TRANSVERSO

- A culture magazine reaching terminal verbosity -

New Music

EXCLUSIVE PREMIERE: Enter 'The Fairy House' with Indigo Daze’s Debut EP

New Music, Exclusive PremiereWeston PaganoComment
FAIRY HOUSE.jpg

Not to be confused with Purple Haze, which is both a cannabis strain and a Jimi Hendrix song inspired by a dream in which he walked under the sea, Indigo Daze is a similarly colorful project self-described as “kitchen pop” (the best kind of K-Pop?). Transverso is proud to exclusively premiere their debut EP, The Fairy House.

The shoebox art project cover image is appropriate, as Indigo Daze is self-released by students who, after meeting in grade school in the Chicago suburbs, are now scattered across the country: Jack Maiolo in Boston (Guitar, Vocals, Songwriting, Production), Connor Teske in Nashville (Guitar, Vocals, Songwriting, Production), Rafa Swerdlin in Brooklyn (Vocals, Songwriting), Austin McGreevy in Miami (Vocals, Songwriting), and Will Johnson in Lansing, Michigan (Vocals). The Fairy House was written in just two weeks and recorded in Teske’s parents’ basement over summer break.

With Maiolo and Teske enrolled in Berklee College of Music and Belmont University, respectively, the playful Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared aesthetic and ironic detachment do little to belie a seriousness for the craft that comes with such trained musicians. With no true frontman, songwriting and vocal duties are split almost evenly, culminating in a diverse yet cohesive collection of tunes spanning from psychedelia to elements of chill/vaporwave and R&B.

“Turquoise Yawn,” the glittering lead single and first track ever released by the band, first peeks over the horizon, driven by the obscured incantation of a chorus swirling just out of reach. With lush hints of Tame Impala and the entrancing synthetic creep of Yeasayer, the EP goes on to maturely flesh out a sound that nods to indie canon through the smoke while still carving out a unique voice of its own.

Its supremely listenable softened edges and non sequiturs feel neither vapid nor self-serious, comfortably occupying a dreamy yet stimulating trajectory held together by steady drum machine locomotion. “Life’s one strange game / Surprises arise / It’s never mundane” it offers, matter-of-factly.

When the haze eventually lifts after just under 20 minutes, you’re left wondering just how long you’ve been suspended in The Fairy House. With the end of the final track wrapping nearly perfectly into the start of the first, you never really have to leave at all.

Heartache and Candor Shine on Julien Baker's 'Turn Out the Lights'

Music ReviewSean McHughComment
Julien Baker Turn Out The Lights Art.jpg
A+ rating.png

In 2015, seemingly out of nowhere, a nineteen year-old Memphis post-punker by the name of Julien Baker released Sprained Ankle, a collection of songs written with startling awareness and humility that, for the most part, remains absent in much of her peers. Naturally, the blogosphere erupted with adoration - here was a promising young artist that had depth, sustainability, and seemingly little interest in the post-Internet social media sphere - and thus began the meteoric rise of Julien Baker’s (totally deserved) legacy.

It’s almost amusing to consider that throughout the two years that followed Sprained Ankle’s release, someone as private as Baker would quickly become one of the most sought after entities in independent music. If Baker’s songwriting were any indication, forthright lyrics and minimalist guitar would leading to indie-stardom would have been the last thing on her mind. Nevertheless, Baker is a member of the late-millennial generation, so combined with Baker’s irrefutable musical excellence, she garner deep and devout support from any and all who see her (as they should).

But with Baker, there’s an added dimension of fervent devotion - both amongst contemporaries and gatekeepers alike (Matador, NPR, and everyone in-between) - within the indie world. There’s an artist worth talking about, and for once, it seems like there’s enough of a wellspring of talent to continue talking about her, so when we stop talking and move on to whatever artist du-jour may pop up in the interim, Baker’s follow-up will no doubt be exceptional.

And almost to the T, when Baker announced the release date for her sophomore effort, Turn Out the Lights, almost exactly two years following the release of Sprained Ankle, that same adoration returned, and with good reason. While folks within the blogosphere may be quick to move on to something with a little more sheen to it, consistency is what truly builds a legacy, and TOTL  manages to serve as a prime exemplar.

