REVIEW: Sheer – “Uneasy”

sheeruneasy

One of the downsides to being a shitty 30 year old is that I remember the 90s. This has made the latest trend of bands playing 90’s alternative influenced music a bit challenging. It’s music I’m hyper familiar with, as it was music I grew up with. I definitely have blindspots, but those have been filled in over the years. Bands like Sheer are really interesting to me. I see what they are doing, and it hits all the marks I want to see a band hit. They manage to take influence without being derivative and repetitive.

Coming strong right out the gate, Sheer play shoegaze/dream pop filtered through fuzzy alternative. There are similarities to bands like Lush and Galaxie 500. There is some Jesus And Mary Chain and The Breeders in there too. They take those influences and put their own heart behind it. Uneasy, as a record, is a great melding of the past and the present. But, that is really a roundabout way of describing sound. More simply, there is a great mixture of dense, thick guitars and more delicate, melodic ones. The guitar never gets too heavy on the old shoegaze shimmer. The sound is more reverb/distortion heavy than it is clean and swirling. Outside of that, there aren’t too many additional effects being used. “Orion” is probably the best example of things. The songs has a very powerful and dense build, it then hits a very melodic tone. The song shifts between the two extremes in a really great way. The vocals are also a strong selling point to me. Gina Almaguer has a great voice, and she can shift from strong/clear to the more genre standard “ethereal” vocals pretty seamlessly.

Sheer needs to get a lot of credit for making such a well worn genre sound crisp and clear. Gina Almaguer and Sean Sakamoto absolutely nail things on the guitar front. Anthony Quintero on bass and Jules Leon on drums keep everything on point and driving along. Uneasy is a record that shows a band working as a cohesive unit to make music that can get a bit loose and messy in less knowledgeable hands.

This is a record that has endless appeal to fans of all kinds of music. It takes a little from alternative, indie, shoegaze, and classic left-of-the-dial bands. It’s great, don’t sleep on it.

Sheer
The Native Sound
Bandcamp
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REVIEW: Field Mouse – “Hold Still Life”

fieldmouseI was briefly in Brooklyn last December. I was hoping that, in the week I was out, I’d be able to find out why there are so many great bands from there. My research was inconclusive. Let’s credit it to bridges or something. But, instead of a terrible conclusion based on terrible research skills, let’s talk about Field Mouse. Coming from the very fertile music scene in Brooklyn, they have made a record that will stand out from the pack. While the music they’re making fall into some very well tread tropes, they have managed to make the music their own.

Hold Still Life is a record that eschewed genre rules. You can call it a regular, adjective free indie rock record. You can call it an indie pop record. You can call it shoegaze, dream pop, or a million other genre tags that only nerds like me give a fuck about. All that shit aside, it is a good record. Hell, it’s a great record.

It’s the mixture of things that make it work. It’s an almost seamless mixture of straight ahead indie rock and dream pop/shoegaze. Songs can go from being driving to more dreamy and reverb heavy at the drop of a hat. You can have a song that is carried by guitars and drums lead into a song that is more reliant on synthesizers without missing a beat. The disparate styles are held together perfectly by the fantastic vocals of Rachel Browne. It’s driving and catchy, but then also a bit fuzzy and drawn out. Field Mouse is a band that exists in this weird open space where things that shouldn’t work somehow work.

The first three songs are a great example of the record as a whole. “A Place You Return To In A Dream” is a very straightforward rock song. “Water In The Valley” starts of with a great bass line, and has a more 90’s alternative (think The Breeders) sound to it. “Two Ships” is more driven by effects. It is a bit more spacey. And, really, the record carries on in this way for the remaining nine songs. “Netsuke,” which is right in the middle of the record, is all those things at once. Hold Still Life features a little from column A, and a little from column B. Then they throw in shit from column C through Z. Field Mouse are able to make it all work, and make it all make sense.

But, hell. It’s obvious that I really like this record. Field Mouse made a record that has so many things I love in one package. I mean, honestly. Hold Still Life is a record that you really should be listening to. Like, right now.

