Author: William Ruben Helms

I'm a music blogger, critic and photographer, who has had articles and photos published in 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.

New Video: Up-and-Coming Toronto-based Post-Punk act Releases Murky Visuals for Angular Album Single “Taking Pictures”

Currently comprised of Bria, Duncan, Lucas and Kris, the up-and-coming Toronto, Ontario, Canada-based post-punk quartet FRIGS have developed a reputation for a difficult to pigeonhole sound and approach that draws from the diverse array of influences each individual member brings  — and for a visceral live show that embraces the mercurial and experimental, as though built upon instinct and feel. 

The Canadian post-punk band’s self-produced full-length debut Basic Behavior was written and recorded over a 16-month period in two locations: the band’s home studio and Union Sound Company, and while lyrically the album is centered around Bria Salmena’s personal experience, the album is reportedly the product of several years of self-discovery as a unit. Naturally, recording at home allowed the band to take much-needed time to explore and experiment with sonic textures and production, and meticulously re-working their material. However, they felt that a degree of urgency was necessary to push them to finalize the album, and with engineer Ian Gomes, the band embraced the limitations of third-party studio time, which gave the sessions a sense of immediacy, and as a result, the album’s material is at points stark, chaotic, reflective and manic — often within a turn of a musical phrase. 

Basic Behavior’s latest single “Taking Pictures” features an arrangement based around propulsive drumming, slashing and angular bass and guitar chords, over which the band’s Salmena coos and howls throughout — while evoking a growing sense of disillusionment and fury without focusing on an actual narrative; in fact, it gives the song a primal and forceful urgency. As the band says of the recently released video for “Taking Pictures,” “We wanted a video that similarly eschewed narrative in order to portray this feeling through distorted perspective, overlapping subjects and a black-and-white pallet.  Adds the video’s director, Christopher Mills “The camera seems to be broken in a glitchy, 360 degree virtual space filled with multiple exposures of FRIGS, occasionally and inadvertently disrupted by glitchy abstract shapes in this dark and moody portraiture. For me, this song is like what Mazzy Star would play before a street fight. The toughness of this music evokes images of Ponyboy Curtis, with all of his friend running around the perimeter of town, looking for trouble. ”

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Comprised of long-time friends and collaborators Hope Sandoval and David Roback, the renowned Santa Monica, CA-based indie duo Mazzy Star formed back in 1989 and can trace their origins to the breakup of Roback’s previous band Opal. As the story goes, Roback recruited Sandoval to replace departing vocalist Kendra Smith. Of course, if you managed to come of age in the early 1990s, you’d remember the duo’s smash hit, the moody and haunting “Fade into You,” off their sophomore album So Tonight I May See as it peaked at #44 on the  Billboard Top 100 and was #3 on the  Billboard Modern Rock Tracks charts — and if I remember it correctly, it was also featured on an episode of 90210.

Sandoval and Roebuck’s follow up, 1996’s Among My Swan wasn’t as commercially successful as its predecessor, and the band went on a lengthy hiatus with Sandoval recording solo material and collaborating with Massive Attack and My Bloody Valentine’s Colm O’Coisog in Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions. Since 2011, Sandoval and Roback have sporadically recorded together releasing a handful of singles, 2013’s bluesy Season of Your Day, which was the first full-length effort from the duo in over 15 years, and  a 2014 Record Store Day release, “I’m Less Here.”

Slated for a June 1, 2018 release, Still EP is the first batch of recorded material in over 4 years, and the band will be playing a series of tour dates for the first time in about 5 years — and it will include their first ever tour dates in Australia, as they’ll play three dates at the Sydney Opera House. But to the business at hand . . . The EP’s first single “Quiet, The Winter Harbor” consists of gorgeous and sparse arrangement of piano, twangy guitar and gently tapped drums over which Sandoval’s imitable and achingly lonely vocals ethereally float — and much like Season of Your Day the track is a subtly bluesy/old-timey country expansion of their sound that retains the moody, late night vibes that we all expect.

