May 9, 2015

Today's Hotness: Lowlands, Melt

Lowlands (detail, transform)

>> The music of French label Beko Disques, best known as a purveyor of tasteful, weekly digital releases, has already graced these electronic pages a number of times, as evidenced by these pieces about The Bilinda Butchers and Mooncreatures, among others. The label shows no signs of slowing down, and in 2015 continues to conduct quality research into the dreamier neighborhoods of post-punk, largely at the intersections of faraway ambient and relatively immediate pop sounds. Which is also an apt description of the newest release from New Zealand's mysterious Lowlands. Coming in the wake of other shorter releases on Beko, the new, self-titled set presents a pastiche of Korg synths, acoustic guitars, and even a "Tibetan singing bowl." That alone should be enough to indicate that Lowlands -- which, according to its Bandcamp page, paradoxically makes its music "on a hill across from a city" -- takes its sound very seriously. Opener "Rift Valley" commences with an eerie, delayed clamor (could be that singing bowl?) before layers of crisp and spacey guitars mingle with cool spoke-sung vocals, affecting a sonic posture not unlike that of '90s legends Flying Saucer Attack. The succeeding tune, album highlight "Winter 1_Space Beyond Space," is proof positive that Lowlands can slyly insert a great traditional pop song within the warp and weft of its ambient drone. The song's sunny, bouncy bass guitar, whooshing digital synth waves and a boyish, upbeat vocal echoes the pep of The Shins, which is hardly the first singing touchstone one associates with ambient fare, thus making it a pleasant surprise. "You Are The One" immerses slinky '80s heartland rock vibes in endless reverb, and underscores that Lowlands is just as interested in experimenting with genre as they are with its apparently endless arsenal of electro-gadgetry. Finally, just in case the listener got too comfortable within the album's placid sound forest, Lowlands launch into "Today’s Revelation," a relatively clean slice of new-wavey pop replete with brittle post-punk guitars; the tune sound like something that could have been found on Minks' excellent, rainy Captured Tracks debut By The Hedge. In sum, Lowlands' record represents another Beko homerun, and strengthens our belief that there is actually a wealth of diversity within the world of ambient dream-pop, and plenty of unique ideas yet to be mined. A cassette version of the release sold out in mere weeks, but the record is still available as a digital download for any price via the Bandcamp embed below. -- Edward Charlton

>> The world lost a powerful force in aggressive dream-pop when Boston's Soccer Mom called it quits last year. That band's singular pairing of contemporary, house-show bombast and clean-toned, forward-thinking shoegaze (a la Swirlies circa They Spent Their Wild Youthful Days in the Glittering World of the Salons -- another Boston landmark, of course) filled this reviewer with both pride and awe. Imagine, then, our joy at identifying another act chasing a similar, noble aesthetic. We speak of New Jersey quartet Melt, whose recent powerful, glistening demo "Change" dazzles with its quiet urgency and rich melodicism. On the tune, the quartet – about which we presently know little besides the fact that the band has played shows in Boston and Brooklyn – alternate between a spectral, jangling verse and a post-hardcore half-time stomp during the chorus. That verse of "Change" stuns as well, doubling the watery guitar lines by the second measure, and creating a real six-string tango that crisscrosses over the sighing male vocals like shoelaces. The Swirlies connection (which we admit is nebulous, it's all just really just great music, right?) manifests in the root notes of the bass in that section. Here, starting with a B-flat major chord, the foursome elevates to a C minor before the bass unexpectedly drops to an A natural major during the third root. A restless bump halfway through is delightfully disorienting, and the odd nature of the chord choice leads the listener to reconsider their own melodic logic, which is a fun takeaway. Moreover, it makes the case that Melt can be counted among outfits such as Swirlies that aren’t afraid to nurture a subtly exploratory compositional spirit while still bringing the straight up rawk. If this already well-mixed recording is what Melt considers a demo, we sincerely hope that their first official material will remind listeners of why expansive bands like these are so important in the first place. Snag "Change” for a buck via the Bandcamp embed below, which of course you should also stream the tune early and often. Speaking of Soccer Mom, the band reunites for one last cacaphonous hurrah at the end of the month: it says goodbye May 29 at Great Scott in Boston. The night also includes sets from Infinity Girl, Chandos and Coaches, and complete deets and a ticket link are available for viewing right here. Swirlies, of course, have also just announced a series of summer dates with a very compelling line-up, and those tour dates can be inspected right here. Now if only Melt good get an opening slot or two on some of those east coast dates... -- Edward Charlton

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