Hovvdy Sadly Succumb To The Sophomore Curse On ‘Cranberry’

ALBUM REVIEW

By Dominic V. Cassidy (@lyre_of_apollo)

Following up on their debut 2016 record Taster, the Texas lo-fi duo Hovvdy return with a refinement of their established sound on the 2018 sophomore effort Cranberry. The pillow core band’s soft tones take a chill acoustic sound to the absolute nth degree on this LP, really hammering it down with dreamy guitars characteristic of the genre. These guitars, coupled with the vocals (which are sometimes excessively muffled), really lull the listener into being swept away into the pleasantness of the music.

The band returns to and builds on some of the ideas from Taster here on Cranberry: the music is more polished, and the band seems like it has a more focused direction with where it is going musically. There is an undeniable calmness to the album, which really bespeaks the name of its genre, but this isn’t to say that it doesn’t go above and beyond the easy listening trappings of the pillow core genre.

While as a kind of ultra chill lullaby, the album is just fantastic and it’s something you can kind of breeze in and out of leisurely. But as the group’s melodies cycle through their respective songs with little change, a lack of diversity in the music becomes insurmountable. This results in many of the songs sounding overly similar and consequently unremarkable. This same issue plagued Taster at times, and the monotony of Cranberry affirms that it has not been rectified by the band; though this might be a stylistic choice for the band – given how “easy listening” it is – Hovvdy lose a crucial sense of direction and point, at times feeling irredeemably drone-y, no matter how melodic the songs.

Along with the music sounding fairly similar throughout, the intense muffling of the lyrics (due, no doubt, to the low fidelity recording practices the band favors) fade into the background of the song far too often. And while this technique isn’t without its charm and benefits, it does leave the album lacking, taking away any pleasure that would be discerned from repeated listens.

The album is not without its positives, however. There are tracks on this record that show just a little more polish than their predecessors on Taster and come across much better. One of the best examples of this is the track Truck. The song starts slowly, with a cloud of nice acoustic sounds and little else, and it has a real melancholy vibe to it that begs the listener to feel a bit blue. It’s got a whole story that kind of ebbs on the fringes on the song, passing the tale slowly to the listener: “I won’t come home tonight if you’re going through with it, if there is trouble I will run from it all the time,”. The song gives off a whole rudimentary story telling feel, or maybe a new school story telling. It just does so in a really interesting slow-release way.

But the album does, sadly, fall short quite often. For instance, on tracks like Late, which is certainly good musically, but isn’t anything new or even that easy to listen to. It has an almost pop punk crossed with shoe gaze vibe to it. The vocals in this song take the lo-fi sound entirely too far, with the lyrics being somewhat difficult to make out in the track. For much of the album, one tries to enjoy the music, but when a song is this difficult to understand, it does substantially detract from the listening pleasure.

All in all, Cranberry is a difficult album to consider as anything other than a decent second record. The sound of the album is totally there, yet the production and vocals, however, are severely lacking. And while this can be construed as a part of the whole DIY lo-fi genre, it also heavily detracts from the music and holds it back from being a great sophomore effort.

rating 5

Album Review: Golem Who Goes Fish – No Conscious Apparitions

by Ewan Blacklaw (@EwanBlacklaw)rating 7

Released in early December 2017, No Conscious Apparitions is the latest project from underground lo-fi indie rock outfit Golem Who Goes Fish, formerly known as Sontuk. This time Phil Castro, the mind behind Golem Who Goes Fish, creates a dreamy lo-fi sound layered beneath vocals reminiscent of Elvis Costello. Although this nasally voice makes the album stand out from other lo-fi projects, it may also put listeners off some of the catchy indie tracks on this album.

The lo-fi production sound of the album is achieved by using a 4-track, which is a popular method of recording in the lo-fi music scene. The reason that this technique is favoured is due to the ability to mix each individual component of the song together in a very natural way. No Conscious Apparitions is a prime example of this, with a majority of songs featuring a catchy combination of drums, synth, guitar and keys backing the signature vocals. This amalgamation makes for some very catchy songs such as one of the standout moments on the project, Alice Hieroglyphics Alice, which sounds as though it is could be a hidden gem from the peak of 70s rock.

