Tag Archives: the verge

The Verge: Friends

Friends, apart from being the latest in a string of un-Googleable buzz bands, makes singularly tight pop songs. Not future pop or nightmare pop, but weird pop (as they call it).

The band’s music began as demos recorded by Samantha Urbani, who decided – after years of writing and recording music – to finally share her work with audiences. The Bushwick band came together through a mix of history (Urbani has known Lesley Hann since 2nd grade) and happenstance (fleeing bedbugs, Hann and Oliver Duncan stayed with Urbani). Along with Matt Molnar and Nikki Shapiro – and a few jam sessions – the band formerly known as Perpetual Crush played their first show, less than a week after their inception. The jam continues in the band’s live show, which finds the multi-instrumentalists exchanging roles on stage.

Despite designating it weird pop, there’s nothing too weird here. Urbani’s lyrics are sly, her vocals meander but always come back to a solid hook. There is a dance music groove that permeates, thanks to robust percussion and funky basslines. The video for lead single “Friend Crush” is a psychedelic kaleidoscope filled with glitter and costume jewelry.

http://vimeo.com/26066398

While “Friend Crush” is a dreamy tribute to friendship, “I’m His Girl” is all swagger. The lyrics offer an empowered take on relationships, and the video feels like a hip-hop clip out of Brooklyn, circa 1988. The b-side is firmly in the next decade, however: a spot-on cover of Ghost Town DJ’s classic “My Boo.” One of the 90s most memorable hooks, it’s a perfect choice for a band whose music is nostalgic yet forward-thinking. And maybe just a little weird.

Friends open for Ganglians at the Red Palace on Tuesday, November 15.

The Verge: Purity Ring

For the last few years, the spectrum of outsider pop – all things indie and/or electronic – has been dominated by a specific type of power duo, comprised of a male behind the boards and a female singer upfront. Whether it’s a bit sexist and regressive, or simply expedient, the formulation doesn’t seem to be going away. The next in the line of such duos owes much to those before them, especially the likes of The Knife, Beach House, and even Sleigh Bells.

Purity Ring is a self-described “future pop” act formed by Corin Roddick (of electro band Born Gold) and vocalist Megan James (a classically trained pianist in her own right). Roddick’s background as a drummer is evident in the percussion-lead music. Over just a few songs, Purity Ring keeps the instrumentation of synth pop and discards the 80s dance instinct. Instead, the songs are dominated by the skittering of grooves of R&B and hip hop.

The Canadian duo’s first offering was this summer’s “Ungirthed,” a swirling mix of wobbling bass, back-masked, cascading percussion, and James’ airy vocals. The B-side, “Lofticries,” is the minor key flip to the major key of “Ungirthed,” with similar ghostly effects and vocals. James’ lyrics tend towards the vague yet sinister; lines like “weepy skin with trembling thighs” are disarmed by the childlike innocence of her tone.


The duo has also remixed a couple of songs, following the same formula of their own compositions. Their take on S.C.U.M.’s “Summon the Sound” strips away the original’s feedback-heavy shoegaze, but don’t be lulled – there’s still an invigorating, rumbling movement halfway through. Similarly, Purity Ring’s remix of Disclosure’s “I Love… That You Know” is more sparse than the UK garage original.


Purity Ring’s latest song is their strongest yet. “Belispeak” has a propellant groove throughout, only hinted at on their first single. Icy arpeggios and metallic programmed beats provide the edge they’ll need to break out of the dream pop box. Purity Ring’s setup might not be novel, but their eery tones and forward-thinking beats certainly do the trick.


Purity Ring plays the Black Cat on Wednesday.

The Verge: Neon Hitch

Another day, another UK singer-songwriter. But unlike contemporaries Adele, Leona Lewis and Jessie J, this one didn’t attend the BRIT School, Croydon’s prestigious star-maker academy.

English by birth but a gypsy by nature, Neon Hitch (yes, her real name) grew up traveling across Europe – by bus – as a street performer and trapeze artist. She ran away to India at the age of 16 before returning to London, where she took up singing and songwriting. Before she even released a song, she was touring with The Streets and 50 Cent.

Hitch caught the ear of pop hitmaker Benny Blanco (Britney, Katy, Bieber, Ke$ha, etc.), who helped her sign a production deal with EMI and a record deal with Warner Bros. She’s already written songs for Ke$ha (“Blah Blah Blah”) and Sky Ferreira (“Traces”), and her own material has that same type of sexy, electro-pop sheen.

