Tag Archives: Indie Rock

Stagnant Pools: Geist

Stagnant Pools: Geist – Indiana two-piece Stagnant Pool‘s musical influences are easily heard through their music, particularly on their latest album Giest, (giest being the German word for spirit or ghost). The two members of Stagnant Pools are brothers Doug on drums and Bryan Enas on vocals and guitar. Geist comes two years after their debut album Temporary Room released on Polyvinyl Records.

The name, Stagnant Pools, conjures strange images of a body of still water, somewhat disturbed by the potential algae infestation, and somewhat at peace in the stagnation of its being. Listening to Stagnant Pools is a comparable experience. Geist is a collection of lo-fi drone jams, at times dangerously still and others a peaceful hum of fuzzed out guitar and driving drums.

The album starts out slow with, ‘You Whir,’ a operatic piece that follows Bryan’s droning vocals with similar droning instrumentation. The second track, ‘To Begin’ kicks off the album melodically and rhythmically. Take a listen – if ‘You Whir’ doesn’t strike your fancy ‘To Begin’ just might, and if you like that track, you are sure to enjoy the rest of Geist. The album in its entirety carries a similar tone, all songs crafted in the same vein.

Title track ‘Geist’ appearing in third place on the album, takes a more creative turn with its multi-layered guitar riffs and distinguishable vocals that break at times from monotony into harmonic crescendos around the staccato drums of the song. Stagnant Pools have in the past been compared to lo-fi giants Joy Division and Sonic Youth. While the comparisons are not inaccurate, they are perhaps a lazy comparison. Stagnant Pools possesses their own distinctive sound, unique from both Joy Division and Sonic Youth. While it is clear that Stagnant Pools is influenced by these bands, they do not necessarily follow with their sounds.

‘Intentions’ is the fourth track on Geist, and perhaps the album’s strongest. A distinguishable verse-chorus format is heard, and the layers of guitar work in a synchronous melody instead of clashing against the powerful, ever present drums. Props to Stagnant Pools for the composition of the album – they save their best, strongest tracks for the middle and later half, so the introductory songs slowly ease the listener into their style, which allows one to enjoy their stronger tracks all the more.

‘Filed Down’, track five, breaks down nicely about halfway through, allowing a full intermingling of fast drumming and layered guitar riffs to interact and play out before diving back into the vocals of the track. ‘Ever So’ slows down the pace, with a slower tempo for the beat-keeping drums and easily audible vocals. The following track, ‘His Head Was Warm’ keeps the slower pace, a peaceful balance to its fast-paced predecessors. ‘Dots and Lines’ is slightly reminiscent of English post-punk group, Editors, with the droned-out vocals soaring over the heavy drums and guitar.

Penultimate track ‘Decoder’ solidifies Stagnant Pools distinct sound as a culmination of the other tracks on Geist. The guitar riffs are more fuzzed out, the vocals less audible. Perhaps Stagnant Pools demands the addition of a bass player to add some variance to their sound. The final track on the album, ‘Brute’ begins strong, with a simple guitar riff (using an effect besides distortion) and an easy to follow drum beat. The song is one of the better songs off the album.

All in all, Geist is simply a lo-fi jam album, for those who wish to plug their headphones in and literally drown out the rest of the world (and maybe take a nap as well?). Stagnant Pools is a new act, fresh to the inception and creation of a full album of coherent tracks, and this perhaps shines through in Geist. Some varied instrumentation in the future would also be appreciated. However, not a bad sophomore effort from brother duo Stagnant Pools…7/10

‘Intentions’

 

Kishi Bashi: Lighght

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Kishi Bashi: Lighght- Sailing in on a gust of psych pop glory, Kishi Bashi brings an album that is at times danceable and other times contemplative, awash in lush orchestration. Kishi Bashi is the solo project of K Ishibashi, who adopted the moniker while forming his new solo outfit. Lighght is Kishi Bashi’s sophomore album and the confidence in songwriting and composition shows. This is also a man who is no stranger to the music scene, having been a former touring violinist for both Regina Spektor and Of Montreal. Kishi Bahi’s prowess with string orchestration is more than apparrent on Lighght and he is able to seamlessly thread it through tunes that make you want to dance to ones that get more experimental and urge you to just sit and listen for a while.