Although the album does get off to a great start with memorable opening tracks, there is a lull during the midway section of the album. This could be due to the short tracks featuring nasally vocals and similar sounding instrumentals merging into one uniform sound. This lull is, however, broken with Simple Sugars (Do The Trick) which brings a new dynamic to the album, introducing a synth sound that sounds as if it has been pulled straight from the soundtrack of Hotline Miami or Drive. From this point onwards the album picks up again, mixing in different influences and sounds from various genres. One noticeable example of this is Malic Alice, which is the most intense track on the album, releasing a previously unheard garage rock sound that really stands out from other the other tracks of No Conscious Apparitions. Mixed in amongst the album’s catchy lo-fi indie rock feel are these occasional appearances of subtle instrumentals that serve as a moment of reflection, as well as a break from the whining vocals of Phil Castro.

One other factor of the album are the surrealist lyrics laced throughout the album, which seem to bring in a lot of original ideas. The lyrics seem to be distant and dreamy to match the backing instrumentals, as well as the overall tone of the record. Although the album does hit a bit of a slow patch, it is an overall solid project, standing out from other recent lo-fi releases with the unique lyrics and vocals which bring some new ideas to the indie rock genre. As well as seeming to move in a different way within the genre, No Conscious Apparitions is also a standout amongst previous releases from Golem Who Goes Fish, showing the growth in the personal sound of the project. The newest album ranks as the best of his three releases so far and hopefully he can continue to release good music well into 2018.

 

Album Review: Soccer Mommy – Collection

By Callum Thornhill (@Cal_Thornhill)

It is easy and somewhat lazy to associate lo-fi with mainstream success stories Mac DeMarco or Car Seat Headrest, but it is Bandcamp where the real hidden gems linger and ripen until picked like prize fruit. The latest of those to release a full length (eight tracks of blissful bedroom pop infused lo-fi vibes) is Soccer Mommy.

Following on from 2016’s For Young Hearts comes Collection; a selection of elegant, fuzz laden tracks freshly pulled from the wordsmith Sophie Allison that dabble in whispery harmonies flowing over subdued instrumentation. That is not to say that Collection is an overly emotive, depressive accumulation of even more Bandcamp finds to listen to on a downbeat, overcast day, though – quite the opposite. The skill set acquired by Allison is showcased on the album in crevices so acute that it takes you until the final track, Waiting For Cars, to realise the development and progression that has just occurred before your eyes and ears.

There are seamless and gentle transitions between tracks throughout, which given the eclectic mix of traditional and new wave lo-fi vibes merging is quite the feat. Take 3am at a Party, for example; connotations with that title would assume that it is a boisterous, carnival-esque atmosphere, but Soccer Mommy have juxtaposed this and crafted a two and a half minute reflective, short but sweet, track that could quite easily soundtrack a motion picture showing the motion picture of the night before. Hindsight visuals could be represented alongside the delicate audio and this is what makes their sophomore full length so brilliant.

With the likes of Elvis Depressedly and Salvia Palth setting the bar in recent years for the lesser known, not as mainstream as DeMarco lo-fi scene it takes an outstanding record to put yourself in that category, but what we have here is something that has stuck to what it knows and not tried to reinvent the wheel or head so off-piste that the core of Soccer Mommy is diluted and replaced with something that does not reflect their style. Benadryl Dreams is the only song featured on the album that comes anywhere close to high profiler Mac DeMarco’s recent releases and it is quite refreshing to hear someone follow up and album without going for the spangly, jizz-jazz approach.

Musically, it is all pretty expected, to be honest. Muffled drums in the background while weaving hooks connect verse to chorus to bridge – not a bad thing, of course. There are, without a doubt, thousands of other Bandcamp artists that could have put this record out and if you are not familiar with traits or signature marks from them it would be near impossible to see any differences. Lo-fi is brilliant for that, though, it forces bands to make a name for themselves and inject their music with quirks and notable features.

Image result for soccer mommy

With this attempt at ‘making it’ in the scene, Soccer Mommy have opted for frequent stabbing synthesisers and intriguing, mopey vocals coming together in perfect harmony as their ‘mark,’ so to say. Death by Chocolate is the ever-questioning synth laced ballad delicately gluing harmonies to tale-telling lyrics with glistening hooks. Similarly to Waiting For Cars, Death by Chocolate comes to its end after four minutes and it is then that the arrangement sticks with you in an irritating “oh, God! What is THAT song?!”

Overall, for a sophomore record and one that could easily have been overlooked if Sophie Allison hadn’t created an audience over the past handful of years on Bandcamp; it is like any other lo-fi record. Mostly predictable and as mentioned, not reinventing the wheel, there are moments where you go “ooooh” to make Collection well worth a listen.

