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Lightning Strikes

Lightning Strikes!

  • STEREO EMBERS EXCLUSIVE VIDEO PREMIERE – “Come Hell or High Water” from the Mortal Prophets

    So, OK, look. We’ve been on this train several times before and were pretty fucking convinced it had delivered us, with great glory and some wonderfully perverse prosletyzin’, to every station of the proverbial cross imaginable but hell and damnation we should have known better as wouldn’tcha know it we woke up this morning to another fresh dose of the Mortal Prophets gospel delivered to our front door like some blessed abandoned baby that’s already wiser to the ways of the world that we will ever be. This one’s named, with a dash of premonitory panache, “Hell or High Water” and even when heard through the permanently jaded filters that enshroud our ears it still retains the deathless jounce of a tale told by a rasp-throated troubadour named John Beckmann who has somehow, aganst God’s odds, continued to dodge every one of them hellhounds that have clawed the tailcoats of his contemporaries to shreds. Yes, dear devoted reader, you’ve most certainly met this beast in these pages before, thrice to be exact (here’s the perhaps the most definitive in that it also sports a quick but incisive interview with Beckmann) and yes we’ve heard the guy’s unkillable take on modernized, mid-century,...
  • A Vast Precision of Possibilities – “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” from Kraftwerk’s Karl Bartos

    I could pretend but that would never do, not simply because, ethically, it’s utter bullshit but, even were I willing to, SEM’s astute readers would see through it before I’d gotten even this far into the first paragraph. That said, quandaries remain. My aim is to bring your attention to a fine piece of work from a legendary German musician that is itself a rather devotional, if sharply drawn, suite of movements meant to address the longtime sonic absence of a suitable soundtrack to fellow German Robert Weine’s larger-than-legendary 1927 pre-talkie masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, no small task given the film’s incomparable standing not just in its native culture but worldwide and the fact that the original score, composed by Guiseppe Becce, was lost long long ago in the dark swirling mists of time. Thing is, that ‘task’ aspect extends not just to the monumentality of the prospect Kraftwerk alumnus Karl Bartos faced once the decision was made while watching the latest print of the movie astonishingly restored by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnao Foundation, but as well to your faithful scribe and here’s why. Strictly speaking, I’ve not much grounding or writerly experience with either soundtrack music per se or...
  • Heartaches and Harmonies: Bedsit Poets’ All Roads Lead Me Back

    It’s been a 16-year wait for fans of songwriting duo Edward Rogers and Amanda Thorpe who, along with their producer, arranger and accompanist, Don Piper, released two, critically acclaimed albums in ’05 and ’08. Although based in New York at the time, they found themselves on the charts in Canada, did some performances together up there and then life got in the way. Both continued in music, but Thorpe did so in her homeland (Britain), while Rogers, originally from England (but a long time New Yorker) remained in the U.S. and released solo albums, and more recently as part of Rogers & Butler. But, as they sing on one of the best songs on this new album, all roads lead back to London, where Thorpe resides. A few years ago, the two began writing songs again. This is the result of that collaboration, with the duo aided by Piper and some of the best New York studio musicians, and a very fine result it is. There are some superb duets here and whether they’re trading verses or interweaving vocals, it’s thoroughly captivating. All Roads Lead Me Back is a tale of two cities, New York, and London, with Rogers providing...
  • Compelling, Concise, Exciting at Every Turn – Yama Uba’s Debut Full-Length “Silhouettes”

    Having first waded into the many and varied waves of music as a teenager, having been immediately and forever caught up and thus finding by a certain age – let’s say late 60s – that you’ve been immersed up to your heart for over half a century now, some conclusions might arise, a couple flecks of understanding that help explain the what and why of this compulsion that keeps one’s ears and what’s between them primed for excitement. Aside from the obvious – songs so good they’re like earworm prophets come to sustain your soul, rhythms with such precise and genuine drive they could out-perform a Maserati, hooks strong enough to hoist you up by the collar and drop you all breathless and aquiver in a whole new realm – the most gratifying aspect for this writer in all this ‘music addiction’ business, and exemplified by the work before us today, is to witness the continuing evolution of a band and/or artist, especially when combined with (if I may put it bluntly) a kickass debut album. Welcome to the world of Yama Uba, the newest project from former Ötzi co-conspirators Akiko Sampson and Winter Zora whose debut LP Silhouettes drops today,...
  • STEREO EMBERS SINGLE + VIDEO PREVIEW – “Hush, Hush” from the marvelously reconvened Sleepytime Gorilla Museum

    In many, if not most instances, the rearrival of an eclectic, eccentric, virtually inimitable band like Sleepytime Gorilla Museum would warrant qualifiers like “The Amazing Return of…” or “The Astonishing…” or whatever adjective of unbelievability you’d care to suggest, not least since the ‘band that shall not be easily described’ unbanded themselves when Barack Obama was in the third year of his first term, Harry Potter was was in his deathly hallows and the popular music charts were dominated by names like Bruno, Adele, Cee-Lo, Christine and Katy. That would be 2011 should you need an historical pinpoint and while the howls of pained disbelief from their many devoted admirers echoed about the land like a tsunami of wounded banshee wails, fact was that, by all accounts, the time had come, the clock had sprung a gasket, the innate chemistry had become the equivalent of a tab of acid stepped on a dozen times over. ‘Finis!’, the gods had declared and who among us argues with those voices. So, the world tottered on, the peculiar cravings SGM had inspired in their legions found other, no doubt (far) less savory outlets while their memories of the real thing overshadowed all such efforts...
  • Fierce, Undying Hope – “Rebuilding Society on a Shoestring Budget” from A Cloud of Ravens Side-Project Dystopiarch

    It is said that April is the cruelest month and though the poet had his reasons – despair in the face of a relentless renewal that in its incipient bloom of optimism only promises decay and loss and ultimately death death and more death – it is this writer’s contention that ol’ TS missed the mark by a good three monthhs as almost certainly January better deserves to wear that dark and tarnished crown. While on the one hand it’s not unlikely that the good Mr. Eliot might well agree with this reassessment seeing as he himself slipped beneath the mortal veil on just the fifth day of the new year 1965, and on the other the guy sitting here, pen in hand and headphones on, just celebrated his 68th birthday on the eigth day of our current year so naturally harbors some affection for the two-faced bastard of a month, it nonetheless remains the case that January, if not the cruelest month is at least, especially in terms of new music, the stingiest. Now, from a marketing standpoint, of course, it makes perfect sense. We’ve all been stressed and over-stimulated for weeks by this time, to the point that...
  • Eternal, Indeed – “Master Chaynjis” from New Jesse Ainslie Project WARKA

    There’s little more gratifying in this music-obsessed life than to witness the constantly arcing evolution of an artist’s work from project to project, album to album, the very force of their creative drive emerging from the once liminal into a light that becomes brighter and, frankly, more human at every turn. Naturally, for examples, we turn to the usuals, the Dylans the Jonis Tim Buckley et al but somehow it seems to have become a rarer instance since the seep of the digital life became a tidal wave we all surf every day, as if the distractions inherent have so effectively atomized our collective consciousness that any such prospects, feeding as they do on continuity of purpose, are too easily snuffed out in their infancy. But then, as if to offer an antidote to that sad diagnosis, there’s Jesse Ainslie, the singular talent behind new project WARKA whose debut, Master Chaynjis, arrived on the Baltimore-based ‘label that could’ Epifo in late October. It was on that modest but plucky independent that Ainslie’s solo debut Only in the Dark appeared in 2018 following what might be seen as Ainslie’s woodshedding years which saw him juggling multiple session jobs while playing a crucial role...
  • Tackling the Dark Impossibilities of Choice – Victor Montes and Dave Cantrell Present the Best of Darkwave 2023

    Here’s how I almost began this piece: ‘This will be the last year we do this.’ It’s a sentiment both Victor and I face every December as the quickly fading year falls behind us, taking with it such a glorious overload of darkwave wonder that you have to, well, wonder if it’s even possible – never mind wise – to select those full-lengths that had the most impact on us personally and, in most cases, on the scene itself. Now, don’t get us wrong, tracking the release schedule throughout the year and mining from it the host of gems below is simply an utter joy what with all that excitement, all that wow! that damn near makes us hyperventilate, which is a good thing since it’s also a compulsion that neither of us has any hope of ever being free of, which is also good because, y’know, why the fck would we? But, at the same time, it’s also true that, year in year out, there’s no escaping the basic predicament of distilling what’s been another 12-month-long donnybrook of greatness, the qualitative and the quantitative locked in a wrestling match that never ends and how one referees that isn’t just...
  • Pounding With Grace and Momentum – “Walk Through Fire” by Ashes Fallen

    There is the standard danger, of course, and in many if not most instances counting as friends the members of a band one is set to cover in any critical context is cause for automatic recusal. In this instance, however, a couple issues arise to challenge such a policy. One is the simple fact your correspondent, via his weekly FM radio show or the festival(s) etc it spawned over the years (which isn’t to mention social media), has formed personal relationships with a wide swath of the darkwave community from pretty much all corners, making any such ethically reflexive separation virtually impossible. Two, put simply, such stringency would mean that, when a band has released an album as visceral and outright powerful as Ashes Fallen did this past September*, faithful readers of SEM, who have come to rely on our coverage since at least the early twenty-teens when that ‘NEXT Twenty Current Post-Punk Bands You Should Know About’ series launched, would be left, well, in the actual dark. In short, trust us. There ain’t no payola at work here, simply love. And desire. And joy, and the urgent need to share such emotions with our readers so they can experience...
  • Capturing Sparks – Benjamin Jayne’s “Broken”

    On Broken, the latest full-length from the Brattleboro-based, more or less solo artist Benjamin Jayne (nee Wright), on the very first track “A Million Miles,” the singer, quite clearly exploring a fresh new vocal range compared to when we last – and first – met with the release of Theater a couple years back, on the brink of a crucial juncture in the song’s structure, lets loose with the phrase “I’m just trying/to find my way.” As a statement of purpose we can’t help but relate, seeing as this next record from our first encounter with this project is a fair – if delightfully welcome – departure from what that previous outing would lead us to expect, an impression immediately underscored when, more inferred than clearly heard, the words ‘back home’ seem to hang off the back of that statement like little more than a settling of electronic mist and, it should be said, all the more powerful for it as such suggestions so often are. Somehow both breezy and startling, as dark as it is imperishably hopeful, one couldn’t ask for a more representative – nor more intriguing – opening salvo. Fortunately, though not unexpected, each successive cut carries that touch...
  • An Intuitive, Hard-Edged Grace – Sky Lions’ Debut Album “Inside the Circle”

    There are bands partnerships and combos made up of musicians, writers, dabblers and (often arrogant) fools and then there are those, rare though they are, for whom the art at the heart of the thing isn’t simply an essential element of what they do, some too-often vague underlying mission statement but, rather, the point to what they do, not so much as a matter of rigorous discipline – though that obtains, certainly and inescapably – but because, by definition, there is simply no other operating criteria. These are the driven ones, driven not by an ambition rooted in material gain nor by the asinine measure of clicks or fleeting virality, but rather, solely and, to be honest, helplessly, by the irrepressible need to make surpassingly good, achingly honest art. Laying aside for a moment how sad and absurd it is that that goal, stated or much more often displayed in the work, has come to be judged in the commons as ‘pretentious, it’s that laser-like focus on what is a notoriously amorphous but none-more-rewarding goal that sets those reaching for that one and only worthwhile gold ring apart, whether they ‘succeed’ by whatever metric or not. Say what you will about the...
  • An Elegance of Purpose – “Let’s Look Back” from Caleb Nichols on Kill Rock Stars

    Some records don’t let you hide. They may evoke the usual quotient of joy and exuberance, their songs triggering the standard range of alternating responses from punching the air while skittering around your kitchen to quieter head-nodding moments of reflection to outright thrashers threatening to tear the whole damn house down, but inside their deepest, most elemental recesses, inside their rhythms and changes and the sinew of melody a spirit lurks that tracks you, holds you in its focus and ain’t never gonna let you go. Those are, quite naturally, the best records, the ones we ten to cling to and they to us and Let’s Look Back, Caleb Nichols’ latest released Oct. 13th on Kill Rock Stars, lyrically, hook-wise, everything-wise, is set to join that roster by, we’d reckon, unanimous consent. Like an emo/power-pop amalgam that ennobles both those terms so far beyond their oftentimes cringeworthy expectations as to create its own Nichols-specific genre (one that, were it actually so and thereby spawned imitators, would never produce an album better than nor more powerful than the ur-text at hand), Let’s Look Back dazzles by virtue of how the seeming ease of its eleven constructions dallies with the obvious intricacies gleaned...
  • STEREO EMBERS EXCLUSIVE VIDEO/TRACK PREMIERE – “The End” from the Shimmy-Disc Reissue of Allen Ginsberg’s 1989 ‘The Lion For Real’ LP