One element that immediately stands out in Lighght is the fact there are two short instrumental pieces. The first track, ‘Debut- Impromptu’ and later on, ‘Impromptu No 1′ both serve as a set up and an intermission, respectively. They focus on string orchestrations, while also throwing in some electronic based sounds, some keys, some instruments that are still a mystery to me. What is immediately apparent  from ‘Debut- Impromptu’ is the non-traditional use of strings, much of which sounds like it is put through some sort of filter that gives it a playful tone, but one that should not be taken lightly.

Two of the more danceable tracks on Lighght appear early on the album and grab listeners attention. ‘Philosophize In It! Chemicalize With It!’ starts off with with a violin and quickly layers in other instruments and a chorus of harmonized “Ohs” before braking into full rhythm with loose, tribal drums, quirky sounds and just great modern psych pop with possible influences from Animal Collective and MGMT. And while this song uses what sound like live drums, ‘The Ballad of Mr. Steak’ uses beats to get a more synth-poppy, dance-floor groove going through your veins. Kishi Bashi is able to blend together elements from more standard pop with the somewhat experimental elements of psych pop for a fun, quirky song telling the story of a bachelor named, Mr. Steak who loved to dance. I’m a sucker for puns and using lines like, “Mr. Steak, you were grade A” just add to the vibe of the album.

And while there are more standard dance tunes, there are also songs, that while still holding a great beat, delve more into psychedelic elements rather than the pop. With ‘Hahaha Pt. 1′ and Hahaha Pt. 2′, Kishi Bashi proves strings are an element that should be used more on modern music. Both songs are awash in strings, beats, and synths. The vocals have a slight echo to them giving the songs a very dream-like quality. They also provide an element normally only seen in “rock opera” albums, movements. In what is given the overarching term “classical music”, movements can be like tracks on an album or like sub-tracks layered in single songs, but all while using similar musical themes or melodies.  In the two ‘Hahaha’ tracks, the idea of movements is employed and used to tie two songs together that while are different, use intelligent threads to tie together the musical themes.

And while all the tracks mentioned are outstanding, on ‘Q&A’, Kishi Bashi strips things down and has a nice light, acoustic-folk love song. It is a nice touch to an album with full orchestration and shows Mr. Ishibashi understands the need for contrasts and dynamics in an album. It is a sweet song that makes you bob your head back and forth and think about that special someone.

All in all, Kishi Bashi’s, Lighght is a fantastic psych pop album. It shows that excellent violin playing and string orchestrations set this album apart from others in it genre. It is smartly crafted, both catchy with the pop elements and holds your attention and opens the mind with the more experimental side. It is a well-composed sophomore album, which is difficult to do. Kishi Bashi was able to keep his best elements strong, appeasing older fans and attracting new ones…  9.5/10

‘Q&A’

 

 

 

Margot & the Nuclear So & So’s: Slingshot to Heaven

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Margot & the Nuclear So & So’s: Slingshot to Heaven – Since 2005, folk rock collective Margot & the Nuclear So & So’s have been supplying deep, thoughtful and probably slightly weird listeners with a seductive brand of hauntingly melancholic tracks. From 2008’s ‘A Sea Chanty of Sorts’ to the ever-popular ‘Broadripple is Burning’, which has seen multiple incarnations since its release, Margot surely seem to have a knack for bringing a dose of reality nonchalantly and artistically.

I was a teenager fresh out of high school when Margot first made a blip on my radar. I was discovering and refining my musical tastes beyond which band members were the cutest or which song would make me look cool if I played it loudly enough in the parking lot. It was The Dust of Retreat that captured my attention, and I can recall spending hours with that record on repeat. Something about Margot was soothing but also kind of unnerving, and also endlessly entertaining. The band can shift from making animal noises to singing a siren’s song about heartache and deception.

They made a stance in 2008, releasing ‘Animal!’ and ‘Not Animal!’ at the same time as a sort of four-letter response to the unwanted direction of their producers. Margot’s take on things was ultimately better and more organic. Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s have always been inventive and somewhat altruistic, creating a sound that encapsulates feeling. It’s always raw, but Margot never hesitate to prove that they can show a lighter side. Listen through the band’s discography, and I promise you’ll find yourself in a ping-pong match of different emotions.

I don’t want to say that Margot’s 2014 release Slingshot to Heaven is more of the same. That would suggest that they’re getting boring, which could really never be the case. Instead, I’ll say that Margot are giving listeners exactly what they desire out of a good MNSS record.

