Sneaks-Highway Hypnosis: Album Review

Constantly picking apart melodic and lyrical ideas into a self-referential stew of collapsing rhythms, Sneaks makes dynamic music that cascades through different zones.  It will inevitably be heard as post-punk considering that bass is the closest thing to a constant in the Highway Hypnosis environment, but just as certain bands like the Talking Heads and New Order took dance music as a muse for new wave, the album is lawless; a moody, cold energy the only constant between mechanical bass rhythms and crashing beats.

In terms of subject material, Sneaks is more about exploring sketches than painting a whole environment, which will likely turn off some listeners, but for those into Palberta’s sense of humor, or the classic Wire material, these songs will be laughed at and loved.

“Saiditzoneza” sounds like Sneaks made up a word to see what it would be like as a foundation block of a tune and then didn’t build anything on top of it.  “Holy Cow I Never Saw A Girl Like That,” is classic Sneaks, toying with that title to maniacal effect with the equally evil bass-line accompanying.

The album also sports sonic tricks equivalent to these lyrical quirks.  “A Lil Close” opens with a high-electro melody that could serve as a background for a Weeknd or Drake pop-R&B smash, but a knob suddenly gets twisted you’re left with a hollow rhythmic background for some more bass smothering.  “Cinnamon,” on the other hand is definitely melodically imagined, with Sneaks adopting a childlike awe between bouts of adult mumble–much of the details in the lyrics getting lost in the mix.

The highlights of the work are “The Way it Goes” and “Ecstasy,” however, and hopefully give a glimpse at the material Sneaks may be shooting for in the future.

The first is a hype track for an ambient action sequence in a made up movie with the lyric “and when the match-a-lit it goes up” and an ironic rap verse about skate boarding.  “Ecstasy” is spacier with lots of catchy materials dancing around each other.  Elongated syllables open for “running ’round the world with a planet of my own,” but by inflecting tidbits like quickly sung “I Don’t Wanna Explain” and “all I got is ecsta-sayyyyy,” Sneaks hints at a more verse-chorus-verse dynamic structure.

It’s good to hear sneaks do sneaks, but also sneaks can do structure–something that undeniably could’ve given Highway Hypnosis more buoyant energy from cover to cover.  Hopefully Sneaks the ironic rapper will have more for us next cycle.

-Donovan Burtan




Looking Ahead: 1/25.

Sneaks-Highway Hypnosis

If there’s any connective tissue between this Sneaks album and the next one on the list it’s the fact that both grapple with the limits of minimalism.  In the live setting, at least around the time of her first EP, Sneaks’s Eva Moolchan plays the bass and sings over a drum machine, mostly one-minute songs.  Like girlpool’s expansion to a 40+ minute ‘proper’ album, Highway Hypnosis is 30 minutes long with more things approaching traditional song structures.  Luckily it feels as if Sneaks has held onto the magic and just given us an all out revamp of her sound sporting 808 flourishes and even more lyrical attitude.

Out today.

Girlpool-What Chaos is Imaginary

Admittedly on first listen, What Chaos is Imaginary the album felt like it took a bit too much breathing room amongst its moody synths, but a tune like “Hire” takes some of the notes I might’ve given them on their last album into consideration and delivers expert pop-punk.

Up on first listen.

Better Oblivion Community Center-s/t

I mentioned that 2019 is the year of adult emo last week and then this happened so naturally, I am right.  Better Oblivion Community Center is the combined talents of Phoebe Bridgers and Connor Oberst and they address teenage thoughts through an adult lens, their immediately palpable chemistry making every moment feel like home.

Out now!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Foxing-Nearer My God: Album Review

Both dealing with the problematic trope of “dudes screaming at their ex-girlfriends” and a slight revisionism of the genre’s issues with reviewers in the past (maybe thanks to lil uzi vert and the rest of the rap-emo wave), Emo sits in a bit of a strange place right now.  Not unlike Shoegaze, the genre was an insult at one point–dismissed for the sake of more masculine genres–then gained more recognition as the internet allowed for fandoms to connect and gush over the classic records that the press wouldn’t recognize.

Of course, allowing emo to have a chip on its shoulder comes with more weight as the genre to recreates the power dynamics of the mainstream with its almost strictly male cannon and, again, the “SCREAMING AT YOUR EX” thing.  A band that once screamed out “SO WHY DONT YOU LOVE ME BACK” in a rather vicious way, Foxing may fall victim to some of the genres shortcomings, however, their career has seen them grow more mature with each release and Nearer My God is the culmination of their talents.