    Anyone that grew up (as your correspondent did) in the Bay Area during the 60s-slash-70s that also happened to be possessed of an artist consciousness or, more pointedly, that of an aspiring writer, could not escape the fevered backyard presence of the ‘Beat Generation’ and the fearless iconoclastic fervor that served as their eternal legacy. Not that their influence was confined to that particular West Coast Babylon – the nation as a whole was in its grip for a brief if everlasting moment in the late 50s (witness Kerouac intoning naked jazz riffs of the cerebral godhead kind on Steve Allen’s primetime variety hour) – but the City by the Bay, serving as a kind of de facto headquarters via Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Bookstore, was the place where the original energy metastasized and became the guiding light it’s continued to be for burgeoning writers in the late teen, early twenties clutches of doomed American romanticism. And while not himself a San Francisco son (Jersey, baby, Jersey), no one commanded more of a transcendent perch inside that entire mythos than Allen Ginsberg.  Unapologetically both gay and openly spiritual in a way that unavoidably made nearly all of straight vanillan America squirm with...
  • 22 Years in the Making, an Impeccable Debut – “Motion and Picture” from Chicago band MIIRRORS

    ac • cre • tion /Ə’kreSHƏn/ the process of growth or increase, typically by the gradual accumulation of additional layers or matter. Well beyond the obvious of prose and poetry, language and art, in a manner correspondent to sound and instrument, to heart the the human voice, necessarily intersect, are in fact locked in something of a symbiotic embrace where one without the other would eventually die away, gasping in a vacuum. Whereas some by snotty reflex will turn to the pithy old saw “writing about music is like dancing about architecture” (widely misattributed and in any case struck a death blow by Robert Christgau), the truth is language is all we’ve got to describe, well, just about anything and frankly, now we think of it, anyone that doesn’t understand melody as wordless poetry deserves more pity than scorn. I say all this as a way to both underscore our – ironically – unspoken writers code here at SEM and, more to the particular point, to build some context beneath this review’s somewhat odd, unexpected beginning. That word, accretion, is one we’ve turned to fairly often over the years to convey the sense of innate construction some songwriters seem to...
  • That Familiar Place of Foreboding and Allure – Swans’ “The Beggar”

    Quick – or in a slower manner, won’t matter – describe how an iceberg groans in the middle of the night, shifting in the darkness, a gleam still shining through. Tell us how much a human soul weighs or if love lives on when nothing else does. Make a bet on how many versions of you survive the denouement. One? Five? The likely none? The intriguing impenetrability, the answerlessness, of each of those asks and countless others, carries with it an essence of Swans’ aesthetic. It’s an understanding, subdermal, nearly unspeakable, that floods every pocket of my consciousness as at last I sit down with The Beggar, Michael Gira and company’s latest opus (a word that’s inescapable with each release). The shrink wrap is removed with an apprehension bordering on ecstasy, a statement that, music-wise, ensures we’re talking Swans and no one else. I haven’t heard a note and yet I know a mountain is crashing down. I know a meadow and the city it surrounds are aflame. I know dynamics will overwhelm themselves that beauty will betray the true brutality of its nature and from an unrelentingness will be gathered a kind of mercy of intent. More than anything,...
  • STEREO EMBERS ALBUM PREVIEW – “High and Dry” from Alien Gothic (A Shoreline Dream, Gennesier)

    For some musicians, one band or project just isn’t enough. Their drive and curiosity (inseparable as those two are in all of us) combine into a creative restlessness that won’t let go. Even if the origin band – say, A Shoreline Dream, for instance – is a success by just about any indie metric, you can bet that there are frontiers of sound and mood and aesthetic intent lurking just beyond the artists’ horizon pulling at them with a sort of spiritual, even unearthly magnetism, frontiers that, left unexplored, would haunt just about their every waking step. So it was with ASD’s Ryan Pollicky and Andy Uhrmacher of Gennesier whose work as Alien Gothic lands today like a burst of halogen energy in the form of their (very) full-length debut album High and Dry on Latenight Weeknight Records, which itself follows on the heels of previously-released preview tracks “Shine the Lights” and “In The Night,” the latter of which in video form which, in case you missed it and to further tweak your interest… Essentially a soundtrack to a fever-dreamed alien experience as essayed by two Denverites who’ve simultaneously lost and found their cosmic way and have chosen to relate...
  • Running on Full – “…The Great Escape” from Chris Stamey

    Once every couple of weeks an album arrives at my SEM home office unbidden. Most come accompanied by a one-sheet prepared either by the artist themself or, more often, their publicist. Few are those that come with naught but the CD alone and precious fewer of those that, in a rather humble if austere silence, arrive hand-sent out of the blessed nowhere. Sometimes, seeing as such a presentation brings with it an implied note of ‘needs no introduction,’ the result is a bit comical as I turn the CD front-to-back and back again in my hand in a way that echoes one of those instances when someone comes up to you in the street or at the store and starts talking to you with a familiar tone while in your head you’re asking ‘Do I know this person?’ But then there’s that ever-so-rare occasion when you pull the parcel from the box and you see the sender’s name in the top left corner and you stand there for a few stunned seconds down by the street at the edge of your property with the shiver of an unspoken ‘wow’ filling your mind like a kind...
  • STEREO EMBERS VIDEO/TRACK PREMIER – “Mallangong” from Reissued Bruce Haack Album ‘Captain Entropy’

    As regards appreciation of the arts, specifically, for our purposes here, music, startlement is undervalued. Not simply insofar as how the vast majority of our species seek out the comfort of the familiar – though it needs be said that faction is legion, so common it’s a given – but as well within the context of those vanishingly few that are driven by a proactive, often voracious curiosity, which by definition includes you the reader as otherwise you wouldn’t be here. Naturally, however, and a bit perversely, that fevered inquisitiveness, over time, can (irony of ironies) lead us to develop our own tendency to believe that in many respects we’ve more or less ‘heard it all.’ Which isn’t suggesting we’d lay claim to having actually heard everything but rather that, at least in the genres we’re most connected to, there’s little expectation that a new, or, in some cases heretofore unheard-of, artist is going to surprise us, let alone leave us agape. Think of it as a kind of pleasant jadedness, one of the unspoken assumptions we carry around with us without allowing it much thought or challenge, realizing at the same time – and generally accepting – that it...
  • In All Their Weird Agility and Grace – The Eponymous Debut EP From The Clubmen 3 (Andy Partridge, Jen Olive, Stu Rowe)

    While admittedly rare in the digital blur that constitutes our lives these days, it is still mercifully the case that the arrival of a particular thing through the post can bring a type joy seldom conveyed via the ones and zeroes, one that, once fully grasped in hand and heart, quite often elicits a quick gasp of oh boy! in the recipient, that little electric thrill that can make one’s day. Needless to say, as anyone that knows the XTC-addicted me would attest, seeing that padded packet in the mailbox, return address Swindon, UK, did exactly that. No matter that I’d known it was coming, to have the actual eponymously-titled new debut EP from The 3 Clubmen in my clutches with the water bill and the toss-away junk mail was worth a couple somersaults were I prone and even remotely able. Paradoxically, while the aforesaid would normally suggest a ‘drop everything’ scenario, clear the calendar pop that sucker in the tray and hit ‘play’, I knew it had to wait. I mean, y’see, I’d already been sent the download but that too sat unopened for the past couple weeks and, yes, I know, obsession’s a strange mate but to not follow...
  • STEREO EMBERS SINGLE OF THE DAY – “God’s Going Away” from The Mortal Prophets’ New Album “Dealey Plaza Blues”

    Get yourself recalibrated, that’s our advice. It’s what one must do when confronted with the startling, the game-changing, when you find the mechanics of the familiar more or less unchanged but they’re set inside a chassis you’ve never set eyes – or in this case, ears – on before. And while the automotive metaphor might strike as a tad anachronistic, the fact is that, with respect to The Mortal Prophets album Dealey Plaza Blues, it’s entirely fitting – if from a slightly twisted perspective – seeing as the musical model at play here, American blues and blues-based rock, traces, almost exactly, the provenance of the Automotive Age and is similarly embedded in the national psyche, especially as the source material that head Prophet John Beckmann draws from tends to parallel the 50s/60s/70s apex of what we most reflexively consider the automobile’s heyday. But it’s there the comparison begins to sputter a little. Yes it’s the same engine as always driving these blues but it’s where it’s being driven, and how, that changes the course of the conversation (though in one last juddering attempt to keep the analogy alive we could maybe suggest you think of it as really slanted Slant-6,...
  • STEREO EMBERS EXCLUSIVE TRACK PREMIERE – “Rising Tide” from LGBTQ Activist, Darkwave Artist Patrick Bobilin AKA MIDNIGHTCHOIR from Forthcoming Album “Loverboy Molotov” + 4 bonus interview questions

    Y’know, you think you know a thing or two about whatever – in this case for this writer the darkwave scene (in all its many iterations) as it’s taken over the world the last 15 years – and then along comes some force from what seems out of frickin nowhere that shreds that assumption into a thousand tiny humbling bits that lay scattered around you like the crumbs of utter hubris they are. I mean, it’s not like I’ve not been paying attention, as should be evident from the extensive coverage I’ve splashed over SEM’s pages all these years, not to mention a weekly radio show here in Portland and just that usual fever you have when something as powerful as this scene nestles close enough to your heart to know its darkest dreams and secrets. Now, of course one can’t hear everything but one assumes that most records and artists of true import are finding their way to your consciousness but then along comes someone like NYC’s Patrick Bobilin doing business as MIDNIGHTCHOIR that is, today, releasing their – ahem – second album and pretty much every pretense of one’s perceived meta-awareness collapses into dust. Be that as it may, in...
  • To the Elephant 6 and Well Beyond – The Rishis “August Moon”

    Descriptions won’t always do it for you. Words you read regarding a band or artist, how they’re phrased and parsed and rearranged, no matter how passingly eloquent in their application, may not be enough to adequately prepare you for what ends up swimming through your ear ducts and into your hungering brain. Once there, roaming freely about and bouncing off the furniture and just essentially fucking up the feng shui that memory and experience have laid in place as if paving your own temple mount of music and what it means to you, you’re stuck contending with this new and unusual (and most often charismatic if not prismatic) house guest that has managed to slip past the expectations you have stationed like guards at the gates to keep this sort of thing from happening. Then what? Well, what else: surrender, which is exactly the stage this writer finds himself after finally finding time and space to engage with The Rishis’ August Moon. Allow me to elaborate. This album arrived as part of a modest – if enthusiastically received – vinyl bundle somewhere back around it’s release date of April 21st (on Cloud Recordings), likely a month prior or so. While always busy...
  • Bounteous in a Way That Allows its Power to Unlock Itself – Gae Vinci’s Debut Album “Lonely Ballads”

    Some artists you innately believe in the instant you first hear them (or read their work, watch them dance, see them act, whatever art form). It isn’t simply a matter of what they do being arresting or them producing a thing you’ve never quite experienced before – though certainly the ‘shock of the new’ has its advantages – as there being an aspect to the work that makes such fresh use of familiar elements it knocks you a bit off center in a delirious way, even – or especially – when they do so a bit unassumingly. The result can be unsettling, an assault on your senses sneaking over you and your heart like a narcotic haze blowing in anew from the past. Think Young Marble Giants, Broadcast, think Nico and Leonard Cohen and the way they could all, at will, wield a prevailing quietude like a secret weapon, each of them as mesmerizing as they were electrifying. And now – after adding in some dashes of brash, gazey, technicolor accents – think Gae Vinci. Born in Sicily now living in Milan, the producer-musician Gaetano Vinci has apparently uncovered some heretofore concealed font of beauty and mystery tucked away deep...
  • STEREO EMBERS VIDEO PREMIERE – ‘Ladder to the Moon’ from Kramer’s Ambient “Music For Films Edited By Moths”

    Quite often there’s an intensity involved when writing about music, a sort of visceral through line drawn from the writer/listener’s intuition that manages to sneak its way from the auditory cortex into what it senses is the beating heart of the work before traveling back to report on its findings which are not infrequently expressed as a kind of hushed epiphany. Consider it a kind of reconnaissance mission of the soul, one that, despite being a tenuous-at-best source of insight, is nonetheless a powerful one. And as anyone that’s been reading my recent dispatches from the varied sectors of the Kramer outpost knows, there’s been no shortage of these intuitive pingbacks in recent months – some derived from the really rather astonishing Rings of Saturn 7″ wooden boxset, others from earlier video premieres for tracks off the very album we have before us today – but none of them have helped lend credence to the validity of that almost eerie feeling of connection like “Ladder to the Moon” and here’s why: The most recent of those premieres was from still another Kramer-involved ambient full-length released June 2nd called Baptismal that found our fearless collaborator in the company of the truly, legitimately...
  • GUEST REVIEW: “Dream Technicians: London,” the New Bandcamp Sampler Comp from Decommissioned Forests

    Words often used to describe London trio Decommissioned Forests might be loosely strung together as “ambient post-industrial outsider electronica”. A term preferred by the group themselves, however, is the title for their latest digital promo sampler –  Dream Technicians: London – available now for free download from Bandcamp, and streaming via all the usual outlets.                 Decommissioned Forests are multi-instrumentalist and producer Daniel Vincent; spoken-word narrator and lyricist Max Rael; and electronic musician, visual artist and film-maker Howard Gardner. Brought together between 2017 and 2018 by a shared love of Coil, Current 93, NIN, Cluster, Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle et al, a key premise behind their collaboration is that members all perform entirely different roles within Decommissioned Forests than in each of their other projects: Daniel Vincent, normally guitarist for post-progressive ‘space rock’ outfit The Resonance Association, focuses instead on synths, programming, and other electronic instruments for Decommissioned Forests.  Max Rael, who provides the trio’s lyrics and largely spoken-word vocals, can otherwise be found performing synths, electronics and programming with industrial electro-punks History of Guns. Howard Gardner, the dark-ambient / power noise / industrial musician behind Non-Bio,...
  • An Easy If Shiver-Inducing Intensity – “Of Tomorrow” from The Telescopes

    I’ve written nearly nine hundred pieces for Stereo Embers since 2010 or whenever it was (mists of time etc etc) and yet there are just three that I take a type of refuge behind for being both bulwarks against the prospect of certain failure and instances when clarity was so hard-won that there remain psychic abrasions that I carry as private little badges of honor to this day. One was The Telescopes’ As Light Returns in 2017 and the other two were the two that the ‘band’ followed it with in 2019 and 2021, Exploding Head Syndrome and Songs of Love and Revolution, respectively. As you no doubt already know those single quotation marks hovering on both ends of that B-word are necessary as  the word connotes a plurality of members when the fact is that no matter how many do or do not crowd into the studio to help give birth to the next album there is only one Telescope and that’s the renowned, enigmatic, unquestionably brilliant Stephen Lawrie, whose genius may indeed be ‘god-like’ but if so it is, to be honest, an odd god though also, we hastily add, a notably human one within which vulnerability, wonder, and a very...
  • STEREO EMBERS VIDEO PREMIERE – “Ascension” from the New Kramer/Laraaji Ambient Album ‘Baptismal,’ Released Today on Shimmy-Disc

