Menace Beach: Ratworld

The most celebrated figures of early 1990s alternative rock were enigmas and iconoclasts, tortured souls or wayward poets raging against machines that weren’t always clearly defined. Not every member of the Alternative Nation bled for their art, however. Behind the genre’s complicated stars were bands less interested in challenging the establishment than in just making cool noises with their guitars, acts like Superchunk, Elastica, and the Breeders. What these bands lacked in mystique, they made up for through sheer sonic abundance, amusing themselves with unfettered hooks, giddy tempos, and stylized riffing. With their fuzz-kicking guitars and modest attention spans, those bands serve as the guiding inspiration for the young Leeds group Menace Beach, whose full-length debut Ratworld bottles and concentrates the exuberance of that era’s alterna-pop.

Menace Beach are in good company mining these sounds. Over the last few years the same intersection of early ’90s alternative and indie-rock has inspired vital releases from Speedy Ortiz, Swearin’, and Joanna Gruesome, but Menace Beach are even more committed to their specific set of influences than those groups. Their closest peers, in that sense, are Yuck, another band that’s so fully internalized their record collection that their music becomes a form of roleplay. When singer/guitarist Ryan Needham merrily sings “Fuck everything you ever wanted to be” on Ratworld opener “Come On Give Up”—flanked on backing vocals, as he almost always is, by his eager co-lead Liza Violet—he’s channeling every unassuming alt-rock singer who ever softened a barbed lyric with a chipper, slightly dweeby delivery. Casual self-loathing was just as much a part of the fabric of ’90s alternative as whimsical tonal juxtapositions, and Menace Beach don’t shy from either.

Like many of Leeds’ buzziest rock bands, Menace Beach have ties to Hookworms leader Matthew “MJ” Johnson, who produced their album at his increasingly busy Suburban Home Studios. Johnson also serves as a sometimes member of the band, but little of Hookworms’ psychedelic menace carries through Ratworld. The only hints come from the warped organs piped into “Dig It Up” and “Fortune Teller”, and even those songs are so bombastically poppy that they go down easier than anything in Hookworms’ playbook. Johnson is smart to stay in the background, rather than risk interrupting the simple, sugary chemistry between Needham and Violet. They co-wrote the album together, and Ratworld reaches puppyish levels of excitement every time one of its choruses unites them. Theirs is the rare lead vocalist/backing vocalist dynamic that feels like an equal partnership, with Violet’s injections propelling these songs nearly as much as their rubbery bass lines or pogoing guitars.

Violet takes just one solo lead on Ratworld, and it’s the album’s biggest departure, a song so personal she confided to Rookie its working title was “This Is My Song”, because she didn’t want anybody else to hear it. It’s the record’s one moment of true vulnerability, but like every song Menace Beach write, it’s also an homage, in this case to the smoldering, reverb-saddened ballads of Galaxie 500. Here the familiarity that usually works in the band’s favor cuts against them. When the song’s dreamy haze breaks into a shower of corroded guitars, there’s no surprise; that’s how these kinds of Galaxie 500 appropriations always play out. On an album that otherwise so joyfully captures the exhilaration of alternative’s recent past, it’s one of the rare moments where Menace Beach’s borrowed sounds don’t deliver the same charge they did the first time around.

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1zBFJog

Advertisements

Menace Beach: Ratworld

The most celebrated figures of early 1990s alternative rock were enigmas and iconoclasts, tortured souls or wayward poets raging against machines that weren’t always clearly defined. Not every member of the Alternative Nation bled for their art, however. Behind the genre’s complicated stars were bands less interested in challenging the establishment than in just making cool noises with their guitars, acts like Superchunk, Elastica, and the Breeders. What these bands lacked in mystique, they made up for through sheer sonic abundance, amusing themselves with unfettered hooks, giddy tempos, and stylized riffing. With their fuzz-kicking guitars and modest attention spans, those bands serve as the guiding inspiration for the young Leeds group Menace Beach, whose full-length debut Ratworld bottles and concentrates the exuberance of that era’s alterna-pop.

