Heatsick : Re-engineering

Heatsick 'RE-ENGINEERING' (PAN 48)

It’s no rare thing to find surrealism and satire butting heads within a musical setting, but it is rather unusual for the resulting collision to be as fun – and as funky – as the latest album from Heatsick. Berlin-based Brit Stephen Warwick (the producer behind the alias) is used to making people dance – his multisensory “Extended Play” live shows revolve around him jamming on a Casio keyboard until he finds a groove, which he will then lock into for hours on end, putting the crowd into a feverish voodoo trance state – but with new LP Re-engineering he’s providing a mental work-out as well as a physical one. If the message Warwick is trying to impart here isn’t exactly crystal clear (something to do with the way we process the endless stream of information we are bombarded with in our day-to-day lives and the symbiotic relationship between humans and their environment), it’s certainly impossible to ignore: the opening title track (below) sets the tone, with artist Hanne Lippard blankly reeling off a list of seemingly unrelated 21st century buzz-phrases (“Second annual trend report… Private life… Use me now… Gay Google… Smart phone… Two point nought”) over woozy synths and an hypnotic industrial chug, highlighting the invisible threads that link everything and everyone in a deadpan voice that suggests total disconnection. It’s amusing, like some re-wired fembot parodying Madonna’s “Vogue”, but far from throwaway; a cybernetic tone poem soundtracking an imaginary art installation. Elsewhere, relatively straightforward house and techno numbers (or as “straightforward” as one would expect from a PAN release at any rate) such as “Clear Chanel” and “Emerge” are buffered by interludes poking fun at intrusive voiceover idents (“This is PAN…“) and – presumably – the general public’s bewildering obsession with crap karaoke cover versions (a snippet of Warwick warbling Oasis’ “Wonderwall”), whilst loose-limbed, light-hearted floor-fillers like “Speculative” and “Dial Again” rub shoulders with sax-adorned queasy-listening tropicalia (“Mimosa”) and bite-sized chunks of the kind of permanently-peaking disco bliss he cranks out live (“E-Scape”). Like My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts re-imagined – or indeed re-engineered – for the internet age, it’s an alien transmission that sounds like home, background noise that demands your complete attention. Talking to Tiny Mix Tapes recently, PAN boss Bill Kouligas said of running the label: “It’s not a competition, it’s not a race; it’s a personal interest I’m working with here.” An admirable sentiment, but with artists like Warwick producing game-changing records like this, Kouligas’ little labour of love is definitely onto a winner.

Re-engineering is out now on PAN; stream the album via Pitchfork Advance

Track of the day : The Notwist : Close To The Glass

The Notwist Announce New Album Close to the Glass, Share Title Track

We all like to celebrate landmark occasions in different ways: for Mrs Foam Hands and I, the tenth anniversary of our first date earlier this week was spent in a typical new parent fug, passing like ships in the night in between entertaining the baby and trying to get her to sleep. German band The Notwist are set to make more of an effort marking their 25th year in 2014, with the release of their seventh long-player, Close To The Glass: the follow-up to 2008’s The Devil, You + Me, it will also be their first for the iconic Sub Pop label, who will release the record in the US February 25 (City Slang will handle European release, with Afterhours and Spunk servicing Japan and Australia respectively). Check out the clanging, throbbing title track below.

Track of the day : Angel Olsen : Forgiven/ Forgotten

I’ve just got past thinking the name Angel Olsen sounds like that of an adult film star, which is a good thing since I think we’ll be seeing it a lot next year. On February 18 the St. Louis songstress (and former Will Oldham cohort) will release her second album, and first for the Jagjaguwar label, entitled Burn Your Fire For No Witness, and by the sounds of first single “Forgiven/ Forgotten” it’ll be a more incendiary affair than her stripped-back, mostly acoustic debut Half Way Home; not that that record lacked heat – far from it! – but with the addition of electric guitars and a full band Olsen looks set to explode in 2014. Check out the video below.

C. Spencer Yeh, Okkyung Lee and Lasse Marhaug : Wake Up Awesome

Int. suburban living room, littered with a child’s toys. M sits cross-legged on the couch reading a book, listening to Wake Up Awesome by C. Spencer Yeh, Okkyung Lee and Lasse Marhaug. D enters the room unzipping an outdoor jacket and looking flustered.