Nearer My God is a unabashed swing for the fences record.  An hour long, the album is the band’s longest and through layering and electronics, the instrumentals are orchestral in size, cresting in huge climaxes that continuously outdo each other making the record grow more giant with each song.  For a more commercial powerhouse type band, this would likely result in an annoying, cloying mess (i.e. Imagine Dragons, Foo Fighters), but Foxing’s post-Brand New take on Midwestern emo has always conjured the mature balance of post-rock so they pull it off tastefully.

Lyrically, the band also continues to mature with evocative lyrical couplets that don’t place unnecessary blame on anyone, more so capturing grief or nostalgia in an open ended way.  On “Lich Pin” the chorus is “I just want real love for you” to contrast the self-hatred of the verses.  A break-up is rough, but I think when you’re an adult the tendency should be towards this type of sentiment rather than pinning all the problems of another.

“You think I must not remember/but I do” on “Bastardizer” sticks out.  In the context of a song, it’s simply an angry note to a dead-beat father, but by speaking about memory the group achieve a more mature vagueness. allowing the phrase to speak for itself.  It could be a note to someone you care for, letting them know that you do remember all the little things that made the relationship important. The real strength of Foxing on this album is their way of telling detailed stories that also have a few little phrases that stick out and burn into your memory on first listen.

Foxing sound like a passionate, beautiful group of souls on here.  Think this album will be around for a while.

-Donovan Burtan


Quick side-note: I make reference to Brand New a little bit in this review and link to a review of their music.  Although I like their music and I think their influence holds true for Foxing, I do not mean to endorse the band at this point nor do I listen to them anymore due to the disturbing allegations against front-man Jesse Lacy.

If you didn’t know about this they are here (trigger warning for sexual assault and child grooming):

I encourage you to read this essay if the band remains a part of your listening habits.

Ought-Room Inside the World: ALBUM REVIEW

Perhaps the closest thing to streamlined indie rock that Constellation records has ever signed, locals Ought have occasionally raised eyebrows with the more accessible, hook-driven side of their catalog. Signifying the band’s move to Merge, Room Inside the World continues the trend of cleaning up their sound with a generally less jittery overarching feeling, but fleshes out the more tender emotions that classics like “Forgiveness” strived for—on “Desire,” vocalist Tim Darcy’s urgent mannerisms get backed up by a choir. The sense of scrappy youth has faded a bit, but their potency still comes from the emotional energy that’s always served as a backdrop to more anxiety driven jams.


Profligate: Somewhere Else: ALBUM REVIEW

Riding a wave of arpeggiated synths, minimal drum machines, and dance-able bass lines, Noah Anthony’s Profligate conjures a seething aura on Somewhere Else.  A mainstay of the DIY electronic community, Anthony steps into somewhat of a new realm here.  The ominous landscape that sets in with distant percussion and oscillating keyboards on the title track finds a mood not unlike 2014’s Finding the Floor, but the rhythmic drive is left up to swells of the instruments and noise at his disposal rather than a consistent techno sensibility.

After Somewhere Else sputters out, A Circle of opens with screaming shots of noise, eventually jolting itself into a post-punk feeling groove highlighted by eerie high vocals from Anthony’s new collaborator Elaine Kahn.  Enlist exhilarates with a punchy bass line and another spike in energy as a massively distorted melody draws viciously outside the lines.  The project is remarkable in its unity, always seeming to pick up where the last track left off and over the first three tracks, the album evolves from a muttering wind to a barreling freight-train.

Elsewhere, the rhythmic momentum stalls and Kahn’s lyrical side adds complementary poetic imagery to the anxious darkness of the sonic pallet.  After the haunting melodic line on Lose a Little dissipates, she takes over the droney landscape, speaking about “the water’s grey narcotic web” and how “to live is to disorganize.”  Anthony’s vocals tend to remain contained and monotone and Kahn’s ability to both match that and add instances of heightened energy elsewhere helps flesh out the swells of activity.

Between the loosened rhythmic feel and the edition of Kahn, Profligate has reached a new zone.  There’s room to grow from here, but Somewhere Else is a masterful amalgamation of DIY experiments.  Who’s counting but a singular work spanning noise, spoken-word, post-punk-rock, electronic feels so right on Wharf Cat Records and so fresh in the year of our lord 2018.