New Video: Austria’s Hearts Hearts Release Gorgeously Shot Surreal Visuals for Album Title Track “Goods/Gods”

With the release of “I Am In” and “AAA” off their critically applauded debut album Young, the  Vienna, Austria-based quartet Hearts Hearts, comprised of  David Österle, Daniel Hämmerle, Johannes Mandorfer, and Peter Paul Aufreitet, initially developed a reputation for crafting brooding, slow-burning and elegiac electro pop that drew comparisons Sigur Ros, Flying Lotus, The Darcys and Radiohead among others. Thematically, Young focused on tension and release — in the sense of someone desperately attempting to break through and out of the familiar and debilitating patterns of their own life.

After Young’s release, the band’s Peter Paul Aufreiter and Johannes Mandorfer sent two radically different sound snippets to their bandmate David Österle — an aggressive and jazzy piano loop titled “Phantom” and an electronic drum take recorded overseas titled “Island,” which interestingly enough is the German word for the country of Iceland. Upon receiving those two sound snippets from his bandmates, Österle frantically began attempting to put these disparate pieces together; to synchronise what was never meant to be unified, and started singing over it. It resulted in the Austrian act’s highly-anticipated, genre-defying sophomore album officially drops today, and the album reportedly finds the band drawing sonically from Bon Iver, Jamie XX and Son Lux while thematically focusing on the in between spaces and undefined borderlines in meaning, symbolized by the slash on all of the album’s song titles. Interestingly, the material finds the band exploring emotional and moral ambiguities, and the ineffectiveness and confusions that dichotomies and borderlines that define modern society. As the band’s Hämmerle says, the band prefers to think “think in options,” seeing the slash as representing an openness and flexibility in meaning; in similarities as much as in difference.

Earlier this year, I wrote about “Phantom/Island” a genre-mashing and genre-defying track that possessed elements of jazz, electronica, indie rock and experimental pop in a way that brings to mind Kid A and Amnesiac-era Radiohead, Flying Lotus, and Kamasi Washington  and “Sugar/Money,” Goods/Gods’ most straightforward track as there’s a decided focus on accessible and infectious hooks while nodding at early 80s New Wave. Goods/Gods’ latest single, album title track “Goods/Gods” is centered around stuttering beats, an arpeggiated synth loop, some industrial clang and clatter, while revealing soaring hooks and a tight groove within a song that sounds deeply indebted to Flying Lotus. 

Directed by Rupert Höller, the recently released video for “Goods/Gods” continues a run of gorgeous and cinematically shot and surrealistic visuals — in particular, the new video balances a hypnotic vibe with a contemporary sense of isolation and anxiousness. 

New Video: JOVM Mainstay Sofia Härdig Releases Moody Yet Upbeat Visuals for “Illuminate”

Over the past few years, I’ve written quite a bit about the Swedish singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and JOVM Sofia Härdig, and as you may recall, she is at the forefront of an internationally renowned Swedish electro pop movement that includes a handful of JOVM mainstays and others that I’ve written about throughout the course of this site’s history; in fact, in her native country, she’s considered a queen of Sweden’s electronic rock scene. Along with that, Härdig has collaborated with the likes of Grammy Award-winning acts The Hellacopters, Bob Hund, Boredoms and Free Kitten‘s Yoshimi P-We — and she has shared stages with Lydia Lunch and Belle and Sebastian‘s Stevie Jackson. 

Härdig’s latest single “Illuminate” is an atmospheric, 80s-inspired, glistening and moody synth pop track consisting of layers of shimmering and arpeggiated synths, a subtle rhythm guitar, a sinuous guitar line and a sultry hook — and while in some way reminding me of Stevie Nicks “Stand Back” and The Cars “Drive,” “Illuminate” is a deeply contemplative and introspective song focusing on the endless and seemingly frustrating search for love and for connection. Although it comes from a deeply personal place, it’s a universal sentiment that we’ve all felt at one point or another — and with a similar yearning to find that sort of love once again.