M: Oh, hey dad. Everything okay? Nice walk?

D: What in the hell are you listening to? This is horrendous! We’ve had a lovely walk and then we come back to this… noise! Poppy’s still asleep in her pushchair, but you’ll need to turn this off because she’ll…

M: Don’t worry dad, if she’s asleep she’ll be fine, I play music around her all the…

D: Pfft! I wouldn’t call this “music”! God help her if she’s growing up with this, this… racket, she’ll probably turn out to be a serial killer or something.

M rolls eyes

D: What is this anyway, Captain Beefheart or something?

M: No dad, not all avant-garde music is by Captain Beefheart. I actually listen to, like, new music mostly… This is…

D: Not music…

M: This is a collaboration between Okkyung Lee, C. Spencer Yeh and Lasse Marhaug, who are actually very well-respected musicians individually within certain circles and…

D: Idiots, you mean?

M: …they’ve come together here for this special series called “SSTUDIOS” that this label Software are curating.

D: Christ, they’re not going to make much money from that are they?

M: I don’t think anybody in the music industry makes much money nowadays dad…

D: No, and this is why!

M: Look, you said you’d take her out and give me an hour to chill out, and this is good music…

D: Not music…

M: …to stick on and read to cos it’s not too distracting but still interesting and clever enough…

D: Pfft!

M: No, really. These guys are brilliant musicians, brilliant improvisers. All of this is essentially just a cello and a violin and some electronics and samples all played live.

D: And what, this… Spencer Lee Mohawk? He plays all of those at once? No wonder it sounds like this. Seriously, when I walked in I thought you were being raped, there was so much scratching and squealing going on… Or putting up shelves, it sounded like someone building something. Whilst being raped!

M shakes head

M: Look, when we come and stay with you, I don’t walk in and start criticising Dire Straits or whatever you’re listening to… This may not be your cup of tea, but it’s actually not all that different to the classical stuff mum likes. A lot of very smart people like this kind of stuff. I like this kind of stuff!

D: You used to like the Beach Boys!

M: I… What? I still like the Beach Boys…

A baby cries in another room

D: See, now Poppy’s awake.

M: Yeah, thanks dad.

M puts down his book, gets up, walks over to the stereo and turns off the music before heading towards the door

D: Put those Fleet Foxes on, I like them.

M: I know you do dad…

Wake Up Awesome is out November 19 via Software; listen to a medley of tracks and “The Mermen Of Poetry” below. Note: the above is NOT based entirely on actual events; my old man is actually a pretty chill dad. Big up pops.
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Track of the day : Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks : Lariat

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks Announce New Album Wig Out at Jagbags, Share Video for

On January 6 next year, ex-Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus will release his fifth album backed by The Jicks, entitled Wig Out At Jagbags, via Domino; produced by the band (Malkmus, Joanna Bolme, Jake Morris and Mike Clark) and Remko Schouten (the Dutch soundman of Pavement fame) in a studio in rural Ardennes with ‘a farmhouse vibe’ it was inspired – in the singer’s own words – by “Cologne, Germany, Mark Von Schlegel, Rosemarie Trockel, Von Sparr and Jan Lankisch, Can and Gas; Weezer/Chili Peppers, Sic Alps, UVA in the late 80’s, NYRB, Aroma Charlottenburg, inactivity, jamming, indie guys trying to sound Memphis, Flipper, Pete Townsend, Pavement, The Joggers, the NBA and home life in the 2010’s’. I’m not entirely sure what all of those things sound like (although it’s perhaps worth noting Von Sparr are the nu-Krautrockers who helped Malkmus recreate Can’s Ege Bamyasi live last year for that album’s 40th birthday), but I’m looking forward to finding out. Check out the video for the predictably great first single “Lariat” below.