When Baker and her new label, Matador, released TOTL’s lead single, “Appointments,” Baker’s rasped whisper came through singing heart-wrenching thoughts of not living up to another’s standards, failing to understand change over time, and ultimately watching such factors lead into the end of a relationship. All of this on top of Baker’s tastefully minimalist guitar tones, this time accentuated by percussive piano, further extending the sentiments of what is a devastating first taste.

The rest of TOTL follows suit - expanded sound (piano, string arrangements, and woodwind on an instrumental “Over,” which seamlessly leads into “Appointments”), and decidedly more confident (“Turn Out The Lights”), but ultimately plain-speaking lyricism. Baker’s candor has always been her most disarming artistic attribute - just look to the immense pain and visceral imagery of “Shadowboxer” for reference - but on TOTL, she manages to lean into her guitar abilities a little more willingly. The dynamic crescendos of “Shadowboxer” or the subtle overlays of “Sour Breath” further extend Baker’s supreme progression as a lyricist on top of her continued prowess.

While Baker’s musicality may serve as a pleasant surprise on TOTL, her distinct capacity with language continues to be by far and away the most beguiling aspect of any Julien Baker project. Baker’s lyrical depth has hardly been doubted, refuted, or rebuked - and to do so would only serve a contrarian cause - but if there was ever an ounce of musing uncertainty, this album throws any and all cynicism by the wayside.

TOTL is an absolute masterclass in songwriting. Look no further than “Televangelist” for what is one of the strongest exercises in allegorical elocution in recent memory. Wasting no time, Baker opens with “My heart is going to eat itself,” diving headfirst into a hymn of heart broken masochistic martyrdom. Shortly thereafter, Baker utters what may be the greatest line of the year - ”I’m an amputee with a phantom touch / Leaning on an invisible crutch / Pinned to the mattress like an insect to styrofoam / Coming up from my bedroom alone,” - over nothing more than echoing piano. Baker goes straight for the heart, in an attempt to imbue her own anguish.

Turn Out the Lights is truly one of the best albums of 2017. There is no galavanting of gregariousness, no over-saturation of privileged existence, instead, there is only what Baker offers up for those who are willing to receive of her. This album is her via dolorosa, and we are privileged that she would be willing to share it with the world. Julien Baker is a once-in-a-lifetime talent, and Turn Out the Lights is simply exquisite.

St. Vincent Announces 'MASSEDUCTION' LP, Drops Second Single "Los Ageless"

Music News, New MusicWeston PaganoComment
st vincent masseduction press image.jpg

"Before we go further, a brief tutorial on the title: It's 'Mass Seduction,' not 'Mass Education,' St. Vincent informed at the start of the mock press conference that announced her forthcoming album on Facebook Live this morning. "You're probably wondering, and the answer is yes, I did toy with calling the record 'Ass Education,' but it seemed to me that was much better suited to be the title of the sequel."

Teased through a series of clever bits co-produced with Carrie Brownstein, Annie Clark's 5th solo record under her holy moniker is due out October 13th via Loma Vista Recordings. (There are more than a few gems in that announcement video if you watch all the way through, including an penalty saving anecdote from her soccer days and something about a giantism fetish.)

With the news comes new song "Los Ageless." Debuted live in Tokyo a few weeks ago, this companion track and bicoastal foil to stunning lead single "New York" dispels any concerns fans may have had with the previous lack of guitar. Wildly distorted, St. Vincent's signature Ernie Ball axe slinks devilishly over an electronic beat more unabashedly dancey that anything she's done before. Lyrically, a liquid chorus of "How can anybody have you and lose you / And not lose their minds?" shows a rare glimpse of vulnerability as the hushed outro "I try to write you a love song but it comes out a lament" explains its origins.

Clark finished her Facebook Live speech with about as straight forward of a conclusion as one could expect: "The record's about love. At its best and at its core, it's about love. That's it. That's all. That is literally the only point. And I do mean literally to mean literally." In the press release she elaborates, “Every record I make has an archetype. Strange Mercy was Housewives on Pills. St. Vincent was Near-Future Cult Leader. MASSEDUCTION is different, it’s pretty first person. You can’t fact-check it, but if you want to know about my life, listen to this record.”

