lead over Bryce’s rhythm.

“The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness,” the album’s fourth track, features what is perhaps the first guitar solo in the band’s 18-year history. It seems immediately out of place on the album before giving way to a humdrum chorus of, “I can’t explain it any other way.”

Track 5, “Born to Beg,” calls forth more New York ghosts, with Berninger singing, “New York is older / Changing its skin again / It dies every 10 years / Then it begins again,” while Track 6, ”Turtleneck,” is a furrow into a livelier and, at this point in time, an almost out-of-character tune, with a Jamie Hince–meets–Marc Ribot lead guitar squealing in the background, while Berninger’s tenor-baritone echoes Nick Cave. The track is about as upbeat as we’ve heard since Alligator’s “Lit Up” and “Mr. November.”

The album’s tempo slows and brings us back to what we’ve come to know from The National. The track “Empire Line” features a synthesized piano reminiscent of The AntlersHospice, with Berninger yearning, “Can’t you find the way? You are in this, too,” almost accompanying the album’s 10th track, “Carin at the Liquor Store,” which may be the first time Berninger has directly referred to his wife outside of the track “Karen.” It shows us that though the two may be happily married, they’re not immune to the struggles that accompany a relationship.

It’s hard to say if Sleep Well Beast is among their best work to date, and it’s difficult to gauge the band’s growth. From the beginning, the songwriting has been mature and full of introspection. Sleep Well Beast leaves me wondering if The National will ever, finally, record the album we look back on and without question herald as their masterpiece. This may not be that album, but it fits perfectly into their catalog and shows that while things have changed, they still have cohesion and the tired brilliance that has sustained them for so long. –Ryan Sanford

Cloakroom – Time Well

Cloakroom
Time Well

Relapse Records
Street: 08.18
Cloakroom = HUM + Failure + Magnolia Electric Co.

Time Well, the sophomore album from the Region-hailing Cloakroom, showcases a sublime mix of sludge and shoegaze, and is a continuation of the territory they explored on their first album, 2015’s Further Out. Having recently moved from Run For Cover Records to Relapse Records, a label perhaps better known for its metal acts, Cloakroom partnered with producer and ex-HUM frontman Matt Talbott again, with whom they recorded their Lossed Over 7” with, and whose studio, Earth Analog, they used to record Further Out at.

You faintly notice guitar player and singer Doyle Martin and bass player Bobby Markos‘ meek use of effects, every part blending perfectly with drummer Brian Busch‘s steady, hefty percussion as it all moves together seamlessly into a soft luster. You hear this on heavier, more grinding tracks such as the third one, “Concrete Gallery,” a plowing, fiery chantey that corrugates into “Seedless Star,” Time Well‘s fourth track. It’s just as heavy as the tune preceding it, but drifts into a spacey yet quizzical outro that gives way to a solo piano piece, a somber type of exit the band has a penchant for, as heard on “Bending” from 2013’s Infinity EP.

While the album bends beneath the weight of Martin’s riffs, accentuated by his Russian Big Muff, there are lull periods on the album, such as “Hymnal,” the album’s sixth track, which marks a distinct turning point in the album, a pastoral and reverent entry, sounding like early Low if they had been raised on a steady diet of Earth just as much as they had Sunday school hymns.

“The Sun Won’t Let Us Go” invokes the ghost of Jason Molina, Martin’s voice dry and wistful, and is perhaps the prettiest Cloakroom have found themselves at as Martin croons, “I ask the sun to let us go.” This second half of the album is just as augur and glumly dutiful as it is a reflective drive down lonely country byways, the trio perhaps wearing the anxiety of influence on their sleeves, reflecting the feel and geography of their native Indiana, the crossroads of America.

The title track is a solemn Mark Kozelek–sounding number, coming across as undemanding and almost without difficult procedure or construction, with the drawl vocals lending themselves effortlessly to the introduction of strummed acoustic guitars atop a shimmering lead guitar. The next track, “52 Hz Whale,” plays its part in the waning moments of the album. It’s a fitting title for a track named after the world’s loneliest whale, with its glacial pace, psalmody vocals and vast guitars.

