Spunsugar from Malmö, Sweden has infused a gritty and dark dream pop with industrial beats on the debut single “Happier Happyless” from it’s forthcoming album Drive-Through Chapel. Whereas many latter day bands that are mining shoegaze territory have drawn from a relatively narrow spectrum of those sonic inspirations, Spunsugar seems to have not missed how some of those early bands were influenced by or absorbed the influence of electronic and industrial music. Elin Ramsted’s vocals are melodious yet moody, Cordelia Moreau’s drums and electronic percussion insistent and broadly dynamic and Felix Sjöström’s guitar granular yet lush. One might think of it as Cocteau Twins somehow having come up first through Curve, punk and hard rock, a sound that suits a song examining the meaning of happiness in one’s life and the nuances and gradations therein. Watch the video for “Happier Happyless” on YouTube, connect with Spunsugar on Spotify and look out for Drive-Through Chapel set for release in fall 2020 through Adrian Recordings.
Dutch psychedelic band SSTO is planning to release a concept EP in 2021 that traces the journeys of a spaceship headed for the outer regions. Its debut single “Launch” has a title that needs no explanation as the beginning of that trek into the gulfs of space. But the video accompanying the single greatly enhances the experience of the song which captures the excitement, mystery, grandeur and tranquility of lifting off the earth and the myriad sights and sensations that you can’t quite have while earthbound. The processing on the guitars and keyboards in the beginning is almost like you’re hearing an old Boards of Canada track and in the video we see sights of a space shuttle being carried off on rocket boosters lending the song’s presentation a retro-futurist aspect with more chilled out guitar chords and percussion coming in to replace the luminously processed sound, reflecting the wider arcs of time and movement free of earth’s atmosphere while taking a moment to ponder the journey ahead and what mysteries that might unfold before you along the way. Watch the video for “Launch” on YouTube and connect with SSTO at the links below.
The cover art of “Running Outta Time” by Brian Fender and TxTHEWAY is striking and elicits an immediate emotional response. It’s a photo of both rappers when they were kids with sniper targets on their heads. Maybe much of America was roused to action after the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and it brought to light the murders of Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain. But the fact is we’ve heard countless stories like that for years even in national news from police rolling up on Tamir Rice in Cleveland and shooting him dead immediately to Eric Garner being choked out by cops and the shooting of Philando Castile. And of course decades of this casual disregard for the lives of black people in America. “Running Outta Time” speaks to coming up knowing any day your fate could be like that of any of the aforementioned. The warbling keyboard sound is both melancholic and hopeful, hoping to have the time to do what you want in life despite all the challenges and stumbling blocks placed in your way by an entrenched systemic racism. But the song doesn’t abstract this reality, its vignettes ground it in experiences many of us have had or know of from firsthand observation. And the ending, which will not get spoiled in this review, ends this dreamlike song in dramatic fashion. It’s a reminder that for many people there isn’t time to waste and yet you don’t know when that’s going to come to an end and the uncertainty of that truth can hang heavy on your heart. Listen to “Running Outta Time” on Soundcloud and connect with TxTHEWAY at the links provided.
Some Kind brings an uncommon emotional intensity to its expansive and deeply atmospheric single “OKAY.” The song is apparently about struggling with one’s personal demons and how that tangles up one’s relationships with others. How when you’re caught up in the darkest moments of you can see any attempt to console or soothe you as condescending gestures or at least tone deaf with suggestions that you’ve already long been through or know won’t work for you. Whether this is true or not that’s where you mind goes and cruelly prevents you from fully accepting the love and care you want and even need. The pulsing synth figure that runs through the song is both a purging of that amplified and distorted feeling and the embodiment of the way your mind functions in that mode and the peaks and valleys of feeling. Other parts of the song reflect a sense of isolation and desperate despair, particularly in the vocals in the line “I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know if I’ll get through it.” The sense of confusion and an inability to work your way through the knots of anxiety attendant with lingering trauma is palpable. And yet, the song offers a glimmer of hope and taking the time out to not have to deal with the kinds of emotional experiences and personal tests that prevent you from really ever healing and moving forward. That description sounds like it could be an angsty post-hardcore song and it has a similar resonance but musically it has more in common with the transmogrification of anguish into transcendent states heard in a Perfume Genius song more so than something equally cathartic that one might hear in a Planes Mistaken For Stars song. Listen to “OKAY” on Spotify and connect with Some Kind at the links provided.
