Don’t be thrown by the title of the video “meet jeff,” it’s a video for the song “slit scan” from the forthcoming GATEFOLDE album O due out January 22, 2022. “Jeff” is songwriter M. Fanuzzi’s name for the dystopia of late capitalism. The video is a depiction of three figures mutated and mutilated by the current state of the world as are many of us to varying degrees even if “only” psychologically. The song employs analog synth and other electronic instruments to convey the background sound of post-industrial white noise that represents the elements of our current civilization that seem impossible to escape including the constant demand of late capitalism of our participation in it whether by increasingly drawing our time and energy into it directly or indirectly with marketing/advertising which has permeated nearly all realms of life and, perhaps just as if not more insidiously, social media which has become the vehicle for keeping in touch with friends and family in aggregate and putting a barrier between people through the illusion of connection. The music of the song goes from a fairly playful and chill electronic free jazz with saxophones into something more chaotic and disorienting to parallel the disruption in our lives and alienation from self. The DIY stop motion animation/claymation visuals while perfect for expressing these ideas also contains an element of nostalgia and humanity because it is inherently imperfect and wouldn’t be effective if rendered in a more finely digital form. In casting this symbolic drama of the dysfunction of the modern era, the video and the song is a reminder of how even connecting to the uncomfortable aspects of our existence is proof of our humanity and that everyone knows deep down that late capitalism is a failure that serves no one’s interests and is inherently destructive to the environment and basic human institutions and relationships that we value whether we consciously take them into account in the abstraction of our economic lives separate from context and consequences beyond those slender considerations that define the modern capitalist system. Maybe the GATEFOLDE video and song is a minor act of resistance by holding up a creative mirror to the system that is eroding and destroying our lives but it is one that rewards indulging. Watch the video for “slit scan” on YouTube and follow GATEFOLDE at the links below where a cassette of the album O is available to order on Bandcamp on January 22, 2002 in a limited edition of 100.
Delorca and Turner of Wheels linked up their computers during this ongoing pandemic to collaborate remotely on an extended piece of music called “Misery Tourist.” The ebbs and flows of textures, melodies, moods and concepts take on a cinematic quality and convey a narrative about grief and empathy and the importance of creative work and experiences in times of crisis. The first part of “Misery Tourist” draws us in with sounds that take on the shapes of physical objects in our imagination, of streams running over rocks, wind in trees, clouds streaming overhead. When the vocals come in like a spirit its reminiscent of Everything But the Girl but commenting on a desolate world wracked by conflict, suffering, deprivation and neglect. One might say it’s about the pandemic but any honest person sensitive to the reality of the world knows how the pandemic highlighted already stressed and strained human social structures and relationships and the widespread destructive impact of human civilization as we’ve known it on the environment. The soaring vocals feel like they’ve taken on this pain and channeled it into a coherent expression that gives this gentle and fluid composition a cathartic aspect without downplaying our collective erosion of life nurturing existence unbolstered by a non-existent wise stewardship by most political entities on the planet. And yet it’s not a downer. It is merely melancholy and because of its natural and subtle forward momentum simulating life and the course of history outside of human impact there is a built in sense of hope for an unraveling of the deadlock somehow in ways we can’t predict. The title seems to imply that to address our maladies we must first look upon them honestly and dare not to be completely overwhelmed by the extent of the destruction but rather see it as an opportunity to act boldly and not get stuck in the stasis of the status quo that made it all possible and inevitable. Listen to “Misery Tourist (Part One)” on Bandcamp and connect with the artists at the links below.
Slim Noir uses a cool jazz, downtempo beat to give his song “Traffic” a mood like a late 1950s Hitchcock adventure thriller, lush tones and an air of romance. The lyrics are like a call and response style beginning with a cocky male using his verbal creativity, wit and bravado to let a woman know how and why he admires her including how she’s wild, dangerous and glamorous and for her part the woman responds to this attention with an all but dismissive casualness mentioning the matters that have her attention and focus and it’s not her would be suitor. Not discouraged by this response the guy acknowledges how she had to have heard it all, the litany of flattery from trifling wannabes but to give him a chance. And yet he never sounds pathetic and the song ends with this discussion unresolved. It’s a slice of life and like a bit of cinema reminiscent of some late 90s Tricky capturing a moment in time rather than trying to solve or resolve the disconnect because in those moments of hopefulness of romance is where people are often at their best. Listen to “Traffic” on Spotify and follow Slim Noir at the links below.
