Category Archives: FEATURES

Sleigh Bells: Down The Rabbit Hole


Sleigh Bells’ fourth LP was guided by Infinite Jest and Yeezus

If you see a terrible review of Sleigh Bells’ fourth album, Jessica Rabbit, check the byline carefully. Derek Miller, the sonic architect of the band he shares with vocalist Alexis Krauss, is threatening to review his own LP.

“I could eviscerate each of our records and just completely discredit them. I could also make cases for why they’re singular and really inspiring. I should write the worst review of my own record and just publish it,” says Miller, laughing at the thought.

Not that Miller isn’t happy with the album, which is, by far, the duo’s most adventurous, dense and varied. Jessica Rabbit is still explosive, still built on hard riffs and thunderous drum-machine beats, but it pushes farther at the edges, venturing into sweet electro-pop and bruising hardcore while adding dense sonic layers and disorienting tempo shifts. Whereas Treats, the Brooklyn band’s 2010 debut, was hook-heavy and singsong catchy, Jessica Rabbit is complex and challenging.

“Some people are going to fucking love it; some people are going to fucking hate it,” says Miller. “I enjoy both reactions, as long as they’re both considered. As long as the person on the other end is passionate about it, I can handle it.”

Sleigh Bells is all about extremes. Early songs like “Infinity Guitars,” “Tell ’Em,” and “Crown On The Ground” were stark and immediate. Part of the band’s original concept was for Krauss to sing in a detached, unemotional voice that would contrast with the visceral power of the tracks. “We called it, jokingly—I’ll probably regret saying this—the dead-baby-doll voice,” says Miller. That timbre quickly evolved, however, and especially on Jessica Rabbit, Krauss occasionally shifts to abrasive yelling that verges on unhinged.

Miller is in a very different place now than when the duo created Treats. “I probably would get in a fistfight with that dude if I met him today,” he says. “I don’t like where I was when I made that record. I was reeling from a tragedy and I was getting fucked up a lot. With Treats, by and large, there was just a black cloud hanging over me the entire time. Reign Of Terror as well. Had it not been for Alexis, I would probably be in the ground.”

Miller began to get himself together at the end of the Reign Of Terror touring cycle in early 2013, and “was much more present” during the making of and tour for Bitter Rivals.

A scan of song titles on Jessica Rabbit suggests that the black cloud is not forgotten: “Throw Me Down The Stairs,” “Hyper Dark,” “I Can’t Stand You Anymore” and, perhaps most succinctly, “Unlimited Dark Paths.”

“Yeah, there are quite a few ways that you can destroy yourself,” he says. “But I try to counter those things. I try to create a balance so it’s not just a straight downer the entire time because that’s not how I experience life. It’s not all sunshine and flowers. But now it’s OK for me to address those things without feeling awful.”

On Jessica Rabbit, that balance often comes abruptly. “Unlimited Dark Paths” jumps from a minor to a major key at the end, and the video ends with a banner that declares “Keep Faith.” “I hope it leaves you with something soothing and hopefully inspiring after a little bit of punishment,” says Miller.

Tempos shift radically and unexpectedly in the middle of songs; harsh synth lines juxtapose with electric guitars. Kanye West’s 2014 Yeezus album (Miller’s favorite of the decade thus far) and tour prompted Miller to experiment with the arrangements on Jessica Rabbit.

“It was just incredibly inspiring and had a profound effect on me,” he says of seeing West’s Yeezus performance. “More than anything, it made me believe in myself. I left really believing in any and every idea that I had, and I was willing to execute the wildest shit that I could think of. A track like ‘Rule Number One’ arrangement-wise would have been really different had I not heard Yeezus. Some of the arrangements on this record are a little more challenging and frustrating. I enjoy that.”

David Foster Wallace also inspired Miller. “I finished Infinite Jest for the first time in 2012 or 2013,” he says. “Without even getting into the book itself or David Foster Wallace, I couldn’t believe the amount of work it would take to complete something so considered and so focused and so long. It’s 1,076 pages. It made me feel really lazy, and that’s a good thing. I realized I wasn’t working hard enough, so I just really tried to step up my game in every way, shape and form. I just busted my ass on this record. Lyrics were never a thing that I really considered; they were just something that needed to be done because a song needs lyrics. Infinite Jest changed that for me as well. I felt like I was ignoring this whole other facet of a record that you could engage with.”