She’s currently working on her debut Beg Borrow and Steal with Blanco, and two advance singles give a taste of what listeners can expect. Hitch covers her pop bases: “Get Over U” is the female empowerment anthem and “Bad Dog” is the slut-pop jam (“You know I’m yours so rip my clothes off… Just come inside my cage you bad dog”). Like Fugative before her, her singles have been remixed by notable underground producers including DJ Chuckie, Borgore, and Dave Nada, the latter of whom gave a “moombahbased” twist to “Get Over U.”

[wpaudio url=”https://postcultural.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/03-get-over-u-dave-nada-moombahbased-remix.mp3″ text=”Neon Hitch – Get Over U (Dave Nada Moombahbased Remix)” dl=0]

While her singles have generated a bit of buzz, it’s her genre-hopping cover songs that are really making waves. After taking on songs by Wiz Khalifa (“On My Level“) and Mac Miller (“Donald Trump“), Hitch tackled the hit-of-the-moment, Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci.” Her version is more soulful, with pounding drums and a mellow melody. It’s the kind of cover that stands on it’s own legs, and should have this gypsy living on the grid soon enough.

The Verge: Wise Blood

Wise Blood‘s DNA is difficult to unravel. The Pittsburgh noise-pop collagist (aka Chris Laufman) composes – or perhaps compiles – simple pop songs by piecing together samples with his own vocals. In the age of the sample, Wise Blood’s songs stand out because these little ghosts in the machine have souls.

His self-released ‘+’ plays out like a spliced four-track tape. With five songs in less than ten minutes, a melody lodges itself in your brain just as the next song starts, like a half-remembered dream. The samples are juxtaposed for effect, but the sum is always greater than the parts: “B.i.g. E.g.o.” is mostly built on a 2Pac interview, the drums from “When the Levee Breaks,” and Laufman’s airy falsetto.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/big_ego.mp3″ text=”Wise Blood – B.i.g. E.g.o.” dl=0]

“Here Comes the Sun” and “Mi + Amore” foreshadow the lo-fi blues of last year’s double A-side “Solo (‘4’ Claire)”/”Rot My Brain.” An additional two songs (and four minutes) in his catalog finds Wise Blood moving from gutter-bound 8 bar blues to sweeping atmospherics and gospel samples.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Wise-Blood-Rot-My-Brain-Away.mp3″ text=”Wise Blood – Rot My Brain Away” dl=0]

On These Wings, out digitally tomorrow on Dovecote Records, Wise Blood sharpens the edges while continuing to craft pop that eats itself. Like that iconic break from “When the Levee Breaks,” drums serve as a heartbeat, albeit with pneumatic precision, throughout the EP. The samples are warm and bluesy, from increasingly disparate sources.

Wise Blood’s vocals are a bit twisted and higher in the mix this time (thankfully), with lyrics that are equal parts hip hop swagger, Delta bluesman, and Satanic/revival preacher – the only combination that could result in “But baby I’m no man / I’ve got to confess / I’ll probably kill you / just to try on your dress” on “The Lion.” On “Loud Mouths,” he combines jazzy piano melody, the skittering hi-hats of CREEP’s “Days,” and bits of church choirs and R&B singers into a haunting mix.

Wise Blood – These Wings by Dovecote Records

Earlier this year, I saw Wise Blood open for Esben and the Witch, and I walked away impressed. Laufman’s visceral energy sets him apart from his bedroom contemporaries. For someone who wants to “take over pop music,” it’s a good start.

Wise Blood plays DC9 this Wednesday with Supreme Cuts and Earth Alien Hybrid.

The Verge: Phonic Riot

It’s been over thirty years since someone at Sounds magazine invented the term “post punk” to describe Siouxie and the Banshees. Maybe it’s time to come up with something new to describe the strain of introspective music, distorted and dissonant, that flows from Joy Division through My Bloody Valentine to the present. Because let’s face it, “shoegaze” and “noise rock” still sound derisive to me.

With that in mind, there’s something admirable about DC act Phonic Riot describing their music with the portmanteau “psychodramaticgaragerock.” It may be tongue-in-cheek, but it says something about the band’s approach to their craft. From the unrestrained wall of sound on “Run Nikki Run” to the psychedelic sprawl of “Libertina,” Phonic Riot seem content to draw from their collective consciousness, smash it together, and see what works.