St. Vincent seemingly aims for pop power with the loudly neon rollout backed by production from Jack Antonoff (Bleachers, fun.), who's recently worked with Lorde and Taylor Swift. Notable features include saxophonist Kamasi Washington (John Legend, Kendrick Lamar), singer Jenny Lewis, pianist Thomas Bartlett (The National, Sufjan Stevens), and even vocals from ex and likely lyrical subject Cara Delevingne (credited as Kid Monkey).

Listen to "Los Ageless" below and scroll down to see MASSEDUCTION's cover art, tracklist, and tour dates (which will be "dominatrix at the mental institution kind of bonkers").

MASSEDUCTION

  1. Hang On Me
  2. Pills
  3. Masseduction
  4. Sugarboy
  5. Los Ageless
  6. Happy Birthday, Johnny
  7. Savior
  8. New York
  9. Fear The Future
  10. Young Lover
  11. Dancing with a Ghost
  12. Slow Disco
  13. Smoking Section

Arcade Fire Are Back with a New Album & Tour: Watch the Music Video for Title Track "Everything Now"

Music News, New MusicWeston PaganoComment

Arcade Fire have announced their major label debut with “Everything Now,” the title track from their forthcoming 5th record due out July 28 via Columbia Records.

Everything Now follows their one-off with Mavis Staples earlier this year and 2013’s Reflektor as Arcade Fire joins LCD Soundsystem and Grizzly Bear in announcing a debut album for Sony Music this year as the major seems intent to absorb every 2000s indie darling. All of this was, naturally, rolled out through a Twitter account disguised as a Russian bot.

Immediately launching into an ABBA style swing and sway, the piano led single is relatively straightforward pop for an Arcade Fire song accented by a crowd-sung chorus from their VooDoo Festival set last year and production from Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter.

Lyrically “Everything Now” targets the obsessive hyperactivity of modern life. “There’s sort of an everything-nowness to life. I feel like almost every event and everything that happens surrounds you on all sides,” Win Butler explained to BBC Radio 1. “It’s trying to capture some of the experiences of being alive now in all its flaws and all its glory.

The cover art, which you can see below, will have 20 different variants in 20 different languages over the LP's vinyl, CD, and cassette sales. The 13 track record is accompanied by an extensive tour, the details of which you can see below as well.

EXCLUSIVE PREMIERE: Norway's Martinus Shares Jangly Love Story on New 'Holly' EP

Exclusive Premiere, New MusicWeston PaganoComment

Martinus, the Stavanger-bred, Leeds-based project fronted by its Norwegian namesake Martinus Bjerga, has self-released a second EP titled Holly, and Transverso is proud to premiere it here.

Holly's jangly, nimble guitar can easily evoke Mac DeMarco comparisons, though Martinus' softer side is also reminiscent of Norwegian compatriots Kings of Convenience. Sweetly melodic but with a capable rock punch, the four tracks delightfully combine some sunlit hooks and subtle vocal harmonies with odds and ends like a vintage cigarette ad sample.

Bjerga explains,

I try to write approachable indie pop - the kinda music you can put on in your backyard with your friends. Chill and easy to like, but with catchy melodies that sneak their way into your brain. The EP we just released, ‘Holly,’ is essentially about this girl. It’s a love story. But isn’t all music?

I think the greatest thing about this EP is that I found this tiny 4 watt Vox amplifier from the ‘70s that sound so rad. The recording process was so much fun. It’s partly recorded in Norway in three different locations, and the rest we did in Leeds after I moved to the UK. In other words, I have tons of friends on this record, all doing their part. It’s been a ride.

You can buy Holly digitally here, on tape cassette if you're lucky enough to catch the band in person, or stream below.

Thundercat's 'Drunk' Stakes Early Claim to Best Weird Album of the Year

Music ReviewSean McHughComment
B+ rating.png

While the discussion of musical merit with regard to Thundercat’s newest LP, Drunk, will almost certainly remain indeterminate (but skewing positive), one thing is certain – Drunk has the best artwork of 2017 by far and away. Totally devoid of context, Stephen Bruner’s head is visibly breaching or submerging with eyebrow cocked.

