Alien Sunset by Cut Worms

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Cut Worms is the musical moniker of musician Max Clarke. After studying illustration in college with a focus on graphic design and working odd jobs for several years, Clarke decided that writing and recording songs is his true passion. Inspired by a roommate of his who challenged himself to write a song every day for four years, Clarke started by dedicating an hour to music every day in his free time after work. He took it upon himself to write two songs per month, and it is from this process of songwriting that Max Clarke wrote the six tracks that appear on his latest EP Alien Sunset.

The songs on Alien Sunset were recorded with an 8-track recorder by Clarke himself at home. As a result, the whole EP has a rough around the edges do-it-yourself aesthetic. Clarke sings and plays all of the instruments, except for some drum overdubs provided by Josh Condon. The first half of the Alien Sunset was written and recorded in Chicago before Clarke moved to New York City, where the second half of the project was made. Clarke listens to a lot of music from the fifties, sixties, and seventies, which definitely shows in these songs. In particular, the style of close harmonies Clarke employs recalls the Everly Brothers. For reference, check out “All I Have To Do Is Dream” by the Everly Brothers from 1958. Lyrically, however, Cut Worms is not so care-free and corny as the music of the fifties. Instead, Clarke takes more inspiration from rock and roll poets like Bob Dylan.

The title track “Alien Sunset” stands out for its interesting layering of multiple parts; bouncy backing vocals, playful strumming, dancing guitar rhythms, subtle bass, and a clap added in for good measure all factor in to make a very complete texture. The song sounds simple and easy-going on the surface, but the tune is more complex than it initially appears. This is true of several songs on Alien Sunset. For example, it’s easy to miss the keyboards underneath the melody in the song “A Curious Man.” Little touches like these show that Clarke has an ear for acute details that elevate the songs without you noticing them.

The final track on Alien Sunset is “Song Of The Highest Tower,” which Clarke wrote on the day that Lou Reed died. The lyrics are adapted from a poem by Arthur Rimbaud entitled “A Season in Hell.” This is a melancholy ballad that relies heavily on Clarke’s vocals. Clarke sings mournfully and honestly about death and loss. The roughness of the production actually compliments his delivery here, because he sounds distraught. His vocals are not perfect in the traditional sense, but the emotions captured feel authentic. This “realness” is often lost when a song is performed thirty times in a high-tech studio and edited to the point that it’s flawless.

Overall, Alien Sunset by Cut Worms has a demo-like quality. This EP certainly has a distinct sound, but it leaves more to be desired. Max Clarke has proved himself as a songwriter, however I would like to see him expand his music to be more variegated and diverse. Apparently he will be releasing a full length studio album in 2018, and I am interested to hear if he will be able to maintain the personal, authentic feel of his music while improving the production and moving in some new sonic directions.

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Daft Punk – Instant Crush ft. Julian Casablancas

The song “Instant Crush” started to take shape in 2010 when Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, the two men behind Daft Punk, came to Julian Casablancas of the Strokes with an instrumental demo they wanted him to hear. Daft Punk was still working on the soundtrack for Tron Legacy at the time, but this track would end up being on their next album, Random Access MemoriesJulian loved the song when he heard it, and he provided the lyrics and vocals, as well as the lead guitar part. 

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Warren Fu

The music video for “Instant Crush” was directed by Warren Fu, a friend and frequent collaborator with both the Strokes and Daft Punk. He has also directed music videos for Snoop Dogg, the Killers, Weezer, the Weeknd, and the Growlers, just to name a few. Fu was a visual art director on Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and even designed the character General Grievous. He started making music videos in 2007.

The music video for “Instant Crush” is compelling due to its ability to forge emotional connections between inanimate objects. The protagonists are unmoving wax figures in a museum, but they feel alive. Warren Fu presents a love story between the soldier and the woman without them ever speaking or even changing facial expressions. Despite this, their longing for each other is palpable. It is through the language of shot reverse shots, closeups, and soft lighting that the viewer is made to understand this impossible love, without it ever being explicitly established. 

One of the most memorable aspects of the song are the vocals; They are distorted and synthetic, yet they sing of love and heartbreak in a very real and relatable way. The robotic voice effect was created by having Julian Casablancas sing into a vocoder, a device that takes the sound of a voice and inputs it through a series of signal filters. The voice is then processed and fed through a synthesizer, creating a futuristic sound that matches the tempo and tone of the voice. Whether it is losing someone and subsequently drowning yourself in fond memories that person, or feeling regret regarding a potential love that was never allowed to be realized, by juxtaposing recognizable human experiences with robotic vocals and inanimate subjects, “Instant Crush” makes us question the nature of humanity. What makes us human? Is it our capacity for emotion? Our ability to think? Our experiences? When a machine or an object can emote and recall memories, the line between us and them is blurred. Questions of identity are an issue that has been addressed countless times before, but never in such a sleek catchy pop package.

