Story of a Song: Devon Welsh, “Go Go”

Devon Welsh

Throughout his career, both as the frontman of the now-defunct minimalist electronic duo Majical Cloudz, as well as the recordings under his own name, Devon Welsh has made a point of diving headlong into the mystery of death. Welsh launches his voice like a bolt of lightning, illuminating the scary and uncomfortable truths we typically push out of mind and out of sight. While his past collaborations with Matthew Otto, the other half of Majical Cloudz, used bare-bones instrumental arrangements in order to emphasize Welsh’s magnetic voice, “Go Go,” the single track that Welsh quietly uploaded to Bandcamp earlier this month, marks an even more radical level of starkness in his craft. On the track—which Welsh wrote, recorded and mixed alone—he strips away nearly every layer of sound between his voice and our ears, leaving nowhere to hide from the cold reality its lyrics convey. In part written for a mentor suffering from a terminal sickness, and in part an inward-facing meditation on the uncertainty of life, “Go Go” is a study in mystery and confusion, delivered with diamond-sharp clarity.

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Terminal Consumption: The Best Punk on Bandcamp, September 2016

Terminal Consumption Covers
In this installment of Terminal Consumption, our monthly reviews column focused on the margins of punk and hardcore, Sam Lefebvre considers the latest from Olympia’s mightily expressive Vexx and San Francisco’s peculiarly affecting Violent Change, plus Animal Crimes and Mirror.

Vexx, Wild Hunt EP [M’Lady’s/Upset the Rhythm]

On “Strength,” the centerpiece of Vexx’s eponymous 2014 debut, vocalist Mary Jane Dunphe sings of “mountains within my sides,” “gold within my thighs,” and knuckles reinforced by steel. The elemental imagery nicely illustrates Dunphe’s presence on record, the way her intuitive delivery conveys not only staggering power, but also shifts in tone. She moves effortlessly from withering satire to frustration, ecstatic affirmation to brazen indulgence. It’s to the credit of Vexx’s three instrumentalists that the music both follows and fortifies Dunphe’s mercurial moods, their dynamism adding new contours every time a passage repeats. The title of Vexx’s latest EP, Wild Hunt, captures their creative and emotional ferocity.

When Vexx first appeared, Olympia, Washington was teeming with great bands. Hysterics, the tempestuous hardcore group, had yet to bow out with Can’t I Live; Gag was striking a potent, enduring balance between dourness and cackling humor on 40 Oz. Rule ’90; and Milk Music achieved quietly-influential cult notoriety with the expansive, yearning guitar glory of Cruise Your Illusion. Internal tension tends to divide punk and hardcore into factions of formal or political rigidity, but Olympia in 2013 seemed keen to represent punk as cascading difference, its multiple meanings complementary, rather than at odds.

Even in that setting—a latter-day high point, arguably, for one of the most storied small towns in independent music—Vexx felt especially thrilling, a combustible mixture of punk urgency and Sunset Strip swagger. Their songs were whipped into a maelstrom by guitarist Mike Liebman, then-bassist Aaron Larsen (who was eventually replaced by Ian Patrick Corrigan), drummer Corey Rose Evans (who now plays in G.L.O.S.S. and Urochromes), and Dunphe (who’s lately active as one half of synth-pop duo CC Dust). “Black/White,” the careening kickoff to Vexx’s 2015 Give and Take EP, is ostensibly about Dunphe’s exasperation with someone’s rigid thinking; heard another way, it’s a takedown of dogma that evokes Olympia’s exhaustion with narrow concepts of punk.

On Wild Hunt, Liebman’s leads slash and glide through the verses and choruses practically nonstop, in a manner that recalls Frank Agnew’s playing on Legal Weapon’s early records. Equally persistent, the rhythm section surges with gurgling bass and throbbing kick and snare; few bands rush ahead of the beat to such rousing effect. And when the players push the tempo in tandem with Dunphe’s most visceral howls, such as on the outro of “Step Inside” or the pre-chorus of “I Don’t Bleed,” it sets new standards for velocity and clamor. But the record’s great lure is opener “Do What You Want To,” a clever spin on rock ’n roll’s individualist sloganeering on which Dunphe relinquishes a subject of affection from her own expectations: “It’s true/ I got eyes for you,” she sings. “But you gotta feel what you want/ Do what you wanna do.” How often are love songs unencumbered by the writer’s will?

Violent Change, VC3 LP [Melters]

Violent Change is the songwriting vehicle of San Francisco artist Matt Bleyle, who’s accompanied live by a revolving lineup of players (which, at one point, featured Tony Molina and lately includes members of Rays and The World). Bleyle writes ramshackle pop and rudimentary punk songs that, on record, often collapse or fold in upon themselves in rewardingly counterintuitive fashion. That’s partly on account of all of the warble, fuzz, and other such mechanical intervention, which gorgeously subordinate the songs beneath the noise.

Even ignoring the fact that Bleyle mainly records by himself, Violent Change’s peculiarly affecting debut EP, from 2012, and subsequent trio of full-lengths (a rare longevity by Bay Area punk scene standards) feel like self-contained worlds. Only on Violent Change’s eponymous debut would curlicue guitar leads suit a song about disaster in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Only on VC3, Bleyle’s latest, do harmonica notes sound like radiant dawn, while the rest of the music brings to mind iPhone voice memos (“Unit A”). And only in Violent Change’s engrossing catalog can vocal hooks flourish despite such inhospitable, murky environments.