Menace Beach are in good company mining these sounds. Over the last few years the same intersection of early ’90s alternative and indie-rock has inspired vital releases from Speedy Ortiz, Swearin’, and Joanna Gruesome, but Menace Beach are even more committed to their specific set of influences than those groups. Their closest peers, in that sense, are Yuck, another band that’s so fully internalized their record collection that their music becomes a form of roleplay. When singer/guitarist Ryan Needham merrily sings “Fuck everything you ever wanted to be” on Ratworld opener “Come On Give Up”—flanked on backing vocals, as he almost always is, by his eager co-lead Liza Violet—he’s channeling every unassuming alt-rock singer who ever softened a barbed lyric with a chipper, slightly dweeby delivery. Casual self-loathing was just as much a part of the fabric of ’90s alternative as whimsical tonal juxtapositions, and Menace Beach don’t shy from either.

Like many of Leeds’ buzziest rock bands, Menace Beach have ties to Hookworms leader Matthew “MJ” Johnson, who produced their album at his increasingly busy Suburban Home Studios. Johnson also serves as a sometimes member of the band, but little of Hookworms’ psychedelic menace carries through Ratworld. The only hints come from the warped organs piped into “Dig It Up” and “Fortune Teller”, and even those songs are so bombastically poppy that they go down easier than anything in Hookworms’ playbook. Johnson is smart to stay in the background, rather than risk interrupting the simple, sugary chemistry between Needham and Violet. They co-wrote the album together, and Ratworld reaches puppyish levels of excitement every time one of its choruses unites them. Theirs is the rare lead vocalist/backing vocalist dynamic that feels like an equal partnership, with Violet’s injections propelling these songs nearly as much as their rubbery bass lines or pogoing guitars.

Violet takes just one solo lead on Ratworld, and it’s the album’s biggest departure, a song so personal she confided to Rookie its working title was “This Is My Song”, because she didn’t want anybody else to hear it. It’s the record’s one moment of true vulnerability, but like every song Menace Beach write, it’s also an homage, in this case to the smoldering, reverb-saddened ballads of Galaxie 500. Here the familiarity that usually works in the band’s favor cuts against them. When the song’s dreamy haze breaks into a shower of corroded guitars, there’s no surprise; that’s how these kinds of Galaxie 500 appropriations always play out. On an album that otherwise so joyfully captures the exhilaration of alternative’s recent past, it’s one of the rare moments where Menace Beach’s borrowed sounds don’t deliver the same charge they did the first time around.

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1zBFJog

Lena Willikens: Phantom Delia EP

“I’m an old punk,” Lena Willikens told Germany’s Groove magazine last year. “For me, everything needs to have edges, corners and rough surfaces.” To that list, I’d add frayed wires, tarnished metal, and greasy ball bearings: whatever the Cologne DJ pulls out of her bag, from contemporary dance music to krautrock B-sides, tends to sound like it’s been salvaged from a scrap heap. Maybe that battered, lived-in quality is related to the fact that everything she plays also needs to have a story—or at least, it tends to have one by the time she’s done with it.

For her monthly Radio Cómeme show “Sentimental Flashback”, Willikens puts together astonishingly diverse selections around themes both idiosyncratic and hyper-specific. One early show spotlit “the dark side of my record collection, focusing on the time period between ’77 and ’84”; she has gone on to make tributes to female electronic music pioneers like Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram; West African music from the ’70s; minimal wave and post-punk; and cosmic disco, redefined. (“Do you remember? Some years ago there was a cosmic disco revival,” she asked at the outset of the program. “That time I asked myself what is cosmic? After listening to Baldelli’s mixtapes, I think I’ve got the idea: play emotional, and fuck genre borders. I like that idea.”) And while her club sets may not be as rigorously thematic, they are said to be every bit as daring; her residency at Düsseldorf’s Salon des Amateurs has contributed to its reputation as one of dance music’s most progressive venues.