Glass Spells’ “Night Hour” transports you immediately to a reflective but anticipatory state of mind. Like you’re taking a moment to assess your life before going out for a night of potential fun and relaxation to dance away your worries. The distorted synth swells coupled with the cystalline melodies and sultry vocals fuse modern electro dance pop like a fusion of early Ladytron and early 80s post-punk circa Depeche Mode’s Speak & Spell and Human League’s Dare! The way the opening passages of the song unfold is like breathing in cool fresh air with a similar emotional resonance as that of Human League’s “Seconds” and its simultaneous evoking of feelings of nostalgia and being emotionally present. Listen to “Night Hour” on Soundcloud, connect with Glass Spells at the links below and look out for the group’s new EP Mirrors which came out on June 25, 2020.
Part of 5-track EP Mirrors
Seattle’s Eye of Nix has since 2012 established itself as a band that has mastered a synthesis of black metal, dark psychedelia and what might be called a tribal dream pop. The group’s engrossing songs are written in a style that often not only employs the language of mythology but guide the listener to that headspace where one’s own psychological issues intersect with the larger narratives of one’s immediate community and environment and the world. In 2020 Eye of Nix released its latest album Ligeia, named after one of the sirens of Greek mythology, and its song cycle courses through harrowing experiences and how we often allow ourselves to be seduced by our most self-destructive impulses as individuals and as a collective species. The lead single “Concealing Waters” embodies the group’s eclectic aesthetic as the instrumentation is both hypnotically and hauntedly tranquil and gritty and sweepingly melodramatic while Joy Von Spain’s vocals span a similarly broad expanse of sounds with operatic, introspective melodies and the distortion of emotional intensity caught up in the moment. The song is both soothing in tone and subject while challenging our instinct for comfort in a time of crisis with a primal need to breath through a negative stasis. The music video reflects the sense one gets of a song and an album that strips the psyche of the influence of civilization that has alienated us from ourselves and from each other allowing for the journey of a healing struggle to reconnect with ideas and ways of being that are sustainable and might transform the world for the better. Fans of Xmal Deutschland and SubRosa will appreciate the deep, dynamic atmospheres of the song and an attendant willingness to embrace the wildness within. Watch the video for “Concealing Waters” on YouTube and connect with Eye of Nix at the links provided.
“(I have no clue, so I will) Listen & Learn” is Finnish artist Hanna Ojala’s most ambitious composition to date. She drew partially on Pond5: The Public Domain Project for source material not only in sampling sound and video footage for her own short film made for the piece but as a kind of aesthetic template through which to explore methods of social control from the past and how there is an eerie resonance for the present. One imagines one hears Ojala’s own voice reading from scientific abstracts but maybe it’s her commentary on the metaphysical underpinnings of human existence and how we treat identity as a justification for social stratification processed and placed in the soundscape with the quality of an old record while a simple melody runs through and ambient, atmospheric sounds and a bit from an old blues singer lamenting the human condition for so many as imposed by a racist society. The effect is reminiscent of the soundtrack work Eurythmics did for the film 1984. It is imbued with the spirit of a future art project intended to convey the alien qualities of an old civilization informed by prejudices that will seem completely irrational decades and centuries hence. The footage of the American Civil Rights movement, scientific experiments, some on children, and now outdated technology enhance this unique critique of how society has rationalized its mistreatment of a minority group and, in the end, of the society entirely as that mistreatment has consequences for all. And yet, as the title of the work suggests, Ojala has no pretense of a full understanding or appreciation of the experiences presented, rather, she has created the audio and the video as a vehicle for understanding for herself and for anyone else willing to go along for its 22 minute, 2 second duration. But the journey is fascinating and worth taking and reminiscent of old industrial culture projects that created their art as a medium of comprehension as well. Fans of Chris & Cosey and Future Sound of London will appreciate not only Ojala’s aim for the song but also her cinematic production of the audio and the musical rhythm of the sampled video. Watch that video for “(I have no clue, so I will) Listen & Learn” on YouTube and connect with Ojala at the links below.