    The mistake most of us make about ambient music is that it’s overridingly mellow and meant to soothe, that with all said and done there’s not really all that much going on. Your correspondent himself once subscribed to this belief even as the certainty nagged at him that, given the level of talent involved in that ever-broadening gyre of enigmatic sound and meditative composition  – I mean just hearing Einstein on the Beach at the age of 23, while not strictly an ambient recording as currently defined, was enough to open my ears to the, shall we say, more esoteric possibilities – it had much much more going for it than initially meets the ear. Now, naturally, back in yonder day, a drop or two of liquid acid would have significantly enhanced the path to acceptance but that would almost be cheating (almost; I emphasize ‘almost’) in that it amounts to something of a shortcut. I mean, even elevator music sounds better – one presumes, of course – on acid. The breaking of a dropped glass can sound amazing under those circumstances so it’s understandable that some skepticism would accompany that approach. Nonetheless, there is a thread worth following here,...
  • STEREO EMBERS VIDEO PREVIEW – “Kerosene” by Kramer & Pinback’s Rob Crow from Shimmy-Disc’s Amazing “Rings of Saturn” Seven 7″ Singles Boxset

    If you go rummaging far enough toward the back of the cluttered attic that is most music freaks’ record- and CD-buying history, you’ll find evidence of a wide curiosity pretty much gone off the rails. People talk about being vinyl junkies or whatever but the truth lies deeper in the marrow. Yes, the fetishism of the object is definitely a ‘thing’ that would adapt nicely to any variation of a Jungian or Freudian matrix you’d care to mention but the true core of all that obsession lies at the heart of one drive: the joy of discovery. Most of us have ‘that’ one origin moment that broke the best of all hells loose. I’ll not divulge mine to avoid at least a curl of embarrassment but suffice to say it was the mid-70s and the first time hearing a certain, umm, ‘God-like’ guitarist that turned my head in such a way I never turned it back. That one mote of exposure took me back to that musician’s beginnings, took me to other sessions he’d been on, basically was the primary door-opening I needed and within what seemed like a few quick months the lengths of the hallways containing those many,...
  • STEREO EMBERS VIDEO PREMIER – “I Wanna Go Down to the Basement” from James & The Giants (James Toth of Wooden Wand)

    If you’re anything like us here at SEM, which of course you are, then we have at least two things in common. One, we love dogs with something bordering (at least) on a devotional fervor, and two, our curiosity for new music is one of the only interests in life that eclipses point one, which would further mean that during the first seventeen or so years of this century, unless you were in a convent or prison or perhaps lost in meditation on a misty mountain top somewhere down Kentucky way, the work of Wooden Wand (both with and without the “Vanishing Voice” attached to it, or for that matter “World War IV” of “The Sky High Band” or “The Briarwood Virgins” or…) was ubiquitous enough in both the music press you read and your weekly trawls through the CD bins at your local store that you eventually counted – and still count – a small haul of their albums among your stash. Blessed with an addictive down-homeness that was equal parts intelligence and wry, mystery and sincerity, the music that semi-collective made never failed to nail you right there in the softest part of your Americana heart without ever resorting to...
  • Lining the Boulevards with Impact and Grace – Bill Pritchard’s “Sings Poems By Patrick Woodcock”

    As a listener it’s always seemed a tricky business when a songwriter, with primarily just an acoustic and a steady voice, makes what arrives with an apparently easy touch land with such gravity that you can’t take your ears off it. This was true with the likes of Gordon Lightfoot, it was true of Judy Collins, Judee Sill (my lord was it true for her), of that entire pantheon and it’s been true of Bill Pritchard for damn near forty years now – though it should noted that he’s seldom been exclusively acoustic as will soon be apparent – and the work here partnering with poet Patrick Woodcock on the crackingly exquisite Sings Poems By… (issued May 5th on Tapete) will only carve his name ever deeper into the marble walls of that pantheon. Woodcock, himself a talent that will long keep those stone carvers busy, can, like many writers, seem a quiet presence in a noisy, unforgiving world, a balm of sorts, avuncular and steady but in truth, also like many – hell, most – writers of of any consequence, the words he proffers to the page limn the marrow of human existence with a keen, worldly, unsparing heart...
  • STEREO EMBERS EXCLUSIVE SINGLE/VIDEO PREVIEW – “Fungal Mountain Breakdown” from former Butthole Surfer JD Pinkus Accompanied by Tall Tall Trees Banjoist Extraordinaire Mike Savino

    If you wanna talk breakdown in terms of musical fundamentals you could do a whole helluva lot worse than choosing as your subject the Butthole Surfers, be it in their original or any of their incarnations where the primal met the cerebral in a street-level brawl carried out onstage night after night, a pas de deux of the brutal and the beautiful, a carnal carnival of the savage and sublime from which countless college dissertations could be derived (and good luck tackling that ChatGPT) and yet all such attempts would almost certainly end in madness, even (or especially) as it applies to the band’s wide-ranging diaspora. Because to be clear, we’re not just talking the BS themselves and all the careening iterations the band madly cobbled together through their mythic travels but, more to our purpose here, the where and how their various members dispersed once the Surfers turned from living spectacle to historic annals of legend and legacy even as in some fashion they persevere. As would be expected, those various members in their solo outings have often hewed, in one form or another, toward the unexpected, a conclusion already well represented by SEM’s coverage of forever Surfers’ guitarist Paul Leary...
  • Ennobling the Concept of the Comeback Record – Germany’s Robocop Kraus Return After 15 Years Without Missing a Beat

    OK, there are all these claims and promises on the (ex)pertly written promo sheet that came with this surprise latest – first in fifteen years – from Germany’s representative to the Franz-Heads-Devo alliance Robocop Krause (the ‘The’ now wisely dropped) so we’re just going to hit the play button on this thing and see if…no, wait. First a bit of history and a slight if unsurprising confession. Formed in a small picturesque town in Middle Franconia, Bavaria called Hersbruck a full quarter-century ago, the now 6-piece (♣), in its initial decade, released five and a half full-lengths – their debut, oddly enough, was a split LP with The Cherryville – and played north of 800 shows all over everywhere, never flagging in their quest to enter the post-punkish new-wavey pantheon on their own terms and succeeding by pretty much every metric if we exclude achieving great or even modest renown in the US despite singing in perfect accent-free English, itself almost a tradition for German artists no matter the chosen genre, an unfortunate state of affairs that can only reflect badly on this country’s hegemonic provinciality but that’s for a different essay save for the fact that it points us...
  • A Sparse Intensity That Instantly Intrigues – Resurrectionists’ New Album “Now That We Are All Ghosts”

    While not as frequently as we’d like, some records command our attention immediately, pretty much before we can even take a breath. This is one of those. And though an exciting prospect in itself, what makes it doubly so is when, prior to that instant flaring of the curiosity circuits in those jaded brain receptors of ours, the band at hand was unknown to us. Such was the situation just now as I hit ‘play’ on this Milwaukee project’s second album Now That We Are All Ghosts (released in every format a month ago on Seismic Wave Entertainment). More surprising still? It wasn’t some “London Calling”-style attention grab but rather, in a kind of ‘despite and because of’ kind of way, the very contrary, in this case naught but a slow, mournful, down-stepping bass progression joined in an eerie minor key harmony by the skeletal pluck of a banjo, which may sound ‘meh’ on the page but in real time, inside these headphones on a hushed Sunday morning, conveys a sparse intensity that instantly intrigues and brings a bit of a shiver that manages to be both warm and cool. It won’t, venturing further in, be the last time. As...
  • ECSTATIC STEREO EMBERS SINGLE/VIDEO PREMIERE – “This This Called We” from Philadelphia’s Northern Arms

    Whereas, for writers, the shame of repeating ourselves, be it in poetry prose or critical appraisal, is meant to prevent us from doing so, the task is sometimes made impossible by the sheer consistency of excellence with which one is confronted. I mean, as a writer critically engaged with the arts, imagine having to come up with still another superlative for Eric Dolphy or Mary Oliver or Dylan with the Band in 1966, a challenge nearly as herculean as the talent of the subjects being addressed. Yet here I find myself, swimming in that very quandary as I am once again (joyously) faced with the prospect of bringing our readers to the overflowing well of hurt and yearning, of human desire made manifest in all its tattered stubbornness and drive, that is the music of Northern Arms. Given that when first introduced to the band back in 2014 via the single “What You’ve Got On” I was so completely floored I almost never got back up, then further given my similar reaction upon the arrival of their debut album a year later, to find myself back at said well, the winds of regret and redemption again swirling about my ears...
  • STEREO EMBERS EXCLUSIVE ALBUM STREAM w/ TRACK BY TRACK – “To All The Distance Between Us” from Seattle Dreampop Band The National Honor Society

    Easily – obviously, even – the greatest liability a modest (if fiercely devoted) magazine like SEM faces is the extent to which gems slip through our fingers on the daily. It’s a bit similar, we imagine, to trying to clutch a handful of mercury, knowing there’s wonder within only to see it slither its silvery way out of our grasp. So much crosses our desks that, in the end, in order to take notice of a band or artist, we’re left relying on either kismet or an already-established familiarity or an especially silver-tongued publicist or, most likely, the arrival of a sound in our ears that we just can’t ignore. It’s that last that we find most compelling, of course, and it’s exactly that that has us offering up this advance stream of The National Honor Society’s To All the Distance Between Us, released this Friday, April 21st on Shelflife. Blessed with that most alluring of qualities, i.e. themes reflecting the darkness and oddness of its time bracketed inside indelible – some might rightly say addictive – gemlike pop constructions, it mixes the grit with the grace in such disarming fashion we’re left on the one hand to wonder how such...
  • Screaming Females Slay Vancouver: a Marissa Paternoster Interview

    Text and interview by Allan MacInnis and Mo Tarmohamed, with photos by Bob Hanham Does Screaming Females vocalist/ guitarist Marissa Paternoster ever get sick of music journos trading on the contrast between how huge her sound is compared to how tiny she is? A dude would develop one hell of a Napoleon complex, because I’d guess she’s about one Danzig tall; but in terms of her stage presence, she’s taller than Bob Mould. Judging from her comments between songs, she’s got a wee squeaky voice, too, when she’s not roaring out her lyrics (don’t be fooled – Mike the bassist sometimes mouths the words as he plays, but, the odd cover aside, they’re all Marissa’s). I would have asked her about the extreme contrast – size of body vs. size of stage presence – except I was afraid that she gets it enough that it might just piss her off (I’m already afraid I’ll be hearing from Danzig.) Mould seems like a fair point of comparison to Paternoster – out, queer, a hell of a guitarist, and the leader of a guitar-driven punk trio whose lyrics tend to the more personal than political, not that they’re always disconnected. Plus, judging...
  • Hooks Raining Down Like Some Sort of Popgeist Manna – the black watch’s “Future Strangers”

    If I’ve just skimmed the archives accurately – a solid if still slightly shaky ‘if’ – this is the tenth time my pen and I have tried to capture in this publication’s metaphorical little bottle even just a hint of the ageless pixie pop dust that seems to spill so effortlessly from every endeavor undertaken by the black watch (henceforth throughout this piece shortened as if on a monogrammed cuff to ‘tbw’ – in lower case as per the forever preference of band founder John Andrew Fredrick, a sly mix of modesty and vanity, tbh – as that inseparable ‘the’ always, rather archly, tends to throw a sentence’s rhythm a tad askew). Even if that tally is only loosely accurate , it means that, as we convene here, dear reader, for another wondrous tbw go-round, we’ve been aboard for nearly half the band’s run of full-lengths, this being their 21st and all. To the occasional reader this might imply, given the sheer number of new releases out there, that we have some sort of ‘thing’ for tbw but that’s not exactly accurate. What we have a thing for is extraordinarily good and lasting...
  • STEREO EMBERS EXCLUSIVE VIDEO PREMIERE – “Nocturne” ft. Kramer with Britta Phillips from the VERY Limited “Rings of Saturn,” a Six-EP 7″ Multi-Collaborative Wooden Boxset from Shimmy-Disc

    Before we pour out our spilling-over and rather wowed enthusiasm regarding the concept and execution of this new boxset from Shimmy-Disc, let’s first attend to what’s inside, the collaborative content at its core, of which “Nocturne,” featuring Luna/Dean & Britta alumnus Britta Phillips, is the first to be heard and if it’s any indication – and trust us, it is – Rings of Saturn, limited to 333 hand-numbered copies, promises to flow to places as unknowable as its namesake while, like those odd planetary bracelets, retaining something of a familiar mystique. It’s a tricky (not to mention challenging) aesthetic balance that, as anyone who’s even vaguely traced his restless, decades-long creative arc knows, Kramer is not only intimately familiar with but by all indications could not comfortably work inside any other framework. While this has led, almost by a sort of accidental design, to a known penchant for a certain level of musical adventurousness, that reflex has never, as we hear here, precluded beauty. “Nocturne,” as it emerges from a gentle chaos, channels straight into a resonant bed of living breathing emotion via the classic simplicity of reverbed piano chords, a pattering heartbeat rhythm and the layering on of spare,...
  • Faceless Forever at 50: The Residents, “Triple Trouble”, and a Setlist to Die, Die, Die For: A Homer Flynn Interview

    A Facebook friend, hearing that the Residents were coming to town, offered a pointed question: didn’t the singer die? At first I thought he meant Hardy Fox, who was not the singer, but who did die in October 2018,  after having stepped aside from touring circa 2015 due to illness. Fox, who is now publicly acknowledged to have been the primary musical force behind the Residents up until his death, was (at least in some respects) replaced by esteemed ex-Captain Beefheart, ex-Pere Ubu, Snakefinger alum Eric Drew Feldman, who – word is from Cryptic spokesperson Bubba Hodges – is now “the Residents’ producer and architect of their recorded sound.”   Given that very sad passing,  I assured my Facebook friend that he was probably thinking of Hardy, and that if the person known sometimes as the Singing Resident – who has generally presented in recent years as Randy Rose, except for that tour in 2018 where he wore a cow costume – had died, I would probably have heard about it. Imagine my surprise, then, when watching Triple Trouble – a new feature film directed by...
  • STEREO EMBERS PREVIEW – ‘I Think It’s Light Outside’ from Secret Machines from the At-Last Appearance of Fabled Fourth LP “The Moth, The Lizard and the Secret Machines”

