Denver-based electronic rock band The Drood has long tapped into the dark side of society and the gloomier places in the psyche for inspiration. Its entrancing soundscapes travel that line uniting ambient soundscapes, art rock, psychedelia, noise and what these days might be called darkwave. Its latest offering is the single “It Must Needs Wither.” The music video represents the first full collaboration between The Drood and Tom Nelsen of Sense From Nonsense and industrial post-punk legends Echo Beds. An abstracted figure seems to sing in the video like a hologram from an ancient civilization delivering a warning to a future society that might imagine itself invulnerable and tough and blinded by hubris to the limitations of the source of its power and the efficacy of what it perceives to be its ability to take on unprecedented challenges. The song was inspired by Shakespeare’s Othello with a dedication to the memory of the millions of people who have died in the last two years of the pandemic thus far largely due to the folly of the collective ideological orientation of most world leaders and those in power and of those who have adopted the values those who see them as lazy, cogs in the world machine and otherwise a drag on the rapid transfer of wealth to the one percent of the one percent even in the face of global disaster. The song has a gentle energy and expresses a despair at the situation as it unfolded and now stands and the visual representation as crafted by Nelsen uses the imagery of dystopian science fiction to bridge the gap between the dissociation of the need to get through these times and the deep emotional impact that has worn on and continues to weight on the psyches of people worldwide. Watch the video on YouTube and follow The Drood at the links provided. Also linked below is the Instagram for Sense From Nonsense where Nelsen has been sharing his creative short films each with a unique soundtrack.
This fourth Kodomo album emerged from the isolation of the early pandemic of 2020. Plenty of uninspired and unfocused creative work came out of the chaos and uncertainty of that time. But there’s a focus to these meditative slices of IDM techno. Perhaps titles like “A Meditation On Anxiety,” “Invisible Lines” and “Radio Bursts” immediately recall the era of lockdown. But the gorgeously orchestrated drifts of tone carried along on shifting/shuffling flows of percussion are transporting in a way that is hard to achieve unless your imagination is allowed to be unmoored from the demands of everyday life as we usually know it with the pressures to deliver on the most mundane tasks that a properly functioning, technological society would automate with the capacity of humans to create spontaneously and to use our emotional and intellectual capacity for more engaging and mutually nurturing purposes. Maybe Chris Child, aka Kodomo, had some time away from life the endless grind of “normal” life, the one we’ve come to expect and to which we’ve become accustomed even though it’s been eroding society from within for decades. These songs are unhurried but do not feel self-indulgent. They combine a classical music sensibility in the Twentieth Century sense of combining minimalsim, the avant-garde and modal experimentation. But nothing feels academic here. Rather, it feels spontaneous and in the moment though clearly produced and composed.
Child seems to tap into the images and emotions that struck him poignantly, the dark thoughts in the most challenging psychological spaces and channeled that into compositions that express the sublime moments taken from days when we were all forced to reconsider what kind of world we were living in and the world we wanted and could have if we had the collective will. And the days when everything felt like it could collapse and the pandemic would never end (and it has not as of the time of this writing) and if it did, what horrible new pandemics we know about lurking on the edge of civilization would burn through our institutions and lack of defenses both medically and socially and make COVID-19 seem mild by comparison. These anxieties hover at the edges of these songs intermingling with a perhaps foolish hope that we’ll get through this with minimal destruction.
What is most striking from the perspective of imagining the worlds the sounds on this album conjure in your mind. The synth sounds are like something out of one of those post-apocalyptic or post-disaster 1980s science fiction movies where most humans are gone as in The Quiet Earth or abandoned places normally forbidden access like The Zone from Tarkovsky’s Stalker. There is a sense of wandering empty streets and taking note of how the world exists minus as much of the footprint of humanity as there had been has been since lockdowns have largely been lifted. Child’s ability to recall these experiences for the creation of the sonic equivalent of that sense of mystery and wonder in familiar places that makes this album transcend something as predictable and as obvious as a “pandemic record.” His mastery of ambient drones and almost generative electronic streams of sound combines an 8-bit video game aesthetic and clear tonal lines with layers of atmospheric textures and flowing vistas of minimal melody. Science fiction is always a commentary on the the present projected into the future and Three Spheres took the mood of the time and extrapolated upon a perhaps near future when the capacity to use one’s imagination to process confusion, raging anxiety, uncertainty and isolation to survive the disasters we already know are coming down the pike as world governments still refuse to address climate change which impacts the coming of pandemics, the distribution of resources, our ability to produce food, our capacity for sourcing clean water and the effects all have on political stability crucial to having a coherent and effective response. Certainly an album isn’t going to solve those problems but it’s good to be able to imagine a future when despite challenges we can find ways to not completely collapse if we need to.
