Porlolo’s new EP No Praise, No Blame borrowed its title from the William Stafford poem of the same name. It’s sentiments are a bit like having a non-detached Zen attitude toward life, accepting what is including the connections you have with others even through trying times. Maybe songwriter and singer Erin Roberts felt like she wanted to articulate a sense of how life had to be over the past year and often enough was in the past and will be in the future for reasons other than a global pandemic. But Robets goes beyond the all too commonly expressed feeling of being glad to be around people again regularly and all the privileges and imagined normalcy that goes along with it and delves into what you learn about yourself and your relationships with people when you can’t and thus don’t have to be around other people so much except as is necessary. In these songs you do hear an appreciation for the people you love and the subtle elements of your relationship with them that maybe you took for granted while also highlighting the tensions that came into focus when you were forced to take a step away from the situations that defined your life. In “Ain’t No Use” Roberts confesses to her own shortcomings including not being “good at saying goodbye” when that is necessary for the moment or from now on. She examines the basic human folly of hanging onto false hopes even when the shine on them is as obviously extinguished as a “old dead star.” Every song seems to be about taking stock of one’s place in life and shedding the desires, the aspirations and relationships that are dragging you down even when they have their hooks in your psyche and feel so much like a part of an identity that you’ve outgrown. And yet this forward momentum is not undertaken ruthlessly, but rather with compassion and a reticence born out of an awareness of one’s own faults and limitations of understanding. Every song is a well-crafted, expertly produced, indie folk pop song but Roberts has always brought a depth of thought and poetic expression to her lyrics since the early days of the project. Listen to the EP on Bandcamp and connect with Porlolo at the links below.
“GRAVITY” finds Denver’s Never Kenezzard pulling us through a winding road of heavy rock cast in warping, colorful tones. It’s a musical parallel to lyrics that conjure images of being an astronaut on a perilous trip to orbit and plummeting back to earth. It is a bit like a psychedelic doom analog to Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” The accompanying music video to the single draws upon guitarist/vocalist Ryan Peru’s knowledge of video production, cinema and music history. The hues are a shifting array of keyed colors to fill in areas of a negative image so that the band looks like it’s performing from another dimension in a 1970s Hammer film. It recalls the early music videos of Black Sabbath in which oil projections are overlaid on the band for a primitive visual effect but one that gives it a sense of mystery and otherworldly visual aesthetic. Peru is an expert of manipulating VHS video sources and processing them for projections in the live setting and that expertise in mixing mediums gives this offering a much better than intentionally amateurish feel.
Fans of Voivod’s late 80s music videos will also appreciate the cuts and experiments in style that run throughout not to mention how both the music and the visuals evoke a mood of experiencing something from a future where everything has fallen apart and put itself back together from the ruins of technology and culture. As is usual for the band, Never Kenezzard in this song doesn’t try to pummel you with heaviness, its shifts in pace and tone are creative and serve a sense of storytelling. Fans of the aforementioned as well as Unsane, Naked City, Queens of the Stone Age and Sleep will find something to appreciate about Never Kenezzard’s disregard for the conventions of noise rock, sludge metal and jazzy death metal. Watch the video below, connect with Never Kenezzard at the links provided and look for the band’s full length album The Long and Grinding Road due out in Fall 2021.
If ever there was a title to the current season of human civilization, endless collapse is it and this collaborative album between Denver-based experimental electronic/ambient artist bios+a+ic and Seattle-based avant-garde soundscaper noisepoetnobody (under the name Entropic Advance) is a musical analogue to what seems like a pervasive feeling that just when we think we’ve hit a new low as a species we keep showing ourselves that we haven’t seen anything yet. There are no grand political statements or observations on this album, just that mood of seeming to be caught up in the flow of society’s static as institutions, norms, formerly generally agreed to beliefs about what constitutes truth and a reliable path to knowledge and so much of what makes up the world as we know it erodes into insolidity and an ambient white noise of what can only be described as not just future urban decay but the kind of prolonged collapse Edward Gibbon described in his colossal 1976-1789 masterpiece The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire but this time a global, interconnected civilization, the collapse of which will spare no one in the end. Humanity will probably survive but the successors to the Roman Empire never had nuclear technology, advanced biological weapons and so many of the other fun stuff awaiting us if and when global hegemon’s fragment and pass into history with a massive power vacuum filled by groups and leaders we can’t yet imagine.
