Tag Archives: the verge

The Verge: Yuck

I haven’t bestowed “Verge” status on a proper rock band in quite a while, but here goes. Yuck is a London-based indie rock band, but their sound has more in common with US college radio from the 90s than with anything going on in the UK. Because of this, they’re often described as revivalists, which is partially true. As I’ve written about before, 90s revivalism is in full effect, from dance music to hip-hop to noise rock. Twentysomethings cranking out songs in the style of Dinosaur Jr., Pavement, and Smashing Pumpkins was an inevitability.

Yuck’s self-titled debut is full of such songs. Heavy on humbucker riffs and loud-quiet-loud dynamics, Yuck plays like a time capsule from 1993. What sets it apart from so many “saviors of rock” albums is the band’s ability to write and execute hooks, consistently rather than sporadically. The album kicks off with one, the air guitar anthem “Get Away,” which is accompanied by a bug-eyed, fantasy tour video.

The catchy, sing-a-long vibe continues throughout the album, which is littered with rollicking, fuzzed-out jams like “The Wall” and “Georgia,” the latter of which features dual vocals from lead singer Danny Blumberg and his sister Ilana.

True to their indie rock roots, Yuck does “brooding” well, taking a break from rocking to strum some melancholy melodies. “Shook Down” rides the “baby, I want you back” motif acoustically before kicking into a Pumpkins-esque groove under “You can be my destiny / You can mean that much to me.” While I’m making comparisons to grunge bands, “Sunday” reminds me of Hole’s “Doll Parts,” with it’s lilting chorus. In this vein, “Suicide Policeman” is a bit of twee pop with a surprisingly positive sentiment.

Forgive the infantile band name; it’s still better than their last project, one-time hype band Cajun Dance Party. Yuck has been in heavy rotation for me since its February release for a reason: I love the 90s. It was a great time for rock music (for a while, at least), and anyone who can capture that lightening in a bottle is worth a listen.

Apparently, the word is out already: Yuck opens for Tame Impala at a sold-out show this Friday at the Black Cat.

The Verge: Grimes

Increasingly, there is a strand of darkly chilling music that turns the notion of pop music on its head. Practitioners include Bat for Lashes, Esben and the Witch, and Zola Jesus: artists who combine ostensibly pop melodies with darkly experimental touches. From the shoegazey to the baroque, this “nightmare pop” (as Esben and the Witch call it) is haunting and evocative.

The newest addition to this cast is Grimes, the stage name of Montreal’s Claire Boucher. Without any musical instruction, or even a passing knowledge until the age of 18, Grimes crafts twisted little pop songs from a patchwork of influences: dance, folk, and industrial music, among others. Tying everything together is her child-like, strangely beautiful singing voice.

“Vanessa,” the lead single off of Darkbloom (a split with fellow Montrealer d’Eon), has caught the attention across the blogosphere. A strong percussive current runs through the song for an entirely different type of witch house. The kaleidoscopic video is just as lush as the song.

While this may be the first time we’re hearing (and seeing) Grimes, the newcomer has been relatively productive during the last year, releasing a mixtape (Geidi Primes, available below) and an album (Halfaxa, on Arbutus). Geidi Primes is a bedroom-pop sound collage that revels in dichotomies: natural and artificial, East and West, old and new, comforting and abrasive. The sinewy “Rosa” could be a Smith’s tune, and strings collide on the sweeping “Sardaukar Levenbrech.”

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/rosa.mp3″ text=”Grimes – Rosa” dl=0]

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/sardaukar.mp3″ text=”Grimes – Sardaukar Levenbrech” dl=0]

Halfaxa has a more sinister undercurrent than Geidi Primes, mixing out-of-tune interludes with fuller-formed darkwave songs. Synths and electronic instruments are sharper, while the low end resembles the woozy bass of drag. The greatest contrast on Halfaxa is between Boucher’s dreamy, breathy vocals and the unrelenting instrumentation. “Sagrad” starts as a gently-strummed ballad before layers of vocals, harp, and a synth pop beat join the proceedings. Drag influences are heavy on the appropriately-titled “My Sister Says the Saddest Things.”

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/sagrad.mp3″ text=”Grimes – Sagrad” dl=0]

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/sister.mp3″ text=”Grimes – My Sister Says the Saddest Things” dl=0]

Add Grimes to the list of female artists ready and able to challenge the notion of women in pop music as party time sex dolls. Not everyone wants to be Madonna: plenty of people want to be Siouxsie Sioux.

