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Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Whitney Shuns Buzz Band Banality on 'Light Upon the Lake'

Music ReviewSean McHughComment

No band in the history of everything has managed to avoid “death” in the sense that all bands – from The Beatles to your favorite local proto-punk-neo-folk-soul group – break up for one reason or another, with varying degrees of adversity and dramaticism. Obviously, The Beatles disbanded in 1970, but weren’t “definitively” broken up until Mark David Chapman read Catcher in the Rye in December of 1980, and as far your favorite local proto-punk-neo-folk-soul group is concerned, their drummer Keith was promoted to the late shift manager at Starbucks, so he won’t be able to practice most evenings, and proto-punk-neo-folk-soul drummers are at a premium in Des Moines. But silly comparisons aside, band breakups are rarely ever a joyous occurrence – tensions run high, bridges are burned, and once-hopeful fans are left with a finite discography.

So, when a particularly “buzzy” band such as Smith Westerns calls it a quits, the resulting career uncertainty for the former members can become increasingly unsettling to the devout follower. Fortunately, the legacy that follows Smith Westerns’ end looks to be far more promising than whatever outlook the original group may have had. Former front-man Cullen Omori made his way over to Sub Pop and released his solid solo debut with New Misery in March, and now, former Smith Westerns drummer Julien Ehrlich (who also had a stint in Unknown Mortal Orchestra) and guitarist Max Kackacek have banded together to form Whitney, and release a wonderfully jangly 70s-revival debut record, Light Upon the Lake.

Light Upon the Lake begins with a stellar album opener in “No Woman,” a seemingly mawkish entrance that meanders aimlessly as Ehrlich’s soft-cooing vocals opine about waking up in Los Angeles and experiencing an indefinite and tiresome change. Kackacek’s deceptively smooth '70s Martin-esque riffs eventually lead the track in a decidedly more confident direction, with a cacophony of horns closing out the introductory track. The succeeding tracks on Light Upon the Lake see an uptick in tone and vibrancy as “The Falls” feels like a mix of Vulfpeck percussive piano playful nudging Ehrlich’s lyrical musings on losing control, leading into “Golden Days,” the wax poetic (and indie rock right of passage) chronicling of some relationship passed (can’t help but think there might be some Smith Westerns undertones) – “It’s a shame we can’t get it together now.”

Where many might try and incorporate aspects of past projects into their current one, Whitney does a fantastic of presenting a definite tone and substantive grip of who Whitney is, namely in the band’s consistent use of horns, bouncing piano, and clean Martin riffs deftly maneuvered by Kackacek – especially on the album’s eponymous standout, “Light Upon the Lake.” The overall feel of Light Upon the Lake could be likened to The Band meets UMO with flecks of Vulfpeck and Blake Mills – in short, its wholly unique. The album features a number of punk sensibilities when it comes to lyrical verisimilitude and general brevity – the three song stretch of “No Matter Where I Go,” “On My Own,” and “Red Moon” runs a whopping 5:38 – with “On My Own” into “Red Moon” being the most impressive track pairing of the bunch, primarily for the excellent showcasing of horns mixed with Kackacek’s ever-tasteful licks. All in all, the two strongest aspects of Light Upon the Lake are Kackacek’s guitar expertise and the incorporation of harmonious brass work – making the record distinctly modern but also managing to hearken back to a softer time in rock music.

Light On the Lake closes out as sweetly and satisfyingly as it opened, with the uber-funk fuzz of “Polly” marking it as best track on the album, a soft cooing-ballad that has features undertones of disenchanted realism under the guise of happy rhythms and horns. The album closes with “Follow” - the sonic sibling of “Polly” – setting Light On the Lake’s with as positive an outlook as any debut featuring lyrics like “I know I’ll hear the call any time…” that lend credence to the visionary nature of Light On the Lake as a whole. “Follow” allows the record to help establish Whitney as more than just another buzz band, but rather a supremely melancholic (but not miserable) introduction steeped with perspective that maintains an ultimately warm purview of the band’s future. Expect to see Light Upon the Lake on many a "year end" list, including Transverso's, as the record exemplifies the ideal dulcet tones of an indie band debut.  

The Top 30 Records of 2015

Music ListTransverso MediaComment
2015 year end photo.png

3. Beach House - Thank Your Lucky Stars

Thank Your Lucky Stars acts as both an extension of and pivot point for Beach House’s career as a whole. Many may want the band to actively change in a progressive way, but the band chooses to continually broaden their sound in the most familiar and microscopic ways possible instead. Perhaps one of the best integration of all five preceding albums, you hear the metronome, drums are crisper, individual instruments are audible, and Victoria Legrand’s lyrics are unexpectedly discernible at certain points. It's what works for them, and its afforded Beach House the ability to carve out a dream-pop legacy (and avoid becoming a caricature) on their own terms.