This album seems to have been based on contemplating the dark future that even the most cynical and dystopian cyberpunk never really considered and how realistic it is for a collapse to not feel like one until it’s well under way. The sheets of processed white noise, the organic yet fragmented rhythms and distorted drones of the title track and “behind the projected” is reminiscent of a dark negative image of Tangerine Dream’s “Thru Metamorphic Rocks” from Force Majeure Those familiar might even flash back to the stark, gray, deeply haunting imagery of Andrei Tarkovksy’s 1979 film Stalker and it’s air of mystery and yearning for dream fulfillment in the face of existential peril. The titles of the songs tell a tale of a similar voyage of waking up one day (“sunrise”) and becoming aware that you’re living in apocalyptic times except it’s not as dramatic or as sudden as science fiction and mythology has lead you to believe (‘endless collapse”) and you try to figure out a way to preserve your sanity while reconciling yourself with the tragic reality and envisioning what it might be like to exist on the other side of this time (“a bridge between worlds” and “from the ashes”) only to hit upon the oddly comforting idea that we all go through these shorter cycles in life as part of bigger trends and often only get a brief period of respite that we should treasure (“catch a breath”). Despite these heady themes it is a soothing listen and one that also perfectly embodies the melancholic yet faintly hopeful mood of the world today. Who knows where we’ll end up in the next year or ten but this album is also a reminder that being paralyzed by those concerns isn’t going to derail the worst possibilities and that creative work can be a cathartic way to break that psychological freeze.
Listen to endless collapse on Bandcamp and also, if you’re so inclined, give a listen to noisepoetnobody’s excellent 2021 album Insanity Mirror on Bandcamp as well. Connect with Entropic Advance at the links below for more information and to stay appraised of Wesley Davis’ various creatie endeavors.
The title track of Memory Theater’s 2021 EP The Farthest Shore expresses the isolation and deep, emotional exhaustion and sense of resignation that many of us experienced throughout the 2020-2021 pandemic. The evolving, echoing layers of memory and melancholic vocals are a perfect analog to countless days of stasis and an almost ritualized existence. But in those repetitions and the minimalist synth lead we hear a resonant and familiar attempt to make sense of events beyond our control and moods in reaction to them that feel inescapable and permanent. “This Ending World” is a buoyant instrumental like a forgotten bit of incidental music from a 1980s coming of age comedy as if to express the perversity of a need to make the best of things in apocalyptic times while acknowledging the need to hold on to something that picks you up from a place of confusion, misery and hopelessness. “To Die in the Country” has an appropriate tone of menace with distorted and angular synth lines reminiscent of a musical descendant of D.A.F. and Chris Clark—darkly playful and urgent. The EP ends with “Lake of Flowers,” a song that sounds so uplifting but really expresses poignantly the feeling we all had that the pandemic wouldn’t and isn’t going to end because of the folly of human notions of their entitlement to narrow conceptions of liberty and that the best we can hope for is that nothing lasts forever including the pandemic and, if humanity can’t get its collective thing together, human civilization. This could all seem so bleak but these beautifully moody pop songs and their bright tonalities feel like a way to be honest about the feelings most people have had the past year and to not have to deny our humanity in the name of imposing a phony positivity that gets in the way of processing emotional trauma. You can listen to the EP and download, if you’re so inclined, on Bandcamp or listen to the title track and others on Spotify and connect with Memory Theater on Instagram linked below.
