Phantom Handshakes are the New York-based duo of Federica Tassano (also of the band Sooner) and Matt Sklar. Their debut full-length, No More Summer Songs, was recently sent forth into the world, and it’s an exquisitely delivered set of jangled shoegaze and dream pop.
In what’s become, I imagine, a depressingly typical scenario in “these COVID times” [Bad Brains ensemble voice], the entire album – as was the case with last spring’s No Better Plan EP – was recorded by Tassano and Sklar separately, but it’s difficult to tell with the depth of musical understanding throughout. It’s a lovely album that – in the way of many of the best albums of the genres from which it is sourced – can burnish, elevate and/or validate a mood.
From the trepidatious opening chimes of ‘I Worried’, No More Summer Songs sets a melodic course through bands like The Sundays, Sarah Records artists like The Field Mice, The Radio Dept. and newer fellow travelers like Jeanines. Guitars jangle, basslines reverberate, while Tassano’s vocals convey a cathartic melancholy á la Harriet Wheeler with a hint of the scrape of Karin Dreijer. Lyrically, the album feels confessional – accepting and letting go of unhealthy thoughts/people – while also touching on societal angst and the feel of the world falling into the proverbial handbasket bound for something other than glory. It’s a forehead pressed to a rain-streaked window, silently contemplating and questioning.
While the album title could be a bit of cheek – given the chosen oeuvre’s predilection for slickers over sundresses – I can’t help but feel that it fits just as well for those desirous of bright sun, white sands and bejeweled waves as for those who enjoy (prefer?) a foggy embrace, sea spray kisses and a bit of a rocky vista.
No More Summer Songs is out now, courtesy of Z Tapes, with a portion of online proceeds donated by Phantom Handshakes to The Trevor Project.
P.E. is a new quintet comprised of former members of Pill and current members of Eaters. Two teasers from their forthcoming debut long-player, Person – namely, ‘Soft Dance’ and ‘Hot Ticket’ – have stoked much anticipation for the record here at tgh hq.
‘Soft Dance’ is a taut, deconstructed body mover. The bassline and sparse rhythm will have you grooving, but it feels almost detached from the rest of the arrangement – the lyric “the roots make shapes/interwoven – interwoven” sums it all up rather nicely. Veronica Torres’ vocals are reminiscent of Bjork in ‘oh so quiet’ before the storm’ mode, but here the storm doesn’t quite make it, just a plea to not “forget to have a good time”. ‘Hot Ticket’ rides in on a melody that begins like an interpolation ‘Born to Be Wild’ before heading off the highway to a basement club over a stuttering Kid A rhythm. Here, again, Torres’ slinky, commanding performance steals the show – her message requiring “strict compliance” to follow the groove exhilarating. Head over to the P.E. bandcamp page (link below) to also check a remix of ‘Hot Ticket’ from fellow travelers, Liars.
‘Anticlimax’ is lead track of the latest double a-side single from New York’s Vanity, an outfit which has previously layered elements of punk, glam and straight up rock across their releases like so many ‘suicide’ Slurpees. The new track sees the band flexing its muscles over a glorious slice of riffing power-pop.
The arpeggiated intro is a glorious rush sure to melt even the most frozen of hearts, but there’s more than enough salt to balance the sweetness. Rushing by in a tic under four minutes, ‘Anticlimax’ feels like a lost b-side from first album Cheap Trick, and finds Vanity (who now include former VEXX-er, Mike Liebman, on guitar) at the peak of their powers. Highly recommended. Released, together with ‘A Seat at the Table’ February 28, courtesy of Feel It.
Back in 2017, White Flowers (née, Britain) seemed to blip, fully-formed, across our radar with the tracks ‘Day by Day’ and ‘Tried to Call’. We loved those tracks’ heady mixture of ethereal, Cocteau Twins’ style dream pop and rafters-raising psych reminiscent of early Doves. Fast forward, then to last month, which saw the release of ‘Night Drive’, the Preston, UK duo’s latest – produced by none other than Doves’ guitarist Jez Williams.
Part of a 12″ double-a side (with ‘Portra’) that was released on Valentine’s Day (hooray for the new music, since it appears their older material has been taken down) ‘Night Drive’ feels a step forward. Built on a similar musical foundation, the track’s multiple layers reveal themselves at a considered pace. There’s a directness in the composition that does nothing to blunt the pleasant buzz created by the combination of Katie Drew’s swooning vocals and a kaleidoscopic melody crafted by her and Joey Cobb. Great stuff – the double a-side is out now, courtesy of Tough Love.