“Accelerometer Overdose” finds London-based jazz duo Binker & Moses not only laying out some kosmische free jazz instrumental interplay but the processing of the performances throughout sends you even further out. Loops of sax and some processing on drum signal and low end brought back in as processed samples both makes you wonder where you are in the music but also engaged to want to follow where it goes before it fades into space. The process transforms maximalism into minimalism, tangible concrete and organic musical forms into an electronic ghost of those living on like a crumbling fractal hologram and giving the meaning of the music a different dimension of meaning than when it first starts out as though saying that the illusion of perfection, of virtuoso performance can be cooler when it is built to break down in ways not entirely under anyone’s control into the chaos of infinite decay. It is the free jazz equivalent of when Mission of Burma would perform live and Martin Swope would take part of the live show into a tape machine and feed it back through the P.A. and warped dub style including an echo of the final notes into analog signal slow burnout taking the audience out of regular time. Listen to “Accelerometer Overdose” on YouTube and connect with Binker & Moses at the links provided. Look for the new album Feeding The Machine due February 25, 2022 via Gearbox Records.
When “Fade To White” by Last Name X begins it brings such a blissed out yet melancholic mood with a guitar loop that propels the song forward and processed vocals in angelic vocoder tones deliver lines like notes written on tissue paper sent aloft in a breeze. It is this part of the song at the first and last third of the song that expresses a sense of the higher self sensitive to frustrations, struggles and pain that intermingle and help to keep us trapped in a bad place. The middle part of the song with the more human sounding rap gives us some context with words that spell out where things are wrong in a relationship that has fractured and the anger and hurt lingers as a raw feeling. But when the vocoder-processed singing returns the uplifting atmosphere returns to help dissolve and resolve that psychic wound to perhaps enable some healing and moving on through acknowledging the harm and bad blood without a typically dismissive urging someone to move on with a bravado that doesn’t address the knot of darkness that can get stuck in your head for years or a lifetime. The mix of ambient, dream pop and hip-hop on the track makes its impact especially effective tonally but also in the fact of it also not being stuck in a narrow musical identity of its own. Listen to “Fade to White” on Spotify.
The ebb and flow of Ugly Twin’s “Crabs Are Crustaceans” are like the tides themselves with slow swells and surges that are also irresistible like the moods that sometimes crash into your psyche when you’re in a period of peak sensitivity. The melodic bass line leads us in with sustained guitar drone and introspective vocals with the wall of sound giving way to more textured guitar riffs that take us to the edge of a fall off into vistas of distorted waves of feeling and then back to a reflective mood. The dynamic is reminiscent of some of the more soundscapey emo bands of the 90s and early 2000s like Juno and Sunny Day Real Estate and the way they could sound so huge and dramatic and vulnerable all at once. The tactile imagery in the title of the song of having a hard shell and soft insides adds another layer of resonance for the song that seems very relatable in a society where one is expected to always put up a tough front and often internalize it even if it isn’t really who you are. Watch the video for “Crabs Are Crustaceans” on YouTube and listen to the track and more by Ugly Twin on Spotify.
Lazy Queen trick us for the first few moments of “Bed/Head” into thinking we’re going to hear an odd yet endearing synth pop song. The strange and beautiful video treatment by Johan Lundsten solidifies this impression even as the song ramps up into an energetic rock song about mental health issues, the downfalls of self-medication and self-isolation while dealing with anxiety and emotional trauma from a break-up or everyday life which these days can certainly provide enough psychological turmoil and insecurity about a broad spectrum of concerns. These days we might call these fuzzy guitar riffs and strong vocal harmonies indie rock but fans of the better pop punk of the late 90s will find much to like about Lazy Queen’s anthemic choruses and poignant lyrics. What sets this band and this song separate from that older world of music is that words aren’t about some girl who wronged some guy or those kinds of relationship dramas. The lyrics for this song are written from a more general human perspective and the music video depicts romantic escapades between characters whose gender might not be so easy to identify definitively nor does it matter, the situation they’re in is what’s relatable and beset by masked antagonists who try to thwart their being together as symbols of the stumbling blocks in life and in one’s own head toward happiness and even self-acceptance. Watch the video for “Bed/Head” on YouTube and connect with Lazy Queen at the links below.