As Härdig explains in press notes. “I worked with the song ‘Illuminate’ alone in my studio for many long, lonesome nights. It was just the studio, the stars and I, while I played all the instruments, made the soundscape and recorded the single in solitude. Later, I invited over some friends to improvise over the track. Guitarist John Essing and bass player Mats Hellquist, both from the band ‘bob hund’, but also a classical pianist and cellist respectively, added parts to the soundscape of ‘Illuminate.’ I brought all the new recordings back into the studio – tore them apart, rebuilt them and made arrangements, as if I was a mad scientist in my lab. I then brought in Jari Haapalainen to produce the songs. The solitary fashion in which ‘Illuminate’ was crafted reflects the mood of the single.”

 The recently released video by Stefan Sundlof features textured and looped footage of dimly illuminated streets and close ups of Härdig in soft vignette framing — the darkness at the edges of the footage, slowly envelope the Swedish singer/songwriter and producer at one point, leaving only her illuminated. Towards the end of the video, the footage becomes increasingly brighter and day lit, further emphasizing the song’s increasing upbeat tone towards its conclusion. “It’s amazing that three of my best friends are filmmakers, even more so that they’re all involved in some way or another with this album,” Härdig says in press notes “Jessica Nettelbladt took the photos for the singles and the album, Johannes Stjärne Nillson did the covers and Stefan Sundlöf directed this video. The video uses a special version of ‘Illuminate’ that Stefan had fallen in love with; a slower, darker one. Stefan and I often share music and talk about it. When I sent him this edit of ‘Illuminate’ he responded almost right away with a 30 second video clip, that he’d made of what he had in mind for the song. It was stunning. I was convinced and saved the version for the video. So especially for you, here you get a glimpse of another universe of ‘Illuminate’. The one for the video, the one for Stefan.”
 

New Audio: Sweden’s SVVAMP Returns with a Classic Rock Inspired, Power Chord-based, Arena Rocker

Comprised of three long-time friends, Adam Johansson,  Henrik Bjorklund and Erik Stahlgren, who all share vocal duties, the Jönköping, Sweden-based trio SVVAMP can trace their origins to a mutual love of rock, folk and blues, and unsurprisingly, the band has received quite a bit of praise for a classic rock-inspired heavy psych rock/rock ‘n’ roll sound that draws Cream, Eric Bell-era Thin Lizzy, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Neil Young and Crazy Horse — but with an unpretentious, genuine and downright uicontrvibed sound and vibe. And as a result, the Swedish trio’s self-titled debut landed in the Top 20 Albums of 2016 in the Doom Charts consortium of music journalists, critics and radio stations.

SVVAMP 2, the Swedish trio’s highly-anticipated sophomore, full-length effort is slated for a June 8, 2018 release through RidingEasy Records, and the album finds the band making the massive, technological jump from self-recording on a 4-track tape deck to a 6-track tape deck, which allows the band to expand upon their overall sound while improving its fidelity. Interestingly, SVVAMP’s move from 4-track to 6-track recording follows the development of early psych rock bands moving towards increasingly state-of-the-art studio equipment (for their day), going from 4, then 6, then 8 and eventually 16 tracks and onward; however, as the band’s Adam Johansson explains, their sophomore effort finds the band stripping some elements of their sound down with all of the instruments being treated equally. “They all have their place in a song,” he says. “Obvious with 6-tracks now available, we’ve had a bit of fun with that.”

Now, as you may recall, I wrote about “Queen,”SVVAMP 2’s swaggering and self-assured first single, a track that finds the band crafting a sound that sounded as though it could have been released in 1968, thanks in part to its enormous, power chord-based riff, and arena rock friendly hooks that immediately bring Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride,” The Allman Brothers Band and Neil Young and Crazy Horse but within a rather expansive, jam-like song structure. “Hillside,” the album’s second single will further the Swedish trio’s growing reputation for crafting 60s and early 70s inspired hard psych and rock — and while the song may remind some listeners of Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen,” the song has the band managing to balance the cool, self-assured of old pros, who know what they’re doing and how to go about it, and an immediacy of three musicians in a room, quickly honing in on the same frequency. 