    Back at the turn of this doomed but beautiful century there came a (rather unexpected, in some ways) burst of bands that took the more energetic aspects of 90s indie from both sides of the Atlantic – grunge, Britpop, whatever that amazing thing was that Th’ Faith Healers practiced – and hurled it at a post-punk revival that, while shinier in most respects than the original era’s somewhat more solemn practitioners and certainly brasher, nonetheless shook us out of our post-millennial torpor and helped us believe in, well, something again. While Interpol grabbed the early headlines in 2002 with the take-no-prisoners shimmer of their appropriately titled debut Turn on the Bright Lights, by our, umm, lights, that particular wave hit its crest when Secret Machines came roaring out the gate – astutely mind, the arrangements as daring as they were compelling – with 2004’s debut Now Here is Nowhere. Originally a 3-piece  from the then-fervid Dallas scene (brothers Brandon and Benjamin Curtis, bass/vocals and guitar/backing vox respectively, Josh Garza drums), the band made it through a couple more LPs (Ten Silver Drops in 2005 then a self-titled effort in 2008) while negotiating the not unusual stresses of band life – Ben’s departure...
  • Listening to a Craftsman at the Peak of His Craft – “The Forecast” from Seattle’s Downpilot

    Downpilot is a band to the same extent that Iron & Wine is a band in that essentially it’s a ‘one-man band’ with a more or less steady supporting cast that helps flesh out the bounteous material of that one man. While there are certainly distinct differences between Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam and the guy that sits at Downpilot’s helm, Paul Hiraga, the one constant they share is a singular, driven, near-visionary voice at the center of things. And by ‘voice’ we of course don’t just mean vocals but the entire prospect of talent and influence that lie at the project’s core. Another thing they share is pure brilliance. In Hiraga’s case, and to his advantage, he applies that brilliance to an avidly catholic range of styles deriving from multiple decades. Even as it borders on the varied territories of a somewhat urban Americana, Downpilot’s mission, it would seem and not least here on The Forecast, is to travel the historical megahertz with an eye and ear open to any and all coordinates that will further the work and incorporate it at will. It’s not some songwriting challenge – there’s never any sense of it being for the sake...
  • STEREO EMBERS EXCLUSIVE – “Copperhead Vagabond,” First Single WITH Video from Latest Shimmy-Disc Signing Ben Copperhead off Soon-to-be Released LP ‘Wailing Viridescence’

    So, we have found during our years of reporting on rock-based music here in the new millennium that a certain kind of internal mind-meld is inevitable. Whereas the boundaries between ‘established’ genres (those inverted singular commas necessary due that g-word’s already slippery and precarious nature) have been growing increasingly porous ever since the trip-hop 90s at the latest, with the exponential, showing-no-signs-of-slowing-down advances in digital technology seeking and most often finding still another way to blend, say, polka and death metal (or something at least as unforeseen), there has been pushback. In a rather joyously perverse way, all this hyper-Burbankian cross-fertilization has, as one might expect, made the lure of those simpler times of traditional, more starkly defined genres all that much stronger. Thus have we seen, in one form or another, everything from twenty-something practitioners of Appalachian hill music to greased-up garage rockers whose grandfathers set the template to Tangerine Dreamers in pursuit of the new komische nirvana all laying claim inside their chosen realm to a new modern-day version of authenticity, a phrase whose very construction is built on paradox. None of which is to say that we’ve been immune to the charm and excitement and even, in...
  • STEREO EMBERS VIDEO EXCLUSIVE – Kramer Accomplice Lumberob Gives Us a Visual of Daniel Johnston’s ‘Honey I Sure Miss You’ from the Reissued Vinyl Release of “I Killed The Monster: The Songs of Daniel Johnston”

    Back when we were first made aware of Lumberob we were as gobsmacked and thunderstruck as most of his Austin followers had become accustomed to being when witnessing the guy’s turn-of-the-century shows featuring tape-loop shenanigans that defied most agreed upon parameters of logic. That previous piece also, if you click on that link above as we suggest you do, required a lengthy heading as any would given the uncontainable breadth of the guy’s talent. Even though we – like many of you, we trust – were catching up to that talent a bit late, once we’d cottoned on to it there was little surprise that Rob ‘Lumberob’ Erickson had also featured on the Daniel Johnston covers album first released on CD back in 2006 and recently reissued as an LP by (who else?) Shimmy-Disc. Of all the contributors to that estimable volume – an impressive roster that includes Dot Allison, Mike Watt, R. Stevie Moore, Joy Zipper, Jad Fair (w/Kramer) and many more – we’d reckon that only Fair would merit equal standing in the Eccentric Genius Stakes (which makes eminent sense seeing as the two collaborated on four digital-only albums in 2004/05). Singular and irrepressible, Lumberob has carved his...
  • Restoring Belief in the Parts of Your Heart Where it’s Gone Missing – “A Colossal Waste of Light” from Eyelids

    At the heart of American jangle there thrives a tension. On one end lies the chime of Byrdsian optimism, that sound the 8-mile high sound of bountiful youth in sunnier times; at the other the more umbrous undertakings from those of our fellow citizen-musicians that have, over the years, adopted then adapted the rather irresistible mantle of the Dunedin sound, from your Bye Bye Blackbirds to your dB’s to your REM and Refreshments, an end where the ends, so to speak, aren’t always in sync with the means, where often as not you’re bathed in the colors of melancholy even as you dance your jangly dance. It’s a twisting, seemingly endless chain of complexity that betwixt its promise of joy in the wide open air and the darker strains of its minor-chorded madness unspools the whole of our national psyche. Portland band Eyelids know that chain well and in fact may lay claim to greater intimacy with it than just about anyone as it’s been threaded through and around the band’s shared heart for its entire existence. It’s brought them adventures, it’s brought them well-earned renown and, ironically perhaps, it’s the chain that sets them free, a conclusion confirmed by...
  • Apropos of Nothing: Those Nights When A Band Heretofore Unknown to You Knocks You Sideways. Welcome to the Revelatory World of HMLTD

    This is wholly unplanned. Unforeseen and unexpected. And yet it has taken over our hearts and our attention and our libido all at once at which point we have absolutely no choice but to share it with you. Imagine Deaf School banging into Roxy Music and the entire prolapsed mess bowling over Sparks at their most exuberant with an added touch of JG Thirlwell and you’ve arrived at a place where London-based band HMLTD doesn’t just live but thrives. Doesn’t just thrive but osmoses into a beast wherein the human need for escape into one’s most vital self is intercepted by the more primal urge to give in to the jugular of lust, wanton escapism and a mania of focused intent. We don’t know why, can’t imagine how, HMLTD escaped our notice until tonight but if ever there was a case of ‘better late than fucking desperate never’ this is it. We’re going to leave the mundane nicety of words behind now and proceed to the audio/visual portion of our presentation. We feel undone and sanctified by our discovery tonight, and hope and assume that you will at the very least feel something close to the very same. Click on…  ...
  • Another Chapter in The Great Book of Darkly Wistful Esoterica – Charming Disaster’s “Super Natural History”

    Make no mistake, have no illusion. Fears that have made their homes in every shadow that surrounds you be they cast before you upon the broken sidewalk or lurk in the perimeters of your very soul, exerting their weight on your weary bones, those fears are always coming to get you. It’s nothing personal, it’s their job. Not to, umm, fear though, there are a host of ways to deal with them. You can put on your Freudian slippers and, with the help of a well-paid guide, go shuffling about your cluttered past, hauling out the shadow-casting rubbish as you go; you can quiver under the coverlet like a bowl of jelly in their inevitable presence until they get bored with you and, for maybe a moment or two, slink away; you can blithely ignore them like they’re the uncool kids in your subconscious and go about pretending that everything’s fine while also pretending that everyone’s not noticing that everything in fact is not fine not even close (and/or just think you’re an asshole which is – probably? – worse). Or…OR…you can do as Ellia Bisker and Jeff Morris, the duo at the heart of the curiously bewitching Charming Disaster, do: don’t...
  • Blistering, Elegiac, Funky, Rocking and Reflective – “Swing Your Lanterns” from Guitarist, Original Voidoid Ivan Julian

    Legacies and past associations can’t always be relied upon to tell the whole tale, memory being the untrustworthy narrator that it can so frequently be, but as often as not, for better or ill, it’s where we turn to help give shape to first impressions, especially when it applies to musicians and their work. So, in case the name before you here eludes familiarity, let’s try these: Richard Hell & the Voidoids. The Outsets. Shriekback. The Clash, Garland Jeffreys Giorgio Gomelsky Matthew Sweet the Fleshtones and that is, we’re assuming, enough to intrigue for now. For extra added WOW! points throw in a band called Lovelies with then-wife Cynthia Sley of Bush Tetras at the mic in 1988 and we gotta believe the who and what of the name ‘Ivan Julian’ has become luminous in your curiosity. And well it should, so, quickly… Worldly at an early age due his dad being a Navy officer, Julian, having schooled himself in music since seeing Hendrix when he was twelve and studied college-level music theory while still in high school, arrived in NYC in 1977 with an already growing résumé – toured Europe with The Foundations of “Build Me Up Buttercup” fame when...
  • Verse/Chorus/Bliss – “Happy Hearts” by Jad Fair and Samuel Locke Ward

    Nearly all that’s lastingly worthwhile is a long game. Anything less than that – think crypto, TikTok virality, every fad diet ever – is a hustle, flashes in shallow scratched-up teflon pans that burn on the surface for a couple of impressive seconds before burning out altogether. They are, in short, called ‘crazes’ for a reason. This being the culture it is, these schemes are often brazenly successful prior to their consignment to the proverbial scrap heap, leaving freshly-minted millionaires that are maybe still millionaires but ones whose historical reputation couldn’t buy a cup of tepid decaf. Almost by design instant gratification has become the coin of our capitalistic realm while the concept of an enduring legacy has become success’s quaint, dumpy little sibling (dumpling?), regarded, if at all, with a disdain disguised as pity. As likely will come as no surprise to frequent readers of SEM, that’s just not our way. We live for the long game and those that pursue it, those that have pretty much since day one chosen – wisely we feel – to develop in a manner that reflects the tenor of their character, their creative drive, not as a ‘strategy’ but rather the result,...
  • A-Brim With the Doing of Life – “The Candle and the Flame” by Robert Forster

    I really don’t know how to say this, how to convey music’s impact on me without betraying it with platitudes and saccharine bromides. Oddly, perhaps, but without exaggeration, I feel almost exquisitely, tenderly suffocated by it, held a bit breathless inside the press of its beauty, its insistent beauty, how it entwines as it does, spun throughout memory and trailing behind it, vine-like, vein-like, helping support the ‘what’ of what I remember while simultaneously overtaking it, music’s contours and resonance never dimming, the soundtrack becoming the movie. As has been made clear this is all speculation. I’m not entirely sure – am in fact quite ignorant about – how it works exactly. I only know that without music I’d be less dimensional, more bound to the lure of the quotidian, which is to say my life would be much duller and how I love others would not be as strong. All this reflection comes to the fore with the arrival of Go-Betweens co-founder Robert Forster’s latest solo album (The Candle and the Flame, Tapete Records Feb. 3rd) for reasons I hope I can find the strength of insight to lay bare. Were there a standard by which one measured a...
  • STEREO EMBERS EXCLUSIVE VIDEO PREMIERE – “Requiem for Max” from Kramer’s Ambient ‘Music for Films Edited By Moths’ Album

    To the extent it has a reputation, ambient music doesn’t in most cases attract superlatives, nor for that matter much reactive heat whatsoever, instead being viewed by that mysteriously droll entity ‘the wider public’ as a passing distraction that, at best, registers on the favorability scale a tick or two this side of muzak. Kramer’s not here to change that – one guesses in fact that, if anything, having hewed for a lifetime toward the variously pop perverse end of the musical spectrum, he’s more likely to relish if not celebrate that fact in some oblique fashion – but being among our most adventurous, respected and avidly restless artists, his immersion in the form, aside from being a somewhat curious departure just by definition, amounts to a trusted invitation to explore a genre that (we feel it’s safe to assume) many if not most of us have pretty much ignored. Because, really, if anything can be said of Kramer’s storied, eccentric career it’s that it’s never been boring and in fact, over the course of nearly four decades, it’s been something of a reliable bellwether, consistently leading us toward a music where the word ‘interesting’, for once, actually means interesting,...
  • STEREO EMBERS SINGLE/VIDEO EXCLUSIVE – Meatloaf band Neverland Express w/American Idol 13 Winner Caleb Johnson Present a REALLY Fresh Take on “Bat Out of Hell”

    The relatively short stint I spent in the ‘music industry’ happened to coincide with a very critical moment of rock music’s evolution. Because of some incidental connections (ie friends made at a now-legendary record store called Rather Ripped on the northside of the UC Berkeley campus where I spent a couple years engaged in weak academia before running out of electives) I found myself during the years 1977-1979 at a one-stop in Oakland, a way station that just happened to provide the crucial link between the ill-fitting suburban version of me and the whatever-the-fuck me I am now. As it happened, alluded to above, it was in retrospect an almost revolutionary moment in the world of rock’n’roll however one defines it. Whereas there was the upsurge of bands like Aerosmith, Styx, and Kansas taking over the mantle from the old guard – essentially the new behemoths supplanting the old behemoths – there was, simultaneously, the counter current of punk then post-punk and new wave, asserting itself in the manner akin to the quirky cool kids in high school outshining the prominent jocks and popular girls with their quirky aloofness (think Christian Slater and Parker Posey leaving the Cruises and Phoebes...
  • STEREO EMBERS VIDEO PREMIERE – numün (SUSS, Gamelan Dharma Swarma) announce new album “Book of Beyond” with “Vespers”

    We struggle to make ourselves whole, to be the ideal, however flawed. As humans, especially those of us in the Western world, we’re good at making lists and running errands and plotting a career path but, when it comes to negotiating grace or abandoning ourselves to beauty, we too often tend to shy away, make excuses, check our phones to see what updates we have, what’s on our calendar. It’s enough of a complicated, intimidating world as it is without trying to explain ourselves in the face of the ineffable. And it’s not just those of us encountering art that find ourselves wrestling with this discomfort but, from a slightly different angle, artists themselves as well. By its nature the act of being creative is a self-conscious proposition, one that demands constant reappraisal, of purpose, of talent, of the very need to get it ‘out there’ to others. All of which inevitably leads to the crippling ‘why do it at all?’ type of interior conversations which, no surprise, are generally carried out in the darkest of night when doubt can appear as an actual demon capable of making you writhe with the slightest twitch of its skeptical face. What we’re...
  • DARKSWOON EVER CRASHING – 2022’s Best Darkwave Releases from Victor Montes and Dave Cantrell (PLUS 2022’s Single of the Year!)