The rhythm section of Busch and Markos complements Martin perfectly, his voice draped in reverb, as he tempts brilliant glacier-esque glints of sound from his Telecaster that create huge swathes of ear-splintering noise, sometimes flowing at the same pace as a man standing idly on an escalator.

The crushing textures and aural qualities of the band’s signature sound are still intact, but Time Well shows Cloakroom becoming increasingly comfortable with their softer side, covering just as much musical ground as other dynamic bands, ranging from Codeine and Bedhead to HUM and Ride, shaking themselves free of most emo sentimentalities they might have shared with their former Run For Cover labelmates. Time Well, like its predecessor Further Out, is an honest and refreshing album, given today’s saturation of bands with shoegaze and sludge leanings, and this truthfulness in sound and approach should cement Cloakroom’s albums a place in every sonic-loving audiophile’s record collection. –Ryan Sanford

Mogwai | Every Country's Sun | Temporary Residence Limited/Rock Action Records

Mogwai
Every Country’s Sun

Temporary Residence Limited/Rock Action Records
Street: 09.01
Mogwai = Neu! + Slint + Alessandro Cortini

It’s been three years since Glasgow’s Mogwai released Raves Tapes, their last studio album. Since then, Mogwai contributed the music to BBC’s documentary Atomic, Living in Dread and Promise, longtime member John Cummings departed from the group, and they co-wrote the score to Fisher StevensBefore the Flood, a documentary about climate change, Before the Flood, with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Atomic solidified the band’s recent approach of minimalism-meets-jet-engine synth-rock, touring internationally in support of the film while performing its soundtrack live simultaneously.

Every Country’s Sun, the band’s ninth studio album, brims with anxiety and uncertainty in the face of today’s political and social climate, in much the same way that fellow Scots Boards of Canada‘s Tomorrow’s Harvest rode a wave of apprehension.

The album shares common ground with the Atomic soundtrack than it does Mogwai’s past releases Rave Tapes or Hardcore Will Never Die. For Every Country’s Sun, Mogwai reunited with Mercury Rev‘s Dave Fridmann (Come On Die Young, Rock Action), recording the album in New York. The album’s warm analog sounds impart a thematic, almost nostalgic feel.

Like Fugazi’s The Argument laces together a legacy, Every Country’s Sun does the same. Mogwai wrote the book on instrumental rock, and rather than reinventing the wheel, they grew, leaving behind a classic, groundbreaking catalog. While easy to lump into a banal genre such as “post-rock,” one fixated on predictable build-ups and crescendos, Mogwai instead ride on emotions and tension, continuously setting themselves apart with no equal. At times bleak or serene, and still at other times monolithic or crushing, Every Country’s Sun is what you would expect from a colossal group like Mogwai.

Beginning with “Coolverine,” a Bladerunner-esque dream-synth number, which quickly introduces drummer Martin Bulloch‘s focused, unshaken snare, giving a pulse to the album.

The second track, “Party In the Dark,” is reminiscent of Hardcore‘s “Mexican Grand Prix,” and introduces seldomly heard vocals (one of two tracks in the album), setting the tone for the rest of the album with Barry Burns‘ computer-esque voice softly singing, “Silent and impatient without time / Directionless and innocent,” hinting at the theme of the album.

The third track, “Brain Sweeties,” calls upon the ghosts of The Hawk is Howling‘s “I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead,”  changing direction mid-song with a hopeful bassline before giving way to the innocent, meandering “Crossing the Road Material,” which is similar to Hardcore‘s “How To Be a Werewolf,” providing perhaps some of the only curious, uplifting and at times triumphant moments of the album.

Track five, “aka 47,” seems like Aphex Twin is playing beneath guitarists Stuart Braithwaite and Dominic Aitchison‘s idle noodling, their guitars warped and crackling like vinyl, reminiscent of Brian Eno and Harmonia.

The hymnal and pastoral “1000 Foot Face” features more vocals, quiet and trembling, before track “Battered at a Scramble” brings back the classic Tubescreamer-into-Muff lead guitar solo. “Old Poisons,” the tenth track, sees Mogwai return to their approach of the late ’90s: jarring chagrin, crushing agitation, building layers of disquiet into a prodigious ending.