Miller is proud of Jessica Rabbit, but he’s already rethinking it. For one of the first live performances of “Hyper Dark,” Miller overhauled the song. “I went and started fucking with it,” he says. “I bounced a bunch of new stems, made a new intro to it, cleaned up some of the verse parts, wrote new guitar parts, etc. I’ve never done that before, and I really enjoyed it.”

Not that he’s going to act like Kanye West with the ever-evolving versions of The Life Of Pablo and revamp Jessica Rabbit. But he could still write that scathing review.

“I wanted to make the best thing that I had ever made, and that was it. I don’t feel that I have; I do feel like I failed a little bit. There are about five or six tracks that I still love deeply, but I already have issues with about two-thirds of it. This is not what I should be saying to our fans right now. I should be saying it’s the greatest thing in the world! I tried; I did my best.”

—Steve Klinge

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This Wild Life: Into The Great Wide Open


This Wild Life makes love songs for the disconsolate

This Wild Life—the duo of Kevin Jordan and Anthony Del Grosso—didn’t plan to be acoustic rockers. “We started off as a four-piece band with me on electric guitar and Anthony on drums,” says Jordan. “It slowly evolved, or devolved, into the two of us playing guitars and singing harmonies. It started when I did an acoustic version of ‘Ripped Away,’ one of our full-band songs, at a show. People liked the timbre of my voice, when I wasn’t shouting to be heard over the sound of the band.

“We wrote songs on acoustic but never played them outside of our bedrooms. When we decided to be an acoustic duo, we had to learn how to play standing up with a guitar strap. It was a slow transition.”

This Wild Life shows became known for the emotional intensity Jordan and Del Grosso create with two guitars and two voices. On record, they flesh out the arrangements with drums, bass and string, arrangements created with their producer, Copeland’s Aaron Marsh. On Low Tides, their current outing, they move from simple folk strumming to cinematic pop. “We wanted a stripped-down sound, but Aaron told us the songs might be more captivating if we layered them up a bit,” he says. “We decided to see where the big, open arrangements took us.”

The album’s intimate songs are delivered with an expansive assortment of acoustic and electric sounds that intensify Jordan’s candid lyrics and the duo’s burnished harmonies. “The feelings we put in the songs are difficult to get off your chest,” he says. “You have to deal with the repercussions you get when writing about people in your life and worrying how they’ll react to it. So far, people appreciate the sincerity and openness of what we sing about, even when it’s brutally honest.”

—j. poet

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LVL UP: Slanted And Enchanting


With album number three, LVL UP continues to give you indie rock

It’s a sunny Friday afternoon in August, and Dave Benton is at his Bed Stuy apartment with fellow singer/guitarist Mike Caridi. Their band LVL UP only has a few more pre-production checklist items—video shoot, festival appearance—before kicking into full-on promo mode for Return To Love, their terrific third LP and first for Sub Pop.

It’s relatively close to where the band got its start—just an hour’s drive from SUNY Purchase—but in a similar sense, it’s a world away. More music fans, more places to gig, more industry. And the album’s growth moves in tandem: Return To Love is a confident, driving set of power pop in the vein of Neutral Milk Hotel’s blown-out acoustic fuzz and Nada Surf’s riff-driven harmonies. By comparison, 2014’s Hoodwink’d—released on the band’s label, Double Double Whammy—was more of a pop-punk/indie-rock affair akin to early Pavement, while 2011’s Space Brothers was essentially a compilation of lo-fi, GBV-esque jams recorded in fits and starts at school.

“I think Purchase allowed us to build some sort of confidence in our set,” says Caridi, who has spoken of the school’s DIY scene as an incubator in the past. “There was a really positive and supportive community there, which made it easier to start going out and playing in NYC on weekends.”

The album was recorded with longtime friend and collaborator Mike Ditrio over 20 days at Park Slope’s Seaside Lounge. Even though it was their first time in a proper studio, the only pressure came from LVL UP—not its new label.

“When we talked with everyone at Sub Pop, we told them we’ve always been very hands on,” says Caridi. “We’ve done the recording ourselves, working with our friends, releasing on our own label. They really respected that, and let us have that same control while helping bring it to a larger audience.”

It’s an outlook they try to bring to Double Double Whammy, which currently boasts a strong roster of indie-rock buzzmakers like Frankie Cosmos and Free Cake For Every Creature.

