Some of the best writers are the laconic ones, the ones who sculpt with sparsity, whose instruments imbricate themselves just as deeply into silence as they do into sound. On In the Young Shadow of Girls in Flower, quietly released earlier this year on Houston's Sutra label, Barry Elkanick of Chalk plays, sings, and composes with a concise conviction, a muted and minimalist virtuosity. The cassette, barely over 20 minutes and decidedly sparse, feels infinitely spacious as its seven tracks yawn and stretch and palpitate into each other. From the chamber of lush guitar strumming of "Harmony in Red" to the plush synth territories mapped out by "Plateau," Chalk inscribes hollow spaces where resonating instruments and Elkanick's muffled vocals alike accrete into a sonic terrain as milky and commodious as his visual work. When Elkanick delivers the hooking question-chorus of "Dark Seam," the unintelligibility of his words colors the haptic indeterminacy of the record's landscape itself: it's impossible to tell whether Elkanick is talking about a "dark seam," a "dark scene," or a "dark seem." On the track, seeming becomes a scene becomes a seam that swathes sign and sound and silence into a space of pure feeling. For a record whose coy title warps that of Proust's second volume of his enormous opus InSearch of Lost Time, In the Young Shadow of Girls in Flower condenses the bourgeouis loquacity of one of modernism's foremost belletrists into something more tactile in its immediacy, something dry of excess yet impossibly sticky—something that coats the hands. Like chalk, perhaps.
Find the remaining cassettes of the limited release here, and stream the record in full below.
Princess Nokia flexes on "G.O.A.T." And she deserves it, too: coming off the explosive 1992 mixtape and riding high on a worldwide fanbase cemented by a blistering world tour, the New York rapper has earned a ride on her own coattails. And if the accompanying video for "G.O.A.T.," Destiny Frasqueri's first track since 1992, is any indication, Princess Nokia is enjoying her life at the top. Lounging on the three-wheel Polaris Slingshot as comfortably as she luxuriates over Wally West's icy throne of a beat, Frasqueri issues one-liners like edicts from a gold-bedecked (and gold-betoothed) monarch. Clad in "skinny jeans and a studded belt," Princess Nokia reminds us that she's become "that weird girl that's running shit."
When she stares at the camera and declares that she "changed rap forever, man," it's no coincidence that she includes the word "man." Eyes directed at the male-dominated, patriarchal industry, Frasqueri sets her sights on label bosses and other suits that stifle and marginalize femme voices, and brandishes normative signifiers of both masculinity and femininity to explode them both. Atop the rubble s(p)its Princess Nokia, festooned with a Yankees Cap and Air Force 1s.
"LILT" begins with funerary horns lurching over skittering snare shots. As this introduction foretells, "LILT" itself plays out as an exercise in extremes—juxtaposition, syncopation, and tension tremble across the turbulent surface of Mike Lockwood's new record on Driftless Recordings, BONEPOCKET. Described by the label as Lockwood's "debut instrumental album as a composer," the record also marks a stylistic departure for Driftless as the "first true Jazz release amongst many ambient / instrumental / experimental releases."
Rife with clamoring instrumentation and bombastic contrasts, "LILT" soundtracks a breaking of new ground, both in terms of Lockwood's personal progress as a composer and in purely sonic terms: "LILT" sounds like nothing else. Growing out of the quivering start, clarinets, saxophones, bass, and jazz guitar swell into focus, swirling into a disjunct latticework of competing sounds. As this assemblage reaches its sqeualing summit, it careens back down to its origin—its original sparsity—collapsing on its impressive yet unstable framework. In this fantastic reversal, Lockwood and his cohort settle back down into a lilt, the delightful horn threnody of the track's beginning. "LILT" reminds us that ecstasy is nice, but so is clarity, so is comfort.
BONEPOCKET, Mike Lockwood's debut on Driftless Recordings is out now. Stream the first track, "LILT," below.
There's a vastness that Cody Fitzgerald and company shoulder in "Gold Age," the new song off Stolen Jars' glint EP. From the very first organ chime to Fitzgerald's ecstatically hushed vocals, "Gold Age" communicates a subdued grandiosity in its artful sparseness. The streaky skyspaces of two landscapes—the pastel pink atop rocky soil and the chilly blue above an urban street at dusk—further convey this immensity in Jenelle Pearing's spectalur video for "Gold Age."
But this enormity neither weighs the song down nor crushes the glimmering moments that make Stolen Jars' catalog so precious. The skittering drum blasts, the impassioned yelps, and the syncopated guitar strumming all hint at microscopic imabalances that "Gold Age" elegantly glides across in its delicate agility. "Gold Age" retains a certain nimbleness, a nimbleness incarnated by Nora Alami's graceful spins and leaps in Pearing's video. Like the song itself, whose teetering instrumental elements seem to threaten a collapse as Fitzgerald's voice slides from a whisper to a yell, Alami's choreography nearly topples over itself: at one point, she appears to lose her balance before vainly attempting to prop herself up again.
Pearing's video, a companion to the visual album's track, dramatizes Stolen Jars' coming to terms with the sheer emotional force of its music. Quivering yet radiant, "Gold Age" swells into something more substantive than just visual and sonic surfaces, a synthesis of palettes more grandiose than the sum of its parts.