Download: Grimes – Geidi Primes

The Verge: oOoOO

From the sonic graveyard of crosses and triangles that is drag/witch house comes oOoOO. Pronounced “oh,” oOoOO is Christopher Dexter Greenspan, a San Francisco-based producer and pioneer of the nascent sound. Over two EPs, he has staked his claim as the most accessible artist in the intentionally-underground scene.

In January 2010, oOoOO released No Summer4U as a limited-run CD-R on Disaro Records. The disc spun familiar dance pop into macabre soundscapes. Formerly sugary tunes like Nocera’s “Summertime” and Space Cowboy’s “My Egyptian Lover” are transformed into the skittering, synth-heavy “No Summer4U” and “EGYPTYNLVR,” respectively. His remix of “Poker Face” chops and screws the Gaga hit into a detuned funhouse track.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/PCKRFCRMX.mp3″ text=”oOoOO – PCKRFCRMX” dl=0]

His first proper EP, a self-titled 12″ on Tri Angle Records, built on the sounds he established on No Summer4U. Throughout the EP, oOoOO’s songs have faster tempos and more structure than those of his contemporaries, without betraying their gloomy nature. Even under waves of static and a fog of uneasiness, melody is still king. The juked percussion of “mumbai” (which also appears on the CD-R) is a highlight.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/mumbai.mp3″ text=”oOoOO – mumbai” dl=0]

The drag/witch house scene has been percolating for a few years now, and the cream is rising to the top. oOoOO recently did a podcast for FACT Magazine, previewing a new track and moving into unusual but understandable territory (ie Cat Power). Similarly, don’t miss his remix of Marina and the Diamonds’ “Obsessions.” For fans of both pop music and the darkness of drag, oOoOO is the man for all seasons.

Download: FACT Mix 227 – oOoOO

The Verge: Katy B & Jamie Woon

Since its founding in 1991, the BRIT School has quickly become London’s answer to Juilliard (it’s also the kind of public-private partnership I wish we had more of in the United States, but I’ll leave that to other blogs). The BRIT School has schooled a Who’s Who of UK pop stars, including Adele, Amy Winehouse, Imogen Heap, and Leona Lewis. Two more alumni are poised for big things, thanks to symbiotic relationships with electronic music producers.

Fans of UK funky and dubstep are already familiar with Katy B. The 21-year-old chanteuse has appeared on tracks by Geeneus (“As I”) and Magnetic Man (“Perfect Stranger,” “Crossover”). Her hook singing has given a soulful edge to genres known more for their beats than their songwriting. Case in point: she flipped Benga‘s surging “Man on a Mission” into “Katy on a Mission,” a grooving dubstep sing-along. (The Roska remix gets funky, as he is wont to do).

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/katy_on_a_mission_roska_remix.mp3″ text=”Katy B – Katy on a Mission (Roska remix)” dl=0]

On a Mission, her debut album, will be released on April 4 on Rinse and Columbia Records. Avoiding the mistakes of artists before her, the album is loaded with her early hits: just because the blogosphere and the club have heard these songs for a year doesn’t mean the public at large has. Lead single “Lights On” features Ms. Dynamite and is pure UK funky. “Broken Record” is the most mainstream dance track Katy B has released (although her British pronunciation of “record” could prevent this one from breaking through).

While the UK has no shortage of female singer-songwriters (Katy B included), the last decade has also produced a handful of male soul singers, like Jamie Lidell and Jay Sean. To confuse matters, the next in that lineage is another Jamie.

Musical success runs deep in Jamie Woon‘s pedigree. He comes from a long line of professional musicians which includes his mother, Celtic folk singer Mae McKenna. But even with his family and his school, his greatest marker for success might be his connection to dubstep pioneer Burial.

Woon’s 2007 single “Wayfaring Stranger” was practically a cappella, with a minimalism that would make James Blake blush. On the remix, Burial added his signature clacking percussion and submersed bass. The pairing of Woon’s soulful vocals and Burial’s downtempo grooves was a natural fit and led to their next team-up, last year’s break-out single “Night Air.”

The next single off Woon’s debut album Mirrorwriting (out a week after Katy B’s offering, on April 11) is pure rhythm and bass, recalling Babyface productions as much as Timbaland ones. “Blue Truth” takes that formula and inflects it with dubstep. The song isn’t on the album, but Woon offered it as a free download.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Jamie Woon – Blue Truth.mp3″ text=”Jamie Woon – Blue Truth” dl=1]

Not all graduates of the BRIT School strike gold, regardless of talent. Usually it takes an equally talented producer to put them over the edge: every Winehouse needs her Ronson. Luckily, Katy B and Jamie Woon both have superb patrons behind the boards.