2. Majical Cloudz - Are You Alone?

Are You Alone? takes off where the Montreal duo’s preceding Impersonator left off; a paradox of bare-bones, minimalist soundscapes ebbing with lush depth that are somehow simultaneously tranquilizing and uplifting. Welsh’s immaculately vulnerable monologues and unflinching vocals are gently bold, and they drive their synth lullabies forward with severe care. It's Welsh at his most overbearing, and yet his tight grip is irresistible. Calculatedly organic, passionately controlled, it’s a journal reading in a dream.



1. Tame Impala - Currents

Currents is the most adventurous, interesting, and well-produced collection of songs Kevin Parker has created thus far, sitting atop Tame Impala's discography as the most mature and painstakingly crafted iteration in their twisted psych-pop world. From the lush synth tracks that bubble through the mix to his effortless, washed out vocals, every sound is rendered with the utmost care. Currents proves Parker is unable to stick with a certain sound, forever looking for new ways to evolve his ideas and push his project beyond what was expected when Innerspeaker first hit the shelves.


Dream Culture Discuss Origins, Influences, and Moving Forward

Music InterviewEllen WilsonComment

Up-and-coming Athens, GA group Dream Culture are coming off of their second EP, Post Habitual, on which they fine tuned their UMO and Tame Impala influenced brand of psychedelia into a refreshingly groovy sound for a small town known for their heavy hand in college rock.

Transverso sat down with Evan Leima (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Chad Andrews (drums), Billy Ross (guitar) to discus their beginnings, their record, and moving forward.

TRANSVERSO: So what is Dream Culture’s origin story?

LEIMA: I met these guys through drum line. It was my senior year, we’re all drum line people. I started hanging out with them once they got into high school and then Billy kept telling me how awesome his basement is and it took me forever to go over there but once I did I was like “Oh! The hype is real!” I was making music for a while on my own and then Billy was doing that as well. Chad lives close to Billy and he would walk over to his house. That was in the suburbs when we formed. It’s finally gotten to the point where we don’t need to practice that much anymore. When we have new material that we want to learn we’ll usually take a weekend to get down on it. But we now only particle like one a week.

What was the process of making your debut Self-Titled EP? 

ROSS: Well, we recorded it in my basement. That was the biggest space we had, so it was the most logical space.

ANDREWS: And also the coolest space.

LEIMA: There’s a really good vibe to it. But the first EP - I generally record everything by myself - I would go over to Billy’s house and we would hang out and I recorded it on this big 24 Track Tascam thing.  I would do the drum track, then bass track, then the guitar track and so on. The EP was recorded from December 2013 to like summer 2014. It actually took a while for it to come out after it was all done; we finished it in the summer but it ended up not coming out until like December 2014.

And who mixed it?

LEIMA: It was mixed by this awesome guy named Miguel Ruiz. I used to work at Buffalo’s Cafe down in Suwanee, [Georgia,] and he would come in and get wings etc. and then eventually I served him and figured out he was a regular and it turns out he was an audio engineer. I recorded the vocals with him and he mastered it. All the instrumentals on the original EP I mixed myself. Which I still to this day think that it was a terrible idea and I shouldn’t have done it. But you know, that’s how it is.

Why do you think it was terrible?

LEIMA: because I was terrible! The drums were really loud.

ROSS: The hi-hat was really loud.

LEIMA:  So yeah I kind of wish I hadn’t mixed it. I’m not unhappy with it, but I wish I didn’t mix it. But he mastered it really well! He did a good job on the vocals.

Tell us about Post Habitual.

LEIMA: Post Habitual was recorded at The Glow recording studio up in northern Athens with Jessie Mangum out. A lot of people know him because he does these awesome summer singles, the MOEKE Records Summer Singles series. So what happened, the way I hooked up with him is that I recorded a single and a B side and I went to go get the tracks mixed and mastered by him. By that time I had acknowledged that me mixing was a bad idea. So I brought those to him and we just really hit it off. I went in and we had all the same favorite bands and he said my favorite bands and he was really digging what I was doing. He said he really believed what we were doing and asked if I wanted to go record with him and I said yeah. I had some songs lying around some of the songs were like a year old.  Like "Every Day" off the EP is like a year and a half old?

ROSS: Yeah, it's really old.

LEIMA: It’s an old song. It’s funny though, because Radiohead has songs that are like 10 years old and stuff. I guess its not really old but in terms of Dream Culture’s existence its old.  There’s one song on it that I wrote while I was there. I recorded everything there and mixed and mastered there.

What's next for Dream Culture?

ROSS: Shows.

ANDREWS: Promotion.