    Yes, here we are, at that time of the year again, the time for that sort of select reckoning that every critic, writer, or listener greets with a curious mix of love and dread. Love because of the joy in reliving still another thrilling ride around the dizzying darkwave merry-go-round that this suddenly dying year has again offered us, a ride that only the phrase ‘freewheeling insanity’ might adequately define, dread because, due to 2022 being as bulgingly abundant with head-turning, mind-blowing, pulse-quickening albums as any previous year if not arguably more so, how does one choose one’s favorites without risking one’s sanity and/or standing? We’ve covered the absurdity-bordering-on-inanity of this whole process frequently enough in these pages that we thought we’d let that aspect rest this time but believe us, we thought about tip-toeing past the whole prospect and if it weren’t for the weight of expectation we likely would have. That said, in the end, it is kind of our responsibility and damn it if it wasn’t indeed a great pleasure to rediscover the extravagant spill of dark gems that kept piling in through the door all year long. Read quick, as 2023 is already breathing down your neck…[and remember,...
  • TRIPTYCH INTO DARKNESS – SPECTRA*paris “Modernism” / SOCIAL STATION “In The Fallout” / postlooperish “Wistful”

    SPECTRA*paris “Modernism” (Dependent) Challenges. Challenges and joy. Challenges, joy, and excitement. You best be prepared to accept a dizzying, often bewildering brew of all three overtaking your senses if your plan is to put pen to paper (in whatever form) and write about music. ‘But wait,’ we can already hear you saying, “Challenge, sure, we get that, that means there’s some work involved. But ‘joy’ and ‘excitement’? Why should we worry about those? Those sound great!’ Well, yes, of course they are and indeed they’re the ingredients that make this process most rewarding but, one, in this gig anyway, you can’t get to the last two without going through the ‘challenge’ stage, and two, ‘joy and excitement’ are distracting, they tend to tempt one away from the page and into the mist, the ether, into some form of ecstasy. And ecstasy, as everyone knows, is the opposite of work. Thus one seeks that shifty balance that’s essentially an act of simultaneously staying on track while, to some extent, losing track, of yourself, where you are, all that. In workshops years ago I came to call this ‘the gaining control of the letting go’ and, in truth, it’s become as much...
  • STEREO EMBERS VIDEO PREMIERE – “Tender Years” from Go-Between Robert Forster’s upcoming album ‘The Candle and the Flame’

    Overall, it’s a crapshoot trying to predict which artists will maintain their ‘edge’ (variously defined) as they age. History and our own experience tend to tell us ‘not many’ yet still, even as our own years advance, we fall prey to the belief, based on some brilliant debut, that this time this artist will make that cut (so to speak) and we’ll be enjoying their work on a similar level for many years. Then their second record comes out and, well, yeah, we move on even as we pledge to keep an ear cocked in their direction. It’s a kind of songwriter lottery, one that measures not just the artist’s endurance vis-á-vis the calendar but, far more crucially, the verve and quality of their material and the seeming ease with which they continue to surprise, delight, and impress, still bringing a perspective that’s innate and contoured enough it relates to the listener’s own life in a way both universal yet oddly – almost eerily – intimate. It’s that last that’s most impressive, not to mention – and we hesitate to use the word – precious. While one could name a however-diminishing slew of writers (sadly, they keep falling off the carousel) that still...
  • STEREO EMBERS EXCLUSIVE PREMIERE – “The Temple of Song” EP from TRUE BODY

    Those moments, those all too rare moments, when something clicks. A shaft of bright light flashes unexpectedly through a just-opened door and with it a noise that arrives like a whoosh of the spirit and from that encounter comes that oddly ecstatic sensation that’s maybe best described as ‘a flood of warm chills.’ Comparable to our vision – if not quite reality – of falling in love at first sight or those isolated times when a passage of prose or poetry brings us to our knees, it’s the experience most associated with a sudden, unexpected rush of music we’re talking about here, of course, one that most often has stolen into your ears without warning. It doesn’t have to be on some Wagnerian scale or endowed with the immediacy of, say, “Safe European Home” (the track that introduced this writer to the Clash in 1978), it ‘simply’ has to, well, strike an intrinsic chord that more or less reverberates throughout your heart like it was born there and is just now making itself known. It’s an occurrence we’re all familiar with and regard with a certain preciousness because, again, it’s so relatively rare, so rare it’s basically an emotional version...
  • STEREO EMBERS WORLD PREMIER – “Gilles Memory” from Belgian Artist/Activist Rudolphe Coster and Band

    Musically, let’s go here: Lou Reed circa Coney Island Baby injected with the energy of X-Ray Spex if they’d been grounded in funk instead of punk, a hybrid thanks largely to an almost licentious bassline (Male Gaze’s Matt Jones) walking a wild side through a squawking, angry windstorm of a sax attack provided by Jeff Tobias of Sunwatchers while Maya Postepski from The Organ maintains what might be called a ‘savagely taut’ drum foundation pacing underneath it all with a metronomic fury.  Insofar as the lyrics go, and the cathartic way they’re delivered? Let’s not go anywhere but the truth: the ‘Gilles’ here was a friend of Rudolphe’s that was killed in the horrendous terrorist attacks carried out in Belgium in 2016. In a vocal performance that simultaneously massages and attacks just about each word, one cannot help but be not just riveted by the passionate drive Coster brings to this remarkable single but as well feel the inextinguishable loss and pain that fires it from deep inside Coster’s heart. It is, far more than anything, an act of love. This all comes to us via Capitane Records, itself a curious proposition. Having been founded but a scant few years...
  • Adding Another Name to an Exclusive Club – Richard X. Heyman Returns with “67,000 Miles an Album”

    R. Stevie Moore before his recent retirement. John Andrew Fredrick under the guise of The Black Watch. Daniel Johnston. Jad Fair. Robert Pollard. To a small clutch of music nerds out there that relatively sparse grouping shares among them one central immediately obvious attribute: a work rate that would seem wholly unsustainable to your average mortal and the discography that comes with it, one so staggering that just scrolling through it can leave one exhausted. To this class of the restlessly fecund must be added the name Richard X. Heyman. Now, in this case a lengthy list of releases on Discogs might be suspected to some degree seeing as Heyman turned seventy-one this year but a quick scan down that list mostly undermines that presumption. Sure, The Doughboys, formed in the guy’s hometown of Plainfield NJ, had a couple singles appear on the Bell label when he was still in high school – they reformed in 2000 and have subsequently recorded eight full-lengths since 2007 so, yeah, let’s add that to our dizzying premise – but Heyman’s debut solo album Living Room! didn’t drop until 1988 by which point he was already thirty-seven. Since then? Well, according to our calculations...
  • Gilded in Something That Approaches Epiphany – New Album “My Heart” from Nora O’Connor

    This world, perhaps as much as ever, needs its honest songwriters. Not just those speaking truth to power – though, whoa, do we need a lot of those, indeed we do – but as well those that simultaneously ground us while allowing a moment of escape into another’s heart, a heart unguarded, uncynical but nonetheless, as is necessary in this life, always aware of its surroundings. This world needs the likes of Nora O’Connor. Known to many for her sterling work traveling the touring world with the likes of Mavis Staples, Iron and Wine, Andrew Bird and a slew of others, O’Connor’s solo work has always found her on an equal footing talent- and, often, style-wise with such luminaries and My Heart, her third and released on Pravda October 7th, is no different. Forced, as so many were, to find her own way as a musician these last few years, O’Connor took to playing backyards around her Chicago home base, just a woman alone with her guitar, a gathering of deeply appreciative neighbors and, not infrequently one presumes, some damned fine barbecue, discovering anew that that singular spark, which couldn’t help but be a bit subsumed as she traveled the world...
  • STEREO EMBERS EXCLUSIVE PREMIERE – Debut Album “Hypnopomp” from the Incomparable Katie Lass, Mastered By Warren DeFever (with track-by-track rundown from the artist)

    We could begin this way: “Every once in a while, an artist comes along that blasts holes in pretty much every understanding we have of so-called ‘pop’ music.” Or we could choose this as our opening: “Imagine if the creative energy of Can in the Damo years was condensed and reconfigured into a single, heretofore unknown young solo home-recording artist.” Or, maybe this: “What would you get if you took a primal, raw-but-somehow-fully-formed aesthetic bursting at its natal seams and crossed it with a fearless freshness raised in the US rust belt that, weirdly, feels like a mashup of Broadcast and Gong ?” Any one of those and countless others – we could do this all night – land you in the sui generis parameters of Detroit-based Katie Lass. Driven, blessed with a store of self-made, up-her-sleeve tricks that would make Daniel Johnston blush and Kramer go crazy, this is the type of rarefied territory that connects the until-now unconnected dots between The Shaggs and Miranda July, ie a quality that one might refer to as an ‘elevated primitivism.’ Whatever label anyone might attach to them – and the fact that everyone that hears this work will come up with their...
  • STEREO EMBERS EXCLUSIVE PREMIERE – Mortal Prophets’ Cool Incendiary Take on “Baby Please Don’t Go” ft. Morphine’s Dana Colley (includes interview with head Prophet John Beckmann!)

    Like a fire-breathing ensemble risen from the ether with a fearless blend of genre-fucking intelligence driving them toward a type and level of musical adventurism that’ll leave any music nerd worth their salt dumbstruck in the bestest of ways, muttering ‘Be still, my ravenous heart’ beneath their barely-caught breath, NYC’s Mortal Prophets arrives in our all-too-cautious midst ready to blow minds with an almost wicked nonchalance. As approachable as it is take-no-prisoners, the John Beckmann-helmed Prophets’ sound reflects – if a bit blindingly – their stated mission to “dig deep into America’s primal scream.’ To this aim, with both the Stomp the Devil EP released in June (featuring no less than Gary Lucas) and today’s dual release of two singles from upcoming debut full-length Me and the Devil due out December 9th (itself with a bevy of guests including Colley, Rubyhorse’s William D Lucey and others), of which SEM is premiering the feverish re-write of that timeless blues standard “Baby Please Don’t Go,” Beckmann and company are delivering the goods like nobody’s business. It’s a delivery that strikes an especially raw nerve for someone as, umm, ‘seasoned’ as your correspondent, whose teeth were cut on early 70s rock’n’roll which, aside from the...
  • Like an Act of Blissful Subterfuge – Former Akron/Family Member Dana Buoy’s New “Experiments in Plant-Based Music, Vol.1”

    However one chooses to remember early-21st c. ensemble Akron/Family – skewed but charming pop provocateurs, genre-wandering minstrels of the first water or, as this writer due his history is wont to believe, a canny complex blend of exactly what their name told us on either side of that forward slash, ie the anti-hero heroes of the Akron-based devolutionary movement of the late 70s grafted on to the actual band Family with their own odd-pop proclivities – the fact that ties them all together is that, once heard the A/F collective was impossible to ever unhear. For all their precepts and tendencies that found them corralled into the New Weird America pen with the likes of Animal Colletive, Vetiver, and Sunburned Hand of Man, Akron/Family, like many of those cohorts, never strayed too far from the eternal truth as constituted by hook and melody. In Dana Janssen, that band’s drumming heart now dba Dana Buoy and soon to release Experiments in Plant-Based Music, Vol.1 (November 4th on Everloving Records), his third full-length since 2012, one may very well find one of the more compelling reasons why that was the case. Steering with an assured hand through a seldom-driven soundscape connecting the spectral spiritualism...
  • STEREO EMBERS EXCLUSIVE – “Typical Girls, Volume 6” from the essential Emotional Response label, w/track-by-track commentary from ace compiler Camylle Reynolds

    If you’re like us here at SEM, your early listening life, when the hungers of the curiosity were at their sharpest and most insatiable, was well-served by that most wondrous of full-lengths the compilation album. Personally, by my late 20s, I owned some eighty-plus comps on vinyl, and while the bulk of those are long gone here forty years later, I have to confess that, thanks especially to deep-diving DIY label Messthetics and its US counterpart releases under the Homework imprint, supplemented by more recent collections from the likes of the Cold Transmission label and others, the V/A shelf out in the garage, while not quite approaching that earlier accumulation, is nonetheless beginning to groan a bit from the assembled hordes. With that as our context, you can understand why we get so stoked when a new installment of the impeccably-curated Typical Girls series from the ever-tasteful Emotional Response label arrives. Based out of Arizona and founded by Stewart Anderson of Yorkshire UK-based lo-fi legends Boyracer fame, the first five of these were chockful of exactly the kind of plucky individuality that underlines, with some emphasis, the V-word in V/A. And where this is the place in an introduction of...
  • STEREO EMBERS VIDEO PREMIERE – Kramer’s “Bukowski on the Beach” from His New Ambient Album ‘Music For Films Edited By Moths’

    The question must ultimately arise: Is there a modern musical niche in which the shape of Kramer’s talent – not to mention his psyche – doesn’t find a way to adapt, and in fact thrive? While making his name 30+ years ago via the fractured pop/disturbed rock’n’roll of the original Shimmy Disc generation, a time when he and the stable in his label were firing off in so many directions that should anyone have tried to map them all they’d have ended up in an asylum, he has since wandered the unsanctified hallways of melodic indie on 1998’s Songs From the Pink Death, swerved into baseball-based solo compositional form – like you do – with The Greenberg Variations in 2003 where every track is named after the various historic pitches in a pitcher’s arsenal (“The Curve Ball” “The Goo Ball” “The Ephus”), dove with deep reverence into Brill Building brilliance not once but twice in the two thousand teens which are imperative listens as explained here, before he, with 20/20 hindsight predictability, spent a year as esteemed label Joyful Noise’s 2020 artist-in-residence. A man of action that tends to loiter in the shadows (where the possibilities are far more fetching),...
  • STEREO EMBERS EXCLUSIVE – Debut EP from Wash DC ‘Supergroup’ Ecstatic International (ex-Priests, Ex Hex, et cetera) with Track-By-Track Breakdown!

