Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds have released their latest album Skeleton Key, a gut wrenching portrayal of love and grief for the loss of Cave’s son. Sneak’s decided to bring her punk DIY ethos to the digital world, Nots’s is anything but cosmetic in her latest release while Adam Torres’s new Austin influences take hold in Pearls To Swine.
Album Title: Gymnastics
Genre: Post- Punk
Moments Of: The Raincoats / The Slits / New Order
Stand Out: Tough Luck / Red
D.C musician, Eva Moolchan AKA, Sneaks has just re-released her album Gymnastics and it’s now accessible online for the first time. Previously, Gymnastics was available only on cassette and could be purchased within the confines of her home town. Having said that, the grimy, experimental feel of Sneaks matches the punk aesthetics associated with listening on a cassette. The entirety of Gymnastics plays for 15 or so minutes, and is definitely worth a listen.
Gymnastics is a fast paced minimal post punk album, and Sneak’s debut LP. Her short and sweet tracks are lucky to hit the two minute mark, and will never bore. Although minimal in terms of instrumentation, the pace and her emotion makes the album feel quite saturated. All tracks have the element of that DIY feel, featuring few drums patterns and intermittent bass.
‘Tough Luck’, arguably the best track on the album introduces the listener to Moolchan as a nonchalant and aloof individual. The peppy drums is paired with her low writhing bass. Her vocal delivery and intonation with the instrumentation works well to develop a sense of pace. Sneaks then so casually whispers “Boy being soft rocks. Girl being tough luck”. These words appear to be nonsensical but shows her care free attitude, as she choses to defy what typical characteristics a song should entail.
‘Down In The Woods’ features heavy spoken word which is then contrasted by her sweet angelic singing, perhaps in an effort to show her true potential. Sneaks then reverts back to her spoken word vocal delivery style and DGAF attitude in an act of defiance. Sneaks shows she can embody attributes of both the good and bad girl. ‘XTY’ opens with dense textures with very muddy guitar, which is then mixed together with a fast and tinny drum beat. “Anxiety, you take the best of me” cries Sneaks. Perhaps her cool façade is just a ploy. Her scattered and fast paced words act to breed a feeling of anxiety.
In ‘Red’, Sneaks embodies a girl who is too cool to associate herself with this average Joe. “This day is getting longer by the minute”. She hums in order to entertain herself while in the company of her partner. Sneaks belittles him by stating “It’s okay to feel ashamed by the things you’ve done, you’re kinda lame”. Her monotonous voice feels as boring as his company. Sneaks expertly describes what it’s like to be in a relationship that has passed its use by date.
Sneaks experiential take on post-punk finally provides a more female oriented take on the genre. Her choice to write, sing and play bass on her record is simply empowering. Gymnastics is the one art record you must hear this year.
Artist: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
Album Title: Skeleton Tree
Label: Bad Seed Ltd
Genre: Ambient / Alternative Rock
Moments Of: Bjork
Stand Out: Jesus Alone / Distant Sky
Following the tragic death of his son, Skeleton Tree sees Nick Cave spiral deeper into the dark and forlorn realm that his music often inhabits. The follow-up to 2013’s Push the Sky Away continues in the brooding ambience of its predecessor, but loses the punch and grit in exchange for a subdued and numbing pulse.
Over their long career, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds have always seemed comfortable with death. Whether it’s one of Cave’s outlandish characters, or commentaries on society, death has always been a theme. But on Skeleton Tree, the band approach the subject from the opposite end of the spectrum, exploring the vast emotional depths of grief.
Opening with the menacing pulse of ‘Jesus Alone’, we feel the weight on Cave’s shoulders, the intense trauma that looms above like a storm cloud. Almost like a cry for help, the songs baptizes the album in a dark ambience reflected throughout on songs like ‘Anthrocene’ and ‘Magneto’. The album feeds upon this ambience, swelling with the airiness of synth and slow strings, as skittering drums add to the sense of disarray.
While contrasting with some of the heavier songs, tracks like ‘Girl in Amber’ give a fragile feel to the instrumentation, light like it might break at any second. This fragility is evident throughout the album, it’s a theme that permeates every inch of the record, and is obvious on tracks like ‘I Need You’ as Cave sings “Nothing really matters, nothing really matters when the one you love is gone”.
On Skeleton Tree, Cave strays further from the storytelling that we have grown so accustomed to, as his mind seems to wander, taking his lyrics with it on a strange path of twists and turns. It’s on ‘Distant Sky’ though, that Cave gives his most gut-wrenching performance both lyrically and musically, fighting to hold back tears, he softly trembles “soon the children will be rising/this is not for our eyes”. It’s hard to stomach the impossible weight of this song, it’s meaning taken to new heights against the angelic hum of the organ as Cave deals with the trauma and grief of losing his son.
The title track ‘Skeleton Tree’ is very much a fitting finisher. It’s an attempt to step out, make progress and peace with the tragedy that has consumed Cave’s world for the past year. It doesn’t get easier, but it doesn’t get harder either, Cave knows this and ‘Skeleton Tree’, both the song and album acknowledges that.