“We’re never gonna let them win” he yelps into his sluggish eleven-minute long closer.  Jeff Rosenstock is the man you want to root for.  His orchestral pop-punk stylings aren’t going to rule the airwaves in 2018 and for music fans like me they may not warrant a million listens–I mean outside of pixar a line like “I can’t play piano all that well/Like, I’m fine/I can get away with it” can’t have THAT much lasting value. 

Yet, his barreling ambition and raw emotion certainly make his work worth keeping up with.   On 2016’s “Worry,” Rosenstock’s anxiety was the main point of rumination, but his arrangements suffered from a bit too much emphasis on the ORCHESTRAL.  “Post” keeps things focussed on sprawling rock with his trademark urgency again spilling his guts.  Punks grow up and start backing things up on their hard-drives, but Post sees Rosenstock sticking to his guns, recording in a week, and wearing his heart on his sleeve.


Classic Album of the Week: Siouxsie and the Banshees-Juju

1978’s “The Scream” saw an insane amount of potential in the punky-groove realm with barren drum grooves and simple, quirky guitar loops complementing a huge lead singer with shocking make-up and a wild melodic sense.  A new icon was born, but outside the UK, she wouldn’t be influential for a while.

Considering the rise of bands today like Ought, Preoccupations, and Priests; the rap love of post-punk from Danny Brown and Vince Staples; and the even more direct influence of Slowdive—a band named after a Siouxsie Sue tune—it’s clear that the movement had a huge impact and the Banshees were an integral part of post-punk’s aura.

Looking back on their career, they were consistent.  They released albums yearly after their debut, each time adding a bit more practice onto their foundation and even exploring some electronics on the insanely ahead of its time track “Red Light.”

As a whole, I would say the band is more influential and iconic than their albums and Siouxsie Sue would be a figure of goth, new-wave, and post-punk based on a handful of tracks, covers, and her ridiculously good stage-presence rather than having a universally-loved “Illmatic,” but to this day 1981’s “Juju” remains a measured, consistent post-punk masterpiece that set the tone for a decade.

Budgie’s cavernous drums and John McGeoch’s layered guitar work are the first big things that stick out when considering the band’s sonic development.  “Spellbound” finds a driving groove with a combination of jangling guitar strumming and anticipatory guitar arpeggiation.

The drums stick out a bit more on “Into the Night” where traditional Banshees circular tom patterns meet a new-found depth.  “Voodoo Dolly,” the seven-minute jam that closes out the album, sees distant, screams of guitar noise and pounding drums giving new life to Sue’s strained chorus.

Sue keeps a bit of her old self.  With an infectious-as-hell “trick or treat, the bitter and the sweet” chorus, “Halloween” is the same blunt lyricism that made tracks like “Carcass” so loveable, but there’s also some slightly more developed dark imagery that would influence the many goth-bands to come.  “Night Shift,” for instance, opens with sparse bass lines, before a chugging demeanor sets in.  Singing about the “Night Shift sisters” (prostitutes), Sue pains a rather dire picture: “The cold marble slab submits at my feet/With a neat dissection/Looking so sweet to me.”

Siouxsie Sue was an icon for a lot of people.  In terms of album delivery, “Juju” saw her at her best and it remains her band’s most rewarding statement to date.

Classic Album of the Week: Bark Psychosis-Hex

Hex is one of those accidental–and perhaps impractical–masterpieces.  From the use of a church’s natural reverb to drench the heavy dose of electronic sampling to the various guest appearances, including trumpets, string quartets, and tamboura, Bark Psychosis crafted a painstaking work impossible to recreate on a night by night basis–especially considering the domineering nature of guitarist Graham Sutton that gradually kicked out the rest of the band. Nonetheless, the work survives to this day as one of the most important re-calibrations of the rock aesthetic of the past 30 years.

Sutton spent a great deal of time playing with different sounds leading up to the Hex sessions.  The Loom is perhaps the most akin to typical rock song forms, but the long hand-drum sounding groove at its center is encapsulated by these aquatic drone sounds before crunchy sampling eventually kills any possibility of a chorus.  The longest track, Pendulum Man, contrasts bass noodling and distant guitar cries with a glorious crystal of electronics that swells blissfully, stringing the listener along for 10 minutes.

The beauty of Hex takes a deep listen to garner, but the big moments on the record are certainly breathtaking.  Eyes & Smiles digs in more than most tracks with battling trumpets, whereas Absent Friends’ high pulsing guitar melodies and screaming drones hypnotize for the whole second half of the track.