The title track is a clerical yet minimalistic effort with overdriven guitars strummed lightly, creating spiralling and darkening delay repeats for the band to play over, providing a bleak end to Every Country’s Sun. Despite the tired, nervous moments, there’s an undercurrent of longing, a kind of break in the gloom that reaches out, full of hope.

Every Country’s Sun is Mogwai’s most carrying and clairvoyant album to date, showing them to be one of the only musical groups who never make old ideas sound tried, always skirting curiosity with nervousness and despair. –Ryan Sanford

Black Flak and the Nightmare Fighters | Once We Knew the World Well

Black Flak and the Nightmare Fighters
Once We Knew the World Well

Self-Released
Street: 06.13
Black Flak and the Nightmare Fighters = MONO + This Will Destroy You 

Salt Lake City–based Black Flak and the Nightmare Fighters’ debut album, Once We Knew the World Well, is cinematic, harrowing and at times both frenzied and tragic. The four-piece ensemble utilizes dynamic shifts, tight drumming and a heavy use of effects pedals, creating a soundtrack to what could be a yet-unmade documentary about mankind’s conflict and grief as displayed through the chaos of World War II.

Black Flak—whose name is borrowed from a poem by Randall Jarrell, a poet whose work focused on his experiences while enrolled in the United States Air Force—open the album with the title track, which features short bursts of delayed guitar atop static-filled samples of gunfire and radio communication from World War II, gradually building up before bursting into a soaring, forlorn section that eventually descends. There is a formula for post-rock, and Black Flak have found it, immediately sounding not only inspired by but also at home among other bands like Red Sparowes.

Once We Knew imparts a sense of stark nostalgia, and is as pictorial as it could be, at times capturing the feel of the war Black Flak write of without ever being grandiose or overwrought.

“The Difference Between Surviving and Living,” the album’s fourth track, hails a visual turn. The band implements samples from former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain‘s Declaration of War, the istrumentation sounding akin to Andy Othling‘s musical scores before exploding into a frenzied guitar number accompanied by gradually building drums, eventually evening itself out again.

The album’s fifth track, “From an Infinite Multitude of Individual Wills” (a reference to Leo Tolstoy), instantly springs to life, with distorted guitars providing the backdrop to a ghostlike lead, giving birth to fingerpicked guitars before being drowned out by samples of air raid sirens, once again exploding with faint reverse delayed guitars arcing in-and-out.

Once We Knew is an inspired, engaging debut release, ending with “And There Was a Great Calm,” the album’s most driven track as blasts from the drummer provide the timing and pace for more distorted sections that eventually sound choked, blipping out before more tremolo-picked guitars surge back in, giving way to a triumphant curtain call. These parts disintegrate into radio frequency transmissions and more sparsely strummed acoustic guitars, ending Black Flak’s maiden voyage. You can buy the CD and listen to the music at blackflak.net. –Ryan Sanford

Godspeed You! Black Emperor | Luciferian Towers | Constellation Records

Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Luciferian Towers

Constellation Records
Street: 09.22
Godspeed You! Black Emperor = Iannis Xenakis + SWANS + Steve Reich

“An end to borders,” states just a small part of the liner notes of Montréal-based monolith of sound Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s newest record, Luciferian Towers, a torrential and colossal entry into the band’s already prolific and legendary catalog of records. These liner notes feel as if they are more than just a mere statement. They are instead the declaration of a new world and future, and the sounds that flow from the record echo these sentiments entirely.

Twenty years on from their debut masterpiece, F#A#∞, GY!BE show few signs of slowing down, despite a nine-year hiatus, having woken from their slumber with albums ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! and Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress, two albums that pushed the band beyond any point of fury, chaos and strife previously explored. Luciferian Towers, now the band’s sixth full-length release, rises from the ashes of such exploits and brushes itself free of those relentless and violent efforts, instead coming across as a linear and intentional excursion.

As opposed to earlier releases, Luciferian Towers is as a single movement, one moment in time condensed into 43 minutes, and over this period of time, it spans everything that might encompass a journey, prayer or feeling: moments of expectancy, inspiration and prevailment. Yet while it feels as if this entry into their extensive catalog is one movement, as opposed to the duality of much-earlier albums Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven and Yanqui U.X.O., there are two sides to the Luciferian Towers coin: one, a message of hope in the face of all that shackles us as a prisoner of circumstance; and two, a growing listlessness on the verge of radical eruption—a slow riot happening, if you will.