    Most transitions in the artist/music world, we’ve found, are, if not tortured, at least a bit messy, a bit…fussed over. Not so the leap for former Priests founder G.L Jaguar, who formed Ecstatic International pretty much within minutes of his former band, Washington DC’s super-crafty pop-punkers Priests, playing their last show on New Years Eve, 2019. Whether or not it’s to be considered the most quickly acted upon New Years resolution in the history of bandkind is not for us to say but nonetheless we have to assume that the turnaround between the old and the new was at the very least quite the head-snapper for those involved in the Capital’s tight-knit scene. Which is appropriate in a way as the result will indeed have a similar, if much more direct, anatomical effect. Drafting in Ex Hex drummer (and enduring friend) Laura Harris – the two could have formed an instant support group seeing as Harris was pretty much going through the exact same parting-of-the-ways at the exact same time – they immediately roped in new pal Nikhil Rao and proceeded to spend the pandemic basically woodshedding, crafting a ‘fresh’ sound that simply could not be fresher. Further expanding the...
  • LEST WE FORGET, Vol. 2 – Sleepyard “Head Values” / doubleVee “Treat Her Strangely” / Sinead O’Brien “Time Bend and Break the Bower”

    SLEEPYARD “Head Values” Y’know that sense of a gem you can get when glancing at a raindrop on the window glass, that soft glimmer that briefly shines like a pearl in a dying world, the seems, for just a second, to hold inside itself all the available outside light? It’s those type moments, though rendered in sound and melody, that Sleepyard seems intent on unveiling no matter the cost in time and patience. The edict – if it is one – that you can’t hurry beauty would seem a suitable mission statement for this long-time Norwegian project from brothers Oliver and Svein Kersbergen that’s set to celebrate a quarter century next year. Looked at from one angle, one cold say, a bit glibly perhaps but not altogether without accuracy, that Sleepyard, throughout it’s arc, has carried itself through a creative process similar to that of what might be imagined if ECM ever signed a pop band. While still true here – “Dream Solution,” once emerged from its softly majestic, vaguely Gaelic intro, pings along like a slightly jazzier Polyrock while “Falling in Love,” voiced by Sandy Dedrick, has a melancholic-yet-still-sunny California vibe to it – the moods and...
  • Winning the Race to the End of Superlatives – Kill Shelter Once Again Kills it on New Album “Asylum”

    Whether it was destined to be the writer with his words or the musician via the auspices of his work, one of us was going to eventually lose the race to the end of superlatives. In the case of your correspondent vs. the output of one Pete Burns, dba Kill Shelter, the outcome, I’m both afraid and ecstatically happy to say, was predictable. Having barely withstood the quality onslaught of 2018’s Damage with its wondrous glut of collabs then the Antipole meetup A Haunted Place from last year, the wells of praise this particular pen has available to dip into are perilously close to running dry. I shall soldier on regardless of course, extracting what dribs and drabs of panegyric I can possibly wring from the dregs at my disposal because, lord knows, what choice do I have with an album like Asylum holing up inside my ears, attacking then saturating the pleasure centers at will. Again alive with co-conspirators – 70% of the ten cuts this time around – the new record also underlines the usual deft touch at tracklisting, with two of the Pete-only tracks opening and concluding proceedings and the third, called “Crossing Borders,” nestled in the center sounding for all the...
  • SEM Video Premiere – “How Much Longer?” from Butthole Surfer Paul Leary’s 1992 ‘History of Dogs’ LP reissued by Shimmy-Disc/Joyful Noise

    In this frightfully off-kilter world it’s comforting to know that some things don’t change: chocolate is as close as we’re ever going to come to the idea of ‘God,’ doing laundry will never not suck, and the Butthole Surfers were pretty much the most intensely memorable rock band that ever existed. That latter, though inarguably true, nonetheless begs for an asterisk denoting the further fact that they were also one of the funniest (even if their brand of funny ran, or rather hurtled, toward the absurd and disturbed). Thunderous, catchy, and headstrong enough to be the very thing people are referring to when they use the phrase ‘a force of nature,’ there was never an opportunity or ‘marketing strategy’ the band couldn’t grab and immediately tear into shreds, not out of some foot-shooting instinct – OK, maybe a little of that – but simply because they were as they were and how they were left them no choice. Unbridled as they may have been, however – their live shows are so legendary they’re almost a genre of performance art unto themselves – we’d not be talking about them if they weren’t also talented as holy f*ck. Like the Residents on...
  • STEREO EMBERS VIDEO OF THE DAY – “Burial at Sea” from KRAMER’s Just-Released Ambient Album “Music for Films Edited by Moths”

    As the long-abandoned remnants of the teenaged hippie buried deep inside me is wont to say, ‘Time’s a trip, man.’ While stoner vague enough to be immutably true it seems to this writer, from his now somewhat elder perch, that Time, for all that’s attributed to it from poets, philosophers, and accountants, is an overrated obsession. I mean, really, I don’t give a shit if it curves or is having a boisterous romp with Space at the Hotel Continuum or is living off its borrowed self in its mom’s basement. I don’t even care if its apparent linearity is a sick practical joke. Upon semi-deep reflection I’ve come to realize that, aside from the inevitably emotional weight that the passage of time ties to our memories, giving our personal nostalgia those amber or not-so-amber shades depending on our natal luck, time is, in actual fact, kind of a selfish prick. It doesn’t give of itself freely whatsoever and what it does give it tends to take back at twice the price. Time, in short, is all about itself, and would seem to (not so) secretly relish watching everything under its watch wither into nothing at its own given speed.  Kramer,...
  • The Word ‘Dynamic’ Cowers in its Inadequacy – Kristeen Young’s Intense, Riveting New Album “The Beauty Shop”

    One makes amends constantly in this life. Whether at the ‘evolve or die’ level or to a seemingly more incidental degree there’s scarcely any distinction in terms of scale. Once the jig is up on whatever it is you’ve been neglecting, consciously or via simple ignorance or (usually) a complicated mix of both, the moment the truth’s revealed it’s time to suck it up and let it out, own it. So here goes. While writing that recent piece about Shilpa Ray’s astonishing Portrait of a Lady, this specter of a memory kept kept haunting behind the words: I’d had the opportunity to ‘discover’ her years prior thanks to the gentle urging of Northern Arms‘ Keith Peirce. For reasons unknowable I’d not taken that advice and then there I was forced to come to terms all at once with my breath being every second taken away by the tempest before me. And lo and be-fucking-hold if I don’t find myself in exactly that spot again. Thanks to the tireless advocacy of a dear and trusted friend whom I’ve known for decades, the equally phenomenal, once-in-a-lifetime whirlwind talent that is Kristeen Young has been ‘on my radar’ for quite some time now, suggesting...
  • STEREO EMBERS EXCLUSIVE STREAM – New EP “Mind Wipe” from The Special Pillow (ft. ex-members of Hypnolovewheel, Run On, Tryfles et al) with Track-by-Track Rundown by Dan Cuddy

    One of the more enviable liabilities of this writing gig is discovering bands and artists you’ve not encountered before – often new to the scene but not too rarely well-established but somehow missed by yours truly (we’ve all got copious blind spots, there’s no escaping it) – and falling sufficiently in love with them that they end up sticking to you as if with some kind of (in my case) fanboy super glue and, next thing you know, five years or so down that promo-littered road your musical body weight is, well, off the scale. It’s as if you’ve adopted a horde of orphans and now your family could fill Shea Stadium. For me, an early-ish addition was The Special Pillow, the project helmed by ex-Hypnolovewheel bass player Dan Cuddy that set out its side-project shingle in 1995 but didn’t reach my ears until Sleeping Weird landed on my digital desk in 2018, resulting in a review in the now-defunct “Lightning Strikes” column. As that piece not only tells you most of what you need to know about this truly delightful ensemble (or anyway enough to trigger your intrigue), and as the personnel remains the same, I’m going to take...
  • STEREO EMBERS VIDEO PREMIERE – “Time on Earth,” the Title Track from Pete Astor’s Upcoming New Full-Length

    Pete Astor has a thing about time. Now, that might reasonably be said about any of us but Pete, by most indications, has something of an intimate attachment to it. Aside from the very integral role it plays in any musician’s life – their entire output is based in it, full stop – and beyond the banal-yet-profound influence it wields over our existence at every turn from every angle, for Mr. Astor we’d posit that the big T exerts a particular sway over his thoughts and daily practices beyond that of most mortals. This is to be expected, we believe, given Astor’s interest in – and adopting of – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theories that, in a nutshell, substantiate the idea that getting lost in the flow of one’s work is not only to be encouraged but is necessary, resulting as it tends to in maximal happiness for the artist and thereby better, stronger work. That by definition this way of thinking requires the actual losing track of time would seem to run contrary to our supposition here but, on the contrary, you can’t practice what’s essentially the canceling of time without recognizing that you’re ruled by it in the first...
  • A Mixture of the Raw and Pop Art-Divine – Slang’s “Cockroach in a Ghost Town”

    Maybe it’s the water. Maybe it’s the mountains. Maybe it’s something so prosaic as the memories of once-cheap rent combined with a then-quite-livable city spawning a vibrant music scene that boasted both a family feel and a national profile. But whatever it is/was, this sense of an inexhaustible, fully sustainable spring of inventive musical energy that can easily lend itself to the impression of a creativity petri dish the size of Portland continues to nurture. Whether it be fate, dumb luck or destiny, those fertile waters, even despite the now-strained charm of its once bubbly origins, seem set to keep rippling forever outward. While the results will seldom (read:never) fit under a heading marked ‘sunny’ – this is gloom-loving Portland, don’t forget – they’ll never want for drive, intelligence, verve and presence. And melody. And raw dynamics. And class as measured by a gut-level sincerity of purpose. And here we are now with the latest slice of that undying Pacific Northwest climate (shall we say), in this case called Cockroach in a Ghost Town, the debut album from the pedigree-rich band Slang, released in late May on that most iconic of northwest labels, Kill Rock Stars. Formed, as far back...
  • Zander Schloss: The Persecution, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Karl the Wiener Boy, Part Two: Zander Schloss on Acting in Repo Man, Joining the Circle Jerks, and Owing It All to Michael Nesmith

    Zander Schloss, previously interviewed here has some very cool associations in his resume, from acting in punk films – most notably in Alex Cox’s films Repo Man, Straight to Hell, and Walker, but also in more recent fare like An American in Texas where he plays a record store owner and promoter who helps a young punk band. He’s played bass for the Circle Jerks since the mid-1980’s, was musical director and guitarist for Joe Strummer and the Latino Rockabilly War played in LA punk band the Weirdos and as of 2022, has recorded his first solo album, Song About Songs, a collection of surprisingly gentle, introspective, and highly tuneful reflections on life, many of which he’s been releasing rock videos for (a couple of which are discussed at length below). It’s also on Bandcamp and available as gatefold vinyl through Blind Owl Records. In the second part of our feature, Schloss gets into how he joined the Circle Jerks – whose 40th anniversary tour has gotten back on the road after Keith Morris’ recent ordeal with COVID – and the key role of the late, great Michael Nesmith in Schloss scoring the role of Kevin in Repo Man (beating out a...
  • Settling Over Your Memory Like So Much Dust and Light – Curse of Lono’s “People in Cars”

    In all the years I’ve been alive and conscious of what’s what – for kicks, let’s date it back to 1970 when I was fourteen – the times have never been richer in confusion than they are now. I don’t need to elaborate, you know what I mean and you know that what I say is, in most respects, correct. Sure, I could cite this or that but none of it would carry much import. A drift has set in, it can be sensed in that inexorable silence behind the noise, and when a drift sets in specifics hardly matter. Despite brave faces, steeled will, despite our spirits fighting against that tide in the name of human resilience, everyone knows this, accepts it in their bones. Most of us resist saying any of this out loud as inflicting such pain on our hopeful, ever-striving hearts is too difficult a prospect to entertain but there are those few that feel the need to speak to it because – or so we guess – they see that as their only option. You can’t have hope if you can’t name it, their logic seems to go, and you can’t name it if you...
  • STEREO EMBERS EXCLUSIVE ALBUM PREVIEW – “The Human Jazz” from Berlin’s TWÏNS