What Was Left Behind finds Paperbark creating a subtle depth of sonic focus with layers of sound conveying a textural sensibility like tape hiss to run through and over the main tonal experiments run across the album. The title track has what sounds like a distant organ echoing from a giant room somewhere deep inside an abandoned building like a ghost of music emerging as a reminder of a history often glossed over and forgotten. “Open Memory” sounds like another song from this setting with the sound of coins or metallic stones dropping in the middle distance, the percussive sound of which cuts through every so slightly through an evolving drone that develops into a more active sonic figure like a constantly resonating sound interweaving with a shining and repeating sound like plugging in a mysterious radio signal into a device to replicate that pattern as a series of noises brimming forth with a calmingly indistinct quality, true ambient without being an identifiable environmental source. Across the album Paperbark seems to have tapped into a forgotten side of neglected places and finding an abstract narrative that reveals the deeper emotional resonance of the place as on “Bring Up The Scars” where a repeating white noise washes over a pulsing sound figure that shifts in activity as if a inanimate object was revealing its history to anyone that will listen and at least have the ears and imagination to translate those tales in a form accessible if not verbal. Paperbark infuses each track with this imaginative interpretation of the essence of what seems like an otherwise neglected place or one not seen as extraordinary to most people but within which the musician has found a multitude of meanings and invites the listener to find these resonances of energy and ambient knowledge and wonder of everyday places for themselves. Listen to What Was Left Behind on the Constellation Tatsu Bandcamp.
Lustmord is perhaps best known for his extensive and varied career in crafting fascinating and evocative soundscapes and his work in and with SPK, Current 93, Jarboe, Clock DVA and Melvins. So it should come as no surprise that his collaborative album with Karin Park, vocalist and member of Swedish rock band ÅRABROT, would yield something different and a synthesis of his own creatives strengths and hers. ALTER (out now on Pelagic Records) is not simply clever wordplay suggestive of a place of spiritual practice and the act of transforming an object or identity. It would be tempting to compare this record to something you might hear from Dead Can Dance because of the emotional resonance and invoking the mystical by tapping into ancient and devotional musical ideas. But there is something deeply dark about the songs of ALTER that feel like you’re witnessing the decay and collapse of modern civilization in mythical terms, an end of the world we know and the emergence of the next as manifested in a film by John Boorman. The sound design on every song has that haze of deep mystery that hung at the edges of most of Boorman’s films with drones and processed white noise flowing in the background. Park provides the distinct emotional connection with her voice like a mournful incantation beseeching strength and wisdom from beyond time.
Lustmord has created a sense of space like a cavernous cathedral but one whose shifting sounds and textures is more like a tunnel down which Park travels on a journey in the near dark. The album would feel claustrophobic if the sounds weren’t also so expansive and suggestive of the wide open. Yet it also hints at a way of shielding oneself from a coarsened and perilous world until such a time as it might be safe to re-emerge and rebuild, to establish new myths for a better future while witnessing those that have served as the framework for the modern iteration of human culture to wither away and dissolve. Overall it’s reminiscent in a way of many of those Utopian science fiction films and works of the 1970s and 1980s like Logan’s Run, Zardoz (as hinted at earlier with the Boorman reference), J.G. Ballard’s most unusual novels and Gene Wolfe’s Urth of the New Sun series. All depict a future we never could have predicted and this album sounds like the music of the passage to that unprecedented future during a time of crises beyond the ability of our current social organizations and belief systems to weather intact. A dark, deep yet ultimately rewarding album of completely unconventional and enigmatic beauty that seeps into your consciousness and lingers long afterward. Listen to/download ALTER on Bandcamp and watch the video for “Song of Sol” on YouTube.
Forget the images the name Sell Farm might bring to mind. Pressure might be described as an industrial darkwave dub album but it also has as much in common with ambient music and the avant-garde pop music Phil Elverum has been making for over 20 years including his time with Old Time Relijun, Microphones and Mount Eerie. There is no attempt to stick to genre convention or instrumentation. Imagine an album made by later 90s era Swans through the lens of indie pop. “Fools” introduces us with lush and lo-fi soundscapes produced by distorted white noise and repeating motifs of stringed instruments and processed drones giving a sense of grittiness like an old and decaying film print of a stranger’s 8 millimeter reel of a family holiday celebration. Though there is a mysterious accessibility here the whole album sounds like a long lost cassette culture industrial product out of the 80s underground. The vocals even when they’re at their most melancholic reveal some roots in the influence of R&B via Prince and D’Angelo. But you could also hear this on the soundtrack of a future David Lynch film, especially the brooding and foggy “Ideas and Missiles.” The album ends with the propulsive title track that hits like a dub-infused EBM song akin to an older Nitzer Ebb track circa That Total Age. Live all of these songs have such a startling power, particularly “Pressure,” but even on these recordings you have to wonder when these songs were written and recorded which is a testament to Sell Farm’s ability to free associate styles across decades. Listen to Pressure on Bandcamp and pick up one of the limited edition cassettes if you’re so inclined.