One cannot ignore the political message of the band, with sections of the album carrying titles such as “Bosses Hang” and “Anthem For No State.” The former section of songs, broken into “Bosses Hang, Pt. I” through “Pt. III,” respectively, comes after the opener, which lends its name to the album title, “Undoing a Luciferian Towers.” The opener makes for a reverent and apocryphal beginning complete with distant horns and droning strings, which offer moments of repose juxtaposed with triumph, optimism and urgency.

“Anthem For No State, Pt. I” begins with forlorn and downcast guitars draped in analog delay, with the gradual introduction of glum and aching slide, now a GY!BE trademark. Drums build the movement up faint degrees at a time, equal parts aching and hopeful, before the bass guitar shifts the tempo, ringing out faintly sputtered chords, laying the foundation for a guitar wavering under the influence of vibrato while another, slightly-distorted is bathed in reverb. These parts, after the bridge of track “Fam / Famine,” bring us into the last half of the album, second parts I., II. and III., which push the movement to a close, as the third part begins with feedbacking amps and an unsettling drone that eventually builds to a whir of double-picked guitars on the verge of oscillation, a quick build-up from the rhythm section, with one small break from the anxiety to a part as visual and cinematic as Ennio Morricone could have ever hoped for

Gone are the nervous, angst-ridden passages of Lift Your Skinny Fists. Gone are the melancholic and glum remnants of ennui heard on Yanqui U.X.O. Gone are the surging, jarring and chaotic guitar furies present on ‘Allelujah and Asunder. The only thing remaining in this singular passage is a message, echoing brightly, a beacon on the horizon perhaps telling us that gone are the days of wicked: Our struggle will break walls and resurrect hope. –Ryan Sanford

DEAFCULT | Auras | Hobbledehoy Records

DEAFCULT
Auras

Hobbledehoy Records
Street: 06.30
DEAFCULT = Slowdive + My Bloody Valentine + Airiel

Auras, the debut album from Australian shoegaze outfit DEAFCULT, uses the lull of wistful longing and tranquil bearing to create a somehow stormy and effervescent anthology of dreamlike and illusory songs that evoke an almost thematic cascade of noise that echoes the ends of a well-spent summer, spanning 42 minutes of vivid sound.

DEAFCULT’s self-titled demo tape, released last year, was an incredible first glimpse at the band and I was happy to see them follow up on it rather than blip out and disappear like so many other promising acts. The Brisbane-based sextet rely on hushed vocals and walls of guitars using delay, chorus, distortion and reverb, all the while accompanied by a bass and drum section that provides a solid foundation for the blankets of sound the band conjures up over Aura’s breathtaking 12 tracks.

The album begins with “Lemonade Beauty,” the opening guitars laying the foundation for the rest of the album, sounding innocent and hopeful with just a tinge of yearning. The second track, “Secret Wisdom,” would not sound out of place following a Swirlies or Slowdive track on a nighttime-themed mixtape. These opening tracks eventually give way to the Aura’s third entry, “Summertime,” a blissful and upbeat track that shows us a happier and aestival side to DEAFCULT, showcasing the quiet-loud-quiet dynamic shifts in its bridge and chorus sections.

“Sparkle,” the album’s fourth track, is an anthemic passage. Its guitars are a gentle homage to the fuzzed-out, tremolo-bending Kevin Shields. The duality of guitar players and vocalists Stevie Scott and Innez Tulloch’s twin dynamics create a brief moment of Loveless recollection as the sun-warped riffs ring out above the layer of steadily crashing drums and the other two guitar players, Kelly Hanlon and Matt Bach, alternate jarring chords, creating a warped-vinyl effect atop the surging rhythm section provided by bassist Allen McGregor and drummer Nathan Crust.

“Indigo Children” is a gentle dreampop number with its gentle, reverb-laden vocals drifting listlessly above the guitar-woven tapestries made up of fuzz. Inverted drum patterns eventually cascade before giving way to Aura’s seventh track, “Stars Collide,” which begins with a delicate motif that quickly gives birth to a repetitive, drenched-sounding guitar line, like a mix between Starfish-era The Church and Chapterhouse’s Whirlpool album.

