I'm a music blogger, critic and photographer, who has had articles and photos published in Downbeat, Premier Guitar Magazine, Brooklyn Magazine, The New York Press, New York Magazine's Vulture Blog, Ins&Outs Magazine, The Noise Beneath the Apple, Glide Magazine, The Whiskey Dregs Magazine and others.
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Emerging The Hague, The Netherlands-based dream pop duo Maida Rose — songwriting partners Roos Meijer and Javièr den Leeuw — have spent the past five years writing and recording material in the attic of den Leeuw’s childhood home. And this year, they began sharing their songs with the world: Informed by the duo’s own adolescent experiences, their material lyrically and thematically touches upon love (both old and new), their struggles with depression and other related feelings and sensations.
The duo released “Within” earlier this year, and they’ve followed up with their least single “Every Day Is Blue,” a hook-driven bit of playful dream pop centered around shimmering guitars, a sinuous, feel good groove and Meijer’s coquettish vocals and an ironically melancholy melody. Sonically, their newest single will continue a run of material that will draw comparisons to the likes of Cigarettes After Sex, Beach House and others, “Every Day Is Blue” is a playful song about not feeling understood while suffering from depression.
“Depression is something that is hard to grasp if you’ve never suffered from it. I remember that I found it really challenging to communicate with friends and family who clearly had no idea of what it was like,” Maida Rose’s Roos Meijer explains. “They tried their best to say the right thing and to cheer me up, but it sometimes felt like they were unconsciously trivialising the state that I was in.”
“At the time the only thing that you want to do is curl up underneath a blanket and dissapear. I think deep down you know that this won’t do any good, but it’s a piece of knowledge that you’re trying to ignore.
“That’s why we decided to make the song quite playful; to highlight the contrast within. It’s almost a bit rebellious, which is an attitude that I remember vividly from adolescence, which is the main theme of the whole [upcoming] album.”
The duo is putting on the finishing touches on their self-produced full-length debut Tales of Adolescence, which is slated for release early next year.
Mathias Engwall is a Gothenburg-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer, mixer and mastering engineer. He has been busy over the years: he has done remixes for Lonely Dear and a list of others, and he has collaborated with CYAMO‘s David Ahlen and a handful of others. Engwall is also the creative mastermind behind the Swedish dream pop recording project Llawagne (pronounced Luv-nyay).
With Llawgne, Engwall has released a number of critically applauded, commercially successful singles including:
2019’s “The White In Its Eyes,” which found its way onto the Swedish PSL Top 20 and several major playlists, with the song revealing a penchant for strong melodies within a stormy yet beautiful shoegazer soundscape.
Engwall’s latest Llagwne single “Oh Juliana,” off his forthcoming, full-length debut Nevereveries is a hook-driven slice of 90s alt rock and shoegaze, centered around chiming and reverb-drenched guitars and thunderous drumming within a classic grunge rock song structure: alternating dreamy verses and rousingly anthemic, noisy choruses.
“‘Oh Juliana’ is a song about falling in love with a famous person – you get a crush on the public persona, not the real person,” Engwall explains. “It’s the safest kind of love – you will never meet them and you can never let each other down.” Engwall adds, “Oh and Juliana is, Juliana Hatfield that I have a very safe distant crush on. I stole the whole nineties grunge sound from her. I love you Juliana!”
Nevereveries is slated for an October 29, 2021 release through Declared Goods.
Sydney-based outfit act Low Life — initially founding trio Mitch Tolman, Cristian O’Sullivan and Greg Alfaro — exploded into the national and international punk scene with the release of their full-length debut, 2014’s Dogging.
The Aussie punk outfit’s sophomore album 2019’s Downer Edn (read as Downer Edition) was written and recorded over a two year period. The album saw the band expanding from a trio to a quintet with the attention of Oily Boys‘ and Orion‘s Dizzy Daldal (guitar) and Yuta Matsumura (guitar), who actually rejoined the band. The lineup change followed for Tolman to take up vocal duties full-time. But additionally, the album reviewed a decidedly radical change in sonic direction towards a more post-punk and New Wave-inspired sound.
