Sneaks: Skewed Punk Jazz

With It’s A Myth, Sneaks proves bass is the place

Eva Moolchan, the woman who performs and records as Sneaks, is one of Washington, D.C.’s most unique artists. Her singular musical approach amalgamates the most propulsive elements of punk, rock, dance, hip hop, jazz and free improvisation into dense nuggets of rhythm and melody. Driven by her prodigious bass playing and nonchalant half-sung/half-spoken vocals, she usually appears onstage alone, backed by a small drum machine and her bass guitar.

Moolchan honed her craft playing guitar in local bands, but when she started writing songs, she stripped the music and lyrics down to a refined rhythmic essence—just voice, bass, her skittering programmed backbeats and occasional keyboard accents. As her fingers dance over the frets, she unspools an astonishing variety of tempos and textures, the instrument often sounding more like a lead guitar than a bass. When asked about her approach to the instrument, she says, “Bass is more ja ja. Bass got kick. Bass soothes. Guitar is more trelo, but who knows? I may go back.” Her reply is just as cryptic as the lyrics of her songs.

It’s A Myth, her second album, gives us 10 songs compressed into 19 minutes of melodic mayhem. Everything is minimal, but there’s an impressive demonstration of musical and emotional density in every line. “With A Cherry On Top” sounds like a doo-wop confection with some reggae on the side, “Act Out” rides a driving British new-wave bass line to express anxious alienation, while “DEVO” may be a bubbly homage to de-evolution or not.

“It’s a multicolored circus parade,” she says. “The result of being alive in a time of absolute beauty and friction, as well as a lot of personal stuff—being in a binding relationship. Not being grounded. Going to Mexico. Being alone. Snow.”

—j. poet

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Film At 11: Sleaford Mods

It makes sense that the new video from Sleaford Mods features the band performing in a shaded kitchen and lit by plastic disco lights. “Moptop,” which comes from latest LP English Tapas, sounds sparing but is undeniably passionate, and seeing Jason Williamson perform an aggressive tune in one scene and hold an adorable pup in the next is worth watching. Check it out below.

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Essential New Music: British Sea Power’s “Let The Dancers Inherit The Party”

England’s British Sea Power has been cranking out anthemic alt-rock since the turn of the century with consistent if somewhat generic results. The band has become quite successful over time, making several solid albums and interesting film soundtracks as well as performing dynamic live shows along the way. The group enjoys a devoted following, one that’s eagerly supported this new, crowd-funded CD release. Ably led by the talented Wilkinson brothers, the band’s chiming guitar-based sound can be towering and ambitious or atmospheric and intimate. Let The Dancers Inherit The Party is slickly produced, dramatic and cohesive but still has the drawback of sounding derivative and overly familiar. Conjuring everyone from Simple Minds to New Order, the Psychedelic Furs and even Coldplay, the band’s undistinguished “Big Sky” sound doesn’t prevent British Sea Power from rocking out righteously. Standout tracks include “Bad Bohemian,” “Keep On Trying” and “Don’t Let The Sun Get In The Way.”

—Mitch Myers

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A Conversation With Tigers Jaw

Tigers Jaw returns with new record Spin, a glowing set of pop/rock tunes that denotes a shift in the band’s timeline. As the first release for producer Will Yip’s Atlantic Records imprint Black Cement, Spin is Tigers Jaw at its most composed and polished. But the band still builds upon its penchant for dizzying, unexpected hooks and bare, honest songwriting. Brianna Collins and Ben Walsh discuss the world around their record, from their new label to the newfound sense of hope and perseverance that really sets Spin apart from the rest of their catalog.

I wanted to start off by asking how you would describe Spin in relation to Charmer in terms of sound?
Brianna Collins: We definitely had a lot more time than we’ve ever had with previous records to really think about song structure and the keys that songs are in, so in the end it made everything feel really cohesive with there still being variation.
Ben Walsh: Yeah, we just had a lot more time. Also, writing Charmer, it was at a busy time in our lives when we weren’t really doing the band full time and we were writing on a much tighter schedule. This time around, for Spin, we’ve taken the band full-time and we’ve toured a whole bunch, and then we took some time off from touring specifically to write. It just felt really nice to have no pressure at all and just write and see what came naturally. We were very fortunate to have that time available to us. Another big change is that Brianna has written some songs for Spin, and she hasn’t been a primary songwriter for the band before. So that was a big shift, but she did an awesome job with it, and we’re really excited about how her songs came out.