Phantom Delia is Willikens’ debut EP. Co-produced by Matias Aguayo, it’s in line with the aesthetic of his label, Cómeme—dark but playful, modestly mid-fi but full of attitude—but this is clearly Willikens’ show. She may have released little of her own music before now, but her aesthetic arrives fully formed. There are multiple inspirations audible here, but they all revolve around primitive electronics: there are the rudimentary thuds and drones of the early synth-pop known retrospectively as “minimal wave,” and there’s the sultry machine sex of groups like Detroit’s A Number of Names, of the foundational proto-techno single “Sharevari”. Towering above both styles is the figure of Delia Derbyshire, the record’s presumable namesake, whose pioneering work for the BBC Radiophonic Workshop was enormously important in popularizing early electronic music. (Renowned for both her technological and artistic acumen, Derbyshire, who died in 2001, is also remembered as a feminist icon: upon graduating college, she applied to work at Decca Records, only to be told that they didn’t hire women. That her music would go on to become so universally known, even if her name was not—who hasn’t heard her theme for “Dr. Who”?—feels like vindication, to say the least.)

“Howlin Lupus” opens the record on an ominous note, as foghorn bleats tangle with wolf howls over typewriter clatter and minor-key throb. It’s got it all, really: a danceable beat, a widescreen sense of drama, and rich, resonant sonics evocative of copper wires and glowing tubes. On “Nilpferd”—that’s German for “hippopotamus”—detuned oscillators buzz and squeal while monotone muttering dissolves into deadpan laughter; it sounds like a bad trip in a concrete bunker, a real Cold War hangover. Her sound design comes to the fore on “Asphalt Kobold”, in which plucked tones thumb-wrestle with synthetic mouth harp. At the center of it all, a glassy bauble of a rimshot sound stands out as if presented upon a velvet pillow; it suggests coldwave aesthetics as a pinnacle of electrical engineering, a feat of design comparable with Braun’s legendarily sober, streamlined gizmos.

“Mari Ori” is all hopped up on Halloween vibes; wind whistles through the cracks of its drum programming, and the tremolo lead shivers as though terrified. (It comes as no surprise to learn that Willikens also plays Theremin.) Even on her clubbiest tracks, her touch is distinct from virtually everyone else working in dance music; it has to do with the way she uses drums as accents rather than pulse-keeping devices. That’s especially true on “Noya Noya” and “Howlin Lupus”, with their stumbling kick drums and stabbing white noise. She’s also got a real way with counterpoints, which she braids like pliable icicles, each strand chillier than the next—well, unless thawing’s your chosen metaphor, in which case look to the slow dissolution of the beatless closing track, “Phantom Delia”, a steady stream of sawtoothed frequencies seeping deep into the firmament. It is, after all, a kind of roots music—simply of a revisionist strain, bearing a mutant fruit that’s been decades in the making.

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1zBFIRv

Lena Willikens: Phantom Delia EP

“I’m an old punk,” Lena Willikens told Germany’s Groove magazine last year. “For me, everything needs to have edges, corners and rough surfaces.” To that list, I’d add frayed wires, tarnished metal, and greasy ball bearings: whatever the Cologne DJ pulls out of her bag, from contemporary dance music to krautrock B-sides, tends to sound like it’s been salvaged from a scrap heap. Maybe that battered, lived-in quality is related to the fact that everything she plays also needs to have a story—or at least, it tends to have one by the time she’s done with it.