“We handle the bands the way we want a label to handle us,” says Caridi. “Or at least we try the best we can with the resources we have.”

“I think being in a band has helped keep the label grounded, never dark sided,” says Benton. “I think a lot of those big indie labels, they seem like big companies and they do make a lot of money, but at the end of the day they’re started by people like us.”

—John Vettese

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Beach Slang: Teenage Fanclub


Beach Slang finds perfection in the sounds of adolescence

After 15 years of writing and playing with Philadelphia punk-rock favorites Weston, James Alex took a break to consider his next move. He went back to art school but never stopped writing songs. Two years ago, he showed one of his new tunes to bass player Ed McNulty and drummer JT Flexner at an impromptu jam session.

“The right-away-clicking-thing was unique,” says Alex. “There was no idea for a band. I just wanted to hang out with my friends and turn some songs into records. When we actually piled into a room and played together, we knew it deserved to be more.”

He called the band Beach Slang. Its visceral playing and the desperate honesty of the songs he wrote struck an immediate chord. In a year, the guys went from local favorites to an international touring unit. The title of their second album, A Loud Bash Of Teenage Feelings, sums up the band’s approach. “A British journalist asked me to describe the sound of the band. I said, ‘A loud bash of teenage feelings,’” says Alex. “As soon as I said it, I knew it was meant to stick. The teenage thing is a mash of optimism and angst, conviction and open-mindedness. It’s breaking rules, it’s freedom, finding your voice, being terrified, being heroic, falling in love, sneaking cigarettes. It’s glorious and a fucking mess. It’s perfect.

“I read this interview with Charles Thompson/Black Francis/Frank Black,” says Alex. “He said something about attacking the guitar and primal screaming until he had an ‘eargasm.’ That’s my approach—going at the thing until you have that weirdo moment that stops you. Then you know you’ve got something worth chasing. I make very few decisions with my head. They mostly just charge from the gut. There’s a reckless urgency that’s wildly necessary to what Beach Slang is.”

—j. poet

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The Wytches: Fly By Night


The Wytches’ eclectic second album breathes (and runs) deep

We’re speaking with Kristian Bell, singer/songwriter for the Wytches. We’re discussing the U.K. band’s sophomore release All Your Happy Life and its overt influences, from hardcore punk to dark metal. We’re also talking about the myriad wonders of Paul McCartney’s Ram, the Monsters Of Folk project, Australian psychedelic septet King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard and Alice Coltrane’s outstanding third solo album, 1970’s Ptah, The El Daoud, which Bell’s been listening to a lot lately. In sum, a conversation that ranges among all the components of the Wytches’ heady brew, a mix of styles and reference points that are all the more impressive when you consider how young a band Wytches is, individually and collectively.

All Your Happy Life is both an extension of the Wytches’ clangorous thunder and a rewarding progression beyond it. Annabel Dream Reader, the band’s 2014 debut, received solid notices, with many reviewers noting the deep well of dark late-’60s psychedelia from which the music drew. Yet that description clearly touched on only one aspect of the music (the Wytches themselves cheekily suggested “surf doom” as an alternative). Though it often sounds as hard as their first record, All Your Happy Life is more expansive musically and in terms of production.

“I’ve always loved albums that move among different styles,” says Bell. “It makes for a more interesting record. On Annabel we went for a heavy garage sound.” (Bell, along with Coral’s Bill Ryder-Jones, co-produced that record.) “But we wanted to layer the music on this one live in the studio. We made a conscious decision not to stylize it much beyond using basic amp settings.”

Over two sessions in 2015, Wytches recorded at The Chapel in Lincolnshire with Tim Morris, and Toe Rag with Luke Oldfield. The material from the latter, including the pounding “Ghost House” and “Can’t Face It,” works familiar sonic territory, but the Chapel sessions with Morris yielded lighter, more spacious music, of which “Crest Of Death” and lovely album-closer “Home” highlight some of the softer, spacier influences in the band’s approach.

The shifts in tone and approach have caught Wytches some flak from less flexible listeners who’d prefer their metal relentlessly heavy, but Bell and Co. are committed to mixing up their approach as they continue making music.