Activity, ‘Calls Your Name’; ‘Earth Angel’ (Western Vinyl)
Activity are a new quartet featuring members of Russian Baths, Grooms, and Field Mouse. The band’s debut long-player, Unmask Whoever, is due soon and, based upon the evidence of teaser tracks, ‘Calls Your Name’ and ‘Earth Angel’, it’s going to be very good, indeed.
“Calls Your Name” (check the video, above) carries a hypnotic feel, woozy boy/girl vocals bringing to mind Tricky and Martina Topley-Bird’s work on Maxinquaye, et al. Vocalist Travis Johnson’s repeated invocation of a “lit’ral hell” where “houses spread and swell” is mirrored by the circular feel of the arrangement, underpinned by a sinuously insidious rhythm. “Earth Angel” (inspired by Laughing Stock-era Talk Talk, less so The Penguins’ doo-wop hit) has a bit more sprawl, but with a surface-level tension that adds menace to Johnson’s stated desire to “wanna fuck around” over a roiling, 90s industrial boil and even a bit of Hurting-era Tears for Fears. Both tracks manage to feel both insular and heady, and unsettlingly lovely.
I recently had the opportunity to re-watch Donnie Darko with my oldest (who – proud dad moment – loved it) and, if they ever decided to do a re-make, Activity should contribute to the soundtrack. Unmask Whoever is due March 27, courtesy of Western Vinyl – pre-order a copy here.
Great reissue from the always fabulous La Vida Es Un Mus label of classic, Japanese hardcore from the early 80s. Must admit I’d never heard of The Comes, but was unsurprised to discover they came up alongside bands like GISM, who I’d run across in years’ past on various comps (notably, this). The Comes seem similar in sound and overall feel, as the tracks on No Side share a penchant for strident/batshit crazy vocals paired with music that tilts and twirls like someone’s changing the record from 33 to 45 (and back), mid-track. Fantastic record and a welcome introduction.
Daisies, What Are You Waiting For?, 2 (Perennial Death; JGAP)
Daisies are an Olympia, WA-based trio, featuring members of CCFX and TransFx that, over the course of four releases, have quickly become something of an obsession. Their two long-players from 2019 – What Are You Waiting For? (which included previous singles, “Just Yesterday” and “Anyone’s Style”) and, fittingly, 2 – provide a musical roadmap through most of what was interesting on the dancier end of 90s indie. What? is a glorious run through Madchester/‘baggy’, druggy trip hop and swinging, jangled sophsti-pop. 2 hits a bit harder, adding jungle and drum and bass snap and crackle to the still heady mix. Valerie Warren’s multi-layered vocals are pitch perfect and the arrangements bring moments of absolute bliss – plus, 2’s “Paradise” pairs d’nb’s tactile energy with lyrics from “Pure Imagination”. St. Etienne, Primal Scream (esp. Screamadelica), Goldie, Baby Fox, TheRebirth of Cool series – if any of these mean something to you, do yourself a favor and dig into Daisies.
Both albums are out now, What Are You Waiting For? courtesy of Perennial Death and 2 via JGAP.
Featuring members of Ultimate Painting, >Beak and others, Modern Nature’s debut, How to Live, is a slow burning walkabout. Throughout, the band expertly molds a color palette involving motorik, trip hop, jazz, drone and psych – squishing them through one of those Playdoh contraptions that kind of looked like a mini meat grinder and was used to style rainbow ‘hair’. Vocalist Jack Cooper’s voice has a kind of hushed, tremulous quality reminiscent of Syd Barrett and Colin Newman, while the arrangements call to mind bands like Spiritualized (“Turbulence”), Radiohead (“Peradam”), and Pink Floyd (“Criminals”). At its best, as on the aforementioned “Turbulence”, Modern Nature’s music creates a mood so tangible it seems inhabitable, with a cinematic quality that makes the melodies visual as much as aural. Punchier tracks like “Nature” blow out the cobwebs, a bit, while retaining the pleasant haze. Very much recommended.
How to Live is out now, courtesy of Bella Union, and Modern Nature are in the midst of a tour in the US of A, dates here.
Neon is an Oakland, CA-based quartet who presented us (and the world) with some of the best, most thrillingly messy punk to cross our radars last year with their self-titled album (cheers to Bryony Beynon for including it in her year-end wrap up for Maximum r’nr and, thereby, reminding us). Piercing feedback gives way to post-punk angularity while rhythms start, stop and wreck like bumper cars. The spoken/sung/wailed vocals pair diffidence with strident takedowns of our glorious modern times, including the effects of corporatism on art creation/consumption (“everybody/likes to see/money on the walls”, from ‘Modern Art’) and gentrification (“build it/tear it down/build it…those poor people/crushed by the weight of their own hard work”, from “Contained”). There’s threads of Olympia-bay area synergy in the arrangements, hints of bands like The Fall in the antagonistic repetition – and it’s exhaustingly affecting. Must be a treat to catch live.
