Friday 19 January 2024


How so dirge-y a song, so despondant and swept up in a sense of looming despair, can be so exciting is only down to the skill in its execution. The simplicity at work in the moody and minimalist 'Affection' by Glasgow musical entity and human beings Slake Moths is part of this. They describe their music as "melancholic and electronic, a result of listening to too much Neu! and the like during their lost adolescences in the sunlit uplands of North Lanarkshire."

Not a bad description. Splashes of synth move in static ripples, ending in resonating one-note skirls, above a bubbling column of glossy but pitted bass. All of it cycles over a stoic, disjointed half-skeleton of a beat, the slow scuttle of hi hats, taut kicks and fibia-tapping snare clicks.

Halfway through, the simplest of switches: an addition of slow arpeggio of gentle boops, but set rhythmically so they cut in syncopation with the beat. If this is affection, it is unreturned, unfulfilled, clouded and cursed — apt enough for a music-making unit named after giant interdimensional mind-eating butterflies. Indeed the track feels very much like an evolved form of witch house; combined with the occultish artwork, the adjacency is clear to see.

But it wasn't always so minimal. The band tells yes/no via email that 'Affection' was "originally a lot more complex and layered, but we pared it down to just a couple of tracks and slowed it way down, which seemed to bring out all the ambiguity and sinister feeling." It's the first track taken from their upcoming self-titled debut album, due out this year on Slake Moths' own microlabel, Firth Records.

Live shows may be forthcoming, they continue, if interest is there. "The internet might have made music omnipresent, but performance, proper theatrics, is still a rare quantity. If people are fine going to a cinema to be made uncomfortable, to be disturbed, then why not a concert?" the band says. "We have a great many ideas, most of which are probably unsound and ill-advised, but it would be nice to try them out on-stage."

  • ๐Ÿ”” 'Affection' is taken from Slake Moths' debut album, also called Slake Moths, due out sometime in 2024.

Slake Moths Internet Presence ☟
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Saturday 13 January 2024


It's time for some new music from Lindsay Lowend, the human Detroit-dweller, educator and game composer, Tony Mendez. Differently from his recent releases, the chiptune-heavy Chiptunes 2022 (clue's in the name) and the demoscene-dedicated Nectarine (also released in 2022), the focus on this EP is a real instrument: the guitar. It's appeared in his high-energy frenetic VGM-flavoured compositions before — LL 2020 - Volume 3, for example — but never with such prominence as to be the crux of the release itself.

That's where Braddock Run is different. Named possibly after a tiny little river in Pennsylvania, or maybe not, the five-track EP is characterised by the same Lindsay Lowend lyricism, all those refraining melodies and addictive, looping progressions — take the splashy chords in the calypso-inflected 'Smokestacks', a sunny number that also retains the emotive soft synth goodness that Mendez is known for. Little avenues of guitar work with the synth, different melodies folded into each other, perhaps most noticeable on the virtuoso, math-leaning melodies that skip and skitter in 'Blue Nun'.

High reverb on the synths give a gossamer backdrop to tracks on Braddock Run, providing a suitably seasonal scattering of frost and fog to the atmosphere. 'Hรถfner' displays this nicely, with a stutter of sharp synths and a repeating tract of delayed guitar disappearing as if down a sparkling wintry lane into the low, sheltered hills beyond. We even get a taste of outdoors on opener 'Horseshoe Crab' with its crispy field recordings. Mendez is no stranger to field recordings; his redubs can be found on Vimeo, where he once uploaded an exercise in foley in the form of redubbing environmental noises in Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Contrasting with the cool temperatures, but wholly coexisting with them if not codependent on them entirely, is the warmth of indoors. You can't be cosy without the cold. It evokes a table set with breakfast items, a pluming mug of coffee, a steamed-up window with a vista of some hivernal scene.

The thudding rounded tones of the beat throughout provides this — especially the slightly distorted drums in title track (and final song) 'Braddock Run', crackling like glowing hearth-bound firewood — as does the bass, creating unobtrustive grooves like a quilted coat. Simplicity rather than elaboration in the beat-and-bass foundations provides the stable conditions to press pause on your day and be caught in the music.

There's a sense of end-of-the-day resolution, a kind of sunset finality, on the EP's closer, the meldoy skipping upwards but falling back with melancholy-tinged contentment. The guitar on this track exemplifies the guitar on the entire EP, the melodies affectionately layered over each other, each a copy but differing just so. Compare it with 'Horseshoe Crab', with its introductory feel, its Animal Crossing gentleness.