Field Mouse
Topshelf Record
BandCamp
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REVIEW: King Woman – “Dove/Fond Affections” (cassette single)

kingwomanKristina Esfandiari has been responsible for some of my favorite music this year. She just released an EP earlier this year, Halloween Dream, as Miserable. Now, as King Woman, we have the Dove / Fond Affections cassette single. It’s her second release under the King Woman moniker. It really reinforces the idea that she is a wellspring of creativity. While she is still best known from her days in Whirr, it’s her solo material that is really worth noting. It is going to be interesting, no matter what it’s released as. She is able to conceptualize music in a way that goes beyond most shoegaze/post-punk/post-rock/whatever. If those genres are built around creating moods in a non-conventional way, then she is one of the best out there right now.

There are a lot of similarities between King Woman and Miserable. This isn’t surprising considering the nature of the projects. Both have very drawn out, ethereal vocals. Both deal heavily in effects and non-traditional music. But, and this is very important, the overall way those pieces fit is very different. Miserable took a more traditional shoegaze sound and beefed it up by including some very dense, heavy music. King Woman deals more in ethereal psychedelia, with some post-punk and psych-folk added for flavor.

There are two songs on the new single. One is an original, one is a cover. The A-side, Dove, spans 15 minutes. It adds a new dimension to what King Woman does. It is a drawn out, slow-burn of a song. It feels more similar to her work as Miserable than it does her earlier King Woman songs. It is expansive and atmospheric. It never gets as dense as Miserable did, but it maintains some of the power. It’s a hauntingly beautiful song.

The B-side is a cover of Rema-Rema’s “Fond Affections.” The King Woman version that appears here is closer to the cover This Mortal Coil did than it is to the original (kind of). It’s a hell of a cover though. While remaining pretty true to the post-punk origins of it, this particular cover is has more a drone influence. It’s moody and engaging in all the best ways.

In fact, “engaging in all the best ways” is a great way to sum up this release as a whole. It is a must listen for anyone who likes their music ambient, unconventional, and experimental. Grab this while you can.**

King Woman
The Native Sound
BandCamp
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**As a result of being out on The Native Sound, this is a very limited release if you want it on a physical format. In this case, it’s a cassette with a limited run of 150. If that is something you’re interesting in, better act fast. Otherwise, you’re going to have to get it digitally.**

REVIEW: Miserable – “Halloween Dream”

miserableThe first thing I noticed about Halloween Dream is how much beauty and soul there is on the record. While Kristina Esfandari is constantly getting the ex-Whirr tag, her solo material is strong enough to kill that talking point. As a solo artist, as Miserable, she’s made one of the most engaging records I’ve heard in quite some time.

Halloween Dream is record that shows how “atmospheric” doesn’t always mean “light.” Esfandari’s ethereal vocals weave beautifully in and out of reverb heavy, distorted music. When playing this type of music, it’s easy to use the production as a crutch. The denseness can cover up songwriting deficiencies, the reverb, delays, and distortion can make boring music sound less boring. That’s why it’s great when you hear it done right.

It’s easy to get lost in the music. It’s easy to put a record like this on, and just let it take over. One of my favorite parts of the record is how, even without actively listening to the lyrics, you can tell exactly what is going on. Esfandari projects so much with just her vocal delivery. You can hear the emotion, desire, and regret in these songs.

I feel bad calling this just an “insert whatever genre” record. To call it just one thing or another feels too narrow. It can be ambient and melodic in one part, then fucking heavy and dense in another. If I had to call it something, I’m not sure what i’d say. Metallic shoegaze with post-rock flair? Sure, why the fuck not? It’s beautiful.

Miserable (Facebook)
The Native Sound
BandCamp
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REVIEW: Pity Sex – "Feast Of Love"

Pity Sex had to put out a great full length. There are a lot of bands doing this post-punk/shoegaze influenced thing right now, and to stand out in that field is a feat in and of itself. Pity Sex was able to do that here. They proved they had the chops to do it on the Dark World EP last year. Feast Of Love only pushes that further. They were able to build on that, and refine it further. The final product is really a treat to listen to.

Something has clicked on this record. It manages to play in the effect laden and heavily distorted stuff without getting lost in it. There are still great pop moments. It never gets as dense as some shoegaze bands typically do. It walks the line between the two worlds well. On the previous EP there was a disconnect between the songs Brennan Greaves sang lead on versus the songs Britty Drake sang lead on. That is no longer the case on this record. Everything feels more cohesive. The band sounding more unified really makes this record work.