Griffith Snyder has been writing introspective, ethereal pop songs for years but the final one he writes for the duration might be “Islands 777.” In the wake of turmoil in his personal life, Snyder re-examined the nature of his relationship with other people, with himself, with his creative work and the purpose of that in his life given the demands and compromises and self-promotion required in order to break through to the kind of audience you would need for the art to sustain you. This song with its shuffling beat and hazy melodies feels like a resigned but mournful goodbye to the music world as it is as well as one’s past life up to this point. A necessary step and Snyder seems to have discovered the need for solitude to process these griefs and channel it into the kind of song that makes that break seem not just okay but inevitable. The line “Wanted to be heard” is perhaps most telling as a musician and as a human and it strikes the most poignant emotional chord of the song. Fans of Brothertiger and Washed Out will appreciate the resonances Snyder has crafted with this song. Watch the video for “Islands 777” on YouTube. It seems as though most of Inner Oceans’ social media accounts are gone except for Twitter where maybe Snyder will announce his return to music once his heart and spirit have healed.
Denver’s The Patient Zeros has released its first tracks from a forthcoming 2021 album. The group has been developing and honing its songcraft the past several years and the single “Ms. January” is a fine showcase for the group’s knack for layered dynamics and illustrative turns of phrase. Rather than settling into a subgenre niche of some variety The Patient Zeros seem to have drawn inspiration from a wide spectrum of rock music and its spiritual and creative antecedent, blues. The song follows an drawn out melodic line up and down the scale like the slow moving roller coaster of mood that can be where winter can take you and leave you in spaces of contemplation inside your own mind. January is the dead of winter and metaphorically can seem to be a place of absolute stasis for the spirit but it as with nature it is a fallow time that forces you to face the aspects of your mind you maybe don’t want to face because there aren’t as many potential distractions. The song evokes that tension, resentment and acceptance of these challenges as necessary to personal growth. As the main line of the song progresses the call and answer and subtle details of counter melody give the song a sonic depth that simple rocking out could never provide. Listen to “Ms January” on Spotify and connect with The Patient Zeros on Facebook and Instagram linked below where the group will surely announce the release of the new record.
The self-titled Club Soda album gets going into some intense, hyper dance club version of a science fiction synthwave vibes right away with “Goblin Bitch.” Given the possibilities of modern production it’s difficult to say how much of this was produced with older technology but it has the tonal aesthetics of something that would have been made with cheap synths, drum machines and either Acid or some old sequencer and a CasioTone 101. Except that Elijah Jarocki brings a different set of aesthetics to the music than someone would have in the late 90s making use of childhood electronic instruments to create strange pop songs. “Heartbreak City” sounds like a trap song made by Captain Ahab. Ghosts of Herbie Hancock’s “Rock-It” haunt the edges of “Rice Forever” before it goes lo-fi Dirty South early EBM. “Goyle/Soda Alienation ” warps the flow of rhythm in a way that draws you in and provides sonic flashback of one of those beats Aphex Twin buried on the deep web for adventurous and resourceful fans to find. In the end, though, with “You Almost Took Me To The Edge,” Club Soda finishes the album with a triumphant, synthpop banger with vocoder to seal the impression of gloriously abused aesthetics and technology to engage in layered stylistic time traveling to make an album that could have been made 40 years ago or yesterday. Being able to exist in that zone of timelessness for the duration of the album is truly a gift. Listen to Club Soda on Bandcamp where you can also order a copy of the physical media.
Denver-based deathrock inspired post-punk band Plague Garden is on the cusp of releasing its sophomore album Requiem of Souls on May 7, 2021. But for now you can get a taste of what you’re in for with the video for “Dead on the Floor” filmed entirely in Colorado and starring, in addition to the members of the band, Justine Ruppert. The video was edited by Angelo Atencio of Plague Garden and it has the hallmarks of long lost, indie horror movie from the 90s. Those knowledgeable in the haunting mortuaries of Colorado may recognize some of the striking scenery. The album is a step forward for the band and its blend of icy synths, soulful vocals and buzzy yet funeral guitar tone should appeal to fans of Catastrophe Ballet period Christian Death and early Death In June. Watch the video on YouTube and listen to tracks on the group’s Bandcamp site where you can order a CD copy of the album.
Spunsugar from Malmö, Sweden released its debut album Drive-Through Chapel in October 2020 on Adrian Recordings. Rather than the ethereal post-rock that passes for entirely too much shoegaze and psychedelic rock of late, Spunsugar’s music has a grittiness and emotional urgency that pairs well with elements of an industrial aesthetic. In that way Spunsugar has more in common with groups like Curve and A Place to Bury Strangers that have embraced a similarly hybrid approach to songwriting and soundscaping. We recently sent some questions to the band about its origins, the subjects of its songs and its decision to sing in English. Connect with the band at the links following the Q&A. Article and interview by Tom Murphy.
