Parsnip / The Shifters: Hip Blister Review

Hip Blister

Hip Blister is a split LP featuring two bands from the thriving Melbourne scene in Australia: Parsnip and The Shifters. Parsnip, which includes Carolyn Hawkins, Paris Richens, Stella Rennex, and Rebecca Liston, perform the first three songs on the album, and The Shifters, comprised of Tristan Davies, Lloyd Davies, Ryan Coffey, Miles Jansen, and Louise Russell, perform the last three. For such a short album (it’s only seventeen minutes long) Hip Blister is packed with interesting songwriting and refreshing originality.

Parsnip begins the record with “Counterfeit,” a sunshine-drenched jangle-pop song. Sweet and rough around the edges, the lead vocals and harmonies float and mix together like a swirl of syrup in a colorful mixed-drink. There’s an element of blurry-eyed nostalgia to Parsnip’s sound, as seen in the playful keyboard glissandos in “Dailybreader” that feel reminiscent of transitions between segments on a children’s television show. Still, in contrast with the music, the lyrics are anxious and sometimes claustrophobic. For example, in “Counterfeit,” the group questions whether or not it is possible to truly know someone, and in “Hip Blister” they shout, “I’m at the end of a chain but you keep tugging!” Its this juxtaposition of saccharine sentimentality on the surface and tense confrontation underneath that sets Parsnip apart from bands that merely wallow in hollow nostalgia. This girl band only adopts the flowery demeanor so that you don’t notice the spoon-full of cough syrup they’re shoving down your throat.

The Shifters, on the other hand, are equally unrefined and sardonic in the subject-matter of their lyrics, but completely lack the veil of sweetness. The riffs are repetitive and hypnotic, recalling the deliberate minimalist approach of early punk bands like The Velvet Underground. While the overall feeling is downright dark and bleak, the story-telling in the songs is excellent. In particular, the last two tracks offer unique perspectives on historical events. “Conscript” is told from the point of view of a young Australian soldier sent to Vietnam in 1966. Conscription for compulsory military service for twenty-year-olds was mandatory in Australia during the Vietnam War and I found it interesting to hear an angle of the war that was new to me. The brutally repetitive nature of the music also makes perfect sense in the context of the story, as illustrated in the descriptive lyric, “all it is, is back and forth between boredom and sheer terror.” The final song, “Righteous Harmonious Fists,” is approached from the viewpoint of a desperate farmer who joins the Boxer Rebellion in China. The Shifters’ blend of historically-set dramas and politically-charged lyrics are engaging and distinct, feeling like a much-needed detour away from the usual relationship songs and list of issues that have become cliches in popular music.

While Parsnip and The Shifters have distinct approaches to songwriting, their energies compliment each other very nicely. In essence, they are both two sides of the same coin, calling our attention to the contradictions and uneasiness inherent in the past, present, and future. Hip Blister may lack the polish of more expensive heavily-produced releases, but what it lacks in perfection, it makes up for in character. Besides, with two cool bands for the price of one, how can you lose?

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Surfbort: Friendship Magic Review

Surfbort, headed by Dani Miller and consisting of David Head, Alex Kilgore and Sean Powell, are a relatively new punk band from Brooklyn, but listening to them play you might mistake them for some forgotten group from the hardcore era of the eighties. Although Surfbort sounds vintage, the songs on their debut album, Friendship Music, are relevant to 2018, tackling topics from global warming and gentrification to Trump and the government.

I had the opportunity to see Surfbort live this past summer before their debut album was released and I was struck by the showmanship of lead-singer, Dani Miller. Dressed as a bunny and proudly displaying unshaved legs and arms, she jolted the crowd with an electric energy. Swinging her arms as she danced around, she wore a maniacal grin on her face as she belted her lyrics with a sardonic biting edge. Miller felt like the embodiment of a cartoon character, akin to a dark Mickey Mouse. Her stage persona is larger than life; a wild playful exaggeration of American youth, cracking cynical jokes as the world goes to shit around them. The songs are often dripping with irony, abrasive, and full of attitude and frustration. Most importantly of all, it’s music that demands to be blasted at high volumes, probably by teens rebelling against authority, whether that be their parents or “the system.” The challenge for bands like Surfbort, who have reputations as great live acts, is capturing the energy of their best performances where the audience and band are feeding off each other, and translating that into a studio recording that is subsequently compressed into an mp3 file without losing the magic along the way. On Friendship Magic the band only succeeds partly.

