Los Angeles experimentalist Robin Nydal aka Mirage manages to blend bedroom pop intimacy with technicolor psychedelic deviations and that’s just the starting point. With songs that function more or less like sound collages, Mirage’s songs run the range of everything from orchestral pop flights of fancy to jittery electronic pop all stitched together with the consistency of a ransom letter crafted from newspaper scraps. The same skill for small scale musical metamorphoses applies not only to Nydal’s production but the man himself – vocals going from svelte whisper to warbling croon at the drop of the hat when Nydal requires another timbre to throw into his impressive textural play. “Something” is one of the rare cuts on Blood For The Return that blunts its abrasive edge in favor of the crisp elegance string arrangements. And yet, it’s not without an obvious air of whimsy and certainly doesn’t sideline Nydal during its forays into beauty – the track’s true lushness comes from Nydal’s machinations at the helm- harmonies and various effects swirling around the sweeping string ornaments. “Something” is a work of surprising tension release – swinging with ease between sections while never losing its off-kilter footing.
Mirage’s Blood For the Return is out in August on Olde English Spelling Bee but available to stream via Bandcamp.
It may be too soon to call it but today art pop collective Hundred Waters released a music video for what may arguably be my favorite track on their enthralling sophomore record and album of the year contender The Moon Rang Like A Bell.
Directed by BANGS, the video takes a decidedly direct and minimalistic approach towards the track’s multitudinous layers. Beginning with an closeup of vocalist Nicole Miglis as she sings the tracks’ stuttering opening while the camera subtly follows the incomplete non-delivery with slow clean jerks, BANGS quickly establishes a dreamy quality before any of the action truly begins. While Miglis wanders around a beautiful home in the midst of destruction, there’s both an unshakeable melancholy and an unsettling resilience in her mere presence. As pieces of debris rain down just right of her, and lights flicker, Miglis sits unshaken and dare I say comfortable.
BANGS’ vision is quietly surrealist to the point that the video’s plot remains for the most part indiscernible. Is it all a dream? And while Miglis stalks the grounds like a ghost, there’s a twist every so often that turns that theory on its head. Whether its the demolition crew’s relative inattention to her subverted by a shot of her standing hand in hand with one or their own dreamlike qualities, nothing is quite what it seems and that makes the video all the more intriguing.
It’s pretty much inevitable when you go to a large festival that you won’t see all the bands you meant to and such is certainly the case with Iceland’s Ásgeir at SXSW – a musical act I was attracted to based more on name and country of origin than through actual listening habits. That was a huge misstep on part though as if I had made time to listen before my Texas excursion I certainly would’ve made time to see them perform.
The brainchild of singer/songwriter Ásgeir Trausti Einarsson, the band are most likely to draw comparisons to Sigur Rós due to their shared homeland but other than that the similarities end there. Where Sigur Rós are atmospheric and ethereal, Ásgeir is much more direct; embracing pop conventions but by no means solely defined by them. On In The Silence (the English language version of debut album Dýrð í dauðaþögn and US debut), Ásgeir manages to create a cohesive collection of songs that elude any concrete genre descriptors incorporating elements of electronica, chamber pop, and folk in good measure without getting bogged down by their inclusion.
“Torrent”, the latest single from his debut, is perhaps the most telling of the band. Surging forth like its namesake, “Torrent” is a deluge of melodic grandeur – from its thundering drums to its piano pop flourishes, Ásgeir effortlessly invokes wide open expanses with a life-affirming brilliance. Ásgeir’s vocals are silvery and pristine but there’s no deny they’re elevated by a knack for melodic songcraft – lending them a necessary insistence, a heightened state of drama that renders the track’s 3 minute length tragically brief.
Sometimes the best discoveries come just from following your favorite bands’ movements to perhaps an obsessive degree. Case in point, when Mutual Benefit announced that the support for their current in progress European tour would be Montreal’s Seoul, I was intrigued. I had never heard of them before but both the bands’ excitement to be playing together and Seoul’s self-descriptor as ambient-pop could’ve been enough to sell me, the fact Seoul manages to absolute nail what they do with that descriptor is all the better.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Seoul is they don’t revel in the beauty of their own soul like other ambient artists seems to do – there’s a definite sense of motion felt, a forward push toward an eventual conclusion. That Seoul manages to be both gorgeously scenic but artfully concise speaks to the clarity of their intent and the confidence in their musicality. “White Morning” is a sweeping, ethereal yawn; cavernously hollow but exhilarating in its multi-layered rush towards the finish line. Seoul’s song construction is pristine, effortlessly svelte, and almost bewilderingly understated in its complexity – enough so that while they’re never lacking in a clear, distinguished sound, it’s anyone’s guess just how many hands are in the pot.
Bedroom pop extraordinaire Emily Reo contributed this fantastic cover to Odd Castles’ stunning new cassette mixtape release, those who were once friends are now fam. Full mixtape is here, but let’s put the focus on Queen Emily for a minute:
Reo’s vocals were always the strongest part of her 2013 album Olive Juice, bewilderingly arranged and harmonized, adding intriguing complication to the songs’ sparse instrumentation. Since that album’s release we’ve been the beneficiaries of two of her best ever productions: her cover of The Pretenders’ “Birds Of Paradise” and now this downtempo, auto-tuned spectacle in the form of a Fleetwood Mac cover. Reo’s vocal modulations pierce even brighter than the manic synths that dance throughout the tracks’s 4.5 minutes, abetting the self-parodying cheesiness of the electronic drums with aplomb.
She’s just toying with us now… I really can’t wait for that next album.
Grab the Odd Castles cassette here »