Queen City Sounds and Art: Cordelia and Elin met at 13. What did a small town outsider clique look like at that age and what mutual interests draw people who are part of that together?
Elin Ramstedt: We mostly hung out with the weirdos and bonded over music, alcohol and alienation.
Cordelia Moreau: We also had less parental supervision than a lot of the kids at our age so that made it easier for us to do mischief at nights without repercussions!
Q: Cordelia and Elin spent some time hardly speaking to each other and not writing music for several years. What were they discovering and exploring separately that seemed to inform what they would do with the new band?
E: I wrote music by myself but always felt that I wanted Cordelias input because of the way that we complement each other when writing music. I felt restrained. I listened to a lot of music and went to concerts and built up the eagerness to play music with others. I mean it is not easy to be a female in a male dominated industry and I guess it took some time before I realised that this was actually something that we could do as well.
Q: In what ways do you think coming up as the children of farmers and fundamentalists and “trailer trash” in small towns in Sweden shaped your view of and approach to making your music?
E: Maybe that we don’t really take anything for granted. We don’t really feel the urge to be famous or anything, we are just very thankful that we make music that people like and can relate to.
C: It makes us less snobby, I think.
F: Yeah, and it’s something to be proud of. Pride is a feeling we haven’t got an abundance of growing up. I spent a lot of time in my teens being somewhat ashamed of the circumstances around my upbringing, family etc. So to have this thing (the band) that is 100% our own is a great source of pride.
Q: What kinds of places did you play before moving to Malmö and how did that environment influence your early development as musicians?
E: Spunsugar didn’t exist before we all lived in Malmö, from 2018. Cordelia and I played in a band when we were teenagers. We mostly played at youth centers. One time we participated in some kind of music competition and the judges told us that we looked like we were dead on stage.
F: Haha, the same here. I played in several metal bands and also a cover band. We played Creedence, Rollings Stones and Ted Gärdestad songs. That kind of stuff. We played shows at small pubs in front of audiences of a bunch of 50-year old women trying to hit on us. Which was strange for me being 18 at the time. I mean, these gigs weren’t the most inspiring but it gave me a lot of experience of playing live and solving situations revolving playing live.
Q: Knowing virtually nothing about the music world of Malmö myself, I wonder what it’s like for an independent even underground band to develop, book shows and connect with other bands to perform and cultivate an audience? Are there places to play that were integral to your growth as a band? Publications/media outlets that write about local band that were helpful to Spunsugar and other groups?
E: Malmö is a city with a lot of really great pop and rock bands! There are a few places that we have been playing at in Malmö. I think that it is kind of easy to get to play small gigs around Malmö, even if you are a new band. We have played at Plan B like four times haha. We haven’t really had any contact with local media outlets. I mean 2020 has been shitty and we haven’t really played that much live at all since we started the band, but we’re aiming at replacing COVID-19 in taking over the world.
F: Yeah, like Elin said, Plan B has been important to us. They gave us a chance for our first gig and our relationship with them has kind of developed with the growth of the band. We had our release-show for our album there and it was a fantastic night. The local media has been awfully quiet to be honest, but that’s not a problem really. There is a big scene of alternative bands and venues that talked to and about each other so I feel that bands can evolve anyway.
Q: You once opened for Nothing. When and where was that? In what ways do you feel Nothing is an influence on your own art?
E: It was at Plan B in Malmö November 2018. It was our first gig ever!! I think Nothing inspired and inspires us to write heavier music. When we started playing music together our music was much poppier but then we realised that we wanted to play music that is a mix of Britney Spears and Slayer.
C: Also, the soundscape of their latest album is really inspiring. Melodically, their geniuses, and they have a certain atmosphere in their songs that are gentle but hard, depressing but catchy. That’s a great way to write music.
