On April 16th Captured Tracks are releasing a bundle of goodies all dedicated to The Wake. The collection will include, On Our Honeymoon and Crush The Flowers, two records decidedly difficult to locate due to their release dates- 1982 and 1989 respectively, straddling the band’s tenure at Factory Records. Included in the bundle is a split 7” from labelmates Wild Nothing and Beach Fossils. Wild Nothing’s cover of choice, ‘Gruesome Castle’ provides an interesting task for Tatum and co as they attempt to re-create a sound very similar to their own. Meanwhile, fresh from the promising What A Pleasure, Beach Fossils try their hand at the sultry ‘Plastic Flowers’.
Whereas most music creates or at least retells stories, Alex Zhang Hungtai and his home brand nostalgia is in itself a fiction. The pseudonym Dirty Beaches merely provides the catch; a western moniker to hide a somewhat unmarketable Taiwanese birth name. This is however where Hungtai’s dismissal of his own identity begins and ends.
Hungtai once admitted that that it was film, not music that first inspired him as an artist. An appreciation for the visual is apparent in the faded sepia portraits that framed the pre-release tracks from Badlands- the pencilled faces of his mother and father adorning their covers. Video footage of Dirty Beaches is similarly muddy, serving as the visual epitome of the band’s lo-fi sonics. Were we to judge the book by its proverbial cover, the most rational conclusion would be that such a presentation is true representation of Hungtai’s inner most urges- the desire to reupholster the old upon the walls of progress. In making this judgement however, a disservice is being paid to the film maker. Biographical films are rarely eponymously titled, so why should Dirty Beaches be any different?
Badlands is not Dirty Beaches’ debut as most would have you believe, yet it is Hungtai’s first as a self proclaimed ‘pop singer’. Like many contemporaries, sampling of 60’s artists provides the melody upon which Hungtai can layer his personal staples of lo-fi reverb and delay. Never is this more evident than in the bravado soaked coda to ‘Sweet 17’ in which his swollen vocals cut the tape, leaving behind nothing but the burnt aftermath of last night’s sentiments. Into the void comes the Undertones reminiscent ‘A Hundred Highways’, simultaneously exuding Elvis croon in equal dosage to punk braggadocio. ‘A Hundred Highway’s’ exultancy does however signal the end of the record’s driven beginning, bringing with it a lull into ballad harmonies and romantic tones.
Personally speaking, tracks 5 and 6 save Badlands from mediocrity. Not that the opening lives unappreciated, I just feel that Hungtai is at his most comfortable in these blissful clouds where instead of clashing with his production, the songwriting and effects truly complement one another. Just as for many other lo-fi artists, reducing the discordance between melody and fidelity appears to be the key to stopping tracks weighing ten tonnes apiece. Here the result is startling in its change of direction yet refuses to abandon the structures and approach that define the album. Although high points remain amongst the rest, during ‘True Blue’ and ‘Lord Knows Best’ Hungtai’s artistry least borders artisanal incessancy.
In truth, Dirty Beaches probably should have stuck to this formula for the whole of this record. Somehow Hungtai hasn’t quite managed to mash together the moving images that seethe behind a producers eye, just waiting to reach fruition in their eventual incarnation. Cinematically, Badlands does nothing but cement Dirty Beaches sentimental values, blurring memory onto century old photographic paper. Sadly, the paper feels like it has worn too thin and the colours have all but blurred together. What is left however is a perfectly marketable painting, a perfectly watchable film, only lacking in the sense that its not quite the coherent and interesting artwork that it should have been.
Chillwave is dead. Forget glo-fi. It’s summery weather again, and beach-pop still sucks. As shallow a movement as its lyrical depth and the gently lapping waves it paddled in, it is categorically, undeniably and irrevocably finished. Because, after all, come on guys, there’s surely a new trend to sink your teeth into just around the corner, one that requires one or two modicums of intellect to access and enjoy, one that doesn’t lull you into a forgiving acceptance of mediocrity, (how do people enjoy Best Coast?) and (hopefully) one that doesn’t have such a tenuously structured aesthetic rooted in faux-nostalgia and ironic Sun-worshipping. Throw away those retro-effect evening beach shots (we know you did them in Photoshop, anyway) and awaken to the fact that reveling in your white, suburban, beach-orientated existence is no longer socially relevant while they’re behaving so admirably and uh, “un-chill” in North Africa.
By now you already think I’m selfish and demanding and impatient and misunderstanding of the objectives of chillwave so ‘whatever’, let me just articulate further/bludgeon my point a little deeper into your skull. I truly believe that there is so much to celebrate in the magnificence of nature, when framed by sunlight, that it’s frankly offensive that the absolute magnum opus of this genre amounts to ‘the sun was high / and so am I’ and lines of comparable weight. Where is the evocative imagery? Where are the vivid landscapes of colour, the exultation of beauty au naturel, the shy intrusion of solar glare on these sonic summer photographs? With such a vast palette of sensual experience to draw from, how is it possible that I still feel confined to my room when I listen to these songs? (Is this 300-word strong review of a record I have not yet addressed going to consist entirely of frustrated rhetorical questions?)
I do not ask for complexity. The opposite will more than suffice; a five-word repeated mantra often says a lot more than multiple verses, too preoccupied with their own intellect to amount to something relatable. And honestly, “All the Sun that Shines” doesn’t do all that terrible job of reaching such an endpoint. The gorgeous epiphany of sound, the unhurried peripheral butterflies, the closure of eyelids, the embracing of warmth, brushing of field flowers on uncovered skin, waves of time irrelevant in such a spacious context. Five minutes become one.