While the feel of Braddock Run may be more "real" than Mendez's previous endeavours, the sense of everyday escapism, of familiar fantasies, is heightened with his command of the fretboard, working with synthetic elements to create a composite daydream of chilled — and chilly — proportions.

  • ๐Ÿ”” Listen to Lindsay Lowend's Braddock Run EP all you like over on Bandcamp. You can even buy it on a name-your-price basis.
  • ๐Ÿ”” The cover photo for the EP is by Detroit-based artist and designer Nick Tilma, who also designs some wonderful furniture.

Lindsay Lowend Internet Presence ☟
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Thursday 11 January 2024


Described variously as no wave, post punk, art rock, or some combination of all three with perhaps a bonnus genre or two thrown in for good measure, Brooklyn band Gustaf have released a video for 'Starting and Staring', a frenzied propulsive number that provides the first inkling of their second album, Package Pt. 2, which arrives off the back of their well received Audio Drag For Ego Slobs (2021).

The hook — well, less of a hook more of an imperative mantra — "Stay on my eyes" is by turns growled and uttered through bared teeth by singer Lydia Gammill. It weaves through, appearing with her increasingly agitated "You got me starting and staring!" in the midst of the juddering sweaty low-ceilinged dancefloor sound vehicle powered by zingy guitar harmonics, slapdash yet precision riffs and solid, driving bass. A cross between a streetfight and euphoric dance-off.

Channeling a vocal delirium that recalls Patti Smith's rollicking refrains, but with added slurring ferocity, Gammill's voice cartwheels, swoops and bodyslams itself, sometimes punching the air with group vocals a la fellow NYC-ers The Rapture. Truthfully, there's a lot in here that summons that sound, that essence of 21st-century danceable disco-meets-rock, and its key components, LCD Soundsystem and !!! (West Coast, but still) included, and it speaks to the cultural weight propelling Gustaf forward to inherit the house parties and basement clubs of tomorrow.

  • ๐Ÿ”” This slice of new music, 'Starting and Starting' in case you didn't get that, is from the second Gustaf album, Package Pt. 2, which will be released on 5th April this year (that's 2024) via Toronto-based label Royal Mountain Records.
  • ๐Ÿ”” Gustaf tour dates can be found by clicking this very text (they're going on tour in April/May around the U.S.).
  • ๐Ÿ”” The rather indie-filmic video for Gustaf's 'Starting and Staring' was directed by filmmaker Alex Ross Perry.

Gustaf Internet Presence ☟
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Tuesday 9 January 2024


Covers can go one of two ways, broadly speaking. They can enhance the original piece of music, putting a personalised spin on what came before, imbuing it with a new character while retaining the enduring familiarity of the original. It's an ancient, oft-cited example, but take Jimi Hendrix's 'All Along The Watchtower' versus Bob Dylan's original. The former, a total vibe switch, works so well it may as well be the original. On the other side of the coin you have the not-so-good covers. The Cure's take on 'Purple Haze' is bandied around as one of the worst — understandably, but the groove is cool in itself, sounding like a hidden track on the Streets of Rage OST.

While VGM feels like a digression among all these dusty twentieth-century musical acts (yes, Streets of Rage is the same century, but come on), for the subject at hand it makes sense to lead in with that. Music made for videogames is huge, with some soundtracks widely known and hugely inspiring. How could they not be, with all the countless collective hours spent playing videogames, all their themes and melodies spending more time in your ears than real-world artists you may have chosen to listen to.

This videogame connection what makes this particular piece of music, a cover of Tatsuro Yamashita's 1982 album For You in its entirety using soundfonts from Super Mario 64 (1996), so instantly iconic. It was created using free music composition software MuseScore, and mastered in Cakewalk, by the mononymic JQHN, an illustrator, online entity and person dwelling in real world South Korea.

What is immediately striking about the cover is how well the sounds of SM64 fit, which either speaks to Yamashita's production style, or to the sound design expertise of Koji Kondo, or both. The strings glisten and jangle, the bass pummels along, drums pop and thud. The vox and lead instruments used for the vocals don't always hit — they fall slightly short of the mark in 'Hey Reporter!', for example, unable to match Yamashita's slurring, rockstar lilts — but they're filled with flair, a different flavour for each track imparting personality.