For her monthly Radio Cómeme show “Sentimental Flashback”, Willikens puts together astonishingly diverse selections around themes both idiosyncratic and hyper-specific. One early show spotlit “the dark side of my record collection, focusing on the time period between ’77 and ’84”; she has gone on to make tributes to female electronic music pioneers like Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram; West African music from the ’70s; minimal wave and post-punk; and cosmic disco, redefined. (“Do you remember? Some years ago there was a cosmic disco revival,” she asked at the outset of the program. “That time I asked myself what is cosmic? After listening to Baldelli’s mixtapes, I think I’ve got the idea: play emotional, and fuck genre borders. I like that idea.”) And while her club sets may not be as rigorously thematic, they are said to be every bit as daring; her residency at Düsseldorf’s Salon des Amateurs has contributed to its reputation as one of dance music’s most progressive venues.

Phantom Delia is Willikens’ debut EP. Co-produced by Matias Aguayo, it’s in line with the aesthetic of his label, Cómeme—dark but playful, modestly mid-fi but full of attitude—but this is clearly Willikens’ show. She may have released little of her own music before now, but her aesthetic arrives fully formed. There are multiple inspirations audible here, but they all revolve around primitive electronics: there are the rudimentary thuds and drones of the early synth-pop known retrospectively as “minimal wave,” and there’s the sultry machine sex of groups like Detroit’s A Number of Names, of the foundational proto-techno single “Sharevari”. Towering above both styles is the figure of Delia Derbyshire, the record’s presumable namesake, whose pioneering work for the BBC Radiophonic Workshop was enormously important in popularizing early electronic music. (Renowned for both her technological and artistic acumen, Derbyshire, who died in 2001, is also remembered as a feminist icon: upon graduating college, she applied to work at Decca Records, only to be told that they didn’t hire women. That her music would go on to become so universally known, even if her name was not—who hasn’t heard her theme for “Dr. Who”?—feels like vindication, to say the least.)

“Howlin Lupus” opens the record on an ominous note, as foghorn bleats tangle with wolf howls over typewriter clatter and minor-key throb. It’s got it all, really: a danceable beat, a widescreen sense of drama, and rich, resonant sonics evocative of copper wires and glowing tubes. On “Nilpferd”—that’s German for “hippopotamus”—detuned oscillators buzz and squeal while monotone muttering dissolves into deadpan laughter; it sounds like a bad trip in a concrete bunker, a real Cold War hangover. Her sound design comes to the fore on “Asphalt Kobold”, in which plucked tones thumb-wrestle with synthetic mouth harp. At the center of it all, a glassy bauble of a rimshot sound stands out as if presented upon a velvet pillow; it suggests coldwave aesthetics as a pinnacle of electrical engineering, a feat of design comparable with Braun’s legendarily sober, streamlined gizmos.

“Mari Ori” is all hopped up on Halloween vibes; wind whistles through the cracks of its drum programming, and the tremolo lead shivers as though terrified. (It comes as no surprise to learn that Willikens also plays Theremin.) Even on her clubbiest tracks, her touch is distinct from virtually everyone else working in dance music; it has to do with the way she uses drums as accents rather than pulse-keeping devices. That’s especially true on “Noya Noya” and “Howlin Lupus”, with their stumbling kick drums and stabbing white noise. She’s also got a real way with counterpoints, which she braids like pliable icicles, each strand chillier than the next—well, unless thawing’s your chosen metaphor, in which case look to the slow dissolution of the beatless closing track, “Phantom Delia”, a steady stream of sawtoothed frequencies seeping deep into the firmament. It is, after all, a kind of roots music—simply of a revisionist strain, bearing a mutant fruit that’s been decades in the making.

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1zBFIRv

Young Ejecta: The Planet EP

For legal reasons, Ejecta, a mystical alien everywoman embodied by Leanne Macomber and given a soundtrack by producer Joel Ford, now goes by Young Ejecta. At the risk of sounding a little like the pair have wandered into the rap game, the new name works; “ejecta” is the word for the dust that falls after a volcano erupts or a meteorite strikes the earth. Fresh dust implies a recent impact, and so does the duo’s new record, The Planet, which sees Macomber reeling from heartbreak and trauma.

