Espectrostatic : Silhouette

Alex Cuervo’s Espectrostatic project is a horror-vibed collection of heavy synth songs that also dabble in mid-90s electro-alternative pop music. Don’t let that last bit scare you away if what you’re looking for is dark, moody, heady electronic music that could easily soundtrack a fever dream. Espectrostatic has that in spades. But if you let your mind drift a bit while listening to their Burning Witches Records debut titled Silhouette, you may find yourself connecting to bands like Garbage, Massive Attack, Sneaker Pimps, and Portishead as well John Carpenter, Goblin, Antoni Maiovvi, and the Phantasm S/T.

Now just because the dark lords have made their way back to the nether world since October is two months behind us now doesn’t mean you can’t lock into some dark vibes still. What do you think Krampus listens to as he’s throwing naughty toddlers in his bag for later gnashing and such? If he’s the evil Santa I hope he’s listening to Epectrostatic’s Silhouette. “The Corridor” feels like classic B-movie goodness, pushed along by electronic percussion, ghostly synths, and an almost Nightmare On Elm Street feel. This one is classic Wes Craven all the way. Cuervo knows his horror vibes and he demonstrates that beautifully on this opening track. “The Day We Were Captured” has a real Geoff Barrow/Ben Salisbury feel. It puts me in mind of their work in Ex_Machina. It’s a lovely piece. “Dead End City” sounds like Eels mixing things up with Bauhaus. It’s both fun and maniacal at the same time. “Silhouette” has that 90s alternative vibe in the drum and heavy bass. All this song needs is Shirley Manson singing over it and it could be that great Garbage song that never was. “Ghost Rocket” reminds me of Slasher Film Festival Strategy. It has the queasy 80s vibes all the way. “The Delirium of Negation” sounds like slowly falling thru time. It’s dark and melodic. “Pa-ral-y-sis” puts me in mind of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ film work, but more Gothic and less robotic. “The Weeping Willows” ends the album on a big note with what sounds like strings and keys blending into tension-filled suspense. You can almost see end credits rolling as this plays.

Espectrostatic’s Silhouette is another great record to add to the pile of 2017. Alex Cuervo has made a darkly-fueled record to put on and enjoy in the witching hour while enjoying a glass of red wine, or while contemplating that sound you heard in the basement. Either way, your best bet is to fill the glass back up and hit play on Silhouette again. Forget that sound you heard. Those things never go well.

7.7 out of 10

 

Bell Witch : Mirror Reaper

Bell Witch’s Mirror Reaper is an album that takes some time opening up and getting inside. It’s a dense affair that feels very much like a meditation on grief and mourning. It’s a record that takes patience in order to get through, as it’s one 84-minute track. If that last sentence scares you, then Mirror Reaper may not be for you. But if you’ve got the time, Bell Witch have one hell of an album for you.

Bell Witch have under their belt, including their Mirror Reaper, three full-length albums. Each are meditative, minimalistic doom metal. They’re more like movements than songs, really. Modern doom metal classical music. The Seattle band started out as a two-piece with Adrien Guerra on drums and vocals and Dylan Desmond on bass and vocals. With this set up they released their demo in 2011, followed by Longing in 2012. In 2015 Four Phantoms was dropped and they seemed to have solidified a sound that was equal parts Gothic, slow core, doom metal, and ambient. It is heavy music. Seriously heavy, for sure. But the mix of just bass and drums with the distant guttural roar of vocals that sound more like ancient tomes that lyrics for a rock song, give Bell Witch’s tracks an open and vast sound. Their minimalistic approach to songwriting gives their songs a storied, vast sound.

While in the process of writing Mirror Reaper Guerra passed away suddenly, leaving Desmond to pick up the pieces. With the addition of Jesse Shreibman on drums, vocals, and organ the two set to finishing the record. What we have now is an entirely different Mirror Reaper than what was begun back in 2016. It’s heavier and far more sorrowful than anything Bell Witch has done before.

There have been other bands that have laid out whole sides of an LP dedicated to just one song. Those ponderers and mind expanders in the audience can appreciate a good album side stint so as to enjoy a beer or two. But at 84 minutes for one single song, Mirror Reaper takes the funeral cake. Though as to add a moment of calm amongst the storm, the band broke the single track into two 40+ minutes parts, titled “As Above” and “So Below”. Sleep still holds the record for the longest “Black Sabbath meets Cheech and Chong” mash up with 60 minute single track “Dopesmoker”, but Bell Witch have built an 84 minute meditation on death, loss, and grief that no one will surely meet any time soon.