The Verge: Cubic Zirconia

Despite their name, there is nothing fake about Cubic Zirconia (I couldn’t resist the wordplay). Comprised of veterans Tiombe Lockhart, Nick Hook, Daud Sturdivant, and Justin Tyson, Cubic Zirconia calls their music “ethnic disco.” Think acid house rhythms, R&B melodies, booty bass and electroclash lyrics.

Everything the band has released so far is a hypnotic mix of sex and swagger. Tiombe croons with the sultry warble of Erykah Badu, Andre 3000 and Blaqstarr, and fans of all three will find something to like in these left-field club tracks. The title of “Hoes Come Out at Night” tells you everything you need to know, and the breakdown of “Josephine” is confrontational yet catchy: “I’m leaving the club / stayed away from the yay’ / I don’t need any sleep / because my man’s not gay.” The videos for both mix hip-hop imagery with equal doses of Goddess worship and exploitation flair.

Cubic Zirconia exists in their own dark disco universe, and remixes of their tracks (which outnumber original numbers) are with like-minded beatmakers: Egyptrixx, Bok Bok, Dam-Funk, and DJ Sega (among others) all offer remixes that cross-pollinate their own styles with the originals. Ikonika tightens up the funky low-end on her version of “Hoes Come Out At Night.”

[wpaudio url=”wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Hoes Come Out at Night (Ikonika Remix).mp3″ text=”Cubic Zirconia – Hoes Come Out At Night (Ikonika Remix)”]

I was one of the lucky few to catch the band’s Sunday night gig at U Hall. If disappointed at the small crowd, the band didn’t reveal it: they banged through almost an hour of material, building a groove only hinted at on record. Tyson’s drumming is unmatched, and Hook and Sturdivant play a range of instruments with skill. And Lockhart is a frontwoman in the purest sense (not even letting a little wardrobe malfunction throw her off).

The band is readying a debut album and inking a deal with a similarly named record label (just think about it). In the meantime, download their free “Ready to Slide EP,” which features a cover of Kid Cudi’s “Maker Her Say” and a flip of “Moments in Love” by Art of Noise. This band is the real thing; the next time they play DC, it won’t be for a dozen of us.

Download: Cubic Zirconia – Ready to Slide EP

The Verge: Childish Gambino

Hip-hop artists are constantly preoccupied with respect, with being taken seriously. In the case of Childish Gambino, this drive is even more prominent, thanks to his day job.

Childish Gambino is 27-year-old Donald Glover, currently of NBC’s Community and formerly a 30 Rock writer. While he chose his pseudonym (with the help of a Wu Tang name generator) to distinguish his rap game from his comedy one, his “childish” moniker has the opposite effect: I assumed it was a comedy-rap hybrid. Especially since this is all I had seen of his rapping:

But while Childish Gambino uses his considerable writing skill on behalf of sharp ad-libs and funny punchlines, this isn’t joke rap. With a staccato flow that owes much to Lil’ Wayne and Kanye, his closest comparison is Drake: there’s the TV background, obviously, and he sings his own hooks. The complete package, he also is pretty skilled behind the boards.

After a series of gimmick-based tapes, Gambino released the two-part I Am Just A Rapper tape, which found him rapping over indie tracks a la Chiddy Bang. The talent was evident, but rapping over Yeasayer and The Very Best worked better on paper: it seemed like a ploy to establish indie cred.

Gambino found his voice on last year’s Culdesac tape. His frequent topics, like Drake, are dealing with preternatural fame and wealth, separating real friends from hangers-on, and (of course) girls. While the limited scope of his lyrics gets a little tedious at 15 songs, the varied production and styles redeems the tape.

Like Kanye, his self-awareness is charming. Of his audience, he raps, “Crowd at my shows more mixed than Rashida Jones,” on “Difference.” He opens his new EP with a similar refrain, about his positioning between two separate but converging scenes: “Hard for a Pitchfork, soft for a Roc-a-fella.” “Freaks and Geeks” is the stand-out, with a “Power”-like beat and energetic verses that are brimming with references (“In the back of the bush, like Gavin Rossdale’s drummer”).