You mentioned that you took some time off to write the record—about how long would you say it took to compose it?
Walsh: I wrote intensively for about two months, and then there were a couple more months where I was doing different things or I was on tour with different bands and I was writing in my spare time. So the bulk of it was probably done in like two months or so.

You signed to a new label, Black Cement, for this release. Timeline-wise, did you know before you went in to record the record that you were going to a new label? Or a major label?
Collins: No, we didn’t know that we were going to be signing, especially not with a major label.
Walsh: We knew our contract with Run For Cover was up; we had done three albums with them and a bunch of other splits and EPs and stuff. And we reached a point—you know, we’ve been doing this band for more than a decade now, and we were like, “Well, maybe we can ask around and see if there’s interest in other places and try to expand a little bit.” And it felt like an appropriate time in the band’s life to try and switch things up a little bit. We were talking to a couple of different labels, and we had a really, really difficult decision. But, ultimately, we felt really comfortable moving forward with this new label called Black Cement Records. Initially, when we were first approached, we were definitely skeptical because we have no direct experience with major labels and we’ve only heard stories—some of them horror stories—from other bands. We were kind of like, “Well, we’ll hear them out and see what they’re all about and see what they’re trying to pitch to us.” The funny thing is, the record was actually recorded before we committed to any label. So the record is exactly how we wanted to do it, with no label influence and total creative freedom, so we’re really proud of that. Shortly thereafter, it came time to make a decision about who would release this, and the staff at Black Cement just kept showing us time and time again how invested they are, how motivated they are, how much they believe in what we want to do. How much they want to use their resources to bring what we do to a bigger audience, not change us to fit their mold, but change what they do to amplify what we do. Which was really exciting.

I always think of Jimmy Eat World in those situations, the Bleed American kind of story where they record without a label. That ended up being a really successful record, so let’s hope it’s a similar story.
Walsh: Fingers crossed that we can follow in their footsteps. But we feel really happy with how the record came out and really proud of it. We’re helping people feel the same.

Spin seems to take a much different route lyrically than Charmer did. This record seems a bit more positive, more self-affirmed.
Walsh: Definitely. I would say that there’s an element of hope in the lyrics that wasn’t fully there before. And I’d say that just comes with living life and going through all sorts of really difficult relationships and changes and kind of realizing, “Oh, well, I’ve gotten through this much. I can do this.” There are definitely some more morose lyrics on the record, but there is an element of hope or some sort of confidence from the ashes.
Collins: That was good, “confidence from the ashes”!

The record is quite a bit different production-wise as well—a bit more polished than ever before. Will Yip produced the last two, correct?
Walsh: Charmer and Spin, yes. I think one of the biggest differences was that Charmer was tracked in less than a week. And we did it in blocks of instruments, so we did all the drums and then we did all the bass, you know. We sort of just did it as quickly as we could because we had a limited amount of time to do it. This time around, we had a full month to record everything. So we basically implemented a song-by-song schedule where every day or every two days we would be working on a different song. And we would start on the drums and then lay down the bass and start laying down the guitars, and by the end of the night, we’d be working on vocals. It was really cool for us to get to tailor all the tones and all the performances and all the sounds specifically to each song, instead of just worrying about the five other guitar tracks to get done today. I think that that allowed us to develop a much more cohesive sound overall. And each song has its own identity but everything fits together as a whole because it takes up the appropriate amount of space on the record, I think.

I know this can sometimes be out of your hands, but I was wondering if you had a say in picking “Guardian” as the first single?
Collins: Yeah. One of the great things about working with Black Cement is that they really trust our judgment with the decisions we have to make as a band. And Ben and I both strongly believed in “Guardian” as the first single. And when we told that to them, they were like, “Yeah, of course.” It’s been great to get to work with them.
Walsh: It’s been really easy getting on the same page with them because they have so much trust in us and they’re really proving to us that we can trust them as well, so it’s a really great working relationship. They’ve really proven to us how much they believe in what we do.