LEIMA: Yeah, shows. It’s been really good. “Imperfect on Purpose” was pretty good. I'd think the original EP was kind of like an opening statement. Its been cool to have a real kind of piece of art now that people will listen to it and wouldn’t know that we are just a bunch of dumb idiot teenagers that have no idea what we are doing.  We are going to be doing a lot of shows. Obviously Dream Culture is still active and I can see some singles coming out in the next year. And Billy has his own project called Spanish Spanish and I’m going to be playing drums for him. 

Tell me about Spanish Spanish.

ROSS: It’s just my own project where I write and record all the music. So now I’m just in the process of writing and recording a lot. Not worried about anything else other than getting a lot of music down.

LEIMA: I haven’t been writing a lot of music lately because with the EP it as all written already, rather than what I’m used to where I could just record and mess around whenever I want. It was at a studio somewhere where I had to book sessions with Jessie and it was weird; I didn’t really want to start working on stuff in my studio because I wanted to focus on the EP. I really want to make something with a female vocalist and start producing for someone else’s stuff because I don’t want to oversaturate Dream Culture. I’ve been trying to collaborate with some local artists so we’ll see what happens.

You've been compared to a lot of other psychedelic artists like UMO. Talk about what influences you.

LEIMA: I’m really into this Swedish band called Dungen. I also really like Unknown Mortal Orchestra. I really like what Ruban [Nielson of UMO] is doing. I got to meet him when he came for the Urban Outfitters show [in Athens] and he signed my guitar. Super cool dude. He was just so opened to us about asking him all of these nerdy questions. And there is this French band called Moodoid. I was very lucky because when I was in Paris a couple months ago and I was only there for a weekend and that week there was a show and it was free. They are really cool. One of those crazy flamboyant bands. It’s a dude and three chicks and they all wear make-up and glitter and stuff and tuxedos.

ROSS: They’re perfect.

LEIMA: So those are probably the three main influences. When it comes to the sonics and guitar sound I was definitely going to a UMO-y vibe. As far as drums go, Jessie’s main philosophy with the mixing is he’s going for a blend of 60’s funk and Ringo mixed together. Kind of like a really compressed sound. It helps that we were all on drumline because we are so on time all of the time. There’s never been any dragging or rushing issues.

Anything else you want to add?

LEIMA: Big shout out to Jessie at The Glow.

You can catch Dream Culture, along with touring members Graham von Oehsen (keyboards) and Freeman Leverett (bass), on December 12th at the Independent Public Alehouse

Wig Out With Dream Culture’s Kaleidoscopic 'Post Habitual' EP

Music ReviewSebastian MarquezComment
Cover art by Mac Stewart

Cover art by Mac Stewart

Dream Culture are a relatively new Athens, GA purveyor of psychedelia in its most modern sense. On their odd Picasso adorned second EP, Post Habitual, they fine tune their sound and double down on their contemporary influences to create a great little slice of psychedelic pastiche.

Now, I say pastiche here because their influences shine through not unlike that Crazy Diamond we all know and love. However, it isn’t Pink Floyd they’re sounding like here, but rather Tame Impala and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Everything from percussion style, the impressive crunch of guitar, their choice of synthesizers, and even how the vocals are mixed in bring forth elements of both the aforementioned groups’ second albums.

While this does give Dream Culture’s overall sound on this album a very derivative feeling, this is not completely to their detriment. The band plays with an earnest tenacity that can't be denied on this album, and they sound like they had a hell of a time recording this biz. Come for the kaleidoscopic grooves, stay because it’s too much fun not to.

Sample the EP with two standout tracks "Doesn't Have To Be" and "EveryDay" below. Post Habitual is out now on Moeke Records and you can buy it in full here.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra's "Can't Keep Checking My Phone" Video Is a Rabbit-Hole of Phenomena

New MusicWeston PaganoComment

Unknown Mortal Orchestra's third album, Multi-Love, is already a standout record this year, and now we have a new music video for its second single, "Can't Keep Checking My Phone," that is sure to be on the year-end lists as well.

A menagerie of unusual afflictions and other peculiar phenomena from Stendhal syndrome to divine intervention, the 4:21 runtime is chock-full of incredibly stimulating imagery with captions inspired by the style of trading card games like Mars Attacks. Directed by Dimitri Basil and Cooper Roussel (with art direction by Laura Gorun and Dominique Basil), it's just the type of thing you would hope to stumble upon in "an internet rabbit-hole researching at four in the morning," as described in UMO's Facebook post.

Put down your phone and click play on this (slightly NSFW) adventure below.

Listen to Transverso's 2015 Summer Playlist

Music ListTransverso MediaComment

Summer has officially started, which means you need a summer playlist! We've taken the responsibility of compiling 20 of the best tunes to come out so far this year that can serve as the perfect soundtrack to all of your typical summer activities, whether it be driving with the top down, relaxing by the pool, hanging out at a family reunion, or feeding gummy bears to Belle & Sebastian. Check it out below.