What does the future hold for Childish Gambino? The path forged by multi-talented artists like Jamie Foxx and Drake is very real, even if establishing legitimacy in different arenas is difficult. Glover will host the MTVu Woodie Awards on March 16, and tickets are selling fast for his “I Am Donald” tour (his May 8th gig at the Black Cat is already sold-out). Childish Gambino is ready to be taken seriously.

The Verge: Clare Maguire

The number of female singer-songwriters hailing from the UK during the last few years is exhaustive. Adele, Duffy, Ellie Goulding, Florence and the Machine, La Roux, Little Boots, Marina and the Dimaonds, VV Brown, and, recently, Jessie J have all been lavished with praise and marked as the Next Big Thing (on this blog and elsewhere). Their success in breaking out has varied; Florence Welch’s profile keeps rising while Victoria “Little Boots” Hesketh’s is practically non-existent.

So, what makes the newest member of this UK girl’s club, Clare Maguire, any different?

For the 23-year-old from Birmingham, it all comes down to her voice. Maguire powers her songs with a rich contralto; the closest comparisons are to Stevie Nicks and Ann Wilson. Not that her contemporaries aren’t gifted with similarly beautiful voices, but there’s a strong, unique character to Maguire’s voice that puts her in a different class.

On her debut album, Light After Dark, her voice is the main attraction; unfortunately, the album is often plagued by over-the-top productions that distract from it. The songs are reminiscent of the alternative dance pop mastered by artists like Annie Lennox and Imogen Heap. Heavy doses of orchestral strings and shimmering synths waft through the compositions, none of which linger for longer than four minutes.

For her singles, she has handed remix duties to electronic music luminaries. Rather than the classic “dance remix” that would usually befall such an artist, these producers have opted to strip away the excess of the originals and focus on Maguire’s voice. It’s similar to the rash of La Roux remixes that highlighted Elly Jackson’s melodies rather than Ben Langmaid’s tiny, metallic instrumentals. Breakage’s luvstep approved remix of “Ain’t Nobody” and Chase and Status’ harp-backed, garage take on “The Last Dance” are both stronger than their counterparts. In a sharp nod to this fact, Maguire has released official videos for both versions.

Along with Light After Dark, Maguire has collaborated with other UK notables. Again pairing up with Chase and Status, she carries the duo’s “Midnight Caller,” one of the more restrained songs on No More Idols. She also appears on Mike Skinner’s The Streets sign-off “Lock the Locks.” It remains to be seen whether or not she will be relegated to singing hooks, or if she can be paired with producers that don’t try to compete with her voice. It’s a battle they’re bound to lose. Either way, this is just the beginning from yet another example of the UK’s embarrassment of riches when it comes to singer-songwriters.

The Verge: Esben and the Witch

Esben and the Witch takes its name from a Danish fairy tale. In the story, Esben is the runt of twelve brothers that set out to seek their fortunes. Though neglected and abused, Esben manages to outsmart a witch and a king, saving his brothers’ lives; he becomes a hero in the process. Like most pre-Disney fairy tales, there is a darkness that taints the seemingly innocent children’s story. In the case of Esben and the Witch, there is enough throat-slitting, child-roasting, and king-hanging to keep kids up at night.

Fittingly, the style of the Brighton three-piece, which draws from post-punk and shoegaze, has been described as “nightmare pop.” Esben and the Witch give a Gothic feel to the nuanced pop stylings of contemporaries The XX; the band’s aesthetic and two-guys-and-a-girl composition will no doubt lead to comparisons, as well. On the strength of their 33 EP and single “Lucia, At The Precipice,” (along with early love from the UK music media) the band landed a deal with indie powerhouse Matador Records.

“Lucia, At The Precipe” is a harbinger of the music on their Matador debut, Violet Cries. Rachel Davies’ breathy vocals are the focal point, as Daniel Copeman and Thomas Fisher build walls of shadows with their creepy instrumentals (Davies also contributes, on bass and percussion).

Many songs on the album follow the same pattern: Davies’ restrained singing over an ethereal soundscape of swirling piano and guitar, before cascading drums crash overhead. Songs like “Swans,” “Marine Fields Glow” and “Eumenides” are more ambient and spaced-out than the electronic-tinged “Hexagon IV,” “Chorea,” and “Warpath.” Standout track “Light Streams” sounds like a lo-fi, down-tempo song by Florence and the Machine. But whether pensive or chaotic, the band nails their sound tighter than a lid on a coffin.