Musically, Mirror Reaper does have moments of sheer heaviness and blustering metal. But really, where the power lies on this album are the moments of quieter reflection. Dylan Desmond’s 6-string bass playing is done with great care and delicate ease. There are many moments on this record that remind me of those melodic, reflective musical bits you’d hear on earlier Metallica albums. Desmond reminds me of Cliff Burton’s melodic bass playing, quite a bit actually. And Jesse Shreibman’s drums keep a sort of perpetual motion going on throughout. There’s a slow but continuous chugging as the song moves on, keeping a melodic undertone in conjunction with the weight of the riffs. Shreibman also peppers the record with Hammond organ, giving the track a real funeral feel(Bell Witch are referred to as “funeral doom”, after all.) At the half way point, Adrien Guerra’s voice appears, giving that midway point some serious catharsis and emotional heft. He’d recorded the piece prior to his death while him and Desmond had begun to record the album.

Mirror Reaper isn’t an easy listen, but one that does reward those that give it repeated spins. Dylan Desmond and Jesse Shreibman have built a mammoth wall of Gothic doom, but have installed and easily accessible doorway for us to enter through. The album deals with endings, but also beginnings.

7.9 out of 10

Trophy Club : Sports Cars

Fort Wayne has its fair share of “hardest working folks in showbiz” types. The music scene is less individual bands keeping to themselves than a bunch of bands that are made up of people in other bands. Some last, some are here and gone before your beer buzz fades from seeing them the night before. How long they last doesn’t really matter, though. What matters is the quality of the work. What matters is the songs and the spirit and just the general chutzpah put into all these different projects, short-lived or in for the long haul need not matter. I’d attempt to name all these side projects, but there’s not enough ink. I’ll just say this, Fort Wayne is a hotbed of interlocking songwriters, musicians, artists, and bigger than life personalities that make sure the music fan will never be bored. There’s something in the Allen County air that seems to cultivate creativity. In fact, before I’m done typing this sentence there will probably be 4 more bands formed in the 07.

One of those prolific, band and genre-hopping folks dispersing verses and riffs like a pied piper of tunes in the Fort is Jared Andrews. Andrews has been playing around town for years now, with bands like Elephants In Mud, The Meat Flowers, and Microwave Miracles to name a few. He seems like a guy that loves music, period. There’s no certain name brand or genre hat this guy likes to wear all the time(though he does like hats.) A couple months ago Andrews put out his most recent solo album called I Wanna Be Your Cartoon. It’s a fun album mixed with the right amount of silliness, sincerity, and just a touch of creepiness.  But even before the codes could be cracked on that we’re looking down the barrel of a brand new band and album featuring Jared Andrews. Trophy Club is the name of the Fort Wayne supergroup that consists of Andrews, Void Reunion’s George Gardner, The Snarks’ Zach Kerschner, and drummer Cale Gerst. Sports Cars, Trophy Club’s debut album, does resemble Andrews’ past work, but this is very much a band in the truest sense.

Sports Cars opens with “The Trophy Club” which seems like a pretty cool place to hang out, as George Gardner sings “Where everything’s gonna be alright/ Where everything shines like gold/Where you can be a winner in our eyes/ In the Trophy Club”. It’s pop melancholia that is a nice way to enter the world of Trophy Club. This opening track sees Gardner, Andrews, and Kerschner all taking a verse, which is something you don’t hear all that often anymore. “The Man From Parts Unknown” has a Specials vibe, while “A Ghost Eating Life Cereal” sounds like the start of a Steven Wright joke, but its surprisingly more earnest than the title would seem. “You cannot escape the ghost” turns to “You cannot escape your ghost”. There’s something ominous about that.

Trophy Club took these tunes to Jason Davis’ Off The Cuff Sound for Davis to add his sonic expertise and studio prowess to these songs, which he does very well. There’s a heaviness to these songs that may have been missing had the guys gone a more DIY route. “Sports Cars” is one of the best tracks here and the low end definition and keys here give the song a whole other dimension. There’s an early Weezer vibe that makes the song quite the ear candy. “Ice Cream Dance” is another standout. There’s a familiarity to the background guitar, but I can’t quite place it. Lyrically it’s a bit haunting. “Oh, Lord – I’m sorry for my sinful ways/Stay up all night and sleep for 3 days/ Sorry that I see the beauty in life/And try to open it up with a rusty knife” Andrews sings as the song moves along in a deceptively simple manner. “Electric Blanket” is a is a sweet song that lyrically seems to be a “come to Jesus” moment for someone who can’t stop being a screw up long enough to see the forest for the trees. The song ends on an instrumental note.