Over the past year or so, I’ve written about the Los Angeles, CA-based post-punk trio and JOVM mainstays Second Still, and as you may recall the trio, comprised of founding members Ryan Walker (guitar) and Alex Hartman (bass) along with Suki San (vocals) released their critically applauded 2017 self-titled, full-length debut, and from singles  “Walls,” “Recover,” “You Two So Alike,” and “Strangers,” the album’s material thematically focused on decidedly post-modern subjects: depression, frustration, anxiety and alienation among a throbbing, seething mass of humanity, with a visceral and urgent emotionality, while sonically seeming to draw from Sixousie and the Banshees and the early catalog of renowned indie label 4AD Records.

Equals, the Los Angeles-based post punk trio’s much-anticipated follow-up EP finds the band expanding upon their sound and songwriting approach, pushing it towards new directions — but while retaining major elements of the sound that first caught the attention of the this site and the rest of the blogosphere. You’ll still hear the chorus and delay pedal effects-based guitar, bass driven grooves and explosive, industrial rock drum machine beats, paired with ethereal and aching vocals and razor sharp hooks; however, the members of the band have begun employing the use of a couple of analog synthesizers, which adds an atmospheric and moody element to the proceedings. Interestingly, as the band explains in press notes, half the EP’s material (the A side) reportedly finds the band leaning towards a decidedly pop-leaning direction and overall lighter sound, while the second half (the B-side) finds the band hewing towards their gloomy, goth-like roots. EP single “Opening” was a melancholy post-punk track that I think will further their growing reputation for crafting 80s-inspired post-punk with slick, contemporary production values; the EP’s second single “Automata” continued on a similar vein, bearing an uncanny resemblance Sixousie and the Banshees’ “Israel,” and “Happy House.”

“In Order,” Equals third and latest single, is centered around arpeggiated synths, a sinuous bass line, shimmering guitar work, San’s Siouxie Sioux-like vocals and their uncanny ability to write a slick and infectious hook; but interestingly enough, the signal finds the band expanding upon their sound, as it’s arguably one of the most propulsive, club ready songs they’ve ever released.

 

New Video: Chicago’s Ganser Releases Mischievous and Surreal Visuals for “Satsuma”

Over the past couple of months I’ve written quite a bit about the Chicago, IL-based post-punk act Ganser,  and with the release of their debut EP, This Feels Like Living, the members of the Chicago-based act received attention locally for an art rock-leaning post-punk/noise rock sound influenced by Sonic Youth and Magazine.  Now, as you may recall, the band’s full-length debut Odd Talk is slated for release later this month through No Trend Records, and the album’s material reportedly focuses on communication breakdowns, with the song’s narrators desperately seeking meaning in confusion and messiness, as though they were literally sorting through syllables and signals to find the right words to say what they wanted or needed to say.

“Satsuma,” Odd Talk‘s last official single will further cement their reputation for material that thematically can be grimly absurd yet comedic that points at the complexities and frustrations of human relationships paired with angular guitar chords and propulsive drumming that help evoke a sweaty, heart racing anxiety: the sort in which your thoughts are racing and pinballing within your head; but the difference here is that the song focuses on a weary reservation, on avoiding expectations and their inevitable heartache, of not showing your hand when things are uncertain.

Filmed by the renowned photographer Kirsten Micolli and directed and edited by the band, the recently released video for “Satsuma” follow a woman Kate Ziebart as she wanders a post-blizzard Chicago, who’s compelled to dance through the streets. Throughout the course of the video, the woman’s movement varies between graceful and frantic but she turns the mundane and routine to something altogether strange; in fact, her weirdness seems to be infectious, and everyone she passes begins to start acting as weirdly as she is — although the woman is actually completely unaware of her effect on her surroundings or on anyone else. 

Filmed by the renowned photographer Kirsten Miccoli in a post-blizzard Chicago earlier this year and self-directed and edited by the band, the video follows a woman (Kate Ziebart) as she wanders the city, compelled to dance, as she encounters each member of the band in turn as she goes. After being in Chicago, the video not only strikes me as only being possible in Chicago, it manages to evoke the accusatory and sarcastic nature of the song in a mischievously indirect fashion. 