Honestly, I can and do often tire of taking in copious amounts of new music. Never, however, can I tire of feeling – an appeal to the senses is an undeniable, inescapable appeal, and in 936, Peaking Lights have made an album I can feel. I stop being so flipping ordinary when I hear these songs; I stop existing as a physical entity altogether, in places. It may not be my place to detail such hallucinatory visions (don’t many people hold true that the most boring thing you can listen to is another person’s dream?) but I can certainly assume the role of directing anybody reading, to formulate their own interpretations when ‘feeling’ their way through this album. Though chillwave as a concept may be becoming decadent, this dub-inflected, amoebic entry is probably still part of the genre, wherever the inclinations of my heart would prefer it to be placed.
That there are songs on here called “Marshmellow Yellow” and “Tiger Eyes (Laid Back)” – potentially the most forward, downright groovy track on the album – shows a sense of self-awareness contained within this blissful mix. Calling a track on a fully-fledged record a ‘dub version’ is possibly even a touch of wry irony; that Peaking Lights recognise referential touchpoints and natural genre exploration within their own music speaks volumes for itself, especially when attempting to explain exactly why they sound like the epitome of a sound they were arguably too late to encapsulate. Forum stalwarts and bloggers alike may point to the fact that it is no longer 2008, and they’re right; it’s 2011, and Peaking Lights are making an inane brand relevant again. From the horribly clashing vibrancy of the album artwork to the textural feel of their refreshing music, the message is strikingly simple – beyond the image, and into the sound.
Although the eponymous Timber Timbre was the band’s first record released in Britain, the imminent Keep On Creepin’ On will be their fourth long play in total. In many ways, the previously mentioned Timber Timbre served as the Canadian’s debut- the mainstream breakthrough upon which the approaching effort must build. On first listen, the new effort remains pretty claustrophobic, continuing to exude the same bassy delta tones and plinky blues piano, high up in the mix. All of Timber Timbre‘s work is certainly in tune with their forested surrounding, yet remains darker, tenser and more dense than that of other woodland recluses. I cannot help but compare singer Taylor Kirk’s vocals to Win Butler’s, the Texas via Montreal accent definitely carries through into Kirk’s dramatised delivery. Decide for yourself whether the ‘cinematic landscapes’ of Keep On Creepin’ On are a step too far by streaming the record on Spinner, anticipated for the 5th Of April.
Listening to new track ‘Ponzi’, all we can assume is that The Felice Brothers have taken a totally different direction for their new record. From its very beginning, there is evidence that ‘Ponzi’ doesn’t belong anywhere in the band’s back collection- its pulsing kick drum and jazzy piano creating a much darker ambiance than anything the band have offered before. Hearty synth lines and danceable, dare I say grimy bass lines certainly provide a different feel from the joyous folk melodies that shot these New Yorkers from subway busking to a deal with Fat Possum. However, the collective charm that ran through their acoustic work remains on show, and after three relatively similar records, maybe it was time for a change. Catch Celebration, Florida on May 10th and listen to both ‘Ponzi’ and an unreleased personal favourite from the band’s past.
I know that this gorgeous video is already everywhere but what the heck, ‘Grown Ocean’ meets ‘Hopelessness Blues’ and the fantastic ‘Battery Kinzie’ as tasters from Fleet Foxes’ second LP, out May 3rd on Sub Pop Records. Robin Pecknold claims that amongst other instruments, ‘the 12-string guitar, the hammered dulcimer, zither, upright bass, wood flute, tympani, Moog synthesizer, the tamboura, the fiddle, the marxophone, clarinet, the music box, pedal steel guitar, lap steel guitar and Tibetan singing bowls’ all feature on the new record, heavily inspired by Van Morrison and other 60’s folk artists. Latest offering ‘Grown Ocean’ does not skimp on the grandeur nor the vocal harmonies that so popularised the band’s widely regarded 2008 debut. Enjoy the beautiful visuals above.
Despite NME’s continual desire to unearth the next great British guitar band, Britpop is not alive and well. That an era defining genre is all but dead should be sad, yet somehow I could not care less whether or not bands like The Vaccines ‘are the only ones with bollocks’ for attempting to redefine what it means to play four chords on a red fucking strat. Were Britpop’s older brother- the late eighties Madchester scene- to see the current state of the city’s music, I doubt it would be best impressed. Bands like The Stone Roses were epochal in the scene’s establishment whilst in ‘Elephant Stone’ Manchester found a new direction into which bands could grow without merely recycling Morissey lyrics. Unfortunately, 20 years and countless Oasis albums have taken their toll on Madchester, leaving the city a shell of its former self. 2010 did however bring one hope for resurrection –WU LYF.
As little as anyone knows about WU LYF (World Unite Lucifer Youth Foundation), their few released tracks have made quite the impact. The outfit combine symbology, iconography and mystery to curate a glamour that self publicising egos cannot create with bravado alone. The description of ‘heavy pop’ is almost perfect in elucidating the dark swirling guitars and organs that comprise WU LYF’s dream pop back line. Meanwhile the anonymous singer’s unintelligibly barked vocals add a real drama to the preexisting grandiose. The collective aren’t short of a hook either, ‘Heavy Pop’ contains an absolute gem of a drum beat whilst ‘Concrete Gold’ succeeds in delivering an emotive and hummable refrain.
Soon to play shows in New York, WU LYF’s stock has risen to a point at which they have actively rejected offers from significant labels. They have instead chosen to self release new album Go Tell Fire To The Mountain- probably in order to maintain the outsider appeal and creative freedom larger companies fail to foster. Watch the video below in which the band reveal the record’s release date (13th of June) via HEALTH style drumming and primal imagery.