Trophy Club’s Sports Cars is a short and sweet album that is filled with fractured pop songs about the disenfranchised, broken-hearted, and those that just can’t seem to catch a break. So they’re songs for you and me.

Causa Sui : Vibraciones Doradas

When I think of Denmark’s Causa Sui I think of vast open spaces. I think of widescreen grooves and vacuum tubes a-glow with the orange of humming fuzz. This four-piece have made it their mission to not be pigeonholed by any one genre or mindset. They explore the dark corners of Sabbath-ian dirges to the highfalutin ambient worlds Eno and Froese to the sizzle, cracks, and headiness of electric Miles. Causa Sui serves not one master, but whichever muse shows up at the studio door. And with that “whichever way the wind is blowing in Odense” vibe, these four sonic explorers add their own secret recipe to the bubbling, musical cauldron. They turn their influence and inspiration on its head and serve it up as something new and weird and beautiful.

Return To Sky was the last studio LP to come from Causa Sui, way back in 2016 before the world began to crumble apart. And earlier this year the guys laid on us the massive Live In Copenhagen, which was a massive 3-LP set that captures two very unique live sets from 2013 and 2016 respectively. So now, the Sui bois snuck back into planet El Paraiso studios, taking with them only various fuzz boxes, drums, amps, and plenty of Danish lager and worked out the excellent and teeth-chattering Vibraciones Doradas. They’re calling this a mini-LP, but at well over 30 minutes this is a full-fledged mind-melting long player.

“The Drop” greets you at the door and quickly blows the hat off your head. It’s a massive flashback to early 90s scuzz and stoner rock, but with a little more muscle mass. Jakob Skott and Jess Kahr lay down a massive, chugging foundation to which Jonas Munk does his best to outdo Kim Thayil in the fuzzy riff department. Seriously, this track blows the barn doors off and explodes like a nuclear-powered freight train. As the seven minute track winds down Rasmus Rasmussen adds som tasteful keys that lull us into the stick-to-your-ribs behemoth that is “El Fuego”.

I suppose you could say that “El Fuego” is the core of this collection. It’s an 11-minute fuzzy, psychedelic epic. It roars and lashes like some angry sea and then calms in the middle, giving a false sense of security. Soon enough things build back up as the drums become more unruly and feedback and sci-fi explosions become more prominent. Rasmussen’s keys sound as if Ray Manzarek is somewhere out in that violent swirl of noise and desert rock riffage. Munk almost sounds to be summoning the Siamese Dream-era Pumpkins towards the end. It’s an elegant, sonic world they’ve built here.

If you blink(or get up to grab another beer) you may miss the wonderfully dreamy “Viborera”. It’s a space-y, two minute interlude that brings to mind the work of Rasmussen’s Aerosol and more recent Astral TV(hell, even Munk’s exquisite noise excursions with Ulrich Schnauss come to mind as well.) It’s one of those tracks that you must play it a few times in a row to savor it.

We’re then treated to a guitar crunch meltdown with the bone-crushing “Seven Hills”. There’s nothing ambient going on here. This is pure, molten, bedrock fuzz rock. This is Roadburn-worthy rock and roll sludge. I’m thinking a show with Earthless, Mugstar, and Causa Sui somewhere near the equator might just set the earth back on its axis and things might start to improve. “Seven Hills” is just an all-out monster rock mind melter.

We close this album out with title track “Vibraciones Doradas”. It’s about as doom-laden as I’ve ever heard Causa Sui. There’s some serious Big Muff vibes going on here, with Matt Pike smiling somewhere in the universe as this is played. I really can’t think of a better way to say goodbye to 2017 than playing this at high volume, annoyed neighbors be damned. But so as to not end on a chugging note, the song seems to melt into the universe and rise back up as something new, much like the Phoenix rising from the ashes. Munk and Kahr add some tasteful fret work halfway thru and the song begins to morph into something less doomy; something lighter that seems to take off into the atmosphere.

Vibraciones Doradas shows Causa Sui continuing to build upon their musical journey, blazing through genres, styles, vibes, and moods with ease. For the most part this record is a barn burner, a rock and roll feast for the ears. It showcases the band’s ear for riffs and grooves, but also their willingness to pull back and let the universe expand our brains a bit. Munk, Kahr, Rasmussen, and Skott continue to be one of the most vital musical forces creating today. Vibraciones Doradas is proof of that.