Now, if you had been frequenting this website over the past few years, you may have come across a couple of posts featuring the Brooklyn-based indie rock act Lazyeyes, and as some of you may recall, the band, which initially began as a trio and now currently consists of Jason Abrishami (guitar, vocals), Sam Maynard (guitar, vocals), Jeremy Sampson (drums) and Jermey Rose (bass, vocals) received quite a bit of attention after the release of their 2013 self-titled EP: The Deli Magazine named the band the “Best Psych Rock/Shoegaze band,” Purple Sneakers praised the EP as a “moody and anthemic record, equal parts shoegaze and dream pop,” Stereogum described their sound as a “a muscular, riff-happy brand of guitar based dream-pop” and they were a featured artist in the November 2014 issue of NME — and adding to a growing profile, tracks from the EP received airplay from BBC Radio, XM Radio and a number of FM stations across the globe.

2015’s self-released, sophomore EP New Year was eventually picked up and reissued by Burger Records‘ cassette imprint Weiner Records, and “Adaptation,” the EP’s first single received quite a bit of attention across the blogosphere, including this site. Some time has passed since I’ve last written about them — but their long awaited full-length debut Echoes is slated for a summer release through Egghunt Records and 2670 Records. Interestingly, Echoes first single, album title track “Echoes” is a brooding and seamless synthesis of 80s British post-punk and shoegaze as you’ll hear angular and propulsive bass chords, four-on-the-floor drumming and towering, pedal effected guitar pyrotechnics paired with rousingly anthemic hooks — and while the song may initially strike you as drawing influence from Heaven Up Here-era Echo and the Bunnymen, it reveals a band confidently expanding upon the sound that first captured attention.

 

 

 

 

Although currently comprised of founding member and primary songwriter Ripley Johnson (guitar, vocals), Dusty Jermier (trumpet, bass), Omar Ahsanuddin (drums) and Nash Whalen (organ), the renowned San Francisco, CA-based psych rock act Wooden Shjips can trace their origins back to 2003 when Johnson started the band with the intention of finding a group of non-musicians and creating music with them — with the underlying idea behind it being that untrained players would have a new outlook on what music is and how it’s played, and as a result bring something fresh to the table in a way that many of the garage punks of the early 60s and the Velvet Underground did. In fact one of the longest tenured members of the band, Jermier was originally recruited to play saxophone, an instrument he had never even picked up before while other members from their earliest iterations often had such a lack of interest in playing live for anyone that the band didn’t bother looking for gigs.

Eventually, the band settled to its current lineup — but this time, the intention was different: Johnson, a fan of seemingly impenetrable albums and arcane, small-press poetry books, was fascinated by the idea of books that went unread or became largely out of favor and/or of print that were rediscovered by collectors or some bored critic looking for something different, and praised for being lost and under-appreciated gems. And unsurprisingly, the band set about to make purposely obscure albums that Johnson envisioned leaving in libraries, thrift store bargain bins and on park benches. Eschewing a MySpace page, a Soundcloud account or a website with MP3 downloads, the band gave away a limited pressing of 300 copies of their debut 10 inch vinyl album, paying the shipping costs for out of town requests — and unexpectedly, the album received some rave reviews, including one from Rolling Stone, which raised the album’s cachet and the band’s profile, thanks in part to a sound that the band has described as “a minimal, droning kind of garage band-influenced psychedelia with a noticeable 60s Krautrock influence” with some comparing the band to Suicide, The Velvet Underground, The Doors, Soft Machine and Guru Guru.