Clocking in at a succinct thirty minutes, Friendship Magic struggles to stay interesting until the end. Miller tries her hardest to carry the songs with her defiant attitude and punky charm, but without the visual juxtaposition of her trademark wide-smile and tongue-in-cheek delivery as the whole package, it becomes abundantly clear that Surfbort only has a limited number of tricks up their sleeves and not as much to say as one would wish.

Before long, the guitar and bass lines become repetitive and start to blur together. Riffs aren’t exactly memorable and at times they are downright forgettable. Every once and a while, the band slows down to pause from the hardcore-punk aesthetic and breathe with some more laid back heavy stoner vibes, but after the third time this happens, it gets tiresome and tedious. At points these sections become so slow and boring that they totally stomp any momentum that the better songs build up. Speaking of momentum killers, is it necessary to loop the same audio clip four times at the end of “White People?” It isn’t interesting the first time, but four times in a row feels like a cruel joke. In addition to this, the mixing is inconsistent. The song “Les be in Love” sounds particularly poor and muddy like all of the instruments were recorded on one microphone at the same time.

As for the subject matter of the songs, the list of topics reads like the headlines to the news these days, but not much more. I like the in-your-face wake-up call about pollution and global warming that is “Trashworld” and the hilariously over the top “45,” but too often I found myself wishing the band would have taken the time to dig a little deeper and say something a little more intelligent than another joke about how small Trump’s hands are. The metaphors can feel trite and there isn’t anything that Surfbort has to say on Friendship Music that hasn’t already been said before. At its worst points, songs lack any self-awareness and come across as parodies of that one edgy “woke” kid at the back of the classroom who smoked weed once and read some Foucault.

Surfbort is a band I wanted to love. I think Dani Miller is a fantastic front-woman, but Friendship Music does not feel remarkable or special in any way. It’s not awful by any means and I’ll admit I smiled more than once listening to the better songs like “High Anxiety” and “Trash World”, but after the initial charm wears off, the album doesn’t have enough steam to hold my attention or keep me engaged. What should feel like a party turns into a slog, and before Friendship Music was over, I found myself hankering for some Blag Flag instead.

Track Review: “Small Talk” by Courtney Barnett

Courtney Barnett has a genuine love for music that is apparent in the wholesome smile that she often wears in interviews and performances. Of course, this is nothing special; painters love painting, swimmers love swimming, scientists love science, and water is wet. What sets Barnett apart though, is her ability to share her love for music with others. Generally, this radiance shines the brightest in videos of her performing, where you can see her having fun, but I also feel this strong energy on her latest track, “Small Talk.”

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Source: Andrew Brownbill/AP

“Small Talk” came from the sessions for her last album, Tell Me How You Really Feel, which explored pertinent feminist ideas on songs like “Nameless, Faceless” and “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch.” With its conversational nature and seemingly ordinary subject matter, “Small Talk” is a laid back stroll of a song. The premise is simple and relatable: getting stuck in painful casual conversation with someone as you wait for a friend to arrive. The chorus is also straightforward, consisting of the same line being repeated, “I’m waiting here for you.”

Barnett’s half-spoken half-sung delivery of the lyrics may give off heavy slacker vibes, but this belies the skillful playfulness of the instruments going on. The loose quality of the framework laid down by the sturdy bass and percussion leaves just enough room for the guitar and keys to fill everything out with some groovy improvisations. The way chords and little lines are thrown in feels like a call and response between the instruments and the vocals. On twitter Barnett admits the song was tracked live and she had only just shown it to the band. You can even hear her laughing, calling out changes, and making up lyrics on the spot. This adds to the overall unscripted live feel of the song.

“Small Talk” ends with a laugh. Something about being stuck with someone in meaningless conversation is funny. Even if the person you converse with is annoying, at least you have a story to tell afterwards. “Small Talk” isn’t an epic anthem or a heartbreaking ballad; it’s easy listening regarding the subtleties of life. The trick which is achieved splendidly here, and which is not easy to pull off, is making ordinary day-to-day happenings feel fresh by injecting some love of fun into them.