The album’s first track, ‘Hello, San Fransisco’, has the same somber-ish storytelling finesse with the same earnest vocals. But there’s something a bit more, something a bit fuller in this track that makes it a satisfying listen. I think it has to do with the swelling string section padding the line “let’s throw our bones away” that does it for me.

This is Margot, version 2.0. In ‘Long Legged Blonde Memphis’ is the same awesome lyricism with upbeat piano riffs and heavy drum beats. Margot have taken cues from the likes of Portugal. The Man, electrifying a usually mellow sound and infusing it with alt-rock goodness. It’s definitely a change in the world of Margot & the Nuclear So & So’s, but it’s  a good one.

By the time ‘Wedding Song’ begins, the listener has gone through a multitude of sounds and tempos and lyrics and new ideas from Margot. But when the soft acoustic guitar begins to strum, we’re transported to a place of comfort. Margot pull from their roots, what they’ve always done, to orchestrate a really beautiful track. It’s a little tragic amd a lot earnest, and it brings me back to that first time I listened to Margot as a teenager. The music has always felt like an open-ended conversation. It’s familiar.

The great thing about Margot is that they grow with you. Just like growing up, you maintain some of who you used to be, keep the best parts (in this case, poetic lyrics, understated vocals and a creative sense of musicality) and add to the mix until you end up with something great. I want to purge myself of all mediocre music forever and instead curl up with Margot, where everything is interesting and right, and I can always count on the music to keep me interested…9.0/10

 

Wedding Song

White Reaper: White Reaper

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White Reaper: White Reaper — The classic punk number is a single scrap of an idea captured in about 2 minutes (3 more recently, advances in technology, y’know); the lengthier the track is, the more it runs the risk of proselytizing, of *gasp* believing in something, and hence shattering the illusion that the present moment is the pinnacle of fun and fanfare. The songs on White Reaper‘s phenomenal self-titled debut certainly fit this bill, and then some–they sound completely full, completely developed, and not just because they’re loud and fast like drunken wolverines on bicycles either. There’s a completely development of ideas, a flurry of melodies and elements that all pack enough punch to make you believe you went through a journey of twice the real-time length.

There’s a compliment I rarely deliver – “I don’t even know, man, these songs sound kinda . . . long . . .”, but imagine I’m saying it with my mouth slightly ajar and with one eyelid tensed and suspicious of what I’m hearing, rather than with a blase tiredness. White Reaper is a never-ending burlesque of street fires and chest-drumming mojo, with moments of gravitas that prevent dismissals of shallowness. The riffage is constantly profuse, the bass bouncy and insistent, and drummer Sam Wilkerson, Odin Almighty– he sounds like he could breast-stroke a liferaft to safety, with the towing rope gritted in his teeth. He hits with an intensity you wouldn’t expect from the hummingbird-schizo pace he operates at; there’s gotta be lead weights tipping those drumsticks or some such nonsense.

It’s a little bit nuts to try to pick a standout, every track seems like a how-to for succeeding in punk, six ways to success–opener ‘Cool’ is your catchy, nonsensical, Ramones-sing-along; closer ‘Ohh (Yeah)’ (love the parenthetical there) goes at a pace at once danceable, yet resembling the lurch of an electrified corpse, thanks to a thrumming bass courtesy of Sam’s identical twin Nick, and to the raw enunciation of vocalist/guitarist Anthony Esposito; and ‘Conspirator’, though it mostly pounds with a No Age sort of urgency, has these dad-rock moments of designed crowd-pleasing that avoids hamminess.

The tracks just seem to vibrate in their own little envelope long after they end, and the album as a whole begs to be repeated–it just hurtles on and on, like six tops spinning endlessly in a box. Not bad at all for a trio of under-agers…8.8/10

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Profile: The Donkeys

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As San Diegan folk-psychedelios, The Donkeys have become a southern Californian regional favorite for encapsulating everything lovable about their favorite place in the world, and last Saturday I had the pleasure of speaking with them before the second show of their tour, sharing the stage with Extra Classics and The Blank Tapes. Anthony Lukens (singer/keyboardist/guitarist) texted telling me to come early and hang, and met me at the front of the Glass House as soon as I arrived; drummer Sam Sprague was shopping in the Glass House record store with Jessie Gulati (guitarist and occasional sitarist), who was doing some imaginative math to work a Lyres vinyl into his personal budget. Lead guitarist Timothy DeNardo met us there to complete the quartet, sporting a spiffy new blue-and-white Hawaiian shirt, the first he’s ever owned somehow, despite living in sunny San Diego. As charmingly laid-back as their sound is, their personalities and friendship are even more so.