Low Life’s highly-anticipated third album From Squats to Lots: The Agony & XTC of Low Life is slated for a November 5, 2021 release through Goner Records in North America, ALTER in the UK and the European Union and Lulu’s in Australia. The band has a lengthy statement on the album, “Notes on How To Listen To The Agony and XTC of Low Life,” which you can check out below:
NOTES ON HOW TO LISTEN TO The AGONY AND XTC OF LOW LIFE:
1. Some records hit you with an instant impression of timeless brilliance, and Low Life’s Dogging is one of those records, what the wise call “an instant classic”.
2. From Squats to Lots: The Agony and the XTC of Low Life is more like their second album Downer Edn (read Edition), a little more withdrawn, a little more textured. Complex. Rich. Which is to say: you’re going to need some time with it.
3. Some show, some grow. Low Life have done both. This one is a grower. Spend some time with this one. It’s got that nuanced flavour. Don’t guzzle. Sip. Savour.
4. Sip it, and sense the recurring brilliance of Mitch Tolman’s lyrics, exploring the usual territory of gutter life, lad life, punk life, low life. The dirge. Disgust and shame in white Australia. Council housing, bills piled to the neck, substance abuse and rehabilitation, the fallen lads and lasses who stood too close to the flame, loss and loneliness, from squats to lots. Un-Australian gutter symphony.
5. There is a celebration of resilience and that’s a central theme of this record and a time like ours needs a record like Agony & XTC. Low times are coming through, but if you’re low they won’t get to you.
6. Iggy Pop’s Bowie produced studio rock masterpieces The Idiot and Lust For Life are important reference points to the 3rd album sounds of Low Life. Here comes success!
7. The Agony and Ecstasy is a 1985 novel by Irving Stone about the life of Italian Renaissance painter Michelangelo. Stone wrote another novel about the single eared painter Vincent Van Gogh called Lust For Life. This synchronicity hit me.
8. Iggy and the Stooges are a pretty safe reference for Low Life (and all good rock music). Iggy and the Stooges are a low life’s Michelangelo, but solo Iggy like Lust for Life is a better reference for this particular incarnation of Low Life, which is to say they are studio rock albums.
9. Bowie later referred to this period of his life as profoundly nihilistic. But Iggy looked at it as the period of his life that saved him from an early grave. This confrontation is Low life lore.
10. Let’s stick to this, because there’s something about this era of Bowie that makes sense with Low Life’s new album, particularly Low. One should never miss the Low in our new album from Low Life. Producer and studio boss Mickey Grossman has the ear for the Low, and he has carved out a little statue of David right here.
11. Mickey’s ears are recording, mixing and producing the best of Sydney, most notably the Oily Boys Cro Memory Grin. A great companion record to this one. Use Agony & XTC AFTER Oily Boys. Not on an empty stomach, and don’t try to operate heavy machinery (bobcat, bulldozer etc).
12. The relationship between Low Life and Sydney hardcore should not be understated, but it also shouldn’t guide how to listen to Agony & XTC. This is not austere, disciplined music.
13. Think, like, if Poison Idea were given the kind of studio time and budget as Happy Mondays. You wouldn’t play it to a teenager. It’s not for children. This is a mature flavour, one for the adults who have had to contend with failure and hardship, medical bills and disappointed family members, betrayed lovers and worrisome growths, police brutality and tooth decay, humiliating bowels and collapsed septums, detoxing and drying out, for those who have seen themselves as corrupted and putrid and unloveable, for those who endure all of this and aren’t willing to lie down and cop it sweet: Low Life are still here and they ain’t going nowhere.
NOTES ON HOW NOT TO LISTEN TO AGONY AND XTC OF LOW LIFE:
1. Don’t think of shoe-gaze. It suggests a safe passage to 90’s reminiscences, a vogue style of our time, but nothing to do with Low Life style. Low Life style is always of its time. The content changes. Agony & XTC shares weight of records like My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless and Slowdive’s Kebab, records that were laboured on after the songs were recorded, songs that were written as they were recorded.