Animal Crimes, Tape III CS [Far So Far]

Anonymous sludge gives way to spry punk and ghastly vocals on this London, England band’s four-song tape, which could only benefit from more of the searing guitar flare that turns up at the end of opener “Subject to Change.”

Mirror, Universal Dismay CS [Self]

Universal Dismay deals out sickly and squeamish hardcore reminiscent of the recently-reviewed Bib, only this Austin, Texas group keeps a lead foot on the flange and spittle spatter down the front of the shirt.

Sam Lefebvre

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Talking With a GosT: The Synthwave Producer Opens Up

GoST

Like many other synthwave artists, GosT’s songs are cut from the same blood-soaked cloth as horror greats like John Carpenter. His songs don’t just set the mood for movies, though—they’re the feature presentation, equal parts chaos and pure theatre.

A lot of that stems from GosT’s KISS obsession as a kid. “They had a huge impact on me performance-wise,” he recalls. “They were so over-the-top on stage and in myth.”

The same goes for GosT itself, a project shrouded in mystery, helmed by a producer wreathed in smoke and donning a skeleton mask. The whole thing seems larger-than-life—especially in a scene that is typically laid-back and reserved.

“Only a few of us have taken synthwave towards the Justice end of the spectrum,” the producer says when we point out the similarities between his new album, Non Paradisi, and dance music. “It’s been natural, but we’re a small group of outcasts.”

Chalk that intensity up to GosT’s past as a member of several metal/hardcore bands—the identities of which he’d rather keep secret. But it’s not that simple—songs like “Aggrandizement” are both dynamic and deep. Our conversation, unsurprisingly, is the same.

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WIFE Explores Humanity Through Machinery

James Kelly

James Kelly is WIFE. Photos by Camillie-Blake.

WIFE is the solo moniker of James Kelly, an Irish-born musician currently residing in Berlin who is better known to metalheads as the guitarist of Altar of Plagues. His full-length debut under that name, 2014’s What’s Between, found Kelly moving away from his former work as much as possible, moving himself into territory akin to How to Dress Well. Between was meant to strip metal’s chest-thumping armor in the grand name of vulnerability. Through his dissatisfaction with that record, as well as the overwhelming electronic presence in Berlin, metal has come back to him in a major way even as he continues to make electronic music. Kelly says that he’s recently been getting back into Sepultura, Morbid Angel, Autopsy’s Mental Funeral, and even nü metal—especially Slipknot’s self-titled album.

“It’s so insanely barbaric—if we put it in the context of the more underground stuff we know, it’s not as insane, but talking about something that was [on] commercial radio stations, that was a really major new height for what people have the capacity to listen to,” Kelly says about the Iowa group’s breakthrough.

Standard Nature, his new EP on Profound Lore (who also released two Altar of Plagues records), eschews straightforwardness for heavier beats, chopped up vocals, and melodies that make rough entrances and even rougher exits. On the surface, that jaggedness is reminiscent of Oneohtrix Point Never’s Garden of Delete, a record born from Daniel Lopatin’s experience touring with Nine Inch Nails. With Kelly’s background, the zig-zag patterns could have also easily come from Trey Azagthoth’s fluid, almost anti-linear soloing, or how Slipknot would distill bite-sized elements of death and black metal for a mainstream audience. It’s shorter but more fulfilling than Between, and it’s a compelling intersection of metal and electronic influences, which have more similarities than one thinks.

We discussed the underlying heavy influences of Standard, as well as Kelly’s issues with Between, and how the solitude of solo electronic music compares to that of one-man black metal.

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Skyzoo and Apollo Brown’s “The Easy Truth” is a Labor of Love

Skyzoo & Apollo Brown

Skyzoo & Apollo Brown. Photo by Robert Adam Mayer.

Having released more than 20 LPs between them since 2010, it’s safe to say rapper Skyzoo and producer Apollo Brown are proficient musicians. The former, a complex wordsmith, has developed into one of hip-hop’s leading MCs; the latter, an underground favorite, mixes hard drums and scratchy soul samples, becoming a go-to producer in indie hip-hop. Their collaborative album, The Easy Truth, follows the blueprint laid by Gang Starr and Pete Rock & CL Smooth, classic rapper/producer duos that specialized in pairing raw beats with no-nonsense flows. Created in response to popular demand from their shared audience, The Easy Truth eschews the current mainstream aesthetic in favor of the sound of golden age hip-hop.

Unlike the work he does with his other group, Ugly Heroes—in which all of the members are from the Midwest—Brown, a Detroit native, wanted to create a backdrop that evoked Skyzoo’s New York City upbringing. “Jordan’s & a Gold Chain”—the title borrows a line from a 1996 Nas song—feels like classic Wu-Tang Clan, with its hypnotic drum loop and wistful string melody. “On The Stretch & Bob Show” pays homage to the legendary New York radio show, and has the lo-fi hiss of an old-school beat tape. “I grew up where shit less cautious, more Cassius,” Skyzoo rhymes. “Know the corner store so well, I could walk backwards.” Brown and Skyzoo spoke with us about the inner workings of their album, how they honor their heroes, and the struggles of current New York City hip-hop.

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