March 11, 2014

Today's Hotness: Walrus, Red Sea, Wildhoney

Walrus (detail)

>> If the allegedly impending spring has you in the mood for some Syd Barrett-inspired psych pop, well, you are not alone. Enter Walrus, a sextet based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, led by brothers Justin and Jordan Murphy. The act's dazzling and impressively realized new EP Glam Returns highlights the band's modern, compact and sunny take on the style. Across four songs simple chords, richly delayed vocals and burbling organ unravel to reveal bright, quirky songwriting. Standout track "Bulash" is buttressed by whooshing synths and circularly applied tremolo guitars that imbue the verses with a bouncy, almost tropical feel. The hazy vocals recall those of popular beat group Tame Impala. The most thrilling section of the song arrives at the tail end of its first minute, when a shouted, echoing blast of vocals and guitar announces the chorus. The choppy guitars here elevate the energy from that of a lysergic psychedelic fever dream to more mod-leaning aggression; it jolts the listener from the cozy bed of effects defining each instrument. Walrus draws heavily on powerful strains of our collective psych past, and on all four cuts on Glam Returns the band's enthusiasm and love for the style is both evident and contagious. Glam Returns was issued digitally via Bandcamp last month, and it will apparently be released on cassette via Out of Sound and Poncho Records March 27, in time for Walrus' planned jaunt out of town to destinations including Fredericton, Ottawa and Montreal. The EP, according to a recent interview, contains older material that the band doesn't perform live much these days, and Walrus hopes to have a full length out later this year. In the meantime, dig in to Glam Returns via the Bandcamp embed below. -- Edward Charlton

>> "We love to sound as one would love to food." That's the opening line of the Bandcamp bio for Atlanta's Red Sea; theirs is some of the best music (food?) this reviewer has encountered so far in 2014. The quartet's brilliant recent EP, Yardsticks For Human Intelligence, is presently available as a free download, and it is an art rock tour de force. Brainy, knotty, and alluringly catchy, this is the kind of stuff one would play for someone who claims they are "bored with music" (though really, why would you hang out with an asshole like that? -- Ed.). It's that good. This four-song selection follows up on a similarly sequenced EP from 2010, and, interestingly, these tunes appear to have been recorded in 2012. While that may make one wonder about the present state of Red Sea (keep your blouse on, they just played a hometown show last week), it also adds to the mystery from these compositional mavericks. The band just has so much on offer. Opener "Tandem Style" menaces with almost taunting vocal work and jumbled rhythms, which are interrupted by high-pitched slashes across the bridge of the guitar. Very quickly one senses that these guys are operating within their own, singular sound world, one in which it's normal for a singer to fluctuate from evoking Nico to Kermit the Frog to an opera singer within the span of a verse, one in which any of the more aggro-avant fret work of Thurston Moore is fair game for the plundering. Highlight "Grapes" cascades through mysterious section after mysterious section over the course of six minutes. Despite hard stops, one-offs and dramatic arpeggios, the piece never loses inertia; one particularly memorable bridge drops in at the two-minute mark. A generously textured noise section closes the tune out with exotic pedal work. The balance of the EP, comprised of the numbers "Down With The Crown" and "Vacant Ring," features more shifting, schizophrenic earworms. The steady, cool strum of the guitar work, despite the erratic changes, calls to mind Women and their prickly, post-punk masterpiece Public Strain. Indeed, at times, Yardsticks For Human Intelligence even feels like a possible extension of that band's legacy in an instrumental sense. Red Seas' EP offers an arresting look at a very compelling young band, and we recommend you listen very closely to what it has to offer. Stream Yardsticks For Human Intelligence via the Bandcamp embed below, and click through to download the tunes. -- Edward Charlton

>> We've been hearing about Wildhoney through the dream-pop grapevine over the last year, and the band's hotly anticipated 7" EP, Seventeen Forever, proves the hype is warranted. The Baltimore, MD-based shoegaze concern are now previewing the quasi-title track from that upcoming slab of vinyl, which arrives on D.C.-based Photobooth Records April 20, and, man, is this purist heaven. As on the act's previous disc -- recorded by Roomrunner bassist Dan Frome -- Wildhoney channels the best late-80's shoegaze and post-punk and synthesizes it into a fresh, professional 2014 model. "Seventeen" opens with some reverb-saturated surf guitar before a hip-hop drum break erupts, a smooth move straight from the Chapterhouse playbook. Soon after, Lauren Shusterich's lead vocals fly in on a sheet of harmonies that exude a contemporary pop confidence rarely exhibited so early on by such a young band. The crystal clear recording and myriad guitar tracks that surround her recall the same sort of carefully laid out, yet spirited indie rock of Maryland-based forebearers Velocity Girl. The most compelling part of the tune comes during the chorus, when both singers chant "over and over" while the guitars switch over from the chunky chording in the verses to melodic, single-note leads that one could almost mistake for bright keyboards. This grade-A East Coast dream pop not only feels very now and dreamy, but also so purposeful that one can hardly imagine anything but a bright future for Wildhoney. Our recommendation? Snatch up the band's dynamite previous self-titled 45, from 2013, in time to be prepared for this great piece of springtime wonderment here. Stream "Seventeen" via the Bandcamp embed below, and click here periodically for the next few weeks to see when pre-orders the 7" EP will begin. Massachussets and/or New England fans can catch Wildhoney performing at The Flywheel in Easthampton, Mass. March 23 with mighty Boston shoegazers Soccer Mom. Wildhoney plans to record a full-length set in June, according to its tumblaaaaaahhhh. -- Edward Charlton

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