Tag Archives: Indie Rock

Album of the Day: Aye Nako, “Silver Haze”

Silver Haze, the latest from the Brooklyn group Aye Nako, is a ragged, marvelous, coiled blast of noise, a dozen songs sewn up in barbed-wire guitar and sporting immediate, ruthlessly melodic vocal melodies. There are subtle nods toward the early days of indie rock—the hi-distortion approach of Superchunk and Archers of Loaf, the bent-wire guitars of Polvo and Helium—but not a second of Silver Haze feels derivative or, worse, nostalgic. Instead, Aye Nako start with a familiar template and then smudge and redraw it according to their own designs.

The world in which these songs exist is, realistically, a dangerous one. “Tell me what I need to stay safe on the streets” goes the chorus to “Sissy,” and the slow-creeping “Nightcrawler,” with its spider-leg guitars, imagines “exorcism on a billboard stage” and “false needles in my neck.” In the roiling “The Gift of Hell,” the protagonist ends up “drinking with statues at Grand Army Plaza,” and the bitter sentiment is paired with a big, soaring melody. The oppositional stance is key to who Aye Nako are—passionate believers in the value of DIY spaces, who seek to operate outside the commerce-driven music scene. They grapple often with identity—the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality operate in differing ways for the four band members, and exploring these traumas together provides a sense of healing—and they distill their anger, frustration, and iconoclasm into songs that feel urgent and vital.

That the songs on Haze are so unfailingly melodic makes their lyrics land that much harder. A skipping guitar trips along the background of “Spare Me” before the song erupts into full-throated howl; “The Gift of Hell” juxtaposes 20-ton stoner riffs with a haunting, delicate vocal line. And “Tourmaline” is a mini-epic, moving from a slow-gliding opening to a knottier, more fitful middle section. It’s this kind of restlessness and inventiveness that makes Haze such a gripping listen. It lulls you into comfort before turning the room upside down.

J. Edward Keyes

Slowcore: A Brief Timeline

Low

Low, photo by Lego.

You could easily argue against the idea of “slowcore” as a genre. Unlike its late-’80s/early-’90s contemporaries in shoegaze and grunge, there was never a geographic focus or self-celebrating scene. Its key bands formed all across the country, rarely toured together, and never seemed to swap notes or compare guitar pedals. There were no formative moments, no Sex Pistols at Manchester in ’76. Nothing close to an ethos.

But, crucially, there is a sound—or, rather, a continuity of sound—a commitment to allowing songs the room to breathe, to stripping things down to their essence before something bigger can be built back up around them. Even when the songs are fast or loud or busy, they never lose that essential clarity, that push toward beauty as its own end. Continue reading

Album of the Day: Saltland, “A Common Truth”

First, you hear that sound—the low shimmer, resonant and grim and loamy, that chamber-music-for-the-bomb-shelter cello. This root integer of modern rock melancholy can be found on all sorts of Constellation albums, especially those from the core roster: Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Thee Silver Mt. Zion, Set Fire to Flames. The latter two once included cellist and composer Rebecca Foon, whose gorgeous second album under the Saltland solo identity is a meditation on climate change (Foon is a member of the Canadian cooperative consultancy Sustainability Solutions Group, a founder of a rain forest conservation charity, and co-founder of a climate-consciousness-raising international concert series). Full of layered, looped strings and Foon’s spacey alto and piano-rays that poke through the clouds, A Common Truth is a solo endeavor—though she’s got no shortage of sympathetic contributors.

There’s the great Warren Ellis (Dirty Three, Bad Seeds, Grinderman), whose loops, violin, and pump organ help anchor “To Allow Us All to Breathe” and the hypnotic instrumentals ”Forward Eyes I” and “Forward Eyes II.”  On “I Only Wish This For You,” producer (and Besnard Lakes member) Jace Lasek’s guitar cuts a distorted swath, a slow-mo lightning strike across Foon’s regal, stormy cello. But mostly, A Common Truth is about Foon and the way she stretches her instrument and her voice, about the textures she builds up. It is one woman making a musical case that is both elegiac and urgent, so it’s almost jarring to hear another voice emerge on “Light of Mercy” when former Silver Mt. Zion bandmate (and Constellation co-founder) Ian Ilavsky’s baritone doubles her silvery vocals. Lasek’s on this one, too; their presence here gives the album a jolt, like maybe the only things we are able to count on when the rains come (and they will come) are our closest compatriots, even as we write our own codas to an earth facing indelible environmental change.

—Joe Gross

Los Angeles Police Department Tackle Anxiety, Fear of Flight, & Piano Ballads

Los Angeles Police Department

Los Angeles Police Department. All photos by Philip Cosores.

“I paid my therapist over Venmo for the first time yesterday,” Ryan Pollie says while polishing off some homemade tacos at the large dining room table at his Mid-City Los Angeles home. “You know how other people can see what you pay for? I just used emoji to describe it. I went with the face with tears streaming down, and the baby bird hatching from its shell.”

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Album of the Day: Pile, “A Hairshirt of Purpose”

In cities with lively scenes, one band often ends up representing a specific subgenre to both insiders and outsiders. Pile has been the source of Boston’s indie rock pride for the past decade—not unlike the way Mudhoney was the beating heart of pre-Nevermind DIY Seattle. The quartet’s more crowd-pleasing songs, like “Don’t Touch Anything” and “Baby Boy,” have become occasions for joyous basement singalongs across the country, for crowds to recognize a shared love. No longer content with this endless cycle of writing and touring, Pile’s principal songwriter Rick Maguire left the comfortable cosmopolitan environs of the East Coast last year to spend time in rural Appalachia. The result of this creative respite and reflection is A Hairshirt of Purpose, an album weighted heavily by Maguire’s bucolic surroundings and his self-imposed solitude.

Historically, Pile’s LPs have never had much of a central theme. But on Hairshirt, the thirteen tracks are connected by a clear thread of consternation. “Leaning on a Wheel” displays a prickly restlessness in its flirtation with Americana and acrimony. “So play in traffic/ Have a kid/ And may every good deed be in self-interest” is a statement charged with resentment. Leading with cutthroat strings under percussionist Kris Kuss’s simmering drumroll, “Rope’s Length” evokes an unsettling disconnect. When we reach the chorus “But I want it at rope’s length/ If I’m not being used”, the song’s protagonist is already proverbially lost at sea. Pile have always been masters of askew chord progressions, and on Hairshirt, these riffs pair with lyrical brooding to add an extra layer of tension.

The sense of chagrin that’s woven into Hairshirt goes beyond bellowing and bombast. “Making Eyes,” with its reluctant piano and lumbering tempo, contributes to the song’s theme of cloistered paranoia. As expected, Pile still manage to get in some bruisers like “Texas” that take the reins off of the rhythm section and let dual guitars tangle for some raucous jousting. Bitter sentiment and churning cadence merge on “Dogs,” a pitter-patting of tender chords steadily swelling into an orchestral thunderstorm. Mustering all his spite, Maguire finally cuts loose: “Then I pretend to sleep alone/ I’d rather on the ground than in your bed/ I’ll sleep on the lawn or stay up instead.” For a band that has been so closely tied to its homebase, A Hairshirt of Purpose is a powerful album driven by anxiety and separation.

—Matt Voracek