8.4 out of 10

Carlton Melton : Hidden Lights

Whenever you drop the needle on a Carlton Melton album you can almost always expect to be taken on a journey. Their albums are these sonic doorways into alternate realities that are sometimes serene and sometimes gritty. The musical world of Carlton Melton is an often gauzy trip into hazy synths, swaths of guitar, and when the mood is more raucous drums kick and punch through the speakers. Andy Duvall, Rich Millman, and Clint Golden take their sound universes very seriously.

The first Carlton Melton album I ever bought was Always Even. After hearing the psychedelic vibes of “Keeping On” I was in. That song just got to me for some reason. 2015s Out To Sea saw them expanding the sonics into more hi fidelity stakes, but the dreamy and psychedelic vibes remained.

Their newest release is the EP Hidden Lights. It’s a 3-song exploratory surgery on the psyche. It’s expansive, thought-provoking, and deceptively deep.

Don’t let the three song length fool you. You’ll be hard pressed to find a 10 song album released this year that contains nearly the same amount of galactic heft that this does. Album opener “Rememory” feels transcendent. It opens with Millman’s heavy synths floating along like an early morning mist over a still lake. It’s somewhat reflective of Rich Millman’s solo work in his side project Night Flights. Soon enough though Duvall and Golden come in to give the track some rock heft with drums and guitar. It’s a beautifully trippy 17 minutes.

“The Warbler” keeps the atmospheric vibes going. It feels like a series of soundscapes coming together, like a patchwork of drones. It’s a track that’s very easy to get lost in. Headphones aren’t a requirement, but you’ll find the experience that much more enjoyable. The track does seem to “warble” a bit, like an old cassette tape you find in the bottom of a box. It still plays, but the tape has warped a bit and the effect is one of a buoy at sea bobbing up and down with the waves.

Hidden Lights sees Carlton Melton in reflective mode. Guitars aren’t being used to knock us around with chugging riffs as much as they are being used to build hazy walls of sustained notes and Eno-like drones. While these guys can jam with the best of ’em, they have a real talent for dreamy, hallucinogenic soundscapes.

Last song “Hidden Lights” opens with gnarly guitar feedback along with tribal drum beats. They slowly build momentum over 9 minutes of that aforementioned jamming. Carlton Melton ends this EP on a much louder note than what they started out with. They’ve decided to close this one out howling at the moon, as opposed to chanting in the clouds.

The beauty of a Carlton Melton record is that you never what sort of trip you’ll be taking. It could be a gnarly jam in the middle of the woods, or it could be this spatial walk thru the milky way. Sometimes it could be both in the same song. Hidden Lights is a minor trip into vibing with the universe, which for my money is a trip well worth taking.

8.1 out of 10

 

Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile : Lotta Sea Lice

Maybe you were like me(or maybe you weren’t) that when you heard Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile were making a collaborative album together it just seemed like the perfect match. There’s a care-free quality about both of them that a coming together of these two seemed like the right thing. The essential thing, even.

I’ve been a fan of Vile for a few years now. He’s made three, in my opinion, classic albums in a row. His songs can be precise shots of swagger and pop; as well as moseying, drawn-out jams that run well over the 10 minute mark. Regardless of what mode he may be in, Vile makes tunes that feel aged to perfection. If there was someone that could step into Tom Petty’s shoes, I think Vile could be that person.

I’ve only recently in the last year or so come around to Courtney Barnett. While she’s a little more uptempo than Vile, there’s still this carefree, messy-haired kid with a spark in her step vibe that is a thru line from her to Vile. Her music seems to have a connection to the early 90s heyday of alternative rock. While Vile may be more Wildflowers, Barnett is definitely more It’s A Shame About Ray or Only Everything. 

On Lotta Sea Lice, Barnett and Vile come together as perfectly as you’d hope, though at times I wish there was a little more of Barnett influencing Vile than the other way around.

Right off the bat, “Over Everything” is one of the best tracks I’ve heard this year. It’s simply this tasty nugget of breezy, bluesy pop. A perfect coming together of Barnett and Vile, with each taking a verse and then eventually coming together in harmony. It may be over 6 minutes but you don’t notice. Both of them bring their collective ticks, quirks, and nuances to the song and they mesh like two peas in a slightly messy pod. “Continental Breakfast” is another beauty of a song. It’s a low key track that seems to talk about their “intercontinental friendship”. Vile and Barnett sing like they’re in a conversation over coffee all the while guitars jangle and brushed drums keep the song moving nicely. There’s also an exquisite version of Vile’s “Peepin’ Tom” sung by Barnett. The heavy reverb from the original version is washed away and Barnett brings the song into sharper focus. She’s stated that this was the song she bonded with her partner over and you can hear that personal connection in her rendition. “On Script” is a dirge-y number that sounds like it could’ve been a Califone or a Jicks outtake. It’s jangly, untethered beauty. “Blue Cheese” almost has an early Flaming Lips vibe. Add some trashcan drums and you’d have a Transmissions From The Satellite Heart B-side.