Hex was almost sacrificial in the end.  Bark Psychosis didn’t survive to make a handful of records and their touring history is minimal, but their fingerprint is all over the post-rock that followed (the term was coined in Simon Reynolds’ review after all).  While everyone in Seattle at the time was trying to distortion their way back to 1974, Bark Psychosis stood far out in left field trying to figure out how to wrangle every sound they could think of into the next era of rock.

Lisa Mezzacappa-avantNOIR: Album Review

On AvantNOIR, Lisa Mezzacappa showcases a knack for achieving a great overall ensemble sound in an aesthetic that strikes a balance between noisy avant-garde jazz and more straight-ahead materials.  Beginning with a quirky three-minute tune, diving into some ambient realms in the middle, and ending with a floating, back-beat jolt, this album truly offers seven contrasting tunes, yet there’s a moody quality that connects each number.  Mezzacappa has been around the bay-area jazz scene for quite some time now, but this is my personal introduction to her music and it’s clear that she will become a staple of my jazz listening for years to come.

After giving a taste of the players on the record with the introductory “Fillmore Street,” Mezzacappa beckons in the tightly syncopated blues sensibilities of “The Ballad of Big Flora” with a brooding bass solo over textural electronics and samples.  By leaving a great deal of space between phrases in the middle of the track, Mezzacappa opens up a lot of room for drummer Jordan Glenn and electrician Tim Perkis to trade ideas.

“Army Street” offers another quick tune not unlike the first before the hefty “Medley on the Big Knockover” offers many interlocking sections over the course of ten minutes.  First, we hear a pressing rock groove with some pounding drums and disorienting, screeching-tire sound effects.  Later, we get free-metered space with sparse ideas from each member of the ensemble, before a frantic swing feel with exquisitely broken ride patterns from Glenn.

This track does feature my main reservation on the record, which is the sarcastic dive into a twangy country sound with up-beat accompaniment.  Between this and the sound effects, there’s certainly an element of humor on this track, but the country idea didn’t go over so well for me.  It’s clear that the first half of the record offers a great deal of different sounds, without losing accessibility; there’s a constant melodic focus that primes the listener for later experimental ploys.

The second half of the record distills melodic activity with a great deal of open-ended space.  “Bird in the Hand” comes first with some really well-integrated vocal samples from a movie.  It doesn’t feel like Mezzacappa is forcing anything here as the tune is sort of haunting and empty, with the samples operating as blips on the radar.  Even at the end, with more action in the film sampling, the ensemble remains floating and detached.  It’s great to here sonic work like this on a jazz record.

“Quinn’s Serenade” then offers a somewhat stark, yet gradual change of pace.  The tune kind of fades in around the same tempo of the last track, but as Bennett’s solo grows, the group fades into one of their angular melodies.  This sheds light on Mezzacappa’s over-arching planning on the record.  It’s a really cohesive listen, where each composition sensibly transitions into the next.

Although the record values ensemble sound over individuals as a whole, Aaron Bennett and John Finkbeiner provide standout performances.  When Bennett takes over the spotlight, he’s able to really unleash emotion with this really raw and unhinged saxophone persona.  Finkbeiner, on the other hand, is the character behind the operation with his off-kilter guitar tone.

AvantNOIR really strikes all the markers of a great album.  Each track brings something to the table alone, but their full impact is contingent on the rest of the work.  Also, the ensemble sound balances risk and tradition quite well in a collectively driven setting.  I wouldn’t say it’s a work that totally transcends time and genre and there’s a handful of choices I didn’t love, but it will certainly appeal to jazz fans all over the place and it proves that Lisa Mezzacappa is a compositional force to be reckoned with.

-Donovan Burtan


The Uncoverables Podcast: Jesse Beaman Interview (My Empty Phantom)

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This week’s episode features an interview with Jesse Beaman, who writes music under the stage name My Empty Phantom.  His album “Collection of Memories I/II” was reviewed on positively underground last year and we’re excited for it’s partner album due for release this year.

The episode also features and handful of exciting new rock releases.

Priests-Nothing Feels Natural from “Nothing Feels Natural”

Tim Darcy-Still Waking Up from “Saturday Night”

My Empty Phantom-Reflection and Forever from “Collection of Memories I/II”

Real Estate-Darling from “In Mind”

Parlor Walls-Play Opposites from “Opposites”