Special Friend, Special Friend EP (Hidden Bay; Howlin’ Banana; Buddy; Gravity Music)
Special Friend are a duo comprising Guillaume Siracusa (guitar, vocals) and Erica Ashleson (drums, vocals). Their debut, self-titled EP is a beautifully lo-fi work, showcasing a dexterity with both the wistful lushness of jangle and dream pop as well as the rugged stomp of garage rock. Tracks like opener, ‘Before’, feel like a walk on a northern beach on an overcast day, and calls to mind the less bombastic side of Prefab Sprout. Uptempo cuts like ‘Mean Street’ are the upturned collar on a black leather jacket, bearing traces of bands like The Vaselines, The Raveonettes or early White Stripes. The lack of gloss on the production and resulting demo feel lends warmth and intimacy, allowing the dueling male/female vocals to take center stage. Great set of songs – can’t wait to hear what they do next.
The Special Friend EP is available now, a joint release of French labels Hidden Bay, Howlin’ Banana , Buddy Records, and Gravity Music.
It’s been a long time, we shouldn’t have left you, &etc. Please accept our apologies for the wait between posts, in the form of some phenomenal new tracks.
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, “Don’t Go” (Universal/UMG)
“Don’t Go” represents the 40th, and most recent, single from new wave legends Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD), whose music has been a constant companion to yours truly for longer than I care to admit. “Don’t Go” glides in on an arpeggiated melody that carries with it a whiff of Yaz(oo), but the achingly romantic textures are quintessential OMD. Andy McCluskey’s voice (which is in amazing form) remains as shot through with desperate emotion as ever. Paul Humphreys’ arrangement is stellar – the fill at the 1:25 is tear-inducing, either from the wistful tug of memory or the fresh pain of something more recent. Feels like it would fit equally well alongside tracks like “Hold You” (from 1985’s Crush) as with more recent tracks like “Metroland” from 2013’s English Electric. Gorgeous.
“Don’t Go” serves as 2019’s musical corollary to 1988’s “Dreaming” – i.e., the new track appended to OMD’s new (and massive), greatest hits collection, Souvenir, which is out now.
Routine Death are the husband/wife duo of Lisa and Dustin (also in Holy Wave) Zozaya. The track “Tubeway Revolution” is taken from their sophomore long-player, 2 Weeks to 4 Months (the follow-up to 2018’s excellent Parallel Universes), and it’s a great mélange of the hypnotic and the terse. Tensile synths and a woozy bassline lull you in before a jagged guitar scrawl jars you awake – while Lisa’s multi-tracked vocals beguile throughout. There’s a bit of a “lost 80’s” vibe in the arrangement, its icy cool goth-new wave veneer peppered with with exhales of psych vapor. The press release accompanying the track mentions a shared drive through a desert as a catalyst for the song, and it feels apt for anyone who’s experienced time in such vastness.
From 2 Weeks to 4 Months, which is out now on Fuzz Club.
The Orielles are, without doubt, one of our favorite new(er) bands here at tgh hq. From the first time we heard 2017’s “Sugar Tastes Like Salt” we were hooked, and the band haven’t let us wriggle free since. Excitement, then, for “Come Down on Jupiter”, the (now) quartet’s dizzying new track – and it proves justified. While adding depth in its arrangement, the track happily retains the insouciant charm of earlier efforts. As with those previous tracks, “Jupiter” sees the band donning several musical styles over the span of 5 minutes or so – bouncing back and forth between cinematic psych that sounds like the soundtrack to an impossibly cool, 60s bohemian movie, the dreamiest, Lush dream pop, and a full-on freakout of an extended outro – and doing so seamlessly. It’s marvelous, each member in top form – though, for my money the (not so) secret killer is Sidonie Hand-Halford’s drumming, which rearranges each of these scene changes with aplomb. Can’t wait for the record.
Taken from forthcoming long-player, Disco Volador, due February 28, 2020 from Heavenly and available for pre-order here.