The Lemon Twigs: Go To School Review

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The Lemon Twigs have not taken any breaks from writing music since their debut album Do Hollywood came out in 2016. The two brothers, Michael and Brian D’Addario, released an ep Brothers of Destruction and two singles earlier this year, but the real meat and potatoes that had fans salivating at the mouth was the prospect of their sophomore album. The Twigs already proved that they had the creative aptitude and songwriting chops to write fun music with a retro flair, but the real question was how they would grow and improve. Do Hollywood was a solid debut from the relatively young band, but too many bands fall victim to the sophomore slump and risk falling back into relative obscurity.

The band could have played it safe and done more of the same, which probably would have been fine for most fans, but instead they decided to write a rock musical concept album about a chimpanzee named Shane, who is raised by adoptive parents to believe he is a human boy. Shane convinces his parents to allow him to go to high school where he meets a host of characters and learns some hard lessons. For sure, this was an interesting choice for the boys, but the execution is extremely solid. The tale of Shane is a coming of age story in which the chimp progresses from a naive child into a bitter and defeated tragic figure. Along the way, he falls in love, gets beat-up by the school bully, eats bananas for breakfast, and struggles to make friends. The climax involves a terrible incident which forces Shane into isolation. Straddling the line somewhere between Matilda and The Wall, Go To School is quirky and odd but also deeply affecting.

What strikes me is how there’s an overwhelming sense of authenticity in the lyrics and performances on the album. This isn’t just a story about a chimpanzee going to school, it’s a deep reflection on alienation and not fitting in. Brian and Michael use Shane as a mouthpiece to open up about their own insecurities and make themselves vulnerable in a way we haven’t seen them do before. Being only nineteen and 21, highschool is still relatively fresh in their minds, so a lot of the experiences feel relatable and realistic.

The orchestral arrangements, which were composed by Brian, are lush and well-balanced. The track “Born Wrong/Heart Song” is particularly unique on the album because it ditches the rock instruments for full broadway-style orchestration. The clarinet and strings are gently float around but the horns add a touch of darkness to the fairytale aesthetic. Michael gives one of his best vocal performances on this track, expressing a range of emotions from sadness to anger and hatred.

The song “Lonely” is a heartbreaking moment where Shane laments how he feels different from his classmates. He wonders if there is something wrong with him. The lyrics are angsty and corny, but it’s perfect in the context of the character. Shane is a highschool student overwhelmed with uncertainty and doused in insecurity trying to figure out his own identity; the lyrics should sound more like a diary entry than a Shakespearean soliloquy. The song reminds me of myself at that age and the overwhelming social anxiety I would feel when it seemed that everyone was hanging out with their friends after school without me. I’m sure that many listeners will be able to identify with Shane’s sentiments.

Don’t worry though, not everything is just angst and depression. There is a lot of fun to be found in Go To School. For instance, “Queen Of My School” is an old-fashioned rollicking rock song in which Shane’s sexual fantasies are realized. It’s probably the best track to blast and sing-along to in the car because of how energetic and wild it is. Subtlety is thrown out the window here, but a high school story that doesn’t include some awkward sexual discovery and raging hormones is not a believable story at all.

Some other memorable performances include seventies singer-songwriter Todd Rundgren as Shane’s father on the song “Never Know,” Susan Hall as Shane’s bitter mother on the track “Rock Dreams,” and Jody Stephens of Big Star playing drums on “The Student Becomes the Teacher.”

The characters and performances are strong, but there are some themes that feel underdeveloped. “The Student Becomes the Teacher” contains a lyrical reference to violence in schools. When Shane tells his father that he wants to go to school, his father tells him, “There’s just no way / Don’t you ever turn on channel five? / and we want you alive.” I think this concept of how school shootings are portrayed and sensationalized in the media could have been explored a little more. Mass shootings are a huge problem in schools across the country right now and a major source of anxiety for parents, teachers, and students alike which is unique to this generation. Especially given the dramatic climax of the story, it seems odd that the band would reference and gloss over an issue as prevalent as this.