    If you took the wildly wandering (and actually surprisingly warm) spirit of kosmische and, with a slotted spoon, blended it into the somewhat more organic groove of, say, a Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express, you wouldn’t necessarily find yourself in the heart of TWÏNSville but you would at least find yourself on the teasing outskirts, loitering with intent. And what would that intent be, exactly? Well, from what we can hear, it would be the desire to mix a musical mysticism with a carefree, almost utopian joy. It would be the deathless hope to experience that spark of the 70s originators finding innate congress with our current moment’s sample-y digital possibilities. Or it could be, lo and behold, simply the wish to find your ears the target of sincere, expansive-yet-intimate machinations of our earnest, complicated mortal heart. Whichever of these desires and/or others of your own making will find succor in the perfectly-titled Human Jazz, the newest album from Miro Denck’s Berlin-based TWÏNS, out today, June 28th on the Earth Libraries imprint. From the gentle wake-up call of opening track “Desert Mother,” flute and electric organ laying treads out of your dreams with a soft-focused determination, a mood continued, if in...
  • Crackling with Brio and Intelligence – “VS” by The Pop Group’s Mark Stewart (and a Dozen Co-Conspirators)

    With art, sometimes it just all comes down to ‘What the fuck?’ Situations arise in the form of ‘product’ from whatever discipline that present particulars of such magnitude that any hope of a cogent, articulate response is, at least at first blush, out of reach, hovering, it would seem, in some conceptual ether just around the bend. A context can be sensed but often only loosely. We’ve seen/heard ‘that’ element of the piece before but not necessarily loitering about in ‘that’ neighborhood. Challenging to the mind, challenging to the damn psyche, even, the result can be, for the ‘consumer,’ a state of spirited vexation that, for one, arouses our further pursuit and, for a perhaps more important two, expands our understanding of the art form right there on the spot. A neat parlor trick of the highest stripe, we all have a list we carry around in our heads of the writers, painters, and, especially, musicians that have dared go to ‘those’ places, performed ‘those’ feats of aesthetic derring-do (you’re reviewing yours this very moment) and thus, you might ask, given the album under consideration here, is what’s being suggested is that, in Mark Stewart, that driven irascible force of...
  • Raging with Uncompromise – Shilpa Ray’s Astonishing “Portrait of a Lady”

    One day in the fall of 2009, after some fifteen years plus or minus spent chasing that lunatic chimera the great – or hell even just decent – American novel I found myself at the age of fifty-three in that Smithsonian of bookstores called Powell’s staring at the floor-to-ceiling wall of newly-published fiction and understood to my utmost depths how truly quixotic and delusional that pursuit was (a conclusion further fed by the bare fact that the last thing the shrinking novel-reading public needed was more perspective coming from a straight cis middle-aged white guy from Portland). The universe in its eerie and inscrutable wisdom apparently agreed as within a couple months the opportunity to write for this plucky esteemed publication fell into my lap like something between a cherished scrap of manna and a foul ball. My pen and I took that invitation and never glanced back, regret left to the dogs and my original and thereby truest passion – music – was thrust to the fore. And now here I am over a dozen years later faced with this latest full-length from Brooklyn artist Shilpa Ray, seething beautiful unflinching and extraordinary, and to a weird extent, meaning I...
  • STEREO EMBERS EXCLUSIVE VIDEO PREMIERE – “I’m On a Mission” from 90s Portland legends No. 2, released ahead on new LP “First Love” on Jealous Butcher

    While there has always been ‘something’ to the notion of halcyon times, some fleeting truth embedded in the golden haze of nostalgia, the now-impermeable barrier that divides our cultural lives between the Before and After of the internet’s full-on arrival has intensified not just your standard garden variety yearning for one’s younger years but as well the idea that music was, indeed, ‘better’ before the Great Digital Saturation came to drown us all. Now, many of us would almost violently balk at that type of thinking – I’m certainly among them and have forever been; nothing worse than greybeards lamenting the good old days when brilliant music is being made right under their upturned noses – but when one considers the entirety of the experience rather than trying to stage some sort of generational battle of the bands, that contention may have some merit. Primary among the advantages in that primitive time, we believe, was this sort of built-in underground community that, by necessity, thrived from the corners of ill-lit independent record stores to one-off, word-of-mouth Friday night warehouse shows to the telephone poles in various bo-ho neighborhoods weighted down by several inches of flyers and a pound or two or...
  • STEREO EMBERS EXCLUSIVE PREMIER – “Love Me While You Can” from Mott-Approved Band The Handcuffs’ Upcoming Album ‘Burn the Rails’

    Yeah, it’s true, we often seem to be privileging the at least slightly more esoteric around here, not necessarily detouring entirely into the outré but nevertheless keeping a keen ear out for the slightly askew pop romp for which we, quite admittedly, have a bit of a weakness. But after a while we reach a point when it’s just time for some traditional, vintage-sounding rock’n’roll, the kind that tweaks, massages, and kicks in the ass that 1970s DNA we’ve all got lurking in our bloodstream whether we admit it or not. It’s the type groove/trope/wig-out we can’t ever fully shake ourselves free of which is just bloody fine since why the f*ck should we? Speaking personally, having cut my youthful ‘kick out the jams’ teeth at Winterland beginning in early 1973, not only would I rather not cleanse myself of that influence – despite my well-known post-punk leanings – but welcome it into my skinny hippy arms like the beloved love child it’s always been. And here, pretty much on cue, comes The Handcuffs, bringing us not just a hearty slug of the real stuff in the form of “Love Me While You Can,” the second pre-released cut from upcoming...
  • TRIPTYCH INTO DARKNESS – DON’T GET LEMON “Hyper Hollow Heaven” / SUBURBAN SPELL “Split Levels” / CINEMASCOPE “A Crack on the Wall”

    DON’T GET LEMON “Hyper Hollow Heaven” (à La Carte) Have to admit that, like pretty much all of us, your correspondent is a sucker for an intriguing, unusual band name. Whether it makes you cock your head with curiosity or causes a silently gasped ‘Wow’ that simultaneously flutters your heart for a moment – personally, in that latter category, none will ever better 90s Boston band Drop Nineteens – nothing, not even a pre-debut wave of Tik-Tok hype, grabs our attention like, well, an attention-getting name. The key, however, the inescapable catch, is that then they have to live up to it. The music cannot disappoint, not a jot. Fortunately for all concerned, band and fan alike, the wonderfully WTF?-named Austin trio Don’t Get Lemon (the band prefer lowercase but editorially that’s just too awkward) has quashed any such worries since first emerging in late 2019 with intro EP Grey Beach. Frankly startling in its full-formedness, that debut has been followed by a steady stream of strength-to-strength releases – among them the diverse array that is the Forward Not Forgetting EP and a New Order 40th anniversary commemorative single last September – that continued whetting appetites for what would surely be the glory hallelujah...
  • STEREO EMBERS EXCLUSIVE BOOK EXCERPT – “Omniverse” from Finnish Polymath Artist, Techno Sax Deviant Jimi Tenor

    Some artists fashion their own world that the rest of us live in to one degree or another. It’s not necessarily a world made out of whole cloth – in fact it quite seldom is – but rather one created from a process of manipulating what’s available in the chosen culture, in the prevailing winds, in what can be gleaned from circumstances immediately at hand. They are, in a word, innovators (if of various levels and stripes) and, in a phrase, fairly fearless explorers of the zeitgeist. And while their skills are pretty much never less than prodigious, it’s the seemingly uncanny ways they integrate them into the Great Flow of Things that sets them slyly but surely apart. It’s an inherent, open secret kind of talent that makes them appear as if they’re simultaneously of, and ahead-of, the culture at large. Call it the conjurers touch, making the simple look complex and, yes, the other way around and sometimes, somehow, both at the same time. Most importantly, their ambition nearly always seems to be one more purely born out of a restless curiosity than material gain (even as the latter is, of course, a nice bonus). Playful yet serious as...
  • The Persecution, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Karl the Wiener Boy: Zander Schloss on Joe Strummer, Alex Cox, the Circle Jerks and His New Solo Album – Part One of Two

    Like most people, I became aware of songwriter/ multi-instrumentalist/ actor Zander Schloss in the early 1980’s, when he played the dorky but memorable Kevin in Alex Cox’s 1984 cult classic Repo Man. I had no idea who he was at that time, but I enjoyed his performance enough that it was really pleasing to see him, a short time later, playing bass with the Circle Jerks on 1985’s Wonderful. That was the first album that the band recorded post-Repo Man, and got plenty of spins from my 17-year-old self, benefitting greatly from the association with a film I could almost recite line for line (“There’s fucking room to move as a fry cook!”). It was even more delightful to see Schloss as Karl the Weiner Boy in Cox’s 1987 feature Straight to Hell, a ridiculous but delightful spaghetti western spoof featuring fellow Repo Man alum like Dick Rude, Sy Richardson, Fox Harris, Miguel Sandoval and Jennifer Balgobin (to say nothing of the other lead actors Joe Strummer and Courtney Love, and the film’s many celebrity cameos, which include Jim Jarmusch, Dennis Hopper, Grace Jones, the Pogues, and Elvis Costello). I didn’t realize until much later that Schloss also worked with...
  • Couplets Bounding Along with a Puckish Aplomb (and other delights) – Simon Love’s “Love, Sex and Death etc.”

    Whatever level of lasting insight attainable to one engaged in this music-writing game – if any at all, that is – can be condensed into some version of what may be life-in-general’s most useful aphorism: the more you learn the more you realize the true depth of your relative cluelessness. Known more succinctly as the wisdom paradox, it’s a conundrum that’s bound to club you over the head no matter what your field of interest but lordy is it a potent leveler over here in the digitized monster of the music world. However prodigious one might believe one’s knowledge to be, there is always going to be some glimmer shining from what you took to be a favored corner of your deeply informed fandom that you not only didn’t know was there but nearly blinds you with its relative genius, in the process tearing down your wheelhouse and forcing you to rebuild it again. Welcome, then, all you Jazz Butcher/Kevin Ayers/early Costello-loving aficionados, to your latest reconstruction project as represented by the sure-to-endure work of Mr. Simon Love. Cutting to the proverbial quick, let me just point out (and this may or may not be pertinent in the longer scheme of...
  • STEREO EMBERS SINGLE/VIDEO PREMIERE – “The Belleville Sun” from Gates of Light from Upcoming Album on Shimmy-Disc, Video by Renowned Scottish Film Director Grant McPhee

    Y’know that beguiling blend of melancholy and quietly stubborn joy that pretty much defines the ‘it-ness’ of life, that odd, vaguely floating feeling that’s the emotional equivalent of dawn being just on the resplendent edge of its own awakening but could in fact go either way? It’s a spot in our collective psyche that has proven a fertile territory for many artists over the centuries, from poets to dancers to abstract watercolorists and, at least as prominently as any discipline, songwriters, and it’s a spot in which Scottish singer Louise Quinn, in her creative guise as Gates of Light, has carved her own indelible mark. Less a distaff Donovan than a Canterbury-esque chanteuse softly self-exiled toward a darker realm, Quinn matches well here with the talents of one of Scotland’s most visionary filmmakers (having worked with the likes of Loach Boyle and Soderbergh to name but three), Grant McPhee. The result of this inspired collaboration, as it meshes symbiotically in both sound and vision, is an instantly enduring piece of work that honors the traditions while subtly tilling new ground. With the gauze of heartbreak swirling in unison with the hazy light of the morning sun, the soft twins Unsettling and Soothing...
  • STEREO EMBERS ALBUM PREVIEW – “Melt” from Shoegaze Dreampoppers Whimsical, with a Track-By-Track Breakdown from the Band

    Perhaps, coming from a place like Dyer, Indiana, a town that would ‘simply’ be a suburb of Chicago were it not a few inches over the state line from Illinois, the duo that make up Whimsical, Krissy Vanderwoude and Neil Burkdoll, were naturally drawn to making music that straddles borders. Whether that be the case or not, the extent to which the pair excel at merging the sheet wave dynamics of shoegaze at its most coruscating with the tender invincibility of dream pop is something of a marvel. Their third album in the last five years, the band would seem to be – very successfully – making up for lost time, having formed originally in 1997 with a debut that emerged in 2000. Again, whatever the case it’s fine with us, as in their current run they keep going from strength to strength with what appears an effortless élan, a progression made all the more convincingly clear with today’s appearance of Melt on Shelflife Records. From the sudden force blast-off “Rewind” that opens the album with a pound and a whoosh, the indie-goes-feral and sweet of “Gravity,” “Take All of Me”‘s beautiful, easily-bruised pop shimmer that suggests the Cocteaus taking...
  • Immortality, Grace, Craft – The Monochrome Set Return with “Allhallowtide”

    How long has it been? Too long? Not long enough? Well, we tend to think that however long or short it’s been since The Monochrome Set’s last full-length – for the record it’s been almost three long years since Fabula Mendax, an album with the none rarer distinction, given its subject matter, of being both post-plague and pre-plague – it must by definition be precisely the proper moment simply because, well, Allhallowtide is here and we have, over the years, developed a well-earned faith in the innate unerringness of this Bid-led lot’s judgment, be it in the creative realm or business-related or, hell, even what’s for lunch. In any case, it’s not like we’re talking The Black Watch here where one can barely pip the last period on a review of the latest effort before the next one’s being released. This will, after all, ‘only’ be TMS’s fifth long-player since 2015’s crazy good Spaces Everywhere (all of them, this one included, on the Tapete label) and seventh since the band’s more-than-slight return to active duty in 2012. No, one has to believe that what lends most weight to the impression the Set have been on an even more torrid pace of late – and...
  • STEREO EMBERS VIDEO PREMIER – Retrowave Gem “You Are A Star” from Perennial Alt.Pop Artist Jenn Vix + A Flock of Seagulls Drummer Ali Score

    Some stars are made in the heavens and some stars seem as if they should have been formed in the heavens. Jenn Vix very convincingly fits into that latter category. A source of something close to pure light in the alternative/synthwave pop universe for over a quarter century now (her first, self-titled LP dropped from the firmament in the mid-90s, garnering instant love from many publications, Rolling Stone not the least), the Providence-born Vix had the good sense and good fortune to spend her formative – 1980s – teen years hanging out at record stores in New York City, in the process becoming enamored of that fervent, fertile post-postpunk period that spawned the likes of Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, The Human League and countless others. One band that particularly grabbed her attention in that formative decade was A Flock of Seagulls, hearing their first single “Talking” upon its release in 1981 and becoming an instant fan. Fast-forward forty years and Vix finds herself chatting with a friend that just happens to help manage the websites and social media pages for…A Flock of Seagulls. Not one to shy away from the occurrence of a great idea meeting head-on with the opportunity to...
  • TRIPTYCH INTO DARKNESS – PALAIS IDEAL “Negative Space” / The Sea at Midnight “Oceans” EP / Dry Wedding “Sway”