I spoke with the woman behind Phonic Riot, vocalist-guitarist Angela Morrish, about the band’s various configurations, tape-only releases, and being one of Fan Death’s favorite DC acts.

Where did you grow up, and how did you end up in DC?

I grew up in Michigan and ended up in DC through a set of ridiculous circumstances completely unrelated to music. I’ve randomly moved around a lot, i.e relationships, boredom, family. I’ve been here on and off for five years now, mainly because there is a really supportive, albeit small, musical community here that I wanted to be a part of. It felt like a really good place to get my feet wet, and it has been.

Have you played in other bands or with other styles of music?

I messed around a little with a post-rock band and dabbled in bass when I was learning guitar a few years back. I’ve sang in various projects (even some pretty embarrassing metal stuff in high school), but I’ve only seriously pursued writing my own material and putting it out there over the course of the past couple years. It’s all pretty new to me and has come together super fast. I’ve always been a writer, and written songs in my head occasionally recording them, but live performance and the professional end to being a musician is very new thing for me.

I’ve seen various configurations of the band, including you playing just with Nathan Jurgenson, or with a full band. What’s the current line-up, and how did everyone get together?

A lot of the line-up switches were circumstantial. Everything here is pretty tight knit, and people are constantly jamming with other people. Sometimes that sticks, sometimes it doesn’t. My entire approach to music right now is to do what I do, and fill in parts where they’re needed.

I’ve currently been working with Sam Chintha (Antiques/Alcian Blue), John Wood (A Cricket In Times Square) and Alex Rizzo (Dark Sea Dream) for a set of live shows. They’re all super talented and it’s been a privilege to work with them. As for the future, I guess we’ll see what’s in store. The project is definitely still in it’s infant stage.

The bands you name as influences (My Bloody Valentine, A Place To Bury Strangers, Echo And The Bunnymen, etc.) cover the usual post-punk territory, but one thing that sets you apart is your voice. As you developed your talent, who are other singers you’ve looked to for inspiration?

I grew up with a lot of Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, which is where I get my roots in being a lyricist. But that aside, I listen to everything. People who’ve inspired me throughout the years range from Jonsi (Sigor Ros) to Nick Cave; I guess that comes off in my music and my voice. Artistically, I like to experiment with everything.

Recently, there’s been a glut of female-fronted indie bands that make darker music. Who do you feel your contemporaries are, locally and globally?

Zola Jesus is the first name that comes to mind, if we’re speaking in terms of females. Admittedly, I can’t say there are many other “dark” female artists in the mainstream I’ve come across and particularly taken to.

As for peers, one band that everyone needs to look out for is We Are Hex (Indianapolis). Their front woman Jilly Weiss has a killer set of pipes. You don’t get any better than that live. Period. Talk Normal (Brooklyn) is also an insanely good female duo. I’m sure I’m missing others…

With your release on 2,632 Tapes, you’re officially one of the few DC bands Fan Death’s Sean Gray likes. What was the thought process behind a tape-only release?

There’s just something really aesthetically-pleasing to me about tapes and records. Not to mention, CDs just seemed like a waste of money. Everyone just ends up putting them on their iPods anyway. We included mp3 downloads for people without tape decks, but there’s just this rich low-fi sound you get from tapes. When a Phonic Riot album finally drops there is no question the main focus will be on records for that very reason. The quality is just so much better. But, I am also a person who prefers bookstores to Kindle. Hands down.

Speaking of Sean Gray, Fan Death and musical shoutouts: Clockcleaner and Puerto Rico Flowers. Anyone who hasn’t checked them out DO IT. Talk about music that has inspired me recently. Props to him (and that label) for putting that music out there.

What’s next for the band, as far as new music and releases?

New music is always in the works, but I have plans to record all of the songs currently worked into the live sets this fall. I’m still looking into where all of that is going to happen, but it absolutely is.

What can audiences expect from a Phonic Riot live show?

It’s pretty incredible to me to see how much my music has evolved in little over year, through the contribution of other people and performing. On that note the performance is constantly growing and changing, and hopefully keeping the audience intrigued. The songs at the core however remain the same, and people can count on seeing them – and the overly emotional girl who wrote them – every time.