It’s exciting to see the Lemon Twigs pushing their boundaries and topping themselves in a unique way. Go To School is engaging and relatable. Its nostalgic and sometimes over-indulgent in its over-the-top presentation, but always in a fun way and not a frustrating way. Its light and humorous at moments, but also heavy and emotional when it needs to be. The story is attractive but the characters and performances are what make it special. Although I wish some ideas were developed more, what strikes me the most about The Lemon Twigs’ musical is how it emphasizes the importance of love and empathy. In a time when people who disagree are often at each other’s throats, Go To School reminds us that the one thing we all desire deep down inside is to feel loved by someone.

Cut Worms: Hollow Ground Review

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Max Clarke, the musician behind Cut Worms, first caught my attention with his 2017 ep Alien Sunset. His solid songwriting and rough charm left more than one of his songs lingering in my mind months after I listened to the project. I was excited to hear what would come next, and my anticipation was only compounded when I learned that Jonathan Rado, who did a fantastic job producing the Lemon Twigs’ debut album, would be lending his talent as a producer to Cut Worm’s debut album.

Hollow Ground is warm nostalgia and earnest love wrapped in a blanket and tucked in together. Almost every song deals with love in some capacity, whether the lyrics address fantasies of love, unrequited love, lost love, blossoming love, or blissful love. The honest and relatable story-telling on Hollow Ground is where Clarke really shines; there are countless moments that evoke bittersweet feelings and states of being, the way looking through an old album of photographs does. Even the vocal harmonies and arrangements feel old and familiar, recalling early Beatles songs and soulful doo-wop.

Two songs from Alien Sunset, “Don’t Want to Say Goodbye” and “Like Going Down Sideways,” return on Hollow Ground, but not without some changes. The vocal harmonies have been reworked to sound richer and more full. The rough demo-quality of the original tracks has been smoothed out and cleaned up, but not overdone to the point of being totally sanitized of their spirit.

While the changes to “Don’t Want to Say Goodbye” were more subtle, “Like Going Down Sideways” received the most significant improvements. The bass, which was overpowering in the original version, has been toned down, and the guitar part was doubled into two guitar parts providing some counterpoint melodies to each other. This reorganization of the instrumentation allows for Clarke’s singing to come through better. He takes this opportunity to add some nice shaping to the dynamic structure of the track, starting out softer and building into a satisfying high-point in the chorus.

Clarke’s vocals come into their own on this album. In the past, his rough voice garnered comparisons to the likes of Brooks Nielsen of The Growlers, but here Clarke displays a powerful vulnerability in his voice that is more unique to him. On “Cash for Gold,” his voice cracks display frustration and anguish, and on “Hanging Your Picture Up to Dry” he adds a touch of heart-broken country twang.

“Cash for Gold” is one of the highlights of the album. It’s a certified head-bopper complete with bright guitars, a playful premise, warm backup singers, and a catchy hook. I love how the structure teases the chorus with a pre chorus before going back into another verse. This makes the chorus hit much harder when it finally arrives with its lyrics that beg you to sing along.

“Hanging Your Picture Up to Dry” tips its hat to classic country music and the likes of Hank Williams with the descending guitar line that opens the song. The song paints a simple but affecting picture of someone crying over a picture of a lost lover. The lyrics capture the feeling of hopelessness that accompanies a broken heart with the line, “Maybe by the time its dry I’ll learn to start anew / or maybe I’ll just lay down and die.” It may be overdramatic, but it’s not far from how losing someone can feel.

 
With Hollow Ground, Max Clarke has established himself as a songwriter and lyricist that demands attention. He now has a very strong debut album under his belt and he has shown enormous growth in just the past year, which is not an easy task. That being said, I wonder where he will go with his next release. His sound is very particular, which makes me doubt whether I wouldn’t tire from more of the same. Until then, I am more than happy to pour over these tales of love and life again and again.

The Voidz: Virtue Review

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Reviewing Virtue, the latest album from the Voidz, is a daunting task. The band, which consists of Julian Casablancas of the Strokes, Jeramy “Beardo” Gritter, Amir Yaghmai, Jacob “Jake” Bercovici, Alex Carapetis, and Jeff Kite, has been on my mind since they released their debut album Tyranny in 2014. Tyranny was an album that challenged me. At the time, I was exclusively a classic rock listener, then my friend showed me this incredibly abrasive hurricane of an album with sounds that were simultaneously futuristic and ancient. I was as swept away by the grandiose eleven-minute track, “Human Sadness,” as I was enamored by the frenetic “Business Dog.” Of course, I couldn’t wait to hear how the band would follow this up.