“We all have really opposing tastes,” he says, “but there are a few preferences we all share, like hardcore punk: Blacklisted, early AFI, that kind of thing. ‘Can’t Face It’ was our take at a hardcore gang-vocal, all of us gathered around one mic. It was very nostalgic, like something I would have done at age 14. Some people do want the music to stay heavy and energetic, which I love too, but I always like it when bands switch up after their first record. There’s a lot of trippy music happening now, in both England and America, all kinds of unexpected and unorthodox methods you can apply. We played with King Gizzard in Liverpool, and it was so great to watch that crowd. Older fans standing next to 14-year-old kids, everybody enjoying it. No one has to feel weird.”

—Eric Waggoner

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Warpaint: The Un-Breakup


There was talk that Warpaint might be over, but instead the band decided to stay together

“If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy,” Dale Carnegie once observed. And such wisdom isn’t lost on Warpaint bassist/vocalist Jenny Lee Lindberg, who only two years ago had toured so rigorously behind the group’s last eponymous album that she actually began to doubt she would ever record another.

“We were pretty spent,” she says. “And there was definitely talk of, ‘Maybe we don’t want to do this’ or ‘Maybe we should take a really long break.’ And, at the end of the day, that’s not what anybody really wanted. But it’s easy to threaten that when you’re tired and burnt out, and you just want to go home and chill out.”

Doubts dispelled, Warpaint—which also includes vocalist/guitarist Emily Kokal, co-singer/guitarist Theresa Wayman and drummer Stella Mozgawa—has returned with its third release, Heads Up, easily the band’s most adventurous. Co-produced with longtime associate Jacob Bercovici (who had helmed the quartet’s self-issued 2008 debut EP, Exquisite Corpse), it boasts sonically inventive numbers like the jazzy, jittery “Above Control,” a gothic-stark “Today Dear,” the Joy Division-ish “The Stall,” a bouncy, buoyant “New Song,” funky R&B march “So Good” and a skeletal “Whiteout,” awash in ethereal three-part harmonies. And the women hit such a milestone by getting busy, workwise—just not with each other.

“We took a break, maybe about a year off, and we all went and did our own thing,” says Lindberg, who wrote, recorded and toured a bass-heavy solo album called right on! under the lower-case moniker jennylee. Simultaneously, Kokal worked with folk-rocker Paul Bergmann, Mozgawa cut sessions with Kurt Vile and Andy Clockwise, and Wayman formed her own spinoff combo, BOSS, with Hot Chip’s Sarah Jones and All We Are’s Guro Gikling. “And I think that was really good for us, because when we came back to Warpaint, we were all very refreshed and inspired. And we had to learn things by not working with each other, which came in nice and handy when we finally returned to recording.”

Camaraderie was never a problem. “We’ve been good friends for a long time, and Emily and Theresa grew up together, and I met them when they were 19,” says the 35-year-old Lindberg, whose sister—actress Shannyn Sossamon—was one of Warpaint’s founding members (she later dropped out). “And it’s ridiculous how much we hang out— if there’s something going on, we’ll all go together, and we definitely go get dinner a lot or just coffee. As a band, we’re all really close.”

Thus, working alone proved startling at first. But they soon got comfortable composing material in their separate home studios, an approach that shaped Heads Up, when the members—instead of jamming together, like they usually did—brought their own material into Warpaint’s main House On The Hill studio in downtown Los Angeles for collaborative tinkering.

Lindberg—who had grown more confident as a singer, courtesy of her side project— came up with the seriously spooky bass line for “The Stall” at the home she shared with her video-director ex-husband Chris Cunningham and their pet labradoodle. She brought the riff in for her comrades to hear, and Mozgawa immediately started thumping the beat, while Kokal added impromptu vocals. Then Wayman plugged in guitar filigrees to the finished mix. “So it was really challenging for her, because it was about knowing when to leave space,” says Lindberg, “and when not to.”

On “So Good,” Wayman and Lindberg switched instruments. “Don’t Let Go” began as Lindberg’s simple vocals-and-acoustic-guitar demo—“Then the girls put everything else on in the studio, and we all sang it together,” she says. And “Don’t Let Go” was a ghost from Kokal’s past, a dirge she recorded at 18. What did Warpaint learn from the experience? “After making my own record, it was a lot easier for me to take a step back and let things happen naturally, without having to control them,” says Lindberg. “Because there’s four of us, we’re always having to agree and be on the same page, and that can be tedious in itself, and it also takes up a lot of time. But it was great because—at the end of the day—we were all on the same page. And I didn’t feel like I had to speak my mind and express myself, because this is all I have.”