That’s pretty great that you still have control over stuff like that. I always think of that as so important, thematically and sound-wise, that first thing you get to hear.
Walsh: It’s the most important. Like I said earlier, we were skeptical when this was all first brought up because we thought, “Oh, if we sign to a major, we’re gonna have to play by their rules and we’re gonna have to change a lot of things around about what we do.” So we weren’t really looking to do that. But the more meetings we had with them and the more time we spent with them, we realized that they’re not trying to mold us into something that we’re not. They’re trustful of what we do and they’re respectful of what we do. So it’s been awesome to have the same amount of creative freedom that we’d have on any other independent label.

So, let’s talk about the art work. Who is the artist?
Collins: I painted it.
Walsh: Brianna’s done all of our cover arts.
Collins: Going into it, I knew that I wanted to try doing a painting. Specifically an acrylic painting because for every record I try to use a different medium or explore something further. With that in mind, I didn’t necessarily want the album art to be representative of one line of a song or even the album title. I wanted it to be something that represented Ben and I coming together to make this thing. In art school, I took a painting class and you would walk into the room and it would be this random still-life setup of things that you would never put together on your own. So I had Ben choose a couple objects and I chose a couple and I put them together, photographed them in still-life, and then painted that. So it represents this being our record, but it doesn’t have meaning in relation to the record title or the songs.

What about the name? There’s a line in “Window,” but is there a reason that word Spin stuck out to you?
Collins: I feel like naming your record is one of the harder parts of putting it out. At least for me, I would listen to the songs and try to find something that represents a feeling or something thematic that was present throughout the record. And “spin,” especially the way it is in the lyrics of the songs that it comes from, because it’s in a couple songs, it’s just a word that represents a feeling that can be overwhelming, whether it’s good or bad. It just encompasses how you’re feeling in that moment, like if it’s crazy or overwhelming—that’s what I got out of it and that’s how I related to it. Ben, I don’t know if it’s different for you.
Walsh: Definitely, it’s just like an overwhelming feeling where you sort of lose your bearings and don’t now what’s up and what’s down. And it did kind of pop up in a few songs and the meaning that it carried, being overwhelmed and being out of your element because of something that’s happened to you.

Ben, I read recently that your favorite record is Saves The Day’s In Reverie. So, Brianna, what’s your favorite record?
Collins: Ha, well that’s my favorite Saves The Day record for sure. Is In Reverie your favorite record ever, Ben?
Walsh: Yup, In Reverie is my favorite record of all time.
Collins: I think a record that I’ve consistently listened to literally since the moment I got it, like I’ve listened to it every year since I’ve had it, is Plans by Death Cab For Cutie. I listen to that so much.
Walsh: Amazing record.
Collins: Or Brand New Eyes by Paramore. They’re probably tied.

It’s interesting because Plans and In Reverie are both the big major-label jumps for their respective bands. So it’s good timing.
Walsh: That’s true. Well, it didn’t work out the best for In Reverie, because they did get dropped. [Laughs] So hopefully that’s not gonna happen to us. We have enough people that are looking out for us.

So Charmer had some Twin Peaks references. Are you both excited for the revival?
Collins: Yeah, so excited.
Walsh: Absolutely.
Collins: I feel like I can’t stop buying Twin Peaks merchandise. I got Ben this throw rug thing … Or is it like a blanket? It was in the Showtime store, but it’s literally like the Black Lodge red with the floor pattern.
Walsh: We’re very excited. I know there are a lot of people that are skeptical about how true it’s gonna be to the feeling of the first two seasons, but as long as David Lynch is involved and working on it, I feel like he won’t let its legacy be tainted. I feel great about it, I’m gonna watch it no matter what. But it comes out while we’re on tour!
Collins: We have to get Showtime so we can watch it together.
Walsh: We have to figure out a way to watch it on the road.

I feel like it can’t get as bad as the middle of season two.
Walsh: You have to really hang on and push yourself through it. It comes back in a very big way. There are bright moments throughout the middle of the second season, but it definitely puts viewers to the test a little bit.

Do you each have a favorite song from Spin?
Collins: Well, my favorite song that Ben wrote is “Escape Plan.” I don’t know, I think all of Ben’s lyrics are really honest, but you really feel something from the song when you listen to it. I really love how we did that song, the dynamics of it are really cool to me, the way it builds. The harmonies that we did, all around I really just love that song.
Walsh: One of my favorites, and I will pick one of Brianna’s songs—I think “Same Stone” came out really awesome. I think it’s a completely different vibe for the band but in a really cool way. It really showcases her piano playing, her vocals. When it was first being written, we didn’t know exactly how it was gonna turn out dynamically and Will Yip did an amazing job engineering it. And the performances that Brianna did were awesome. It just came out really great—I think it adds this new flavor to the album that none of our previous stuff had before.