Is the sprawling collection of The Offspring CDs in the background image of the Bandcamp page for this album a big hint of what’s in store when you listen to this album from Chicago’s The Christmas Bride? Yes and no. Is there some irony involved with that presentation? Probably and a quick look through the track listing (“Kajagoogoo Head” and “Manic Pixie Dream Boy” come readily to mind) it’s obvious a healthy sense of humor in general and about life’s most absurd and unfortunate moments and situations informs the songwriting. Pop punk’s transmutation of pain and disappointment into self-deprecating poetry set to energetic music is the genre at its best and that dynamic runs throughout this album. It’s essentially a master class in pop punk with distorted melodies akin to what you’d hear on a Hüsker Dü record as on “Cereal Monogamist,” itself a send-up of the concept by taking the title literally for the lyrics. “The Rock & Roll Hippies of Love” is reminiscent of an Alice Donut song in turning an unusual concept into a surreal power pop song. “Kajagoogoo Head” is curiously a hardcore song in the middle of the album that is the mutant child of later Black Flag and JFA. The band’s signature song, “The Christmas Bride,” traces in miniature the un-glamorous origin story of the band working shitty jobs and aiming to do something with more meaning. And despite the deep and playful irreverence of the subject matter and attitude toward most of these songs there is an earnestness and solid sense of song craft that renders it a worthwhile listen beginning to end like an album of solidarity for real human existence and experiences born of genuine feelings that infuse each song with an unexpected vitality. Listen to Dark Romance of a Midnight Wanderer on Bandcamp.
Nat Tate returned in the summer of 2021 with a modest two song single/EP called Penelope. The acclaimed songwriter and guitarist has produced some of the most inventive pop music in a more folk vein in the past several years and their work with experimental pop outfit Chimney Choir helped to realize Tate’s always clear and strong creative vision. Penelope is relatively speaking more minimal but also stripped back to simple and basic elements. The title track is a gentle and affectionate tribute to a loved one that expresses the uncertainties arc of that relationship and Tate’s persona insight and powers of observation in keying in to qualities of personality and behavior that might be missed by an artist with a lower degree of self-awareness. The shuffling percussion and keyboard accents that provide an unconventional melody that is a kind of counterpoint to Tate’s nuanced vocals. “Play Along” and its quivering echo treatment on the lingering fringes of vocals, the toy-like quality of the percussion track with staccato bass marking the boundaries of the melody and spare moody keyboard tones give an unconventionally surreal quality to a song about the ways people will often go along to get along and not question what other people want them to do as long as it isn’t too extreme even if it’s not what they might choose to do themselves. In that way it is one of the most tender calling out of someone’s bad impulses and instincts ever crafted into a song. It all marks a different direction for Tate who, whether it’s acknowledged much or not, has been pushing her own envelope as an artist from the beginning never being able to be pigeonholed in terms of songwriting, musicianship or mode of expression. Thus this is a promising new foray into the songwriter’s career thus far. Listen to “Penelope” and “Play Along” on Bandcamp linked below.
The cover of Juniordeer’s I Just Want To Sleep is the perfect analog to an album of hazy atmospherics and melancholic passages swirling with distorted melodies. The whole album sounds like the recollections of someone looking out onto a winter landscape from a place of more relative physical comfort if haunted by memories and the realities of a likely future. At times, as with “8 Years Since My Last Confession,” the album is reminiscent of a Black Marble album but rendered in all electronic sounds and rapid electronic percussion tracking intense waves of emotion. “The Outer Fire” begins like a sequence in a fast-paced video game where quick reflexes are needed to get through a maze of perils, obstacles and enemies – a parallel to the number of challenges and dramatic political and social dramas that seemed to bombard us all in America over the last half decade. Longer if you’ve not had the luxury of not being keenly aware of being directly affected by them. Each song provides the tonal equivalent of a video game zone one must get through in order to attain the goal suggested by the title of the album—that title speaking to a need for peace and stability in a safe place after having to dodge crises and hardships one after the other with no end in sight. Weaving together an almost 8-bit music aesthetic with tastefully crafted trap beats and moody synths, Juniordeer has captured a slice of the zeitgeist of recent years of tension and a need for reprieve because humans weren’t really designed for juggling so many pressures for their entire lives. “Breakdown Bay” and the sounds of slowly churning waters in the distance is like the final boss of experiences to navigate to reach the end with the name of a place hinting at the point where many give up and succumb to despair. With the concluding track “Sleep,” Juniordeer reminds us that we can get through a time of troubles if we can endure and persevere and not hold up one goal as the end of all goals. Listen to I Just Want To Sleep on Bandcamp and follow Juniordeer at the links provided. With any luck he’ll be able to perform some of this music live in 2022.