Album Title Cosmetic
Label Heavenly Recordings
Genre alternative / punk / noise-punk
Moments Of Parquet Courts / Hole
Stand Out Inherently Low
Nots are a four piece, femme-fronted rebirth of glorious 90’s punk. With a ripping, committed sound reminiscent of Hole or Riot Grrrl greats like Bikini Kill, Nots bring us their second album Cosmetic by way of Heavenly Recordings. The record is snarling, unstoppable noise-punk invigorated with old school vocals and new-wave synths. Cosmetic takes the punk baton and runs with it, leaving a trail of fuzzed out guitars, head banging drums and rocking vocals behind.
Nots, of Memphis, feature front woman Natalie Hoffmann, Meredith Lones on bass, Alexandra Eastburn on keys and Charlotte Watson icing the cake with her mouth-watering drums. Watson’s tight rhythm section steals the show throughout the record, driving each track with a purely addictive pace. The band have one album under their belts, 2014’s We Are Nots, and Cosmetic sees them delve a little deeper into a dark, unapologetic world.
This album sets out to rock hard, and it does. The 90’s, alternative sounding tracks are made all the more transcendent with the inspired touch of weird, swirling synth textures: keep your ears peeled for the UFO vibes on ‘Cold Line’.
Opening track ‘Blank Reflection’ lays out the blue print for the record: guitar-heavy with driving drums, crunchy bass and Hoffmann’s committed vocals. ‘Rat King’ is thrashing and fiery, one of the standouts on the album for its exemplary drums and strangely relatable, anti-anthem chorus of “Rat king raise your glass”. ‘New Structures’ courses through your veins with a delicious guitar line and pairs dark, overdriven power chords with trippy melodic glimmers. Title track ‘Cosmetic’ starts with swaggering, dissonant chords and is underpinned by a writhing synth. The song is bruised and battered, but grits its teeth and moves to a rhythm that never falters. This one feels more experimental, a little more noise-punk and less hooky than the first few tracks.
Two-minute thrasher ‘No Novelty’ means business, as does the driving bass on ‘Fluorescent Sunset’. Pitch-bending synths swirl around the echoey vocals as Hoffmann drawls in a hypnotic voice “fluorescent sunset/into the night.” ‘Inherently Low’ is one of the highlight tracks, moving with a tasty riff that brings more melody to the song than the vocals do, and climbing to a chorus that stirs us to yell “inherently low” from the highest structure we can find.
Closing track and lead single ‘Entertain Me’ is anti-conformist and has the foreboding feel of a waking rattlesnake. Hoffman dares us to “Entertain me/tell me who to be/entertain me me me!” in a child-like tantrum.
The album is over just as you’re fully warmed up to it, punching through nine tracks with no time to rest. The record runs wild; it’s the kind of music Kurt Kobain would have listened to. With Hoffmann’s slacker/punk/yelling vocals and Eastburn’s wobbly synths it’s more Parquet Courts than Riot Grrrl, but ultimately it’s a great punk record keeping the spirit alive.
Artist Adam Torres
Album Title Pearls to Swine
Label Fat Possum
Moments Of Bill Callahan / William Tyler
There’s a strong push among music industry-types to abolish September from the calendar given its apparent need to run us off our feet year after year. In among the chaos we’ve taken solace in the sophomore release from singer-songwriter Adam Torres, Pearls to Swine. His powerful falsetto and folk-leaning arrangements have been a welcome event, not ground-breaking but bright, well-considered and enjoyable.
It’s been ten years of relatively limited musical activity from the now Texas-based artist. After rising to local acclaim in Ohio with the indie-folk stylings of Southeast Engine, his debut solo release Nostra Nova became something of a cult-classic and with a re-release through Misra Records last year, Torres has begun to draw international attention and acclaim.
Swine does an amazing job at sounding like a product of the environment. Where Nova played on the sounds of the Ohio scene, Swine sounds at one with the sweeping Texan landscape. His trademark falsetto is now washed in a comfortable amount of reverb giving it a significantly more ethereal feel. Everything is a little softer texturally and the addition of string drones on tracks such as ‘Juniper Arms’ and ‘Outland’ gild the release with an essence of the Wild West. Even the more traditionally singer-songwriter style tracks ‘High Lonesome’ and ‘Morning Rain’ carry that essence, but with Torres’ vocals being more central and a little less wet in the mix.
‘Some Beast Will Find You By Name’ has a beautifully haunting vocal line over train-wheel bass and tumbleweed strings. It’s an early highlight of the release. The shared highlight comes down to the penultimate track ‘Mountain River’ mostly due to it being a perfect microcosm of what this album is all about: building tension in the vocal line while drawing people along with delicate yet familiar arrangements. The climbing vocals that wash in and out throughout the track are a fantastic build and release. They create a really pleasing dissonance when paired with backing vocals that sound like they’re out of Holst’s ‘Neptune’. It’s slightly uneasy but in an aesthetically enjoyable way.
There’s an element of road-weary that runs through this release, definitely a relatable feeling for many of us whether in the literal sense or more of an ennui. There’s also a lot of wonder and joy, there’s a lot of reliability in what Torres is writing about and when it’s packaged with music that’s clever without being obnoxious, and gentle without being dull it makes for a really pleasant experience. This one makes for great background music, but we’d stress giving it a listen in the foreground first if only to impart an understanding and to build respect for a talent we may not hear from again in a while.