Any other thoughts you’d like to leave us with?
Walsh: I just want to give Will Yip a little bit more credit for bridging the gap between this major-label world and the scene that we’re more familiar with. He’s the one that first developed the relationship with the people at Atlantic, with Fueled By Ramen and Roadrunner. The bands that he is close with and loves, he always has their back and tries to help them out in any way, and he would never steer us in the wrong direction. He was really instrumental in starting this relationship, and he is involved with the label itself and is doing a lot to ensure that we have the creative freedom that we want and need.

—Jordan Walsh

Videos after the jump.

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Film At 11: Shout Out Louds

Stockholm’s Shout Out Louds return after four years with a new single, “Oh Oh,” which will be featured on the band’s forthcoming record. The song bleeds with life and a certain natural spaciousness, and the video throws in convertible car rides, pool parties and glorious mountain views. Check it out below.

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Essential New Music: The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s “Don’t Get Lost”

As if its perpetual revolving door of membership weren’t confusing enough, on album number 16, Brian Jonestown Massacre main man Anton Newcombe has employed the services of five additional guest musicians and vocalists (including members of the Charlatans and the Pogues). Thankfully, this crowding doesn’t bog down Don’t Get Lost too much. There are moments that could’ve been excised, but BJM demonstrates a most robust path when its psychedelia lasers fix onto a starting point and add to the established theme, as on the kaleidoscopic flower-power shimmer of “Resist Much Obey Little,” the curious dub/twang/classic-U2 combo on “Fact 67” and the hypnotic entwining of world music with no-wave flavored industrial on “Throbbing Gristle” and “One Slow Breath.” The strengths shine through, despite a lack of variance in pacing and tempo over the course of this record’s 14 tracks occasionally detracting from potential dynamic wealth.

—Kevin Stewart-Panko

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Los Campesinos!: Alone Again Or

Los Campesinos! frontman Gareth Campesinos! tries to work it all out on Sick Scenes

It might sound like a corny old showbiz adage, but to Los Campesinos! anchor Gareth Campesinos! (née David), it’s become something of a sacrament: Don’t give up your day job. Even though he and his six bandmates have all substituted their surnames for Campesinos! and kept the celebratory exclamation mark.

When the 31-year-old Gareth phoned from his Bath, England, hometown to discuss his group’s latest whimsical effort, Sick Scenes, he was just finishing his nine-to-five shift at a local graveyard, where he’s employed as gardener. “Well, perhaps ‘gardener’ is too grand a term,” he says. “I cut grass. I’m just keeping the grass short and making the cemetery look as nice as it can. I like duties where you can actually see your progress. And when the grass is really long and you’ve been there a few hours, and now the grass is short? It’s like, ‘Well done! You’ve done that correctly!’” Plus, he points out, there’s the bonus of listening to his favorite music and podcasts on duty, or having lunch by his favorite tombstones, like the soccer-ball-shaped monument to a player who died during a match in the 1920s.

Additionally, the vocalist has two other side careers—one wherein he closely watches test-taking students to ensure that no cheating occurs and another for his favorite soccer team, the Welton Rovers, for whom he oversees the team’s website and social-media accounts, plus the writing and editing of its match-day program booklets. To record Sick Scenes for a month in Fridão, Portugal, he had to quit yet another gig at a record label and management company, which he admits he didn’t really enjoy. “I don’t really like that side of the music industry—I’m very skeptical of the worth of management and paying other people to do things that you can do yourself,” he says. Only songwriting partner Tom Campesinos! (née Bromley), stayed with him for the entire session. The other Campesinos!—Rob, Kim, Matt, Neil and Jason—flew over during weeklong day-job vacations.

Initially, Sick Scenes, the band’s sixth disc, seemed ill-fated. After 2013’s No Blues, Los Campesinos! parted company with its record label and its management, with Gareth taking the club-booking reins.

It felt like the musicians were starting from scratch again, like back in 2006 when they met in Wales at Cardiff University and issued a lovably eccentric 2008 debut, Hold On Now, Youngster… “Even the label that we were with had explicitly said, ‘Maybe it’s not worth doing this anymore,’” the frontman recalls, somberly. “They were actually trying to stop us from being a band.”