But, while on the subject of the dual vocals, I really wish there was more interplay. That is my only issue. They only really share one song (“Drown Me Out”), save for a few choruses or whatever here and there. Even on that song it is just splitting up the verses. They fully utilize everything else. The dual guitars, though heavily distorted for the most part, are able to work together to create an interesting sound. The strong rhythm section is able to shine through and play a great part. The vocals sound great, but it feels like they are missing something.

But, that said, this is still a great record. It can jump around to various styles and genres without getting disjointed. There is some great 90’s alternative influence on songs like “Keep,” which gets as close to The Breeders territory as anything I’ve heard in awhile. There is the kind of indie/punk style showing on “Honey Pot.” There is some clean, shimmery guitar work on “Hollow Body.” While jumping around too much can lead to an unfocused record, they are able to keep it reigned in enough. It all works together. There really is a little bit here for everyone. You can call this indie rock, post-punk, dream pop, shoegaze, or really any other genre name you want. It does a disservice to say it is only one or the other though. It’s a record that showcases and melds many things together, but never sounds disjointed. That’s really the best thing about it.

Pity Sex
BandCamp
Run For Cover Records
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REVIEW: Belgrade – "Belgrade"

Belgrade has produced a great LP here. Taking cues from various genres, they have melded together a really satisfying full length. This is an almost picture perfect indie rock. While it plays a little like one of those throwback type records that were popular a few years ago, it never sounds shitty and dated. The sincerity is there.

Going with the retro-y indie pop, all the hallmarks are there. It never gets too dense, so it avoids becoming shoegaze. There is still a lot of fuzz effects. It also fluctuates over to a more spacey type of production. The echo and reverb are turned up. The guitars get pretty fucking shimmery at points.
A lazy point of comparison would be Pershing era Someone Still  Loves You Boris Yeltsin. Specifically on the the third song, “Truth Serum.” It reminds me a little of “Modern Mystery.” However, this manages to walk that line without crossing over. There is enough going on here to avoid it getting too kitschy. It’s got a vintage sound, by way of 1990’s alternative/indie. The record feels similar to those old post-punk records that Flood used to produce back in the day. It’s clean, but not sterile. The songs feature extended instrumental breaks, usually in regards to an into or outro. It stays consistently midtempo and restrained. The vocals are spot on. The harmonies are great. The backing vocals are strong, but never overwhelming.

Overall, this is a solid record. It has an appeal for all shades of indie rock and alternative fans. Given the line up of this band, that is really no surprise. There are former/current members of various Philly and Jersey bands. With the experience comes the ability to make tightly crafted songs with pop hooks and appeal. Check it out.

REVIEW: Center Of The Sun – "Machine Gun"

I feel like the new wave of shoegaze influenced bands get needlessly criticized. I guess the reason is because how revolutionary the genre was when it first started. I mean, come on, some of those shambling British bands just came way the fuck out of left field. In recent years we have seen a lot of bands mixing more spacious indie rock with the dense, fuzzed out shoegaze stuff. The Joy Formidable and The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart are great examples. In a similar way, Center Of The Sun has crafted a hell of a record.

Machine Gun is, at it’s heart, a pop record. While there are clear earmarks of the whole nouveau shoegaze thing, it never really insists on itself in the way some of these records do. While playing around with the genre norms, Center Of The Sun are able to maintain a pop edge. It can get kind of dense and gloomy sounding in spots, but there are some great melodies shining through.
What really makes this band so interesting is the very disparate range of bands all the members have been (or are currently in). Other projects run the gamut from metal to noise rock, to electro-pop. That such a wide array of projects could offshoot into something as fucking solid as this is kind of surprising.Everything just seems to mesh. Rick Contes’ and Chris Nolen’s guitars blend perfectly with Ally Hoffmann’s voice. The interplay is really fantastic. This shines through on songs like “Cease” and “Reckless Sea.” The rhythm section of Joe Elmore and Ben Gascho keep everything tight and moving.
For fans of the genre, there is absolutely something here for you. There are some great melodic, spacey bits in songs like “Turnabout.” There are some heavy, guitar led songs like “Reckless Sea” and “Home.” No matter what mood you’re in, they got you covered. Just great gloomy, fuzzy songs. There is a lot to like here.
In short, this record will appeal to all sorts of people. Indie rock fans, shoegaze fans, and even those chillwave nerds can get down to this. Check it out.