Sam Rosenzweig’s “Conqueror” casts a great internal struggle in terms of a conflict between the self one most closely, consciously identifies and an aspect of one’s psychology that often seems at odds with who we think we are and want to be. Bringing together hazy, distorted synths with acoustic guitars, the songwriter is able to create a highly expressive palette of sounds to give emotional resonant nuance to the almost mythical narrative. Rosenzweig depicts undertones of the reconciliation of internal tensions, impulses and instincts in terms of how the titular conqueror gives him “a light [he] could not see” as in illuminating and providing comprehension of things that he otherwise might never consider. The line “Throw me to the desert, take away the key, I’ll wait until the rocks here begin to speak to me” indicates a willingness to be transformed by this conflict as part of a struggle to becoming a more fully realized human through actual growth and psychological expansion even if it seems like a mysterious process whose outcome your current mindset can’t completely process in this moment. Rosenzweig in effect personalizes this core dynamic of the human mind with accessible lyrics that convey the message in vivid images. Though more a dark Americana song with synths that has more in common with Smog and Talk Talk than some other music that might fall under that broad category, fans of Rome and Angels of Light will appreciate Rosenzweig’s sensitive yet steady and intense vocal delivery and the blend of deeply introspective mood and gritty textures. Listen to “Conqueror” on Spotify and connect with Sam Rosenzweig at the links below.
Ben McElroy uses a slowly shimmering and roiling drone to ease us into “Bed Down In The Murk.” The word usage in the title suggests a foggy, dark place of ambient menace. But the song and its impressionistic violin phrases echoing into a an indeterminate distance like a lonely player inspired by a hazy sunset. Thus the word “murk” takes on another implied meaning, not gloomy but of a mist that obscures the everyday world within which in your private physical and by extension psychological place the imagination can wander and the mind open to the unexpected or at least to uncoil from having to focus on so many of the mundane things we’ve created to prevent ourselves on a collective level from putting our energies toward creating a civilization where the focus is on doing great things with compassion and creativity rather than on being merely “productive” in the demented sense that is the focus now. This song sounds like it’s informed by these subconscious, low key, rebellious impulses that exist in all people and upon which McElroy is drawing the energies to inform the gentle pacing and flow of “Bed Down In The Murk” and following our better instincts. Listen to the song on YouTube and connect with McElroy at the links below. Look out for the full length album How I Learnt to Disengage From the Pack out January 28 on The Slow Music Movement.
Fragile Gods channel a touch of early 80s New Wave synth pop on the single “Medicine.” It gives the song an uplift and nostalgic glow even as the lyrics are made up of a series of thoughts that point to a deep sense of personal dysfunction. The lyric “Everything is fine until it isn’t” seems like something everyone that has had to live through the last twenty years at a minimum can relate to directly as diminishing expectations and the unacknowledged glass ceilings have been pushing downward and one finds ways to rationalize your way through this increasing sense of anxiety either through believing that you can grind away and enter the economic upper 1% only to find out that that group of people is being crushed under too by their own 1%. When the male and female vocalists sing about trying to find something, in this case medication because other methods might take too long to help in the moment, to make themselves feel better when the economic system is essentially collapsing under its own weight and ecological disaster is being completely unaddressed by the world at large ready to make all existing economic systems and arrangements completely irrelevant not in our children’s or grandchildren’s lifetime but within the next two decades it seems irrational to think it’s realistic to want anything other than a little comfort in the last days of the world as we know it. But in the tradition of other synth pop bands like OMD, Human League and New Order, Fragile Gods use a subversion of melodic pop playfulness to deliver content with a touch of uncomfortably honest irony to not act as soporific but as balm on the nerves to get through to maybe a time when we can do something real about what’s ailing us because nihilistic cynicism and despair aren’t going to be adequate to the situation. Listen to “Medicine” on YouTube and follow Fragile Gods at the links provided.