The question of just how aptly MIDI instrumentation can capture atmosphere or vibe came to mind particularly in 2015 when musician Father John Misty, aka Joshua Michael Tillman, released two versions of his album I Love You, Honeybear: one "normal", one MIDI (aided by composer and developer Casey Wescott). The latter was supposed to be an artistic gesture regarding Tillman's perception of diminished sound quality on streaming services (a hot topic at the time), appearing on made-up streaming service "SAP".

In a press releaese he called it “a new signal-to-audio process in which popular albums are 'sapped' of their performances, original vocal, atmosphere, and other distracting affectations so the consumer can decide quickly and efficiently whether they like the musical composition, based strictly on its formal attributes, enough to spend money on it.” Call it a joke, or a statement, but the MIDI version of the album went hard, and added a novel dimension to the otherwise Glen Cambell-esque folk devotional that typified the "actual" album.

But that's the past. JQHN's VGM-inflected cover of For You is no statement, but rather a marriage of two things: city pop and Nintendo 64-era Mario. The two compliment each other, defining atmospheres and creating new musical possibilities. Take the a capella interludes, for example. Small, few-seconds-long pieces of music they may be, but in their new MIDI guise they brim with looming intrigue, sounding far-off and otherworldly, neither from Yamashita nor Kondo. The soft, atmospheric nature of the SM64 soundfont work particularly well on the stripped-back, late-night lovesong 'Futari', while on next track 'Loveland Island' it sounds like a shortlisted theme for character selection on Mario Kart 64. The glistening tones match the sunny vibe of the album. So sunny was the album, in fact, that it became the progenitor of the commercial slogan in Japan “Natsu da! Umi da! ___ da! (It's summer! It's the sea! It's ___!"), Tatsuro first filling in the blank thanks to the resort feel of the album. 'Sparkle' and 'Love Talking (Honey It's You)' sound remarkably close to the original (the latter's bouncy vox solo is tantalising).

Most spooky of all, or perhaps by design, is 'Morning Glory'. Though the progression is slightly different, the song allegedly inspired Koji Kondo to create two pieces of music for two different Nintendo game series, one being the Water Land theme in Super Mario Bros. 3 (1988-91), the other the Fairy Fountain theme for Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1997). It can be further alleged that 'Morning Glory' itself took note from Maria Asahina's 1979 single 'Kokoro no Mama ni' (namely the verse; the intro is reminscent of 'Loveland Island').

Covers can be magical beasts. The result of careful design, the summoning of a previously existing musical spirit and working with it to create something new, covers are sometimes good, other times not great, and often interesting. This version of a classic album using the instrumentation of a classic game — in truth one of several created by JQHN last year — showcases wonderfully simple creative ingenuity, a musical pop art canvas utilising pre-existing decades-old sound objects.

JQHN Internet Presence ☟

Monday 8 January 2024


Seattle producer Shelf Nunny aka Christian Gunning first came to our attention way back in 2013 — namely it was via 'About The Boy', a collaborative track between him and Berlin-based artist Eriko Toyoda. It was a vibe.

A decade and several releases later (via labels such as Chicago-based Palettes and Seattle's own Hush Hush Records), not to mention remixes from the likes of Kidkanevil (“who heavily inspired + shaped my sound,” Gunning says), his style of experimental beat-making remains addictively luscious.

With more than just a nod to ambient music and field recordings, his latest track 'Cascade Glide' begins trickles with natural-meets-synthetic minutiae from the outset. Synth bleeps and bloops ping and warp in the neardistance, clockwork ticks and mechanical clacks keeping time, fuzzy steps crunching on ground begin proceedings. It's like field recording if you were capturing sounds somewhere like Green Hill Zone, for example. Sonic has long sprinted through, leaving only the swaying grass and empty loops.

It morphs from this quiet, thoughtful beatscape, flying through cotton wool skies into something less pinpoint-detail, more dynamic loud-and-quiet festivities with stuttering chords and bold sections of dead air. It's a track that's equal parts chilled and exhilarating, study beats reimagined — a daydream worked into being by a novel approach to beat-led incidental music of the modern age.

  • ๐Ÿ”” 'Cascade Glide' is taken from Pronoia, Shelf Nunny's upcoming “concept album about the opposite of paranoia”, scheduled for release on 26th January; grab it on Bandcamp.

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