Lumbar : The First And Last Days Of Unwelcome

To some people with a particularly brutal taste in metal, guitarist and drummer Aaron Edge is something of a legend, with time served in cult outfits like Himsa, Iamthethorn, Roareth and Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth, and his latest – and most likely final – venture Lumbar suggests he is just as highly regarded by his fellow musicians. Earlier this year, Edge was unexpectedly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and decided to commit one last musical statement to tape whilst he was still able; keen to assist, his good friends (and bandmates in BOTSC) Tad Doyle (Tad) and Mike Scheidt (YOB) joined the cause and cranked out what has rapidly become one of 2013’s most eagerly anticipated metal releases. The First And Last Days Of Unwelcome, out digitally and on vinyl this week (UK/EU) via Southern Lord, is a monolithic slab of the kind of oppressive, glacially-paced doom that Pacific Northwesterners seem to do so well, layering painfully howled vocal mantras over pulverising drums and sludgy, serrated guitars to ultimately triumphant effect. CD and cassette versions of the album will be released soon (via Lumbar themselves and the Holy Mountain label respectively), with all of the band’s profits going towards Edge’s treatments and medical expenses; listen below and dig deep if you want to help.

Track of the day : Boxed In : All Your Love Is Gone

Boxed In - All Your Love Is Gone

“All Your Love Is Gone” is the debut single from Boxed In, a new project led by Oli Bayston, who also plays in former Beta Band man Steve Mason’s live group, but unlike Mason’s often meandering musings Bayston’s initial offerings suggest a far more direct style of songwriting. Citing Matthews Dear and Herbert, early Aphex Twin, Arthur Russell and Brian Eno as influences, Bayston and fellow Mason cohorts Liam Hutton and Mark Nicholls (on drums and bass respectively) here lock into a throbbing, piano-driven Neu! groove that hypnotizes for its five-minute duration; B-side “Legacy“, meanwhile, showcases more contemporary dancefloor stylings with skipping Hot Chip-like electro disco beats. The 7” is out November 25 via Moshi Moshi Singles Club.

Blood Orange : Cupid Deluxe

If someone had told you back in 2005 that one of the three young men responsible for the awesome spazz-rock racket that was Test Icicles’ first and only record For Screening Purposes Only would two years later release an album of twee emo-pop featuring some of the Saddle Creek label’s biggest names, or that in less than a decade he would be penning tunes for Britney Spears and Kylie Minogue, you most likely would have called that person an idiot and filed those suggestions away alongside “Arcade Fire make a dance-rock double-LP featuring David Bowie” in the “things least likely to happen” section of your brain. But, as we have seen, stranger things have happened and  however surreal it may seem, Devonte Hynes – one-time fixture on London’s indie-punk scene, comic book artist, serial collaborator and former Lightspeed Champion – currently resides as one of pop’s hottest songwriting properties. Cupid Deluxe, Hynes’ second full-length under the Blood Orange moniker, finds the 27-year old mining the same territory that yielded his most critically-acclaimed works to date – Sky Ferreira’s “Everything Is Embarrasing” and Solange’s “Losing You” – and once again striking gold: fusing synthetic ’80s soul and ’90s R&B with guitars and understated lo-fi production, Hynes has made an album that not only perfectly captures the zeitgeist but also feels like the culmination of indie-rock’s increasingly obsessive decade-long dalliance with mainstream pop music. Alongside a host of guest vocalists (Dirty Projectors’ Dave Longstreth, Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek, Kindness, rapper Despot, UK grime MC Skepta and – most notably – Samantha Urbani of Friends) Hynes coos and struts his way through dubby minimalism (“Chamakay“), Prince-ly disco (“You’re Not Good Enough”), choral soul-jazz (“Chosen”) and rubbery funk (“No Right Thing”, “Always Let U Down”), circling his ensemble cast like a movie director, populating the shot with details both obvious (saxophone, natch) and otherwise (kalimba!) and adding enough twists to keep even the most cynical listener on their toes: “Uncle Ace”‘s climactic free-jazz freakout, “On The Line”‘s sputtering drum machine, Despot’s snarling, Nas-like turn on “Clipped On”, Skepta reminiscing dolefully on “High Street”. Clearly Hynes is more comfortable with his buddies around him – you only have to feel the heat coming off his duets with girlfriend Urbani, or hear how his voice and Longstreth’s practically melt into one another to see how well he plays with others – but it’s equally evident that he is the leader of this particular pack, the man with the plan ensuring everyone adheres to his singular musical vision. He may speed through phases, reinventing himself at a rate that would make even the aforementioned Mr. Bowie dizzy, but whilst he keeps landing squarely on trend only a fool would criticise Hynes for his chameleonic tendencies.