—Tom Lanham

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EZTV: Easy To Love


EZTV explores record-geek rock both old and new

“The stuff we’re interested in now is kind of the threads of music that didn’t get picked up,” says Shane O’Connell, bass player for EZTV. “Emitt Rhodes was obviously following a certain kind of Paul McCartney thread, and I feel like that lineage kind of stopped with him. Bands like that, where they picked something up but never really caught on, is the stuff we’re interested in.”

Although O’Connell’s comments make it sound like EZTV is some sort of archival project, that’s not the case. Yes, the trio of O’Connell, guitarist/principal songwriter Ezra Tenenbaum and drummer Michael Stasiak are self-proclaimed “record geeks and recording geeks” who tend to mention cult artists such as Lee Hazlewood, Bert Jansch and Tucker Zimmerman as points of reference. And High In Place, the trio’s excellent second album, is full of the kind of ringing 12-string guitars, gentle melodies and gauzy harmonies that will appeal to fans of vintage power pop (and to Jenny Lewis and Real Estate’s Martin Courtney, both of whom appear on the record). But the album sounds timeless rather than time-bound, classic rather than classicist.

“I’m sort of someone who gets into a couple albums really hard and am maybe not too adventurous,” says Tenenbaum. “I was listening to this Chris Cohen record that Captured Tracks put out and really liking it. And I was showing Michael some of the songs I was writing, and he said, ‘Oh, this sounds like Big Star or Teenage Fanclub.’ I was like, ‘Really? It does?’ So it was almost by accident. Checking out these things and discovering, ‘Wow, maybe this is more in the subconscious than I think.’”

“There’s definitely records out there that are Record Collector Rock,” says Stasiak, who worked at Other Music, the beloved but recently shuttered East Village record store. “I don’t think we’re one of those bands. I feel we dabble as much as we can within a certain set of precepts. A good, great pop song, you can do it in any style. When you boil it to its essence, it’s just some chords, a rhythm and a lyrical melody. If that’s good, if that’s solid, people will just like it.”

—Steve Klinge

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Merchandise: American Gothic


On its sophomore LP, Merchandise channels the darkness of 2016

“In their obsessive concern for the health of their political leadership, they were miraculously able to ignore a far greater threat to their own well-being.”

That line is taken from a J.G. Ballard short story—the same British science-fiction acolyte who penned The Atrocity Exhibition (which inspired Joy Division’s song of the same name) and Crash (a novel that so moved Siouxsie Sioux that she wrote “Miss The Girl” for her side project, the Creatures)—entitled “The Secret History Of World War 3.” This dystopian fantasy set in the mid-’90s imagines a U.S. Congress so desperate for command and control that it passes a constitutional amendment in order to bring an aging Ronald Reagan out of political retirement, only to watch his health falter at the precise moment when his country needs him most—becoming “a corpse wired for sound,” an immobilized vessel providing only symbolic guidance for an ailing, aimless nation. Written in 1990, it could just as easily have been penned today for all the Donald Trump absurdity it anticipates.

Ballard’s story also happens to be a key catalyst for the Tampa, Fla., band Merchandise’s sophomore album, A Corpse Wired For Sound. Or as singer/songwriter Carson Cox puts it, “Lyrically, the album is dealing with some weird literary themes we’ve never really addressed before. And Ballard was such a moral writer; he seems like someone who would’ve been insulted at the way government, society and religion—essentially every aspect of institutionalized life—would say one thing and then do another. Everyone called our last record our ‘end of the world record,’ but that already happened. We’re in weird new territory, somewhere after that. The state of the world is so miserable right now. And I always wanted to be a musician at the end of the world.”

Musically speaking, Merchandise—Cox, plus core members Dave Vassalotti (guitar, electronics), Pat Brady (bass) and new drummer Leo Suarez—has evolved into a hybrid of goth’s finest hour (think the Mission, Bauhaus and its various baritone-voiced offshoots) spliced with the dreamy textures often associated with groups such as Ride or Cocteau Twins. Where the band once kept true to its Floridian punk roots by recording early efforts in a closet, the new album is a more proper studio affair, featuring tracks produced in Italy, Berlin and New York City in addition to its home turf. With Maurizio Baggio helping to sculpt the resulting maelstrom into a more fully formed whole, Merchandise emerges as more of a British-sounding nocturnal concern than its earlier incarnations, with the first single, “Flower of Sex,” stomping aggressively toward you with drums that hit like medieval battering rams and phased guitars storming through the track like a noisy summer squall.

