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.
Colorado-based darkwave band Married a Dead Man takes ‘Til Tuesday’s 1985 hit song “Voices Carry” and interprets it as a baroque pop, Gothic ballad. A fitting treatment for a song about emotional abuse through gaslighting. Aimee Mann’s lyrics vividly describe a relationship in which one person dominates the other through making only the emotions he wants to see expressed as the only ones valid. It was a song like Suzanne Vega’s 1987 hit “Luka” about child abuse and Martika’s 1988 single “Toy Soldiers” about drug addiction and mental illness that put such heavy subject matter to what seemed like light pop songs. It wasn’t the first time pop artists did such a thing but it was the specific framing and context that made those songs and “Voices Carry” so disarmingly resonant. Married a Dead Man with this version of the song emphasizes the dark side and the unvarnished emotions as almost musical textures that are uncomfortable yet accessible. Megan Kelley’s vocals are rich and soaring much as are those of Mann but parallel with her piano work are ethereal guitar highlights, gritty bass lines and gentle flourishes of percussion giving the cover a unique flair. Though these days we have the vocabulary to identify that dynamic of way too many relationships and describe it with clarity, the song and Married a Dead Man’s version take some buzz words and concepts and humanizes them with dramatic tension and poetry and rescues them from the realm of abstraction to place them with immediacy in lived experience. Listen to “Voices Carry” on Spotify and follow Married a Dead Man at the links provided.
Released in the middle of the 2020 pandemic, Marcus Church’s cover of Robyn’s 2010 hit single “Dancing on My Own” had a certain poignant resonance given the circumstances of that time and nearly a year later it remains fairly relevant. Rather than the R&B electro pop of the original, Marcus Church has turned the song, an ode to emotional self-reliance in the wake of a painful reminder of a breakup, into a delicate, jangle rock/power pop ballad. Dustin Habel’s frail vocals are a fine reflection of Robyn’s own powerful delicacy. Musically it’s reminiscent of what might have happened if The Cars came along after and influenced by C86 or some Mitch Easter band. In a year of deep uncertainty and heated political turmoil followed by another in which those tensions continue, Marcus Church’s interpretation of the song demonstrates a gentle hesitancy to look back on the past that brought us here with warm feelings of nostalgia, as is the case with the Robyn original, with an undercurrent of yearning for a time when vulnerability and sensitivity are qualities that are cherished and cultivated rather than mocked by a culture poisoned by a need to express bravado in every situation. Listen to “Dancing on My Own” on Bandcamp and connect with Marcus Church on Facebook (linked below).
Plume Varia moved away from Denver, Colorado to Placitas, New Mexico right around the same week the lockdowns for the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic were going into effect. The move reinforced a sense of isolation from friends and family that was already going to happen with the planned move. The dream pop duo’s new single “Hold On To Me” with its visually striking music video evokes the uncertainty, desperation and imposed sense of not just isolation but a mindset of reflecting and meditating upon the things you appreciate that you took for granted. Whether that’s moving from a city that had rapidly become expensive and crowded to a smaller town where you can still earn your living working remotely while still having relatively easy access to cultural centers only to not have that as an easy option going into an indefinite future or feeling a deep sense of dislocation for not being able to fully settle into your new home physically and psychologically, Plume Varia’s signature downtempo, chill, sultry songwriting style is a perfect vehicle for exploring that emotional landscape with an engagingly intimate portrayal of the sense of stasis, repetition and yearning for the world to make sense again by discovering ways of not getting lost along the way to what comes next for one’s life, one’s society and perhaps human civilization itself. The jury’s still out on the future of the human race. But to the band’s credit the song works for any time when life seems to be spiraling out of control. Watch the video for “Hold On To Me” on YouTube and follow Plume Varia at the links provided.
Swedish synth pop duo Kite released the single “Teenage Bliss” in 2020 with production help from Benjamin John Power aka Blanck Mass who was one half of experimental electronic group Fuck Buttons (which went on hiatus in 2021). The latter’s distorted drones, propulsive rhythms and engulfing yet accessible soundscapes was an inspiration for “Teenage Bliss” which is reminiscent of a more industrialized Organisation-period Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark in its evoking of nostalgia for reflective moments in the present. It’s a song that bemoans how as adults you’re disconnected from a sense of newness and freshness for love and life itself the way maybe everything felt super significant all at once when you were in your youth. Though melancholy in sentiment the song is nevertheless ebullient and uplifting in its tonal dynamics. Listen to the song on Spotify and connect with Kite at the links below.