2015 Bonnaroo Playlist (Thursday + Friday)

Music ListTransverso MediaComment

Manchester, Tennessee's annual music festival and hedonist mud orgy Bonnaroo is right around the corner, kicking off June 11-14th. Any good concertgoer knows to familiarize oneself with the music beforehand, and we've done the work for you, compiling a playlist of the top songs by the best artists featured during the first two days, which you can check out below.

Stay tuned for Part Two (Saturday + Sunday).

Unknown Mortal Orchestra Release Second Multi-Love Single "Can't Keep Checking My Phone"

New MusicWeston PaganoComment

If you’re reading this on a mobile device we apologize for the irony.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra have revealed ‘Can’t Keep Checking My Phone’ to be their second single ahead of their third LP Multi-Love which is due out May 26th, and it’s a hand-clapping psych-soul groove.

In a newsletter sent to fans, frontman and multi-instrumentalist Ruban Nielson explains it’s about “missing somebody and that point where you refuse to accept online ‘connectivity’ as a substitute for being with someone IRL.”

Opening with a bit of meandering horns and classical guitar, ‘Can’t Keep Checking My Phone’ bounces around lyrical topics that include eating crickets, the aurora borealis, and wondering if the universe is really a hologram, all before putting the phone down and regrettably picking it up once again.

“Do you fall in love with the idea of someone? Or the chemicals they give off in person? Either way, I’ve got to get off my phone,” Nielson concludes.

World Tour:

5/7 – Eugene, OR @ WOW Hall
5/9 – Seattle, WA @ Barboza
5/10 – Spokane, WA @ The Bartlett
5/20 – Bristol, UK @ Thekla
5/21 – London, UK @ Islington Assembly Hall
5/22 – Coventry, UK @ Warwick University
5/23 – Liverpool, UK @ Sound City
5/25 – Amsterdam, Netherlands @ Bitterzoet
5/26 – Berlin, Germany @ Berghain Katine
5/27 – Brussels, Belgium @ AB Club
5/28 – Paris, France @ La Fleche d’or
5/28-30 – Barcelona, Spain @ Primavera Sound
5/29-31 – Nimes, France @ This Is Not a Love Song
6/2 – Boston, MA @ Brighton Music Hall
6/3 – Montreal, QC @ Fairmount Theatre
6/4 – Toronto, ON @ Lee’s Palace
6/5 – Pontiac, MI @ Pike Room
6/6 – Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall
6/8 – Minneapolis, MN @ Triple Rock
6/9 – Omaha, NE @ Waiting Room
6/10 – St. Louis, MO @ The Firebird
6/12 – Manchester, TN @ Bonnaroo
6/13 – Atlanta, GA @ Terminal West
6/14 – Carboro, NC @ Cat’s Cradle
6/15 – Washington, DC @ U Street Music Hall
6/16 – Philadelphia, PA @ Boot and Saddle
6/17 – Philadelphia, PA @ Boot and Saddle
6/19 – Brooklyn, NY @ Warsaw
7/14 – Bergen, Norway @ Landmark
7/16-19 – Southwold, UK @ Latitude Festival
7/23 – Portland, OR @ Aladdin Theater
7/25 – Seattle, WA @ Capitol Hill Block Party
7/26 – Vancouver, BC @ Imperial
7/28 – Boise, ID @ Neurolux
7/29 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge
7/31 – Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theater
8/1 – Santa Fe, NM @ Santa Fe Reporter Block Party
8/2 – Phoenix, AZ @ The Crescent Ballroom
8/3 – Tucson, AZ @ Club Congress
8/5 – San Diego, CA @ Casbah
8/6 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Roxy Theatre
8/7-9 – San Francisco, CA @ Outside Lands
9/8 – Helsinki, Finland @ Tavastia
9/10 – Stockholm, Sweden @ Debaser Strand
9/11 – Gothenburg, Sweden @ Pustervik
9/12 – Copenhagen, Denmark @ VEGA Small Hall
9/14 – Hamburg, Germany @ Ubel & Gefährlich
9/15 – Cologne, Germany @ Gebaude 9
9/16 – Frankfurt, Germany @ Zoom
9/17 – Berlin, Germany @ Lido
9/20 – Utrecht, NL @ Tivoli Vredenburg Pandora
9/22 – Brighton, UK @ Concorde 2
9/23 – London, UK @ O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire
9/24 – Birmingham, UK @ The Library at the Institute
9/25 – Manchester, UK @ The Ritz
9/26 – Dublin, IE @ Whelan’s
9/28 – Nottingham, UK @ Rescue Rooms
9/29 – Leeds, UK @ Brudenell Social Club
9/30 – Glasgow, UK @ QMU

Originally published on The Music Ninja