I think my biggest complaint with this record is that I wish there was more of Barnett’s punky, upbeat influence on here. Most of these songs are in Vile’s down tempo mode which is all fine and good if it’s a Vile record, but it’s not just a Vile record. I would love to have heard some of that buzzing guitar that we heard on Courtney’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. Despite the lack of chutzpah, with each successive spin this album becomes more endearing each time.

Lotta Sea Lice is a collaboration that on paper looks great and sounds just as good in real life. Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile are like two siblings separated by years and continents, but have finally been reunited. Lotta Sea Lice is that beautiful family reunion.

8.2 out of 10

 

Tangerine Dream : Quantum Gate

It’s not very often that a band can continue on after the heart of that band passes on. There’s just something that goes when the center of a musical universe supernovas into the next existential plane. It seemed that when Edgar Froese passed on in early 2015 his constant musical project for the last 45 years would disappear into the ether with him. But that’s the thing about Tangerine Dream: it was merely a vessel for the like-minded(like Froese) to create within. Froese created the aesthetic to which Tangerine Dream worked within. As long as Edgar kept equally creative and inspired artists to his left and right, then the machine known as Tangerine Dream would continue on, even without him. At the time of his passing, TD consisted of Froese, Ulrich Schnauss, Thorsten Quaeschning, and Hoshiko Yamane. They seemed to have created a very tight knit creative circle amongst each other, maybe even the best line-up since the band’s far headier 70s adventures.

Schnauss, Quaeschning, and Yamane gathered in the studio to create the first post-Froese Tangerine Dream album. It’s called Quantum Gate and it beautifully keeps the komische spirit of Edgar Froese alive and well, while laying new ground for TD to build upon.

There’s so many inspired moments on this album, but opening with the 13 minute “Sensing Elements” is one of the most inspired. It’s one of those kind tracks that feels so familiar, yet it seems to orbit its own galactic space. All those Froese-isms are alive and well here, yet Schnauss, Quaeschning, and Yamane create something quite unique within the Tangerine Dream atmosphere. “Roll The Seven Twice” slides along on an almost techno vibe, complete with arpeggiated synth lines and dance floor percussive feel. Then we come to the majestic and quite beautiful “Granular Blankets”, which is this melancholy track that seems to soar to amazing heights. I can only imagine this song somehow being inspired by Tangerine Dream’s fallen leader. Really, this is an astoundingly beautiful piece of music. I want to listen to it as I stare over Lake Michigan at dusk, or contemplate existence while taking in the Northern Lights, or driving across the Mackinaw Bridge on an overcast day.

Elsewhere the album continues to move onward and upward, with tracks like “It Is Time To Leave When Everyone Is Dancing”, “Non-Locality Destination”, and the heady “Proton Bonfire”. That spirit of exploration we’ve come to know, love, and expect from Tangerine Dream still runs strong with the three-piece. There are worlds created for us to explore here. Auditory excursions into existential wandering and sonic brick laying, much of which only builds upon the Edgar Froese mystique.

“Tear Down The Grey Skies” was the first track I heard off of Quantum Gate and it seemed to be this welcome and kinetic musical odyssey. It’s this neo-futurist track that’s part Blade Runner S/T and part Rubycon. There’s this incredible collision of Berlin School aesthetic and new world electronica that these three blend together beautifully. This was an epic introduction to post-Froese Tangerine Dream. “Genesis Of Precious Thoughts” brings us out of the silver skies on an old school note. There’s hints of late-70s TD. That moment where the band was heading out of an impressionistic musical era and going for a more mainstream, easily digested sound. There’s still plenty to sink your teeth into, but a distinct melody is there to grab onto.

Quantum Gate is one of those rare instances when a band continues to be incredibly creative and forward-thinking even when the center of that band has gone. Ulrich Schnauss, Thorsten Quaeschning, and Hoshiko Yamane not only do right by Edgar Froese, but they seem to have moved his vision into an already exciting next phase. I can’t wait to see where they go from here.

8. 5 out of 10