The cover’s uniform absurdity might confuse those unfamiliar with Thundercat’s oeuvre to date, but for those “in the know” when it comes to Stephen Bruner’s sensibilities, they’ll assure any doubters the cover encapsulates the entirety of Thundercat’s sensibilities masterfully. That being said, so does the music.

Being Flying Lotus, OFWGKTA (R.I.P), Kamasi Washington adjacent, Thundercat has been seemingly omnipresent amongst hip-hop’s best and brightest, all the while maintaining relative anonymity. Over the years, Thundercat forged creative partnerships with Kendrick Lamar and the aforementioned Washington, simultaneously expanding his solo repertoire to boot.

Lo and behold, Thundercat drops an album like Drunk, a 23-track powerhouse showcasing the furthest bounds of Stephen Bruner’s musical eccentricities. Running the gamut of music from yacht rock (Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins feature on “Friend Zone”) to the now two-year old Thundercat standard, “Them Changes,” Drunk solidifies Thundercat’s borderline satirist necessity in this new era of hip-hop.

If Kendrick is new-age hip-hop’s conscientious objector, Chance its purveyor of joy, Childish Gambino its Renaissance man, and Drake its stalwart of popcaan (that’s a joke), then Thundercat is the court jester. Point and case – the first full-length track on Drunk, “Captain Stupido.”

Yet another Thundercat/Flying Lotus collaboration, “Captain Stupido” is the perfect convergence of Flying Lotus’ brash g-funk production style and Thundercat’s… let’s just call it “inspired” lyrical proclivity. Opening with the line “I feel weird (comb your beard, brush your teeth) / Still feel weird (beat your meat, go to sleep),” the track dives right into the playful juxtaposition Bruner forces upon the tight production for a song about an ill-fated night at the club. It has the tenants of hip-hop, all the while laughing in the face of the conformity of such an “unabashed” genre.

Seeing as Drunk is in fact a 23-track voyage of space funk, trip-hop, g-funk, and every other brand new iteration of the new-age hip-hop family tree, it might serve us best to take some quick hits of standout moments on the record rather than building a blow-by-blow account (your attention span can thank me later, after your 10th h3h3 video).

“A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II)” takes some of the smoothest break beats and sends them straight to the back of the mix, with the occasional snare hit creeping to the front at a particularly fat break. While the groove is working itself up, Bruner decides to present a hook worthy of a meme loving hip-hop head – “I want to be a cat” with faint “meow, meows” echoing in the middle of the mix. If anything, Thundercat is solidifying himself as a meme’s musician.

Realistically, Drunk is more of a hip-hop adjacent record that has every intention of masquerading as an R&B record, but lost in the midst of a mushroom-laden vision quest. Or, in layman’s terms, Drunk is whatever the hell Thundercat wants it to be. I mean, look at “Show You The Way,” one of the earliest singles for the album. As referenced earlier, it features two legends of yacht rock – Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins – alongside Thundercat and Flying Lotus. While the combination might seem like the “Danger Zone” of “collabos” in 2017, it’s a near lock for front-runner for best collaboration of the year (please let it be true; anyone would be better than another half-baked Chainsmokers song).

There are other memorable moments on Drunk – the anticipatory Kendrick feature, “Walk On By,” and iPhone alarm sampling “Friend Zone” – but one could (and should) argue that the best moment on Drunk comes in the one-two punch of “Blackkk” and “Japan.” The two tracks take some of Thundercat’s finest production and throws on a nice flair of freak-out funny lyricism. “Blackkk” sets the scene of a west coast lounge groove before entering the R&B night crawler that is “Japan.” One listen to “Japan” and you’ll hear lines like “gonna eat so much fish / I think I’m gonna get sick” and “gonna blow all my cash on anime.” If that doesn’t elicit a chuckle or two I don’t know what would.