Building upon the growing buzz surrounding them, the members of Wooden Shjips released 2006’s “Dance California”/”Clouds Over the Earthquake,” to mark the centennial of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which sold enough for the band to break even on their investment, and “Summer of Love 2007,” a single inspired by groups, who worked to make the world the kind of place they wanted to live in, like the Diggers, a local anarchist collective that founded the first Free Store and served free meals to Golden State Park to any and all comers with the proceeds from the single going to Food Not Bombs. Interestingly, their second real gig as a band was a single release show, opening for the psych rock legend Roky Erickson.
The band’s self-produced and self-recorded full-length debut was recorded in the band’s rehearsal space on an half-inch eight-track console that Jermier found, making the album an strictly analog affair aimed at getting high-quality and high-fidelity on an extremely low budget. Some tracks were layered up demos while others were live studio jams with drum parts added later, since they only had two tracks of the drums and no way to keep instruments from bleeding into each other noisily. But despite — or perhaps because of its DIY fashion, the album was released to critical applause that lead to the “Loose Lips”/”Start to Dreaming” 7 inch released by Sub Pop Records.Since then, the band has released three more full-length albums, 2009’s Dos, 2011’s West, 2013’s Back to Land and two compilations 2008’s Volume 1 and 2010’s Volume 2 — and they’ve managed this while the band’s Johnson has been busy with his side project Moon Duo, his acclaimed dup with Sanae Yamada that has released four full-length albums and one EP.  Interestingly, V, the Bay Area-based psych rock band’s fifth full-length album and first album in over five years, finds the band reportedly expanding upon their sound while lightening the overall vibes, with the material being decidedly laid back, almost summery jams.

 

Written last summer, Johnson viewed the material as a necessary antidote to the pervasive political anxiety and apocalyptic panic; in fact, as Johnson says in press notes,
“We had huge forest fires just outside of Portland and there was intense haze and layers of ash in the city. I was sitting on my porch every evening, watching ash fall down like snow, the sky looking like it was on fire. It was an apocalyptic feeling. Summer in Portland is usually really chill and beautiful, and we were working on a ‘summer record,’ but the outside world kept intruding on my headspace.” V., a graphic representation of the Peace sign, seemed apt to an album focused on the power of peace, beauty and resistance. The music is a balm against the noise and negativity.”
 Now, as you may recall V’s first single “Staring at the Sun” was an expansive and shimmering guitar pop sound with a steady groove that seemed as though it owed a big sonic debut to Buffalo Springfield‘s “For What It’s Worth” and Psychic Ills‘ Inner Journey Out; however, V‘s latest single “Red Line” is a bit of a return to form, with the band nodding at both classic psych rock and contemporary shoegaze as the track is centered around droning instrumentation and a propulsive and hypnotic, motorik like groove. But much like its predecessor, the band emphasizes slowing, down and pressing the reset button in a world gone absolutely mad.

The band is currently touring to support their forthcoming fifth album, and you can check out the tour dates below.

Tour Dates:

 

April 20 – Half Moon Bay, CA – Old Princeton Landing [tickets]

April 21 – Santa Cruz – Michael’s On Main [tickets]

April 29 – Austin, TX – Levitation Festival

May 25 – Portland, OR – Mississippi Studios [tickets]

May 26 – Seattle, WA – Crocodile [tickets]

June 1 – Nelsonville, OH – Nelsonville Music Festival

June 2 – Chicago, IL – Empty Bottle [tickets]

June 4 – Detroit, MI – Marble Bar [tickets]

June 5 – Toronto, ON – Horseshoe Tavern [tickets]

June 7 – Los Angeles, CA – The Lodge [tickets]

June 9 – Sonoma, CA – Huichica Music Festival

Over the past handful of years, I’ve written quite a bit about the Liverpool-based shoegaze quintet and JOVM mainstays The Vryll Society, and as you may recall, the band, which is comprised of Michael Ellis, Ryan Ellis, Lewis McGuinness, Lloyd Shearer, and Benjamin Robinson have received attention from both this site and across the blogosphere with a series of singles that revealed a sound and songwriting approach that draws from a diverse array of influences, including FunkadelicAphrodite’s Child, krautrock and classic shoegaze.

The Liverpool-based shoegazers latest single “Andrei Rublev” is the first official single from the band’s long-awaited full-length debut, slated for release sometime this summer, and interestingly enough, the song is inspired by Andre Tarkovsky’s 1996 arthouse film Andrei Rublev — and as a result, the deeply meditative song which is centered around boom bap-like drums, a sinuous bass line and some gorgeous guitar manages to nod at both classic shoegaze and 70s AM rock  — all while hinting at an urgent ache for something far bigger than oneself.

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