The title of Rx27’s single “Hell of a Time” encapsulates the core of the song that contrasts the concept of Hell as a symbol for extremes and the joy that the expression that is that title implies. The group’s gritty glam flavor unifies the imagery and the emotional resonances of Heaven and Hell perhaps in the Romantic sense, but certainly after the manner of bands like The Cramps and The Gun Club that embraced camp and melodrama as a state of mind, of being, that accepted the dark side of the psyche as well as an earthly transcendence of mortal limitations through the ecstasy of rock and roll. That reconciliation of opposites could be heard in the music of Lou Reed for whom the ultimate state of being, as has been observed by various critics, was “alright.” Not too dark, not too light, but a way of life and being that is attainable and sustainable but allows for a full range of authentic experiences. Joie Blaney and Ms. Maxine MurrDerr trade lines about leaving behind a life of only mundane experiences like X gone pop punk and sounding like the embodiment of a disregard for a stultifying decorum when there’s vital life to be living. Listen to “Hell of a Time” on YouTube and connect with Rx27 at the links below.
“Mummycore” band I, Doris returns with a song and video called “Wonderwomen,” which is a DIY live action comic book treatment everyday challenges women all over the world face. You know, the mundane tasks that too often aren’t expected to be fulfilled by men like getting the kids to school after keeping after them to get all the little things done like basic hygiene and homework, then putting up with heaps of nonsense from power tripping bosses who are essentially useless middle management types who would crack under the pressure they put upon others. But if you’re a woman you’ve been conditioned to take on the blame for maybe not taking on all this work and completing it in some imaginary perfect fashion. I, Doris say a big p’shaw to that and not internalize a narrative of failure because “You’re doing fine.” That the band performs the song in a sort of camp, new wave punk version of the theme song to the American TV series Wonder Woman that ran from 1975-1979 and starring Lynda Carter is just a fantastically irreverent bonus. That the members of the band appear in the video as women who could be someone you run into walking down the street, in the school, in your crap job that everyone hates, at the grocery store or anywhere but wearing super hero costumes really turns the idea of women needing to give themselves more of a hassle or accept such from anyone else than necessary on its head. So many things in life don’t require your full attention and effort and this song is about cutting yourself a break for not giving it your all with everything all the time because that’s the path to self-destruction. If that messaging isn’t a form of radical feminism that anyone can get behind, it’s difficult to say what is.
Hanna Ojala ses the lyrical poetry of “In this Dusk” to the sound of water lapping at the show, gentle wind chimes and birdsong. To call it a mere song would be improper as it doesn’t follow any conventional songwriting conventions, its poetic meter is as organic and free as the assembled field recordings, intuitive in its cadences. As usual, Ojala’s vocals invite you into a private world the likes of which perhaps you have experienced or need to experience wherein you allow your being to flow through experiences rather than try to control them. The Western mind is trained to try to control and to dominate rather than understand things on their own terms and to let go and gain comprehension of the world around us by taking things in unobtrusively so that we may learn and reflect without taking and without needing to outwardly transform until the time comes when action must be made. The lyrics with the sounds is like an audio meditation to put oneself in a frame of mind to be open to the hidden secrets of the world that are invisible to us when we impose meaning based purely on conditioned prior knowledge rather than observe things for what they are whether they are external quantities or aspects of ourselves. It’s a song that seems to aim at a kind of mystical experience through radical awareness of the world on its own terms, of other people and of our own subjective experience thereof and our lenses of interpretation. Watch the video for “In This Dusk” on YouTube and connect with Hanna Ojala at the links below.