September 27, 2016

Review: Lubec | Cosmic Debt

Dreamy underpop heroes Lubec return this week with a compelling sophomore sinfonietta, a collection that sees the Portland, Ore. trio table some of the widescreen optimism of its titanic 2014 full-length The Thrall to engage darker, more domestic themes. Although the relatively concise new set Cosmic Debt doesn't sprawl in the same attractively bohemian manner as The Thrall, it nonetheless presents arresting, figurative diversions into rawer emotion and almost provocatively dense production, as well as somewhat more literal diversions in the form of interstitial instrumentals that enhance the set's quasi-narrative arc. The true surprise of Cosmic Debt is not that it expands Lubec's already expansive view of guitar pop, not its beauty, sophistication or ready appeal, but rather that the whipsmart threesome does so many new things despite the record's smaller scale.

Cosmic Debt succeeds at being much more than a transitional effort, but is largely focused on difficult interpersonal transitions. It commences as if waking from a dream, with the steady, serene fade-in of "(high blood pressure)." The composition includes a pastiche of disembodied voices, including a decontextualized remark about the '90s that recalls the opening of Mogwai's classic "CODY." It's a transporting beginning, whose full potency is realized by the segue into "Clipped Wings." While that tune's title echoes somewhat the Icarus imagery from The Thrall's sparkling "Sunburn!," it also announces certain stylistic hallmarks of the album: a nearly saturated stereo field, Caroline Jackson's weighty and distorted piano, dueling and harmonized vocals, and thoughtful guitar playing. The most distinguishing element of Lubec's sonic arsenal, Ms. Jackson's booming, distorted piano, works in tandem with Matt Dressen's tasteful drumming to power the compositions, while fronter Eddie Charlton guitar playing applies more delicate textures. Dylan Wall's big, full production is most apparent in the ambient thrum that populates the space between the instruments and supplies substantial heft to Lubec's songs. Indeed, big reverbs magnify the restlessly creative trio's playing to such an extent it sounds as if it could blanket a large theater; fans can only hope Lubec's fortunes afford it that opportunity.

Lead single "Hard Potential" touts a driving rhythm and breathy vocals from Mr. Charlton, both lures difficult to resist, but the percussive bridge and cheese-grater, bending harmonics suggest the unease of Pac Northwest fellows Modest Mouse. The heretofore uncharacteristic angst on Cosmic Debt rings most true in the thrilling title track, whose serene but truncated verses give way to Charlton and Jackson confessing a seemingly generational bewilderment -- in what may be the band's most punk moment -- "I feel my cosmic debt, I don't know what it is!" Closer "Embers" -- shared with the universe by our friends at Post-Trash Monday -- stands particularly tall. While the tune deals with a particularly meaningful parting, in true Lubec fashion the song focuses on aftermath without dour mourning. Sure: the figurative and titular embers may not provide salvation, but damnation and purgatory are not Lubec's style. Here and elsewhere Cosmic Debt addresses the chasm between youthful optimism and idealism and the sometimes cold reality and necessary pragmatism that come part and parcel with maturity, but the band's resolve for positivity remains.

Cosmic Debt feels like an important step toward Lubec establishing a national profile, and certainly underscores that Lubec casually sips beers from a cooler at the vanguard of American guitar pop. Cosmic Debt will be released Sept. 30 by the Boston-based now label Disposable America; the set is available for pre-order now in a preposterously limited edition of 100 mustard yellow cassettes and will also be on offer as a digital download. An all-ages release show is slated for Saturday, Oct. 1, at Black Water in Portland, with support from fellow scenemakers Two Moons, Talkative, Dog Thieves and Radler. Stream the aforementioned "Hard Potential" via the embed below, and click through to pre-order your copy of Cosmic Debt. We are hearing chatter about an east coast tour this winter, so watch this space for all of your latest and greatest Lubec news.

Lubec: Bandcamp | Faceblorp

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September 21, 2016

That Was The Show That Was: Cymbals Eat Guitars with Wildhoney and Field Mouse | Sept. 16 | Great Scott

That Was The Show That Was: Cymbals Eat Guitars with Wildhoney and Field Mouse | Sept. 16 | Great Scott

[PHOTO: Dillon Riley] Indie rock leading lights Cymbals Eat Guitars are established Clicky Clicky favorites, and its latest LP has only burnished our esteem for the east coast troupe. We last caught them opening for the legendary Bob Mould in 2014, when the fourtet dispensed gorgeous takes on tunes from that year's triumphant Lose -- a record considered, at the time at least, a pronounced "classic rock" pivot away from the band's math-ier earlier efforts. Critics fawned over the set, while sales of the Barsuk-released album were, in a word, underwhelming; some less than stellar touring ensued. Last Friday, however, we witnessed the group in high spirits at a thronged Great Scott on the release night of what should be Cymbals Eat Guitars' true pop breakthrough, Pretty Years.

Cymbals Eat Guitars presented a brilliant night of live rock sounds, including several selections off the already-life-affirming Pretty Years (out now on Sinderlyn). Well-regarded album tasters "July 4th," "Wish," and "Have A Heart" all shone brightly. But a clear highlight was the performance of "Close," the most winsome of the new collection's 10 tunes, whose a massive and charging earworm chorus was thrilling live and ranks among the best you'll hear in 2016. Stream "July 4th," "Wish," and "Have A Heart" via the Soundcloud embed below.