“Instant Crush” is a fan favorite among fans of both Daft Punk and Julian Casablancas. The song is a synthesis of the best talents from both artists; Casablanca’s voice and Daft Punk’s production. Many people have tried to cover this song with varying amounts of success, but nobody has ever surpassed the original in my opinion. This is why “Instant Crush” is still worth revisiting, even years after it was released.

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Music Video: Gamma Knife / People-Vultures

This is part of a new series I’m starting where I will talk about music videos. I chose Gamma Knife / People Vultures first because it is one of my favorite songs from my favorite album from King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Nonagon Infinity. I love the album for its frenetic pacing and non-stop energy. Each song on the album flows into the next one seamlessly; the first half of the album feels like one long song with no breaks. The melodies are so memorable and I constantly have the songs stuck in my head. A unique feature of the album is the end of the last song goes into the beginning of the first song, creating a never ending loop.

The video is directed by Danny Cohen and Jason Galea, both of whom are based in Melbourne, Australia. Cohen has directed videos for and photographed the likes of Courtney Barnett, Mac Demarco, Kurt Vile, and the Murlocs. Galea is a consistent collaborator with the band, having designed most of their album covers and been involved in all of their music videos. He has worked very closely with the band for years to craft a unique psychedelic style of art and animation that matches their music very well. The occult robes and fantasy themes in the video take inspiration from from the works of Alejandro Jodorowsky, such as Holy Mountain. The second half of the video goes in a more ridiculous route with action that recalls the silly fight scenes from Power Rangers. One of the characters who confronts the people-vulture is even wearing an ant-man mask, which may be a sign of how small the budget probably was for this video.

The way the camera spins almost out of control and blurs the colors together perfectly captures the dizzyingly fast nature of the song and the album as a whole. There is a particularly epic moment when the camera movement suddenly slows down for a drum solo, like the eye of the storm before the final hurricane blast of wind at the climax and the end of the first half of the video. Apparently the second half of the video was shot in a grueling two days in the desert. The giant vulture is very impressive, so I would say it was worth the discomfort. The people-vulture section of the video incorporates some animation into the live-action fight, making for some interesting visuals.

Supposedly, the band plans to make music videos for all the tracks on Nonagon Infinity that will combine to create some sort of Nonagon Infinity movie. If they can actually pull that off, I’m all for the idea. Until then, there are several other great King Gizzard music videos to enjoy if you look them up on youtube.

Brothers of Destruction by the Lemon Twigs

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Brothers of Destruction is the latest release from the Lemon Twigs, and it is the first new music they have released since their debut album, Do Hollywood came out in 2016. Brian and Michael D’Addario are only twenty and eighteen years old, but their music draws on a vast and eclectic range of musical influences and successfully synthesizes them together into something undoubtedly born from the past while still managing to sound thrilling and new. On Do Hollywood they showed off complex arrangements, fun songwriting, and the ability to write tunes that stick in your head. They take inspiration from the sounds of classic rock from the sixties and seventies and morph it into their own distinct brand of music. Since the success of Do Hollywood, everybody has been wondering where the Lemon Twigs will go with their sound next.

Brothers of Destruction is not the next big evolution of the band; it is more like a stepping stone between the Do Hollywood era and whatever full release will come next. It was recorded at home by Brian and Michael D’Addario shortly after Do Hollywood was completed in 2015, and the songs were all written at the same time as their debut album. As a result, these songs come across like a continuation of the same sound, with a few exceptions. It makes sense that they would want to release the last songs of their Do Hollywood era before moving on to less familiar material, but this release might be a let down for people who want to hear the band move on. On the other hand, Brothers of Destruction will excite fans who now have six more songs to hold them over until the band releases their sophomore album, presumably in 2018. The production here is serviceable but it’s lacking some of the subtle depth and dynamic contrasts that Jonathan Rado of the band Foxygen was able to bring to their best songs on Do Hollywood, which he produced for them. These criticisms may come across as harsh, but the Lemon Twigs have set the bar high for themselves.