Sendai based ambient artist Nerve (Manabu Ito), as NRV, released his latest EP Notari in July 2021 on Foil Imprints and distilled the essence of the tranquil moments captured in deep places in our memories. The hazy drones and distant, abstracted to a blur of melodies and eroded feedback convey a sense of emotional place where the urgency of everyday life is blocked by a protective cloud cover that also conveys your spirit along a path that soothes the psyche and encourages an opening up to simple stimuli that can be missed in a sea of demanding content. “Rice field and river, 1974” and “i want a white petal in my teacup” as titles have a Zen-like poetic quality to suggest times when you are struck by simple things, simple desires that nourish a sense of inner peace rather than call for a dramatic response. In a time and in a culture that all but requires we push ourselves to the maximum for the requirements of an economic system that is destroying the planet and crushing everyone under, even those who benefit the most, music like this may not hit you over the head with its importance, it is not something over which to get “stoked,” but it may be the sort of thing we need more of to get through to a saner future human civilizational baseline as embodied by these gorgeous five tracks. Watch the evocative EP video preview below and listen to the EP on Bandcamp and consider purchasing the cassette version and listen analog in an appropriate setting like looking out the window during a snowstorm.
After their psychedelic/shoegaze band Creepoid dissolved a few years back, Anna and Patrick Troxell took some time out to further explore the pop and electronic side of their songwriting. Lovelorn emerged out of that process and its 2021 debut full-length What’s Yr Damage echoes with the influence of 80s, noisy psychedelic soundscapers and fellow travelers on the line of blending rock instruments with electronic sensibilities, Spacemen 3 as well as grimy industrial dance acts like My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult and experimental rock band Curve and its own gift for perfectly blending electronic dance ideas with cathartic psychedelia. But the sentiments expressed and the tenor of the record is very much grounded in the present and the challenges faced by us all as the fallout of income inequality compounded by a continuing global pandemic and a now seemingly endless climate crisis crashes throughout our lives, casting stark shadows on the near and foreseeable future. And yet the album is not despairing, rather an embrace of life and a lingering will to strive toward a meaningful and vibrant existence. Lovelorn offers no convenient or pat answers but its music resonates with the certainty that your feelings about the world are real despite how politicians, pundits and the mainstream media spin events. We had a chance to pose some questions to Lovelorn via email so read on and if you are so inclined give the band a listen on Bandcamp (linked below) where you can pre-order the vinyl release of the record due to ship out in late November.
Queen City Sounds (Tom Murphy): “Get a Job” is reminiscent to me of Curve from the albums Cuckoo and Come Clean. That sort of difficult to classify blend of pop, industrial and noisy guitar rock with programmed beats. What artists, if any, did you find inspiring or interesting that influenced that aspect of your music? What moods/emotions do you think that sound lends itself well to expressing?
Lovelorn: We are getting a lot of Curve references, which is awesome but definitely not something that was at the forefront of our minds when making the LP. “Get a Job” was actually a song that kind of snuck its way onto the record last minute. We had the beat for a while but hadn’t fleshed it into anything yet. The night before our 2019 SXSW tour, the Baltimore date was canceled due to weather. So I went down into the basement with that beat and wrote the vocals—turned it into a song. We ended up playing it every night on that tour and letting the live performance really inform how the song would take shape. Honestly, I think I was thinking more of it being a Rapture type thing at the time. The sound was angry to me, and I wanted to tap into this pissed off existential dread vibe.
Q: The title of “Get a Job” also sounds like a common refrain creative people hear from family, friends and strangers who think as an artist you’re not doing anything serious and that, in fact, takes work that isn’t always easy to quantify. As if working hard at some mundane, often essentially meaningless job just to survive is something to which one must aspire. What are some jobs you’ve done that have made you recommit to doing creative work?