6.5/10


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EP Review: Broad-Shouldered Baby – I Must Be Tired

By Liam Menzies (@blnkclyr

It would probably surprise you to hear that despite the abundance of music projects available on the internet, only a hand few seem to ever reference this in some shape or form. What wouldn’t surprise you is that out of those artists that have, Tom Fraser can raise his hand and say he has. To those that know Fraser, or happen to follow him on his twitter, his wit and humour is one of the first features of his that will pop to mind: after all, we’re talking about the man whose twitter name is an infusion of a Channel 4 presenting duo and the person responsible for the death of Jesus Christ.

Fraser is not a one trick pony though, currently playing in Codist as a drummer and backing vocalist, two contributions that helped their debut LP Nuclear Family to be one of the best records of last year. Now the spotlight is finally upon him as he has a stab at the big bad music world with his project Broad-Shouldered Boy, dropping the first EP under this moniker I Must Be Tired (see, that intro wasn’t a waste after all!). 

While it could be easy to let the pressure topple Fraser over, his solo efforts stand firmly on their own, embedding his own unique quirkiness into the staple bedroom pop/rock template that makes for one of the most refreshing listens of the year so far. An essential example of this would be the second track Trunk, a song that focuses more on a giant grey elephant than the boot of a car. Stomping along at a steady pace with its bellowing drums, Fraser’s silky vocals adorned with a Scottish tinge lead as he sings about insecurities and paranoia, outright mentioning the EP’s title to touch upon the exhaustion these feelings have caused.

It reaches its peak as Trunk approaches its climax, Fraser naturally warping his voice into this deep narration to detail this metaphor for this anxiety (The elephant is in the room, has its trunk around my neck), a moment that highlights Fraser’s knack for making emotions that countless artists talk about into something truly special.

It really is Fraser’s vocals and lyrics that make I Must Be Tired such an essential listen though that’s not to say the instrumentals are drab or dull by any means. Following on from the aforementioned track featuring a large grey mammal, Cake is a far slower number that features layer upon layer though is juxtaposingly sombre in tone, reaching a turbulent conclusion which includes a spine chilling piano feature alongside a timid projection of Fraser’s vocals. This mixing pot of wit, lyricism and an undeniable talent helps Broad Shouldered Boy to stand out in a scene that feels over-saturated quite frequently. 

Finishing off with that staple acoustic number, there’s a real feeling of The Hotelier with the running inclusion of a simplistic lyric and the different sound it evokes as seen on Goodness (I see the moon, the moon sees me) . Broad Shouldered Boy is a dangerous project due to it traversing the fine line of bedroom pop, a genre that is traditionally very safe: using that appealing sound and infusing it with many of the traits Fraser embodies, I Must Be Tired comes off as one of 2017’s strongest EPs. The future is looking bright for Fraser’s venture though he could do with a rest – he must be tired. 

8.5/10


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Album Review: Teen Suicide – It’s The Big Joyous Celebration, Lets Stir The Honeypot

Teen Suicide’s Its the Big Joyous Celebration, Lets Stir The Honeypot (their 5th and apparently final album) is a 26 track long, cacophonous bow. It encapsulates some of their key elements, and never loses the intimacy of lo fi that makes the genre, but is subtly different to their other albums; it feels more evolved and complete. Living Proof is a blur of extravagant, plucky bursts of guitar, which moves into The Big Joyous celebration by what sounds like a cassette tape click.

The second track has eerie vocals from Girlpool’s Harmony Tividad (she also provides additional vocals for Violets and Bright Blue Pick Up Truck) which mix with Sam Ray’s vocals, and the twinkling xylophone (excuse the pun) harmoniously. Obvious love has marching-band like drumming underpinned by a beeping sound. This is  Sam Ray, everyone. It’s Just A Pop song is clearer, and feels immensely personal, “I guess that I should sing it/ But I’m scared my heart’s just not in it.”, and the album continues to sprawl, and somehow creates a successful melting pot of lullaby, trumpets, and percussion (provided by Elvis Depressedly)

Its length allows Ray to create sketches of many characters and places; including Alex (Lying on her back, she says she wants to die), Nick (Nick is sick, he needs it quick) and Taylors dad. We don’t know who these people are but Ray’s portraits are enough to feel something for them.

The album is quite migraine inducing because it is so packed and simply noisy. It is an astonishing, remarkable, but difficult listen.

7/10

– Lily (@carrotflovvers)

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