Despite its flaws, Brothers of Destruction is anything but a boring or lazy cash grab. On the contrary, this collection of songs is characterized by the group’s loving attention to detail and fine tuned ear for interesting instruments and expressive lyricism. The music does not break too much new ground, but the band is damn good at what they do and it is a pleasure to hear them in their craft. Brian and Michael write their songs independently of each other before they share and record them, therefore they trade lead vocals and drums on most songs. My favorite song from Brian D’Addario on this release is “Beautiful.” The song comments on the grandness of the natural world around us. While the scale of our short little lives in the endless span of universe may make us feel insignificant in the grand scheme things, the lyrics are anything but depressed or defeated. Brian sings, “I am nothing / I’m no one / It’s wonderful”. If life is meaningless, then we are free to shape our own destinies and create meanings for ourselves. The instrumentation here is thin; gently plucked guitar serves to leave Brian’s voice exposed and make him sound vulnerable. As the song progresses, instruments are slowly added until it builds up to a full climax with bass, percussion, and trumpet.

My favorite song from the EP is “Night Song” which was written by Michael D’Addario. This song is the biggest departure from the band’s usual sound, featuring some truly strange sound effects and a danceable beat. Lyrically, Michael’s sense of humor comes through distinctly here. Imagery of throwing things on the floor at the grocery store as well as a reference to the canadian interviewer and musician Nardwuar evoke a chuckle, but the song takes a really entertaining turn toward the end of the track. Sirens are heard and then the “party police” arrive and start ordering people to do the robot. The song finishes with a comical and exaggerated shootout; I guess somebody pulled an illegal dance move.

Overall, with a runtime of only eighteen minutes, I recommend that you find time to give Brothers of Destruction a listen. The Lemon Twigs are an exciting new band, and we are only just starting to see what they are capable of. I only hope that they continue innovating and bring us somewhere less familiar on their next release.

Sketches of Brunswick East by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

1200px-kglw_sketches-artworkThe fertile music scene in Australia has given us many popular and interesting bands in the last couple of years, including Tame Impala, Pond, and the Psychedelic Porn Crumpets, just to name a few, but no group has been nearly as prolific as King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. This seven person psychedelic rock outfit from Melbourne has released eleven full length albums since 2012 and they shocked many fans this year when they announced that they would be releasing five albums in 2017. The first album this year was Flying Microtonal Banana which was followed by Murder of the Universe, and now they have released the third album of 2017, Sketches of Brunswick East.

Sketches of Brunswick East is a collaborative album which was written together with Alex Brettin of Mild High Club. It gets its name from an album by Miles Davis, and as a whole it is very jazzy and improvisational in nature. Gone are the screams and heavy riffs that characterized their most popular and recent releases. “Sketches” slows down the pace and focuses on small everyday life as opposed to giant concepts about the the universe. While the band had briefly delved into some jazz-influenced music in the past on the song “The River” from Quarters!, this album is distinct from that in how it presents itself. The vocals on “Sketches” are light and playful. Melodies here are floaty and fun, with one song often drifting into another song with no break in the middle. The album does a good job in painting a picture of Brunswick East, the suburb in Australia where the band does much of their recording and has their headquarters. With subtle sounds embedded in the music, such as trains in the distance, dogs barking, birds chirping, and children playing, you really feel immersed in the sounds of the city. Flute melodies feel free and the rhythms are laid back. In the past, the band has been known for having aggressive songs that are constantly driving forward without stopping, but here they are not afraid to just sit back and let songs flow. This makes the album stand out in their discography as a truly unique experiment, but it is also a flaw. Often, the songs are too relaxed and seem to go nowhere before transitioning into the next song. Some songs feel like incomplete ideas that were not developed as much as they could have been. The album is rather short, with a run time of thirty seven minutes, but it feels much longer as a result of its meandering quality.

Still, there are some good tracks to be found here. A gentle keyboard melody towards the end of “Countdown” descends into an eratic solo with staccato notes dropping like a gentle drizzle of rain drops. This reminded me of some of the unusual solos from Mild High Club’s last album Skiptracing, in particular the fuzzy guitar solo at the end of “Kokopelli.” Another highlight is the song “The Book” which features the return of the microtonal experimentation that characterized their earlier release Flying Microtonal Banana. To dismiss this song as merely a b-side from that album would be a disservice, because this song really embraced the half tone scale in a way that expands on the experiments of that album. The lyrics explore dark fanaticism and moral certainty from the perspective of a religious fundamentalist.

Overall, Sketches of Brunswick East is a distinct departure from the usual sound of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. Although it suffers from a lack of momentum, the album is a fun effort by the group to take their sound somewhere new. There is no doubt that the group has already moved on to their next project if it is not already finished yet. Who knows where the group will take us next?