F: I think that gig was a bit of an eye opener too. It was quite daunting to play with a band that we respect so much on our first show. It made me realise that this is real and experiences like this actually could happen to us as well, not only to other more fortunate people. I think we put in a higher gear after that. We took things a bit more seriously.
Q: Your songs are in English. What informed that decision and what helped you coming up to learn and connect with the language in a way that makes it a comfortable choice for creative expression (assuming it is)?
C: I guess it’s because pretty much every song, movie and TV-show we consume is in English. It’s personal enough since it’s a language we speak but if I wrote lyrics in Swedish I’d sometimes lack the ability to reference things I want to reference, as well as a vast enough vocabulary. But I sometimes write in Swedish but not for Spunsugar.
E: It would be too embarrassing for me to sing swedish lyrics. You really can sing about nothing when it is not your native language and it sounds cool anyway.
Q: The title Drive-Through Chapel suggests much like the nature of religion and its role in society. What inspired giving the album that title?
E: You could actually say that we are antichrist himself, kind of, and I think that we are fascinated about commercialization of religion and how it can be expressed.
F: And it’s a good title. I mean, I like how it sounds and looks.
C: I grew up in a religious village, it shaped me a lot. When I moved with my mom I got to see something different while my dad was still in that southern religious world. My mom was heavy into rock music and dark movies so she showed me a lot of dark stuff at a young age. That was a scary, intriguing contrast, but it gave perspective that helped me question organized religion. If that music and those books and films were so evil, why did they make me feel so nice? It planted the seed for my obsession with the plastic workings behind these small time churches.
Q: “Video Nasty” is an interesting title to a song as it references a category of film given that designation in the UK in the early 1980s. How did you become familiar with that concept and do you have particular video nasties you like and why?
C: I’m a horror movie buff and have always been fascinated with the idea of media ruining young peoples minds and making them violent, because I was scared into believing that was how it worked as a child. It doesn’t, by the way. In that song I use this concept as a metaphor for peoples invasion and fear of the sexualities of others. I haven’t done many deep dives into the most obscure ones but I absolutely love I Spit On Your Grave, The Last House on the Left and The Beyond.
Q: There is a real synthesis of electronic music and rock in your songwriting with the drum machine fully integrated. What about that sort of sound have you appreciated in other artists?
E: I like the contrasts.
C: I think it blurs the lines of what time the music belongs to. It’s a little bit 80s, a little bit now and a little bit future sounding. I am a big fan of late 80s to late 90s electronical/industrial sounding metal. Everything from Type O Negative, Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie, it has a certain type of grit to it while at the same time being cheesier and more mellow than other types of metal.
F: It’s very much a mix of all the things we like. I was a big heavy metal kid growing up, and a quite conservative one too. It was a big eye opener when I found bands that could blend that intensity with other influences. That you didn’t need to sound like Entombed or Sleep to sound heavy or that you could sound beautiful and heavy at the same time.
Sal Dulu has been producing tracks for sometime that seem informed by a combination of 20th century classical music, ambient and deep house but often organized around creating immersive and entrancing hip-hop beats. His debut album Xompulse puts all of these interests on display and it seem uneven if you’re listening for strict stylistic coherence. But the result is more like what you might get from a J Dilla record with the legendary producer’s own proclivity for putting his experimental impulses forward and forcing the listener to take on his imaginative sonic worlds on their own terms. So here Sal Dulu connects hip-hop tracks with connective, introspective pieces. The title track placed between “Zumo” and “Alien Boy 96” is an introspective piece comprised of impressionistic, lonely piano lines that serves as a complete sonic break near the middle of a set of chill but energetic beats much as later “Just Like Sonnenalle Blues” takes the listener on a detour through streaming guitar blues and processed gleaming sounds that shimmer out in sonic soft focus. The whole albums feels like Sal has absorbed a great slice of bedroom pop programming, chillwave, vaporwave and underground hip-hop and sound design composition to create an album that is a modern emotional equivalent of late night jazz lounge with all the elements vibing masterfully on final track “Buzzcut” which feels like collage pop as much as acid jazz but with the rhythmic breaks so smooth and entrancing that even the relatively abrupt ending isn’t jarring. Listen to Xompulse on Soundcloud.