Bristol, UK’s Katy J. Pearson recently released the brilliant single, “Tonight” – billed as her first solo effort following the end of a joint project with her brother. Arriving on an inspired, strings-based melody, the track weaves a vignette in which the characters are made to choose whether to take the proverbial leap, in spite of all while being “so vulnerable/in the eyes of our beholder”. Pearson’s voice is sweet without being saccharine and, while carrying a bit of a twang, the song isn’t country – I kept hearing a bit of Gwen Stefani, a dash of Kirsty MacColl. The chorus will follow you around for days, and you won’t mind a bit. It’s light (but not lightweight) indie pop that should be popular – make it so.
“Tonight” arrives November 15, courtesy of Heavenly, and will be paired with a cover of “Poison Cup”, by M. Ward.
Siamese Twins are a “cross-continental” band, currently based out of Leverett and Cambridge, MA and Chicago, IL and featuring members of bands including Ampere and Libyans (a personal fave). Their bio suggests that the group “don’t get together often”, which helps to explain why new 7” single, “Listless/Second Skin” is arriving roughly five years on from their debut full-length, Still Corners. However long it took, it was well worth the wait for these two new tracks. Both feature haunting vocal interplay and guitar melodies reminiscent of early Cure under heavy washes of synth. Slight edge goes to the b-side, which adds rockabilly noir to an otherwise wistful beauty. Death-dream rock? If Beauty and the Beat had been produced by Martin Hannett? Ladytron goth? You decide – I’m going to keep listening.
Moon Panda, “Gun”; “On the Attack” (self-released)
Moon Panda is a quartet based in London and Brighton, UK. Led by vocalist/bassist Maddy Myers and guitarist Gustav Moltke (George Godwin and Alfie Webber round out the set), the band features members from the US, Denmark and the UK. They’ve self-released a trio of singles over the past year plus, including the two latest – “Gun” and “On the Attack”.
The group describe themselves as making ‘dreamy space pop for dreamy space people”, and you can’t accuse them of false advertising. The gauzy feel of “Gun” pushes the band towards a sound reminiscent of trip hop bands like Morcheeba or Zero 7, as well as Parachute-era Coldplay. Myers’ fragile, whispery vocals complement the mood, a pleasingly dark undertone provided by lyrical musings on the non-greeting card aspects of love (‘even the sweetest thoughts/get twisted’). The slightly more in focus “On the Attack” comes off a bit like a velvet-gloved PJ Harvey, a psych nibble on quietly lush chords invoking Bête Noire-era Bryan Ferry.
Both tracks illustrate Moon Panda’s aptitude for building engrossing tunes on serpentine grooves and echo-laden melodies. The band’s website mentions that these tracks, together with others, will be released as the Pastel Pools EP later in 2019. Looking forward to it.
In the latest installment of thegrindinghalt.com‘s ongoing series, “oh crap, we’re behind on a lot of writing”, please enjoy our musings on several of the tracks we’ve been loving these past few weeks (or so…stop judging!). F
Sink Ya Teeth, “Substitutes” (Hey Buffalo)
We love, love, love Sink Ya Teeth, the dynamic duo of Maria Uzor and Gemma Cullingford. “Substitutes”, their latest dancefloor megablast, is a cowbell- propulsed tour d’angleterre. Hypnotic vocals soar above Detroit techno ‘dugga dugga’ synths and a rough and rugged bass line that reminds a bit of Timezone. The 80s electrofunk influence paired with the insouciant cool of peak Ladytron. Taken from Sink Ya Teeth’s debut album on Hey Buffalo. Divine. De-lovely. Diva voce.
Taken from Sun on the Square, the most recent long-player from long-running dreamy folk-pop group the innocence mission, “Green Bus” is a beguiling new track.Karen Peris’ vocals play like dappled sunlight through an intricate canopy woven by heavily arpeggio’d guitars and lush strings; the overall effect spiritual. Absolutely lovely. Sun On the Square is out now on the veritable Bella Union, Badman Recording (US) and P-Vine Records (JP).
Free Love, “Synchronicity” (Full Ashram)
Free Love – the band formerly known as Happy Meals (we loved their 2014 debut, Apero, via 2016’s glorious Fruit Juice EP) – graced us with “Synchronicity”. Following a detour into trance-like meditiative music, the track – happily, not a The Police cover –sees the duo of Rodden and Cook return to the wellspring of divine, club-friendly new wave/late disco/electric r&b.Rubber bass, squelched keys and breathy vox.Out now on the band’s Full Ashram label.