Three years passed and my life changed in significant ways: I went off to college, people came and went in my life, new friendships were made, and a new president was even elected. Finally, in October of 2017, the Voidz resurfaced on a Brazilian television program of all places with a new song, “Wink.” Several singles and five months later, Virtue was finally released. After months of salivating over the thought of diving into this album, it was finally there for me to bite into. But was it worth the wait?

Virtue is what I call a “gateway album,” an habit-forming album that may lead one down the path to “wilder” music. I characterize a gateway album as having an eclectic track list consisting of a wide range of genres and influences. The textbook definition of a gateway album is Demon Days by the Gorillaz; countless teens who innocently listened into this album came out of the ordeal with cravings for rap, hip hop, and dancehall that they never had before. Like Demon Days, Virtue is a sample platter of musical flavors, complete with various bite-size tastes of different genres. From the middle-eastern influences in “Qyurryus,” to the metal guitar riffs of “Pyramid of Bones,” to the underground punk aesthetic of “We’re Where We Were,” to the proggy organ on “Pointlessness,” people who aren’t scared away by the noisiness will find a lot to love and explore.

For me, the ultimate accomplishment of Virtue is how the band manages to channel so many genres and sounds, each new sound building on to their own unique identity, rather than detracting from it. The sophomore album is often the point where bands struggle. Do you deliver more of the same or do you try something totally new? Virtue straddles this line. Certain songs like “One of the Ones” would feel at home on Tyranny with its out-of-left-field chorus and layers of distortion. “Wink” on the other hand, sees the band trying a new jangly pop sound with upbeat guitar strumming and more straightforward harmonies. Sonically, it feels like a breath of fresh air compared to the dense jungle of heavier songs that precede it.

One of my favorite tracks is “Pink Ocean,” which starts out simple, but builds up into a swirling sea of synthesizer, bass, and percussion. Every little nook and cranny of the song is filled with interesting sounds and embellishments, with Casablanca’s vocals effortlessly floating over it all. Another highlight is “We’re Where We Were” with its raucous vocals and provocative imagery of Germany 1939. This track really embodies the spirit of classic Misfits songs like “Where No Eagles Dare” with its concrete-basement audio aesthetic and palpable edgy tension.

By the time “Pointlessness” rolls around and ends the album on a downcast heartbreaking note, one might need to take a breather. Between the overt political messages and the long run-time, Virtue can feel a little bloated at points, but overall there are many incentives that reward multiple listens. For example, listen closely for lyrical references to Tyranny and little production tricks like doubled vocals singing different words at the same time. Virtue is not made for everyone; the Voidz like to do their own thing, but if you can give the album a good chance, there is a lot of love and craft to be found here.

Don’t Sleep on the Sax in 2018

When one thinks about the saxophone, the first thing that pops into their head might be “Careless Whisper” or perhaps Kenny G, but the saxophone is an extremely versatile instrument with much more to offer than sleep-inducing elevator music. In order to showcase the range of the saxophone and exemplify its continued relevance in today’s music, I decided to compile this short sampling of three new songs from 2018. Several songs this year have made great use of this instrument and pushed it to interesting and unexpected places. From rock to jazz, the saxophone can howl along with noisy instruments like electric guitar or add a gentle touch to a slow jam. This is a brief list of songs in no particular order, and I am aware that there are plenty of other songs that deserve to be recognized, but these three are some of my favorites that I think are worth checking out.

“Main Pretender” by Ty Segall from Freedom’s Goblin

On Freedom’s Goblin, Ty Segall added the saxophone along with various brass instruments to his band in order to develop a much fuller sound, resulting in more complex arrangements when compared to his past albums. The sax takes a front seat throughout the album, squealing out syncopated rhythms and catchy riffs, but one particular highlight is the track “Main Pretender.” The sax here is high-pitched and dirty, laying the groundwork for a hard-hitting counterpoint with the bass line. I love how the sax holds its ground against the loud distorted guitars in this track, but the best part is the wildly unhinged sax solo towards the end of the song. The instrument growls like it’s being choked, frantically squeaking and squawking like an angry swan. It feels like the instrument is being pushed within an inch of its breaking point at certain points in this solo, which is why I would rank this as one of my favorite solos by any instrument on a rock album so far this year.