Phonic Riot plays the Velvet Lounge on Monday, August 22, and in Silver Spring on Thursday, August 25 as part of the Sonic Circuits festival. In the meantime, preview the tracks off their 2,632 Tapes release, or better yet, dust off your tape deck and buy a copy.


The Verge: WU LYF

A recurring topic at this week’s Me Against the Music panel was anonymity in the digital age: how bands like Tennis and Cults, or entire scenes like witch house, have generated buzz by cultivating a sense of mystery.

Manchester band WU LYF has taken that lesson to heart. Until recently sitting for interviews, they were defined by the lack of press knowledge of the band. WU LYF, pronounced “woo life,” is an acronym for World Unite! Lucifer Youth Foundation. Comprised of Ellery Roberts (vocals, keyboards), Tom McClung (bass), Evans Kati (guitar), and Joe Manning (drums), the band’s name suggests some grandiose force to be reckoned with, as does the title of their debut album, Go Tell Fire to the Mountain.

On Go Tell Fire to the Mountain, WU LYF combines the indie rock immediacy of early Modest Mouse with the baroque tendencies of Arcade Fire. Roberts has the “I Could Die On Stage” vocals of Isaac Brock or Frank Black, growling out anthemic lyrics with the fury of a revival minister. In the same vein, church organs power the album, contributing a theatrical, solemn feel. The guitar work is airy but precise, accompanied by basslines and drumming that match Roberts’ ferocity. Compared to their lo-fi and chillwave contemporaries, the band is a breath of fresh air.

Early single “Heavy Pop” and B-side “Concrete Gold” are slow burning odes to nostalgia, obsessed with the familiar themes of lost innocence and feeling at home. The overwhelming passion with which Roberts sings is more than enough to make the simple lyrics seem fresh and poignant.

Two of the album’s standouts have already been paired with videos that are violent and political. “Spitting Blood” is surprisingly catchy, with a bouncy Afrobeat influence and overdubbed vocals. The stark drums that punctuate the epic “Dirt” underscore the song’s – and the band’s – revolutionary spirit (and the outro suggests a different meaning for their name: “World unite, love you forever”). With Go Tell Fire to the Mountain, WU LYF won’t be anonymous for long.

The Verge: Secret Cities

Secret Cities‘ band name suggests forgotten locales, overrun by flora and fauna, eroded by the passage of time. Their music, while not as dire, toys with all things nostalgic and exotic that their name suggests.

Secret Cities was formed by friends – and singers/multi-instrumentalists – Charlie Gokey and Marie “MJ” Parker when they were 15. Growing up at opposite ends of North Dakota, the two traded four-track tape recordings before recruiting drummer Alex Abnos to round out the band, then called the White Foliage. A move to Fargo, a few minor releases and a name change later, the White Foliage became Secret Cities.

Their first record, Pink Graffiti, was released in 2010. It is less folky and more immediate than their work as the White Foliage, stringing together elements from baroque pop and indie rock. Gokey and Parker exchange time on the mic; the male/female vocal dynamic provides a familiar, comforting aspect to the music. Pink Graffiti alternates between the dreamy gaze of tracks like “Aw, Rats” and the hook-driven, xylophone-and-handclap jam “Color.”

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/sc_awrats.mp3″ text=”Secret Cities – Aw, Rats” dl=0]

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/sc_color.mp3″ text=”Secret Cities – Color” dl=0]

After touring to support Pink Graffiti, the band hunkered down in the basement of an abandoned Kansas City bank to record its follow-up, Strange Hearts. The record is more airy and lo-fi than Pink Graffiti, yet warmer and more approachable. It is 30 minutes of 60s-styled pop hooks, from the opener, the sunny, Afrobeat rocker “Always Friends,” to the closer, the bouncy “Portland” (which sounds like Matt and Kim-lite). As comforting as that can be, Secret Cities is at their best playing with the formula a bit, like on “The Park.” A piano ballad in the style of Carole King by-way-of Feist, “The Park” lets Parker truly shine.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/sc_thepark.mp3″ text=”Secret Cities – The Park” dl=0]

The video for “Always Friends” uses a split-screen, double-sided narrative of high school romance to capture the essence of the song, and that of the album: a full spectrum of emotions, with the warm tinge of nostalgia.

Catch Secret Cities at Comet Ping Pong on Monday, June 13, with Mercies and Paperhaus.