Disappear

by Ceremony (2007, Safranin Sound)

Once upon a time, there was a band called Skywave who became the terror of sound guys everywhere for deliberately doing soundchecks at one volume, and performing at a much louder one (if you’ve heard any of their releases, such as 2003’s Synthstatic, then you’d understand the sound guys’ fear).

From the ashes of that band sprung A Place To Bury Strangers, who have received all kinds of acclaim from Pitchfork, PopMatters, and Stylus, and Ceremony, who hasn’t received quite as much acclaim despite exploring much of the same sonic territory with the same amount of ferocity and volume.

I went ga-ga over Ceremony’s self-titled CD-R debut. Perhaps I’m something of a masochist, but I instantly fell in love with its ear-piercing levels of noise, distortion-shrouded pop hooks, and icily detached vocals. Disappear (Safranin Sound, 2007) doesn’t deviate too far from that. The guitars are still ramped up to eleven on the Distort-O-Meter, the effects pedals and feedback turn every note into a blinding nova of sound, and the vocals are as detached—and ultra cool—as ever.

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Long Way From Home

by Lovespirals (2007, Chillcuts)

It doesn’t feel quite right to say that Lovespirals is merely the new incarnation of Love Spirals Downwards, even though it’s pretty obvious why folks (myself included) would say that—and not just because of the name similarities.

While founder/songwriter Ryan Lum has largely eschewed the gothic/darkwave overtones of his previous band, there’s still no denying that the ghosts of acts such as the Cocteau Twins still haunt their way through Lovespirals’ Long Way From Home. One need only to listen to hazy guitar strums or shimmery effects on “Empty Universe”, “Treading The Water”, or “Sundrenched” for that to become readily apparent.

And then there’s Anji Bee’s vocals. Bee—who, according to the band’s bio, possesses the “the sexiest voice in podcasting”—lets her voice drift and sway through the album’s ten tracks in a manner recalling Love Spirals Downwards’ previous vocalists (such as Suzanne Perry), Liz Frazier (minus the glossolalia), and even Tracey Thorn (Everything But The Girl). You know what I’m talking about: a manner that is seductive, not so much for its sultriness and smokiness, but for its ethereal and otherworldly nature.

All that being said, however, Long Way From Home is far more straightforward than anything Lum (and his various collaborators) has done to date—especially when compared to the Projekt days. While there are certainly echoes of those early darkwave records, replete with their Victorialand influences, Long Way From Home also blends in more forthright pop, jazz, Americana, and even blues for good measure.

This approach does lend the album a light, deft touch that feels something like a crisp spring breeze in both its tone and electic-ness. The duo pull the music off effortlessly, with Lum’s lush production and guitar effects providing a gorgeous, sunlit backdrop for Bee’s vocals.

Occasionally, though, there is a stumble, which mainly occurs when the duo attempt to inject a little grit into their music—e.g., their cover of the classic spiritual, “Motherless Child”. Bee’s voice is better suited to flitting and floating, and so the more soulful approach here just doesn’t quite work as well. But those moments are few and far between, and oftentimes, are brushed aside as soon as the next lovely swell or ethereal vocal harmony comes wafting from the speakers.

Some folks might also dismiss Lovespirals’ music as too light and airy to be of any substance. And while it may be true that you won’t find anything soul-shattering on the album, that rather misses the point I think.

Ultimately, Lum and Bee are all about creating a mood with their music, a relaxed and blissed-out vibe that should be no stranger to fans of dreampop, chill-out electronica, and atmospheric pop. This is music for both late night sessions and noon daydreams, for both listening to at work when you need to escape the pressure of the day and at home when you simply need to unwind with a good book and a glass of wine. From that perspective, Long Way From Home succeeds pretty well.

Hope

by Minikon (2007, Self-Released)

So much of the electronica-laced indie pop that I hear these days seems to strive for some measure of whimsy or childlike wide-eyed-ness. But oftentimes, it comes off as the sort of trite pop that may be catchy and neat to listen to, but offers little more after the first few listens. Minikon‘s Hope avoids that for the most part.

To be sure, Minikon’s music—which sounds like one of the more electronica-minded folks on the Darla label (e.g., Jonas Munk) taking a stab at remixing and covering Sufjan Stevens, with maybe a hint of Joy Electric’s analog bubbliness thrown in for good measure—is oftentimes cute and bubbly, and may not seem all that revelatory or groundbreaking. But there is a certain mixture of joy and melancholy, of frivolity and darkness throughout the album that is rather beguiling.

“Family Mountain” drifts along gracefully on strummed acoustic guitars, wistful flutes, and crunchy electronic beats, and conjures up a mood that is nostalgic without the navel-gazing. Meanwhile, the aptly titled “Fun” and “She Makes Me Happy” are packed with whimsical programming, 8-bit bleeps and bloops galore, and some subtle-yet-affecting melodic shifts.

The album’s highpoint, however, does contain an unmistakably revelatory moment or two. “Forever Loves” begins with gently swelling ambient textures and drum n’ bliss beats a la classic Color Filter or Junior Varsity KM. The track builds so easily that you don’t even realize it’s building at all, that is until the gorgeous climax of trilling flutes and exultant programming.

It’s the sort of moment that could sound trite if it weren’t actually so darn earnest, bright-eyed, innocent—and well-played. And the track’s mellow denouement is a nice touch, a reflective moment that lets you down nice and easy, a fine example of Minikon’s attention to those little details that provide the otherwise light and fluffy music with a surprisingly engaging amount of emotional heft.

Without Number

by Plumerai (2007, Silber Records)

A little over a year ago, the Boston-based Plumerai released Res Cogitans, a 4-song EP that found the group blending some very familiar post-punk and shoegazer textures, yet doing so in a manner that was all their own—though not without a few little bumps here and there. And now they return with Without Number, a full-length that mixes several reworked tracks from Res Cogitans with brand new material, and overall, marks a very solid improvement to the band’s oeuvre.

As with Res Cogitans, there is plenty of nuanced, darkly atmospheric pop to be found in the nine songs here, and all of it existing at that uncertain nexus between post-punk, shoegazer, goth, electronica, and gypsy folk(!). But to Plumerai’s credit, the quartet almost always manage to avoid being pigeonholed into any of those genres.

There’s an eclecticism at work here that recalls Arcade Fire. Not that Plumerai sound anything like Arcade Fire (though both groups have a penchant for building up to fiery outburtsts in their songs). But like Arcade Fire, Plumerai exhibits the same proclivity for taking seemingly disparate elements and using them to conjure up something that is both incredibly familiar and yet very much it’s own thing.

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Loveless

by Japancakes (2007, Darla)

Within the realms of indie and alternative rock, there are few albums as hallowed as My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. Along with other notables such as Slanted And Enchanted, Daydream Nation, and Spiderland, Loveless exists within a holy canon of sorts for which words like “classic,” “seminal,” and “influential” just barely scratch the surface. As such, the notion of a band covering the album in its entirety, of remaking it note by note… well, one can’t be blamed if they find something slightly blasphemous about the whole endeavor.

All sorts of questions come to mind when listening to Japancakes’ take on Loveless. Was it the result of a drunken bet? Too many late nights spent jamming away in the studio? An inside joke? An attempt to reinterpret a classic for a new day and age? Or perhaps simply an unwise display of gushing fan adoration?

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