“Call Me (On the Phone)” by Dante Elephante

Released in February, this single from Los Angeles pop/rockers Dante Elephante may have been released too early, because it feels like a summer song. Its type of song that comes on in the evening just as the sun is going down, work is ending, and you’re heading to a friend’s house just to chill. Taylor Penn plays the sax here, which isn’t heard until the latter half of the track, but when it does come in, it provides the perfect touch of nostalgia and freedom as it gracefully dances up and down. This seemingly insignificant touch shows how a bit of sax can turn a good track into a stellar track.

“When We Are” by Nubya Garcia

Jazz and saxophone go together like pinot noir and brie, which is why any list of songs featuring the saxophone would be incomplete without at least one jazz tune. Nubya Garcia, a tenor saxophonist from England, recently released When We Are, which features her own brand of jazz infused with the energetic vibes of night-club culture. On the title track, you can hear the club influence in the percussion, which has a contemporary hip hop feel to it. As for the cool saxophone playing, it transports the tune into the stratosphere. As the song grooves along, the saxophone tells a story about late night grinding and bumping in crowded venues. Her tone is very clean and bolstered by a strong rhythmic base. As an artist who is only just getting her solo career started, Garcia is an artist to pay attention to in the future for all your late-night saxophone cravings.

MGMT: Little Dark Age Review

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“MGMT ARE BACK” reads a sign in the music video for “Me and Michael,” one of the singles from MGMT’s latest album, Little Dark Age. This is the fourth studio album from the band comprised of Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser, and it marks MGMT’s return after a four-year hiatus. From start to finish, MGMT’s latest release is captivating and meaningful. Whether or not you’re familiar with the band’s past work, Little Dark Age is an infectious mix of black comedy, unabashed quirkiness, and great pop-songwriting.

The opening track “She Works Out Too Much” addresses the pitfalls of dating in the super fast internet age. The lyrics playfully lampoon the instagram generation’s shallow obsession with swiping, tapping, and collecting likes. “I can never keep up,” laments VanWyngarden. The dancey electronic beat is punctuated by motivational phrases from a perky fitness instructor. The overblown enthusiasm of these snippets adds a sense of humor to the song. I particularly like the poppy brass and the saxophone toward the end of this track which wildly improvises around the melody.

Next is the title track, “Little Dark Age,” a brooding synthpop odyssey. The echoey quality of the heavy synthesizers and the reverb on the vocals create a moody gothic atmosphere. The lyrics further build on this feeling of dread. Certain images in the lyrics can’t be separated from the political message behind them, “Policemen swear to god / Love’s seeping from the guns / I know my friends and I / Would probably turn and run.” Although they may be somewhat cryptic, references like this to police brutality and other issues suggest there is something unsavory rooted deep within our own society, something we would rather keep hidden in the dark recesses of our mind than confront.

“When You Die” is an abrasive statement about death and what follows it. Ariel Pink has a writing credit on this track, and his fingerprints are definitely apparent in the playful cynicism of the chorus and the subverting of pop expectations. The song frequently teases a melody only to suddenly turn in another new and unexpected direction. The strange guitar part sounds like it’s moving backwards, but it works because it builds up brilliantly into the refrain which thrusts the listener into a surreal afterlife populated by a chorus of laughing voices.

“Me and Michael” stands out as the very accessible feel-good track on the album. The pulsating keyboard, straightforward percussion, and smooth vocal inflection make this one of my favorite tracks on Little Dark Age. The subject matter is nostalgic yet vague enough that it can be about almost any friendship you’ve ever had. In terms of structure, it doesn’t pull any tricks, but it doesn’t need to. The elements of this eighties-indebted song come together beautifully, resulting in a track that has been stuck in my head since I first heard it. When that chorus finally hits, its impossible to resist singing along.