So there you have it, Drunk is a lot of things, but it can be said with great confidence that they are a lot of good things. You’d be hard pressed to find a heavy moment, thematically speaking, but there’s plenty of content to dive into from a musicality standpoint. Then there’s the literally absurd lyricism – “look at this mess, who’s gonna clean it up?/Oh my god, where’s Captain Planet?” – Stephen Bruner has really set the bar high when it comes to making the tightest, casual R&B, hip-hop record of the year. For the time being, Thundercat holds the belt for 2017’s finest satirical absurdist album, that is until Father John Misty drops Pure Comedy.  

The xx Straddles Sounds and Styles on Third LP 'I See You'

Music ReviewAndy TabelingComment

 I See You finds London-based trio The xx at a crossroads. After two records of subtle, R&B influenced indie pop, the group’s third album embraces some sweeping changes, but not as wholeheartedly as you might have expected from our first taste of the new project.

The record’s first single “On Hold” which dropped late last year appeared to announce some fairly pronounced changes over at xx HQ. Gone completely was Romy’s airy guitar work, replaced by thumping-bass and club beats, all over one of the most deliberate and pronounced samples of either the group, or producer Jamie xx, has ever worked with. The announcement appears a slight red-herring - while sample work finds its ways into a few of the tracks on I See You such “Lips” or “Say Something Loving," “On Hold” is by far the most dramatic example. While second single “Say Something Loving” begins with an Alessi Brothers sample, it occupies a small, tidy space at the beginning of the track. What follows on “Say Something Loving” is a more successful model of what I See You sounds like, which appears more an experimentation with minimalism and maximalism, and how they fit into the xx’s model of songcraft, rather than a pronounced sonic shift.

Perhaps I See You is better for it. Contrasting the danceable club beat of “Dangerous” (a track seemingly ready for alternative radio airplay and FIFA title screens) with the minimal, gorgeous “Performance” leads to the record feeling like a dynamic, fluid piece where the band both makes note of its stylistic roots while placing feelers out towards its future. By doing so, it avoids the most glaring of sins of their sophomore effort Coexist, which fell into the Room on Fire sphere of music criticism - like the Strokes record, Coexist didn’t necessarily fail on the part of its songwriting, but refused to make room for the more pronounced ideas that I See You embraces fully.

Along with the advances in sample-craft, thank in part to Jamie xx’s work on 2015’s dazzling In Colour, Romy also adds to the dynamism of I See You thanks to advances in her vocal work. No better is this present than in “Brave For You," a tender and slow ballad that demonstrates the best qualities of the record in full. Occupying the sole vocal part, Romy experiments with breathy, lonesome tone that adds perfectly to the song’s thematic content focused on familial loss. “Brave For You” stands as one of the most effective examples as well of The xx’s mastery of minimal lyricism. Romy and Ollie have never tried to overdue their words, and instead choose carefully worded, strong bits of humanity to make their love songs shine through. The simple association of courage and kinship feels relatable and tender in some of the most concrete terms the group has ever produced. “Brave for You” also demonstrates the album’s tension between minimalism and the maximalistic styles of In Colour. The track shifts between some of the most quiet and intimate moments, with huge crescendos in both instrumentation and volume that sound more like post-rock than indie R&B. This moment, all drums and reverb-soaked guitar, is one of the most exciting of I See You and should be a live highlight on the group’s upcoming touring cycles.

While Ollie has never been as diverse or interesting a vocalist as Romy, they still combine together for some interesting melodic moments, as often tracks on the record seem to hinge themselves on whether their melodies achieve the intimacy and dynamism that the more danceable tracks sometimes lack. While “Dangerous” possess a strong groove, the vocal melody’s relatively uninteresting journey leaves the listener feeling somewhat hollow, unready to embrace an xx that just wants to write indie club tracks. But on the sexy, intense “Lips," Romy sells the track so effectively through her doubled vocal-and-guitar work that the track would feel stale without them, like a Sade song without the Sade.