Gareth’s corporate moonlighting wound up inspiring him, however. Helping young artists at that imprint, he decided to reinvest that energy in Los Campesinos!, so he got busy arranging financial backing for Sick Scenes. Musically, the album turned out chiming, jubilant, totally uplifting, with new-wave-quirky melodies carried aloft by galloping rhythms and buzzy guitar work. But listen closer to the misanthropic lyrics Gareth sneer-sings on “Sad Suppers,” “5 Flucloxacillin” (about a regimen of antibiotics he was on), “A Slow, Slow Death” and deceptively gentle ballad “The Fall Of Home” (a cynical examination of small-town life and the artistes who leave it behind), and it becomes a much darker proposition. The happy/grim contrast is what the group was aiming for.

“Because we hadn’t been able to record for so long, or even do the things that bands should be doing, we had a lot of pent-up aggression,” he says. “And struggling with mental health issues in my 20s. I always comforted myself by thinking, ‘Well, when you’re a bit older, things will be different, you’ll have worked it all out, and you’ll actually have a clue.’ But then you get that little bit older, and you realize, ‘Nah—it’s not as simple as that.’ That’s kind of the mindset behind this whole record.”

Besides, when Los Campesinos! finishes its spring tour of America, that cemetery grass will have grown that much higher and groundskeeper-ready. Gareth can be alone again, aside from an occasional interloper that he often mistakes for something otherworldly.

“When it’s particularly quiet there and suddenly a squirrel jumps past, there’s a moment where I’m convinced that it’s some sort of apparition,” he says. “But no. It’s only a squirrel!”

—Tom Lanham

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Film At 11: Laetitia Sadier Source Ensemble

Laetitia Sadier Source Ensemble released Find Me Finding You earlier in the spring. Tonight, we’re bringing you its video for “Love Captive,” a sleepy, slowly rotating song that jars with sudden electronic bursts. Meanwhile, the clip accompanies those bursts with bright, busy shots sewn between gloomy beige steps and forlorn looks. Check it out below.

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Essential New Music: Bardo Pond’s “Under The Pines”

Since its classic psych-sludge/noise-gaze debut, Bufo Alvarius, appeared in 1995, Bardo Pond has stood out in its oversaturated corner of the underground thanks to the haunting vocals of singer/flutist Isobel Sollenberger and the dirge-vs.-lead guitar onslaught of the Gibbons brothers, the latter lending the band a serious heaviness that was uncommon among its peers. After a slower post-millennial stretch that saw two LPs on ATP Records, Bardo Pond moved to U.K.-based safe haven Fire Records in 2010 and has since released a clutch of EPs and three full-lengths with the label (2014’s Refulgo was on their own Three-Lobed Recordings imprint), with Under The Pines being the most recent. While there are no arm-hair-raisers like “Tommy Gun Angel” (from 1997’s Lapsed) or “Capillary River” (from the aforementioned debut) here, the album is the reliable mix of shorter, inverted blues-rock dirges and extended workouts one has come to expect from this well-oiled machine.

—Andrew Earles

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Essential New Music: Beans’ “HAAST,” “Love Me Tonight” And “Wolves Of The World”

Rapper, spoken-word artist, producer and founding Anti-Pop Consortium member Beans hasn’t released an LP since 2011’s End It All. Now come three albums and a first novel, Die Tonight, in a limited-edition bundle. The wait was worth it. HAAST, Love Me Tonight and Wolves Of The World each showcase various aspects of Beans’ formidably wide-ranging aesthetic—the brainy gearhead, the gritty sexhead, the spacey funkhead. The division isn’t that easy or clean, of course, as Beans’ rapid-fire lyrical delivery and diverse topicality don’t linger too long in any one idiom, and all three are linked by his minimalist production approach and tendency to blend canonical hip-hop gestures with artful rhetorical flourishes (from the sinfully catchy “Pendulum”: “And we walk around humble, for what?/Y’all already know the name before we tear the shit up”). Wolves inches the other two albums just slightly, in its complexity of form and content. But each is a stunner on its own merits, and taken entire, the trilogy (triptych?) presents one of so-called underground hip hop’s strongest talents in top form.

—Eric Waggoner

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