The band also offered a healthy sampling of tracks off the aforementioned Lose, including a towering, noise-addled, and set-ending take on that record's woozy centerpiece "Laramie." The sole concession to the group's earlier records was a midset "...And The Hazy Sea," the Why There Are Mountains opener, which somehow manages to fit in the band's sets despite its gangly pace. In spite of relative commercial indifference, Cymbals Eat Guitars' work continues to place it among the elite song shapers in American indie rock. Whether or not Pretty Years achieves the success it rightfully deserves, we can state with complete confidence that the group has become a crucial live act, a belief Friday's performance only reinforced.

Highly touted Baltimore dream-pop quintet Wildhoney opened the evening with its customary savoir faire. While its first EP for hitmakers Topshelf Records, Your Face Sideways, is a neat primer for the group's preternatural melodic gifts, the combo's greatest composition to date came just this summer via Slumberland's tour de force compilation Continental Drift. "Horror Movie," one of Wildhoney's two glorious offerings on Drift, is pop perfection from the grooves, but its live airing Friday evening presented a sharper edge, with the group's dueling guitars cutting across the mix like sabers.

Another of Topshelf's great indie pop concerns, Field Mouse, batted second in the lineup, fresh off the release of their own fantastic new record Episodic. Field Mouse's Rachel Browne (who recently penned a must-read essay for The Talkhouse about touring with a serious illness) is a collected fronter and perfect foil to lead guitarist Andrew Futral's unmic'd and consistently stoked spokesman. Episodic doesn't stray far sonically from the combo's debut Hold Still Life: short, punchy, and compact pop numbers are the rule on both. The complexity of Field Mouse's songs are even more apparent in a live setting: bright keyboard shades from Browne's sister Robin no longer hide in the background din, and the interplay between the two (and sometimes three) guitars is often thrillingly loud and nearly abrasive. It's a good look for a band whose songs sometimes underplay an inherent turmoil. -- Dillon Riley

Cymbals Eat Guitars: Facebook | Internerds

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September 17, 2016

Review: Preoccupations | Preoccupations

Preoccupations' 2015 debut (under its previous, controversial nom de post-punk Viet Cong) felt like a New Order-esque re-set following the untimely passing of guitarist Chris Reimer of Women -- the brilliant late-aughts band that first brought Preoccupations' Matt Flegel and Mike Wallace (joined here by Danny Christiansen and Scott Munro) to international (underground) acclaim. On its new eponymous sophomore set the band takes another unpredictable stylistic swerve, possibly in response to widespread criticism concerning the cultural insensitivity of its previous name. The rebrand provided a renewed opportunity for the foursome to reconsider its practice, and Preoccupations capitalized strongly by injecting Preoccupations with a dash of New Wave exuberance and structure that reveals another shade of the dark and classic post-punk sound it has explored since 2008.

Opener "Anxiety" churns upon itself in an extended ambient intro before dark synths and fuzzy textures begin to revolve mechanically around Mr. Flegel's low voice. Bright synth notes, entering at the minute-and-a-half mark, illuminate the proceedings and somewhat betray the cold and direct lyrics. Successor "Monotony" takes the approach one step further with billowing and reverberant melody lines and major keys that plot against the bleary song title. The pairing of heavily chorused rhythm guitar -- lurking in the right channel -- and Flegel's considered croon suggests his quartet may be aiming for the morose stateliness of the even-now-underrated The Psychedelic Furs circa Talk Talk Talk. Indeed, at times Flegel's breathless growl is a dead ringer for that of the legendary Richard Butler.

Album centerpiece and highlight "Memory" tackles more dynamic rhythms in its first frame -- a la Viet Cong highlight "Death"-- and also features a super nifty key change at its midpoint; here the band steps back to reveal a modulating synth tone that twists the song up into a falsetto-led groove, further convincing this reviewer that Preoccupations are embracing a subtly more positive and revelatory stance in key moments. The song's ambient outro wisely doubles back to remind the listener that the band have not forgotten their more characteristically pensive contemplation amidst the relative euphoria.

Lead single "Degraded" most closely hearkens back to the massive drum production and propulsive force of the group's first album, but still accommodates its contemporary penchant for single-note, high pitched guitar overdubs in the process. "Sense" uses simple organ and fizzing sound effects for a brief and well-placed change of pace, while "Forbidden" carries on the ambiance into the next track but adds percussion and whirling, carnival-like melodies for another surprising detour that declares the B-side of the record to be just as crucial.

As with every Flegel and Wallace-related release, the closer is always important. On Preoccupations, the band forgoes guitars almost completely for a retro-futuristic pop song that cements the post-Bowie New Wave connection. It's not until a Robert Fripp-styled guitar solo that the instrument even makes an appearance, and there it's in mostly wistful and epic celebration, rather than the morose gloom that had so previously defined this band. This, once more, underscores that Preoccupations has transformed the hurdles that have peppered its path into opportunities to push its boundaries, and as a result the band remains one of the more structurally original and stylistic daring indie rock bands of the day. Preoccupations was released by Jagjaguwar Friday. Purchase it on CD, LP or in a great bundle right here. Preoccupations play The Sinclair in Cambridge, Mass. October 12, and is basically on tour through the end of November. View complete tour dates at the band's web dojo right here. -- Edward Charlton

Preoccupations: Bandcamp | Interpants | Facebook

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