Siv Disa’s single “Fear” is a soulful contemplation of the way experiences and people in our lives leave a lingering influence and connection that we hold onto in ways that escape our conscious thinking. Yet she sings about wanting to break those connections and associations and move on and not be bogged down by them establishing an unhealthy emotional pattern . She references doors she’d like to leave shut and that she doesn’t “like to think about that too much.” Yet the truth of the consequences of her impact on others and others on her looms large on the edges of her psyche and the fear of being overwhelmed with examining what she’d rather not explore in depth keeps her on the run. And who, that has lived a life worth living, hasn’t had thoughts and feelings like this. Sometimes you need to wait until you’re in the right headspace to adequately and honestly deal with life’s unpleasantness just to survive, so you bury things that affect you deeply or simply leave them out of your focus of your consciousness yet if they’re strong enough they will affect you in ways that seem mysterious except in retrospect of having taken the time to process whatever it is haunting you unbidden. The lush, languid, downtempo R&B production on the track by Sam and the Sea gives what might otherwise be dark personal reflection about more or less being in denial a gentle musical context that suggests an openness to going down that path and doing the hard work required, braving the fear, to make being comfortable with oneself and one’s personal demons a lot more palatable. The music video was shot by Brendan Kiernan and directed and written by Siv Disa is appropriately like a supernatural horror short film but given the warmth and soothing music has a rare dimensionality for similar cinematic work. Watch the video for “Fear” below and connect with Siv Disa on Spotify.
Orb Temple by Lubbock, Texas-based ambient project Aura Gaze is an album comprised of two extended tracks of equal length: “Orb Temple (for zither)” and “Orb Temple (for synth).” The first is comprised of layers of textural yet ethereal drones, flowing, resolving tones and and minimal, processed string sounds perhaps gentle strumming on the named instrument sounding utterly unlike any traditional use of zither. It makes one think about music one might make trying to imagine the background workings of dreams and the unconscious mind—the rhythms, the composition of immanent psychological energy before it manifests as thoughts we would recognize as such. The second track shares a similar resonance but with purely electronic sounds takes us on a journey from the sources and base energy components of the quanta of perceived existence, of cognition itself. Of course it is impossible for us to fully experience these sorts of things in real time because we require the cognitive framing to even conceptualize what that might be like but with music and and other forms of art we can use our imaginations to express an approximation of such primal concepts for us to experience without having to impose verbal or cultural constructs that impede our apprehension of ideas through our enforced frames of reference as born of a specific set of shared assumptions. Yes the filters of mother culture and the use of technology and how our imaginations are shaped by a collective creative and symbolic language exist in all art but music separate of conceits of adhering to a narrow sense of accessibility stands a chance of bypassing those filters. Orb Temple perhaps borrows the familiarity of rhythm and major scale tonality at points to draw us in to a deep sense of peace and a journey in brightening the dark corridors of our minds in trying times but in doing so it also reminds us that imagination and not having to couch all our thoughts and emotions in forms that have been imposed on us by a full bombardment of media, that, in fact we can cleanse our minds and move toward creating the kind of space in our heads that is open to creating expansive and fortifying experiences for ourselves and others. Listen to Orb Temple on Bandcamp (where you can also purchase a download or a limited edition compact disc through Somewherecold Records) and connect with Aura Gaze at the links below.
Kyle Evans aka pulseCoder uses circuit bent arcade controllers with homemade synthesizers in conjunction with lighting and visual art to create a multimedia experience that gives a mutually reinforcing context for his creative work. His new single “Wicked Transmission” (released through Holodeck Records) sounds like a futuristic EDM piece with resonances with the recent works of Plaid, Autechre and Weval. Synth lines stretch out playfully and take dynamic turns as if moving in conjunction with the washes of tone and percussive tones that blip like a pointillistic video projection that evolves from dots to manifesting full images. All the while the beat flows like a synergistic overlay suggestive of dance. The net effect is one of reconciling a sinuous quality with bright and forceful accents and a shifting sonic focus that carries you along for an immersive ride in the listen. Listen to“Wicked Transmission” on YouTube and follow pulseCoder at the links provided.