L: Oh man, we’ve both had some terrible soul sucking jobs. The worst job I ever had was selling Colorado Prime steaks over the phone. You had to lie and pretend they didn’t have to buy an extra freezer but they totally did. Patrick has had basically every shitty job you can imagine. We’ve both also been super lucky and had amazing jobs. When we made the decision to quit our jobs and go on tour full time with Creepoid, I had a wonderful job teaching art history at a college in Philadelphia. Ultimately though, there’s nothing as fulfilling as working for yourself.
Q: How would you answer someone that tells you to get a job instead of doing a musical project if you had to give a serious response?
L: I’ve had this conversation several times with all sorts of people. People are either being a dick or they genuinely do not understand the amount of work that goes into being a full time band. Most of the time you can get people to see reason. What’s more frustrating to me is when people say things like “Oh, well its time to get back to real life” or some other stupid reference to touring not being a legitimate source of income. I don’t know, it feels pretty fucking real to me.
Q: It seems to me that the economy for being in a band has changed drastically over the course of the last eight to ten years from venues you can play, being able to have a job to sustain yourself and pay rent at home, transportation, getting your music out into the world and promoting it in order to get your band talked about and reaching for various opportunities. How has that changed for you in ways that may have impacted Creepoid dissolving and Lovelorn navigating the new music world landscape? As a musician and writer myself I saw music blogs implode, alternative weeklies drastically reduce activity or disappear, the ways bands seem to have to market themselves is strange to me, DIY spaces especially after the pandemic and many clubs being gone, the “indie” model of music festivals and radio formats making things less diverse. Etc. Just wondering about your perspective on that and how that has affected your life as a musician both before and currently with Lovelorn.
L: The pandemic has taken out a lot of great venues and bands, that is a sad and undeniable truth. But, I think there will be a reawakening of new DIY spaces that will emerge in the next few years. You can’t break the DIY spirit. We just recently played at an amazing DIY space in Houston, and it was awesome. Kids for the kids, no ego, a safe place for all. The marketing thing is funny too. I try not to get too caught up in how to flex on social media, use it to promote the hell out of yourself for sure but also stay authentic.
Q: “Sickness Reward” is about failure and I feel it’s a bit of an illuminating exploration of the experience and meaning of that concept. How has your understanding of failure evolved in your understanding of what it is and how much weight we need to give it since adolescence?
L: It’s sort of about failure. It’s more specifically about my eating disorder, which I had in my early 20s. It’s about chasing an ideal that will never come, and ultimately feeling disgusted with yourself in every way possible. It’s true though, this idea of ‘SUCCESS’ is drilled into all of us. Creatives aren’t able to escape either. I think if you’re ever going to feel satisfied you have to carve out your own definition of success, instead of chasing after someone else’s.
Q: A number of people I know who have made and do make music that gets lumped in with shoegaze have always been or have become interested in Detroit techno and the like in the past decade and more. How did you become interested in it and how do you feel it fits into your overall way of thinking about and making the music you do?
L: We both have been interested in those sounds since high school. But honestly, I am much more influenced by hip hop and pop when I make music, and Patrick is more influenced by 90s Brit Pop—so together we create this weird little drug pop child.
Q: “Hole In Yr Soul” and the album title What’s Yr Damage seem to me oblique references in some way to late 80s and early 90s popular culture and music with Sonic Youth and Bikini Kill using the shortened “yr” for “your” and maybe Heathers and the line “What’s your damage?” Maybe it relates to “Get A Job” and adjusting to what seems to me a world culture hell bent on leaving everyone not already wealthy (and even them long term) broken or crippled in their psyche and ability to resist and blame themselves for not making that adjustment because of the “rules” of how things have been working, or rather, not working. What is the significance of that title and song for you perhaps in the context of the album and what seems to me an extended commentary on life in late capitalism?
L: Both “Hole in Yr Soul” and “Whats Yr Damage” are more directly about mental illness than a more general comment on society – though that certainly feeds into the issues of mental illness. To us, the use of the “Yr” places the tone of the question in a specific voice, hopefully one that the listener relates to, and trusts. Yr not alone.
Q: Why do you feel Spacemen 3 has continued to resonate with you creatively?
L: Spacemen 3 continues to influence me because they still have a hand in current music. Sonic Boom has touched so much over the years from MGMT, Panda Bear, Beach House, and Yo La Tengo. J Spaceman takes a different approach, spending years orchestrating beautiful live shows with Spiritualized. At the end of all that, they still hold their DIY roots, making it very difficult for record collectors and I love that.