The EP’s near-title track “Your Planet” is an ode to Macomber’s close friend who died at 20. To mourn him, she imagined him in his own, new world, looking fondly down at Earth like a lost Little Prince laughing among the stars. “You were the only one who ever loved me,” she intones on the track, while Ford transitions from celestial organ to an outer space dance party bass line. In mourning there’s also celebration, and “Your Planet” gently wraps its tendrils around both.

Ford, who’s known for collaborating with Oneohtrix Point Never as half of Ford & Lopatin, enjoys testing the edges of tastefulness with cheap-sounding synth patches. Like the PC Music tricksters, he’s interested in that porous boundary between cool and corny, and he oscillates all over it here. It works and it doesn’t; “Your Planet” feels appropriately sci-fi and sad, and the blushing pop opener “Into Your Heart” pounds with all the adrenaline of a brand new crush. But the chirpy bass on “All Day” tends to meander without an endgame, cartoony and brash next to Macomber’s delicate singing.

When Young Ejecta nail in a song, they nail it clean. “Into Your Heart” blooms with the best of them as Macomber’s long melodic phrases spiral out of the atmosphere, while Ford’s club bass and drum beat rattle like a star fighter out of hell. “Is there any way I can dive into your heart?” wonders Macomber, her voice dry and double-tracked, unsheathed from the reverb that clouded Ejecta’s debut Dominae. Ford’s quaking backbeat compounds the question’s anxiety. The stakes are high, and Young Ejecta swoops to meet them with grace.

Macomber emotes better without those effects, but her newly clean singing can feel at odds with Ford’s harshly synthetic compositions. She’s a subtle vocalist, giving a light touch to lyrics about lazy days spent masturbating on “Welcome to Love”. When Ford’s fake, fake strings enter the chorus, it muddies the effect. Macomber wraps self-deprecation, frustration, and pure yearning into the way she sings just a few words, and Ford struggles to match that complexity. The two musicians match well in terms of overall ethos, but at some points it feels like they just stopped listening to each other, and what should be otherworldly comes clunking to the ground. 

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1AWPadk

Young Ejecta: The Planet EP

For legal reasons, Ejecta, a mystical alien everywoman embodied by Leanne Macomber and given a soundtrack by producer Joel Ford, now goes by Young Ejecta. At the risk of sounding a little like the pair have wandered into the rap game, the new name works; “ejecta” is the word for the dust that falls after a volcano erupts or a meteorite strikes the earth. Fresh dust implies a recent impact, and so does the duo’s new record, The Planet, which sees Macomber reeling from heartbreak and trauma.

The EP’s near-title track “Your Planet” is an ode to Macomber’s close friend who died at 20. To mourn him, she imagined him in his own, new world, looking fondly down at Earth like a lost Little Prince laughing among the stars. “You were the only one who ever loved me,” she intones on the track, while Ford transitions from celestial organ to an outer space dance party bass line. In mourning there’s also celebration, and “Your Planet” gently wraps its tendrils around both.

Ford, who’s known for collaborating with Oneohtrix Point Never as half of Ford & Lopatin, enjoys testing the edges of tastefulness with cheap-sounding synth patches. Like the PC Music tricksters, he’s interested in that porous boundary between cool and corny, and he oscillates all over it here. It works and it doesn’t; “Your Planet” feels appropriately sci-fi and sad, and the blushing pop opener “Into Your Heart” pounds with all the adrenaline of a brand new crush. But the chirpy bass on “All Day” tends to meander without an endgame, cartoony and brash next to Macomber’s delicate singing.

When Young Ejecta nail in a song, they nail it clean. “Into Your Heart” blooms with the best of them as Macomber’s long melodic phrases spiral out of the atmosphere, while Ford’s club bass and drum beat rattle like a star fighter out of hell. “Is there any way I can dive into your heart?” wonders Macomber, her voice dry and double-tracked, unsheathed from the reverb that clouded Ejecta’s debut Dominae. Ford’s quaking backbeat compounds the question’s anxiety. The stakes are high, and Young Ejecta swoops to meet them with grace.