“End Of The Week” churns in a similarly sinister fashion (with Cox crooning Burroughs-indebted stream-of-consciousness through a white-hot metallic screen), while epic closer “My Dream Is Yours” suspends all drumming until the three-minute mark before pummeling listeners into a puddle. The sounds are towering, the impact is visceral. Which is a considerable achievement when the album’s peripatetic roots and long-distance collaboration model between band members are fully taken into account.

Having left Tampa for a time, Cox’s residencies in New York City and Berlin afforded the album a street-tough ruggedness that Merchandise had never achieved. But these experiences have also gilded that edge with an intellect and curiosity that was always lurking just beneath the surface.

“I was reading Henry Miller when I was living in New York,” he says. “You can walk down those streets where he lived even now. But growing up in a weird place like Florida, seeing that stuff on TV or reading about it, there’s a huge barrier between you and the lives they lived. You can’t imagine yourself doing it. You have no access to it. If anything sticks around long enough, that style—no matter how personal—becomes fashion. I don’t think anyone my age had any cool experiences with music or art growing up. We started out corny as fuck, which is why irony is such a big thing, I guess.”

Ironic or not, in a year this dark with foreboding, Merchandise gives the impression that it very much means it.

—Corey duBrowa

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GOAT: Masked And Anonymous


Swedish psych/folk/world-music collective GOAT gets down to basics on its third album

The members of GOAT, as you may or may not know, perform in elaborate masks and costumes, and use pseudonyms when speaking with the press, which they do only rarely. So when we are informed that the band member we’re about to be connected with has asked to go by “Goatface Killah” for the purposes of this interview, well, one wants to be accommodating.

Mr. Killah, whoever he may be, is actually quite forthcoming about Requiem, GOAT’s third album and a heady mix of energetic—what? World folk? Psychedelic jazz? Acoustic tripout soundtrack for a movie in your head? There’s a little of all of this on Requiem, a deeply melodic, groove-based record that dresses its compositions in roomy acoustic world-music instrumentation. Think Sun Ra’s mid- to late-1960s “outside” jazz, or Popol Vuh’s drone-y, dazy soundtracks for Werner Herzog, and you have the heart of it.

“We listen to a lot of music that feels very organic,” says Goatface, as we discuss the new album’s turn toward acoustic forms and tones. African and Asian rhythms and scales have always informed GOAT’s collaborative composition process. The band’s previous records, 2012’s World Music and 2014’s Commune (pronounced like the verb, not the noun, which we found out the hard way), fed those influences through the pedal-and-effects-box machinery of psychedelic rock. Requiem, though heavily overdubbed, was mostly performed live in the room on unprocessed instruments. The sound of that live space gives the album a kind of immediate, organic intimacy that’s new to the band’s music.

“I think in some ways this is the best album of the three,” says Goatface. “It’s not so hard, so fast. It has a more folkish vibe, more laid back. I think, too, it may be more interesting than the last two. It’s got a good, big sound. I like that it has the feeling of many double albums, in that it’s not so direct. You have to hear it for a while, then maybe lay it down for a couple of months or years and pick it up again, and you can hear something else in it.”

True enough. What strikes you first about Requiem is the sheer heft of the grooves and melodies on it. Strong, instantly memorable melodic lines are what you note on first listen, but with repeated plays, the intricacies of the improvisations on those lines become apparent.

“We try to keep the performances simple, in that we’re not controlling the process,” says Goatface. “Not everyone in the band has to be around for the first recording part. Could be two people, could be 10. Some people start the song, other people finish it.” (How many members are actually in GOAT? If you find out, write us c/o the masthead address.) “A lot of these songs never have a real ending. You record a groove, and add overdubs, and it feels OK. Beginnings and endings don’t really matter. It’s about getting that raw feeling into it.”