VS: So do you guys do any mental/physical preparation to get ready for touring, to stave off exhaustion and the like?

Jessie: We should! But yeah, I don’t… at all…

Anthony: I’m preparing just by eating every meal at home until we leave, that’s my big thing. Just get as many vitamins and minerals in me before the big fast.

Sam: It’s weird, I feel like I eat better on tour almost, especially on the long ones, since we go grocery shopping mostly. ‘Cause you can’t snack, I mean, not anymore. Well, you probably could… [Gestures to me; I shift uncomfortably in my seat.]

Jessie: We make sandwiches, eat fruit, eat a lot of vegetable snacks, carrots instead of Doritos. I mean you could eat Doritos all day until you feel like crap, it’s super salty, for hours…

Sam: You drink a lot of water though, to be candid.

Timothy: I have a hard time drinking, I usually get really dehydrated a lot on tour, because I just have to pee a lot if I drink a lot of water, so it’s like I’m pulling over every twenty minutes if I do, so I just don’t drink any water.

Anthony: Yeah, he has a notoriously small bladder.

Timothy: Yeah dude, they just get mad at me, I get into trouble…

VS: What albums do you guys bring with you on tour?

Sam: We buy records mainly, so it kind of sucks in terms of bringing music on tour.

Anthony: We do have a little record player, and we’d play it in the back room and motels and stuff.

Jessie: That’d be real fun, because we can just go shopping that day, then at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning listen to everything we bought.

VS: Do you ever listen to your own music? As a joke or otherwise?

Anothy: I have this old iPod and every now and then I’ll forget there’s some of our old music on it, like weird demos and crap we haven’t heard in a while and I’ll put that on as a joke. And we’ll be like, “Wow, this is awesome”, so yeah, sometimes we listen to the older thing?

Jessie: Yeah, it’s like looking at old photographs, where you hear the song and you’re like, “Yeah I remember that time! when we did that thing0…”

VS: I noticed that you’re closing off this tour with Pickathon in Oregon. Do you guys have a preference between playing smaller shows and larger music festivals?

Sam: We mostly play small shows. Festivals get a little weird because it’s such a high pace of turnover, super chaotic getting in there, quick on, quick off, it’s super hard, unorganized.

Jessie: Well, on the tours we play, we usually end up playing earlier, which is super fun because you just get to hang out all day, you don’t have to worry about loading in and out [laughs].

Are you guys festival-goers? Do you have an opinion on the direction large-scale musical festivals are taking?

Sam: I haven’t been to a festival that we haven’t played since I was like… twenty… two… [laughs] It doesn’t appeal to me, no. It’s a little too much, I’m a “less is more” kinda guy. I’d rather see a band at a small club. I love seeing bands at festivals while we’re playing there, though. Maybe it’s out of laziness, but Coachella just doesn’t sound fun, too much of like a shit show.

Timothy: I like Coachella because of where we live; we can pick up the stragglers on the weekends or weekdays because all those bands are coming through during the week and you get to see really cool bands at smaller venues. But festivals, it’s just too much too fast. It’s a lot of people.

VS: What was the general ethos behind Ride the Black Wave? What did you do on this album that you didn’t do on previous albums, would you say?

Anthony: We experimented with new sounds a little more, because we were recording in a place that had more toys so we can try out some new stuff. Maybe that, but I don’t think there was this whole plan of making it too differently. This was the first time we tracked digitally; that was different.

Timothy: I don’t think it was so much we were trying to do things differently, but we were trying to make things a little more cohesive. I know when it came to mixing it we wanted it to be less about the individual songs and make it more about an album experience. We haven’t always thought that way, but this time we were really conscious of time and getting the sequence together and finding ways we can make one song turn into the next.

Sam: We cut out a lot of songs. I think we were definitely dedicated to making a cohesive sound, whereas before we just kind of did whatever. So we cut out a lot of songs and picked the best songs, specifically for this record.

Timothy: We didn’t set out to write the record the way it was, but the demos we started making all had a kind of vibe, so that started steering us in a direction.