Totally Mild, “Take Today” (Chapter Music)
“Take Today” features on Her, the latest release from Melbourne’s Totally Mild. Opening with the strummy charm of early Ocean Blue dreampop, vocalist Elizabeth Mitchell’s halcyon lilt incorporates a bit of a Gallic touch, bringing in hints of St. Etienne or the poppier side of Stereolab.A warm embrace of a song, blooming into a veritable endorphin rush of a chorus. “Why wait for a slow decay/take today”. Her is out now on Chapter Music.
Oh Sees, “Overthrown” (Castle Face)
My youngest enjoys the components of a burrito, but not wrapped up together.In a bougie/“we watch a lot of Cooking Channel so I can” reaction to this, we’ve come to refer to this dish as ‘deconstructed’. Queue hard segue to the latest track from John Dwyer’s mighty Oh Sees (f/k/a Thee Oh Sees), “Overthrown”. The track’s raucous, main portion slashes and burns like a deconstructed thrash opus – the parts are there (jigga-jigga guitar, intense vox pitched up to a scream), but freed from a traditional thrash metal tortilla, er, song structure by virtue of a swinging beat and shards of hazy psych. New album, Smote Reverser, was released last week, courtesy of Castle Face.
The Sueves, “Stare” (Goodbye Boozy)
The lastest from Chicago’s The Sueves, who never fail to disappoint. “Stare”, the a-side to new 7” on the Goodbye Boozy label, is another storming slice of razor-sharp, earworm-worthy garage/punk/rock ’n roll. Vocalist Joe Schorgl sounds a particularly incensed Bon Scott, strangled shouts over brutally downstrummed guitars and a watertight rhythm charge. It’s a fantastic follow on to the band’s spring ’18 full-length, R.I.P. Clearance Event.
Fröst, “Record Still Spinning” (Lost Room)
Fröst is the duo of vocalist Johanna Bramli (who also sang with Stereolab offshoot, Imitation Electric Piano) and Fujiya & Miyagi’s Steve Lewis. Taken from their debut long-player, Matters, “Record Still Spinning” is the first taste, and the influence of the principals’ other projects is evident. The heady mix of a steady, motorik beat augmented by urgent driving bass, minimal synths and breathy vocals call to mind the aforementioned bands, as well as Broadcast and Hooverphonic. Matters releases September 28, courtesy of Lost Room.
Exploded View, “Raven Raven” (Sacred Bones)
Exploded View is an intercontinental project comprising Annika Henderson, Hugo Quezada, and Martin Thulin. “Raven Raven”, taken from the group’s forthcoming sophomore release, Obey, is a vertiginous slab of shuddering, danceable (read: swaying) psych. The lyrical flow reminds a bit of Suicide’s “Cheree”, though here the watcher has become the watched, the titular bird sitting on Henderson’s shoulder, eyeing her ‘every move’. Obey is due for release September 28, courtesy of Sacred Bones.
First things first: I count myself a massive Cocteau Twins fan. So much so that when I read/hear bands compared sonically or otherwise with them, it’s met with a healthy skepticism. Few, either during the contemporaneous rise of dream pop and shoegaze or during their more recent revivals, seem to match the visceral thrill, the desolate euphoria, gleaned from the original. While I grew to like many of these bands over time it was in spite of, rather than due to, their supposed level of “Cocteausiness”.
Which leads me to Britain, the duo of Joey Cobb and Katie Drew that I recently stumbled across (thanks to an email blast from the good folks over at Heavenly). They come bearing Cocteau comparisons – and it’s easy enough to see why on first listen to the demo for track, “Day by Day”: the glistening guitar cascades, crisp drum machine patter, even an ending that sounds as though the song’s been suddenly unplugged – it’s all there. Yet, in spite of my decidedly caveat emptor approach to such things, I was immediately swept up and carried off by “Day by Day”.
Much of this is down to Drew’s vocal performance, which matches not only the wispy end of Elizabeth Fraser’s delivery but, more importantly, its soulfulness. So, yes, it does sound like the Cocteaus – but “Day by Day” is no mere pastiche. The light and dark in the track’s woozy melody gives a feel like the reveal of sun through a slowly lifting fog. It’s also incredibly fully-formed for a ‘demo’ – so hopefully, if included on their forthcoming debut, it won’t be messed with. A second track, “Tried to Call”, can be heard by watching their “Stay Fresh” session over at theskinny. Building from a similar 4AD building block, “Tried to Call” ratchets up the psych in a way that reminds of Lost Souls-era Doves (a band Britain name check as an influence in the corresponding interview).
Per the bio on fbook and the twitt, Britain are currently working on their debut, which will be released on Heavenly. Stay tuned, and catch them out on tour with Jane Weaver this autumn in the UK (dates here).