The construction of Requiem began a little more than a year ago, at which point the turn to acoustic forms wasn’t a part of the plan. There was no plan to be a part of at that time, which is the way GOAT prefers to work. “We never plan anything when we start out recording,” says Goatface. “Along the way it becomes what it is. We began to use more acoustic guitars and flutes, and ended up playing that way more than we’d done before. At some point, an album starts to take shape in your mind, and then you start putting the pieces together.”

For such an energetic record, the title seems a little incongruous. Goatface notes that Requiem was more metaphorical than descriptive: “The title for many reasons seemed to fit. The last album was darker. This one I feel is more ‘happy,’ creatively, somehow. With this album, we come full circle with something. We don’t know exactly what, yet. We’ll see.”

That intuitive approach infuses both the music and the spirit of the GOAT project. “The key thing that we try to do, always, is not think at all of what we’re doing, to try not to control the creativity in any way, or put up any obstacles or boundaries,” says Goatface. “All the music we listen to probably comes out in ours, but the simplicity of our music is something that’s key to what we do.”

—Eric Waggoner

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The Minders: Still Right As Rain


Martyn Leaper flows into adulthood with Into The River, the first Minders album in a decade

Since forming in 1996, Martyn Leaper and the Minders have morphed from Elephant 6 darlings to twee-pop anarchists, throwing love bombs and denouncing nothing. Most non-fans remember the Minders’ auspicious 1998 debut, Hooray For Tuesday, and its unfairly derided follow-up, 2001’s Golden Street, but the band was active until 2006’s slight-but-lovely It’s A Bright Guilty World. That year also marked the divorce of British ex-pat/Minders’ sole constant Leaper and drummer/founding member Rebecca Cole. The Minders’ only interim release has been the second, mp3 web-only iteration of their odds-and-sods Cul-De-Sacs And Dead Ends. In the gap, Leaper wrote and demoed new songs when he could crowbar it into his 40-hour work week. In 2012, he began documenting those songs with a coterie of musicians from his Portland, Ore., home base, including Cole. Along with renowned producer Larry Crane (Elliott Smith, Sleater-Kinney), Leaper began finding the thread of Into The River, the first actual Minders studio work in a decade.

“I wanted to make a good record that flowed from beginning to end and makes sense,” says Leaper. “One reason it took so long is I don’t make a living from doing this, so I have to work, and I was trying to fit this in as much as possible. If the songs weren’t there, I’d just wait. I’d have an idea and go, ‘Yeah, that’s exactly what I need to do next to that song,’ and the record’s style started to take shape.”

Into The River doesn’t follow a narrative arc, but a central theme evolved over the writing/recording process. The title track’s arrival late in the game crystallized Leaper’s thoughts about the album as a whole.

“The words came together very quickly. When I got the title, I was like, ‘Oh, that should be the record,’” he says. “It’s about being pulled along by the strong currents of life. When I started writing these songs, it was the beginning of the recession and I’d gone through my divorce. Into The River is going into the fray of a number of problems and maladies, the travails of adult life. It’s not a sugary sweet twee-pop record; I guess it’s a grown-up record.”

Leaper’s musical accompaniment on Into The River includes the Minders’ current touring version, which coalesced during sessions two years ago. With so many working parts and so much elapsed time, Into The River’s cohesion is a testament to Leaper’s malleable vision and Crane’s estimable skills.

“It was done in one place with one producer, that’s why it sounds consistent,” says Leaper. “Larry’s steady hand in guiding sessions is how we were able to keep everything together. And he made really good suggestions. A lot of the approach was ‘less is more’ although there’s some busyness going on. That might actually be my fault, but Larry was able to steer it along.”

Into The River retains Leaper’s natural Britpop tendencies, while veering into more emotionally rich territory, which he credits to his exposure to country and Americana music. The triumphant baroque pop of “It’s Gonna Break Out” bristles like Beatles-influenced Smiths, while “Summer Song” bubbles like Robert Pollard channeling Pete Townshend.

But the title track’s two distinct versions are the album’s crown jewels, the first a bare-bones arrangement of Cole on piano and Leaper on vocals, the second a full-band work-up. The stripped-back version suggests an almost baptismal connection to the river in the title, while the fuller version accentuates Leaper’s “river as life” intention.

“I got drawn in by the strong emotional undercurrents of country music from the ’50s and ’60s,” says Leaper. “When you go through a breakup and listen to that stuff, it’s a way to cleanse and extract your dark emotions. It draws it out of you. That’s what I was thinking with that song.”

—Brian Baker

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