VS: I’ve heard you guys don’t have a dedicated lead singer, so how does your songwriting process generally go?

Timothy: Sam writes a lot, he’s quick with the melody and the words, and he writes more often that I do for sure. I think melody comes a little slower to me. Sam’s definitely thrown a few songs my way, and Anthony’s really good at songwriting too.

Anthony: Everybody’s got their strengths and weaknesses, and I’d like to think we can exploit each others’ strengths.

Sam: The best songs we’ve ever written, we wrote together. But yeah sometimes there’s songs where it’ll all be totally done when someone brings it in, sometimes it’ll be like ‘here’s a riff,’ somebody comes up with a melody, it’s gone all ways, which is good for us.

Jessie: We’ve been in a band for ten years, and we’ve pretty much done it every which way.

Timothy: Some of the earliest stuff was definitely just jams that we dissected and re-sculpted into something, but now, as we all get better musically, the ideas come out a little more fleshed out than they used to. As opposed to just getting drunk and high…

Sam: And that’s fun to do too! But before, we used to be like “Okay it’s done!” But now we work on it a lot more.

Jessie: Yeah, there’s a lot more editing, and revising too, rewriting.

Sam: At least it’s happened to me where it’s like, “God, if I had just worked on it a little more it would’ve been better”. It is what it is now, but if I had just wrote this third verse instead of just repeating another one, things like that. I think when you’re younger you’re just happy it’s done. And then when you get older you finish a lot of things, and you just want to pick the good stuff.

VS: Listening to your newest album, Ride the Black Wave, I was sensing an ambivalence towards California, with lyrics like “Trapped in the sunny daze,” and others about moving to France, and we all know France is the opposite of California. What was your specific attitude towards the state for this album exactly?

Sam: [laughs] Most of us have lived in California for the better part of our lives, and you just kind of want change. I mean it’s beautiful and it’s perfect, but you do have this feeling of “change is nice”.

Timothy: You start to question the perfect.

Sam: I mean, Anthony moved to San Francisco for about three months, that’s as much as anything’s changed. Moving to San Francisco would be awesome, it’s such different weather. I love California, it’s just one time I got up, I was hung over, and I saw these guys jogging, you know, in San Diego, and I said to myself, “God I wish I lived in Minnesota where everybody was hung over and its cold out so you wouldn’t see some asshole running”… sometimes you just want to watch a movie but its 75 degrees out and you feel like an asshole just sitting in your house.

Timothy: If you moved to Minnesota it’d be hard to get used to the cold weather, and there’s a weird motivation to that, and a kind of hardship. San Diego has permanent nice weather, and that might create a complacency or lack of motivation where you can say, “Oh, I can just do that tomorrow because it’s going to be just as nice out”. You can’t say, “It’s been shitty for three weeks, so I’m going to make the most of this”.

VS: I notice a lot of interviews refer to your music in relation to California. Does that ever grate on you?

Sam: I’m happy people are just noticing us. I mean usually it’s complimentary; it’s interesting to me, though, to think of what people get from our music. It doesn’t bother me, does it bother you guys?

Anthony: You kind of wonder if people actually hear that [California sound], like a chicken and the egg thing, where you wonder, “Did you hear that first, or did you read that and then think of it when you listen to our music? If you went in blind and heard it, would you still say it’s a CA sound?”

Sam: We’ve just kind of embraced it and so now it makes sense. I think people like hearing words, and then clinging onto them. I don’t really get it at all.

VS: Is it still too early to discuss plans for The Donkeys’ future?

Sam:  We’ve kind of done pre-production on a new record, actually. We have songs, we always have songs, but right now we’re just really focused on touring this record. Though recording is my favorite thing to do.

VS: Last question – what are you guys all listening to right now?

Anthony: Well I just got a hold of the New Extra classics record, we had it on all morning, loved it. [It's true - they do love Extra Classics. They went nuts for their set, and wanted to purchase their keyboardist.]

Jessie: I just bought some records now, but the last one I got was a live 13th Elevator record.

Timothy: I can’t get enough of that Frank Ocean record. It’s all I’ve been listening to, I wake up in the morning with it stuck in my head and I jut put it on all day long. I think everyone’s sick of it by now.

Sam: Right now I’ve been listening to Merle Haggard a lot, it’s really good for me right now. I don’t know why. It’s good summer music.