Cupid Deluxe is out November 12 via Domino Recording Co.; check out “You’re Not Good Enough” and stream the whole album below.
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Swearin’ : Surfing Strange

Had she known there was going to be an “emo revival” in 2013, I dare say my wife would have postponed having a baby to facilitate another couple years of gig-going and tour bus-chasing. Back when she was still my girlfriend, she loved that shit: bands like the Get Up Kids and Dashboard Confessional; bands of boys with side-swept hair and sleeve tattoos and an apparent compulsion to air their dirty laundry in public. It never did much for me though; for the most part (and I have to concede that a couple of albums by Jimmy Eat World and Brand New did eventually end up striking a – minor – chord) I found emo to be self-important, Morrissey-minus-the-humour crap, and whenever we drove anywhere in her car, with her in charge of the stereo, I would find myself yelling angrily at these whining singers, telling them to stop crying over their cheating exes and man the fuck up. Mercifully, then, on their second album Surfing Strange Philly/ NYC quartet Swearin’ – who are often mentioned as major players in the “emo revival” (see also Joie De Vivre, Touche Amore, A Great Big Pile Of Leaves, Into It. Over It) – are less concerned with sharing their feelings than they are with recreating the quiet/ loud dynamics and fuzzy, buzzing punk pop rumble generally associated with the genre. Perhaps because they are a couple, primary vocalists Allison Crutchfield and Kyle Gilbride don’t really subscribe to the notion of using their lyrics to vent their romantic or sexual frustrations; as Fleetwood Mac or ABBA would attest, writing songs about your other half and then expecting them to sing them rarely works out for the best, regardless of how complimentary – or otherwise – they might be. Instead the pair (and bassist Keith Spencer, who this time around gets to front two songs) tend to bury their words under landslides of guitar crunch and skewed, Pavement-esque riffage, to the point where sometimes all one can actually make out is a pitchy but enthusiastically-yelped melody. Of course, enthusiasm counts for a lot: as anyone who has ever bounced around in a moshpit will tell you, a band that sounds like it’s having a good time equals a good time, and Swearin’ consistently sound like they’re having a ball, encouraging us to pump our fists during the clean parts and whip our hair when they hit their overdrive pedals, urging us to shout along to choruses we don’t know and bringing a warm glow to our hearts when snippets like “Turnpike” and “maladjusted mess” emerge from the fuzz and remind us of The Boss or the bedroom poetry we inevitably wrote as Smiths-worshipping teenagers. But is it really emo? With tracks like “Watered Down“,”Echo Locate” and “Unwanted Place” flipping effortlessly between breezy and brutal, Surfing Strange could just as easily be lumped in with alt-rock icons like the Pixies or Dinosaur Jr. or Guided By Voices; on the other hand, its middling tempos and bittersweet melodies do invite comparisons with Sunny Day Real Estate, the Promise Ring and their ilk, and – although she hasn’t actually said she likes it – the emo authority that is Mrs. Foam Hands hasn’t yet said she hates it either. Perhaps tellingly, the album’s rawest moment, “Loretta’s Flowers”, finds Crutchfield laid bare: “When you get older/ You’ll realise this wasn’t love, it was lust/ Or you won’t, and you’ll remain/ Ignorant and in pain”, she whispers over scratched guitar strings, before concluding “I wanna be there when you decide/ And I want to see what insides look like/ When they feel the way yours do”. It’s a timely reminder that spilling your guts is a messy business, and that emo – when done well – requires bravery and spirit, not cliches and guyliner; thankfully Swearin’ seem to have strong stomachs, and more balls than most.

Surfing Strange is out November 4 via Salinas/ Wichita; listen to opener “Dust In The Gold Sack” below and stream the album over at NPR.