2. We can call these “studio albums” as opposed to albums built in the heat of live performance. Studio albums from the 90’s are called shoe-gaze by some journalist nerds, but we know better than to use words like this.
3. Studio albums are excessive and, at the same time, so empty. Agony & XTC, Loveless, Kebab,Rumours: excessive! And empty. This is not to suggest this is Low Lite, some throwback, soft. A band like Low Life can make an overproduced studio rock album without having to use the word shoe-gaze. So, don’t think studio albums mean anything especially 90’s. Don’t look back.
4. Let’s lose these distasteful labels, like “shoe-gaze”, “rehab rock”, “stab”, “guitar OD overdrive”, “western Sydney wonder”. They can fade out. A low life was once referred to as a vagabond. Who uses this term today? Nobody. Language can murder. Words can die. Kill ‘em all!
Last month, I wrote about Low Life’s From Squats to Lots: The Agony & XTC of Low Life‘s first single, “Agony & XTC,” a Sisters of Mercy and Chain of Flowers-like breakneck ripper. centered around shimmering and reverb-drenched power chords and world weary and heartbroken snarl.
The album’s second and latest single is the brooding “Hammer & The Fist.” Centered around shimmering and pedal-effected guitars, the new single finds the acclaimed Aussie outfit hinting at classic shoegaze, much like Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine but while paired with a production that has the overall sound and aesthetic feel mammoth yet claustrophobic and uneasily intimate.
Since initially forming in Bloomington, IN over a decade ago, the rising Los Angeles-based psych rock outfitFrankie and the Witch Fingers — featuring core trio Dylan Sizemore (vocals), multi-instrumentalist Josh Menashe and Shaughnessy Starr (drums) — have developed and honed a reputation for restless experimentation, multiple permutations and a high-powered, scuzzy take on psych rock, centered around absurdist lyrical imagery, often fueled by hallucinations, paranoia and lust. The end result is material that manages to be simultaneously mischievous and menacing. When Shaughnessy Starr joined, the band went through another of their many sonic permutations, which resulted in a lysergic and claustrophobic sound rooted in Black Sabbath-like riffage.
The band’s most recent full-length effort, Monsters Eating People Eating Monsters . . . was last released last year through Greenway Records and Levitation Festival‘s label The Reverberation Appreciation Society. Recorded in a breakneck five-day recording session, Monsters Eating People Eating Monsters . . . features much more insidious, evil and ambitious material while capturing the band in the midst of massive personnel changes: longtime bassist Alex Bulli left the band, and as a result, Josh Menashe wound up writing and playing most of the material’s bass parts with occasional contributions from Dylan Sizemore. Much like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard‘s Infest the Rats Nest, Frankie and the Witch Fingers’ latest effort sees the band writing expansive and maximalist material — with fewer moving parts.
Since the release of Monsters, the band has been busy writing and recording new material, including the “Cookin'” seven inch, which was released through Greenway Records and The Reverberation Appreciation Society today. “Cookin'” further cements the Los Angeles-based psych outfit’s long-held reputation for psych rock centered around scorching riffage. Paired with a punchy baseline and a rousingly anthemic sing-along chorus, “Cookin'” manages to be a rollicking party starter — but the good time vibes are superficial, as the song thematically calls out humanity’s obliviousness, greed and wastefulness,
Directed by Alfredo Lopez, the recently released video for “Cookin'” features three badass women, who gleefully inflict all kinds of chaos and destruction wherever they go, while doing a shit ton of drugs and drinking way too much booze.
“‘Cookin’ is a visceral and violent snapshot of three agents of chaos who gleefully inflict destruction and terror wherever they go,” the members of Frankie and The Witch Fingers explain. “They are personifications of the brutality of nature, the wrath of humanity, and the cruel unpredictability of reality. Havoc incarnate, they weave a path of wanton destruction and utter wastefulness throughout a sweaty, summer day in Los Angeles. The significance of moral values, of good and evil, are entirely human constructs; in nature it’s only kill or be killed — and leave the remains for someone else to clean up. The themes behind this song and video are a rumination on the ways in which we are carelessly laying waste to the resources we were gifted. Nature is relentless, humans are destructive, and everything decays eventually. The planet doesn’t belong to us, we belong to the planet, and she’ll be here long after we’re gone.”