The last track, “Hand it Over,” brings closure to the album. The song revolves around abuse of power and corruption, but the delivery is apathetic as if the observer in the song is up in the clouds watching us from a removed vantage point. The song certainly floats like a gentle psychedelic pop dream. The gentle ebb and flow of the heavy synthesizer washes over the dreamy harmonies like waves, while a groovy bass line bubbles just under the surface of the melody. Eventually, the dream fades away and you are left alone with just your thoughts.
Like great art, Little Dark Age doesn’t give us answers; instead, it prompts us to search inward for our own questions and solutions. I can see myself coming back to this album in the future for its countless memorable moments, the musical intricacies that reward multiple listens, and its great production value. You could not go wrong in giving Little Dark Age a listen.

Captain Squeegee: Harmony Cure Review

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I went into Harmony Cure by Captain Squeegee, a psychedelic rock band from Arizona, expecting weirdness based on their name alone, and I was not disappointed. As I scrolled through the internet, the moniker of the band was what initially caught my attention, but their unique sound was what prompted me to stay and keep listening. Harmony Cure melds together ska, jazz, and rock, but it also aims to tackle themes like the meaning of music, protecting the environment, and depression. This colorful ep is packed to the brim with enough off-kilter oddness to make one dizzy.

The opening track, “Our Children,” immediately addresses the title of this project. The “harmony cure” refers to music and its power to bring people together. The song is filled with funky bass, fat saxophone, and a popping brass section. It’s the type of song that makes you want to get up and move. Danny Torgersen’s spaced-out vocals pull the song forward as the horns and electric guitars drive the rhythm. Another highlight is a guitar solo about halfway through the song that tumbles over itself into a crescendo resembling a digital overload.

The track takes an odd turn however, when the subject matter of the song abruptly shifts to aliens. Captain Squeegee throws aliens into the mix because it’s what their fans expect of them, not because aliens are necessary to this song. It’s a shame because this non sequitur detracts from the overall message of the song, which I really liked up until that point.

My favorite track on Harmony Cure is “Terrorist of Time,” one of the more upbeat songs and the track that brings the most ska-flavor to the ep. Lyrically, the imagery in this song stands out as provocative and socially conscious. The implication here is that the terrorists of time are us. We have polluted the water, destroyed the forests, and lost our ability to appreciate the beauty of nature. Although this is hardly a revolutionary or new declaration, the song works because it never explicitly says “We are the bad guys!” Instead, it lays out the evidence for the listener and lets them ascertain for themselves who the “terrorists of time” really are.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for all of the tracks on Harmony Cure. “Smile Shield” in particular suffers from the band thinking it’s much deeper and profound than it really is. The image of hiding behind fake smiles is a stale and overused cliché. Captain Squeegee seems to think they are “red-pilling” the masses, but instead they come across as angsty and shallow on this song.

The closing track, “Ghost Ships,” brings the message about the significance of music full circle. One lyric that resonated with me was, “we use different hearts, but the art makes us feel the same.” This statement on the ability of art to make us empathize better with each other is what Harmony Cure is all about. It also doesn’t hurt that the song is catchy and makes great use of dynamic contrasts.

At its best, Harmony Cure offers interesting critiques of society and heartfelt statements on the importance of music. At its worse, Harmony Cure stumbles as it tries too hard to be “woke.” But even when concepts behind songs don’t land perfectly, Captain Squeegee’s latest  is undeniably fun. From wildly funky beats, to fusion jazz flourishes, to keyboard breakdowns, this album has a little bit of everything for everyone. Besides, aren’t you curious what a band named Captain Squeegee has to offer?

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard: Polygondwanaland – Album Review

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King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard have returned with their fourth studio album of 2017, Poygondwanaland. Considering their already enormous output this year, how do they manage to make this new album stand out? Well for one, this sprawling prog-rock-influenced concept album is free. That’s right, you can go download the album and its art work from their website http://kinggizzardandthelizardwizard.com/ right now. The digital master, a CD master, and even a vinyl master (for those interested in pressing their own wax) are all included. With the release of Polygondwanaland the band triumphantly announced, “We do not own this record. You do. Go forth, share, enjoy.” 