Where the record feels the weakest is where one of the extremes of style is embraced in totality. The record’s muted final third ends with “Test Me," easily the album’s weakest track, which is pallidly quiet and lacking tension that another quieter track like the noted “Brave for You” embraces in full. The ambient section feels far more suited for a brief outro than nearly half a track, and it feels an inappropriate ending for an album that represents the band’s growth in ability to negotiate between polar extremes of instrumentation, melody and energy. But when the band embraces these ideas most clearly, such as a track like “A Violent Noise," which bursts out of total silence with blast of synthesizers and guitar, the band feels so alive and ready to push themselves into previously unheard places. It remains to be seen until record four where the xx will move next, but this moment sees a relatively happy occupancy at the space in-between stylistic choices, happily dialoguing about where the band is, ready to experiment, try, and of course, love. 

The Orwells' Fourth 'Terrible Human Beings' Single Is a Tribute to Pixies Frontman Black Francis

New MusicVincent BlackshadowComment
Photo by Yam G-Jun

Photo by Yam G-Jun

Charles Thompson IV, 51, also known as Frank Black— formerly known as Black Francis— has finally been granted a song in his namesake, joining his fellow cult heroes Alex Chilton and Grant Hart. After ascending to indie-rock royalty as the potato-shaped Pixies frontman, he infamously faxed his bandmates their walking papers and quickly released two mammoth solo albums, 1993’s Frank Black and 1994’s incomparable Teenager of the Year. (As is tradition, these masterpieces have received only a fraction of the worship they deserve, but that’s another story.)

There are few better candidates for a Black Francis tribute song than Elmhurst garage-rockers The Orwells. The two-and-a-half minute dedication, like many of the band’s songs, has a very Pixie-esque flavor. However, it’s very clearly an Orwells song, right down to the celebration of youthful debauchery (“We should hit it / I think they called the cops”) and the catchy, melodic guitar lines.

“Felt long overdue that we paid him some direct respect,” guitarist Matt O’Keefe explains. “We’ve been ripping him off for years, hopefully this chips away at the massive debt we’ve got to him.”

Fans of The Orwells are hungry as hell - It’s been two years since the solid Disgraceland came out, and one can only spin “Let it Burn” and “Who Needs You” so many times. Thankfully "Black Francis" and the other three singles from their forthcoming LP Terrible Human Beings (due out February 17 via Canvasback/Atlantic), promise more lighthearted ass-kicking is on the way.

It’s about time.

Sykoya Combines With RJ Pickens for an Enticing Remix Of "Shiver"

New MusicNic Ten GrotenhuisComment

Chicago-based producer RJ Pickens has linked up with the London's vibrant indie pop act Sykoya for a remix of “Shiver," which originally appeared on Sykoya's Strange Night EP earlier this year.

The eerily beautiful vocals of frontwoman Anna Marcella blend excellently above the synth melodies and constant drum pulse while the electronic samples pair with their organic piano and bass to bring out a refreshing twist that makes “Shiver (RJ Pickens Radio Edit)” a track that you can dance to and also relax with at the same time.

RJ Pickens has been active in shaping Chicago’s dance scene with over 15 years of live DJ and production experience, during which he's supported Eric Prydz, Hernan Cattaneo, and Jody Wisternoff.

“Shiver (RJ Pickens Radio Edit)” is out today by Vested Recordings. Listen below.

STRFKR Finally Announce New LP 'Being No One, Going Nowhere,' Drop Second Single

Music News, New MusicWeston PaganoComment

Over half a year ago, STRFKR (née Starfucker) dropped a single titled "Never Ever" without any news of an album to come. Because of this, we took the leap in assuming it was a one-off, before STRFKR themselves corrected us on Twitter, providing the first hint that a follow-up to 2013's Miracle Mile was on the way.

Then, radio silence. Despite this delay, "Never Ever"'s "What would I lie for?" outro rings true today as the Portlandian trio has appeared again with new track "Tape Machine" and an album announcement for the grimly named Being No One, Going Nowhere due out November 4th via Polyvinyl.

"Tape Machine" is an excitingly groovy and psychedelic first taste of Being No One, Going Nowhere fitting of its delightfully starry cover art, but actually wasn't originally intended for the band. Frontman Joshua Hodges told Billboard,

Tape Machine’ was written with two Dutch friends while I was in Amsterdam visiting my girlfriend and trying to find inspiration. Those two friends and I wrote about six songs together and this was one they thought was too poppy for the project, so I asked if I could use it for this STRFKR record.

Click play and stare at space below.