The album’s single and eighth track, “Rubix,” provides perhaps DEAFCULT’s most genuine and veritable moments to date: Summery guitar play, charming lyrics, all the while still upholding the somnambulant overtones and qualities that Auras has given us.

These patterned textures eventually give way to the riff-heavy “Judy,” the distorted guitars this time accompanied by synth-lines, and is a track more similar to that of contemporary shoegaze acts than the cues of late ’80s/early ’90s pioneers that dominate the related genre. “Urusai,” the second-to-last track, is a dreamlike and emotive number, drawing up the similar feelings and moods one would hear on certain Cocteau Twins and Pale Saints albums.

Shoegaze and dreampop, genres that seemingly had their heyday and reached their creative epochs long ago, never went away. While DEAFCULT haven’t sought to reinvent the wheel with Auras, they have instead raised today’s standards. When compared to their contemporaries, DEAFCULT’s sound and approach is refreshing, coming across more authentic than derivative. The themes of nostalgia, sleeplessness and insomnolence of Auras assist in heightening the content of the album above most others of a similar style within the past decade. –Ryan Sanford

METZ | Strange Peace | Sub Pop Records

METZ
Strange Peace

Sub Pop Records
Street: 09.22
METZ = Mclusky + Nirvana + The Jesus Lizard

METZ are a perfect example of what is most holy about modern music: noise, volume, controlled chaos and energy without end. The Toronto-based trio’s third album is a continuation of the frenzy previously displayed in both their debut and sophomore albums. While tighter and more focused, Strange Peace still showcases and retains the band’s desperate, frenzied sound, while never falling into the trap of coming across as full-on fits of jarring noise.

Working with legendary sound engineer Steve Albini in his Electrical Audio studio in Chicago, it’s ironic that Strange Peace is the album when they finally found one another, as both METZ’s debut album and its follow-up, II, were more in line with Albini’s trademark sound, and perhaps more akin to his own band Big Black. The tape and analog equipment used lends to Strange Peace perfectly, imparting a warm, fuzzy sound, while the rhythm section benefits from Albini’s focus and expert mic placement.

Strange Peace’s opening track, “Mess of Wires,” begins with the cue, “You are rolling,” before METZ’s surge of hysteria rears its head, the song title a perfect description for their unique brand of sound. This sound bleeds through even onto the album’s third track and radio single, “Cellophane,” with a repetitive riff bringing to mind images of Duane Denison’s explosive playing on The Jesus Lizard’s Goat album, its monotony broken up by a short, screeching solo.

The album’s fourth track, “Caterpillar,” shows METZ as we have not heard the trio before: a dark and discordant passage into territory that brings back memories of Slint or Shipping News as they cast aside their usual maniacal approach in favor of a steady, jarring rhythm. This mood carries over into the next track, “Lost In the Blank City,” a desperate and grave-sounding track that never truly climaxes, with drummer Hayden Menzies feverishly destroying his kit.

If one were to take Nirvana’s “Territorial Pissings” and decide to make it even more jolting, while lending a pensive approach to it, the eighth track, “Common Trash,” would be the appropriate answer to that, with vocalist/guitar player Alex Edkins sneering, “Wade through the common trash / We’re all just common trash.”

The album draws to a close with “Raw Materials” and what may be the standout track on the album with the trio all going through the paces as Edkins’ maniacal howl echoes atop bass player Chris Slorach’s cannon-like basslines and Menzies’ relentless percussion. These parts in unison are occasionally broken up by Edkins’ guitar playing, which comes across like Swell Maps on amphetamines and is as crushing and earsplitting as anything noise-pioneers Cherubs put out in their early years.

If I had a dime for every noise-rock band I’ve heard, I could afford to fly around the world. If I had a dollar for every band that did it well, however, I’d be piss-poor. METZ, however, easily stand out among their contemporaries, with Strange Peace being the perfect follow-up to their first two albums. It is a refreshing and honest album, its energy pure and unadulterated. While effortless may not be the right word to associate with a band running on such high levels of caffeine as METZ seem to be, this album places them a cut above nearly everything available today. –Ryan Sanford