A simple, repetitive drum beat is the engine that drives “Marching Song,” the lead single on Violet Cries. The lyrics are like a Gothic take on the “Charge of the Light Brigade,” and the video capitalizes on the brutal, visceral imagery contained within.

Grave rave looks to be the sound of 2011, as Verge featurees like Creep and True Womanhood flirt with darkness. The nightmare pop of Esben and the Witch is a welcome addition to the genre at-large.

Esben and the Witch, Wise Blood, and Last Tide play DC’s Red Palace next Thursday, March 3.

The Verge: True Womanhood

DC’s True Womanhood is a three-piece band that makes experimental, avant pop. While their sound owes much to touchstones like Joy Division and Echo and the Bunnymen, it’s not just a post-punk pastiche. The band, comprised of Thomas Redmond (vocals, guitar) Melissa Beattie (bass) and Noam Elsner (drums, electronics), is unafraid to reach for contemporary sounds, spending more time looking forward than back.

On last year’s Basement Membranes EP, True Womanhood demonstrated their mastery of their favorite genres. “The Monk” opens the EP and sets the tone: macabre and brooding. “Dignitas” is either about the Roman concept of dignity or the assisted suicide organization of the same name. The down tempo jam, with it’s vertigo-inducing “don’t look down / or you’ll fall” lyric, builds and swells to a breakdown that is funky in the same way that Nine Inch Nails’ “into the void” is funky. Other standouts are “Rubber Buoys,” which would fit in on OK Computer, and “Magic Child,” which emerges from a foreboding haze before breaking out the “punk” in post punk.

“Dream Cargoes,” off their forthcoming record, builds on the sounds of Basement Membranes. A delay-heavy guitar riff plays off a goth disco beat, along with the band’s characteristically gloomy, nostalgia-heavy lyrics: “You’re a big boy / you’re a preteen / but you’re no man.”

True Womanhood – Dream Cargoes

True Womanhood continues to experiment, incorporating new sounds into their established aesthetic. “The Grey Man” is unnerving and spooky, utilizing a rudimentary industrial beat and muted chords, with filtered vocals. The moombahton-influenced “Minajah” actually sounds more like witch house to me, with the skittering synths of Salem. But in keeping with their DIY, lo-fi stylings, they crafted the song with reel-to-reel tape and analog effects.

After a successful 2010, True Womanhood is poised to breakout in 2011. The band has a few East Coast dates lined up that shouldn’t be missed.

Mar 11 – The Rock Shop – Brooklyn, NY
Mar 12 – Kungfu Necktie – Philadelphia, PA
Mar 13 – The Red Palace – Washington, DC

The Verge: CREEP

Witch house, drag, or grave wave: call it what you will, but one of the hottest developments in music last year was also one of the coldest. By it’s nature, this music is not readily accessible (often literally – most band names feature unsearchable characters). But when a band like Balam Acab appears in a Beyonce makeup commercial, some sort of crossover is imminent.

Enter CREEP. The duo, comprised of Lauren Flax and Lauren Dillard, owes more to witch house’s aesthetic than to chopped-and-screwed industrial. Still, the group’s music is sufficiently dark, if more straight-forward than their peers. Flax gained notoriety as the tour DJ for electroclash act Fischerspooner and brings a danceable quality to the music.

Lead single “Days” has received plenty of press, due in part to guest vocals by It Girl / XX frontwoman Romy Madley Croft. The backdrop for Romy’s distinct vocals is a battle between razorblade accents, lush bass synth, a chopped up soca beat and staccato snares. The song has received remixes aplenty, including a UK funky take by Deadboy, a dark tech house version by Azari & III, and an (as of yet) unreleased remix by Drop the Lime.

The video, directed by Fischerspooner’s Warren Fischer, is on point: Gothic imagery, fog-soaked lights, black shrouds, and a foreboding sexuality permeate the clip. Media bloggers at the Creators Project sat down with Fischer and CREEP to go over the creative process behind the video.

While “Days” is their only original composition, CREEP has also lent their remixing talents to contemporaries Von Haze, Baghdaddy and Memory Tapes. Their remix of the latter’s “Green Knight” is a more solemn, breathy take on the original, with the same type of jittery drums found on “Days.”

Memory Tapes – Green Knight (Creep Remix)

CREEP is set to release an album on Young Turks this year, and a single entitled “You” featuring Nina Sky is set to follow “Days.” The duo also put out a mix for FACT Magazine that branches out into funky, R&B-influenced electronic music. For a limited time, he mix is available to download.