Lilting without lull, Multa Nox's latest track from her upcoming full-length Living Pearl, lusters. Propelled by a gentle momentum of clicks and sputters, the dreamy "i have not whispered everything i can bear" inhabits a milky sonic space lacquered with a textural richness of drone tones and vocal ornamentation. In this space, Brooklyn-based sound artist Sally Decker bathes her composition in a softness inflected with an incantatory grandiosity that swells along with the inertia of the gingerly shifting drone. The exact words that she utters remain blanketed in a gentle ambiguity: what flickers in and out could be some permutation of the words "just" and "end"—only the phonemic traces stand out amid the wash of sound.
Language, enunciated in Decker's whispers, becomes disentangled from signification, becomes vibration, becomes physical. And with that, her whispers bear an enormous weight: the ability to transform words into something sumptuous, something delectable.
Multa Nox's LP Living Pearl is out June 2 on NNA Tapes. Stream "i have not whispered everything i can bear" below.
Portland-based four piece Cool American plies a unique trade, somewhere between sneakily virtuosic slacker rock and overdriven power pop-punk in the vein of Tony Molina—an intersection embraced by the group in their cheeky self-identification as "dorito rock." On "Maui's," the latest transmission from Cool American's upcoming full-length Infinite Hiatus, both tendencies shine through, goading each other in a playful back-and-forth.
"Maui's" is a gentle recollection of a Saturday long past, strummed and lovingly recounted until it suddenly veers off course. A "twitch" Nathan Tucker describes becomes a genuine "warning" that the song might swerve out of control. And it does: as the subject tries to "have another drink and ignore" this premonition, this sense of pent-up tension, the song explodes in a wash of guitar pedal dissonance. But the new direction is neither aggressive nor unflattering: the heavier section retains the first's jaunty whimsy—albeit with a little more teeth.
Infinite Hiatus is out June 2 on Good Cheer Records. Listen to the premiere of "Maui's" below and be sure to catch Cool American play with Turtlenecked and Museum of Recycling at Alphaville June 25.
Miniature intimacies—from lingering family portraits shakily-camcorded pickup basketball games—constellate the sumptuous video accompanying Hand Habits' "Book on How to Change." The flickering graininess of the film casts a somber pallor over the gorgeous shots of snow-capped summits, RV lots, and domestic assemblages—conjuring the "world so grey" in which "the colors fade into another" that Meg Duffy's hushed lyrics envision. Capturing glimpses of the small-town "quotidian moments," as director Chantal Anderson describes in her artist's statement, the video documents a departure delicately unfolding into a gentle self-actualization. As the peripatetic protagonist arrives at a rocky outcropping just beyond city limits, she regally position herself atop a small summit and grasps the deep blue air around her, relishing a chance to start "messing" with her very own "dream." Like the song, a highlight from Hand Habits' recent Wildly Idle (Humble Before The Void), the heroine appears at ease upon her radiant perch. The rugged alpine landscape, ghost town urban decay, and spaghetti western closeups all attest to the sheer emotional intensity seething beneath the pattering drums and lilting vocals of Duffy's muted epic.
Wildly Idle (Humble Before The Void) is out now on Woodsist. Hand Habits is currently on tour with Mega Bog. See their dates below.
Mouth Mouth, the latest full-length transmission from New Zealand's Yeongrak, is infernal to the teeth. Swathed in contorted melodies, skeletal percussion, and incinerating distortion, the cryptic producer's latest interrogates the limits of what is sonically tolerable, shunting effect upon effects to create its hellish soundscape. Throughout much of the record, from the dully thumping opener, "ape rottin'" to the punishingly impenetrable closer, "shouldnt have a light fixture there anywy," Yeongrak shrouds the growls, burbles, and the palpitating beats in a thick saliva of filtration and mutilation. And like saliva, this distortion corrodes the structures, instruments, and voices trapped within its inexorable viscosity. Occasionally, Yeongrak swallows this strangulating spit, allowing the distortion to dissipate. At its most lucid, on cuts like "firstname.lastname@example.org" and "bandagey eggroll," a fractal, gurgling landscape irrupted by shards of shrieks, squelches, and synth stabs comes into focus. As infuriating as it is irresistable, Mouth Mouth has gnawed its way into becoming one of the most bizarre and rewarding releases of 2017.
Uniform released a powerful and harrowing video for "The Killing Of America," the NYC duo's second single off Wake In Fright, out yesterday on Sacred Bones. Its timing could not be more poignant—the video, which gives a hauntingly straight-forward look at the realities of gun violence, arrives on the day of President Trump's inauguration and casts yet another eerie shadow on the nation.
The video's concept was influenced by Isao Hashimoto's piece on nuclear weapons titled "1945 - 1998"— a simple map of the United States with a relentless ticker that counts off the never ending series of mass shootings the country has experienced. "Our video intends to present basic figures surrounding a complicated subject," says Uniform in a press release. "We do not wish to moralize and we offer no answers. Instead, we ask the viewer to use this data as an aid towards formulating their own conclusions."
Set to release their eleventh studio album FORGET on February 25 on Polyvinyl, art-pop masters Xiu Xiu debuted the video for their latest single "Jenny GoGo." The animated video is equally adsurd and foreboding as crude animations dance across a television static background for an eerie viewing that nudges you just out of your comfort zone. Lyrically dark yet cheeky verses like, “Too dead to be this dumb/ Too dead to be this young” steadily grow from whispers over drone-like synths until they explode into pulsing shrieks for a visceral throwback to coldwave.