    PALAIS IDEAL “Negative Space” (Cold Transmission) Pretty much every aspect of what Palais Ideal have going for them is…complicated. While on the one hand, the duo of John Edwards and Richard van Kruysdijk being of a certain age (53 and 54 years old, respectively) might, by some people’s lights and despite these relatively enlightened times, be a mark against them, the evidence pouring through the speakers, um, speaks to the contrary and with some force, if anything pointing instead to the inherent merits of having a fair amount of lived life behind you as you’re plugging in your gear. I mean, aside from the skipload of both received and hands-on wisdom they’ve accumulated as they plow well into their fourth decade of music making, there’s also just the mere perspective accorded anyone from that somewhat ‘elevated’ perch that guarantees a certain seasoning assuming one’s been paying attention, which, by the sound this lot’s been making for some time now – prophetically titled debut EP The Future Has Been Cancelled dropped summer 2017 – not to mention the wallop of authority behind it, they most certainly have. Added to this non-issue are the similarly inconsequential facts that one is full-on British while the...
  • STEREO EMBERS EXCLUSIVE VIDEO/TRACK PREVIEW – “Friedleggings” from LUMBEROB’s Upcoming ‘Language Learner’ LP, Brought to You by Shimmy-Disc/Joyful Noise, Mixed and Co-produced by Kramer

    Do the names Jad Fair, Neil Innes, Daevid Allen, Vivian Stanshall and Daniel Johnston fill you with a giddy glee and wonder, make you want to eat sugar cookies and write skewed pop songs that are half fairy tales half cockeyed semi-perverse nursery rhymes half eccentric genius and yes that’s three halves but that’s sort of part of the point? How about an imagined home movie of Moondog at the age of seven singing an early composition after a heaping big bowl of Coco Pops? If any of those names or that zany – if thoroughly intriguing – theoretical sent an endorphin-releasing jolt of curiosity straight through you from head to toe then do we have a treat for you! Lumberob (real name Rob Erickson), a not infrequent collaborator with Kramer over the past couple-plus decades – quelle surprise, no? – first got the latter’s attention when he began his tape-loop journey in Austin in 1999. By all accounts an unforgettable – if, paradoxically, somewhat simple – live experience, part audio-Kreskin on acid part visual shaman, it’s not unusual for Lumberob to leave his audience, be they newbies or experienced Lumberobbers, just about vibrating with awe. His is an innovative...
  • STEREO EMBERS ALBUM PREMIER – “Contenders” from Great Lakes, including a Track-by-Track Breakdown from Founder Ben Crum

    Some songwriters’ aim is so true you have to wonder as to the origin of their gift. Was it hard-won, years of throwing chords into the dust until finally they began to fall into a self-ordered place and the words followed in a flow that suggested a pre-ordained grace? Were they just born that way, songsmithery lurking in their character as naturally as, say, being left-handed or having a cleft chin? Or was there some half-past midnight crossroads deal made with a lanky shadowy figure holding out a glowing golden light in the palm of their hand in exchange for just one mere, simple thing if you get our meaning? Or maybe it was as simple as what Verlaine said, a case of lightning striking itself, but whatever the case from wherever the source, and however you define the contours of ‘born songwriter,’ Ben Crum, the steadily vivid voice at the center of Great Lakes, fits that mold.   Of course, another viable guess regarding Mr Crum’s talents would be the age-old chestnut ‘practice makes perfect,’ seeing as Crum planted the seeds of this project with a classmate (Dan Donahue) while still in high school back in 1990. And whereas,...
  • STEREO EMBERS VIDEO TRACK OF THE DAY – New York’s Coatie Pop’s “City Song ft. Nameless Shufflers”

    This is insane and almost never happens anymore. A song and accompanying video lands in front of me that’s so immediately full of addictive charm and visual can’t-look-awayness that I not only can NOT quit watching and listening but every time, and I mean every freakin time, I feel the most wonderful type of music drunk it’s possible to feel. Sultry giddy and loose like a trip-hop groove high on nitrous oxide, gliding into your nervous system as if it were given the key to your inner Dance City, we can almost guarantee that there isn’t anything you won’t do to keep hearing this track over and over and that’s not even addressing its visual delights. Coatie Pop (Robert and Courtney Watkins) inviting the Nameless Shufflers to animate in human form the innate metabolic shimmy of their track was perhaps the most genius stroke of genius there’s ever been, since not only can you not keep your mind off the audio merits of “City Song” (from upcoming album Deathbed we presume, due Feb 11th) but now your optic nerves will be relentlessly on your case, quivering for their next hit. “Play it again!!” they’ll be hissing at the reflex control center in...
  • Pathos and Panache – The Life and Death of The Jazz Butcher as Told Through Final Album “The Highest in the Land”

    Like the perpetual underdog with a dogged belief in his own creative chops, Pat Fish, AKA The Jazz Butcher, despite significant hiatuses here and there and less-than-worldbeating sales figures, never threw in the towel because he couldn’t find it and had no desire to go looking for it. He was, in that sense, the definition of a lifer until death came on October 5th of last year and shut down the wit and spirit arcade that was the man’s restless creative spirit. While a shock and terrible shame that cut to the bone of his friends and fans (two designations that in Pat’s case seemed particularly synonymous), the manner of his passing – sat at the kitchen table waiting for his morning coffee to brew – was almost eerily poignant given how it could so easily have been a fleeting but necessarily unmissable detail in one of his own songs. Death, too, it would seem, is a Jazz Butcher fan. Formed in 1982, The Jazz Butcher was a breath of fresh, odd, wryly inscrutable air that harkened back to, well, hardly anything. Kevin Ayers minus his Soft Machine wiring might due if one were determined to reach for an historic...
  • STEREO EMBERS VIDEO PREMIERE – “Where is My Happiness?” by OG New Zealand Post-Punks Vietnam

    There is this conundrum when it comes to our response to art, an emotional paradox of sorts that one tends to notice early in their ‘art life.’ For me it was first noted in my teenage/early adult reading habits as I realized that the darker the writing the deeper, more intense – which is to say more satisfying – my visceral reaction to it was, turning the likes of Catch-22, Catcher in the Rye, and anything by any number of late 19th early 20th century Russian novelists into fast, and lasting, favorites. Quite predictably that basic insight carried over into all other forms of expression but especially music and especially post-punk as it roared to the fore from its dreary confines (1979 Manchester with its smoke and unrelenting grey surrounds could at a glance have been mistaken for industrial Stalingrad). Within that awareness comes the further understanding that whatever psychological elements, whatever angst and struggle underlie, say, Gregor Samsa or any of Ian Curtis’s autobiographic narratives, are inseparable from the socio-political circumstances that had an inescapable hand in shaping them. It’s an aesthetic dynamic New Zealand band Vietnam have been intimately familiar with since their very beginnings in Wellington circa 1981....
  • Guileless, Endearing Intelligent Indie Pop – “I’ve Been Trying…” by Pioneer Falls

    Ahh the sinuous and subtly insistent ways life finds to tie us together. Up until a few weeks ago I’d neither heard, nor heard of, Pioneer Falls let alone its lone creator Armando Ibarra. While in and of itself not surprising in the least – the sheer vastitude of the music world, even if limited to, say, the indie and darkwave elements of it (and yes, that’s a precursive clue to where this is going) is such that one could spend 25 hours a day unto eternity doing nothing but searching the relevant databases and still barely scratch its shimmering surface – the fact that this artist from this place (Brownsville, TX, another clue), in their effort to gain some notice for their work, was somehow steered in my direction points to the possibility that perhaps there is something to this destiny business after all. In his email, Armando mentioned having been in a band with a couple of friends that split off to form what’s become a very successful post-punk enterprise which triggered two simultaneous thoughts in my somehow still-functioning brain: I hadn’t realized – though am not surprised – that Joel and Luis had a band that pre-dated Twin Tribes and,...
  • Stereo Embers’ TRACK OF THE DAY – Luscious Apparatus’ “Infiltrate”

    While the dividing line that separates a, say, 2021 from a 2022 is arbitrary enough to be at least mildly absurd – for proof look no further than these twins just born in different years – it is, as we all know, an exceedingly handy hook for culture writers of any and every stripe to hang a few hundred words on every January, whether with accompanying numbers going from one-to-whatever or not. On a much broader scale, of course, after all these millennia, the kissing off of a passing year and the ringing in of a new portends the specter of change, of renewal, of (dare we say) rebirth for any and all of us. Naturally there’s no shortage of reflection, some of it somber, some celebratory, most of it relatively mundane to anyone but the one doing the reflecting, but there’s no denying the import this perceived moment of transference carries with it. And while we here at SEM are in no ways immune to any of this be it personally or editorially, as music writers (read:obessives) we’re especially moved when a new band with their spanking new debut track emerges within the first week past the ball drop...
  • A Haunted New Earth – Victor Montes and Dave Cantrell Present the Best of 2021’s Darkwave/Post-Punk/EBM/Synthwave

    It’s a hell of a task. In fact, it is such a hell of a task that it sloshes into the impossible, the absurd, the, in the end, unthinkable. How? How in the HELL do we extract any sense of ‘bestness’ from the beyond-bumper crop of offerings that, once again, besieged us over the past twelve months? Imagine for a moment that some seventy-five to a hundred extraordinarily creative children had been born to you in the course of a year. Each has their own core brilliance, surpassing any measure that the dark arbitrators of such have yet concocted. Each, it goes without saying, is worthy of your greatest love. But god damn it, there are SO BLOODY MANY OF THEM!! It’s an age-old conundrum here in the so-called ‘critics world.’ While it’s a source of great discovery and/or confirmation of our readers’ opinions, it’s a tortuous process for those of us consigned with making what are, in the end, purely subjective decisions, the flimsiness of which could be mercilessly detected by any of you reading this. And yet, we persist. Not because it’s fun – though it kind of is – but because it’s expected of us and rightly so. After all,...
  • STEREO EMBERS WORLD ALBUM PREMIERE – Prodigal Country-Rocker Eric Schroeder’s Third Full-Length “The Crucifixion of Eric Schroeder”

    In what is almost certainly our last album premiere of the year, and seeing as we often feel that such features amount to something of an offering, a gift if you will, it feels both appropriate and fortuitous to be bringing you, right here in the thick of gift-giving season, the newest album from young phenom songwriter Eric Schroeder, pithily titled The Crucifixion of Eric Schroeder. Looking for that special something for the music fan that obsesses over the late 70s Laurel Canyon-goes-electric vibe? Worry not, this has that. The sharp, wry songwriter fan that favors, among many others, the Johns Hiatt and Prine? This album’s got that as well, the latter, in fact, even name-checked in what is possibly the album’s most affecting track, the damned-near anthemic “What’re You Going to Do.” Or maybe you’re looking for that perfect sonic stocking stuffer for the uncle that has an unrepentant soft spot for that era of rock’n’roll when the raucous was tempered by a rough-hewn vulnerability. Well, you can cross that one off too. Truly, it’s all here in this young artist that has, over the course of not that many years, gelled from a promising young talent to an...
  • TRIPTYCH INTO DARKNESS – GIRLFRIENDS AND BOYFRIENDS “Fallacy of Fairness” / CHILD OF NIGHT “The Walls at Dawn” / KOIKOI “Pozivi u strana”

    GIRLFRIENDS AND BOYFRIENDS “Fallacy of Fairness” (Oráculo Records / FDH Records) Every one of us leaves a legacy trailing behind us like some tatterdemalion shadow but there are a relative few that create one with the word ‘lasting’ attached to it. Be it via art or infamy or mere inheritance, the prospect that any of us will be long remembered past our mortal pull date by those beyond our immediate circle is not a promising one. Life’s a busy seething thing, noisily cluttered to a point past measurement, so rife with distraction that even having your voice heard meaningfully inside a single moment of the present echoes with the faint hopelessness of shouting into the void. On the other hand, however, create something of immediately lasting value as Vancouver BC’s Girlfriends and Boyfriends have done here with Fallacy of Fairness and, at least on this count, you can rest easy. If they ever did in the first place, the quartet responsible for this richly realized piece of work, Grant Minor (bass vox synth guitars), Peter Panovic (guitars synths), Ben Lowe (guitars), and Ian Pierre Cardona (drums), have no more worries in the legacy department. In the pursuit of leaving a lasting...
  • Just in Time for Bandcamp Friday – “In Regulated Time” from Philadelphia’s Silence Kit; 15-Year REMASTERED Edition

    So, the received wisdom regarding the early 21st century darkwave revival is that it kind of kicked off around 2010 and has slowly – then very quickly – gathered its dark head of steam over the intervening years which leads us to the embarrassment of riches we face today, where keeping up with every spark and flame and utter explosion is both an imperative and bloody fucking impossible. While that’s a neat narrative (’10 making for a handy numerical jumping-off point), a cursory glance at the, ahem, record books puts paid to such nonsense. Truth be told the ‘revival’ has never actually been exactly that but has instead seen steady wave after steady wave bravely carry the torch forward through the 90s and the two thousand aughts, ignoring the sneering hordes of doubters every dark determined step of the way. Among them? Philadelphia’s ever-consistent The Silence Kit, who are celebrating the fifteen-year anniversary of their quietly groundbreaking 2006 debut album with a terrific remaster just in time for Bandcamp Friday. While not among the She Past Aways or Ash Codes or Twin Tribes of our current ‘up there’ universe, these guys were there way way before all that, doing all that torch-carrying while...