Macomber emotes better without those effects, but her newly clean singing can feel at odds with Ford’s harshly synthetic compositions. She’s a subtle vocalist, giving a light touch to lyrics about lazy days spent masturbating on “Welcome to Love”. When Ford’s fake, fake strings enter the chorus, it muddies the effect. Macomber wraps self-deprecation, frustration, and pure yearning into the way she sings just a few words, and Ford struggles to match that complexity. The two musicians match well in terms of overall ethos, but at some points it feels like they just stopped listening to each other, and what should be otherworldly comes clunking to the ground. 

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1AWPadk

Petite Noir: The King of Anxiety EP

Yannick Ilunga, a 24-year-old from Cape Town, grew up singing in church, played in a metalcore band where he sounded like this, and then discovered Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak. Now, as Petite Noir, he sings in a deep, sonorous voice and plays an itchy, gently polyrhythmic mix of music that he has cannily packaged in interviews as “noir-wave,” meaning a mix of new wave and South African influences. The parts are present—the clipped, piping guitars are reminiscent of the West African genre highlife while also reminding ’80s rock fans of post-punk bands like Joy Division—but Ilunga’s music doesn’t feel like hybrid music. It feels seamless, subtle and lithe and luminously sexy, and it probably took his entire childhood of musical wandering to arrive at something so slick and assured.

The vocals are the immediate standout, as they were when Petite Noir first surfaced way back in 2012, with “Till We Ghosts”. Ilunga has been slowly adding songs to his name since then, each one a striking addition to a slender catalog, and most of those songs are rounded up on this five-song EP, called The King of Anxiety. On the strength of this slight batch of material, Ilunga was signed to Domino, and he is going to be recording a full-length for them this year. In the meantime, Solange Knowles and Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) have noticed him. His career has been a slow, graceful build, like his music.

“Come Inside” builds from a modal guitar figure that Ilunga sings over directly. The song’s call-and-response structure and the spine-slipping thump of its bass drums ground it loosely in blues-based traditions, but Ilunga keeps the music’s borders vague and blurry, adding in some warped synths and post-punk guitar leads. His voice, rich and soothing, buffs the surface and keeps the emotional temperature at a low bubble. No matter how many parts are moving inside of his songs, The King of Anxiety always feels calm and serene.  Ilunga’s words are simple—”Only you can make me the pain,” “When I fall, you welcome me inside”—and the songs have a lucid-dream quality, a sense that nothing inside of them can truly go wrong.

“I don’t know, but you’re taking me for a fool, boy,” he sings on “Chess”, a lovestruck song that he delivers in his surprisingly hefty falsetto. The song details some sort of  heartbreak or betrayal, but it feels purposefully soft-focus and enigmatic, right down to the gender pronouns, which never quite settle. It’s an enigmatic scene, focusing on the redemptive quality of heartache more than the pain—when someone’s hurt us, we’re often more sure of who we are than before, and this is the energy “Chess” dials into. It’s the most textured, detailed and ambitious of the EP’s five compositions, shot through with a tremulous, almost chaste feeling, a soft sexiness that recalls Bloc Party singles like “So Here We Are” or “I Still Remember”.

The Bloc Party resemblance underlines a point: There is nothing technically very “new” sounding in Ilunga’s blends, which wouldn’t shock or confuse anyone who has heard a TV on the Radio song. But they are instantly appealing and starry-eyed and romantic, and they will make tremendously powerful network-TV drama music. He has a nice grasp on how song structure and arrangement can shift the mood imperceptibly, and minute musical changes—the shift from drum programming into complicated live drumming in the last minute of “Chess”, to take one example—alter the fabric of the music in significant ways. He seems to be working very carefully and slowly, but the result is hard to argue with: These songs feel obvious the first time you hear them and then slowly grow more sophisticated over time. 

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1zBFGJo