Led by Frank Corr, the rising indie pop/dream pop act Morning Silk can trace its origins back to when Corr was studying Architecture at The Rhode Island School of Design: Initially conceived as a side project while school took up most of his time, Corr was inspired to seriously pursue music once again after listening to MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular and Congratulations.
Most of the early material was mainly just guitar but the project’s sound and aesthetic gradually began to materialize when Corr linked up with Matthew Lancaster (bass, production). The ideas they started working on desperately needed drums. Robert Norris (drums) joined the project, and as a trio they began playing almost every venue across Rhode Island. Simultaneously, Corr was busy collecting gear, so they could build a studio in NYC. Immediately upon their graduation, the trio relocated to New York and landed jobs in order to finance their studio.
Working with a number of producers including Matthew Lancaster, Eamon Ford, Robert Norris and Caroline Sans, the rising New York-based indie pop/dream pop outfit’s full-length debut is slated for release later this year. The album’s first single “Don’t Try Hard Enough” is a dreamy hook driven bop centered around glistening synths, sinuous bass lines, Corr’s plaintive vocals, layered harmonies. While sonically bringing — to my ears, at least — MGMT and Tame Impala to mind, “Don’t Try Enough” as the band explains is a gentle reminder to the listener that it’s never too late to change the path and course of your life, to do what you want; you’ll just have to work for it more than ever, if you really want it.
“I wrote this song in the midst of quarantine,” Morning Silk’s Frank Corr recalls. “I learned a lot about myself and what it means to switch out your everyday routine for something you’ve always wanted to explore. It’s the same as anything but you have to make sure you’re putting everything into it, and no matter how much you give it might still not be enough for you. That’s how you know you’ve found something special.”
Perth-based dream pop duo and JOVM mainstays The Money War — married duo Carmen and Dylan Ollivierre — can trace their origins to a road trip that the pair took across the States in 2015. During their trip, they were so inspired that they wrote and recorded a ton of iPhone demos. After a chance meeting with producers Thom Monahan and Arne Frager in a San Francisco dive bar, the duo were convinced of the value of their demos, and began to further flesh out their material, which eventually lead to their full-length debut, 2019’s Home.
The Olliverres have been rather busy over the past 18 months or so: They released their sophomore, full-length Morning People. They signed a global publishing deal with Mirror Music/BMG. They had a baby. And then they released two standalone singles, the Still Corners meets 80s Bruce Springsteen-like “Miles Away” and “Zoom.” Interestingly, during all of that, the Perth-based JOVM mainstays managed to write and record their forthcoming EP Blood, which is slated for a November 5, 2021 release.
The EP’s first single, title track “Blood” is a deliberately crafted, 70s AM rock and Nashville country inspired song prominently featuring Carmen Ollivierre’s achingly plaintive vocals, twinkling keys, gently layered harmonies, a twangy yet soulful electric guitar solo. But at its core the song is centered around the duo’s unerring knack for writing infectious hooks and introspective lyrics that come from deeply lived-in places and experiences. In”Blood,” the song finds its narrator reflecting on the complexities of familial relationships, bloodlines, genetics and dysfunctional patterns, with its narrator, a new parent wondering about the age old debate of nature vs. nature while worrying that they might screw their child up, the way they were screwed up.
“It’s written about the complexity of family relationships and bloodlines, and delves into the nature vs nurture debate I suppose,” The Money War’s Carmen Ollivierre explains in press notes. ” The character in the song has a very tricky relationship with their parents and they’re reflecting on whether they will become like them or learn from them. I think having a kid makes you think about things differently and we’ve been watching our song grow and change, with different characteristics starting to show through from both of us. It’s a topic that both of us have been thinking about a lot”
Continuing their ongoing collaboration with Dan Beard, the recently released video for “Blood” employs a simple concept: We get intimate footage of Carmen and Dylan Ollivierre performing the song with their backing band performing the song in studio.