As soon as it was announced that people can do whatever they want with Polygondwanaland, creative fans quickly took to the internet and have already done some incredible things with the album. For example, a back cover was not included with the artwork, so people online have designed and shared their own back covers. Others have even made their own music videos for their favorite songs on the album. Releasing Polygondwanaland in the manner that the band did has allowed an unprecedented level of interaction between the music and the fans.

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Back cover by Reddit user epicwhyguy

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Back cover by Reddit user crunch_be

As for the music itself, Polygondwanaland feels much more complete and expansive than the band’s last album did. One of my major complaints regarding their previous album, Sketches of Brunswick East, was its meandering quality. Although I liked Sketches, many of the songs were short and felt underdeveloped.

This problem is addressed on Polygondwanaland right off the bat with the song “Crumbling Castle,” an impeccably composed and tightly woven ten-minute track. The opening song never falters or loses focus, instead driving forward constantly and immersing the listener into the strange world of the album. An emphasis is placed on unusual rhythms in this song and on the album as a whole. An unwavering bass line and propulsive percussion keep the momentum of the song steady as everything swirls and swells into a distortion-drenched apocalyptic conclusion. As an introduction to the rest of the album, this song wastes no time in establishing a mysterious and grand tone.

The opener is preceded by the title track, “Polygondwanaland” which continues the feeling of wonder and discovery. Ethereal flutes carry this song seamlessly into “The Castle in the Air.” Both of these tracks feature some of the harmonica that King Gizzard has become known for, but they also implement more electronic elements. Pulsating synths and mellotron add color and evoke an orbiting space-like feeling.

One of my personal favorite moments on the album is toward the end of “Deserted Dunes Welcome Weary Feet” where the synthesizer is unleashed to its full potential and allowed to steal the show. The other instruments drop away, exposing the electronic loop and creating a great dynamic contrast. Initially, it sounds like something out of a classic John Carpenter soundtrack (or Stranger Things since its 2017). Then the drums kick in with the bass, adding a layer on top of the synths. Staccato keyboard, howling sirens, and wailing drones combine, crescendoing and swelling like waves pounding against a rocky beach. Finally, everything collapses into itself; the sounds are reduced to a clicking, and then, nothing.

In the second half of the album, “Loyalty” stands out to me for its ominous introduction. The harrowing and oppressive walls of sound and the buried clacking at the beginning of this track made me feel the same way that “On the Run” from Dark Side of the Moon makes me feel. There is an overwhelming sense that something dangerous and unsettling is closing in and time is running out. The lyrics sound like a desperate plea, “Where’s the loyalty?” All of these elements create a suffocating feeling of paranoia.

The album starts to drag a little bit during “Tetrachromacy,” which is one of the weakest points on the album. The song revolves around the concept of unlocking another color not perceivable by humans. Although I can appreciate what the band is doing with the vocal harmonies here, this song seems to lag behind the beat when compared to the rest of the album. As a result, “Tetrachromacy” loses the momentum of the music and fails to stay interesting.

Fortunately, the album picks up again just in time for the last song, “The Fourth Color.” The rhythms fall back into place, fitting together tightly like puzzle pieces in a mosaic. This song is mostly solid, but I am a little bit confused as to why this last track fizzles out into a false ending. At first, I incorrectly thought the song was finished. The instruments disappear into a barely audible wind sound, which lasts about thirty seconds, before suddenly exploding into a short outro reminiscent of “Robot Stop” from Nonagon Infinity. Perhaps this ending serves as a connection to the larger “Gizzverse,” but it feels very tacked on.

Polygondwanaland is a fun adventure of an album packed with many things to love. The overall tone and atmosphere of the album sucked me in immediately. I was engrossed from first track, and Polygondwanaland kept me enthralled through most of the journey. Unfortunately, the first half of the album is much more consistent than the second half. Looking back at King Gizzard’s discography, they have delivered so many great opening tracks, but not as many great closing tracks. The band has already proved that they are talented, and they worked hard to deliver four albums in 2017, but I can’t help but feel that they can still do better. None of the albums they released in 2017 are their best album. Yes, they have released some of their best songs this year, but as a whole, all of these albums have their flaws. In 2018, I would like to see King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard take a breather and take their time making their next album. Otherwise, they will never surpass Nonagon Infinity or I’m In Your Mind Fuzz. I know they are capable of making their best album yet in 2018 if they put their minds to it.